From Here & There is a cultural exchange and story telling project through making. This is the first of a series of blog posts about the making of the project, written by Philippa Abbott and with images by Greta Costello.
A story of the project will also be published on Culture Victoria at the conclusion of the project.
The project connects contemporary art and design practice with traditional Indigenous cultures and artefacts to tell a story that explores the past and the present; dislocation and home; community and identity.
Designer and artist, Philippa Abbott engages with two Victorian indigenous weavers – master weaver Aunty Marilyne Nicholls, and journey woman Donna Blackall, to learn their process of weaving. This is through going out on to country to collect materials, visiting their homes and their families and tracing current cultural identity through understandings of place, of recent family movement, clan lineage and through the weaving technique itself. By learning the weaving technique the collaboration then looks to develop a new artefact together that explores current and future story creation.
This series of blogs will document the process of storytelling of both Donna and Aunty Marilyne to understand this fragmentation and the part weaving has played in continuing and reforming their sense of self, history and place.
From Here & There will bring together research, interviews and documentation from local artists and Victorian collections to understand how this practice has developed, how it has been fragmented but as a matriarchal skill lineage has been reformed – telling the story of many indigenous people who have experienced continued cultural fragmentation.
The project aims to establish connections between different weaving and Victorian cultural practice and places. It explores cross-cultural design practice as a contemporary storytelling method by creating a set of cultural artefacts. This process of creation will be photographed by Melbourne based photographer Greta Costello; the interviews have been recorded and the artefacts created will be exhibited in the near future.
Within Victoria there are some people and organisations establishing weaving networks in response to the lack of a regional sense of identity that showcases this important craft. There are many gaps within the continuity of knowledge of the practice throughout Victoria, and there is a need to build connections between weavers and wider knowledge of the weaving itself – technique, historical artefacts, environmental context, material selection, material preparation, design, cultural meaning and everyday practice.
Through this process it arose that other areas in Northern Territory and Northern Queensland have successfully created this to a greater extent than Victoria. We questioned why the value of Victorian weaving practice was not as ‘live’ or integrated into wider design practice.
In Northern Territory and Northern Queensland despite the destruction of indigenous culture through white settlement, communities and culture survived to a much greater degree than in Victoria where dispersion, dispossession, subjugation, cultural loss, ill health, and violence happened earlier and in a relatively short period of time.
Philippa has developed relationships with weavers Aunty Marilyne Nicholls & Donna Blackall and started to explore weaving as an artefact that can draw a picture of ancient and recent history and develop contemporary cultural exchange. For instance for Donna this was a step in her mid twenties in re-igniting understanding of self and identity whilst concurrently illustrated the disruption in generational learning.
Donna & Aunty Marilyne now live in two different Victorian regions - Swan Hill and Ballarat. Whilst the weavers share Yorta Yorta lineage, they have had very different life experiences, development and journeys to understand and build their identity.
Within this project, Philippa will collaborate with Donna and Aunty Marilyne to create a woven series of contemporary artefacts using traditional indigenous techniques. These will be in the context of cultural understandings (and differences within) of place. Philippa will visit each weaver in their homeland in regional Victoria – Philippa, Greta, Donna & Aunty Marilyne will collect material on country together; learn and co-create and tell stories of life now, life before, life as ancestry and as shared culture. The process of going out onto country, harvesting materials, learning the two techniques of weaving and then creating a woven artefact will drive the discussion of cultural and environmental factors and pave a pathway towards reconciliation through teaching and exchange of learnings.
This collaboration documents the way in which age-old cultural heritage and technology can be rekindled and valued to make a contribution to current discourses of reconciliation and collaborative understandings of identity. The project develops cultural history as an active and dynamic process of teaching, making and sharing. This project aims to contribute to existing cultural collections, creatively communicate cultural memory, as well as historical and current contemporary understandings.
Aunty Marilyne Nicholls
Resides: Wood Wood, Victoria.
Traditional Clans: Watti Watti, Barrapa Barrapa, Dja Dja Wrung, Yorta Yorta and Ngarrindjeri.
Born: Swan Hill, Victoria.
Aunty Marilyne has lived most of her life around the Murray River system and its waterways. She has been encouraged to learn and how to weave by her mother and where to find and how to harvest the native grasses that she uses for weaving.
The techniques Aunty Marilyne uses in her weaving entwine together the characteristic nature of the grasses, combined with her knowledge and skillful weaving practice to produce woven art forms of mats and baskets.
Resides: Ballarat, Victoria.
Traditional Clans: Yorta Yorta
Born: Mount Gambier
Donna grew up in Ballarat, Victoria and has lived most of her life there. Donna has been weaving for six years after being taught by master weaver and Gundijtamara woman, Bronwyn Razem.
Donna is a Journey Woman - which means she is still learning the weaving and the stories. The technique Donna uses is a blanket stitch basket weave that she uses to make both traditional pieces such as eel traps and baskets as well as exploring some of her own designs such as weaving totems like the platypus and other animals.