Embroideries (4), petit point, framed, 'Legacies', Narelle Jubelin, Australia, 1990
These four embroideries by Narelle Jubelin were part of the installation 'Legacies of travel and trade' designed by Jubelin for the Museum. This complex work combines her petit-point renditions of photographs by Hedda Morrison with other objects from the collection. The Museum approached Jubelin in 1989 to undertake a commission. In the process of discussion with curators from the decorative arts and social history departments, Jubelin expressed interest in ¬?producing¬? an object for the Museum¬?s collection that worked across traditional museum collecting areas and explored the concept of ¬?transactional history¬?, that is, the particular circumstances that have brought objects into the museum context.
Our knowledge of other cultures, as seen through the Museum¬?s collection, is largely a European construct shaped by fashion and the personal tastes and circumstances of collectors. The selective way in which histories, cultures and knowledge are projected by the Museum through its displays is one of Jubelin¬?s central concerns and informs the work Legacies of travel and trade'
A brilliant red backboard forms part of Jubelin¬?s installation and lures the viewer to an early 20th century flat-top museum showcase. The showcase acts as a framing device to contain the objects and focus the viewer¬?s gaze. Jubelin¬?s four petit-point works in found frames lie on a grid of Chinese ¬?cash¬? coins. Below is a set of petit-point dress accessories, comprising a pair of purses, an eyeglass case and fan case (which would have been suspended from a Chinese man¬?s belt) and four carved ivory cigarette holders from the Museum¬?s collection.
The use of found objects and images rendered in petit point has been a characteristic of Jubelin¬?s work since 1984, aimed at provoking intellectual inquiry and blurring the demarcation between art and craft. The viewer is urged to consider ideas such as the circulation of objects, and how meanings are constructed, understood and changed. In choosing to work in petit point, Jubelin also challenges the traditional perception of petit point as a stereotypically female domestic art and its placement in the art/craft hierarchy.
The photographs that have inspired 'Legacies of travel and trade' were taken by Hedda Morrison, who worked as a photographer in Peking from 1933 to 1946 and now lives in Canberra. Morrison, who had trained in Munich, answered an advertisement in a German photographic journal for a qualified female photographer to manage Hartungs photographic studio in Peking. Having secured the position, she left for China in 1933 and stayed there for thirteen years.
The photographs selected by Jubelin are carefully observed images that document Morrison¬?s vision of Peking life. In translating them into petit point, Jubelin adds yet another layer of interpretation to Morrison¬?s photographic images. These selective views are enhanced by the found frames and the placement of the works in a museum showcase.
The Chinese ¬?cash¬? coins form part of an 1870s hoard that was recovered from the Palmer River goldfields in Queensland and acquired by the museum in 1981. The coins are laid out in a grid, which carries a reference to conceptual art. The coins refer to trade, exchange and the historical links between Australia and China.
Unlike the other objects in the showcase, the coins have been chosen to invoke the brutality and conflict that characterised much of the early history of the Chinese in Australia. In contrast, the petit-point belt accessories and the ivory cigarette holders were owned by an Australian woman, Christian Rowe Thornett, daughter of Sir Hugh Dixson, a successful tobacco manufacturer. Mrs Thornett travelled the world extensively in the early 1900s and spent time in China. The pieces selected by Jubelin are part of a large group of Chinese objects collected by Thornett and donated to the museum in 1967.
These objects may be viewed as souvenirs of travel and represent the longstanding Western fascination with objects from the ¬?exotic east¬?. The belt accessories were part of the market in ¬?traditional¬? or ¬?genuine¬? objects made for local Chinese consumption, whereas the ivory cigarette holders reflect the influence of Western fashion and lifestyle.
Jubelin¬?s installation is a challenging work that engages historical museum objects in a dialogue with the contemporary interest in transactional history. Her conscious production of a museum object draws our attention to the ways in which museums use objects and images to communicate a selective view of history and culture.
Claire Roberts, Curator Decorative Arts & Design, 1991
From ¬?Decorative Arts and Design From The Powerhouse Museum¬?