Tim Craker, ‘Botanical Data File #3’. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.
dot-net-dot-au was an art exhibition by Tim Craker and Louise Saxton, who separately undertook short term artist residencies at Rimbun Dahan gallery in Malaysia in 2006, exploring their most vivid impressions of the time they’ve spent travelling between their home country and Malaysia. dot-net-dot-au is an artistic meditation on the links that bind us geographically and metaphorically.
The exhibition travelled to Malaysia and Singapore. In Kuala Lumpur it was presented at The Annexe Gallery, Central Market, 10-27 July 2008, where it was supported by the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur. In Singapore it appeared at The Substation, 5-17 August 2008.
Tim Craker and Louise Saxton produced two individual series of artworks that surprisingly complement and work in tandem with one another. Put side by side, the collection of works reveal a disarmingly quirky and personal insight into the experiences of two artists exploring Malaysian life and culture as outsiders.
Running through the entire series is Tim Craker’s elaboration of the net, literally and metaphorically. The net describes communication links, the sieve of memory, a tool to capture experiences and also the imaginary walls that separate cultures.
Interspersed among the nets are Louise Saxton’s insects, flowers and human figures meticulously put together from embroidered and quilted fabric. The effect is an artistic reenactment of the two artists’ process as they absorb, understand and meditate on Malaysian life and culture as outsiders.
dot-net-dot-au was also a continuation of their exhibition dot-net-dot-my at the Red Gallery Contemporary Art Space, in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007.
Above: Tim Craker, detail of ‘Thought Pattern’, plastic chinese soup spoons, nylon thread. 250 x 400cm. 2007.
The exhibition was opened on 10 July at 8pm by Angela Hijjas:
It is a great pleasure to be here to open this show for Louise Saxton and Tim Craker, a show that was partially generated by our Rimbun Dahan residency programme. 2006, when Tim and Louise were resident, was a good year for us as we started inviting artists for shorter periods than the usual year long programme. That year we had a rich assembly of artists, coming and going, overlapping with different experiences from Malaysia and Australia. We hadn’t considered doing this before, as until then we had looked for people who could stay for a year, making organization easier for us, but we subsequently realized how great an impact a shorter stay in a new environment can have on creativity.
Tim and Louise are testament to that. Louise stayed with us for just a month, as that was all the time she could spare from a young family and commitments in Melbourne. For Tim, who was with us for three months, it was a chance for him, as he put it, to live as an artist, and it then precipitated the decision to leave his profession as a veterinarian to embrace his real passion, making art.
It is now obvious to me that life altering experiences don’t necessarily take a year; a month or three can be enough to generate new views of the world and significant developments in an artist’s practice. Subsequently Rimbun Dahan began inviting choreographers and performance artists as well, adding to the variety of interactions and new ideas. So I owe a lot to Tim and Louise for their contribution to Rimbun Dahan, and for their efforts since in developing their early ideas into these works in the Annexe today. Inspiration can come suddenly, but a solid art practice requires time to digest the concepts into new forms and expression.
I was lucky enough to see the beginnings of this show when it was first exhibited in Australia last year, and the potential was obvious. Despite their very different styles, both artists found common ground, not just in the net, but in the everyday experiences that are so easily overlooked in a world sated with materialism.
Above: Detail of Star Flower, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, 300 x 180cm approx, 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.
Louise takes the delicate hand made laces and embroideries of past decades, pieces that would have been treasured as part of a bride’s glory box, that today we rarely appreciate or examine in detail, sated as we are with too many material possessions. She carefully dissects and recasts these delicate pieces into creatures and installations that are suddenly contemporary, forcing us to look closely, to examine the minute detail and to appreciate such a visual treat in our mass produced world. By transforming lacey detail into fantastic insects, she is making a world of fantasy animals that would do nature proud. Some of her animals are indeed real, like the hornbill and koala, but when she expresses them with just a negative space we are reminded of how ephemeral the real world is, and how linked we are to our short term material possessions rather than to the really important things like birds and animals facing extinction.
By contrast, as if from the other end of the continuum, Tim takes inspiration from mass produced plastic paraphernalia that has never enjoyed much aesthetic appeal… but he transforms it into something unique and stunning, in scale and form. In 2006 he made a work for Art for Nature on the theme of appetites, all about food and its roles in our lives. Tim created a huge net of linked disposable wooden chopsticks draped in the light well of our gallery; like a fishing net it was an immense Chinese banquet “celebrating” our disposable culture. With his pieces here today, he has gone further, by choosing new disposable items and binding and cutting into them to create something beautiful and puzzling. Beautiful because of the shift in scale and the surprisingly tactile effect of plastic, and puzzling because of the complete reversal of ideas of durability and impermanence. I just wish he could do something with the orange plastic barrier blocks that now litter our roads at every turn… being stuck in a traffic jam might be a better experience for some artful transformation of the detritus that surrounds us.
Louise and Tim came to Rimbun Dahan, after being art students in Melbourne together some years before, and again in this show. Their works are from very different perspectives, and yet they reverberate against each other to create a stunning exhibition. We are honoured to have this work visit Malaysia, and for that I would like to thank the Australian High Commissions, both in KL and in Singapore for their support. Unfortunately most of the High Commission staff, including the High Commissioner herself, could not be here tonight because of an official visit from the Australian Prime Minister, but I’m sure Tim and Louise would want to thank them for the support that made the show possible.
Thank you all for coming, and I’m sure you will enjoy the show. Congratulations to both Louise Saxton and Tim Craker for a stunning exhibition that illustrates superbly what both Australian and Malaysian artists are working towards: new expression, new materials and new ideas. And I’m sure you will all enjoy it. Thank you.
Re-Collection: arachnida bellis perennis – daisy spider, cotton embroidery, silk, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle, approx 300 x 240cm, 2007.
Essay on the Exhibition
by Caroline Jordan
In 2006 Tim Craker and Louise Saxton undertook sequential short-term artist residencies at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia.Rimbun Dahan is set on fourteen acres of lush indigenous gardens featuring a fully restored nineteenth-century Malay house. The location is beautiful but remote. Craker and Saxton were bodily transported from a cold, grey Melbourne winter into a humid tropical environment and exposed to more extreme contrasts as they moved between the seductive isolation of their garden retreat and the sensory overload of crowded Asian cities.
The work they separately completed on their return to Australia they link, literally and metaphorically, to the net – a term of multiple references. Today, ‘the Net’ is everyday shorthand for the internet and the worldwide web, alluded to in the exhibition’s title dot-net-dot-au. Developed in Malaysia, made in Australia, exhibited in Melbourne and exported for viewing to Malaysia and Singapore, the exhibition is part of this contemporary globalised network of information exchange. The net as a physical entity also figures prominently, albeit very differently, in both artists’ work.
Above: Detail of A bird in the hand #1, cotton and linen embroidery, steel pins on nylon bridal tulle. 300 x 150cm approx. 2008.
The bridal veil, made of the finest, translucent ivory-coloured net, forms the backing of Saxton’s embroidered wall pieces. This net marks a barrier between self and non-self, or, in the case of the bridal veil, a transition between one state of being (or possession) and another.
Psychologically ambiguous when considered in relation to the body, the net signifies protection but simultaneously advertises the presence of danger. The cosseted bride cocooned in her veil, or the baby breathing peacefully beneath a mosquito net, is insulated from threats lurking in the outside world. In other manifestations, like the spider’s web, the net intended to entangle and entrap is the danger.
Insect metaphors abound because the net, in many ways, defines our human interaction with them. The bee keeper goes swathed in net to collect her honey. The insect collector arms herself with the net and the jar to gather her specimens. Saxton uses embroidery pins to skewer her ‘specimens’ to the net for display. As the veil flutters gently and the pieces cast a shadow against the wall, they take on an illusory delicate life.
Saxton draws inspiration from a collection of women’s domestic crafts she has amassed over many years. Items such as hand-embroidered table linen and lace, once treasures destined for a bride’s glory-box, are now culturally obsolete in Australia and are commonly found discarded in charity shops. Saxton has added to this collection aesthetically-related crafts from other traditions, including Chinese papercuts and Indian wall embroidery. In a painstaking process of extraction and reconstruction that takes place over many hours, Saxton cuts, glues, stitches and backs hundreds of the tiny coloured textile or paper fragments into new configurations. Among the more common motifs found in the Western embroideries are butterflies and flowers, based on and debased from natural history prototypes going back to the eighteenth century. Influenced by this and the memory of the Malaysian garden, she transforms them into fantastical individual insects or cloud-like swarms. Lately, these have expanded into more complex compositions drawing on Asian spiritual imagery: henna hand stencils Saxton found in Kuala Lumpur, a seventh-century Cambodian Buddha head, traced from a book, the Yoga Tree of Life, a Chinese Cloud motif and a Star Flower, based on a Malay Islamic design. These compositions contain a motif-within-a-motif in the negative space in the centre of each work. For example, the Malaysian Hornbill sits within A bird in the Hand and the Australian Koala within Home-Tree. Both species are threatened. As Saxton explains: ‘The use of the negative form within the highly decorative outer motif becomes a metaphor of vulnerability and potential loss, (of species and also traditions) common to both our cultures.’
Detail of Tim Craker, ‘Botanical Data File #3’. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.
As far removed from the individuality and preciousness of Saxton’s salvaged, decorative elements as possible, the elements of Craker’s grids, nets and patterns are mass-produced and interchangeable. Craker chooses items such as moulded plastic spoons, cups and lunch-boxes not only for their ‘transformative potential’, but because they are readily available, easily worked and, not least, cheap (650 plastic cups or fifty metres of orange safety fencing are still affordable). The abundance of these cheap throw-away objects gives the artist licence to experiment freely on a larger scale and to explore the potential of the multiple. As he observes, he likes making ‘something big out of something little’, or perhaps even, something out of nothing. Taken individually, these disposable, transparent, almost weightless objects are so self-effacing and familiar that they almost disappear into their surroundings. Taken together, as units linked into wall or floor-sized configurations they become monumental, although not overpowering. They retain a sense of provisional-ness as they buckle or sag, sway in the breeze or gleam in reflected light in response to subtle changes in their environment. By keeping his touch light, Craker draws out of the banality, even abjectness, of his materials an unexpected quality – grace.
Although Craker works within the staple of abstract art, the grid, and preserves and observes the integrity of his minimalist units, he is not interested in ‘pure’ formalism or in creating self-referential, impersonal systems. Craker’s ‘recycling’ has a humanistic and environmentalist dimension. This is most clearly expressed in his Botanical Data Files series, in which leaves emerge as positive shapes from a snipped-away grid, the orange plastic leaf litter left in untidy drifts on the floor. Craker’s patterns refer to things in the world, among other things: genetic codes and their transcription errors, cellular arrays and honeycomb, three-dimensional computer drawing and molecular models. By juxtaposing the organic with the plastic and non-biodegradable in Botanical Data Files, Craker draws a different affect out of his despised materials, which he acknowledges as products of hyper-consumerism and an environmentally-destructive petrochemical industry. Similarly, his use of food utensils in such works as Cascade, Blanket and Ripple is not purely a matter of the expediency of a cheap available resource. He has said he is drawn to using food utensils, not only for the tactile attractions of their immediately-recognisable and particular shapes, but to what food and the sharing of food represents. Craker mentions the role food – recipes, preparation, eating – has played in the successful meeting of his family with that of his Malaysian partner. Food both epitomises cultural difference and offers the means to transcend it through common civilised rituals.
In dot-net-dot-au Saxton and Craker are concerned with identifying the threads of commonality that link their Malaysian experiences with their Australian lives – from the mutually-sustaining human traditions of ritual, food and the decorative arts to the global stresses on a fragile, shared environment. This travelling exhibition in Malaysia and Singapore brings their work full circle, back to its source. The Malaysian garden that once haunted the Australian studio now frames the work and reveals its hybridity from a different angle.
Photography on this page by Andrew Wuttke & Gavin Hansford.