Northern Territory Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin 21 March – 19 April 2014
Craft with its commitment to the handmade, materials and design is usually regarded as a moral counterpoint to the rampant mass consumerism of the digital age. Yet many crafts practitioners are exploring linkages with new technological communication technologies to create innovative ways of relating creatively with the world. The question of how to reconcile age-old practices with these new post-industrial processes is explored in a very personal way in the Pixels+Fibre exhibition. The works are the result of a recent collaboration between former Darwin-based fibre artist Fiona Gavino and multimedia artist Myrto Angelouli. The two are now part of the vibrant Freemantle arts community and met when Angelouli sought out Gavino for some lessons in weaving. This led to a studio residency at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Moores Studio in February 2013 where the two explored possible artistic synergies.
The collaboration was in many ways inevitable given their core interest in sustainable materials and design. Angelouli has a strong grounding in both architectural interior design and film production, and along with her recent video productions has pursued a curiosity in fibre art especially among groups in South East Asia. Gavino, with her Australian, Maori and Filipino heritage, is also interested in these intercultural dialogues. In 1995 while living in Darwin, she learnt classic basketmaking under the tutelage of master Indigenous weaver Alice Gondjalk. By 2000, she made a conscious move away from formal basketry into the realm of fibre sculpture developing her signature style of fluid biomorphic forms. Pixels+Fibre heralds another significant shift in her as well as Angelouli's practice.
There are a number of influences or conceptual themes underpinning the artworks. One is the design theory of permaculture founder Bill Mollison who sees the creative intelligence of the universe as being intrinsically expressed through natural design. Fractal patterns provide the homogeneity between fibre and photography in the Pixels+Fibre exhibition according to the curatorial rationale: “A digital image is built via patterned repetition in a similar way to a woven mat or basket, where small increments are placed side by side in order to build the whole. It is in this way the artists see a parallel between one of the world’s most ancient techniques and the relatively new art of digital imagery.”
A key work that was the starting point of their collaboration, is the Fibre Kaleidoscopes photographic series, where Angelouli digitally manipulates some of Fiona’s woven works into a series of beautiful flower-like designs. The repeat basketweave in some mirrored images creates a wavering moiré effect that Gavino likens to the shimmering effect called bir’yun created in Indigenous bark painting by fine cross-hatching.
A similar cross-hatched patterning is created in the fibre sculptures by Gavino’s use of the Maori latticework technique. Collapsed Pixel, which dominates the exhibition space, is a deconstructed square made of crisp triangular segments woven out of translucent plastic strapping tape. It’s sharp angularity is quite unlike Gavino’s usual organic forms. More typical are the ‘basket bombed’ woven panels that convert the normally unremarkable entrance walls to the gallery into a warm and welcoming space. It’s like entering the exhibition through a large section of basketry, yet there is something a bit unnerving about these walls. Their precise woven symmetry begins to bulge and unravel halfway down before resolving back from disorder into order.
This idea of flux, and ongoing change is the other conceptual thread throughout the exhibition. In the Reverse video, Gavino is filmed burning one of her large woven sculptures, however the process is shown backwards so the work remains intact at the end. For Gavino this process of creating a new work out of the destruction of another parallels the seasonal burning in the Top End that promotes the regeneration of new growth. This idea of changeability is again explored in Aspects of Flux, a dreamy, shadowy projection of the artist creating the actual cane screen onto which the video is projected. At points the repetitive process of twining the fibre converges so exactly with the woven screen that it appears to be being created before our very eyes.
This is a clever work that perfectly captures the essence of what the Pixels+Fibre duo set out to accomplish by seamlessly blending their respective ideas and technological talents. Their exhibition confirms what we already know, that traditional and digital techniques, often wrongly typified as incompatible, offer artists interesting creative tools for the creation of new and exciting artistic pathways.