Stitching Old Drawings into the Present with Michele Elliot

During February we had the pleasure of having Australian mixed media artist Michele Elliot as our resident. Michele led our community through a beautiful project of drawing from memories and creating embroidered works from these ideas. She also began a beautiful series of embroideries reflecting on her past travels as she discusses in the video below.

Taking inspiration from her stunning collection of travel diaries and notebooks Michele set off on a journey to reconnect with these places and memories. She described each of these memories so beautifully in her Instagram posts which I have pasted here below along with her new work.

"The digital residency has me going back over old drawings from travel notebooks and stitching them into the present."

peetal ghara/ganna 2021, cotton thread, found handkerchief, 27 x 26 cm

no. 1

"This is one of three, found at the Oxford Book Store on Park Street, Kolkata in 2009. The drawing was a quick sketch of a brass water carrier made around the same time. I fell in love with many vessels.

I had the immense privilege of spending a six week residency in that city, where my family lived before emigrating to Australia in the 1950’s. The work that came out of the residency at Khoj Kolkata was ‘the vanishing’.

Kolkata now, Calcutta then, sits to the west of the world’s largest delta, where waters from massive river systems converge and pour out into the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra, the Ganges, the Hoogly, these and more are considered holy. A Hindu belief depicts the Ganges untangling herself from Shiva’s hair and spilling out into the bay, creating the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans. Amitav Ghosh, in The Hungry Tide, describes this beautifully.

Part of my research was to visit archives across the city, to trace family connections, white and brown. One of these was the Calcutta Port Trust’s archives register for records relating to my great-great grandfather, Edward Alkin and great grandfather, Charles Macdonald Shield, both mariners.

A report 'List of River Surveyors and Assistant Surveyors since 1878' records that Charles Macdonald Shield joined in 1900 and resigned in 1911.

My mother would recall that when she and her sisters were young, her grandparents, Charles and Annie Shield, took them to the movies. This was embarrassing and uncomfortable, she said. Charles carried a walking stick, and was often drunk. When the National Anthem played before the films, he would swing it wildly and prod or hit anyone within reach who was not standing up.

The ingrained, the embodied colonial project. This was part of my research as well, and why I return again and again, to learn and understand the untold, history askew.

I cant remember why I drew the line that intersects with the vessel. It seems to be a cane."

fence/mine field, 2021, cotton thread, found handkerchief, 27 x 26 cm

no. 2

"This notebook, purchased on my second visit to Kolkata, came from the Burrabazaar in the city’s north. Priyanka Jain, a local artist, invited me to go on her walking project of the market, ‘The aesthetics of economy’. We were there for five hours and didn’t cover half of it. Priyanka was the expert guide with a keen sense of direction.

The Burrabazaar dates back to the 1700’s and was a centre for the yarn and cloth trade. Now you can find pretty much everything, with each street, lane or area specialising in one type of product. The paper section (enormous!) had party decorations, hand-made papers, business ledgers, notebooks, and much more. I came away with this small red book.

We stopped to watch a button seller hand dyeing mother of pearl buttons to match a fabric swatch. Powdered pigment, one pinch at a time, was thrown into a slow boiling copper pot of water until the colour was perfect. Magical.

Located in amongst the bazaar is the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth, one of three Armenian churches in Kolkata. My great grandfather Joseph Martyrose Owen is buried here. In this church, the gravestones are laid horizontally. Walking through the grounds, over the graves, is an invitation to slow down, to read the names, to say the names of the dead and to hold them in your thoughts.

The drawing was made in the north of Cambodia. I had not long finished a series of bent plywood sculptures titled ‘the dressers’. I wrestled with these and pushed the material further and further. They were based on the constraints of corsetry and structured clothing and the effect on the body.

The drawing depicts a fence. This construction was commonplace and made from simple materials and binding, those at hand. In the face of this, I stood there looking at the vanity of my own project and the fragility of that place. You see, on the other side of this fence was a field that had not yet been cleared of land mines."

no. 3

"The seed of a later work. from the mountains to the sea, words to follow..."

grit, 2021, cotton thread, found handkerchief, 27 x 27 cm

no. 4

"The inside of the red Kolkata notebook with pressed leaf and flowers.

The Wat Mahathat temple in Bangkok is one of many dotted along the Chao Phraya River. It is a centre for learning and meditation, and once housed a reliquary for the Buddha.

Close by an Amulet Market operates every Sunday, where protection and blessings can be found in an array of objects, blessed by or handed down from venerated monks. In a small laneway away from the main market, I came across some makeshift stalls, holding collections and smaller offerings, abject and exquisite alike. Bronze cast statues, tiny vials with what looked like coloured pills, a tuft of animal fur, sets of false teeth. One stallholder had arranged a cluster of teeth, molars, in a grid and I wondered what power or safeguard they held.

The stitching drift this week. Listening to revelations from women within and outside of the seat of power.

As a child, our family would gather on Sundays at my grandfather’s house. He cooked for family and friends, sometimes up to 30 people. Once, when I was very young, one of the visitors leaned down to greet me. Instead of kissing me on my cheek, she bit me and left teeth marks.

An archive of teeth and bones, laid out systematically on tables. Stitching and remembering an installation by Jenny Holzer. Lustmord was made in response to the Bosnian war, specifically the rape and murder of women during this time. LED displays on the red walls spelled out ‘poems’ of the atrocities. Cold technology, bodily fragments. The most powerful, brutal and determined of works.

Crush, grind, grit your teeth, women."

You can continue to follow Michele and her work via instagram here:

Thank you to all of the students who participated in Michele's workshop in February, it is thanks to you that we are able to create this opportunity for artists. If you would like to check out what we have coming up in the residency programme you can read all about it here.

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