“Valerie Kirk, a distinguished visual artist and academic, has been awarded the ACT Creative Arts Fellowship for 2013, valued at $45,000.”
“The Fellowship offers me a significant opportunity to further develop my artistic career and contribute to the community. I look forward to dedicated work in my studio and engaement with the community in the creation of a large scale tapestry to mark the centenary of Canberra.”
The project is:
Research and develop innovative contemporary woven tapestry which engages the public through presentation of, The Brian P. Schmidt Tapestry and related works on paper and The Canberra 100 Community Tapestry.
Art Practice and milestones to date
Valerie Kirk studied art and design at Edinburgh College of Art and was captivated by the creative process and infinite possibilities of the tapestry medium. In 1979 she came to Australia to become a weaver at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, and then worked in all states of Australia before moving to Canberra in 1991 to be the Head of Textiles at ANU. Her work from this time focussed on what it meant to be a Scottish/Australian in this context.
She is considered to be an important international figure in the world of contemporary tapestry. As an artist, writer, teacher and public figure she has made a significant contribution, forging valuable and tangible links with the global field. While actively maintaining her practice as an artist, Valerie’s remarkable capacity for achievement has seen her inspire and lead community tapestry projects, research and write a major thesis on tapestry, direct significant textile projects and create major works. She has held several solo exhibitions and presented her work in USA, Europe, Australia, NZ, Mexico, and SE Asia.
Between 2004 and 2006 she was commissioned to design and weave four major tapestries to celebrate Nobel/Japan Prizes associated with the Australian National University. A fifth tapestry focussing on Brian P. Schmidt and his Nobel Prize for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae will be woven in 2013.
In 2011 she curated 3 exhibitions of contemporary textiles and presented them with a paper at the “Vi Bienal Internacional De Arte Textil Contemporáneo World Textile Art-Aire”, Mexico. She has also been instrumental in leading the “NETS” international textile project – making links between artists in the community and institutions in GB, Finland and Australia.
This year her work is presented in “Orirhythm”, an international tapestry exhibition at Kyoto Art Center, Japan, and selected for “Petite” national miniatures exhibition, included in “NetWorks” exhibitions at Belconnen Arts Centre and at the National Textile Fibre Forum, Geelong.
Her most outstanding achievement to date is winning the “To Furnish a Future” carpet design competition for Government House, Sydney, in 2006. “The Crimson Carpet” draws on the patination of sandstone combined with a crimson Waratah palette. The 8m x 20m hand-tufted carpet was produced through working closely with the HHT design team, the Australian company, “Whitecliffe Imports” and “Siam Carpets” in Thailand. The design is significantly different from the normal range of carpet design and at the Energy Australia National Trust Heritage Awards 2008 held on Monday 7 APRIL 2008, the refurbishment of the State Rooms at Government House won one of the major awards – Conservation, Built Heritage for a Project under $1 million.
Awards such as the Australia Council New Work Grant and Muse Arts Woman of the Year mark substantial success and her artwork is documented in the Telos Portfolio Collection publication and two recent books on international contemporary tapestry,
“Tapestry: A Woven Narrative”, Black Dog Publishing , UK 2011 and “Tapestry Weaving: Design and Technique”, Joanne Soroko, Crowood Press, 2011.
I am seeking a Fellowship to focus on pushing the boundaries of contemporary woven tapestry, drawing on its rich traditions and history but linking in to new digital design tools, social media/ networking and wide community engagement.
Tapestry weaving is an ancient and honoured art form, which produces a fabric of unsurpassed richness and narrative power. It has a tradition of marking historical events, communicating with audiences and carrying important messages. The nobility of Europe valued tapestry as public signifier to reinforce and extend their power and influence, endowing major suites of tapestry for posterity. Tapestries such as the Great Hall Tapestry, Parliament House, are famous for their freshness and vigor, vibrancy of colour, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation. In this Fellowship I will build and extend the field of contemporary tapestry in Australia, producing work of international calibre.
The work I propose to undertake includes two major tapestry components:
- The Brian P. Schmidt Tapestry. Designing and producing significant new artworks on paper and in woven tapestry celebrating the Nobel Prize work of Brian P. Schmidt. In this work I will be researching supernova cosmology and mapping of the universe through distant star explosions viewed and recorded through state of the art telescopes and extreme resolution digital photography. It will highlight the High-Z Supernova team and the world-class work at Mount Stromlo headed by Brian Schmidt.
The works on paper will use traditional watercolour and pastels combined with experimental drawing approaches and digital technologies to produce a series of images exploring ideas about revealing cosmic space, the growing rate of expansion of the universe and dark energy – the enigma in physics today.
The final tapestry will measure 1.2 x 2.4 m, woven on a number 18 warp at 10 ends per 4 cm. The complexity of the work will lie in the weft and the manipulation of mixed colours on the bobbin to convey depth, infinity and density.
This work will challenge my pre-existing design skills, requiring an abstract approach to convey scientific concepts while being true to the available recorded digital imagery. The scale and complexity of the piece will hone my visual, interpretation and tapestry weaving skills.
The finished works on paper and tapestry will raise awareness of outstanding research in Australian science and stretch the imaginations of viewers.
- The Canberra 100 Community Tapestry. I will manage and oversee the design and production of the tapestry, working with the project team on gathering visual material, the design process, training and translation into tapestry, managing the finances, budgets etc, liaising with funding bodies, ANU and the ACT Legislative Assembly, acting as project spokesperson, liaising with venues and local government bodies.
The project engages with the community to produce tapestry to celebrate 100 years of Canberra as the capital of Australia: a commemorative gift to the city and the nation. Community tapestry projects began in Australia 30 years ago and have gained prominence through the versatility of the medium, the involvement of everyone from children through to skilled weavers, and by affirming the value of culture and community building activity. The tapestries affirm the value of artistic activity through the benefits to the individual and wider public who can appreciate the time involved in creating a tapestry, the skill required, and the enduring nature of the rich, tactile artform. The major Canberra community tapestry project is supported by the Canberra 100 Community Centenary Initiatives Fund and the Legislative Assembly for the ACT. These funds pay for the materials and equipment, publicity and promotion and 3 part-time positions (not including me) to work on the design, outreach, teaching skills and working with the community. My role in this project is in a voluntary capacity and the Fellowship will provide me with time to dedicate to this work. The dimensions of the Canberra Centenary Community Tapestry will be confirmed through the design process. A reasonable scale of tapestry to weave in the timeframe would be 100 x 2013 mm, a measurement which echoes the centenary and its date.
Other previous community and group weaving projects I have co-ordinated include: “Land”, held in Canberra as part of the international event “Tapestry 2008” involving participation of weavers from 19 countries around the world who designed and wove their own tapestries and sent them to Canberra for the exhibition; the Nyindamurra community tapestry; Portland 150 celebration tapestries, the Barr tapestry and the Darlington tapestries.
The community tapestry will highlight the Centenary of Canberra and create awareness of the celebration across the country. Using social media networking, a blog, an e-newsletter and traditional media the reach and understanding of tapestry can be expanded. The outcome of this project for me will be a much broader connection to the Canberra community through engagement in tapestry activities: giving talks and demonstrations in schools, retirement homes, weekend markets, shopping and arts centres. I will be discussing the project through the media so will promote a broader and more in-depth understanding of the medium I work in.
These projects together will provide opportunities for my artistic development through time to work experimentally in my studio, engagement with new subject matter, technologies and the public and chances to present my work in new contexts. I see this will advance my artistic career through the openings to work beyond my previous experience, developing new skills in translation from high resolution digital imagery in the Schmidt tapestry and taking a prominent public role in the community tapestry project. I hope this fellowship will highlight contemporary tapestry in the ACT and allow me to consolidate my reputation as a skilled and innovative artist, opening up possibilities for further engagement and collaborations in my tapestry practice.
Public activities as part of the fellowship will include: a public lecture about the design and production of the Brian Schmidt tapestry, a “Cutting Down Ceremony” when the tapestry is cut from the loom and an “Unveiling Ceremony” and exhibition when the tapestry is installed at University House, ANU, several public demonstrations and presentations of the community tapestry project, media engagement and social media networking about the progress of the community tapestry, an exhibition of all the work from the community tapestry project and an unveiling ceremony when the community tapestry is installed in its permanent position at the Legislative Assembly for the ACT.