One of the things that I love about farm fences are the ingenious methods that they are fixed and repaired. Generally using little more than a bit of wire, they are stitched and patched to mend the holes. Inspired by these methods I have explored a series of ‘fences’. The topic relates to my MFA thesis which is situated within post colonialism. The fence is an extension of the home delineating an area between the private feminine domestic realm and the public masculine realm outside the boundaries of the fence. The space between the house and the fence is an area where the gender roles mutate. This space is a liminal area reflecting a continual shift between masculine and feminine, public and private, past and present.
The fence symbolizes ownership, boundaries, protection, inclusion and exclusion. Generally the fence is constructed consisting of vertical and horizontal planes in a three dimensional space, although it can feel illusory, with only the posts being visible, the lines of wire almost transparent and lost in the landscape. Without the weight of the shadow to enhance its presence it is insubstantial yet it can still have considerable impact on the land and the human psyche. The fence physically prevents movement in space, providing an illusion of security and restricting movement in thought, inhabiting our thinking and shaping our cultures through social restrictions.
Fences are built not for security, but for a sense of security. What a fence satisfies is not so much a material need as a mental one. Fences protect people from anxieties and fears. In this way, they are built not for those who live outside them, but for those who dwell within. In a certain sense, what is built is not a fence, but a state of mind. The fence became a symbol of colonial plunder, promising that those who erect them have the right of territorial control. They became masculine tokens of order in the wilderness.
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Kate Ward graduated from the Australian National University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Visual Art and went on to obtain a Masters in Arts Management and Policy from London University, UK in 2008. She is currently studying a Masters in Fine Arts in Halifax, Canada. Kate recently participated in an international summer residency at the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design, Halifax Canada as well as at Hill End NSW in mid 2013. Her drawings of Canberra were selected for tea towel designs as part of the Canberra Centenary celebrations also in 2013.
In 1999 Kate was awarded a residency at Megalo Print Studio and undertook an exchange with Kyoto Seika University in Japan through the ANU exchange program in 2000. Her experience in Japan informed a body of work and as a result held a solo exhibition at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery. Kate’s work has been selected for national and international exhibitions and she has won a number of awards. Her work is represented in national and international collections world wide.
You’ve been thinking about communication and how women represented in literature lived in isolation with a conflicting relationship to landscape. Can you write about the exhibition Landscapes Ladies & Literature (2013), and your research of the female connection to landscape through another element of your research: migration?
Landscapes Ladies & Literature was a solo exhibition that showcased the work created in response to my experiences participating in the artist-in-residence programs in the historic gold mining town of Hill End, New South Wales, Australia and Halifax, NS, Canada in 2013. During both residencies I was interested in exploring the subtle relationships of domestic interiors as the women’s domain, referencing pioneering history of the two countries.
I was inspired by literature written by women that reflects pioneer life. Initially I responded to Australian author, Miles Franklin, who wrote about her life in My Brilliant Career in 1901, sketching imagery of domestic scenes in historic houses that was applied onto ceramics, textiles, and etched into antique silver spoons. The imagery was further explored through printmaking techniques of lino cuts and etchings. I was interested in the complex interactions within these domestic spaces and our perceptions of the people who live in them, representing everyday objects that are imbued with meaning and hint at their domestic life.
At the residency at Hill End I was ‘fossicking’ in the area and came across some old beer bottles. They dated back to 1970s, and although not from the gold mining era, still had significant relevance as alcohol played a major factor in the life of the pioneers. Throughout my research I have come across references where champagne flowed freely if gold was found, and beer was consumed to drown the sorrows of those less fortunate. Women were considered to be a good influence and they brought with them a level of respectability to the goldfields which is why I combined imagery of domestic scenes onto the surface of the cast porcelain beer bottles. My interest in pioneering women continued when I undertook the residency at the Nova Scotia Centre for Craft and Design in Halifax, Canada. I discovered English authors Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail who wrote about their experience settling in the backwoods of Canada in the 1800s. Again, I observed and sketched local historic domestic scenes and landscapes, and the resulting imagery was applied to spoons made from ceramic, wood and metal.
During my residency in Halifax I was looking for something that connected my artwork with the area but at the same time relating back to my interest in pioneering women. Halifax being the capital city of the Maritimes, seafaring is prominent with many historic shipwrecks lining the shores of Nova Scotia. The humble spoon has been used to date and identify ships, and so I decided to use the spoon as the platform for my work. It has gone on to become a metaphor for pioneering women, a symbol of nurturing as well as referring to the lack of food many of the early settlers faced. The residency in Halifax provided a wonderful opportunity to work in a number of different studios including ceramics, wood, jewellery and textiles. The ability to do so allowed me to explore my ideas in other materials which resulted in a diverse collection of works. Dwelling on the writings of both Australian and Canadian authors brought alive the hardships, trials and tribulations the women experienced. Physical hardships of living in a new, and often bewildering environment combined with the spatial distance between settlements and countries often resulted in women being isolated. I became fascinated at the idea of communication and how important it would become for these women.
What does the binding process mean in interdisciplinary metal work either in conception or fabrication?
My first degree was in textiles, and my textile sensibilities often inform how I approach creating when working with any material. Traditionally known as women’s work, knitting and embroidery are activities that can be seen as using lines to create their own surfaces. The knitter binds her lines into a surface, the embroiderer translates the surface of the fabric into lines of threads. The thread (or line) transforms into traces and surfaces are brought into being. At the same time the transformation of traces into threads also dissolves the surface. The action of knitting and embroidery is a physical representation of capturing time and memories within the construction of the object, at the same time they protect the wearer, inhabiting the liminal space at the boundary of the body.
The body is the site where individuals make statements about their identity. Jewellery and textiles decorate and communicate social position and identity reflecting the individuals power, lineage, patrimony and wealth. Crafted from precious materials, they are cherished both materially and emotionally. The enduring quality of metal contrasts with the impermanence of flesh, which charges it with a strong emotional resonance. In my work the body is more than simply the human form. It becomes a landscape, partially recognized, and partly obscured, by both objects it displays. It too is treasured and precious. Binding is the act of connecting, of bringing or holding two separate things together. I use this approach through stitching using interdisciplinary mediums including wood, metal or plastic using materials other than textile thread. I see binding as an act of repairing, fixing, and ultimately healing.
In Belonging (2015), you’ve created a porcelain object of dried Queen Anne’s Lace flower heads, a flower that has historically been mistaken with Hemlock, one of the most deadly plants to humans and said to have killed Socrates. Botanicals have long been associated with sorcery and witchcraft, often relegating women rather than men to a state of deceit. What is the symbolic significance of these historically contentious plants to your work, and how does it relate, if at all, to ritual and tradition?
As an Australian living in Canada, Queen Anne’s Lace has become symbolic to me as a representation of migration or diaspora as the plant originated in Europe and can now be found all over the world. As well as having a delicate white lacy flower, it is also an edible plant, known as wild Carrot or Birds Nest. I have read many stories about the hardships the early settlers experienced, often battling hunger and starvation along with the severe and cold winters, and I imagine that they would have had to resort to eating many of the local plants for survival.
In my research into early Canadian settler writing by sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr-Traill, I found an evocative paragraph that describes the passage of these seeds travelling on the hems of a ladies skirt from the old world to the new world.
As much of your work is inspired by pioneer history, do notions of the scientific discoverer come into play?
The scientific discoveries often occur in the making process and this is particularly relevant when I am working in ceramics and jewellery. The knowledge and understanding of the scientific periodic table (which I had to memorise in Year 9 Highschool and I thought would have no relevance in later life) has assisted with my knowledge and understanding of how glazes react in different environments in the kiln, and also how different gems are formed and coloured due to the different minerals. Scientific discoveries continue to be part of my daily creativity.
Creativity is the act of discovery. Whilst I always start a project with a concept or theme in mind, I work with the materials to reach the end result. Often the final destination is different from what I had originally had in mind. This is the result of always asking questions ‘what happens if I do this?’ which pushes me as an an artist and expands my knowledge of the material. It is an exciting process, often the outcome is unpredictable. The scientific mind is always asking questions and undertaking research to see if their hypothesis is correct. I believe both scientists and artists have a similar way of thinking and looking at the world. It is incredibly important to keep an open mind and to be continually asking questions and learning.
How has the act of recycling related to your practice over the years?
I have always been very aware of environmental issues from a very young age, growing up with parents who would recycle. I have an intrinsic awareness of reusing and making do which comes from my Mum who grew up on a farm in Australia. I delight in repurposing objects, and creating new lives for discarded and overlooked objects.
I have just returned from SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) Conference in Boston, where I was awarded a scholarship to attend. The conference provided great insight into the minds of professional artists who shared their ways of creating, and the jewellery created varies widely from pieces with the ability to be worn, through to scultpural objects. I have also been awarded a scholarship to attend a traditional jewellery making course in Florence Italy for the month of July. This is an exciting opportunity to learn specific techniques whilst absorbing the history and culture of Italy.
I will be commencing my second year of MFA program at NSCAD in September where I am continuing to explore concepts within the framework of post colonialism. Whilst I continue to be interested in colonial women I am exploring the complex narrative of the fraught relationship between women, colonialism, space and identity through the figure and form of the fence. Whilst colonial women lacked power and agency and were largely confined to patriarchal homes, they were also involved with the oppression and abuse of the indignenous peoples. The structures of power relationships are explored through the object of the fence, which is a technology of not only social control but also problematic empowerment, not only of terror but also unequal safety. Whilst challenging and confronting, the program offers the opportunity to develop and grow as an individual and an artist and I am loving the creative and supportive environment.