"He was an arch individualist"; Ives' camera travelled with him to the far inland"; "...belonging to no one category" 1988 petit point embroidery in found wood frames 81.5 x 111.0cm (32 1/16 x 43 11/16in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist Mori Gallery, Sydney Jennifer Jobson and Peter Faiman, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2009
EXHIBITED Narelle Jubelin: Second glance (at "The coming of man"), touring exhibition, Mori Gallery, Sydney, December 1988; Centre for the Arts, Hobart, March 1989; George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, April 1989
At the end of a letter from London to Frederick McCubbin in Australia in 1905, Tom Roberts writes in passing: 'The Missis (sic) is wood carving and gilding is doing the frame for my "gem".'1 Indeed, Elizabeth Sarah (Lillie) Roberts (nee Williamson, 1860-1928) sometimes described as 'a former art student' - was not merely passing her time while the great artist worked. She was in fact providing the bulk of the family's income in this period, as a well-established frame maker in London with royal commissions and works hung in the Royal Academy, while Roberts, exhausted after painting 'The Big Picture' (The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, May 9, 1901, by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York, Exhibition Building, 1903) was struggling to find inspiration.
Royal commissions and Royal Academy recognition were not the rewards obtained by the majority of anonymous women (and men) who chip-carved frames and panels for the furniture and framing businesses of Edwardian Australia, and whose work was sought out by Narelle Jubelin when she re-examined historical mythologies in the suite of works entitled Second glance (at 'The coming man') 1988. By then, chip-carved frames had become curios, the devalued work of amateur artists, and by re-using them to frame her own revaluation of women's 'needlework', Jubelin transformed the worth of both the petit-point form in which she chose to 'digitally' rework historical photographs, and the frames she carefully gathered to present them.
It is precisely the contrast between the 'big pictures' of heroic national deeds celebrating men and the smaller details of everyday practicalities and women's invisible work that fascinated Jubelin at this time, and Second glance (at 'The coming man') is arguably the body of work which most convincingly announces her arrival as a major artist. It is the most important of her works before the 1990 installation in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale, Trade Delivers People, that brings her work to international attention and ultimately takes her away from Australia.
Second glance (at 'The coming man') was produced when Jubelin was artist in residence at the South Australian School of Art in 1988, and reflects both the time she spent in the South Australian Museum and particularly its Mawson Collection, and in Adelaide's second-hand shops, collecting chip-carved frames, tramp art and poker work.
The triptych, 'He was an arch individualist ...' might be regarded as the central piece of the whole installation and it incorporates photographs from the Mawson Collection and from early archival material by Bert Ive for the Commonwealth Cinema and Photographic Branch 1. These works are rendered in exquisite petit-point and Jubelin has focused on reflexive details from the Hurley photographs of the Antarctic expeditions, the well-known image of Mawson that has appeared on Australian stamps and on the $100 note and an image of Aboriginal people from Coranderrk Mission (who had participated in a film Ive was making in 1936.2). The source material Jubelin has used is predominantly concerned with the making of images as an integral part of the process of conquest in nationalist myth-making. An intertitle in Ive's 1929 Telling the World explicitly makes this link in its reference to 'the Knights of the Negative in their search for camera conquests'3.
Jubelin brings a critical eye to the 'Boys Own' stories of nation that exclude women, and she shapes the work itself in the form of an eye that looks again (a 'Second glance'), to challenge the perspective of singular and exclusive masculine heroism. The central piece - the pupil and iris of this imaginary eye - is the oval-framed Ive image of the cinematographer amongst his subjects and it is surrounded by two boomerang-shaped wings, each containing three small petit-points of details from Antarctic exploration narratives.
Jubelin's work has always been characterized by a detailed research process in which she assembles highly elaborate connections and links between the tightly condensed energies of the petit-point stitching and the embellishment of an always elegant framing that draws the viewer into her way of thinking and draws the artwork out into the wider world where its associations and affinities lie. In Second glance (at 'The coming of man'), the frames are precisely matched with the era of the images themselves the 1920s and 1930s. They were especially accessible in South Australia, which is referenced in most of the works in this installation, where the influence of German craft and carving traditions was strongly felt; frames were originally available like samplers for needlework, and Jubelin's emphasis on craft is pronounced.
There is an almost explosive quality and force here, finely balanced between the tension of the stitching, perfectly pitched, and the meticulous framing that always expands the work beyond the confines of its material enclosure. This is work that stitches us into a story-telling process, but one which is also a method of argument: a presentation of fragments, linked together in a network, a set of 'hyperlinks', moving us through a space, immersing us in that space, in a dynamic 3D geometry, both virtual and real.
Narelle Jubelin's is an embodied art, not simply confined to seeing and reading but of moving into, through and around the work, absorbing it, being absorbed by it, responding to its materiality and feeling its presence.
1 Letters from Tom Roberts to Frederick McCubbin, October 23, 1905, La Trobe Journal, State Library of Victoria, Issue No 7, April 1971, p66 2 The choice of Ive has particular currency at present because 2013 is the centenary of the Cinema and Photographic Branch's establishment and Ive's work in particular is being celebrated. But in 1988, when Jubelin worked with this material, it was known only to specialists. 3 'Picture Making at Healesville', Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian, Saturday 8 February 1936 4 Ive was a 'man with a movie camera' before Vertov and the remarkable 1929 silent film, Telling the World, made for the Development and Migration Commission can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkhJNu0KskY