Group Exchange 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial

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Developed by the Tamworth Regional Gallery and Tamworth Regional Council, this textile exhibition showcases diversity and excellence in Australian contemporary textile practice. With its origins stemming back to 1975, the exhibition has constantly evolved. Currently 22 artists’ works are represented, with each artist exploring the theme of collaboration. Curator Cecilia Heffer tells us more …

Hi Cecilia. What’s your background, and how did you first become interested in textiles?

I studied a Visual Communication and Fine Art degree, after which I went to London and completed a Masters in Textiles. From there, I worked for fashion houses with textile prints in both London and New York.

All up, I was away from Australia for about 12 years, and when I returned, I wanted to distil all the things I’d learned overseas into a textile art practice.

What’s your current role at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS)?

My role here is as a senior lecturer and researcher. I coordinate the textiles and lecture on the fashion and textiles programme.

How did the idea for the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial originate, and how did you become involved?

The Triennial started in 1975 by a group of very intrepid women, who formed a collective of textiles and started exhibiting in woolsheds. Since then, it has grown into Australia’s leading textiles survey exhibition for contemporary practice. It is recognised both nationally and internationally.

My background with the exhibition is that I was fortunate enough to participate in the 18th Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial, Momentum, in 2008, which was an exhibition curated by Valerie Kirk, and in the 1st Tamworth Textile Triennial, Sensorial Loop, in 2011, curated by Patrick Snelling.

I had great experience working as an artist for the Tamworth Triennials, and worked closely with Sandra McMahon, the Director at the time. I was invited to talk and be on a guest speaker panel at the Sensorial Loop Symposium at RMIT Melbourne, and from this was invited to curate the 2nd Triennial.

Describe some of the pieces in the exhibition we’ll be able to view at the Glasshouse …

They’re all standout pieces; the quality of the work is quite extraordinary, created by 22 artists from around Australia.

The curatorial theme was to look at how collaboration could extend approaches to practice. All the works in the exhibition explore collaboration in unique and wonderful ways. One example of this is the work of artist Anita Larkin. Her work, titled The Breath Between Us, is not only a beautiful sculptural form, but it works as a musical trumpet. Three musicians are needed to “exchange breath” for it to play. I find this a lovely and poetic interpretation of the collaboration theme. We’ve invited musicians from the Conservatorium to play a special composition for the Tamworth exhibition opening.

The work of Ilka White also comes to mind. Ilka really extended the collaboration theme to include a number of people, including a poet, a printmaker and photographer. She drew her inspiration from her local billabong at the end of her garden in Melbourne. The billabong became her muse. Ilka’s sensitivity to materials and making can be seen in her installation, which consists of weavings and embroideries naturally dyed from local grasses, and photographic sculptural works referencing bird-like masks. Everything connects together to create a very beautiful work.

Considering this exhibition has been growing and evolving since 1975, are we able to see how changes in technology have impacted on the artists’ work?

It’s interesting with the question of technology. I’ve argued that textiles have always been at the cutting edge of technology; when you look at lace, for example – it was an extraordinary innovation so many years ago.

In curating the 2nd Tamworth Triennial I have been very mindful to respect the history of the exhibition, while at the same time introduce new ways artists are working with textiles. Artist Alana Clifton’s work is a good example of this.  Her work explores digital jacquard technology to interpret complex knitted cellular mutations.

Changes to engaging with technology can be seen in the work of emerging artist, Jemima Parker. Through YouTube she was able to learn various pattern making techniques to create her beautiful sculptural 2D forms. Jemima represents a younger generation of artists not afraid of teaching themselves from online sources.

You’ll be presenting an artist talk on September 3. What topics will you discuss?

For each gallery I visit, I wander around the town to pick up the mood or history of the town, so I can present a talk I feel will resonate with the audience. Port Macquarie is the final destination on this national tour; I’ll be talking about some of the reactions audiences have had to the works, and give an overview of contemporary textile practice. I’d like to talk about the unique process of briefing the artists for this exhibition – we received over 150 entries, and chose 22. As a one off event to kick off their making for the Triennial, all of the artists were flown to Tamworth for a weekend. This gave them the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the Tamworth gallery space, get to know the Tamworth Textile Collection and staff and each others’ work. I believe this experience has impacted on the overall cohesion and gentle aesthetic of the exhibition.

Final say …

Enjoy the exhibition!  I especially hope children and students are encouraged to go, as they’re our future in textiles. There is something for everyone in this exhibition; my intention has been to inspire audiences and to open up the rich world of textiles and all that it offers us.

Thanks Cecilia. Interview by Jo Robinson.

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