Needlepoint of no return…
Textiles terminology is deeply embedded within our metaphoric vocabulary: history is woven; ideas are threads of a narrative and can be entwined; to incriminate is to stitch up and critique is couched; the brow is knitted and the eyes have the wool pulled over them; complex ideas are unpicked or unravelled; composite demographics make up a social fabric and everything is part of the rich tapestry of life. For Kristeva, Barthes and Derrida, among others, text is woven. Perhaps Madonna’s ‘material world’ was really a reference to the fundamental yet subliminally symbolic role cloth plays in our everyday. In 1984, in her now well quoted publication The Subversive Stitch, Rosika Parker cited the needle as the new ‘pen’; “a weapon of resistance” in the production of alternate discourses of power.
Over the past decade, textiles and their symbolism have had a revival in the visual arts. While Parker’s reference was specifically situated within the discourse of feminism and textile practice of the 1970s and early 1980s, it is a sentiment that still holds true for much of this contemporary textile based work. Many artists working with cloth in an Australian context are worthy of discussion, and indeed have prompted a number of fibre focused shows, including most recently ‘Fabrik’ (2016) curated by Jane O’Neill across three Melbourne venues. As O’Neill acknowledges, for some textiles is a new frontier—one medium among many, driven by concept or concern—while for others fabric is an enduring key expression of their visual language. In both cases, these artists recognise the agency the material possesses in relation to power, among an array of pertinent social and political concerns.