The Politics of the Personal


Two installations


Dimension Endowment of Art

No. 7 Sec. 3 Hsin-Yi Road, Taipei

17 June - 22 July 2000

Gallery Statement

Australian artist, Penelope Aitken is presenting two bodies of work at Dimensions Gallery during June and July. The exhibition includes an installation she has made in Taiwan during a three month, Australia Council funded residency at the National Institute of Arts, called, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

In the tradition of quilt making in both western and eastern societies, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen is a group activity undertaken by friends and involves discussion: the sharing of ideas and trust, as well as sewing. The quilt, which will make up the main feature of this installation, is a work as much concerned with process as it is with the final result. It was made by the artist with a group her Taipei friends at the National Institute of the Arts, Peitou.

In traditional societies quilt making was nearly always the work of women and usually for the benefit of one younger woman who was soon to be married. The process of making the bedclothes as a wedding gift cemented the institution of marriage, (including monogamy and fidelity) within the society, placing the individual couple in the context of the extended family or community. During any manual group activity there is a lot of room for talk. A secondary but related outcome of quilt making was the discussion which took place as the sewing proceeded. Women have often been seen as the caretakers of social values, maintaining the customs and social mores of their community. Therefore the finished quilts not only recorded the labour and fabric styles of the time but, to the makers, they also recalled anecdotes and gossip, speculation and morality tales.

the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen seeks to move this tradition forward to reflect something of contemporary life within a made object. The makers were not all women, but the atmosphere tended towards a female working environment. The discussion was orchestrated to an extent with the participants invited to speak about their definition of 'faith' to elevate the content away from gossip. Their responses in English, Chinese, and Japanese, are sewn into quilt squares and will resonate in different ways with audiences according to their own languages.

the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen
, 2000,
cotton, silk and synthetic fabric, approx. 800 cm x 400 cm x 100 cm
In addition to the voices of these participants, the artist asked other friends around the word to also contribute to the conversation via email. Responses have come from Australia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Canada, South Africa, Korea, USA, UK and Japan and range from discussions about democracy to aids education, socialism and of course, religion.

The exhibition also incorporates a version of an earlier installation entitled,

An ongoing conversation in a reclining position on matters deep & personal
. In this installation translucent white cushions float in a darkened gallery space suggesting a gathering or dialogue but perhaps only in whispers. The installation evokes peace intimacy and rest. Consistent with the theme of this earlier installation, which was originally shown at 200 Gertrude Street Gallery in Melbourne, the quilt in
the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen reflects the 'ongoing' aspect of the project by not being finished. Squares of fabric extend off the base quilt onto the floor and fragments of quilt are mounted around the walls of the gallery. By suggesting that the process of its construction continues, there in an implication that it is not ready to be used on a bed and the 'marriage' may (or may not) occur in the future.

Penelope Aitken is the Australian artist in residence at the National Institute of the Arts, Taipei. Her three-month program has been supported by the Australia Council, the Commonwealth
Government's arts funding and advisory body.

REVIEWS: ttimes (Mandarin) 17 June 2000 <>
Taipei Times
(English) 2 July 2000 <>

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