Sunday, August 31, 2008

Catalogue essay

Here's the text of the catalogue essay that accompanied the exhibition at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery February 1 to March 30, 2008:

At some point in the mid-1970s, my parents hung wallpaper on one wall in the living room. It featured large, head-sized lairy green flowers. The repeated pattern was overwhelming, headache-inducing, if stared at for too long. We loved it. Then someone had a bright idea. Why not pick out the little circles at the end of each stamen in orange Hobbytex?

During the 1980s, lairy wallpaper – different colours, different patterns, just as overwhelming - followed me through a series of rented share-houses. In the 1990s, friends with their own mortgages attacked wallpaper with gusto, using steam and scrapers and passion to eliminate every last shred of the stuff.

And now, thirty years later, wallpaper is back. It’s big, it’s lairy, it’s all-consuming and rather disconcerting. It’s like waking up to find the world is copying something in my own dreams, because for the last little while, I have been on my own private wallpaper journey.

Slumped before the internet, the computer fan whirring quietly to my left, the gurgling sound of the goldfish tank to my right, I’ve been looking for that original green wallpaper. I google “70s wallpaper” or type it into the search window of eBay. There it is, in all its purple, brown, orange and green glory. But never the one particular pattern I’m looking for, the one we set off nicely with Hobbytex. I’ve forgotten precisely what it looked like, and there are no photographs of it, but I know I’ll recognise it when I see it. If only I could see it. So the hunt continues, the hours fly by.

For me, this exhibition is about loss and the tantalising, almost-but-not-quite recovery of lost memory through objects. It is about digging down through the layers of detritus of this culture and finding nuggets of gold.

Inevitably, given that we're talking about the Decade That Taste Forgot, it’s also about kitsch. And what better place to discuss kitsch than in the kitschen? One room in this exhibition is devoted to Denise and her Manwich sandwich. This room sets off conflicting responses. There’s an attraction to the simple values and retro style of Denise, a longing for a “return” to the world she represents, even if it’s a world nobody ever really inhabited. The heart reaches out to these things but the head – the educated, sophisticated head – slaps it down. You can have it, says the head, but only in a knowing framework. Only if you make it perfectly clear that you get the joke.

It was in the 1970s that the women’s art movement took off, a movement that asserted that the domestic realm was worthy of artistic interpretation and exploration. Karen Golland’s work takes domestic crafts – in their 1970s incarnations - as a starting point for a series of prints featuring the patterns of hand-crocheted doilies; fluffy wall cushions suggestive of the synthetic textured rugs of the time and plastic strips enhancing the humble pattern of striped bed sheets. These works are both a delight to look at and laced with layers of meaning about art, craft and women’s work.

In another room, we take you all the way back to the source. Here, you find unadorned, naked examples of the original crafts: an orange macrame owl, a string art lamp, an unfinished Hobbytex tablecloth. Among men and boys in particular, these crafts have been known to set off a mild horror, a desire to get away as quickly as possible.

Beyond questions of taste and discrimination, this room invites stories. Every one of these objects has a story, suggests a story. If you were there in the '70s, you'll have your own. If you weren't born yet, expect to hear a few on your way through. The video installation tells some of the stories of the pieces and lets others speak for themselves.

Sound artist Michelle Stockwell has created a layered soundscape for the exhibition, creating an immersive environment which echoes the creative processes involved in conceiving and creating this project. She has layered snippets of interviews with artists and craftspeople, phrases and sentences from Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch, the sizzling of an electric frypan, the spraying of hairspray, the clack of typewriter keys to create a sound landscape that evokes the almost-but-not quite, seen-out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye sensations of dreams and memories. It is this soundscape, loose, quiet, but all-pervasive, that holds the three distinct rooms of the exhibition together.

Tracy Sorensen

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The exhibition at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery came down yesterday. Here are the comments we found in the orange folder sitting next to the Interviews video installation. Some are unsigned and some signatures are hard to make out.

Dear Artists,
This exhibition is so warming and affirming. I was there! This all reminds me of how we used to know ourselves as creative beings, always making. I LOVE this exhibition and suspect I could find sympathetic items somewhere in my treasure chests. Thank you.
Catherine Fox.

Dear Creative Folk,
Cheers! This is hilarious, also a solid testament to how our lives are shaped and influenced by the objects in the world around us.
Beck Sandford.

A story eh? Well this exhibit reminds me of the fish that lacked a polished silver spoon for eating homemade yoghurt that was grown on the back of a station wagon in the craters on the moon. No one knew the fish, he lived in dreams. Fabulous vivid dreams full of light, colour and hope. This was the way of the world.
Thomas Buch

Fabulous! I'm a 70s child brings back memories - especially the owls I would go to the park with my mother to find the sticks - we still have a green owl at home.

Absolutely gorgeous. It's brought to life so many forgotten stories, so many cultural artefacts that most of us have experienced so vividly, yet somehow forgot! Why did we forget for a while? It was such FUN!! and this is such fun and a lovely, lovely beautifully presented shared remembering.

Wonderful film. I can now go home and get out my embroidery (or fancy work as it used to be called) and knitting and do it to my heart's content.

Nice work all concerned. It's helped me justify my huge collection of packaged 1970s kitchen gadget. It's not rubbish, it's Art!
Adrian Symes

Thankyou for the wonderful journey. I did, I used, I applied all these things and more during my career and the video is inspiring.
DG [signature hard to make out]

While in London my sister spent weeks crocheting handbags made with bread bags. She took them to Camden market to sell. She didn't sell any - ever!

I've really enjoyed myself watching the video and remembering various "lost arts". Heart-warming exhibition, by all involved.

Great display. I love the jacket! Very creative food for thought. Thanks!
Carol Watson
USA Colo.

A "priceless" gathering of the "past" - now re-entering the future.
B. Fischer

A wonderful variety of creativity and exploration of different mediums. This display was enhanced by the excellent video giving a real insight into the artists' works.
Bruce Ryan

A wonderful tribute to the most poptastic decade ever.
Thomas Phipps

A fabulous exhibition. I remember fondly doing macrame on a board with a nail which my father had lovingly made for me. I also remember making a tube rag rug with a wooden spool with nails around the top - we'd wrap the "tubes" of polyester around it and pick them off into knots with a crochet needle - we called it tubing. My mother and aunt used to buy old aluminium lawn chairs and recover them by weaving the tube fabric on the frames. They are still in use over 30 years later! And of course who can forget Artex (as Hobbytex was called in Canada)! I still miss my kitten shirt.
Sandra Laight

It's a great exhibition, there are some really good Artworks. They really inspired me and gave me some good ideas to try. I really enjoyed being at the Bathurst Art Gallery and looking forward to coming back. Some really good Art.
N. Forbes

Beautiful, found it very interesting.

Great exhibition, both funny and nostalgic. I was there, and I realise how much of 70s Arts and Crafts still forms my own aesthetic today - and I don't say that sadly. Hooray for 70s valuing crafts and texture and pattern and life. It was fun as well as funny - what will we think of the "noughties" in the future?
Susan Freeman

Friday, February 1, 2008


In Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, a cup of tea and a little cake set off not memory but a bodily sensation. The things gathered for this exhibition are like madeleines, Proust's little cakes.

Here's a link to the famous passage:

Friday, January 25, 2008

About the interviews

A video installation in the corner of one of the rooms of the exhibition shows interviews where the stories behind some of the pieces in the exhibition are told. The interviews were recorded by Tracy Sorensen between October 2007 and January 2008.

Vivienne Binns, artist, interviewed on Saturday, October 13, 2007, outside the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery during her retrospective show. She tells how domestic handcrafts have inspired her own art. She takes a broad view of the arts and crafts as an essential human activity, the results of which surround our every waking moment, like the air we breathe.

Gerda Mjadwesch and her son Ray Mjadwesch, interviewed on Friday, December 14, 2007 at Grattai near Mudgee, in the company of Beverley the galah. Gerda and Ray take a trip down memory lane with a box of Hobbytex paraphernalia.

Yvonne Sorensen, artist, interviewed on Sunday November 4, 2007 in her home studio in Wyong. Yvonne mulls over the difference between art and craft.

Hannah Semler, arts administrator, interviewed at Peel near Bathurst on Sunday November 25. Hannah tells us the story of the purple woven wall hanging and the woven cloak her mother, Erika Semla, one of Australia's respected textile artists, made for her.

Cath Barcan, artist, interviewed on Sunday November 4, 2007, in the Tudor Inn motel opposite the Hamilton Bowling Club, where Cath celebrated her 40th birthday the night before. Cath talks about the string art lamp that reminds her of the string art on the walls of her childhood bedroom.

Margaret Smith, co-director of Bathurst's Hayloft Gallery in the 1970s was interviewed on Monday, October 22 at her home in Bathurst. She talks about the "grotties", ceramic figures created by Michelle Fermanis for an exhibition at the gallery.

Karen Woodhall was interviewed at home in Canberra on Saturday, December 8, 2007. She talks about the enjoyment and she gets from spirography, macrame, origame and the creation of personalised greeting cards.

Joy Engelman, artist, was interviewed on Friday, October 19, at her flat in Orange. She tells us about the macrame necklet made by Julia Walker. Necklets like these featured in a fashion show in Sydney with iconic Australian fashion designer Jenny Kee. Due to a last minute technical hitch, her piece did not appear in the video installation on show in the gallery.

Christine McMillan, artist, was interviewed at her home in Kandos in central west New South Wales on November 14, 2007. Christine's current arts practice includes creating pieces using echidna spines and wrapping trees in gauze. She learned needlework from her Scottish grandmother and continues to draw on her early love of traditional women's crafts.

Gabriella Hegyes, artist, was interviewed in her studio at Sodwalls, near Lithgow, on Wednesday January 23, 2008. Gabriella grew up in a whitewashed cottage in Szeged, Hungary, before fleeing the communist regime in the 1970s. Her grandmother taught her to crochet, and crochet remains an important element in her art practice.

Joanne Bright was interviewed on the site of the old drive-in theatre on Mt Panorama, Bathurst, on Tuesday, November 13, 2007. Joanne tells how she collected Kelly's bread bags from neighbours which she then crocheted into a coat. The only time she wore it out was to the drive-in.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chirpy Cheep Cheep

I remember this song being played at a backyard barbie in the early 1970s.

Check it out on YouTube

Spirograph commercial

See this 1973 commercial for the Spriograph on YouTube

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The female unicorn - the beginning

Well, I've ordered a tube of lilac Hobbytex paint and some of that non-woven fabric that looks like the stiffening stuff Mum used to sew into collars and cuffs. Yes, there's still a Hobbytex factory in Sydney ( I've been quietly slaving over Photoshop, creating an image I'm going to title The Female Unicorn. It stars Denise (who is making a Manwich in the previous blog) on a rearing unicorn waving a feminist flag. Yes, Denise has gone through a huge process of self-examination and self-realisation since that day with the Manwich. After this, things have to move off the computer and into physical reality as I trace the design and work out a sort of paint-by-numbers colour scheme. Can't wait until the tube of lilac turns up!