Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

In March 2005, I went to the annual Symposium of The New Zealand Costume & Textile Section of The Auckland Museum Institute (that's a mouthful!) for the first time, mainly because it was held in Dunedin and I had been to Dunedin only for horribly cold rainy three hours mid-summer years before. I thoroughly enjoyed the Symposium, and the city of Dunedin, especially the University Bookshop nearby.

I knew exactly nobody there, except Robyn with whom I'd corresponded, but it was heavenly to be so anonymous and yet sit amongst people enthusiastic about textile. Making new friends, strangely, wasn't high on my list that weekend; I wanted to melt into the chair and soak up the atmosphere.

There was something else I discovered. I mentioned before that all my life I thought I'd naturally go into the family business and become an academic. Well, I wasn't getting anywhere near that at age 30, and was living in a town without a university at age 40. I tried to get back in the swing of things when I left my last office job, but I found I horribly lacking in creativity and the ability to think for myself to study at university level in New Zealand. I was quite crushed about this, and continued to feel guilty about not following my destiny.

During the morning of Day 1 at the Symposium, finding out what the Symposium was all about, I thought perhaps through this experience, I would feel encouraged to look into academia once more. But by that afternoon, I had discovered something totally different.

See, most papers by the PhD candidates were "academic"; they classified, categorized and described textiles, textiles made by someone else. Paper after paper, albeit intriguing, it was the same. And while becoming inseparable from my seat, I had a strange, chuckling satisfaction that though I may obtain another academic qualification, it was okay, because instead of studying other people's textiles, I made textiles.

I can't describe the magnitude of relief I felt, in the middle row towards the left. I mean no disrespect to the would be PhDs, but for me, at that moment, I preferred to make cloth, not analyze and agonize over something someone else's cloth. That was as close to an epiphany as I have ever experienced and as you can see, I haven't looked back.

And when I'm 60 or 70, if I want to go back to school, that's fine, too.

Though the speakers came from all over New Zealand, and some from Australia and beyond, the topics, I thought, reflected the location of the Symposium. In 2005, in Dunedin, there was an emphasis on mainly-English immigrants mainstream New Zealand and their heritage, and the most memorable talk was the clothes people wore on short railway trip designed by the railway company for young men and women to meet and mingle in a healthy way.

The 2006 Symposium was in Wellington, at the old museum building that is now one of Massey campuses, and we had many young Australian curators and academics practicing presentation; great topics, good for their carrier, but tiresome for me. The topics were more varied, but the most memorable was the history and trends of Australian fashion photography. I was, in all honesty, more interested in exploring the grand building than the lectures.

2007 was in Auckland with a strong Pacific flavor, and this would definitely have been my favorite Symposium, but it was shortly after my exhibit and my parents' trip here, and I was exhausted. It would have been extremely interesting because I would have stayed with Brenda, someone I met in 2005, who works in the public art arena, and who would have had a presenter or two billeted at her house to boot.

2008 topics look inviting. I'm already recalling the sensation of sinking into one of the seat at the Otago Museum auditorium. I think I'd better book a cheap ticket soon. That the Symposium never fails to secure good caterers is a big bonus, too.

6 comments:

  1. I am thinking if you can't make it to Converngence that you might be interested in the Textile Society Symposium in Honolulu Sept 08.
    http://www.textilesociety.org/symposia_2008.htm

    anyways their website is interesting too.

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  2. Looks lovely, Lynne. Though I'm unlikely to go, thanks for the pointers - another option to consider in future.

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  3. I think I understand where you are coming from. A former academic (17th-century English lit), I took maternity leave with our first child. These many many years later I continue on maternity leave......... I realized as I was transforming my wedding dress into a baptism dress that I wanted to raise our children but I also realized how much I loved to make things with my hands. I actually enjoyed writing out my pieces with pen and ink. My hands and fingers were making words. Not just my head.

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  4. Yes, the tectile, creative pleasure supersedes the analytical, in my case. And the satisfaction of seeing the entire process and being accountable for the whole.

    I mean, in the case of weaving, we are transforming strings to cloth; life doesn't get better than that!

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  5. It fascinates me that although they call the symposium one of textiles, a perusal of the talk topics reads more like one of fashion.

    This post has really interested me. I, of course, am an academic and weaving and spinning is what I use as decompression time after work. After spending all day working on a computer it's wonderful to come home and work with my hands.

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  6. The Symposium is run by "Textile & Costume" Section, and at least in the two years I was there, the topics have covered fashion trends, conservation methods, and pattern classification. The closest to "textile" were, to my recollection, mostly embellishing (embroidery, quilting) techniques. There may or may not have been one about weaving in Dunedin, at least the presenter was a weaver, but not really about textiles. You're right, Tara. I never thought of it.

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