21st November 2020
The title of this exhibition, Fabrik, overlays the word fabric, the basis of all textile and clothing, with the word 'fabrik' to emphasise the place of making, of manufacture rather than just the material being made. The idea that the object is not independent of how it is made, how it is used and how it is disposed of is the basis of this exhibition.
The curatorial text panels, The Making, The Unmaking and The Precarity of Labour are an attempt to start a conversation. By looking at one element of our lives - how we buy and wear clothes and buy and use textiles in our homes - we can consider so many other aspects linked to us through these everyday activities. We can think about conditions of employment, how we use, reuse and dispose of the materials in our world, how our history informs our present and how change can be sought.
The five artists, Vivienne Dadour, Beata Geyer, Anne Graham, Ian Milliss and Ebony Secombe, are members of Modern Art Projects Blue Mountains (MAPBM) which is based in the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney. MAPBM is a membership-based group which seeks to develop the practice and public presentation of contemporary art in this region and this context.
Artist Statement: Make No Delay: Trading by Foot – Syrian Mary Hawking in Dark Corner is a research-based project that investigates and aims to decipher the extraordinary labour of Syrian women in 19th Century regional NSW. The life of Syrian Mary, a rural hawker,is used as a metaphor to examine how oppressive racial attitudes, harsh economic conditions and power structures influence questionable working conditions for immigrant Syrian women hawking in rural NSW. The culture,traditions and customs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries relegated rural hawkers to unseen corners of our past.
Syrian Mary lived in the NSW township of Mudgee and walked the lonely roads and tracks of the district,travelling to Bathurst, Dark Corner, Lithgow and back. She walked along, along isolated and dark roads embroidering, knitting and sewing everyday goods to sell to isolated farming families that included textile and haberdashery items carried in a big wicker basket on her head.
Most Syrian immigrants in Australia c1890-1920 had meagre cash and spoke little English. Additionally,various forms of official and social discrimination made it difficult to find employments in the industries dominated by the Anglo-Celtic labouring classes.The only option open for many was to work as hawkers on foot in suburban and rural areas.
Art work produced for this project incorporates material gathered from on-site rural NSW, oral history,historical photographs and documents from Dadour family archives, archival documents and archival objects. Installed in a Victorian style hang they serve the dual function of not only referring to the wider trade spectrum of the time 1880-1930 (socio-political contexts of production, exchange and consumption) but also to the individual biographies of Syrian women hawkers in this economic system who were often overlooked but made significant contributions to the development of their local and wider communities.
Artist Statement: “Colour sells and right colour sells better” – Colour Marketing Group
LOVED explores intersections between colour, fashion and design with a particular focus on colour forecasting and palette development. Complex and yet intuitive, colour forecasting has a history dating back to 18th Century and has been a major driving force in fashion and textile industry since. Colour forecasting is a fundamental part of fashion and trend predictions, a collective effort to accurately forecast what consumers wants to purchase approximately two years in advance.
As most of the products that we buy are fundamentally the same, colour plays a major role that influences our purchasing decisions. Colour feeds our cycle of consumption, offering seemingly new choices time and time again. Every year new colour palettes are released by major forecasting companies such as Pantone, CMG, WGSN, for manufacturers of all kinds of consumer goods to follow. Fashion designers both set and follow trends, increasingly feeding into other industries, particularly interiors and furniture design, with fashion houses routinely adding interior collections to their arsenal.
The current collective mood makes it difficult to tap into future zeitgeist and the (post)pandemic colour forecasts seem to highlight our lack of certainty about the future. The trend books offer a vast array of themes, from psychedelic neon’s, energetic reds,exuberant oranges, strong blues and cooling greens, to muted, bohemian neutrals, and timeless monochromes. LOVED is a colour forecast, a personal journey into the past, the present and the future, a colour palette of now and next.
Anne Graham, The Gardens of Stone, 2020, Recycled woollen blankets, dyes,wood, painted steel bases, Courtesy of the artist and Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney
Artist Statement: In 2015 I completed a short residency at The Big C Gallery in Bilpin, NSW. Yuri and Rae Bolotin introduced me to the Gardens of Stone. The Aboriginal occupation of this place dates back at least 11,000 years. It is a special place that we must preserve. Activities such as off-road driving and mining can destroy this heritage. I want in this work to at least begin to draw attention to this magical place. I have used discarded woollen blankets, rubbish I suppose from our affluent society, to draw attention to, as Charles Darwin said to: “Nature which is a power incessantly ready for action and is immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts as the works of nature are to those of Art".
Ian Milliss, The complete picture, 2020, digital prints, events. Courtesy the artist
Artist Statement: Context is everything. We see fashion in isolation with little thought to the people, animals and processes involved in its production or its afterlife as waste and the problems it creates. The obsession with cheap disposable clothing has created major problems in every part of this process which ethical and sustainable clothing activism is trying to change.
Ebony Secombe, Sitting with Fear and Empathy, 2020, yellow and black caution tape. Courtesy the artist
Artist Statement: Sitting with Fear and Empathy (2020) references traditions of the Bauhaus and Expanded Architecture movements, speaking to social and political understandings of space and place,tying in with contemporary practices of Modern art. Sitting with Fear and Empathy references the role of textiles in feminist and queer artistic and political practices through abstraction and labour. The hand-crafted textiles work grows over the duration of the exhibition, considering the place of textile practices in supporting conversation – time set aside to perform the labour of its creation is time set aside for the self and for others. Sitting with Fear and Empathy brings the materiality of the urban together with the domestic craft of crochet, to form abridge between worlds, allowing space for discussions around power, violence,control, access and healing. The object is complex, the rug that secrets are swept under, the result of a labour of love, a signifier of family and community, a square in the fabric of society, the thread that denies access can be twisted and stitched or crafted into a place of warmth, vibrancy and welcoming. Sitting with Fear and Empathy is about taking time, making space for healing, love and connection.
The Precarity of Labour:
This is a term used to describe conditions of employment that are uncertain, often unsafe and fundamentally disrespectful of the worker and their place within a family and within a society. To be blunt, the worker is seen as totally replaceable.
“Precarious” can be used to describe a wide range of workers including the self-employed, those employed in large factories or retail organisations, and at the extreme end of the continuum, indentured workers. It is a term associated with low wages or low payment per task, uncertain or unreliable income streams, little or no control about the number of hours worked, doing “low-skill” work or, more realistically,having an easily replaceable skill. It is often associated with poor and unsafe conditions and representation. Many of the workers in the clothing, textile, and retail industries live precarious working lives.
Some argue this precarity affords a level of flexibility to the worker not possible under a regularised fixed hour, long term working arrangement and can provide an alternative route to permanent employment.However, the flexibility is rarely controlled by the worker unless the overall level of unemployment is low, or the worker has a specific highly sought-after skill.The common experience is that once a worker declines a shift, a contract, a gig they will not be offered anything again by that employer. They will be replaced.
See also: Selling door to door, hawkers, pedlars, online shopping, sharecropping, job losses,piecework, ‘bull’ system, casualisation, insecure jobs, unprotected work, on call, gig economy, child labour, slavery, waste picker and scavenger, indentured labour.
Let us consider two seemingly opposing models. One in which low cost textiles and clothing are disposable, where consumer consumption relies on clothing, in constantly changing colours and styles being cheaply and quickly produced, sold, disposed of and replaced. A large proportion of this making of clothing is to standard, westernised designs and the environmental costs such as water use and pollution, land degradation and the costs of disposal are not to be borne by the purchaser but by the whole community.
The other model is the slow fashion consumption model, higher quality, long life cycle, often handmade, where the textiles and clothing, the maker and the means of production are valued. It is here that the body of the weaver, spinner, dyer, and sewer, often ignored in the first model, is seen to occupy a specific space during the process of making either by hand or in a factory. The upfront costs of the slow fashion model are higher, tend to be borne directly by the purchaser and can be a barrier to many. However, with the expectation of a longer life cycle the end of life costs are significantly lower.
The mantra of the environmental movement is to reduce (to make less), reuse (to share the use) and recycle. It has been expanded by the push to upcycle, the hack or the remake. These processes increase the effective lifespan of the textile and clothing material. The process of recycling extends the life of the material by making it into a new product or use.
See Also: Global Fashion Agenda, fabrication, creative reuse, Cradle to Cradle, linear economy,
The purposeful unmaking of textiles and clothing is not a priority in Australia. There is no official policy, procedure, or facility for large scale recycling of textile waste and currently half a million tonnes of unwanted textile and clothing products end up in landfill every year.
It is estimated that only five to ten percent of the textiles and clothing donated to charity or op shops in Australia is finally sold in those shops. The same amount again is sold into the second-hand market overseas. The remainder of the donations (75 to 90%) are sent to landfill as unsuitable for sale.
In Australia the second hand or resale market outside of the op shops is thought to be relatively small, although overseas this market is growing quickly, and it is claimed that it will be the largest segment in ten years. However, others speculate that the reuse/resale market will eventually be overwhelmed by the quantity of cheap fast fashion goods and become unworkable or unviable due to sorting costs.
Clothing and textiles are also unmade in other ways before the end of their life. Microfibres shed by synthetic clothes during the laundry process are thought to account for 35% of the microplastics in the world’s oceans.
While the gold standard of the effective use of materials is a circular economy, it is difficult to see how this will work if the textile and clothing product is not biodegradable and/or without stewardship of the product by the manufacturer.
See Also: Australian Circular Textile Association, Upparell, upcycle, Upcycle That, methane, Plant Ark Recycling, Immaculate Vegan,Measuring Fashion, Good on You, River Blue
All photos Alex Gooding