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Fabric Jewellery

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Victoria McIntosh at Lure Victoria McIntosh at Lure Victoria McIntosh at Lure Installation at Lure

In 'Blanket Protection III', McIntosh pulls her quatrefoils so tightly together that they begin to twist around each other, forming a dense and lengthy boa reminiscent of rope. Of as much surprise to viewers as it was to the artist in the process of making: loops of blanket-work are not far from noose.

Dunedin

 

Victoria McIntosh
Smother

 

6 October - 21 October 2010

As Victoria McIntosh highlights in her short statement to accompany her exhibition Smother, now open at Lure contemporary jewellery gallery in Dunedin, the words ‘envelop, wrap, enshroud and surround’ are only a thesaural nudge from ‘smother’. The blanket that warms and covers can smother and choke. And it is the material of this blanket and the space of that lexical nudge that McIntosh so provocatively brings together in her work.

In Blanket Protection I and II quatrefoils of sure and weighty cream antique blanket are stitched in-pattern together as if they were the linen and lace of an Elizabethan ruff. Then they are further embellished with pearls and fluttering white cotton threads. They are elegantly beautiful while they push the boundaries of what can be worn with any level of comfort. Tellingly in Blanket Protection II, a tin quatrefoil-shaped pastry cutter forms a catch that will imprint the wearer’s skin. These works are first and foremost, objects made to materialise an idea so relevant to the body and its socialisation. For as the artist has said, she is concerned with the ways in which the mechanisms we employ to present and protect ourselves can bind and harm us.

In Blanket Protection III, McIntosh pulls her quatrefoils so tightly together that they begin to twist around each other, forming a dense and lengthy boa reminiscent of rope. Of as much surprise to viewers as it was to the artist in the process of making: loops of blanket-work are not far from noose. McIntosh also includes two antique hand-held mirrors that reflect the viewer’s visage along with the engraved word with which she nudges acts of self-presentation towards self-harm: ‘smother’. These worded mirrors bring to my mind the harmful effects of cosmetics and the suffocating wrap of the beauty myth, as well as a more general mode of self-medication required to make ourselves socially functional and presentable.

With such an idea of self-medication in play, the artist has developed another material theme around the gelatine pill case that is made available in bulk to pharmaceutical companies and filled with any number of ‘beneficial’ powders. McIntosh keeps the capsules empty and threads them together en-mass with pearls in Strand of Pills. The fragile beauty of these empty capsules is surprising. Not only do they glitter and shimmer, but they also have a golden patina-like surface that makes them look precious. In the more fetishistic work Choker the artist combines pill cases with pearls on blanket within upright jewel-cases made from antique tin pastry boats. By creating a central cross-motif with a pill at its centre, the artist seems to point to the superficial beauty of a medicated society and the somewhat absurd and fragile processes involved in making oneself functional, secure and safe.

I am captivated by the way in which McIntosh’s work teeters between forms of safe-comfort and harmful restriction. Also, by the way in which the meticulous construction and form of her work relates so well to the creative obsession that fuels it. McIntosh is a collector obsessed with issues of history and identity and the highly personal practice of placing oneself in the world. Her studio is part workspace and part private exhibition space, presenting her collections of metal, bone and wooden antique spoons that mysteriously carry the beautiful marks and stains of their previous life. Other domestic objects, such as patty tins, pastry boats and pastry cutters sit waiting to be transformed in her work. Whimsically, but also importantly, a photograph of McIntosh’s grandmother in her kitchen reminds the artist of a kind of domestic-dedication she can never display but which she has re-expressed in her own self-made objects of memory.

For McIntosh, the possible realities of domestic objects become the material of self-creation and possession. This was clearly seen in My Invented History, shown at the Otago Settlers Museum in 2010 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Adult Adoption Information Act. There she collected and creatively claimed a range of domestic objects and materials to eloquently express the inevitable longing felt by adoptees previously deprived of information regarding their birth-families. An antique mirror carried the single-engraved word ‘unwanted’, the artist’s hair was collected in antique gloves, pastry boats provided the armature for memorial jewellery, and a christening gown was threaded with her hair and decorated with pearls. The concerns embodied in this earlier work are repeatedly layered in those of Smother to convincingly extend and sharpen this artist’s exploration of the relentless and risky process of self-making.

Jodie Dalgleish

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