Textile Odyssey, Poetic Pilgrimage

Australian artist Holly Story's elegiac textiles

Born on the other side of the Indian Ocean in Zimbabwe, Holly Story has lived in Western Australia since 1971, slowly and steadily forging strong links with country.  Perhaps it was the peripatetic nature of her early life [which saw her wandering variously between Zimbabwe, England, Lebanon, Thailand and the Yemen] that awoke this strong need for connection.
 
In the region around Deep River in the South West she has devoted herself to close examination of the plant life; drawing, harvesting, distilling and pressing; subjecting it to intense and focussed scrutiny. She reads the histories of explorers and botanists and forages for old textile fragments in her investigations of ideas of place and identity. Story brings together materials from indigenous plants with the traditions of domestic needlework: stitching, mending, unpicking, folding, piling and storing while quietly contemplating confluences of history and experience. She understands the separateness and dislocation that sets the immigrant and even the children and grandchildren of immigrants apart from that connection that comes up through the soles of the feet and in through the lungs and that courses in the veins.
 
Her visual vocabulary creates a mutable opening through which we are shown tender vignettes – glimpses of what is and of what might be.  She creates objects and images to which we bring our individual mutable responses. The work makes us think, stirs emotion and offers hope.
 
Using a press she has imprinted specimens of flora into fine sheets of lead conjuring a subtle image with a rubbing of paint to the surface. Plant pigments have been used to stencil wallpaper like patterns onto cloth. A delicate lace structure formed from salt together with a bonding agent encrusts a diptych made from salvaged woollen blankets, a gently caustic reflection on European agricultural practice in this old and fragile land.  
 
Recent work has centred on the dispassionate observation of a dress as it gradually lies dissolving on the bed of the river – recording its hastened passing in still and video photography. It might have languished on in a cupboard for years; here the artist has accelerated its demise, transforming it into a visual poem that captures the memory of the cloth literally as a butterfly in the net [whose wings are inevitably compromised by such capture].
 
Through the act of unpicking a linen shirt and allowing the separate pieces to be affected by their placement in a natural environment Story suggests it might be herself unravelling and being embraced by the landscape. The work ‘subject to change’ is presented in a museum display case as a kind of archaeological artefact. It is static and at rest. On the other hand ‘breath’ the video documenting the underwater dress suggests the process is ongoing although the dress is long gone. The moving image before our eyes suggests otherwise.
 
Holly Story moves through the land like a wandering poet, recording her observations syllable by syllable in cloth, stitch and film with a delicacy that evokes the haiku of the renowned Japanese poet-wanderer Matsuo Bashõ. 
 
See hollystory.com for more information.  And for more about HAND/EYE scout, contributor and supporter India Flint, see indiaflint.com, as well as her blog, prophet-of-bloom.blogspot.com.
 

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