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Adelaide Festival


Yarning

Christine Nicholls


Ponde (Murray Cod), Kluvanek
Ponde (Murray Cod), Kluvanek

The Intertwine program, which took place at many venues around Adelaide, has emerged as one of the real success stories of the Peter Sellars/Sue Nattrass Adelaide Festival. Comprising a series of loosely affiliated weaving workshops, public forums, and exhibitions of woven art works from Australia and beyond, Intertwine was a genuinely community-based, grassroots, cross-cultural and collaborative event. It perfectly exemplified the original Sellars vision for the festival and its themes of truth and reconciliation, cultural diversity and ecological sustainability.

Intertwine brought together Indigenous weavers from the Top End of Australia and from Ngarrindjeri country in and around the South Australian Riverland. Senior Maori weavers also participated, along with other community artists from all over Australia. Included in the latter group was the high profile Queensland based artist Pat Hoffie who regularly works on collaborative projects with weavers in the Philippines.

But the Intertwine program was most definitely not about promoting stars or lionising the achievements of individuals. The level playing field approach evident in this collective enterprise seems to have been a deliberate ideological decision on the part of the organisers. In a similar vein, Intertwine’s focus has not been exclusively on the end product, on the woven object as either artistic creation or object of desire, but equally on (re)establishing a sense of community among practitioners. Talking with the other participants about weaving practice and creating space to share stories or simply yarn have been integral to this communal—and process-oriented program.

Accompanying the workshops and dotted around Adelaide’s inner and outer suburbs were a number of exhibitions and installations of the weavers’ work. This attempt to cater for audiences outside of the CBD was also consonant with this festival’s more regional focus. For example, the Prospect Gallery in Adelaide’s suburban north, played host to a wonderfully engaging and beautifully realised exhibition entitled Weaving the Murray, featuring works created by non-indigenous and Indigenous weavers including prominent Ngarrindjeri weaver and language expert Rhonda Agius.

In recent years Ngarrindjeri weavers have revived the traditional Ngarrindjeri craft of coiling rushes and sedge grasses native to the Murray so that many young Ngarrindjeri have become confident and skilled practitioners. In addition, classes are now held on a regular basis for non-indigenous people who want to learn this ancient art. This revitalisation is a truly remarkable achievement on the part of the Ngarrindjeri. The pressures of colonisation in their region dealt such a severe blow to traditional processes of intergenerational knowledge transmission that the practice of weaving came perilously close to disappearing.

Woven in traditional Ngarrindjeri style and suspended from the ceiling, a large communally-woven Ponde or Murray Cod, itself a threatened species, is without a doubt the piéce de resistance of the Prospect Gallery exhibition. It is a visually appealing work with a cogent environmental subtext.

Concerns about the environment also figured prominently in the Intertwine workshops. Participants spoke later in almost rapturous terms about the sense of esprit-de-corps engendered by this unique program. The quality of the relationships forged while taking part will be one of its enduring legacies. Integrated events like this one have a real capacity to build social capital and sustain community as well as produce artistic outcomes. Maybe down the track, when the dust has settled, Adelaideans will remember this as a festival we had to have for precisely such reasons.


Intertwine, Adelaide Festival 2002, various venues, March 2-3.

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 4

© Christine Nicholls; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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