Dana Falcini recounts the alchemy in the hands-on transmutation of hog intestine into unique and precious objects.
To tell my stories, to extract my truth, I must reach deep inside to invoke the ancient. For me, that is the people and places that resonate in my life. I can only find this place when I am still. Finding stillness, mentally slowing time, is therefore integral to my creative process. I use unconventional natural materials, crafted with old and nearly forgotten techniques to create artifacts that can hold my stories and memories. A relationship with my materials is an important part of my making. It supports this internal connection and is why I clean, preserve and nurture them myself.
Finding gut as a medium came as a surprise. But when I found it, I realised I had spent years searching for it. The source of this revelation was a photo, a photo of a small Inuit soapstone sculpture of a man holding a drum. The batter head of the drum was made from seal gut. Seeing the image of the translucent, natural yet processed material set a new course for my work, one of research, experimentation and exploration.
It is always a mix of surprise and amusement that the gut is delivered to me via Australia Post. I use natural hog sausage casing; it comes vacuum-packed in a preservative salt solution. To prepare the gut for my work it is soaked for several hours to remove the salt. Once the intestine is free of the bulk of the solution, I need to remove the mucosal layer and residue. I scrape them inside and out using a plectrum, balancing the pressure so as not to tear the membrane. Then it is back for a final wash to rinse any remaining residue.
I experience an almost ritualistic calmness when I work with animal membranes. A delicate act of balancing is needed to overcome the unease of what it is and where it came from, whilst neither ignoring nor forgetting what it is that you are working with. Staying connected to its earthliness is a significant part of my creative journey. In their raw state, I need to override some of my senses, namely touch and smell. The smell of fresh gut, lines and sticks to the insides of your nostrils and attaches to your hands like glue. It has its own unique odour filling the air with its thickness. Luckily, time changes the odour until it dissipates. My hands are my greatest tools as touching my art is an integral part of my making process and connects me directly to my emotions. Touch makes it difficult to ignore the creature the membrane once belonged to. When touching the raw materials stirs emotions, I must deal with the dichotomy it presents.
A stock of freshly cleaned gut allows me to go into a component-making frenzy that can last weeks. I work the hog intestine when it is wet. Layering, weaving, and needle lacing over forms I have created. When lacing gut, I use a basic blanket stitch. I always start with an air of excitement because I enjoy the anticipated outcome. This excitement dissipates as sewing wet gut is extremely fiddly, requires a lot of attention, and is a very slow process. As gut dries, the membrane shrinks and warps and I am constantly second-guessing the eventual outcome to mould it into my desired form. My layering technique highlights the warping to create troughs and ridges and open voids, giving the work surface movement reminiscent of patterns in nature. Once dry, gut becomes taught, hard, shell-like and much more stable.
I prefer to work with the nose-to-tail philosophy. I have always worked with the idea that an environmental discourse is embedded into my work. Most by-products can have a purpose, and most things, given time and effort, can be repurposed. I salvage bones from our domestic consumption, mostly from homemade stock. I clean each bone with a brush and a skewer, then soak them in soapy water for a couple of days to leach the fat and oil. After this, I rinse and dry them on a tray in the sun for a few weeks. I then place them into a peroxide bath to disinfect them and wash and dry them again. Finally, I sort the bones into shapes waiting for use.
Copper for me is associated with happy memories. It conjures memories from my childhood kitchen. The joy of being perched on the kitchen stool watching my mother cook under a copper range hood, the air filled with heart-warming aromas. The copper I mainly use is from discarded electrical wire, I have a stock of old electrical leads that sits in a corner of my studio. I am very low-tech when it comes to stripping wire. A Stanley knife, muscle power and a fair bit of patience. I must remain totally present when cutting the plastic casing off, the threat of losing a finger keeps me right in the moment. I only strip the wire when I am going to use it because it is my least favourite job, but I am always happy to work with it.
Each final work is constructed of previously prepared components. The components sit on the table in my studio where I can examine them individually and collectively waiting to see connections. It’s a little like doing a puzzle as I bring the different segments together. When I find a combination I like, I tack them and sit with them for days, often bringing the work from the studio into the main part of the house. I live with them to understand them, and to discover what is working and what is not. When I am satisfied, I stitch, fuse and weave the elements together.
About Dana Falcini
I am an Australian, Naarm/Melbourne-based fibre artist creating sculptural forms using natural materials including hog gut, fish skin, bone and hair. Mastering my techniques has been a long process of research, exploration and experimentation and it is still ongoing. To me, my materials embody an ancestral, mythical sensibility so I create artifacts that can bring my memories and stories to the future. I find when preserving skin and gut, forgotten connections are remembered and an understanding is formed between the past, present and future. This discourse is meditatively woven and stitched into my art, slowing time as harmony and understanding intertwine. Oscillating between small delicate objects and large immersive installations, I have exhibited in national and international events, undertaken public art projects, enjoyed artist residencies and been the recipient of several awards. My latest exhibition was “It is all I can do to remember what once was.” at Brunswick Street Gallery, Fitzroy, Melbourne, as part of Craft Contemporary. Visit @danafalcini.com/ and follow @danafalciniart
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