Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Linda Codgen

My old man used to say: 'cutting a tree down and making something splendid from the wood is improving on the tree'. He wasn't much of a conservationist but he was a fine craftsman and although the tree has long gone, someone is still enjoying the beauty of his furniture.

As I drive along the dusty, guttered road to Gunbalanya, my notice is drawn to the clusters of Pandanas that tangle themselves along the escarpment. They're not much of a tree; a grass really, a poorly designed mop, but there are people here who turn these scraggling, prickly, twisted figures into things of beauty, form and function.

Linda is one of those people. In this community, its hard to find any female over the age of five who isn't involved in some way in the process of weaving. This is an art form that has a history, a social context and a function.

It's history dates back further than I care to contemplate. Linda says he family have always weaved. And when she says family you had better believe it goes back quite away in this country. The social context revolves around the way the weaving is done.

The whole family is involved. Linda, her sisters, cousins and nieces collect the leaves from the pandanas in what I can only describe as a 'family outing'. The stripping and shredding of the leaves is carried out by anyone who can manage. I've had a go. I'm sticking to photography for good reason. Linda's 6 year old niece does it with ease and finesse.
The dieing involves everyone (and a buchetful of soaking roots). I am amazed at the colours produced from what all starts off as a brown sludge in a bucket; yellow, red, brown, green and purple. They contrast beautifully against the natural earthy softness of the undied threads. My recall of natural, plant based indicators from an almost forgotten chemistry lesson is as cloudy as the concoction in the bucket.
Linda is responsible for the weaving and design.

From a skein of pandanas straw neatly held in a calico bag comes the magic. It all seems to start with a nucleus of nothing; as though a single thought is the point from which the strands and threads will glide and turn into a mat, then a cup, a bowl, handles will appear out of know-where and finally a piece of art, or a bag to carry the shopping.
She hands me a finished product. A small, soft carry which seems too delicate for any utilitarian purpose. But this panadas is tough; like the country from which it grows. All that has gone; caressed away by hands carrying a thousand lifetimes of skill.
'Give this to Christine' she tells me, her smile reveals more than her pearly white teeth. Giving is what Linda does. You only need to see her with her family to know that. She returns to her weaving. My mother used to knit like that; you know, do it without looking. As a kid I was amazed. I'm a kid again and I'm delighting in my amazement.

I'm asking myself how closely linked craft and art and the utilitarian necessity of objects can be. The lines between each are blurred. For all the intensely intellectual conversation we can have about art and its purpose, Linda is expressing herself in the simplest and most profound way. Her art is not just an expression of herself but an expression of her family and community. And her ownership of that art is as fragile as the time it takes to give it to me to pass onto someone I love. You can't get better than that.
Thanks Linda.
And from Christine as well.

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