Women in Art: In a mother's skin

By Lauren Treiser Even though it has been freezing, I decided to venture into the city for some art viewing this month. On my journey I discovered a relatively new gallery tucked away fittingly in a Melbourne basement.

Kate Just: The Skin of Hope Daine Singer Gallery Photograph: John Brash 

Kate Just is an American-born Australian artist who is well known for her knitted and mixed media installations. Kate’s knitted works are large and therefore challenge the preconceived notions of knitting as a domestic craft. No granny squares found here! Her work focuses on mythology and history and women’s stories within that. The loveliest part of her installations is that they give the impression that she is knitting her autobiography. Her current exhibition at Daine Singer Gallery in Melbourne’s CBD does just this and hones in on Kate’s experiences with parenthood.

The Skin of Hope is named after Kate adopting her daughter, Hope. Kate and her partner adopted Hope when she was about 2 years old. Sadly she had a rough start in life. Once adopted, Kate found that she was a tough and resilient kid. It sounds to me as if her situation forced her to create her own suit of armor which became the root of the imagery for Kate’s exhibition. Interested in the idea of skin, Kate explores how people imprint and bond with each other at skin level.

The Armour of Hope 2012 Digital type-C print Image from Daine Singer

This body of work was created when Kate travelled with her partner and daughter to Barcelona to partake in an Australia Council Residency. Here she created knitted second-skins, armors and photographs of herself and her daughter. The focal piece in the exhibition is The Armour of Hope, a suit of chain mail stitched from metal and silk and threaded together to form a body suit. It is a combination of the softness of skin and the toughness of metal combined, the dichotomy of vulnerability and strength. Although this piece is about Hope (the child) all parents can identify with the idea of wrapping their kids in cotton wool to protect them from the world. The protective layer is permeable though, covered in holes so that as Daine Singer (gallery owner) said, ‘there is room for the love to get in.’

The Armour of Hope 2012 Hand knitted metal and silk Photographs: John Brash 

In the nearby photo, The Armour of Hope, Hope wears the suit in the studio in Barcelona. The tiles have a Moorish feel to them transforming her into a crusader of sorts. I think that on the one hand it is a positive image of a young girl showing her strength and resilience, whereas on the other hand perhaps little girls should not have to worry about such things just yet.

The Armour of Hope 2012 Hand knitted and hand embroidered rayon and cotton Photograph: John Brash 

The hand-knitted gloves hanging on the wall with the words Hope and Mother looped into their fabric are called The Arms of Mother. This title highlights the paradox of arms being both limbs and weapons, both comforting and war mongering. This double meaning could be a reference to Hope’s early life experience and thankfully to the protection she now gets from her new parents. The other incongruous thing about these soft gloves is that they have been scarred highlighting the dark side of motherhood.

I can imagine that this exhibition would resonate with mothers who grapple with the balancing act of protecting their children and simultaneously wanting them to learn and experience the world.

The Skin of Hope 2012 Digital type-C print Image from Daine Singer

In the photograph above, The Skin of Hope, Kate asked her daughter to draw on her back. Hope has drawn herself within a bubble and the bits around her are meant to be musical notes. The drawing is a happy one but she seems to have also has picked up on elements of the exhibition, like the protective boundaries.

Tools of Hope 2012 Epoxy resin, wire and velvet Photograph: John Brash 

She has also brought prominence to her tools in her work by casting them in resin and presenting them as a piece in their own right. Tools of Hope are more than just knitting needles but the language she uses to tell her story.

The exhibition at Daine Singer coincides with a survey exhibition of Kate’s major knitted works at Ararat Regional Art Gallery entitled Kate Just: The Knitted Work 2004 – 2011. Included in this mini retrospective are Kate’s text-based sculptures and abstracted installations. The exhibition provides a context in which to present the gallery’s latest acquisition of Kate’s major sculpture, Paradise (2006).

Paradise Mixed media Image from Daine Singer

Kate describes Paradise in the following way: ‘At first glance, this is modern day suburbia, safely sealed, without a hint of the wild, until we see that she is sinking into an earthen, muddy crack that has split through the grass. She has dropped her long, snaking garden hose and her eyes are closed in surrender... The work references both Eve, and Greek goddess Persephone, evoking rich associations of 'the feminine' in nature. Persephone’s is one of many stories that tell of goddesses’ descent into the underworld, literally under the surface of the ground, and symbolically this refers to a woman’s journey into the dark and unknown regions of the self’.

Boundary (Love) (2004) Mixed media Image from Daine Singer

Other pieces in the exhibition include The Garden of Interior Delights (2008), on loan from the collection of the City of Port Phillip, and Boundary (LOVE) (2004).

It was great discovering a new artist and gallery. To learn more about Kate and her work visit katejustart.blogspot.com.au

The Skin of Hope Daine Singer Basement, 325 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 24 May - 30 June 2012 Gallery Hours: Wed - Saturday, 12-5pm

Kate Just: Knitted Works 2004 – 2011 Ararat Regional Gallery 17 May - 8 July 2012

Lauren is graphic designer and founder of patchyrugs.com.au. She loves all things design (see her blog at blog.ilovelollies.net) and is particularly passionate about fine art, interior design and jewellery. Lauren is currently studying Gold & Silversmithing and doing graphic design on a freelance basis.