Review / Complexities bring weaving down to earth

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Jennifer Robertson’s “Crystal Imperfections as Agents of Deformation”. Basalt, stainless steel, copper, silk, silver and polyester, hand-woven on digital loom.
THE previous vice chancellor of the ANU, Prof Ian Young, introduced an exciting scheme to support interdisciplinary research relationships between different faculties and research centres at the university, offering opportunities for artists to work with researchers in other fields, but perhaps more importantly, researchers learn more about artists and their creative processes.

Through this scheme, renowned textile artist Jennifer Robertson collaborated with “Earth whisperer”, emeritus Prof Ian Jackson from the Research School of Earth Sciences, in a new dialogue between geology and weaving.

The focus was research into “defects” or “flaws” – vacant sites and dislocation lines running through atomic and molecular crystal lattice structures of minerals such as olivine, a common mineral found on the earth’s surface.

Paradoxically, “defects” in weaving are always unwanted and every attempt is made to eradicate them at every stage of the preparation and weaving process, so this presented Robertson with an interesting challenge – how to make defects intentional, intrinsic and the focus of aesthetic, technical and physical research in cloth.

Of this process, Robertson has explained: “Early on in the project I was drawn to the many scientific symbols, grids and diagrams used to portray, educate and convey information about different aspects of mineral structures.”

Weaving is inherently a grid – horizontals intersect with verticals to form patterns, either with colours or manipulation with the threads. After some experimentation, Robertson decided to weave double-cloth disrupted pattern and structure to form dislocation faults which she highlighted in red copper over an olivine grid structure.

Similar to the earth’s surface, the weaving process was very complex. Robertson used a range of mineral fibres such as basalt, glass, stainless steel, silver and copper. As each behaved radically differently, a different treatment was required for each.

The process of weaving rock, a seemingly absurd idea, has set new strategic directions for this weaver, who is always seeking to challenge herself and what she can achieve in the craft.

Robertson created two works during the term of the project and has now donated “Crystal Imperfections as Agents of Deformation”  to the research school  for the earth sciences community to enjoy.

The surface of artwork undulates, protruding from the wall. The light captures the reflective threads, much as the sun glints on the surface of exposed rocks. The pattern appears as a series of dots, joined by lines, many of them red.

Jennifer Robertson constantly seeks ways she can develop new and often complex techniques for her work. “Crystal Imperfections as Agents of Deformation” is an outstanding work that will undoubtedly reveal some of the complexities of weaving to scientists who take the time to compare it with the complexities of geology.

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