This paper examines the sewing needle as a tool for reparation within art practice, and reflects on the capacity for art to heal aspects of self, culture and the environment. Through my multidisciplinary art practice – stitching, installation, writing, and walking – I consider how attentive care and repair can transform grief and trauma; specifically, in the wake of the 2019/2020 fire season on the east coast of Australia; and to a lesser extent, the global pandemic that quickly followed. The work at the centre of the paper is the creation of a blanket wrapped rock cairn, built in my studio during the months-long Greater Sydney 2021 lockdown. The action of stitching remnant pieces of blanket around rocks builds upon Louise Bourgeois’ concept of the needle as an object of psychological repair, bringing individual fragments of creative practice, grief and trauma into conversation. Walking as art practice is both the medium that underpins all the others, and the journey I begin in the fire’s wake. Unable to prepare for a long-planned durational walk while still in lockdown, I instead walk by stitching steps through wool, temporalities and across landscapes, real and imagined, demonstrating how I see walking and the needle as synonymous.
'Solstice’ is a short story about personal healing. The piece forms part of my practice led research toward a PhD in creative writing, which looks at experiences of erotic ambivalence in feminist short fiction. Its healing narrative is unconventional in that it suggests that it is the process of sitting with ambivalence that allows the protagonist to heal—rather than a process of rejecting disgust and harm in favour of desire and acceptance. It speaks to the creation of new connections, rather than a repression of harmful memories. In this regard, it relies heavily on bodily metaphor and bodily experience. The piece rejects a linear narrative structure in favour of weaving both story and character from fragmented, sensuous micro-intensities, which are akin to the ways in which one experiences harm and healing.
This reflection on practice paper explores the role of form and playfulness in the serious business of poetic narrative to create stories we can access and understand, in order to recoup and recuperate after times of hardship and change. It is a process of cutting fear and anxiety down to size. In the process of constructing this essay, the strictures of the poetic forms of the sonnet, villanelle and tanka are conflated with the restrictive, confining walls of the home during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the transgressive nature of change in the way we live during confinement within the lock-downs is interrogated through the playfulness, irony and wry resignation of content located within the confines of the predetermined formality of the sonnet, villanelle and tanka.
Through a visual art project titled 'Future Traditions' I have developed a framework structured around restoring and revaluing textile traditions as skills and care-full methods critical to future survival. In the last centuries the value of these intergenerational traditions have become obscured enough to cause their erosion, obsolescence and even perishing. The following five stitch-explorations extrapolate upon why we need these specific hand-embroidery techniques, expanding their reach into the bodily, ecological, truth-telling and survival terrains they inhabit.