Biennial 2016: A Thread Runs Through It

Just like the thread Ariadne used to guide Theseus through the labyrinth, the presence of the thread (yarn, textile, fibre) guided me through the 2016 Adelaide Biennial’s Magic Object exhibitions.

The word ‘thread’ can be used as a noun, meaning a strand of fibre, or something which acts as a continuous link or theme – a storyline or a train of thought. It can also be used as a verb, the act of making one’s way through or over something – to pass through, meander, or wander. Both meanings are applicable in this case. Curator Lisa Slade’s Wunderkammer exhibition-concept conjures the feeling of being inside a labyrinth – the mysteries and the unknown collected, catalogued and exhibited in a seemingly controlled order. Curiosity and wonder lead me deeper and deeper into the labyrinth – the ever present thread my only guide to clarity and understanding.

Gill-Guardians-Adelaide-REview-Adelaide-BiennialTarryn Gill, Guardians (siamese twins), 2014, mixed media (including foam, fabrics, synthetic hair and speakers), 45 x 41 x 25cm. Courtesy the artist. photo: Kim Tran

Tarryn Gill’s stitched and sewn sculptures drew me into their intimate yet eerie circle of sound. They were simultaneously cold and foreboding, yet warm and comforting. Tarryn drew on Anna Freud’s habit of knitting or weaving while analysing patients as well as her own maternal heritage of sewing and stitching. Both influences relying on needle and thread to create ‘object’ and ‘magic’. At first gaze, Juz Kitson’s opulent sculptures made me feel overwhelmed. So much contradiction – male vs female forms, hard cold porcelain vs soft warm fur, manufactured objects vs natural elements, civilized vs barbaric, nurturing life vs honouring death. After some intimate contemplation surrounded by these cascading structures, the thread lead me to clarity again. The detailed handcraft, the timerich knitting and sculpting, and the warmth of fibre and thread left me with a sensual, feminine, creative feeling of power and life.

Haselton-Untitled-Magic-Object-Biennial-Adelaide-REviewLouise Haselton, Untitled, 2015, concrete, acrylic perspex, wool, 42 x 29 x 7cm (each). Courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide. photo: Greg Donovan

Descending into the exhibition space at the Art Gallery of SA, Hiromi Tango’s yarn-wrapped installation of artefacts, talismans and other collected items engulfed me like a bright neon coloured wave. Her use of fibre sculpted into organic forms, suggests life and regeneration. It is appropriate then that visitors are invited to add to the exhibition by wrapping yarn and fibre into new shapes – using thread to find new beginnings and a new path out of the labyrinth. At first glance I found Louise Haselton’s sculptures inhibited, stark and even cold. By encasing the thread in a perspex and concrete case, it is prevented from fulfilling its purpose – leading the way to freedom. It is bound. But then I realize the dual purpose of thread – it binds, it wraps, and it protects. In this case, the thread is bound by the glass and perspex, just like the golden thread in the labyrinth. I can now see the connection between Hiromi’s yarn-wrapped structures and Louise’s yarn wrapped inside structures.

Swann-Banksia-men-Adelaide-REview-Biennialdetail: Heather B. Swann, Banksia Men, 2015, wood, metal, silk, glass, 230 x 75 x 75cm each (approx.). Courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne

With Heather B Swann’s Banksia Men, I’m back deep inside the labyrinth, yet the ominous presence of the dark figures somehow made me feel safe. They watch me but instead of feeling threatened I feel guarded and protected. It had to be the overwhelming feeling of being wrapped. With so much fabric and thread stitched with time-rich intensity, I feel safe holding on to the thread. The thread that leads to light and life. That life is perfectly symbolised by Roy Wiggan’s Bardi totems. His use of cotton thread instead of the traditional feathers and fur, gives practical significance to the Ilma’s concept of time travel. Roy’s designs, which is brought to him by the spiritual visits from his father, symbolize life, protection and guidance. The ever present golden thread. Magic Objects continues at various venues until Sunday, May 15 adelaidebiennial.com.au Header image: Hiromi Tango, Lizard Tail (breaking cycle) #3, 2015, pigment print on paper, 81 x 170cm. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

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