Jess Hall

A finalist in the 2021 Cheongju International Craft Competition, Jess Hall is building a practice in the interstices between science and imagination, art and parenthood. Hall defies the definitional categories of art and craft, but her approach to history is more nuanced than simple 'defiance'; instead, she negotiates the sharp edges and the dark spots of the history of textile practice, creating canny, evasive work which both investigates and serves her life as a mother and artist.

Hall began her artistic life in oil painting, training first at the Queensland College of Art. At this early stage of her practice, her interest in scientific illustration began as a fascination with visual modes of logging, and indeed of creating, knowledge of the natural world. This work explored the early colonial imaginative experience in Australia, with Hall citing “ideas of the monstrous, and demonisation of the Other” as the conceptual underpinnings of her early images. From these beginnings, it is clear that science has never been about “objectivity,” or of apolitical “facts” in Hall’s book. 

After a move to Melbourne and her first child, the material warp and weft of Hall’s practice changed. Citing as her artistic heroes Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Delaunay, Mirka Mora, and Yayoi Kusama, the porosity between art and the parameters of necessity in the lives of the women who make it are played out in the trans-mediation of her own work. “[When] I became pregnant with my first child,” she says, “I had to reimagine my art practice and how it would fit into my life. Because of the toxicity of the paint, and not having a studio outside of my home any more, I undertook this study [in textile design, at RMIT]. It ended up being the missing link for my art practice.” 

Hall works now with her characteristic vocabulary of fantastical botanical illustration, in both drawing and textile-based work. Never one to respect a division beyond its due, she brings the media with which she now works into concert with each other, embroidering her drawings, and printing her delicately-patterned pen work onto silk scarves. In a solo show with Gallerysmith Project Space earlier in 2021, for example, Hall exhibited embroidered “specimens,” grown from her drawings, inside circular forms which elide between the embroidery hoop and the Petri dish. 

An acute awareness, and careful embrace, of the gendered history of embroidery and textile work – as well as scientific research and documentation as a means of control – characterises Hall’s recent practice. In her new parenthood, she says, “it was interesting to be going through a process of being very domestic, and at home a lot, and also doing these hand based practices…[at certain periods in history] embroidery became interlinked with the idea of women as ultra-feminine domestic creatures. I like to think about that discomfort in the history, embroidery’s use as a means of control.” We speak about the ambivalent politics of “reclamation” –  whether the act of re-claiming that which has historically been used to suppress a community’s voice can ever be straightforward, or enough. Says Hall, “It’s an uncomfortable space, but what I love about contemporary embroidery is that it’s embraced that history. It can be feminine, and it can also be spiky and ugly. It can be whatever we need it to be.”

Working with this versatility and innovative approach to the histories which shape her life, Hall is finding success. Her textile piece Amalgam, 2021, is currently on display at the Cheongju International Craft Competition, as a finalist work. the show is available to view online until 17 October, 2021. 

2021 Cheongju International Craft Competition
8 September – 17 October 2021
Choengju, South Korea

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