Forty years ago, three young women exhibited together at an Adelaide Festival of Art exhibition. Helen Fuller, Kay Lawrence and Olga Sankey have gone on to have long and distinguished careers and are exhibiting again at West Gallery Thebarton. Underlying their work is the spontaneous gesture of the line, which is transmitted into technically complex mediums such as ceramics, textiles and printmaking – all material things.
This work pays tribute to those who taught me how to transform fibre materials into baskets; over the years Ellen Trevorrow, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Clara Matajandatjpi, Marley Djangarrie, Ruth Hadlow and Joy Pazabeto Madada have taught me to coil, twine, make string and net a basket. As well as generously sharing their skills with me, the conversations that accompanied my learning got me thinking about the nature of baskets and ask the question: ‘What is a basket?’ Thus began this ongoing project that considers the making and meanings of baskets.
While the significance of baskets derives from their function and associations as containers, meaning also stems from how they are made. Tim Ingold has described making a basket as an interplay of forces between a maker and her material as she entwines rigid and flexible components to create a structure, formed as much by the tensile qualities of the materials as by the maker’s hands. When netting a string bag, the basket maker creates a continuous strand that loops and spirals through time and space to create the form. As Ingold has noted, it’s through such processes that ‘the temporal rhythms of life are gradually built into the structural properties of things’.
As human beings we are all subject to the forces of nature. As we act upon these forces to shape our world we are ourselves shaped by these interactions. How we understand the world and make meaning of our experiences is underpinned by this fundamental relationship. To engage in the temporal rhythms of basket making is to experience each moment of making as a continuity that entwines past, present and future. This insight is the unspoken gift my teachers gave me as they shared their skills.
The artwork, ‘what is a basket? #2’ engages with these ideas through the processes of making and drawing, transforming material things into artworks. They notate the ways I was taught to make a basket from plant fibre, and includes drawings that distil the structure of these forms into line.