Nicole Robins ✿ It’s all in the loop


27 September 2019

Nicole Robins, Dracaena Marginata Tote, 2019, Bangalow palm spathe, photo: Katie Clulow

The Sydney exhibition Totes Serious…who made your bag features unique baskets from Nicole Robins, made from a common indoor plant.

My fibre pieces are art designed for the wall. Several of the totes feature just one, locally sourced or homegrown fibre. Although not functional in a fashion sense, their shape references the current global trend for using woven totes and bags in the fashion world.

In poor countries, globalisation contributes to the way that artisan goods are bought locally and re-sold globally online and elsewhere at a large profit without the makers or their communities benefiting. Purchasing these items contributes to a situation where traditional crafts become undervalued and eventually extinguish. This exhibition is asking us as consumers to support makers and artisan communities more directly whenever we can so that choosing woven products and fibre art for sustainability reasons is also an ethical choice where craftspeople’s standards of living are just as important as the natural materials used.

This looped tote is mostly made from one fibre: Dracaena marginata, a local garden plant here in Sydney. The distinctive sheath endings where each leaf joins the trunk are a beautiful textural feature for fibre art. This is one of the first I made when I was just starting to formulate my ideas for this exhibition.

The strappy Dracaena marginata leaves are used whole here. The looped or loose stitch dates back to earliest First Nations’ string bags in Australia and elsewhere. The way I loop with whole leaves is something I haven’t seen before as a technique. It has developed over several years experimenting with local plants here in Sydney. I have been referring to it as basketry looping but at the last National Basketry Gathering in Adelaide in April 2019 I did a workshop with Aunty Ellen Trevorrow, a Ngarrindjeri master weaver who referred to looping as a loose stitch. (Sometimes looping is referred to as knotless netting but I think this doesn’t describe the process as accurately.)

The rim is cordage made from the thickest pieces of a Bangalow palm spathe, which is an Australian native palm that also grows abundantly in Sydney. The natural curves and wrinkles of a palm spathe are exquisite elements I try to incorporate whenever I can. Both fibres are firm favourites. For me, the basketry technique I choose will follow on from thinking about how to best feature the fibres I am working with and the fibre’s inherent sculptural qualities. So here, looping is a way to expose the sheath ending and create this particular texture.

Totes Serious… who made your bag?  is a series of baskets by Sydney basketmaker Nicole Robins, showing at Bridget Kennedy Project Space in North Sydney (26 September 2019 – 13 October 2019)

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