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Long after the valorisation of traditional women's handicraft as art and the appropriation of petit point for conceptual purposes by artists such as Narelle Jubelin, comes another tack on the subversive stitch-sewing on a monumental scale. No longer consigned to tiny and easily concealed spaces, the 'feminine' art of sewing now looms large and imposing, the thread an old salt's pride of seaworthy rope, the needle a steel-tipped oar that's more like a spear. Joanne Lindsell combines the maritime, with its evocation of boundless space and matchless power, with the intricate and intimate craft of sewing. The effect is disorientating, not only because of the confusion of scale, but also because of the confusion of sexual stereotypes and historical epochs. The work reminds me of an old concept of sexual difference, but one whose assumptions persist.
For an installation at Selenium, Lindsell brought together a number of elements she has been rearranging and recombining in her recent work. These include a seventy-five metre length of maritime rope, worn with use; a beautifully rendered metal-tipped wooden oar; and a simulated wall, composed of a wooden grid painted undercoat-pink, covered with a peeling ultramarine plywood sheet. The grid was suspended at an angle from the ceiling, the rope threaded through its bottom perimeter, its idle remnants moored at each side by the pregnant inertia of two tightly coiled balls. The oar hung on the wall along the length of slack rope, pointing to the suspended slab as if having just finished writing a sentence, or piercing a stitch. The crafting of each element is expert, betraying Lindsell's experience as a theatrical props maker and highlighting her reverence for her materials. Indeed, theatricality and painstaking execution evoke what I see as an important rubric in Lindsell 's work, namely the tension but necessary connection between the grand public gesture and private, unacknowledged labour, and this tension's inevitable referencing of sexual stereotyping.
This rubric finds resonance in the work's play between groundedness and flight. The massive 'tablet' of the title , coloured ultramarine for purity and promise, hovers on the point of escape to the far-reaches of pure thought- rather lyrically evoked by the cathedral -like window elevation of the gallery. However, the heavy rope will forever hamper the tablet, its tattered materiality insistent and undeniable, as if the body anchors text, as if the matter of writing anchors its vehicle. Interestingly, the rope's masculinity-the rope reverberates with masculine energy, redolent of dockside labour and the high seas, let alone phallic implications-is conflated with the archetypal feminine body, while the 'flighty' architectural body, riddled with the wounds of social inscription, comes to represent the 'masculine' aspiration to pure mind.
This play between the material and the incorporeal both heightens the viewer's awareness of how space and architecture organise perception, and brings home that it is the body which interprets spatial directives. At the same time, the fluidity of the sexual metaphors, interchanging as they do between their material vehicles, challenges the grounded certainty of one's own embodiment. Flesh and blood, undoubtedly, but whose flesh, and whose blood?
Lindsell rearranged what are fast-becoming her iconic elements for a subsequent installation at Artspace, Patch, part of the project Critical Spaces. However, for me, something was lost in the translation. What had evoked fluidity and liminality in the sunlit expanse of Selenium now read as somewhat studied and academic. The addition of a grid of colour to the tablet and removal of the oar worked to narrow the very wide ambit for engagement of the earlier work, nailing Patch to the discourse of the grid with little room to move.
Having arrived at a promising set of artistic building blocks, it is Lindsell's compulsion to experiment. The experiment may have had frustrating results for me at Artspace, but was a vibrant success at Selenium. The elements are clearly there-a sensitive and light threading of theatricality, scale, sexuality and space-for thoroughly engaging work.