39 artists, 42 works

Holmes a Court Gallery @ no. 10, 10 Douglas Street, West Perth

Holmes a Court Gallery @ no. 10,
10 Douglas Street, West Perth

Exhibition: 22 October to 12 November 2022


Recipients of the 2022 WAFTA Textile Art Awards

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Molly Ryan

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Jayne Argent

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Susie Vickery 

TwentyFIVE+ crossover exhibition marks both an anniversary and a watershed moment for the Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association (WAFTA). Founded in 1995, WAFTA is Western Australia’s premier textile organisation – an umbrella membership group that encompasses the widest range of textile and fibre artists.

To celebrate, a juried exhibition is taking place at Holmes a Court Gallery @ no 10, 10 Douglas Street, West Perth between 22nd October and 12th November, 2022.

Created to motivate ambitious works and to stretch the artists, two criteria were formulated – use no more than three textile techniques; and to challenge the use of materials and techniques of traditional fibre and textiles.

42 artworks have been selected by a jury whose focus was on placing textiles firmly in the contemporary art arena.

For the first time three monetary prizes will be awarded in the Professional, Maker and Student categories.

Founded in 1995, WAFTA is a dynamic and progressive organisation whose members include both established and emerging artists, makers and students.

WAFTA members represent a diverse range of experiences, artistic practices and creative visionaries, continually evolving and embracing diversity with an expansive breadth of artworks using fibre and textiles.

Through the years many WAFTA members have demonstrated an increasing interdisciplinary approach to their arts practice. This crossover between textiles and other mediums range from digital print, projection and ceramics, through to the incorporation of plied or welded metal.

To challenge their creative practice, a limit of three textile techniques was set, encouraging the distillation and deeper engagement with their chosen materials; an opportunity also for mundane materials to be reconsidered and elevated from utilitarian to fine art.

A convergence of mediums and materials serves to dissolve categories of art practice, where artists are no longer defined by the medium in which they work, but by simply being an artist.

WAFTA and the twentyFIVE+ crossover exhibition committee would like to thank all the members who submitted work for their time, dedication, the high standard of technical excellence and creativity.

Crossing into the World

Some years ago, I was on the judging panel for a significant art prize that required us to select a winning acquisitive work from an exhibition spanning nearly every medium. Unanimously, the other two judges and I selected a fibre textile artwork as the winner. The piece worked on us through its subtle social critique, visual power and the outstanding skill with which it was made. To us (the invited sector experts), it was the clear winner.

This decision, however, did not go down well.

The head of the organisation asked us to reconsider our choice, on the grounds that an object made of textiles is a work of craft, not art. There was concern that this work – a piece made of fabric materials and using sewing as its primary technique – was of lesser worth than works in other mediums and therefore it could not be valuable enough to enter the collection. It was added that: “…the public would not appreciate the work”.

Of course, what was not being openly stated here was the belief that sewing, stitching, weaving and other fibre and textiles techniques are ‘just women’s work’. Implicit in the argument against us selecting this artwork was a gendered bias against textiles as a medium and a diminishment of the labour, skill and creative validity of practices that are traditionally female-led.

The bias amounted to an inability (read: an unwillingness) to see and acknowledge the complexity that is often embedded in fibre textile artworks. I am reminded here of a story I heard about the stegnanographic knitters in Belgium during World War l. Two of the most common stitches used in knitting are the knit and purl; knit stitches are flat and resemble the letter ‘V’, while purl stitches are horizontal bumps. Interspersed within a knitted row these are relatable to binary code and as such can be encoded to carry messages – which is exactly what a group of Belgian grandmothers did to pass information to the Allied resistance. Within the weave of woollen garments, messages passed unseen under the eyes of the occupying German force. This method was so successful that it was used again by secret agents for Britain during World War II and spies were also known to work coded messages into embroidery, hooked rugs and other textiles1. These items avoided scrutiny because of an inability to read fibre textile objects as anything other than innocuous, decorative items made by women.

The truth, of course, is that fibre textiles have always had the capacity to contain powerful knowledge and dangerous ideas, to both weave in and cross over into history, culture, politics, cosmology and science. You just have to look closely to see this.

The artworks in WAFTA’s twentyFIVE+ crossover exhibition are indeed embedded with diverse bodies of knowledge. The provocation in this year’s theme ‘crossing over’ was to create works that expand the boundaries textiles have often been seen to sit within and to cross-fertilise established techniques with new approaches. The selected artists have made works that explore the breadth and complexity of contemporary fibre textile practice today.

Many of the artists in this exhibition stitch a thread between the past and future by hybridising old world techniques with new ways of making. Skills that connect an artist with cultural and familial histories are innovated and experimented with, leading to new applications of a method or at times an entirely distinct technique. Working with materials that are so closely connected to the body and notions of family, health and protection, many works examine personal histories. At times the artworks have been created as a means of recording intimate stories or processing traumatic memory. There is a sense of resilience in many of these artworks and a genuine celebration of lived experience.

Other works experiment with the weft and warp inherent in textiles to play off geometrical and architectural forms. The woven grid is subverted, deformed, layered and twisted. It disappears into pure abstraction and reappears overlaid with text, symbol and image. Artists employ the mutability of textiles to generate new shapes, and in doing so draw upon mathematics, the built environment and cycles in nature.

Textiles and weaving have an inherent connection to plants, animals and organic processes, which is obvious if we consider for a moment that traditional fibre textile materials such as wool, jute, flax, raffia, leather, cotton, silk and so forth are sourced directly from the natural environment. Ecology and nature are key concerns in a number of works in twentyFIVE+ crossover and botanical knowledge is used in the way materials are collected, manipulated and presented. In our current context, it is difficult to make artworks about nature without also referencing the collective anxieties we all now carry regarding climate change and environmental destruction. What I find compelling about many of the pieces in this show is that they are not commenting upon these important topics through purely representational means. Rather, meaning and action are embedded within the physical making of the work and by engaging with practices that have a keen awareness of natural resources; botanical dyeing, foraging organic matter and re-purposing discarded materials. These works offer hope and participate in small acts of resistance and care.

The diverse systems of information that artists draw upon in this exhibition extends to an exploration of belief, symbolism and sacred knowledge. It is not difficult to see elements of ritual in the physical processes of making fibre textile works, which often involves the repetition of many small actions. Some works carry the potency of votive objects, yet they are uniquely personal and at times wonderfully mysterious. Throughout twentyFIVE+ crossover, artists honour, appropriate and expand upon established approaches in fibre textiles to synthesise their own visual languages.

I could continue discussing the breadth of skills and fields of inquiry covered in this exhibition, however, it is time to return to the story at the beginning of this essay. We – the invited judges – made it amply clear that we would not be dissuaded of our decision to nominate an outstanding artwork made of textiles as the winning acquisitive work. And so it won. While it was frustrating that we had to defend our decision, it was also a pleasure to describe at length the skill, sensitivity and intelligence that shone from this artwork. I commend all of the artists in twentyFIVE+ crossover and I hope that viewers enjoy the manifold glimpses into the world that I see shining through in this exhibition.

1.This topic is written about at length in the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals [Whitman Publishing Company]

Erin Coates Artist, Independent Curator

Erin Coates is a visual artist and creative producer working across drawing, sculpture and film. Her work is shown in both galleries and film festivals in Australia and abroad, including: rīvus: 23rd Biennale of Sydney (2022), Erin Coates // videos and movies // 2011–2020 Art Gallery of Western Australia (2021).

twentyFIVE + crossover

Background image: MARTIEN VAN ZUILEN,
In Place, Entwined,
Photographer: Bewley Shaylor

Wafta twentyFIVE + crossover
on-line catalogue

includes essay by Erin Coates, Wafta history, images and statements from artists on the 42 art-works exhibited

wafta exhibition catalogue