Reviews/Visual Art

Something in nothing: Immaterial

23 July 2017

by Gemma Ben-Ary and Mandy Harwood –
Spectrum Project Space, Edith Cowan University, Mt Lawley –
Reviewed by Belinda Hermawan –

In “Immaterial”, Gemma Ben-Ary and Mandy Harwood exhibit representations of what is commonly unseen: the invisible labour of women in the domestic sphere. Using a range of materials – sourced and repurposed in various ways – the pair literally weave a commentary on the valuations, or lack thereof, in the very domains in which womanhood is traditionally expected to operate. The result is a series of offerings that reclaim by reimagining, prompting thought of where the payday may be for women seeking to give birth to life, art and humanity.

In Conversation Piece, Ben-Ary and Harwood stitch phrases into a belt-like strap, the installation of which prompts the viewer to follow lines of speech around the corner of an interior wall. The words are modest, small-sounding – Thank you for that / It’s nothing / But it changes everything. The belt continues for the length of the wall as if inviting one to contemplate the contrast between the down-played statements and the sheer number of times that such statements are made, a comment, perhaps, on the lack of material recognition for women’s work.

‘Untitled (Cot Sheet)’, [detail], Mandy Harwood, Cotton cot sheet, tumeric dye and thread. 730 x 630mm. Photo: Yvonne Doherty
In fact, much of the juxtaposition of materials with gendered concepts in “Immaterial” suggests that the pieces are acknowledgments of female labour as well as protests. Harwood uses glitter tape on handkerchiefs to elicit a soft discomfort from idioms such as “she gives it for free”. Ben-Ary weaves horse hair and human hair in a loom, suggesting a tapestry of sacrifice, femininity and animal instinct. Harwood uses three embroidery hoops to hold not the expected calico, but bright red quilting – evoking a thicker skin, of sorts. The third loop showcases active, positive verbs with the prefix “re”, Latin for “again” or “back”.

The sense of “again” in “Immaterial” is one of quiet yet persistent hope in life’s cycles. The pink fabric in Things Change collects like rippled water, to flow again if redirected. The video in Salt Tooth depicts a woman transporting her offerings with her teeth, delivering them to the other end of the plain. Perhaps she is so reliable that she could be considered the “salt of the earth.” Milk is Liquid Love and Tethered are each circular works, tightly handwoven, though displayed a room apart. With their ever-increasing circles, both seem to be asking questions about progress.

There is much to explore in “Immaterial”. It’s a rewarding, multi-faceted experience that invites the visitor to observe the directions given to women, often at multiple times in their lives: breathe / push / count.

Immaterial is showing at Spectrum Project Space, ECU Mt Lawley, until Friday 4 August.

Pictured top: Conversation Piece, Mandy Harwood & Gemma Ben-Ary, Found object and Thread, 60 x 3000mm. Photo: Yvonne Doherty.

‘Milk is Liquid Love’, Gemma Ben-Ary, raffia, raw wool, gold thread. 1,100 x 900mm. Photo: Yvonne Doherty

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Author —
Belinda Hermawan

Belinda Hermawan is a graduate of UWA Law School (2009) and a fiction writer whose short fiction has been published in Australia and the United States. She is a summer school alum of Parsons, The New School of Design in New York. Favourite piece of playground equipment: playground car on springs!

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