Five Minutes With... Deborah Prior


We chat with artist Deborah Prior, exhibitor from Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Revisiting the Traditions of Barossan Women’s Folk Crafts, our latest exhibition at Seppeltsfield that sees contemporary female artists and craft practitioners respond to the historical folk crafts and cultural traditions of German migrant women who settled in the Barossa Valley.

Photos by Matto Charlie Lucas and Sam Roberts.

 
 

Your visual arts practice encompasses textiles, soft sculpture and installation. Why were you drawn to the fields of making and why do you enjoy working within these mediums?

Working across mediums allows me the flexibility to use the best material approach for the story I’m wanting to communicate. Sometimes that’s very fine needlework and other times it’s very boisterous, immersive installations or over-the-top soft sculpture. These different types of making also inform each other – throwing out unexpected resonances that keep me interested. More recently, I’ve been introducing elements of performance into my practice which feels like a very natural progression given textiles have such a close relationship to the body.

Much of your artwork focuses on the personal and social histories of craft work and domestic work. As a contemporary artist, how do you feel that craft is perceived in contemporary society and within the realm of the visual arts?

I think there’s always been something of a perception of craft running second fiddle to the visual arts, but I’ve enjoyed exploiting this reading and flying a bit under the radar. Many of the gender stereotypes associated with textile crafts provide a rich source of cultural baggage to unpack.

Currently I feel like craft is having a bit of a moment in contemporary art. For as long as I can recall artists and makers have embraced the handmade and the slow-made as a political stance against automation and disposable objects. This seems more urgent than ever right now as we figure out how to live on a planet that is slowly being suffocated by unfettered over-consumption, so perhaps this explains some of the current revival.

There will always be those that associate craft with the CWA and women of a certain age at craft guilds. I’m quite happy to be lumped into this category to be honest – these crafters have skills, experience, and talents beyond anything I possess.

“For as I long as I can recall artists and makers have embraced the handmade and the slow-made as a political stance against automation and disposable objects. This seems more urgent than ever right now as we figure out how to live on a planet that is slowly being suffocated by unfettered over-consumption…”

 
Performance still from  “Eat Your Saints ” (2018), performance, found objects, chocolate, textiles. Photo: Matto Charlie Lucas.

Performance still from “Eat Your Saints” (2018), performance, found objects, chocolate, textiles. Photo: Matto Charlie Lucas.

 
Deborah Prior,  Domestic White Work  (detail) ,  2019 ,  nappy liners, Squatter sheep tokens, beads ,  3 panels each approx. 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Roberts.

Deborah Prior, Domestic White Work (detail), 2019, nappy liners, Squatter sheep tokens, beads, 3 panels each approx. 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Roberts.

Can you tell us about the ideas and concepts behind your Domestic White Work wall hanging in the Kinder, Küche, Kirche exhibition?

I began Domestic White Work (pictured) by trying to imagine a suffocating and arduous life of children, kitchen and church. Domestic labour in the home is still largely undertaken by women and is still utterly undervalued. I was inspired by a visit to the Barossa Museum in Tanunda to try and make something beautiful out of the grim daily chore of cloth nappies. This is of course a nod to Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document but I also wanted to examine the uncomfortable realities of colonisation in Australia and the ongoing impact of this ‘white work.’ I was struck by the extensive collection of early church records at the Barossa Museum and the absence of histories of the Kaurna, Ngadjuri and Peramangk peoples who were displaced from their lands. It’s not easy to acknowledge that the beautiful food, wine and tourist income that SA benefits from is the result of removal and erasure. By marking out Cleanliness is Next to Godliness in small, white (squatter) sheep, I have implicated my own Wesleyan heritage with its moralisation of domestic work and bodily maintenance, and the ‘civilising’ and colonising sway of soap and white cloth.


“Working across mediums allows me the flexibility to use the best material approach for the story I’m wanting to communicate.”

 

How did your religious background and family heritage affect the way you approached and interpreted the theme?

About twenty years ago I walked out on Easter Sunday and swore I was done, but it’s not something that you can extricate yourself from easily! And for better or worse, most of Western philosophy, art, and science has been heavily influenced by Christianity. I’ve experienced the absolute best and worst applications of Christianity through my own life experiences, so this is a heritage that I will always interrogate and revisit in my practice. In approaching Kinder, Küche, Kirche, I was aware of how Christianity can be a great source of comfort and community, but also terribly destructive. Unfortunately, it has always been weaponised as a tool for colonisation.

Domestic White Work is still deliberately lovely to look at – I’m hoping it allows people to stay with the work a while and consider the recent history of Australia, even if that’s uncomfortable.

Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Revisiting the Traditions of Barossan Women’s Folk Crafts is showing at JamFactory Seppeltsfield from 12 July - 15 September 2019.

 
Deborah Prior,  Domestic White Work,  2019 ,  nappy liners, Squatter sheep tokens, beads ,  3 panels each approx. 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Roberts.

Deborah Prior, Domestic White Work, 2019, nappy liners, Squatter sheep tokens, beads, 3 panels each approx. 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Roberts.