In my visual arts practice thus far, I have used traditional textile techniques to explore and exploit notions of ‘women’s work’, femininity, gender identity and cultural taboo. I have done this utilizing human hair as a fibre in the construction of clothing or textile-based items, as well as other objects associated with the realm of domesticity and women’s work. These ‘artifacts’ are representative of the female body as my main site for exploration, in order to reference or embody changing ideas and boundaries around a woman’s physical place in society, as well as her own sense of self. I have investigated how textile practices function as a subversive language for relating the female experience, how perceptions and taboos around body/ hair influence identity, and how these elements relate in terms of a cultural narrative.
Recently, my interest in ideas of identity and language, and in conceptual textile practice (with hair) has also become concerned with ‘place’ as an area for the investigation of cultural psyche. Having grown up in a maritime culture, I am compelled to research and elaborately reconstruct the roots of my localized cultural environ as a means of preservation and personalization. I’ve recently received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the New Brunswick Arts Board and the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation to create a new body of work on this theme.
I’ve begun working on a series of pieces that explore and evoke the mythical and etymological crossovers between the acts of textile making and storytelling by men at sea. With this series, I am following one of the invisible threads between text and textiles by symbolically referring to the ‘spinning of yarns’, particularly feminine-specific myths which evolved within this context. I intertwine these references with the literal act of textile production employed by sailors and fishermen for practical reasons; the making of rope and the tying of knots and nets. The use of women’s hair as my fibre conjures references to female sexual power as portrayed in archetypes familiar to a life experience at sea (mermaids, sea hags, etc.). I wish to exemplify the longing aroused by memories of the beloved at home, which perhaps inspired such tales of sexualized/ de-sexualized female archetypes.
The first piece I’ve begun working on is a wall-sized fishing net constructed from handspun hair. It measures 10 ft. across, and will eventually reach a minimum of 10 ft. long. The netting technique used, although representative of an actual fishnet (partly due to scale), is in fact the technique that was used to contruct medieval hair nets for women. It is to be installed as a work in progress. With this piece, I wish to dissect notions of binding, both literal and emotional — the ways in which we symbolically possess our objects of desire through tangible and intangible means in order to bridge the divide between fantasy & reality and locate that thread to our essential selves. Of course, the reference to hair in the choice of technique used is an extra little pun.
The current exhibition to be installed at Struts Gallery is a transition between two bodies of work. It travels from traditional women’s textile work to traditional men’s textile work, from private experience to public or communal experience with the common thread being the embodiment and representation of female identity, both actual and imagined.