Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Six Memos" - Susan Fell-McLean
ArtCloth Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Over the past six thousand years or more - literature has informed the fine arts and the fine arts have inspired “new” literature. The "old masters" and their renderings of religious contexts are obvious examples of the former, whereas Dan Brown’s book, “da Vinci Code”, is a contemporary example of the latter. It is therefore surprising that so little interplay between literature and the fine arts has occurred of late. Is this because this generation of artists are not confident or mature enough to tackle someone else’s inspiration, appropriate it and render it into their own artistic language? I dont think so! Susan Fell-McLean has paved the way with her inspiring exhibition.

"Six Memos" - Susan Fell-McLean
Susan Fell-McLean has no fears in appropriating, creating and then rendering her virtual collaboration in her exhibition - the “Six Memos”. It artistically reaches into the conceptual framework of Italo Calvino’s six highly personal mediations on the art of writing, namely - Visibility, Exactitude, Lightness, Quickness, Multiplicity and Consistency. She interprets these narratives within her own artistic psychological framework and in doing so produces stunning artworks!

Susan Fell-McLean - at the exhibition (which is no longer on display).

Susan Fell-McLean has shown her work in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally (e.g. Belgium, Canada, France, Italy and Malaysia). She holds a Master of Visual Arts from Monash University (Australia) and whilst studying, she was awarded a highly sought-after studio position at the Palazzo Vaj, Prato, Tuscany, Italy. She is regularly invited to international conferences as a speaker and exhibitor.

Many of her ArtCloth processes were adapted from traditional techniques and she has drawn primarily from the Japanese techniques of Shibori and Rozome.

Gallery space devoted to her work needs to be large in this case. It gives the viewer much needed time to reflect upon the artistic islands left behind and to brace oneself for the visual extravaganza to come.

As you enter the Gallery you are visually confronted with her art piece – Visibility. At the very least, it answers to Calvino’s insistence on the priority of the visual image. For this piece Susan uses Rozome, which is a multi-stage process using a layer of wax to create a barrier, which prevents dye from taking to the fabric. She invites us to imagine the story Calvino’s “tellings” in terms of a series of frames, where the top of the art piece yields images that make you want to soar through the roof.

Title: Visibility.
Installation Description: Five vertical panels, suspended from the ceiling, above a plinth on which rest 25 cylinder forms. The viewer is able to walk around all sides of the sculpture.
Materials Used: Kimono silk, cardboard cylinders.
Techniques: Rozome – wax resist with cold acid steam fix dyes.
Dimensions: Plinth size - 2m x 2m x 25cm height - with a drop of 3.5m.

As you move to the left you encounter – Lightness. To Calvino, each of his literary values was distinct, but each seems at the same time to embrace the others. For example, “Visibility” emerges from “Lightness” and so the latter is the primordial variant of the former. What is more, Calvino sees one as rising above the weight of the world, and so even though one is trapped in a gravity field, nonetheless, one has acquired the secret of “lightness”. Susan captures that sentiment visually.

Title: Lightness.
Installation Description: Seven silk pleated plumes resting on seven slate tiles suspended from the ceiling.The wall behind is a background to this sculpture, lighting and shadows playing a significant part in the installation.
Materials Used : Silk organza, cotton ribbon, slate tiles.
Techniques: Pleating and stitching.
Dimensions: 2.5m (width), 1.5m (depth); each plume is approximately 20cm in height.

My favourite artwork in this collection is – Multiplicity. Coincidently, this was also one of Calvino’s most admired characteristics. She presents this concept in a “Stone Henge” like spiral. This ArtCloth installation was created using the itajimi technique. Calvino interprets “Multiplicity” as a vast profusion of worlds, where “…Every life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects...” When you spiral with this installation, you feel and see a “telling” of many past and future cultures. You feel a cosmos unfolding.

Title: Multiplicity.
Installation Description: Fourteen redgum blocks make up a heliocentric spiral and support bamboo uprights onto which eight panels of wool are stretched. The viewer is able to walk into the spiral and around all sides of the sculpture.
Materials Used: Wool (nun’s cloth), prefelt wool tops, silk, cotton thread. Dyed with eucalyptus, chinese scrub, mudguts from a regdum, bamboo, and redgum slabs.
Techniques: Itajime shibori, stitch and dry felting.
Dimensions: 2.5m height, with a spiral area of approximately five square meters.

You then find yourself gliding to – Quickness. In front of this work you recall Calvino’s words: ”My work as a writer has from the beginning aimed at tracing lighting flashes of the mental circuits that capture and link points distant from each other in space and time”. Susan uses Shibori and Rozome techniques and brought them together to produce this work in which she intended to create a piece that was “…transparent and yet had opacity to link and balance colour, texture and form”.

Title: Quickness.
Installation Description: Textile supported by date palm bark on a flat floor plinth. The viewer is able to walk around all sides of this sculpture.
Materials Used: Silk organza and palm bark.
Techniques: Rozome, wax resist, cold acid steam fix dyes, arashi shibori hot acid milling dye.
Dimensions: 50cm high on a plinth 2m x 1m x 20cm.

From Quickness you move to Exactitude, where the artwork must be rendered as infinitely precise in all of its crystalline detail – as if each artistic mark were as distinct in detail and in focus as a 100 mega-pixel image. Nothing, but nothing, is left to the imagination except for the reason of the art piece itself. You find yourself musing – “What is Exactitude” – and then you realise you are looking at it - literally and figuratively.

Title: Exactitude.
Installation Description: Two pieces of antique kimono silk each with the word "exactitude" dry felted into the surface. A "wall mounted" piece is mirrored by a horizontal piece that is supported on a bench.
Materials Used: Antique kimono silk and wool.
Technique: Dry felting.
Dimension: 2.5m long.

It should be remembered that Italo Calvino originally wrote five pieces for the 1985-86 Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Havard and his sixth lecture – Consistency – was not completed due to his untimely death. There is just a shadow, a watermark, an inkling of what he might have proffered for this frame. To explore - Consistency - Susan Fell-McLean organized a collaborative piece namely, a corner frieze of six photographic images (photography by Peter Ward) of textiles as land art (textiles by Susan Fell-McLean), and an essay entitled "Travelling in Calvino’s Landscapes" written by Sari Wawn.

Title: Consistency.
Consistency was a collaborative piece with The Edge Contemporary Art Collective.
Installation Description: A corner frieze of six photographic images of textiles as land art (by Susan Fell Mclean) and an essay entitled "Travelling in Calvino’s Landscapes", written by Sari Wawn. Photography was by Peter Ward.
Materials and Techniques: Digital photographs giclee printed on polyester banner fabric.
Dimension: 65cm x 4m.

The collection - Six Memos – is a tribute to Italo Calvino’s thoughtful frames, but more importantly, it exposes a very important artistic statement. Hopefully Susan Fell-McLean will continue this virtual collaboration with Calvino or with other art literature muses.

Six Memos was exhibited at the Shepparton Art Gallery and was curated by Jo Ely, who described it as: "...transgresses the boundaries of textile art, combining very traditional textile dyeing and construction techniques with contemporary sculptural concerns and notions of sustainability."

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