Using examples taken from my own text and textile-based poetry, this essay demonstrates how an aesthetics of repair may suggest both restoration and fragility. The essay starts with a discussion of Tenter (2020) in which the ‘darned’ and repaired panels of the Bayeux Tapestry suggest a poetics with which to engage with post-war commemoration. In these poems, collage features as a repair strategy although the text demonstrates not all wounds can be healed. In Little red mouth (2020), an extended, contemporary poem based on the ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter, I preserve the damaged manuscript of the original within my own text, stabilising the edges of the torn text through my use of poetic form but also exploring the significance of what has been torn away. The essay pursues the complexities of a repair aesthetic into a discussion of one of my recent, textile-based visual poems, Persephone (2021), and discovers that torn fabric may pose different questions to a damaged text. In the context of this piece, and of visual work by other artists, I discuss the importance of an aesthetics of repair which keeps visible traces of the often systemic violence which caused the original damage and acknowledges the fragility as well as the resilience of what has been harmed.
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.
Community repair spaces, such as repair cafes, play a significant role in reducing the environmental impact of clothing and textiles by taking repair skills out of the domestic sphere and into the public realm. They make visible the process of repair, and normalise clothing repairs as a social practice. Globally, consumers currently purchase around 80 billion new items of clothing every year but this could be reduced by regular maintenance, which would enable clothing to be worn more frequently before being discarded, thereby reducing the demand for new clothing. Community repair spaces highlight the value of repairs in reducing both consumption and landfill, foster repair skills and increase awareness of the environmental impacts around the purchase and disposal of consumer items.