God these diversions made 1989 signed, dated and inscribed 'Narelle Jubelin 1989 / GOD THESE DIVERSIONS MADE' verso petit point embroidery in found wood frame 45.0 x 136.5cm (17 11/16 x 53 3/4in).
PROVENANCE Mori Gallery, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1995
EXHIBITED Australian Perspecta 1989, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 31 May 23 July 1989 Spirit + Place: Art in Australia 1861-1996, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 21 November 1996 3 March 1997
LITERATURE Anthony Bond, Victoria Lynn, Australian Perspecta 1989, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1989, pp. 52-3, 120 Nick Waterlow, Ross Mellick, et al, Spirit + Place: Art in Australia 1861-1996, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 1996, p. 147
Narelle Jubelin has always asked us to regard her frames, or more broadly, her display techniques, as integral to the images she interprets and the objects they become. In this instance the frame contains a Latin motto Deus haec otia fecit which translates into the title of this work, God these diversions made. But which diversions? The diversion that is a work of art? The diversion of wood carving, needlepoint and other 'crafts'? The diversion of a day trip to the Jenolan Caves? The diversion of the kind of photography that promoted such day trips? The writing of the postcards following the day trip? Or the diversion of one's own face in the mirror? for this frame once supported a mirror that might have sat handsomely above a mantelpiece in the diversionary space of home. And yet, if diversion is the antonym of work, with Jubelin, frame, image, material, technique and critique all do equal work in God these diversions made. Each of these components is in conversation with the others just as the overall object the work of art creates a dialogue between the contemporary moment and a troubled colonial past.
The contemporary moment in this case was the 1980s; a heady intellectual time when second wave feminist artists such as Jubelin combined cultural activism with conceptual and material critique to affect change. By 1989, when this work was shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for Australian Perspecta, the balance of female to male artists was 18 to 20, almost the 50/50 representation in major public exhibitions so long campaigned for.
In 1983 Jubelin had finished her Graduate Diploma at City Art Institute, Sydney. Her studio discipline was painting, then dominated by Sydney's late modernist abstractionists such as Sydney Ball, John Firth-Smith and Michael Johnson. Jubelin's turn to the so-called feminine practice of petit-point can be seen as a rejection of such white male painter authority, but it was not a rejection of painting. Rather, Jubelin continued to apply the colour theory experiments of paint to her works in thread, even using the term "palette" to describe her choices. And colour often was a choice because many of the source images for this and related works were from black and white historical imagery such as the three volume Picturesque Atlas of Australasia published in the late nineteenth century - that is, at the historical cusp of British colonial rule and national becoming. The Jenolan Caves merit a special chapter in volume one of the atlas, its descriptive text alive with the visual allusions of geological form both triumphant (armed knights, Titanic hands, eagle's wings), and modest (shawls, curtains, jewels). Jubelin adds to these the motif of the eyes but within each, human figures occlude vision. Do we detect the work of the surveyor with his headlamp and theodolite or the diversion of the photographer recording the delights he sees? Jubelin's artistry is to hold our gaze until we see the full complexities of 'just looking'.