And below is always the accumulated past, which vanishes but does not vanish, which persists and remains (Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping, Faber & Faber, 1981, 172)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Archiving the wall

 "Walter Benjamin's Archive: images, texts, signs--carefully laid out manuscripts, photographs of a home with luxurious furniture, arcades, Russian toys, picture postcards from Tuscany and the Balearics, meticulous and unconventional registers, card indexes and catalog; notebooks in which every single centimetre is covered; a collation of  his son's first words and sentences,; riddle and enigmatic sibyls. Everything here is subtly interconnected with everything else...the concept of 'essence' as the mark of truth." (From my notebook, day five, Tumba '10)

And what types and catalogs of lists could be used to make an archive of Reconfiguring the wall?
  • A list of oft-used architectural terms (and their definitions)
  • A list of processes: textile, architectural, specific to this project...
  • Diagnostic terms/tests used (psychology and psychiatry)
  • References used
  • Types of cloth used
The list is incomplete (are all lists fated to be incomplete?)
Are they by essence (or in essence) fragments?

In what other ways are lists 'lacking' 
  • detail?
  • aesthetic appeal?
  • intention for longevity?
  • completeness in themselves? 
Lists of contents have no identity of their own.

A list of images from the pieced side of the quilt:
(sources not available at this time)
- Hospital ward (beds empty)
- Rock markings from under bridge
- Patient and radiographer with x-ray machine
- Patient (?) sitting in courtyard
- Ward with window
-  Map of Leichhsrt (fragment)
- John Brenan
- 4 nurses, in different uniforms
- child's drawing
- Kirkebride building
- perimeter wall....

A list of words/phrases from the pieced side of the quilt
- 'Sites of difference'
- 'And below is always the accumulated past which vanishes but does not vanish'
- 'Joseph was the wicked Uncle Jo who, a gambler whose debts cost the family the Balmain Estate'
- 'Eysenck Personality Inventory Personality Questionnaire'
- 'See thee shocking truth, learn the heart breaking truth about drug abuse'
- 'Recipe for plant dyeing'
- 'Ambiguous boundaries'
- 'And the resistance of space for inside out art-architecture we are able to situate the asylum in a historical context and so to [ ] the spectral quality the site evokes...'
- 'Sites of otherness'
- 'The being of art itself'
- 'Fuck it'
- 'And below is always'

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Journal of a Madman

I first heard of  Anthony Maddix's 'Journal of a Madman' (1995) when Emma showed me some of her research finding for what was to become Reconfiguring The Wall. A few months later I was able to see and handle one for myself when it was included in the exhibition, 'For Matthew and others, Journeys with Schizophrenia' at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery UNSW CoFA (Sydney) in late 2006.  I remember it as substantial: large in format, with rough wooden covers and the pages combining text and drawings. I find his work powerful, poetic, brutally honest and unsettling. His journals (and other works) meld text and image in a way I've still to understand.

Gareth Sion Jenkins writes in the catalog to this exhibition writes:
In his anthropological investigation of the unconscious Anthony Mannix has used creative expression as a compass; a compass of  'Brut' proportions leading to hybrid works, which bring into relation the figurative and the abstracted, the pictographic and textural. The nature of the unconscious as a tactile landscape is evidenced by the inventive materiality of Mannix's work, which incorporates such elements as canvas, wood, rice-aper, solder, resin, vanish, acrylic paint, felt pen, Chinese ink, gouache, found objects, muslin, leather and tea. (p101, catalog to the exhibition)

Anthony, who suffers from schizophrenia has been an in-patient in Rozelle Hospital, formed when Callan Park and Broughton Hall amalgamated in 1976.

One of the fragments on the pieced side of the quilt references Anthony's work:

Reconfiguring the Wall (2006) detail
Silk dyed with plant material from the Callan Park site, hand embroidered with cotton thread

I find myself troubled by the categories of 'Art Brut' or, 'Outsider Art' which along with other such definitions I suspect of being used to marginalize the art of a specific group, in this case--that of the mentally ill. Perhaps its most positive characteristic is that it, the process of art-making sits outside of the commercial art world. Despite my disquiet about such a groping, however, I find myself drawn to these works again and again.

A chance encounter with a comment by Rex Butler on the: ...framework defined by romanticism (the cult of the original or authentic, the continued viability of an art based on a connection to nature, a universalist and organicist  conception of human knowledge)...Our fascination is not so much directly with these things as with this unconscious, child-like gaze of the other (my emphasis) helps me here. Although Butler is discussing Aboriginal art (and the art of Kathleen Petyarre in particular), it is his reference to the other that I find relevant and connects it to Emma's work on the redevelopment of the Callan Park site.

In the introduction to the catalog for the exhibition 'Art Brut' (also shown at the Ivan Duogherty, but in 1999), the curator, Lucienne Peiry explains:
"Art Brut brings together works of nonconformist beings--patients from psychiatric hospital, prisoners, mediums, elderly people, loners, eccentrics, outcasts--whose lives have been marked by an existentialist break, Art Brut authors seize the right to speak that they have been denied by launching into creation in tottal freedom, in a self-taught way."

Rex Butler, A Secret History of Australian Art (2002), 143

[Post completed July 29]

Monday, July 19, 2010


Goodna Mental Hospital, Australia's largest and oldest mental asylum, has housed 50,000 people over its lifetime. I came across this link to a series of programs ABC Radio National are running on its history. This is the first of three and makes for chilling listening:

In the quilt, Reconfiguring the Wall, research material (maps, street plans, newspaper articles, photographs) have been printed onto fragments of cloth previously dyed with plant material from the Callan Park site.
In additional there are items (such as old napkins) purchased from the Rozelle market nearby which have then been embroidered with images/words relating to the project.

By utilizing this process of piecing together cloth (inherent to the patchwork quilt technique), Emma allows the multiple voices, and the stories they tell of the site, to be heard. The dominant narrative, that contained in the official records of the colony, are placed alongside the hidden narratives. As such they combine to tell a multiplicity of tales, contradictory at times, a truth which shifts and transforms in the telling.

In her novel set in Callan Park (and written in verse) Dorothy Porter describes one of the wards:

Ward sixteen is so dingy-dark
I could be underwater

the usual pyjama'd
shadows muttering
as they pace 
the lino floor

one stops briefly
to sniff me out
for fags

I shake my head

'Where's the money?'
he demands from cracked lips
'where's the 'money?

others rock
on rancid beds

(from: what a piece of work, Picador, 1999, 14)

Images: details of the 'reverse' side of the quilt, Reconfiguring the Wall by Emma Rowden

Monday, May 10, 2010

That Inbetween Space

On April 3 Emma left a comment on my March 16 post, 'Sifting & Sorting' (see associated blog, Lost In Space). In her comment she raised a number of interesting issues concerning the sense (or perhaps, 'sensation' is more accurate and takes me closer to Deleuze & Guatarri) of embodiment in space.
D & G consider 'space' as vibratory blocks of space-time constituting an individual organism that interacts with other organisms (suggesting I think that we each carry our own space-time(s) around with us) and thus these blocks of space-time are by nature, 'heterogeneous' (Deleuze Dictionary, p253). Space is a 'discursive practice of place' (p258) and divided into 'striated' (drawn and riddled with lines of divide and demarcation, that name measure, appropriate and distribute space according to inherited political designs, history and conflict) and 'smooth' (boundless...without border or distinction... affiliated with the unconscious...more a space of affects and sensations than can be perceived through striated space).
OK I'm not a specialist in these theories, and this risks becoming didactic (not my intention)--the above acts to document my process in addressing Emma's questions.
Each of the interactions Emma mentions: videoconferencing, talking on the mobile phone, communicating by email, on Facebook, on Twitter could be seen as two individual sets of space-time coming into contact with one another (unlike her example of reading a book, to which I add 'daydreaming', both solitary activities--unless of course the book is being read aloud to an audience).
What is important here, I think and, Emma's point is that these 'virtual' interfaces are increasing.
Interestingly D & G also address the 'virtual'  and 'actual' as mutually exclusive, yet jointly sufficient, characterisations of the real (p296) but that may be OK for them, how do we as ordinary mortals 'deal' with such obvious different experiences (albeit habituation can probably occur). 
Emma asks : How our bodies then relate to space IN time - how can we inhabit? Her answer is to leave traces (evidence of a 'past' presence).
Traces that also exist in our minds as memories (conscious or not) and that affect how we respond when the actual is transposed to the virtual but yet undergo subtle shifts in how we react to that new situation (the use of videoconfencing in business, law  or even medicine).
I wonder if you can look it in another terms of a third space, that which develops from the interaction itself allied to but separate from the two that are interacting...if on the phone I do not mark my existence 'there' in place with you, we set up an interstitial space, an inbetween place. 'Actual' in terms of the movement of electrons along the phone wires or microwaves between transmitter and receiver, but 'virtual' in our minds.
By raising theories of 'performance'--Goffman and Judith Butler she is offering me an opportunity to explore an integral aspect of my project--how to 'perform' smooth space. Butler, I have come across but not Goffman. Performance has the potential to take us into that third (inbetween) space which, being inherently unstable, has the potential to open up other connections, other possibilities and the dissolution of boundaries.

As I was about to close down my laptop for the day, I opened the catalog to 'Space Odysseys' (an exhibition at AGNSW in 2001) and came across Mariko Mori's video installation Link (1995-2000) which makes interesting connections with  all this! She is quoted as saying:
Space and time capsules attempt to achieve three or four dimensional voyages in space. My approach is to perceive or sense various passages or potential spaces that connect our consciousness to another world. (p15) 
As Mori is transported to various sites within  her 'enlightenment capsule', she transcends space and time, proposing:  '...a new kind of enlightenment...a new  kind of consciousness'.

So, what has this to do with the project? I'm not sure, as it - the project - exists to date, it is all but a 'scrapbag' of ideas (an example of smooth space??) from which something (hopefully) will emerge!
I am hoping Emma will respond to the ideas I have raised here.
And anyone who reads it will too!

Image: Dyeing the cloth for the quilt 'Reconfiguring The Wall' with plant material from the Callan Park site (2006).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reconfiguring the wall

(This post has been copied from the 'Blogbook' page of my associated blog, Quilted Out of Space. I had noted these thoughts in a recent addition to this page but they turned out to be posting relevant to this blog)

Reconfiguring the wall sits somewhere between a wall hanging (in the simplest sense--it is intended to hang vertically) and what Emma intends it to be, a quilt documenting and representing her architectural thesis. It certainly has two-sides: on one are the final plans for re-development of the Callan Park site printed on an old linen bed sheet while the other consisted of a 'pieced' (in quilted terms, fragments stitched one to each other) documenting the history of the site...old photographs, street plans, fliers and newspaper articles gleaned form the Mitchell Library (Sydney),as well as stitched and embroidered fragments dyed with plant material from the site.

The two sides, however, are not 'connected' (or perhaps not 'yet') in the physical sense by stitching, a feature any die hard quiltmaker will tell you is fundamental (see most conditions for entering a work to a quilt exhibition) to something being called 'a quilt'.

But Emma intended this to be a quilt (something I argue is central to such a works definition: the artist's intent) and the two sides are most definitely 'connected' in terms of subject matter...the documentary/pieced side is fundamental to the process of developing the final plans for the need to see both sides. It is thus a quilt that must hang in space.

This aspect connects Emma's work to Judy McDermott's, who regularly pieced both sides of her quilts.
The structure of Reconfiguring is further complicated by having two sections which fold over the side containing the architectural plans for the site, the left hand side contains a list of words, the right alternative arrangements for the rooms (the walls of which can be shifted to allow the internal space to be selected by the individual). The appearance, when the sides are folded over is shown at left (installation shot, Emma Rowden).

While writing this, I sense a link to the folding altars or portable shrines (whether this is at all relevant I'm not sure!).

I now need to return to D&G's theory of smooth space as I have a feeling these points raise some interesting issues for the overall direction of this project.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Architecture and the Body

For two years I have been attempting to track down a copy of the catalogue, "Pricked: Extreme Embroidery" (MAD, New York 2008) and finally, today, a copy arrived in the post. The first artist featured is Annet Couwenberg and her work Embroidery Penetrates is described as an architectural intervention: analogy of architecture as a reference point of identity and intentions in the same way as clothing mediates between personal image and social requirements (p12). when I read this, I keep replacing 'clothing' with the word 'cloth', and I think it comes closer to what I am trying to say here.
Only a detail of the work is shown and it appears that the words of the title are stitched in synthetic rope on ultra-light MDF, with the dimensions: 68.6cm x 2.36m--Annet uses text which references 17th Century Dutch samplers--and suddenly the ideology of the feminine (in a 17th C sampler) criss-crosses with the modern (any discussion of this should refer to Rosika Parker's text,'The Subversive Stitch' on samplers, as samplers were not always what they first appeared to be).

There is a link here I think with architecture and Emma's choice of the quilt form to present her honours thesis. The 'reverse' side of this quilt (if it could be called the reverse, perhaps 'other' side is more relevant) pieces (literally and metaphorically) the many narratives associated with the Callan Park site...the many images, documents, plant-dyed with material from the site, embroidered with text and images.
These many narratives are what forms the basis of Emma (architectural) plans printed on linen bed sheets which belonged to Ivo Gertrude Brenan, the great grand daughter of Ryan Brenan who built Garryowen, the first building on the site.
As two sides of the quilt the plans on one side are 'based' on (have an integrity with) the many threads of story on the other side.

Image: The 'other' side of Reconfiguring the Wall prior to the piecing process (courtesy of the artist, 2007).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reconfiguring The Wall

This is the first post of my interconnected blogs which focuses on work by Emma Rowden . With the addition of this blog there are now four that form the basis of my project: 'From the Block to the Blog and Back Again'. In this blog I aim to collect details and thoughts on the process of making a quilt, 'Reconfiguring the Wall' which Emma Rowden made as part of her final year honours architecture presentation in 2006.
Emma chose the former mental asylum of Callan Park (Sydney) as a site to explore: "...the social ethics and politics of architecture" (Emma Rowden, notes from 'Not To Scale', graduation exhibition).
I am hoping so show other work by Emma as well.

Image: Installation view of 'Reconfiguring the Wall' from 'Not To Scale' November 24 2006