Saturday, October 23, 2010

Meet Meg Viney, Australian Fibre Artist

Meg Viney, Australian fibre artist
I have known Meg for about eight years now and my respect for her continues to grow. As well as being a uniquely talented and inspirational fibre artist, she is also an extremely compassionate and generous person - always willing to share her knowledge and mentor others.  As you will see from her website, her work has great depth and integrity. I am honoured to share her work with you in this, the first of a Meet the Artist series.

Echoes from the garden 5. Meg Viney. Orchard prunings, paper (Red Hot Poker)

Your website references a connection to the spiritual dimension of Native American culture. Can you talk a bit about how that has influenced your artistic development and how it expresses itself, in a specifically Australian way, in your work?
From 1969 to1983 I lived on the West Coast of USA, completing a B.F.A in Fibre sculpture at San Francisco University. I had not been aware of the importance of the spirit of my homeIand as an integral part of my life until it was absent.  The experience was akin to a kind of cultural deprivation and I felt strangely alone and homesick.

However, during my studies, I stumbled upon Native American Culture and felt an immediate affinity.  I was struck by the spirituality of these people, who consider all things equal, respect all things, care for all things and believe that all things have spirit. There is humility here. 

Many Western cultures seek to control the environment, often taking a rather plundering attitude – if we want to undertake a project that requires the logging of beautiful old forests, we forge ahead without due consideration to the impact it will have on the environment. In Native American culture, however, the natural order prevails.

Native American culture does not disturb the natural order, has a mystical sense of union with nature, and acknowledges that, on a spiritual level, we are merely part of the whole, and, like all things, come into being, have our journey and pass away.

The pace of life in California was rather alarming, but Native American culture offered a refuge, and, over  time, this affinity grew and began to influence my work.  I was never tempted to emulate the art, because, as an integral part of their daily existence, that would be disrespectful.  In fact, in most tongues there is no word for ‘art’ as an independent concept.  It was not the objects per se that drew me, rather the emphasis on respect for all that is, an abiding sense of Spirit.  And so, my work emanated from my understanding of, and my response to, tribal culture.

During this period of time, each body of work was initiated by a dream.  The challenge was to create the work from the dream state to become a reality that reflects the image given. And so, upon return to my beloved homeland of Australia, I looked at the environment with more awareness, more reverence, and with what I had learned about ‘nature as a living treasure’.

Vessel for Woman Shaman, Meg Viney. Felt (sheep's fleece), paper (banana leaf), copper and linen thread, brass beads, feathers. 400 x 300 x 350mm
Shamanic Transformation, Meg Viney.
 Felt (alpaca), feathers, paper (iris). 320 x 320 x 450mm
I began looking at plant fibres, with their potential for making paper, and started to experiment with all sorts of plant fibres.  I thought about koalas eating gum leaves, realized that the leaves must be high in fibre, and made some pulp, which produced the most gorgeous rich brown paper.

VESSEL. Meg Viney: paper (red hot poker & cumbungi), stick covered with paper (New Zealand flax)

VESSEL. Meg Viney: paper (quince) H. 900 mm x 420 mm x 420 mm.

There had been a shift from an affinity with Native American culture to a full immersion in my beloved Australian culture and a deep love of her environment.

Is there an overarching theme to your work?
I believe there is an overarching theme in the work of all artists.  In an interview of Fred Williams by Patrick McCaughey Williams said that he believes an artist essentially only makes one work in his/her lifetime, which, he went on to explain, is one central concern that is visited a multitude of times - so an artist revisits the concept that is central to his/her art.

This is true of my own work – there has always been a central concern with containment – this concept ensures emotional, spiritual and physical security.  This is predominantly the subject of the writings of D.W. Winnicott, English Pediatrician and Child Psychiatrist, The Child, the Family and the Outside World
Vessels attempt to conjure a recognition that all living entities emerge from a vessel which has held and nurtured the gestating form from conception to emergence – be it an egg, a cocoon, a uterus, a bud, a seedpod, a shell - the reality is Universal – the inference, the possibility of containment. There is something egalitarian about the thought that we are not really superior to any living creature.  We are born, have our time, and pass on.

Many of my works are figurative, and yet I perceive them as vessels.  People are containers of life, of love, of one another.  A mother contains the foetus and then emotionally contains her infant bringing him/her to independence and maturity.  Women are, in that sense, vessels.

My practise involves a relationship with Nature’s momentum – I find something wonderful in gathering her cast-offs, and, through a number of simple processes, transforming them.  The cast-offs that would otherwise decompose are recycled to become new materials, which have a life of their own - thus the beauty inherent in the plant fibre and subtly concealed by the living plant is revealed as new form.

My choice of materials is driven by environmental concern. I use only what is given - in the application of materials there is no sacrifice of our environment.

What sounds like process, is, in fact a theme.

What comes first, the thought or the artwork? Or do they evolve together?
In the first three series, see website, series 1, 2 & 3 each body of work was initiated by a dream, and the challenge was to create the work from the dream state to become a reality that reflects the image given.  So this was as if the artwork and the thought came together.

Vessel for Friendly Spirits, Meg Viney.  Felt (sheep's fleece), paper (cumbungi), feathers. 400 x 400 x 340mm
Tungralik’s vestment, Meg Viney.  Felt, silk, feathers, paper (iris), steel rod. 420 x 380 x 450mm
Once back in Australia, with the shift from ‘other culture’ to an awareness and appreciation of my own culture and environment, the work took on a much more cognitive approach. I was looking and thinking all the time, forming ideas, which I documented in a Visual Diary. In 2004 I began an MVA in fibre sculpture at Monash University.  My supervisor told me that he wanted me to listen to the power of my inner vision and that he would push me out of my comfort zone.  He did.

I read Ben Shahn’s, The Shape of Content in which he proposes that a triality exists between artist, work and inner critic, and that this three-way dialogue moves between them, sculpting the progress of the work until there is a harmonious result and the work is finished.  This proved a powerful method of creating works that expressed my intention.

Dr. Robert Nelson, my supervisor for ‘Philosophies of the Studio’, asked me to describe my ‘methodology’. I read his How to do Research in the Visual Arts, and arrived at my definition - ‘the referencing of intentions’.  What were my intentions? I reflected … a desire to communicate a sense of spirit (which I believe to be innate, expressed or not) and to make works that subliminally resonate a sense of spirit.  I am asking people to respect Nature, to be gentle with our environment.

Tell us a bit about the materials you use, and how you like to work with them.
My choice of materials began during my first years in California.  I was a bit of a basket case – homesick.  I saw a pine-needle basket in a shop in Berkeley and decided that I would teach myself to make them (there was a copse of long-needled pines close to our house).  I loved the smell, the feel and the meditative rhythm of stitching.  And I loved the end result of the finished work, and that, somehow, these containers went some way to containing me. Once I had become aware of Nature’s astounding resources, I loved the idea that, by paying attention, I could find all sorts of beautiful fibres to become art materials.  Lots of artists were paying dollars for materials, but I was paying attention.

Pine needle jar, Meg Viney.
 Pine needles, raffia, feathers. 120 x 120 x 250mm
Spiral sea-grass basket, Meg Viney.
 Sea-grass, raffia. 120 x 120 x 300mm
Pine Needle baskets, Meg Viney. Pine needles, raffia. Sizes variable

I love the idea that, in a society with the expectation of ‘instant satisfaction’ even my materials take years to be ready for harvesting and processing.  And, once processed, they are but raw materials. Then there is the working of materials, the shaping, the drying and the surface treatment to ensure protection for works in fibre.  I love that my work is immersed in process and time.

Vessel, Meg Viney.
Paper (cumbungi, sweet corn), string (sweet corn). 550mm long x 250mm wide x 250mm deep

What is your all time favourite piece?
Do I have a favourite piece, or do I have a favourite concept?  In a recent exhibition entitled  'Echoes from the Garden' I have revisited the concept of the ‘Sipapu’.

In Hopi Culture, the Shaman dwells in ‘a kiva’, an underground dwelling lit by fire, and a tribesperson wishing to speak with him descends through a small hole in the ground, called a 'Sipapu'.  The hole is filled with smoke from the underground fire.  The descent through the smoky ‘Sipapu’ represents the transition from the physical world to the spirit world.

The ‘Sipapu’ pieces are my interpretation of the transition from the secular to the spiritual. The works are enclosed in Perspex boxes, which are a part of the aesthetic of ‘other culture’ as well as providing protection essential for delicate works in fibre.

Sipapu, Meg Viney.
  Pine needles, copper wire, silk thread. 70 x 70 x 120mm
SIPAPU, Meg Viney. Orchard prunings, paper (Red Hot Poker) .800x270x270mm.

SIPAPU 2  Meg Viney. Orchard prunings, indigo dyed raffia, base paper (Cimbungi) H.280 x 165x165mm

What inspires you to keep creating work? What brings you most joy in the creative process?
How can an artist not create?  I think most of us need to create to stay grounded.  Once again, as I observe the environment, which is always filled with inspiration from organic shapes, materials, light, texture, line, colour, I am filled with ideas of how to create a body of work that reflects the concept of my understanding of what I am seeing.  If this inspiration has substance, it is written about in the Visual Diary, a sketch made and perhaps a maquette created. If this is a viable concept, it will dialogue with me, and, over time, will gestate until it is ready to be born into a body of work.  I do adhere to the idea that came to me years ago, that artwork is akin to childbirth – there is the conception, the gestation, and, suddenly, the birth of the work.  Following this there is a period of looking, and of examining the work to see if it has something else to teach me, some other form of creative expression, some further direction.

You also work on community arts projects. Could you talk a little bit about the attraction that this type of work holds for you?
Whilst studying Fibre Arts at San Francisco University, the Anglican Diocese of San Francisco asked if I would coordinate an ‘Anglican Symbology Quilt’ working with 15 women to create designs from Church history. We began with the symbols/designs and fabrics I had researched and began work on the many squares that would comprise the quilt.  The finished article toured the diocese, was auctioned, and raised a lot of money, but the value was not monetary.  The outcome was that each woman brought her ‘self’, each week, to share, to laugh, to cry, and all that belongs between.  It was not about the stitching, it was about the trust that was engendered as we stitched - meditatively, as quilting invites – as we came to know one another in the safe environment in which we found ourselves.  Together. My appreciation of working with Communities emanates from that rich experience.

In response to the bushfires, the Victorian Government initiated an ‘Arts Recovery Quick Response Fund’ to be administered by Regional Arts Victoria  aimed at healing communities. I thought back to that earlier experience, and wrote a grant application for the women of Boolarra and surrounds, to create a quilt. The aim of the Project, entitled ‘A Stitch in Time – Community Bushfire Recovery Quilt’ was to give women who had been impacted by the fires an opportunity to articulate their experience, to create one or more squares to express this visually, and to piece these together to create a Quilt, and, in so doing, to find healing. In July, 2009 we began the Project, the women talking about their experience without restraint.  Lion-hearted, wonderful women, who had endured the unendurable and yet had a sense of humour.  They wanted to be there, to share, to learn, to heal. The finished quilt  a magnificent piece of work made by these women, many of whom had never stitched before, can be seen on the RAV website. [edit: I should note here that I work for RAV. DM.] We became a cohesive group, grateful for this powerful and meaningful experience that had led from the anguish of the fires to the beginning of something new and beautiful.

Each time I work with community I am astounded at how wonderful people are, humbled that I am the link that connects them, and amazed at what can be created when people work together with a common interest at heart.  And the other thing that I love is watching people light up with a joyous recognition that they can express themselves creatively.  Once that door is opened, they are aware of their own creative potential.

Is your practice changing? If so, in what direction do you see your artwork moving?
My practice is evolving all the time.  I am developing a deeper interest in the environment, in using materials given by the environment and beginning to get the idea that in some small way I can influence an audience to think about what the environment means.  Peter Andrews book Back from the Brink is a fascinating look at how mankind has warped the environment and is now paying the price, and one man’s incredible work toward rethinking our so-called ‘modern’ land management practice.  I would like to investigate the idea of working with him as the conservationist with a series of artworks progressing from the ‘Sentinels of the Landscape’ series as an installation in areas where environments are threatened.

5 figures. Paper. Meg Viney.
New Zealand flax, 700mm high. Cumbungi, 800mm high. Gum leaves, 1200mm high. Ginger plant, 750mm high. Red hot poker, 600mm high
Figures, Meg Viney.
Felt (alpaca), paper (New Zealand flax). 100 – 120mm high

Tell me of five people - whether they be artists or not - who inspire you, and why.
Antony Gormley
Gormley’s images draw me, but so do his concepts. His images speak for themselves. The concepts with which I share an affinity are:
Gormley uses what he is given – his body (and, for example, uses his own blood and semen as art materials).  I use what is given by Nature.
I see the body not as an object, but as a place where things happen.’

From the moment we leave the body from which we came, to the moment we return to the larger body of the planet, we are on our own.  The need for closeness, the need for intimacy, all of these very human senses of protection, compassion, concern, emotion, one of the things that sculpture has not been good at dealing with in C20 art. I think it is one of the extraordinary things that art is capable of, carrying feelings and often feelings that can’t be conveyed in any other way.’ These ideas are akin to my ideas of ‘containment’.
Art is a core ingredient in everyday life.  People can disinterestedly think about their own freedom and choice.  If imagination is not involved, if it is simply a matter of what we can have, we are diminished.' I cannot imagine a life bereft of art as a means of expression, as a means of learning and of connecting.
John Armstrong
Another influence in my work is the writing of John Armstrong the English Philosopher, who, in his book The Secret Power of Beauty  researches beauty, clarifying ideas, adopting a definition.  He concludes that the experience of beauty consists in finding a spiritual value replete in a material setting in such a way that in contemplating the object, the two ideas are inseparable.  I share this concern for spiritual beauty. I believe that the extent to which a life is good, beautiful perhaps, is reflected in the poise and harmony of the physical and the spiritual, each informing, inspiring and enhancing the other; a life thus balanced is both deeply satisfying and valuable.

Gyongy was my teacher for sculptural form during my years at Fiberworks in Berkeley, California.  She was an amazing observer of environment and as she drove past the orchards beside the road she traveled, she noticed the beauty of the prunings, which she used in remarkable large sculptures.  How odd, to find, many years later, that I would do the same with the prunings laying on the ground after my own orchard had been pruned.  The difference with my work was ‘time’.  I place these prunings into large pots to dry into organic shapes that I create into skeletal forms over which I drape a skin of plant fiber paper. 

Echoes from the garden 4. Meg Viney. Orchard prunings, paper (Red Hot Poker)

Echoes from the garden 2. Meg Viney. Orchard prunings, paper (Red Hot Poker)

Magdalena creates large figurative works in natural fibres.  They are quite haunting, but at the same time evocative and beautiful.  My ‘Sentinels of the Landscape’ are influenced by my response to her work.

Yoshico was my teacher for Shibori and Ikat at Fiberworks.  She imbued in me an understanding and a profound respect for Japanese fibre art.  The patience, the intricacy, the emphasis on perfection of technique with the unlikely pairing of unique coincidences resulting from the number of dips into an indigo dyebath, the nuances of threads and of materials.  Yoshico would  take all the utmost care in preparation of fibers and fabrics and yet would embrace the nuances that emerged with the unwrapping of the bundles from the dyebath.  Yoshico with her permanently blue hands, her calm demeanor and her beautiful warmth.
Cranes in flight, Meg Viney. Shibori on cotton, felt, kozo paper, sea grass, mollusk shell, feather. 200 x 200 x 200mm
Vessel for Shamanic Journeying, Meg Viney.   Felt (sheep’s fleece), paper (cumbungi), feathers. 470 x 470 x 400mm

VESSEL Meg Viney. paper (cumbungi), base, paper (New Zealand flax) and string (sweet corn husks) L.480 mm x H.220 mm x W. 220 mm.

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