Current Issue #488

A Thread Runs Through It: Sustaining Creativity

A Thread Runs Through It: Sustaining Creativity

In fashion and textiles up-cycling is becoming increasingly popular as a means of generating inexpensive art materials and using sustainable practices to reduce environmental impact. The movement has seen many textile artists reject commercial fabric dyes and printing inks and re-embrace natural, plant-based dyes and eco-printing techniques using leaves and heat to impart colour onto fabric.

Among the Adelaide Fringe offerings this year are exhibitions by artists who make great use of recycled materials in works that fall loosely into the category of fibre arts, a term that encapsulates the diversity of contemporary textiles practice using everything from felted merino wool to corn husks or, in the case of one artist, bank notes.

The first exhibition that I selected to view through the lens of sustainability was @ Nature’s Pace, showing works by members of Basketry SA at Urrbrae House Historic Precinct until Thursday, March 22. Basketry-making has a long history, almost as old as civilization. Humans have always needed to make light-weight containers in which to gather foods and carry goods, and used renewable materials such as willow canes, flax leaves, and reeds – whatever was available to them – to make functional and often beautiful baskets in various forms.’

Members of Basketry SA demonstrate the contemporary basket-maker’s creative use of sustainable materials, some drawn from nature, others discarded and repurposed. Amongst the cornucopia of items on display – 81 in the exhibition and at least 100 more on the three sales tables – were baskets and bowls, lidded vessels, sculptures of birds and bilbies, wall-hangings, and jewellery. All were made from easily-obtainable, up-cycled plant materials: prunings from shrubs, creepers and grapevines, grasses and reeds, willow removed during creek-clearing projects, fallen palm fronds and tree bark, dried gourds, and corn husks.

Perhaps the most unusual form of up-cycled art material apparent in this year’s Fringe, is Abdullah Syed‘s use of decommissioned bank notes. It is illegal to deface Australian banknotes, and they cannot be used to create artwork in such a way that they can no longer be used as currency. After being withdrawn from circulation, the polymer banknotes used in Australia are melted down, made into pellets of plastic and sold for recycling.

In the USA, where paper banknotes are still in use, decommissioned greenbacks are destroyed and the resulting material is made available for purchase – a bag representing approximately $10,000 worth of bills can be purchased for US$45. In years past, the dollar bills were shredded into tiny strips about 1.5mm wide, but that practice has stopped and the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing now turns decommissioned banknotes into irregularly-shaped flakes. Sydney-based artist Abdullah M.I. Syed purchased some of these; first a bag of shredded notes from an auction in Sydney – and then a bag of greenback confetti purchased in the US. The next question was: what to do with them?

Pakistani-born Syed is one of eleven Muslim artists whose work is being shown in Waqt al-tagheer: Time of change, at ACE Open in the Lion Arts Centre from Saturday, March 3 until Wednesday, April 11. He is a sculptor who has made occasional use of textiles techniques learned from his mother. When exhibiting in Pakistan and elsewhere, he has run projects in which he engages with members of local communities to explore creative
processes in collaborative artworks.

In Adelaide, he called upon the skills of members of the Handspinners and Weavers’ Guild of SA, presenting a slide talk at their monthly meeting and inviting assistance from interested individuals to explore ways of creating artworks from these tiny scraps of money.

While banknotes are essentially a cheap raw material (paper) to which symbolic value has been attached, Syed is interested in exploring conceptual aspects of their re-use as an art form. By utilising the results of the reductive processes applied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Syed’s aim is to recreate the notes in a different form, in some way maintaining the essence of the currency itself. Thus the ingenuity of the artist recreates the bank notes into something meaningful and gives them new value. Suggestions for using the shredded notes included weaving the strips or rolling them into string which could then be stitched, woven, knitted or twined, so that the banknotes’ distinctive colour was retained, along with tantalising glimpses of serial numbers or the facial features of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin.

So what did Syed and the ladies of the Spinners and Weavers’ Guild create with all that money? You’ll have to visit the ACE Open Gallery to find out.

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox