Through the eye of a needle

An exhibition by artists who incorporate elements of stitching, sewing, weaving, pattern-making or embroidery in their wider art practice.

Gaffa Gallery, 1/7 Randle St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010 Australia, 12 – 6pm, Monday to Saturday
28 March to 8 April 2008

The slippery line between art and craft, is one that has been questioned and attacked by artists for many years. The artists in this exhibition each take different elements from both traditions to create fascinating works, which are simultaneously beautiful, tactile, provocative and ultimately quite difficult to pin down.

The exhibition presents the work of twelve artists:
Linden Braye, Sophia Egarchos, Kath Fries, Chrissie Ianssen, Mick James, Shannon Johnson, Virginia Mawer, Daphne Molony, Michele Morcos, Adrianne Tasker, Alex Weare and Megan Yeo.

"Thread, fabric, needles and wool are all items of the everyday. Domestic and familiar, they are materials that educe no attention or consideration although they surround us on a daily basis. At a time when the effects of mass production and consumption are increasingly becoming mainstream concerns, how is it that such items continue to be unseen? If such objects are removed from familiar sites and are represented in new and different forms, what difference does it make to how we think about these domestic materials?

In Through the eye of a needle domestic items and materials are reinterpreted and reassembled to create works that raise questions about our personal relationship with objects in a society of mass production and consumption. The exhibition presents the work of twelve artists: Linden Braye, Sophia Egarchos, Kath Fries, Chrissie Ianssen, Mick James, Shannon Johnson, Virginia Mawer, Daphne Molony, Michele Morcos, Adrianne Tasker, Alex Weare and Megan Yeo, who investigate the methods, ideology and forms associated with mass manufactured textile and domestic goods. Utilising the tools, techniques and structure associated with textile and domestic objects,Through the eye of a needle explores how the materials and processes of the everyday can be reconstructed and redefined through a framework that references contemporary social, technological and art historical concerns.

The works in Through the eye of a needle employ techniques that are most commonly associated with handiwork or craft based work — stitching, weaving, embroidery, patternmaking, and patchwork, but match these traditional methods with contemporary mediums, such as video, sound and installation aesthetics. The hand made element of the pieces is an integral part of the art work, but it is used by the artists in a manner that very much reflects the nature of current society as a highly technologically dependent consumer driven arena.

What is most interesting about these works is the use of the traditional within a format that engages with the sensibilities of contemporary culture. Rather than simply using the traditional methods of textile crafts to create works, the artists deconstruct the very processes of the forms to explore broader contemporary concerns. In particular it is the forms and systems that we associate with the manufacture of mass-produced goods: scale, volume, and repetition, that are used in these works to greatest effect.

Whilst the individual practices of the twelve artists are incredibly diverse covering painting through to performance, the artists share an approach to art making that emphasises the representation of the process of making the object in the final art work. In Through the eye of a needle the very construction of the art work is a central component of the exhibited piece. In placing the process of creating the work at the vanguard, the artist forces the viewer to acknowledge the workmanship involved in the art work.

In the context of the exhibition the importance placed on technique raises a number of questions in relation to the idea of the artist as the (literal) creator and the concept of what it means to construct an object by hand in a society in which mass produced goods are so readily available.

The emphasis on technique and assemblage in Through the eye of a needle alerts the viewer to the status of the work as an “art object” by highlighting the role of the artist in the final product. Such a strong statement about the role of the artist, in particular a statement which is implicit in the final work, reads as a declaration to the viewer that the physical representation or “mark of the maker” within the work is the difference between the art work and the anaemic mass produced object. In declaring that authorship of the art object lies with the artist, the works in Through the eye of a needle further distance themselves from mass produced goods by claiming that authorship is more valuable than ownership. In a social environment where homogeneity reigns supreme, it is not simply about owning the same object (or a different object for that matter), to be truly separate from the system you have to create an art object.

The importance placed on technique and the representation of labour within Through the eye of a needle and the relationship it has with ideas of authorship, value and responsibility can be understood as a contemporary rereading and continuation of the concerns of the Process Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Developed in reaction to the predominant art practice of the time — Minimalism, Process Art emphasised the representation of the artist’s hand in the final work by presenting the art-making process as a feature of the final piece. Within a wider socio-political exploration the artists in Through the eye of a needle draw upon the central concerns of the movement to provide an appropriate frame in which to experiment with traditional craft techniques in a specific art context.

In Over and Over: Passion for Process, Kathleen Harleman, Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan describe such practices as ‘HyperProcess Art’ . Specifically concerned with ‘hands-on art-making', HyperProcess Art explores the themes of the Process Art movement from a contemporary position. HyperProcess Art is an apt description of the works in Through the eye of a needle as it recognises the central role of both handicraft and other textile based techniques and materials, the engagement with processes and forms of contemporary society, the mass production techniques of industry through obsessive forms, and the representation of the artist in the creation of the work.

Through the eye of a needle presents a complex selection of works that force the viewer to reconsider the physical and formal qualities of the domestic and the mundane within a social framework of digital production and consumption. By involving the viewer in the process of creating the art work, Through the eye of a needle enables us to explore the processes and assembly of creation and manufacture in our own lives."

Megan Robson, catalogue essay Through the eye of a needle, March 2008