There are two days left to enter the Aesthetica Art Prize. In the call for entries countdown, we speak to previously longlisted artist Shaelene Murray who works within a feminist art practice. In her steel-on-steel embroidery pieces, she uses a “thread” both physically and metaphorically in order to unravel and rework the notion of a woman’s role. Reversing the agenda of women’s “domestic arts”, this approach is pieced together with steel, beauty, wit and obsessive detail so as to unmask the social tenets that describe a woman from a single, biased perspective.
A: In your work you use steel-on-steel embroidery to create elaborately wrought costume and accessory pieces. Can you tell us about working with this material and the technicality and perseverance your pieces require?
SM: I love the strength and the beauty of stainless steel. I have found I can take an industrial product and manipulate it as I would cloth to make a piece of clothing, cutting and hand stitching in the same way. The process is very slow and each major piece, Feather for example, may take 10 months to complete.
A: You have described yourself as working “within a feminist art practice” and with practices that are traditionally considered “women’s domestic arts” to create pieces that evoke both old and new notions of femininity. Can you talk about how conventional gender politics have informed your work?
SM: The ‘domestic arts’ are no longer an area of mainstream feminist theory. We live in a consumer driven world of the throw away. I use history, process and context to elevate the domestic above the everyday into art.
A: When describing your pieces, you create an individual personality for each. For example, you have described Feather (2014) as a “young woman on the brink of maturity”. Do these personalities inspire the designs or do they grow organically as you create?
SM: Some pieces of work play with word games and the juxtaposition of the domestic/industrial, movement/passivity, masculine/feminine, history and the present day. Other pieces may be a visual description of a person or event. For example my sculpture ‘Blossom’ was inspired by a girl child bullied because of her short hair and her preference for wearing shorts instead of dresses. Once made the pieces take on a life of their own. ‘Blossom’ was in a show at the Art Gallery of NSW where I saw an elderly woman regarding her with such intensity, I couldn’t tell what she saw; her own history, her mother’s, her child’s or grandchild’s history. I was too shy to ask for the story.
A: Your work seems to rely on a number of dichotomies, for example between the strength and durability of the material you use – steel – which is often considered in terms of construction work, and the lightness and delicacy of your detailed embroidery. Is this contrast inspired by the “multi-layered” woman you envision when designing?
SM: I choose my materials and processes for the readings they impart and the emotional response they trigger. I hope to show that strength and fragility can co-exist, that women are more complex than the labels given by society.
A: Do you have any new projects or collaborations planned for the future?
SM: I have a number of pieces currently under construction; a steel on steel mother and child piece along with a series of steel baby bonnets. Also a large outdoor sculpture called; Hosery. Hosery is Gulliver’s lost sock, hand knitted from 600mtrs of 25mm diameter inflatable air compressor hose. With this piece, again the domestic is taken out of context and transformed not only materially, but into the gigantic. We who view the piece become the art, the Lilliputians wary of a gigantic Gulliver looking for his lost sock.
To enter the Aesthetica Art Prize, visit www.aestheticamagazine.com/artprize
1. Shaelene Murray, Feather.