Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Olympics and Australian Bounty

I think, like many other people around the world I have watched a little of the Olympics, although only small sessions at a time . I must admit that the Olympics and our attitudes to sports  bore me a little- yes sport is important but it's not the only thing in the world- there are things of the mind and the hands and of the heart. Sport is huge in Australia, too huge and you know this is so, when the headlines in newspapers are not about  what has been achieved for individual sports people, their sport or even their country but  "why  is it that all the money that has been thrown at people hasn't delivered results?"( well that was until 2 days ago anyway) Money has been spent ,there needs to be financial gain at the end- and we have even appointed a person to look into swimming's failure- i can only shake my head and wonder at this jingoistic folly, because  it is sheer foolishness to place our expectations on gold medals only- there is so much more- and this is where I want to tell you a little story.

What the Olympics did for me............and i don't play sport!( or not any more )

Prior to 2000 I was making art quilts but had little success in my own country, and my work was rarely selected for what were considered to  be the "art quilt" events/ shows. I could not get work into galleries and I was feeling very frustrated. Yet I was getting work into European exhibitions- they were structured a little differently, and I was having reasonable success. Enter onto the stage Chassy d'Or at Chateau de Chassy in France- I entered a quilt, I won a kudos only prize ( good for the resume) and  best of all the organiser of the event Mme Frederique Tison purchased my quilt- for me it was a wow and wow thing that happened. I corresponded with  Mme Tison, and found we had a passion for the environment and in the year 2000 she was organising an exhibition at Chateau de Chassy, her home, on the theme friendship. In the middle of the night in 1999 I had a brainstorm and  came up with the idea of offering an exhibition of Australian quilts made by 20-30 different Australian artists to be part of the friendship exhibition. I proposed the idea to Mme Tison and she approved on condition that she co-curate.

It only dawned on me a little  into the process that 2000 was the Sydney ( Australia) Olympic year- and that indeed it might be a good time not to be in Australia, because lets face it I am not so enamoured of all the hullabaloo, crowing and jingoism that we would be  subjected to 24/7, wall to wall sport. I saw it as a good opportunity to go to France, not only by myself but with my family. Mme Tison approved the plan after discussion with her family and so it was decided that i would do an artist residency at Chateau de Chassy and would help install and mind the exhibition of Australian quilts- what happened next, was a little magic and an event that changed so many things in my life.

I called for entries in Australia and got a wonderful response from artists allowing us to choose an exhibition that  spoke of Australia. I called it Australian Bounty. We took the quilts to France  on my youngest daughters 5th birthday, and there the magic started- head airline steward Pierre ( from a now defunct french/ polynesian airline) not only gave my daughter a special birthday kiss on the cheek( and it did not hurt he was tall dark and handsome), but chocolates and took her into the cockpit- she thought we had arranged it. We were picked up at the Charles de Gaulle Airport and  taken to Chateau de Chassy and greeted by Mmme Tison and her daughter Patience. Chateau de Chassy was once the home of Balthus- then France's greatest living painter and mme Tison had during 1950's and early 1960's been his muse and mistress.We were allocated  two large bedrooms and a kitchen in one of  the towers. Now the Chateau has seen better days but wow, we were going to live in a castle for nearly three months.  Our Kitchen chimney mantle bore the scratchings of Picasso 's name ( a visitor to the Chateau at one time) and in our bedroom was an original Giacometti lampstand. I taught a workshop in the atelier that had once belonged to Balthus and which Mme Tison had kept intact.My daughters at that stage were aged 9,7 and 5 it all seemed like a fairy tale.

What I had not bargained for was the Olympics. On French television every night, before the news there was a segment about Australia where the forthcoming Olympics were to be held- it showcased all sorts of things about our country. There was the great rivalry between Australian runner Cathy Freeman and French runner Marie Jose Perec. News had quickly spread  in the town where we shopped that we were Australians and it was not long before my daughters, all blonde and suntanned were being called the Australian princesses- and people would  make a special effort to tell us about a segment they had seen on tv and ask us about it- my youngest daughter was even on french tv ringing the gate bell to open the exhibition. We were lucky we did get support from the Australian France Foundation and I got a grant from the Ian Potter Foundation- we were the only Australian exhibition travelling in the whole of Europe in that Olympic year.

When I gathered the work together I had not anticipated how"Australian' the works would be. We had a show of the quilts at Gellibrand  in the Otways to send the quilts off, and 500 people came to look and  that day is still being talked about in this region- people remind me of it from time to time. Imagine.... these works  in the attic of a seventeenth century French castle with  stone walls and  soaring oak rafters (up to 30 metres in the roof)- they glowed- the atmosphere tingled with palpable vive l'Australie- it was  something that still brings tears to my eyes- the work glowed like a bright jewel- nearly every person that walked into that exhibition drew a deep breath as they took in the colour and tingle- and the words I heard most often was c'est magnifique, c'est  formidable, c'est encroyable. The Dutch prime minster and his wife came and talked and stayed for an hour- many people came but I think the most  telling event was the day a young woman arrived with three of her friends- she walked into the room and burst into tears- her friends gathered around her concerned worried, but she said it's alright, it's alright- it's home ( she was Australian and had lived in France for 20 or more years)- she had simply had an overwhelming feeling of homesickness and she stood shaking her head for quite some time. The exhibition got invited to a gallery of  Contemporary Art near Chartres and then to the foyer of the Australian  Embassy  which also doubled as gallery space where it was one of the best attended exhibitions ever. It also travelled to many other places- but the effect was never quite the same as in France- because it was those segments on tv leading up to the Olympics which had opened the hearts of  French people to be responsive. Those segments might normally have been a one hour documentary but for the Olympics, but instead they were an ongoing dialogue and  my family and I as Australians were seen as representatives of our country and part of the dialogue. It was indeed strange to be escaping your country and at the same time representing your country.

The many connections I have made in France have in part  come from that exhibition, and  several of my enduring friendships with both French and expat people came through that exhibition. And then last year I was reminded yet again of  a warm and reciprocal relationship that exists between France and Australia. I did live in a small village in the south of France at the house of a friend in 2010- I worked and  travelled to other parts of Europe but  when I was in Le Triadou I went for daily walks with my friends dog. Last year i returned for a visit with my friend and walked her dog in the vineyards as I had used to do, and encountered someone whose face seemed familiar-  her  response was warm- she kissed but then hugged me and said "Ahhh l'Australienne"- I felt as if I had come home in some way- and perhaps I had.

It's why i want to write a book about work inspired by France- a kind of homage or perhaps a love letter.

The exhibition has lead to many other curating opportunities though I have now hung up my curating shoes for the time being- it's time to concentrate on my own work. My quilt at the bottom of the page was a quilt inspired by Otway ferns.The other quilt pictured  is by Deborah McArdle. The article comes From Australian Patchwork & and Quilting Vol 7 no.8


ronnie laforet said...

I love reading your blog and viewing your work. thank you

Annette said...

wow... fabulous story... well done for taking that first step..

Diane Wright said...

I nearly cried, and I've never even been to France. But I have been an expat...and I have fallen in love with Australia. Thank you for the post, Dijanne!

MulticoloredPieces said...

What a lovely and touching story. I'm so glad you wrote it up and shared it. Your experience is a very good example of how the universe makes things happen when you make an effort. Great post!
best, nadia

quilter501 said...

Dijanne, you write as beautifully as you stitch! Somehow I feel a connection with you even though you live in Australia and I live in the remote mountains of NW Washington state. Perhaps it is that I too love to stitch the traveller's blanket (I took your online class),.....or because I continually look at the one small piece of yours I bought (Syrian village) and have hanging in my bedroom).....or because I too am divorced and struggle daily to make my way emotionally and financially. Never forget those you inspire across the miles in being so open, frank, candid about your joys, struggles and sorrows. Thank you