I knew that by participating in an overseas artist residency, immersed in a totally different and unique culture, would have an influence on my future art practice. But at the time, I could not imagine how.
I have been back from the residency for 18 months, and whilst I work daily in the pottery studio with materials and skills I acquired in China, an altogether different art practice in hand stitched embroidery has emerged. Stitching is something I do at home…I find it very meditative and cathartic.
I went to China to work in ceramics and came home with a renewed interest in stitch. Whilst in China I was one of two Australian artists who had the honour of being invited to attend the grand opening of a new Pottery Workshop in the beautiful Dali Old Town in the Yunnan Provence. It was a gruelling but exciting journey, travelling by local bus, plane, and train to the very west of China. Which was followed by three days of celebrations, feasting and dancing. The historic Dali Old Town is centuries old, with wooden houses on narrow cobble stoned streets. It dates back to the early days of the Silk Road and it appears that little has changed. Situated close to the Lao and Burmese border, the area is home to many ethnic minority groups that still wear their colourful traditional costumes and are left to continue their traditional ways by the Chinese Government.
Whilst the Pottery Workshop staff were busily preparing for the upcoming celebrations fellow Adelaide artist Leanne Marshall and I were left to explore the town by ourselves…and explore we did! As the only western tourists in the town we were strangely but politely ignored, no one stared at us or tried to hawk their wares, we became silent observers of a centuries old culture. It was as though we were slightly removed from what was happening around us…this feeling no doubt heightened by the lack of oxygen levels due to the altitude of the ancient town. Between the rain showers, travelling traders would set up blankets on the street selling fresh vegetables, flowers, trinkets, pieces of cloth and hand stitched embroidery taken from the old, worn clothing of the Bai people.
The skill and handy-work in these traditional embroideries was amazing. I was able to purchase a few vintage pieces but in hindsight I wish I had purchased more. The two pieces I bought are now framed and hang proudly amongst my contemporary art collection but the effect they have had on my art practice is strangely on going. After researching the traditions, types of Chinese stitching, knots and the customs of the Bai people I discovered that century old stories are told in repeated designs and motifs in the embroideries which adorn pockets, collars, cuffs and carry bags.
Influenced by this idea of story telling through embroidery, in October 2016 I embarked on a personal project to stitch something everyday. My embroidery hoop has become a type of journal, or visual diary of my day-to-day experiences. The random selection of images I stitch has allowed the process to become completely organic.
I began posting images of my progress on Instagram at first creating little interest until, one day, quite unexpectedly, I received hundreds (and now thousands) of ‘likes’ from complete strangers. My daily stitching is by no means unique, I have since discovered there are many, possibly hundreds of like-minded stitchers, from just about every country and culture around the globe following each others daily progress. Inadvertently it seems I have joined a world wide stitching group!
There definitely appears to be a universal resurgence of interest in stitching, which as an artist, is very exciting. Social media sites, such as Instagram, are an immediate platform to view other artists work and, as an artist, a great way to show your work to a very diverse (although unknown) new audience. My frequency of posting on Instagram has taken a bit of a back step at the moment as I prepare and work on a new body of stitched work for the SALA festival in August.