Port of Charleston
Text by Janis Jefferies; photography by Kelly Thompson
Janis Jefferies is an artist, writer and curator, Professor of Visual Arts and Research, Research Fellow at the Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles, associate pro warden for culture and creative industries and member of the School of Culture and Society at Goldsmiths, University of London. She exhibits and curates internationally, and has delivered keynotes at many international conferences and professional seminars. She has edited books and several chapter contributions on textiles, technology, performance and practice research for anthologies distributed by major publishers in the field. She is co-editor of the first Handbook of Textile Culture (with Diana Wood Conroy and Hazel Clarke) for Bloomsbury Academic and a contributor to TEXTILE: Cloth and Culture, Crafting Community, 2016, ‘Crocheted Strategies: ‘Women Crafting their Own Communities’ pp.14-35.
Kelly Thompson is an artist and associate professor in the Fibres and Material Practices and MFA Studio Arts programs at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. A nomadic life informs her interests in notions of location, identity, translation and material culture, especially textiles. Recent projects question the digitally implicit through materially expressive means in jacquard woven cloth: www.materialcodesephemeraltraces.com.
A port of call is a heterotopic site where nautical imaginings contain the mobility of nations, cultures, powers, and maritime and economic trade over time. We know this only through history (and its many contested versions), which use maps of nations as geographical drawings onto the carspace of the earth. A port of call is simply a place where a ship anchors temporarily or as a destined final place. Port cities serve as a lifeline. While travellers’ tales and political discourse provide us with many fractured accounts and narratives, the symbolic power of the port remains its quiet icon. In one sense it remains still. It does not move. The container silences the inherently heterotopic nature of ports but those that traveled and travel now remain confronted by disciplined and objectified systems of organization and power.
Narelle Jubeline from Handbook of Textile Culture plate
Scene 1: Memory 1995
One of my first experiences of arriving in Sydney, Australia was to fly over the stunning Sydney Bridge and the Opera House. Awe inspiring, the scale and the sky were awesome sights of incredible architectural power.
Then, I moved to a different scale.
I first engaged with Narelle Jubelin’s Collector’s Chest in 1995 a day after the long flight from London. It takes 24 hours and yet for those who made the £10 sea journey in the 1950s the time taken was several weeks.
I enter a museum. It is near the port where the British fleet arrived. Three polished aluminum chests with 76 drawers stood in front of me. Each contained fragments of artifacts combined with historical documents and images. I am encountering these works at the Museum of Sydney, built on the site of the first Government House. It explored, and still does with a somewhat different emphasis, the wider aspect’s of social and colonial Sydney’s history through to 1845 using gaps in the evidence to as productive entry points for imagining life in the past. The contested nature of place and the idea of ongoing dialogue, difference and dispute are entwined with thematic displays, media, and snippets from an archive. Javelin’s work directs my attention towards tiny fragments of large histories with great exactness. She showed me that in small things lie the analytical tools for a deeper, more probing understanding of dominant discourses, furnishing questions. Here artifacts were treated as part of a broader archive of material working to reveal traces of past lives and forgotten aspects of history. Not those that carried the first fleet (although some parts of the Museum conveyed these diaries and stories) but of the women, children and men who were chattels not knowing what life they would find or whether they would survive a place very different to the one they had left (and had avoided hanging). The chests were highly interactive, needing to be opened by visitors that could be viewed in any sequence. The work staged opposite these shiny containers were hanging forms of menstrual, bloody and rat eaten rags of the women dispatched as convicts from England to Sydney. A vivid memory, a powerful ‘display’ of cloth, overlooked details that changed perception.
In 1989, the Department of Australian Decorative Arts and Design Post 1945 and the Department of Industrial and Domestic Life at the Powerhouse Museum also in Sydney in Australia, commissioned Jubelin for a mixed-media installation that was to be a permanent acquisition for the museum. For the commission Jubelin worked most closely with Ann Stephen, then the curator in the Department of Industrial and Domestic Life and Claire Roberts, then the curator of Asian decorative art, the areas most relevant to Jubelin’s focus in the installation. Legacies of Travel and Trade used a flat-topped nineteenth century display cabinet to display four petit point silk embroidered renditions of photographs in combination with Chinese cash coins and dress accessories collected by a Mrs Christian Rowe Thornett. Jubelin arranged the objects on a background of yellow silk. The cash coins sat in grid format across the upper section of the cabinet. Her petit-point renditions, framed in faux ivory and wood frames, are on top of this ‘bed’ of coins.
Trade Delivers People is perhaps Jubelin’s most well known work, because it was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. It has been written about more frequently than any of her other installations. I found my reference from that first visit. of Trade Delivers People, Charles Green, “Narelle Jubelin: Colonial Culture and Canonical Texts,” Peripheral Vision: Contemporary Australian Art 1970 – 1994 (Melbourne: Craftsman House, 1995). pp. 134-138; Diane Losche, “Subtle Tension in the work of Narelle Jubelin,” Art and Australia 29.4 (1992): p. 463. Bronwyn Hanna, “Marco Polo’s Shadow,” Contemporary Arts and Crafts.2 (1990): p. 21; Jennifer Stevenson, “Art Trade,” Vogue Australia May 1990: 143-146; Jan Avgikos, “Other relations: the dangers of tourism,” Artscribe.Sept-Oct (1990): pp. 68-71.
The installation, as I remembered it, consisted of twelve pieces, a combination of Jubelin’s petit point embroideries, framed in early twentieth century tramp art frames and metal frames, and objects that the artist had purchased. A list of works that accompanied the installation provided details of each item, including a description of the object, where and when Jubelin produced or purchased the item and the measurements of each item. Jubelin referred to this work when she delivered the first Constance Howard Memorial Lecture in November 2001 at Goldsmiths’ College, London acknowledging that when women practitioners have often used textiles to examine their oppression, she demands another kind of attention; that we must consider the construction of national identity, historical colonialism, the politics of geographical exploration, systems of commerce and global trade.
Scene 3: Memory 2001
Here is what, Catherine Harper says about Jubelin’s lecture and work in Narelle Jubelin at Goldsmiths College, London. Textile: the Journal of Cloth and Culture 1:3: November, 2001. 210‐229
“She works from photographs and in doing so she connects with the historical and anthropological use of photography to ‘collect’ people. The camera was (and arguably is) unmistakably a colonising tool, a powerful divider between those looking and those being examined.
Pictorially, petit point ‘holds’ the image in a similar way to the freeze frame of photography but the subtle fuzz of even the most tightly twisted thread and the ‘fibre pixels’ of the stitched surface are closer to the material matter of lived histories than the official glaze of the photographic surface”.
The work reappears in the Handbook of Cloth and Culture (2015 Bloomsbury) where Diana Wood Conroy discusses archives and memory from an earlier curatorial project, ‘Fabric(ations) of the Postcolonial ’ at the University of Wollongong 2001-2004. This Australian Research Council funded project explored the socio-historical processes of textile production, trade and cultural adaptation and the interactions between textiles as a metaphor in postcolonial English literatures. Curated by Diana Wood Conroy, the exhibition demonstrated the connections across countries of the former British Empire: Australia, Canada, the Pacific and India. It foregrounded contemporary artists, like Narelle Jubelin.
But why would I start this piece with a discussion of Narelle Jublein’s work (partly because it was the first time I entered Sydney and partly because the work so frequently reference that moment of colonial arrival by the British.
Scene 3: Memory, 2016.
I have never been to Savannah but I know it is a port and in the South. There is an entry in Wikepedia (accessed 16th March 2016) that connects my thoughts,
“In November 1732 the ship Anne sailed from Britain carrying 114 colonists, including General James Oglethorpe. On February 12, 1733, after a brief stay at Charles Town, South Carolina, Oglethorpe and his settlers landed at Yamacraw Bluff and, in an example of some of the earliest “Southern hospitality“, were greeted by Tomochici, the Yamacraws, and John and Mary Musgrove, Indian traders. (Mary Musgrove often served as a translator.) The city of Savannah was founded on that date, along with the Province of Georgia. Because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and Tomochici, Savannah was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies. In July 1733, five months after the English colonists, 40 Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal arrived in Savannah, the largest such group to enter a colony up to that time”.
I was also thinking about a friend and colleague of mine, Kelly Thompson, who will also be at TSA, 2016 and her Québec government funded (FRQ-SC) three-year artist research-creation project Material Codes: Ephemeral Traces project which relates to her sea voyage she took from the port of Charleston, South Carolina to Auckland, New Zealand on a container ship in early 2015. Container ships are different in terms of goods that are transported across the globe but colonial ships centuries earlier also thought of people as goods, convicts and slaves to be sold and exchanged according to market economies of the time.
Gantrys and containers
A 19th century railway connecting the coastal states of South Carolina and Georgia connects Charleston and Savannah.
How will you travel to Savannah?