Wednesday, 20 February 2013

'The Enlightenment of a Housewife' explained

Several people have asked me about the title of my Blog, so here is the story behind the title.

In December 2002 I received a letter that I was selected as a finalist in the Charles Henry Foyle Trust Award for Stitched Textiles. I was invited to create a textile work on the theme of 'Metamorphosis', which would then be exhibited in Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch and further at the Royal Society of Artists in Birmingham.

The theme of  'Metamorphosis' as a subject couldn't have been closer to me, then right at that time, as I was going to do a special meditation retreat, involving a major shift of consciousness and expansion.
I have been meditating on a daily basis since 1983 and have discovered a wealth of inspiration and insights which changed my life for the better, in many different ways. Without it, I wouldn't be who I am today. Whenever I can, and is appropriate, I like to express some of my insights into my textile work. So this is what I decided to do for the 'Metamorphosis' exhibition.

An old laundry drying rack, left in the airing cupboard by the previous owners of our house, was the starting point. It brought back memories and associations of the recurrent job of 'doing the laundry' from the 'cradle to the grave'. According to brand advertisers, a job, in which we would aspire to get the 'perfect white wash' if we would use the right detergent.  Ambiguity galore!

'Doing the laundry', and any other forms of cleaning, are some of the typical tasks of a housewife. They are part of her identity. Meditation is like a cleaning process in which we undo ourselves of all the different identities we tend to take on, in order to realise who we really are. Traditionally this is thought to be a goal realised by very few men, often monks who devote their whole lives to this and submit themselves to extreme measures of discipline and meditation. With this installation, 'The Enlightenment of a Housewife', I wanted to challenge this tradition and any other beliefs that the viewer might hold. Each transparent cloth is inspired by traditional towels and cleaning cloths, all expressing symbolically different aspects of a personal account of metamorphosis.

This is the original clothes airers with the original cleaning cloths.

There are 9 different cloths/towels to do with different aspects of cleaning: Baby towel/cotton nappy,  Bath towel, Tea towel, Dust cloth, Flannel, Dish cloth, Floor cloth, Cleaning rag and a Hand towel.

And this is how it looked after the symbolic metamorphosis.
The old laundry rack was wrapped with strips of calico and gold thread. The cloths were all made in a different way. I used transparent and semi-transparent silk, cotton and synthetic fabrics in white and gold, presenting spirituality for me. Other materials were silk and Angelina fibres, pelmet Vilene, hot water soluble fabric, HP iron on transfers, hand and machine embroidery threads in white and gold metallic and bonda web.
I wanted to use a variety of techniques to exercise and demonstrate the skills learnt in the 4 year of having done the City & Guild Creative Embroidery Studies. The techniques I used were: wrapping, reverse applique, cutwork, pulled work, shadow quilting, kantha quilting, piecing, bonding, weaving, laminating, computer transfer print on textiles, machine embroidery on water soluble fabric, painting and machine and hand stitch.

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of good photographs of every single cloth, as I didn't have a digital camera at the time. Although I did get the whole installation out of storage a few years ago to make some better photo's, I didn't make enough close ups to have a good record. It's another thing on my 'to do' list. Anyway here follow some more pics.

The long cloth was inspired by a bath towel which my sister gave me as a present when I left home at the age of 17 to go to work and study for a nursing qualification.

My star sign. I kept the towel out of sentiment for a very long time, but I had to get rid of it a few years ago as it was eventually completely disintegrated.

Here is the page of my sketchbook, as you can see I am not one of those exciting sketchbook workers. Note it was my birthday yesterday (I am right on the cusp of being a Piscean). I was going to post something yesterday about snowdrops, birthdays and new beginnings, but I was a bit overcome with emotions, as it was my first birthday without hearing Kiama's 'happy birthday, mum'.

Anyway moving on.

This was my favourite Dutch tea towel, bought on one of these family-visiting holidays to the Netherlands. The butterflies being of course highly appropriate for the theme of 'metamorphosis' and spiritual transformation.

As far as more symbolism is concerned. There were 45 butterflies in the tea towel and I had just turned 46 when I finished the making of this installation! And if you wonder, yes I did suffer from repetitive strain injury after cutting all these butterflies with a curved nail scissor because I didn't invest in the right tool for the job.

This cloth is inspired by the traditional English dish cloth. As the original cloth is knitted I couldn't use the same technique, as in my mind it then wouldn't be a metamorphosis.
So the cloth is completely created from machining threads on solvable fabric. The repeated gold lettering reads: 'metamorphoses of what appears to be'

This unusual clothes peg bag was made from painted pelmet vilene trapped in between 2 layers of sheer fabric.

A photo of the original one in my sketchbook.

Last but not least I want to show my interpretation of the English Face Cloth, which brings me back to the symbolism of birds, which I blogged about before.

In 1974 I read the book 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' by Richard Bach. From then on I was determined to find true Freedom. I even started collecting images of seagulls as a constant reminder of my search. One year I made a Christmas card with a cut-out seagull  and the in Dutch translated line from a song by Janis Joplin: "freedom is another word for nothing left to lose." After many years of experimentation, alcohol addiction, depression and feelings of 'losing my mind' (almost ending up like Janis Joplin) I came across the meditation I still practise today. More importantly it gave me that true Freedom and with it the realisation that there is absolutely nothing to lose, nor to gain, as everything exists within me.
I still kept that Christmas card and the design of this flannel is inspired by this. The movement of lines of the Kantha-quilting symbolises the realisation that everything, ultimately, is just pure energy.

Well you probably wonder how my house looks like with all that meditating, blogging, and textile work? I promise you, you don't want to know... Having said that, my washing machine is just finished and I need to hang out my laundry... forgive the pun.


Gina said...

I'm learning so much from your blog Catherina. Lovely to see you last week and I'm looking forward to next Wednesday.

mikhail said...

I love how you express your analogy of truth Cathrina, its very uplifting and reachable x

gretchen said...

wow - the magnitude and scope of this work is truly awesome. thank you for sharing the story behind each piece - i know so many artists prefer to let the viewer imagine the story for themselves, and i sometimes agree with this perspective, but one could never have guessed how personal this work truly is without your descriptions. wonderful!