Soraya Abidin

Soraya Abidin

Soraya Abidin (b. 1971) is a textile artist based in Sydney, Australia. The subjects and materials she uses to create her works are born of a love for the Primitive and Spiritual practices within her Malay cultural heritage. Soraya embroiders in natural raffia representing matter from the jungle and embellishes with gold leaf, as a mark of status and the prestigious gold culture worn by her aristocratic ancestors. During as recent visit to Malaysia, where her father is from, interpreted inquiries of her family members revealed her art making practice as an inherent genetic trait directly traceable to her Malay culture, which the artist expands on below:

“I am an Embroidress, the only member in the entire family that has inherited the passion for Benang Emas Sulaman from my Opah (grandmother). I have studied my parents wedding photos for many years, loving and attempting to recreate the motifs seen on all the wedding decorations. I had no idea these works even still existed, till I showed copies of the wedding photos to my family and the next thing I knew these incredible items where in front of me, in my hands to touch and marvel at the perfection of each piece. It was then that I learnt all the embroidered pieces in the photographs had been made by my Opah.

I never could have imagined what this information would do for me, so astounding that I am finally able to make this connection. Now I understand my passion for Embroidery has a strong thread directly linked to my inherent bloodline. This may seem simple but to me it provides powerful and auspicious meaning to the medium I have always instinctually gravitated towards as an artist. Now I have found the origins of my practice and that I am the one to carry on the family tradition.

During the residency I would like to study the use of motifs in traditional Malay textiles, Tekat and Songket, and gather motifs and their meanings to create a glossary for reference in my artmaking. I would like to create an artwork representing my cross cultural parentage, by use of the Traditional Quilting practices of my Australian mother, layered and embedded with embroidered Islamic Arts motifs of my Malay father.

The work will be embroidered with natural raffia and pure white silks and embellish with gold leaf, metallic threads and glass beads. My focus will be on the selection and placement of motifs that are layered over a quilt top created by my mother. The base cloth will be embellished with a combination of appliqued silks motifs then layered with interconnecting embroidered Malay motifs, intentionally leaving gaps and spaces to create a cross cultural conversation in both the positive and negative space.

The intention of the work is to portray a new found clarity and definition in my identity. Through the layering of motifs and utilisation of the powerful meanings in their symbolism to bind together the genetic behavioural traits of my two cultural heritages.”

Soraya will be in residency at Rimbun Dahan for the month of August. You can find more of Soraya and her work on Instagram.

Rose Thomas

Rose Thomas

Rose Thomas, founder and creative director of New Zealand label Nymphets uses costume, textile design and multi medium art in a fresh approach to fashion.

Installation and performance art are central to exhibiting Rose’s work. Under the Nymphets brand, Rose has created a fantasy world allowing her audience a kaleidoscope view into her personal aesthetic and perspective.

Nymphets is a unisex label and Rose wishes to further explore gender politics in fashion while at Rimbun Dahan. A deeper understanding of how clothing affects how a person is perceived and approached in society will allow an increased emphasis on gender fluidity in Rose’s future collections.

After travelling through South East Asia in February and March of this year in search of new and colourful inspiration, Rose will also focus on textile design and developing her fashion photography portfolio during her residency at Rimbun Dahan.

(written by Anna Hanlon)

Julie Ryder

JulieRyderArtist’s statement:

Julie Ryder is a textile designer and artist who lives and works in Canberra. Initially trained in science, Ryder graduated from the Melbourne College of Textiles in 1990, and completed a Master of Arts (Visual Arts) degree at ANU, School of Art in 2004. In 2005, Julie was awarded the inaugural ANAT Synapse New Media Artist in Residence at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. She has been the recipient of many awards and grants, most notably the Gold Medal at the 1997 International Textile Design Competition in Taegu, Korea, the 2004 CAPO Singapore Airlines Award, a 2006 Australia Council VAB New Work Grant, and several grants from artsACT. She has undertaken several artist residencies, including Hill End, Iceland and Bundanon and is a 2013 Asialink Visual Arts Resident at Rimbun Dahan.

During her 3-month stay at Rimbun Dahan Julie will be completing work for an upcoming solo exhibition later this year, and will be starting new work using the plants growing here as dye sources for both paper and textiles. She will also explore traditional textile and fibre techniques to inform future work.

She has exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, and is represented in the collections of the NGA; NGV; Powerhouse Museum; AGSA; BRAG; Textile Museum, Tilberg, Netherlands; Tamworth City Gallery, CSIRO, and many other public and private collections worldwide.

See Julie’s blog of experiences at Rimbun Dahan on her website: www.julieryder.com.au

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dot-net-dot-au

dot-net-dot-au
Tim Craker, 'Botanical Data File #3'. Plastic safety fencing, hand-cut. 205 x 300 cm. 2008. Now in the permanent collection at Rimbun Dahan.

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.

Above: Tim Craker, detail of ‘Thought Pattern’, plastic chinese soup spoons, nylon thread. 250 x 400cm. 2007.

Exhibition Opening

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton is a Melbourne-based artist who trained in painting and printmaking at RMIT and holds a Post-graduate Diploma with the Victorian College of the Arts and a Masters Degree in Fine Arts with the University of Ballarat.

Since 2000, Louise’s practice has centred on the reconstruction of detritus from the home. This has included the re-use of her own paintings, collections of everyday business envelopes and vintage wallpapers and discarded needlework.

In 2006 she was awarded a Sir Ian Potter Cultural Trust travel grant to undertake an artist residency at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia. In 2008, her joint exhibition dot-net-dot-au (with Tim Craker) toured to Malaysia and Singapore, including works she had conceived and created at Rimbun Dahan.

Artists’ Statement from the Travelling Exhibition dot-net-dot-au

Based on a collection of small henna-hand stencils (mehndi) I found in KL in 2006, I made (the linen coloured) Hand-work first. I chose the hornbill as the negative motif inside the hand because, being a vulnerable species in Malaysia, I wanted to create a connecting point between Malaysia, my time at Rimbun Dahan (the image was found in a Malaysian Nature Society magazine on the property) and our two very different cultures. I liked it so much that I made the blue one, mirroring the hand and repeating the hornbill negative within it. The Home-Tree was made next (based on an Indian Tree of Life image that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past 15 years) and the koala was chosen as the negative motif. Being a vulnerable species here at home, the koala acts for me, as an Australian counterpart to the Malaysian hornbill. The koala also has a deep connection, within Australia, to the decorative home-based traditions of the past (“Australiana” doilies etc) and as a national icon.

The use of the negative motif inside the highly decorative outer motif becomes a metaphor of vulnerability and potential loss (of species and also traditions) which is common to both our cultures. So, the choices I’ve made here are about my trying to find connecting points between my brief encounters with South East Asia and my ongoing life in Australia.

The majority of motifs I am choosing for dot-net-dot-au were “collected” in Asia and the majority of actual embroidered materials were collected here in Australia. These, largely Western motifs (dotted throughout with Asian inspired imagery) could be seen to represent colonisation, but hopefully, they can also create another link between cultures – that of the home and the garden.

In-filled with hundreds of, individually extracted, embroidered motifs, the Hand-work pieces create, because the palms are opened outwards, a gesture of welcome and offering (which links them to the original henna (mehndi) hands used for Indian weddings and other celebrations). In both Hand-works and Home-Tree there is also a sense of protection, by holding the vulnerable, absent image within their palm or branches. There is perhaps also, the possibility of loss and at the same time, the potential for ‘salvage’.

The other image I have chosen to work with is the Buddha head, also brought home with me from Malaysia as a simple pencil line-drawing. Traced from a book I found in my guest room at Rimbun Dahan, the original sculpture housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is a 7th Century Cambodian Buddha. Imitations of these ancient sculptures are found here in Australia, one being spotted recently sitting outside my local garden shop. The image represents my own fascination with the incredible beauty of Eastern arts traditions, but also the difficult arena of the displacement of traditions, of Colonisation and the plundering of other cultures. At the same time, there seems to exist in the image, an enduring sense of quiet, humility and peace, which allows the image to somehow transcend its appropriation – or does it? The Buddha’s cast-down eyes, in my re-appropriation, are made of pearl-drop lace, a feather and a blue flower. His ear and cheek are embellished with tiny blue birds and a miniature Chinese fishing boat, a delicate butterfly caresses his neck and in his hair knots, (made from over 100 circular crochet and embroidered motifs) ‘nest’ two running-stitched swallows. These embellishments on an image once cast in bronze, and now drawn by me in delicate reclaimed lace, could point to the Buddhist idea of transience? However, it also makes me feel uncomfortable – is it still a “stolen” image? This also causes me to wonder, about the nature of travel, of my residency and my return to Malaysia and Singapore to exhibit this year – while we try to grasp something of the wisdom and experience of other traditions, can we ever really hold on to it, or make it our own?

Louise Saxton
March 2008