Between the traces: the heritage of Charleston's East Side community 1990-91 (from the series Foreign Affairs) 12 petit point embroideries in painted wood frames, one set of two American silver coins in ivory frame dimensions variable
PROVENANCE Mori Gallery, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1995
EXHIBITED Spoleto Festival, Charleston, South Carolina, United States of America, 1991 The Subversive stitch, Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 29 August 28 September 1991; Mori Gallery, Sydney, 1992, cat. no. 17:1
LITERATURE Mary Jane Jacob, Places with a past - new site-specific art at Charleston's Spoleto Festival, Rizzoli, New York, 1991 Diane Losche, 'Subtle Tension in the work of Narelle Jubelin', Art and Australia, Winter 1992, vol. 29, no. 4, p. 465 (illus.)
"A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties." Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, New York: Penguin, 1990.
Narelle Jubelin is a commodities trader, buying low, selling high, tracking objects as they and their ideological underpinnings traverse the globe. In 1991 Mary Jane Jacob curated a series of city-wide installations for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Jubelin chose the US Customs House as the site for her ongoing inquiry into colonialism and trade. The customs house, built just before and after the Civil War, is located at the historical crux of slavery and as the seat of tensions between Federal and States' Rights, between the selling of commodities and the tariffs and taxes applied to their import and exchange. Installed in the building's two-storey atrium or Business Room, Foreign Affairs introduced artifacts and artworks into the closed confines of government bureaucracy, making for an accounting of a rather different kind: the tallying of museum and non-museum, public and private, 'high' and 'low' artifacts, presaging Fred Wilson's rather more well-known museological intervention, Mining the Museum (Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland, 1992).
Foreign Affairs consisted of five components: a large ironwork piece on the floor of the interior and, at each of the corners of the upper gallery, four series of Jubelin's signature petit point renderings. Each referenced specific cultural histories circulating between Charleston and the rest of the world: Italian-influenced Charleston ironwork, travelling exhibitions of non-objective painting, miniatures of the landed classes, an invited Australian artist, and lastly the constellation at auction here, Between the traces.
Of these, Between the traces is arguably the most traumatic and the most beautiful, a powerful fetish indeed. The twelve petit point are displayed like so many miniatures in the Gibbes Museum of Art but this is no antebellum portrait of beloved kin and heir. Rather, the renderings depict nine slave tags, a freeman's tag and two for each of the artist's initials. The tags, now displayed as cultural artifacts in local museums, were once hung around the necks of slaves who had skills to be hired out during the plantation's off-season at a profit for the master Porter, Fruiterer, Servant, labels to distinguish them from runaways. Only the 'Free' tag and the 'J' of the artist's signature are in portrait format, the rest are abject, horizontal ovals, landscapes of stitches that capture the dehumanizing tags and the 'N' of the feminine part of the artist's name, non-portraits all. Of course the tags themselves have become commodities: rare, collectable, forged and flogged wantonly on eBay. They have become a currency much like the piece at the center of the configuration: two silver coins, collectables themselves, inside that now most contraband of commodities: an ivory frame. The magical value of Between the traces lies in its capacity to continue to engage this shifting historical account.
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