Upstairs reveals more children, deeply engrossed in lunch and dialogue. I am once again ignored and begin to wonder if I haven’t stumbled upon a chapter from Harry Potter and the ……. Any moment I expect to be turned into an owl. I scan the horizon for signs of an adult. ‘Hello, you must be Tom’. At last, I thought, someone over 1.2 metres tall.
After the usual shuffle for familiar ground Daniela and I strike on our common interest: photography. The great thing about talking with another photographer is there is no necessity to talk about cameras. Daniela has had formal training in photography at Charles Darwin University as part of her Degree in Visual Arts. She talks fondly of her time in the darkroom and shows me the results of her labour. ‘The children became my subjects’ and that is a good choice. The images are warm and relaxed as only someone with an emotional attachment with the subject can demonstrate. Children, her children, dancing, running, playing on swings; stuff that memories are made of and worthy subjects for artistic expression. Each photograph requires more than a casual glance. Each tells a story of a family sharing in the process of learning a craft. I like that.
‘My other interest is in sewing, knitting and crocheting’ says Daniela. She pat’s her sewing machine as if to waken it, or comfort it like one would a pet. I expect it to greet me. ‘ Fibre art’ and we chuckle over the terminology. Daniela is ‘mature’ enough to remember when these skills were taught to daughters as a matter of course by their mothers. ‘It was even part of the curriculum at school’, she reflects. Not quite politically correct these days. ‘Nor is there much interest’ she adds, nodding towards the group at the table who had moved from food to cards. ‘Can I play with the X-Box, Mum?’ This is the Age of the New and knitting doesn’t seem that exciting any more.
But Daniela knits with a difference. Fishing nets, wire and discarded materials are her twine. We flick through pages of her work. I am struck by the connection she makes with the love of her children, her photography and her other art. Each photograph displays elaborate and stunning garments crafted by Daniela, elegantly modelled by her children and photographed with that same emotional connection. There is a new level of understanding about the purpose of art I am finding here. Daniela entwines her art, family and craft as intricately as she does her garment. It’s that ‘know the art: know the artist’ thing again.
‘I have a few things downstairs you might be interested in’. I follow cautiously, watching for more children to appear. Daniela has already informed me of the source of her materials. Working at the hospital as an anesthetist (which is a lot easier to write than say) she collects the detritus of the surgical ward. ‘Not body part?’ I inquire, seeking reassurance for my very weak stomach. ‘No, just anything that is usually thrown out. Scissors, tweezers, tubing, packaging. Everything is throw-away these days’. Daniela shows me a picture of a surgical ward with an operation in full swing. I feign interest for the sake of the conversation. My stomach does three turns to the left and stays there. Daniela also reveals she is a Tip Trojan. The things people do for art. I wonder if she knows Larry. Maybe they have fought over the same piece of refuse. Still, it’s better than road rage, I guess.
We enter a well secured room beneath the house. ‘This is my work room’. Daniela leaves me pondering the precision storage and disappears into the next room; the laundry, I assume. I’m left to investigate. There are body parts here. A plaster cast of a torso in the third trimester, a back possibly, and arm or a head. I look for an escape route. There is some evidence of another adult, her husband perhaps. I hope he is still intact. There is nothing to indicate otherwise.
There is a call from the next room. ‘I really should dust these off occasionally’ and from behind a collection of boxes and tools, comes a piece of Daniela’s artwork. It’s unmistakably a dress. The bodice is constructed of knitted wire with a string of surgical scissors decorating the neckline. The skirt is made from narrow plastic tubes. There are tweezers around the waist and a variety of other surgical gear interwoven into this piece of magic. Maybe I am at Azkaban. ‘Don’t look too closely at the pictures in the tubes. They are bits of photographs from …..’ but it’s all too late. I recognize something from an old biology text I used to avoid during my study. Lunch is not tasting all that well a second time around. I hide my anguish behind my camera and shoot off a few frames. Maybe it will all look better in the morning. I doubt it.
So what brings Daniela to create such magnificent and elaborate pieces of art from someone else’s flotsam and jetsom and then bury them behind the washing machine. Her house is full of ‘other people’s’ art. Only a single item of her own work sits inconspicuously in the corner of the living room. Daniela brushes a cobweb from a dress made from, what appears to be, discarded packaging. ‘I really must dust it more often’ she repeats. Daniela reveals she would much prefer to fill her home with other people’s art and has no place for her own once it is finished. The enjoyment is, it seems, in the process, not the product.
Once again I find that mystifying link between the art and the artist is eluding me. The thread (excuse the pun) that Daniela exposes and is common with others is the relationship between family and art. I wonder if this is through necessity or purpose. Daniela hints at the need for more time to create her art and how the family influences that. Although she suggests that there are occasions when she might, in the eyes of some, take just a little too long to complete the creative process she is immensly grateful for their unfailing support during her emergence as an artist. And there is the need for approval, not only for the product but for the effort, especially from those close at hand. But families are like that. Gratitude, acceptance and praise doesn't necessarily need to be said to be heard.
It’s a complex business; family and art. And because art is such a subjective thing with little or no apparent intrinsic value to the observer unless they ‘like’ it, it is hard to justify the time and effort. As if one needs to.
What I see in Daniela as with all of the artists to this point in the project is the pleasure they get from doing what they do. And why would we deny that of anyone?
I wish I could wear dresses. Then again ……..