Paper, 84cm x 2200cm, 2013.
This work on paper was created for an exhibition in Tasmania in 2013. ‘Felt Presence’ explored artists responses to the stories of female convicts transported to the penal colony of Van Diemens’ Land in the 19th Century. Just a couple of minutes walk from my front door at the time, was the wharf at Leith, the departure point for the ship that took the Scottish women convicts to join the Atwick which was waiting for them on the Thames, ready to sail for Hobart with a cargo of female convicts in 1838.
I became interested in the moment of leave-taking, of the women leaving everything they had ever known, and in the actual voyage, the long sea journey they took, suspended between the world they’d left behind and a totally unknown future.
I wanted to make an image by means of removing something. A ‘wake’ is the track left by a ship as it passes, and it is the gathering of relatives and friends to mark the passing of a loved one. A wake is what the women on the sea voyage would have looked back at as they spent their days on the deck, washing laundry, and doing needlework. I read about the well-intentioned Quaker ladies who boarded the prison ships before they departed, and gave the women packs of needles and pins, thread, and pieces of quilting fabric, in order that the women could use the voyage industriously, to develop skills in needlework that might be useful to them in Van Diemen’s Land, skills that might land them work as a ladies maid, rather than toiling in the fields. Each woman was given a pack of 100 needles.
The ‘drawing’ I created was of a wake of white water left behind a boat. It was pricked out by hand, a laborious process of creating thousands of tiny holes in the paper with a sewing needle – doing time myself!
The drawings are intended to hang like sails, or washing, so the viewer can move around them and see how the light passes through the holes and across the relief surface on the other side.