FRACTURED STRUCTURE :
ANNA FARAGO'S 'STITCHING PLACE'
by Penelope Aitken

1st January, 2016

There is a puzzle game called Izzi our family bought from an op shop near a borrowed beach house one rainy summer. Made up of squares printed in black and white quarters and bisected triangles, the rule of the game is that white edges must only touch other white edges and black must only touch black.  The pieces played out in a grid make a shattered order, similar to Anna Farago’s shattered landscapes. There is fracture, there is structure. There are rules and these very rules break the surface of a seamless view.

There are other games too, plays on words I can’t help making: anna palindrome, anna anagram, faragoanna (her instagram handle) with the barely concealed Australian reptile ready to wreak havoc in the landscape.

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‘Familial’ is a word I used once to describe an aspect of Anna’s work and that word triggered her impulse to request this essay.  In essence familial describes the home: both being at home and being in place.  The images in these pictures are inspired by various places: including the Strezlecki Ranges of Anna’s childhood home and views from the window of her family home now.  And they are also derived from her temporary dwellings: car journeys, several campsites, a studio view, a picnic. 

The idea of home is loose then, though at the same time fixed into being by the action of embroidery. Each image is captured carefully: first composed from memory in a sketchbook, then stitched into place.  The resulting work, though so tiny, articulates a slow and committed process.

Such investment would make any place familial and affirms my conviction that the familial must be made, by hand, and by time.

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These works are about the places in which Anna feels at home, and it is important to note that they are not pictures of homes, rather they are views from comfortable, home-like places. Most of the fragments in these works are actually of nature with only small intrusions of domestic or civic culture, spliced through the composition.  There is often just the suggestion of the home itself as a framing device, a window surrounding a view or a hills hoist pole interrupting it.  I like the balance of these – my guess is 90:10 nature:culture. We value nature highly but to deny the peri-urban elements of these landscapes is to be dishonest … or romantic, but not real. 

These pictures follow traditional portrait, not landscape proportions.  Perhaps they are portraits of landscapes then: subjective memories of personal places.

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Anna and I lived somewhat parallel lives before we met three years ago.  We studied the same course in our twenties, drove the same battered French cars, lived in the same inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, and had daughters there the same year.  When we finally met, through those daughters six years later, we’d both moved to the same outer suburb to be closer to the bush of our childhoods.  Also we both make stuff – art with a heavy emphasis on process and craft skills. 

No one we know is an artist only.  We have jobs, partners, children, houses, responsibilities and we make – or rather take (even snatch) - time for art.  Anna’s art practice has several strands: she paints, she sews large geometric quilts and she stitches.  The works in Stitching Place represent the latter strand and also epitomize the work that can be made in stolen moments in social and domestic spaces.  Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages artistically inclined people to actively make space for creative practice.  To buy an egg timer and to commit to 30 minutes a day no matter what.  She says to those who claim there is no time, to find time, like a lover will always find time within a marriage to have an affair. 1 On Twitter in 2014 she wrote: “Traditionally, women have always made their art out of stolen materials and stolen time. ” 2

Likewise Anna says: ‘I work on these when I can… This could be traveling on a train into the city, a calm solitary moment with a cup of tea at the end of the day, or during a craft group evening with friends discussing anything from parenting to politics’.

As I have watched these works ‘become’ in public it has occurred to me that part of their power is to suffuse the flavour of some other time into the now.  These works and particularly the way they have been made, thread inventiveness into the everyday.  They bring the memory of other places and times into this place and this moment.

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Nineteenth century novelist Jane Austen self deprecatingly described the scope of her writing as, ‘the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour.’3

I used this to describe my own small paintings once but it could equally apply to Anna’s works in Stitching Place.  Like me Anna loved tiny things as a child and is still attracted to the miniature, as is obvious here.  In her large works it is easy to ascribe ambition and command – I have never known someone so in control of the detail over an expanse.  Compared with the large works, these miniature pieces could be seen as correspondingly modest - but that would be to deny their intensity.  In the fractured prisms of Anna’s landscapes there lies the suggestion of lapidary. Through faceting with fine sharp incisions, the gem cutter is able to draw forth gleam from an unpolished stone.  Likewise Anna turns fleeting views into concentrated observations. Moreover, there is something of the glimmering jewel in embroidery thread itself. For all its softness, thread stitched in aligned blocks captures light like a polished surface.  Together, the technique and the composition used to make these pieces arrests attention.  They do what art does best – compel the viewer to pause, and to think again about their world.

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1 Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Bloomsbury 2015
2  Twitter 6 Jun 2014 https://twitter.com/gilbertliz/status/474898968946937856 accessed 29 December 2015
3 Jane Austen in a letter to her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, Monday 16 December 1816.