Art in the modern age
To write before dec 1st
Image Credit - Racheal Wellisch | Recuperated Material Monuments
Indigo dyed layered salvaged textiles
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch | Blue Moon
For Rachael, art is a way to communicate the innate relationship between human behavior and the natural environment. A parallel we are increasingly becoming more aware of as we enter the Anthropocene. This thread of connection from the natural world, to materials and sustainability in the modern age, is addressed through Rachael’s mindful use of salvaged textiles and preservation of the historic practice of natural Indigo dyeing by hand. With work currently installed in the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Japan, Rachael’s work has also exhibited in Ireland, Austria, the UK, and numerous locations around Australia.
Currently, Rachael is a post-confirmation doctoral candidate and tutor at Griffith University, where she shares her experiences and knowledge with the next generation of artists.
In conversation with RawAssembly, Rachael shared with us the insight behind her artistic process, love of natural Indigo, and her perspective on the role of art in the changing world around us.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch
Rachael, how do you describe your work?
I’m a visual artist, making sculptures, installations, video, and wall-based works, using salvaged textiles and natural indigo dye.
Tell us about how your journey as a natural Indigo visual artist began. When did you fall in love with this medium?
I’m a little obsessed with Indigo and have been dyeing regularly with it since 2011. It’s such an amazing material to work with, and it has a long, rich, complex, sometimes dark, but fascinating history.
I don’t know exactly when it began, but doing some dyeing and batik way back when I was a teenager, then seeing intriguing Indigo textiles on travels in Japan, Indonesia, Northern Africa, and the Middle East certainly contributed. The process of making a dye vat, watching fabric immersed into a coppery brown liquid, emerge yellow/green, and then gradually oxidizes to blue is just so magical and satisfying.
What are the main concepts you hope to communicate through your art and installations?
The broad underlying theme within my practice is the relationship between human behavior and the natural environment.
The discourse around climate change and sustainability is increasingly a source of confusion and despair, and my work isn’t intended as a scolding or even an overt call to action, but rather a layered contribution to the conversation around being mindful of what we have, and how everything is connected. I’d love it if the work garnered a sense of wonder, curiosity, and intrigue towards the materials, which ideally might generate a sense of hope.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch | Tomes Nibbling the Sky Series Handmade paper from indigo-dyed salvaged textiles (cotton)
Could you share more about the relationship of your work to Salvaged textiles and the importance of working with materials that already exist and in some cases materials that have reached the end of their natural product life-cycle.
Jumping in and out of the already existing cycle of things feels a positive way to connect, both to the materials I’m working with, other people, and my environment. An old linen tablecloth, now stained and frayed really speaks of many meals prepared and shared, used bedsheets worn thin in the middle have presumably seen their capacity of sleeping bodies, as well as love, sex, birth, and death.
I am constantly making something, through experimentation and play, and often this involves attempts and iterations, so I feel a responsibility to do this with sustainability in mind. Using things that are discarded rather than virgin materials means more stuff staying within the production loop rather than ending up in landfill, and less pressure on global economic systems which are already disadvantaging many people, and of course disadvantaging ecosystems.
Additionally, it is a great economical choice so there’s an added freedom in experimentation that may not be there if I were using expensive, new, materials.
Where do you source your natural Indigo from?
I have tried a range of sources including Threads of Life in Bali, who are focused on preserving local traditional textile practices in sustainable ways. I also have a friend in NSW who is growing some native Indigo on her property, so will be keen to experiment with that in the future when there is enough.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch | SalvagingLandscapes
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch | Indigo Hands
What was the inspiration behind your installation Material Monuments?
These works began as physical, material experiments, trying to pile up many layers of fabric into a single dense mass, and then I wanted to see if and how I could shape the mass. Once cut, the materials seemed to resemble layers of sediment built up over time, something like a core sample drilled from a landscape of textile waste.
Australian researcher Lynne Kelly in her book The Memory Code discusses the encyclopaedic knowledge present in pre-literate indigenous cultures and how they used monuments such as Stonehenge (which is made of bluestone) as sites for recalling and sharing the information that was critical for their survival.
My pillar-shaped works were already a type of monument to discarded materials and processes, but the idea that we could use these objects for remembering that we are in fact deeply connected to and dependent on our landscape has turned into an ongoing, evolving body of work. Discarded, old rags and dye plants may seem un-monumental, however, they are loaded with humanity’s connection to the natural environment.
Since I made the early versions of these works back in 2015/16, droughts have revealed over 4000-year-old henges in both Ireland and Spain, made newly visible because of climate changes.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch | Recuperated Material Monuments, 2018
Indigo dyed layered salvaged textiles (bedsheets)
In a recent interview with Textile Curator, you mention:
"I think it is important to consider the chain of production for the materials you choose to work with, as well as how this relates to themes in your work. What is the social and environmental impact of what you work with? As artists, we feel compelled to make, but who made your chosen materials, where they are made, and under what conditions are important considerations.”
In response to the above, are you seeing more designers reconsidering their material choices due to the potential environmental and social impacts they may have had in their making?
It is definitely something I see growing, but local networks can sometimes be insular, and not everyone has access to the same information, so the conversation is one that can always be re-framed and re-positioned. An encouraging trend is one where multiple perspectives exist in dialogue at once, for example where sustainability, circularity, social injustices, and indigenous perspectives can all be aligned.
Do you see a new narrative emerging within the creative sector and what do you think we should expect to see over the coming year?
This year saw some renewed focus on a range of important topics so I don’t see a singular narrative. The concept of “debt aesthetics” seems to have emerged in the last few years, out of goods and labour having been increasingly globalized leading to greater inequality, and I wonder if decreased movement due to the pandemic will help drive localization? This term then may take on different meanings, as well as the social practices and aesthetics that arise from those seeking a more local approach.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch |Enfolded landscape #8, 2019.
Photograph of indigo dyed, salvaged textiles.
Your work Enfolded Landscape #8 was included in the Environmental Crisis Exhibition at Gerald Moore Gallery in the UK earlier this year. How important is the role of art in increasing awareness and provoking conversation around climate change?
Art is a vital component of a broad dialogue on climate change that needs to be reconstructed, reframed and shared in as many ways as possible. It can help to generate empathy for nature and our place within it. It is relevant here to acknowledge the ongoing struggle, especially with regard to engaging policymakers.
Image Credit - Rachael Wellisch
What role do you see art has to play in advocacy and change?
Art – which includes fine art, music, film, performance, digital media, architecture, fashion, and literature - can be instructive, informative, invigorating and inspiring, and can really help make the conversation accessible in unique ways.
I like the perspective of eco-theological activist Michael S. Hogue who declares artists have a responsibility to give voice to “mute things”, such as the natural environment, using stories, symbols, and images to reshape human perception.
Where can we see more of your work and what exhibitions are on the horizon?
I have work in an exciting project that will be launching in November through Melbourne-based ‘LocalActual’. It is “a design and retail experiment, championing principles of circular design, sustainability, locality, and experimental materiality within useful, everyday products. It seeks to acknowledge the urgencies of our times by working with Australian artists and designers who engage with social and environmental realities through their work.” (You should see a sneak peek and some details in the next edition of Green Magazine https://www.localactual.com )
Interviewed by: Thea Speechley & Kirraly Ancliff
Written by: Rachael Wellisch & Kirraly Antcliff exclusively for RawAssembly