The Gippsland-based felt artist Zetta Kanta is inspired by fleece from a rescue farm, which embodies the value of slow art.
As a fibre artist, it’s been my privilege to produce natural, tactile works and link them directly to the use and preservation of rare breed wool. To me, this is a match made in heaven. Teaming fibre arts directly with the grower has seen “slow art”, like slow food and fashion, grow in popularity.
My road to my South Gippsland studio began in Latvia, where I spent the first 20 years of my life. It has woven through many exotic locations, each one adding to my artistic practice and ideals. Wherever I have have found myself, I have been drawn to the natural fibres of the area and how their earthy tones reflect their origins. Since settling in Victoria, with my husband Simon, I have been able to source my natural materials from small family-run fibre producers.
My wall hangings and other pieces invite people to touch them. In a throwaway world, I attempt to take us back to the pre-industrial revolution environment, where most cultures decorated their home interiors with animal skins, felted items and handmade drawings. When it comes to using wool, they knew a thing or two, given it is fire resistant, eco renewable, biodegradable, non-toxic and a natural insulator. Their daily home environment was gentle and soft and their whole life was closer to nature and more respectful of it. Wool is also extremely beautiful.
When I start a new project, I do a loose sketch and start on preparation of raw materials. My inspiration comes from the beauty and strength of nature—often from the fleeces themselves! Because the fleeces are from small producers, they are unique in quality and colouring. The wool might be curly, straight or wavy. There is such a rich textural palette to work with as well as the wonderful variety of colours. Some particularly inspiring fleeces have come from a rescue farm, which is home to high micron fleece coloured sheep that have been born into flocks of a different colour—uniquely coloured ultra-high quality wool—a felt artist’s dream! It is like wool gold! Sometimes I will buy a fleece and there will be several shades of grey and fawn and black and brown. I will lay it out on my porch and I will see the whole project finished in my imagination.
I have exhibited and held workshops at many locations on the east coast of Australia and many of my works are in private and public collections. I enjoy working with schools and community groups to create fibre art from locally sourced fleeces. The new local connections that have blossomed have been a source of great joy, as have the beautiful and unique artworks made by so many hands working together. One such collaboration was at the Fish Creek Tea Cosy Festival in 2018 when local Romney and English Leicester fleeces were combined with grey and white Merino to make panels for an installation called Tea Trees Talking. This project was a felted art installation representing Latvian cultural traditions using Australian materials. It transformed the interior of the old Fish Creek station building into a Latvian birch grove in an Australian tea-tree forest clearing. As visitors walked between the felted artworks, they could hear Latvian music and sample Latvian herbal teas. Original artworks by myself and Anda Banikos nestled among felted panels made by local schools and the community.
The everyday choice to tread kindly on this earth starts with us. We will lose our treasures-forests, rivers and oceans if we do not make these small changes. The decision to use what is locally available, rather than mass-produced, is good for the planet, as well as being a sound artistic choice. What better way to bring about change but to work with school students and the community, to open their eyes and hearts to the beauty of the natural world.
For the artistically and craft-minded, my felting style uses gentle weaving and layering to produce a light and highly textural felt. This reflects my philosophy of sustainable interactions with our world.
It has been wonderful to be linked directly with the grower sources for rare breed wool through Australian Rare Breed Project. They have taken this on as a project and I would encourage other fibre artists to contact them. They are a wonderful resource! Rare sheep breeds are gems not to be forgotten, but to be cherished and utilised in as wide a variety of ways as possible. To quote from Rare Breed Sheep Project,
“There are many beautiful species of sheep in the world, but only a small number of breeds are used commercially. Some of these important sheep breeds are at risk of being lost due to their small breeding flock size, their localisation, and susceptibility to decimation of the breed to disease.”
Australia’s strong sheep heritage and isolation mean it has an important role to ensure that these sheep are available for future generations. The project to link growers to fibre artists aims to increase the financial viability of these breeds by educating fibre artists about the wonderful traits of rare breed sheep, how to use their beautiful fibres, and where to source these fibres.
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