In French, embroidery stitches are called points. So Paris Points is a pun. These works were responses to Paris – some of the ‘points’ the city made to me, stitched in thread.
Tricolor is a kind of slow news piece.
It records my observations from my studio window of emergency vehicles racing back and forth across the city on Saturday 16 November 2019, the night of the first anniversary of the yellow vest protests.
Triclour takes its cues from the Bayeaux tapestry (which I visited while in France). Like this medieval wonder, it records current affairs through a technique that takes a very long time. In this way, instead of just instantly posting a reaction online, I contemplated this event for an entire month; stitch by stitch.
Fromage en traduction (cheese in translation) is a cheeky meditation on how much gets ‘lost in translation’ between cultures. Despite my best efforts my rendition of this cheese changed a lot as I translated it!
Paris Points was on show to the public on 20 December 2019, atleier 8202 (bâtiment principal), The Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris.
Looking back to the future
by Tracey Clement
(A shorter version of this essay was published in October 2019 by FCMG in the exhibition catalogue)
Visitors to the Futurama exhibition at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York left with a souvenir badge that declared, “I have seen the future.” What they had actually seen was an elaborate piece of propaganda; a massive model landscape in which modern metropolises were joined by what their creator Norman Bel Geddes liked to call “magic motorways,” all teeming with cars.(1)
The “Word of Tomorrow” presented in Futurama ranged from life-sized to miniature. It featured more than 500,000 buildings, one million trees, and 50,000 cars, trucks and buses (10,000 of which actually moved).(2) Automobiles, and the roads they zoomed along, were very much the stars of the show. Which comes as no real surprise since the primary purpose of this ambitious display was to sell cars and lobby US government officials to build more roads.(3)
Futurama was a giant advertisement for American automotive giant General Motors. And in many ways the more than five million people who visited had seen the future: a rather bleak future in which personal freedom was conflated with owning a car; a future in which whole neighbourhoods were razed to rubble to accommodate roads; a future of pollution, congestion, the rapacious consumption of fossil fuels and the wars waged to secure their supply; a future of anthropogenic climate change.
The future we are living in now.
I have seen the future
I first felt like I had seen the future when I read JG Ballard’s 1962 novel, The Drowned World. Reading this slim sci-fi story in the mid 1980s, when nuclear Armageddon loomed large, Ballard’s post-apocalyptic vision of a ruined semi-submerged metropolis – strangled by vines, patrolled by carnivorous reptiles and equally dangerous men – seemed both realistic and inevitable. Today The Drowned World reads like a prescient vision of our current climate emergency.
Since 2014 I have been using imagery of the ruined model city in sculptures which seek to draw attention to the dangers of an anthropocentric world view. As these mini cities disintegrate they can be read as warnings; a vision of the post-apocalyptic future we are wilfully creating through both action and inaction. But they, like The Drowned World, can also be seen as a glimmer of hope.
As I have argued elsewhere, Ballard’s post-apocalyptic story can be read as a utopian vision of the slate wiped clean. He pictures a fecund world in which humanity is on the wane while the rest of the natural world flourishes without us. It’s a vision of hope, but one tinged with a deep sense of loss: the loss of humanity in all our terrible brilliance.(4)
A few years ago I heard an author say on the radio that the role of a sci-fi writer should be, not to describe impending disaster, but to imagine a positive future; to envisage utopia, to dare to hope. I can’t remember his name, and I’ve paraphrased him wildly, but it’s a valid point.
Today, as our political leaders put their heads in the metaphorical sand and refuse to address the realties of the climate crisis; as temperatures rise along with sea levels; as so many people suffer from despair in the face of ecological upheaval that Australian philosopher Glen Albrecht came up with a name for the condition – solastalgia, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t really catch on but eco-anxiety did; as we build yet more roads; as we continue to burn coal: catastrophe seems inexorable. Inevitable. Picturing it is just a little bit too much like stating the obvious.
Imagining a better world is much, much harder.
With Futurama 2.0 I’ve tried to rise to this challenge. It is a utopian vision of the city, albeit a modest and subtle one. Compared to its predecessor this model city is utterly lacking in sophistication. There are no bells, no whistles, no moving parts. Brightly coloured and literally held together with sticky tape, it looks like something kids might make.
There are clues to its utopian leanings scattered throughout Futurama 2.0, but this right here is key: children aged four to 12 years-old did contribute to the project, and so did local high school students, and adults from both the Fairfield and broader Sydney communities. More than 50 people answered my call to come make their mark on this model metropolis. We made the city together.
There are other elements in this artwork that point to its utopian leanings. For a start there aren’t any cars at all; Futurama 2.0 is a walk-able city, with (presumably) an efficient public transport system tucked neatly underground. And the trees are massive, old growth giants venerated for their carbon sequestering, shade-throwing and inherent wisdom. Corporate branding is subverted and re-purposed to suit other agendas. Futurama 2.0 is a conglomeration of classic Western skyscrapers, Aztec-esque pyramids, Middle Eastern style towers, pan-Asian pagodas and suburban bungalows all coexisting harmoniously; a kind of multicultural architecture made from just six basic shapes. But the collective nature of its construction remains its most potent symbol of hope.
For it is together that we have the power to shape the future.
Tracey Clement 2019
- Norman, Bel Geddes, Magic Motorways. New York: Random House, 1940.
- The theme of the fair was “Building the World of Tomorrow. Donald Albrecht, ed. Noman Bel Geddes Designs America, New York: Abrams, 2012, 290-294.
- It was very successful. See: Nathaniel Robert Walker, “American Crossroads: General Motors’ Midcentury Campaign to Promote Modernist Urban Design in Hometown USA,” Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum 23, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 89-115.
- Tracey Clement, “Mapping the Drowned World.” University of Sydney, 2017, 190. http://hdl.handle.net/2123/17344
All three bodies of work which I made for my PhD (Post-Premonitionism 2, Metropolis Experiment, and my Drowned World Maps) came together in my show Mapping The Drowned World, for 3 days only. Both the sculptures and the maps were made in response to JG Ballard’s 1962 novel, The Drowned World. You can watch me de-install the show in the video below.
This the fifth (and final) map I’ve made as part of my Mapping The Drowned World project, inspired by JG Ballard’s novel The Drowned World.
You can find all of my Drowned World maps here.
In this map the conventional view of the planet is inverted. After all, there is no right way up in space.
18.3 hours of drawing, January – September 2017.
One of my Drowned World maps has made the cover of the US journal Cartographic Perspectives!
You can read my article here: http://dx.doi.org/10.14714/CP85.1401
This the fourth map I’ve made as part of my Mapping The Drowned World project, inspired by JG Ballard’s novel The Drowned World.
Maps are always staking a claim or making a point. Far from being an endeavour of pure science, they are political and cultural tools. They frequently represent power and the domination of both people and places.
Maps are artefacts deeply embedded in the cultures that make them and the conditions of their time. And my Drowned World maps are no exception.
In my Drowned World series of drawings I transpose a predicted ocean level rise of 70 meters on to maps of the world. These artworks picture planetary geography re-shaped in a way that echoes Ballard’s science fictional vision of The Drowned World, but they are also grounded in the real.
This map took approx 25 hours of drawing, August – December 2016
The time-consuming nature of these works is a deliberate strategy which points to our complicity in creating our current climate crisis.
This catastrophe did not just happen: it took centuries of dedicated labour, ruthless exploitation of the natural environment, manic consumerism, and blatant disregard for the consequences of our actions to reach this moment in time.
The Buckminster Fuller projection was created in 1943.
See my Drowned World maps in the group show Future Stratigraphy, 6-29 October 2016, at SCA Galleries, Sydney.
The Eckert projection was created in 1906. My map took approx 21 hours of drawing, February – June 2016
This the third map I’ve made as part of my Mapping The Drowned World project, inspired by JG Ballard’s novel The Drowned World.
WATCH Tracey Clement create Drowned World: Bonne Projection. 30 hours of drawing compressed into 2 minutes.
This map is part of my broader PhD project, Mapping The Drowned World. It is the second map I’ve completed.
Big isn’t always better
Plastic City represents the annual consumption of one individual. The miniature buildings are made from every plastic container I bought during 2010; they were stored instead of recycled.
The vaguely sci-fi style of the mini city’s ‘architecture’ is an invitation to think about the future. Plastic City embodies a number of timely questions about the types of cities we want to live in, sustainable practice in urban environments and personal responsibility.
Visitors should leave asking themselves, “How big would my Plastic City be?” In this case, bigger isn’t better.
Plastic City highlights the fact that recycling is not enough. We need to choose items that aren’t heavily packaged. We need to use less and re-use, not just recycle.
Plastic City was constructed on site over a week at Articulate Project Space, June 19-24, 2012.
The public were invited to visit during the making process and helped to ‘recycle’ the work at the closing event.
In 1+1+=1, I have taken these drawings and reinterpreted them in embroideries (one of the several traditional “women’s work” skills handed down to me by my Mother) and digital prints.
I have also animated three of the drawings using very simple techniques including the construction of handmade flip-books and praxinoscopes.
1+1=1 was a solo exhibition at James Dorahy Project Space, Sydney.
Photos: Embroideries photographed by Richard Glover. Flip-books, praxinoscopes and installation shots by Tracey Clement.
The praxinoscope is a 19th century animation device, similar to the better known zoetrope.
I made 3 praxinoscopes to animate drawings my father did for me when I was a child.
They were part of my solo show 1+1=1.
The target is an almost irresistible graphic image. All those concentric rings create a mesmerising visual vortex, drawing the eye dead centre, sucking you in. No wonder the target is a perennial favourite of both pop artists and marketing gurus. The target is also an iconic symbol of man-made violence.
The targets in Paper Trail are part of my ongoing project which explores the toxic legacy of the Enlightenment: the dangerous notion that it is both possible and desirable to dominate nature.
Using a razor blade, outlines of vines and vermin are ‘drawn’ onto ready-made targets, then allowed to spiral out. Breaching the picture plane and occupying 3D space, these organic forms embody nature’s vitality and patient omnipotence.
Paper Trail was first shown as a solo exhibition in 2008, at Peloton, Sydney. In 2009, several of the works were showcased in the emerging artists exhibition, Off the Wall, Art Melbourne, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne. They were exhibited in 2009 in Tracey Clement: Recent(Hard)Work, Elements Art Gallery, Perth, WA.
Photos: Richard Glover.
Post-it was a group exhibition which I coordinated as an unofficial satellite event of the Biennale of Sydney, 2006.
Post-it was a mail art project based on the surrealist game, ‘The Exquisite Corpse’.
102 artists participated. Each artist drew one section of a figure on a folded sheet, the page was then posted to the next artist. There are 3 artists per page (head, torso, legs) and 34 finished art works.
Each artist donated their work. The finished pieces were sold by silent auction and all the proceeds went to charity.
Post-it was exhibited at Peloton, Sydney, Australia, June 1-July 1, 2006.
Photos: Tracey Clement.