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Robe for the Blue Shaman Guardian, 2020 is a new sculptural textile work by Kate Beynon that features in her current exhibition at Geelong Gallery, ‘Collection leads: Kate Beynon — kindred spirits’.
This wearable artwork is closely related to Beynon’s previous An Li and Anatomical, botanical series, in which the artist expands on the concept of kindred spirits — the people in our lives who guide us, and who ‘get us’ — protective guardians and shamans. In these earlier works, multi-limbed contemporary guardian figures are surrounded by a cast of kindred spirits and botanical motifs (inspired by 17th C. artist Yun Bing from the Qing Dynasty) that they wear as a protective cloak or ‘an armour of allies’. These supernatural characters are proposed as creatures for social change and transformation. They exist in-between spaces of fluid and inter-sectional identity formations, both self and collective.
In Robe for the Blue Shaman Guardian, this living armour takes on a three-dimensional form as a ceremonial or festive costume, imbued with its own healing and protective qualities. Suspended from the ceiling, this work exudes a commanding and talismanic presence within Beynon’s new exhibition.
Collection leads: Kate Beynon — kindred spirits re-opens at Geelong Gallery on Monday 22 June and runs until Sunday 20 November 2020.
Kate Beynon acknowledges and pays respect to the traditional Owners and Elders, past, present and emerging of the Wadawurrung People of the Kulin Nation, on whose lands her Geelong Gallery exhibition takes place.
As a migrant of Cantonese-Malaysian, Celtic/Welsh and Nordic ancestries, Kate pays respect to her ancestors alongside the Pima Akimel O’odham River People and Afro-Caribbean ancestors of her husband Mike and son Rali. Kate and her family acknowledge Aboriginal connection to creative practice on these lands for more than 60,000 years, and on the lands of their residence and studio in Melbourne. In solidarity, Kate acknowledges all First Nations Peoples, and celebrate their enduring presence, knowledge, culture and kindred spirits.
I wanted to create a new experimental textile work, a mix between a talismanic costume and sculpture, especially for the Kindred Spirits exhibition at Geelong Gallery, so the Robe for the Blue Shaman Guardian evolved as a kind of ‘offering’. Recently, I’ve loved collaborating on ethical fashion projects, with these experiences in colour and design also motivating the merging of art and fashion ideas into this 3D form.
The figure of the Blue Shaman first appeared as a masked dancing spirit in the An-Li series, partly inspired by the owl-like alchemist/engineer/creator in one of my favourite paintings by Surrealist artist Remedios Varo Uranga, The Creation of the Birds (1957), alongside stories of ancient Chinese Wu female shamans, who had ways of engaging with spirits through music and dance.
Robe for the Blue Shaman Guardian (back), 2020
Watercolour, acrylic, metallic pigments on cotton calico, re-purposed mixed materials, cotton, velvet and cotton thread
Installation view, Geelong Gallery, 2020. Photo: Andrew Curtis
From an idea and rough sketch, the Robe grew from re-purposed materials into a blue velvet-lined garment covered with one hundred and sixty-six soft sculptural forms. These involved an intense process of pattern-making, staining/painting, machine and hand-stitching, stuffing, arranging and late-night attaching clusters of scales, feathers, leaves and sprouts. Some take leaf-inspo from the deep green/burgundy foliage of one of our beloved pot-plants, named Joia (a Ficus elastica or rubber fig/plant), and gingko leaves relating to healing properties and memories of a backyard tree from teenage years.
Smiling skull spirits are unusual yet benevolent companions, while gold-green eyes (including a third eye at back, for extra perception and inner/outer consciousness) and flaming brows, suggest that if the Blue Shaman was suddenly to materialise (shape-shifting through time and space), to slip into the Robe, she might appear as if she’s stepping out wearing a giant living ceremonial or theatrical mask.
As it is, with the Robe suspended and rotating slightly in the space, I hope it opens up ideas and thinking — on storytelling, connections to nature, the spirit world — and ways in which our collective ‘spirits’ might be summoned to rise up through art, fashion and creative activity, especially in these times.Kate Beynon