There Are Other Kinds of Treasure 2015

written response by Patrick Sutczak, Gallery Director, Sawtooth ARI

Standing before the wall of packages set against cardboard, I cast my eye from one piece to the next. In what appeared to be an oversized shadow box, small clear plastic bags contained numerous items for the concoction of something unknown. The items were fragments of craft materials but they appeared as if specimens on display, ripe for critical consideration, captured and suffocated in plastic - an archive of items waiting to be inserted into a work larger, more refined, more complete.

Each bag of bits had a price – a value. I found myself browsing the work on the wall is if I were looking at an animal torn down to its parts, each piece having a different use, and a different possibility.  There was a reason for being gathered, bundled and put to market, yet I didn’t know what it was. Nothing was quite as it should be. Coiled in one bag, not a complete roll of ribbon, but rather a length of it, cut and frayed. In another, beads of varying shapes, sizes and colours settled beneath a ball of wool. There was an intervention evident. The tiny bags with their curious innards were plentiful and enticing even though they were frozen and unable to be used, pinned up and exhibited like the spoils of hunting.

Behind me, a ziggurat of objects some seven feet tall, atop of which sat in a platted basket made from bread, a crafty creature appearing deformed by an imperfect approach to making. The thing didn’t look right, but it held the pinnacle position of being elevated and celebrated that could be regarded as an example of creation in its simplest form. It was crafted over time from many components. Time spent creating the textile idol, was time spent not walking with a friend, plunging a hand into river water, caring for an animal, or kissing a loved one. The creature held something within far more precious that any aesthetic qualities it possessed on the surface. It was made with a desire to create, and as such it was created, and there I was looking up at it. We shared the same space in time.

As I walked around the ziggurat, each series of steps contained a myriad of carefully arranged and considered items in varying stages of completion. Cross-stitch. Seashells painted and glued onto jars. Foam spheres covered in glitter. At one point I became face-to-face with an upright plaster duck decorated with a kaleidoscope of torn patterned paper. Glued to its head and staring back at me were two googly eyes with their black pupil discs laying dead at the bottom of plastic domes waiting to be shaken up and animated, but I could not do that. I couldn’t animate it. The duck was so complete, that it had become an item for display. It belonged on a shelf, a mantle, or a windowsill, and perhaps at one point, it had been in one of those places, somewhere. But somehow now, it was on the ziggurat occupying a corner three tiers down from the top. Who was it that brought it into the world and no longer found it a relevant possession?  

As I continued to observe Finlayson’s assemblage of forgotten, discarded, re-packed and re-paired items and objects, I felt a profound sense of sadness and a longing for creative play. As I child, my mother bought me a Paint-By-Numbers hardboard canvas kit. One Brush, six colours. When all the number 1’s were done, I swirled and cleansed the brush in a plastic cup half-filled with water. Numbers, 2, 3, 4 followed and so on. With every paint and cleanse, the brush deteriorated and the bristles became splayed and problematic. I became upset that my determination was being undermined by my lack of skill and unsteady hand. I wanted to please my mum. I wanted to make her something beautiful.

That completed canvas depicting two tortoise-shell kittens was around for a time on display at the back of the bookshelf of my childhood home, but became lost in the despair of fracturing relationships, crumbling circumstances, and adolescent angst.

Now, I sipped on my wine regarding coloured sand layered in a jar with a cork stopper, and wished to see those cats again.

I don’t think I ever will.

I wondered about Finlayson’s motivation, and her passion as an artist, researcher and archaeologist of craft projects. There are other kinds of treasure held me in a grasp that I didn’t anticipate. I became instantly fascinated by the techniques of hunting, gathering and re-contextualising seemingly insignificant craft materials. Reaching out to me from the arrest and archiving of items from further use and private pleasure was the reality of embedded, yet unknown stories. Something crucial was going on, and Finlayson was neck-deep in it.

I thought about the stuff we make, why we make, and whom we make it for. I thought about giving and receiving, and the values of perfection and imperfection, the value of the handmade, the value of the crafted. I thought about stories and experiences and emotions that come with moments between people – with people - through objects that arise from bit-parts that can only be connected with imagination and vision. A thread is a thread, until it is a necessary component of a bigger picture.

I looked up to the white and fluffy red-tongued, skew-eyed idol atop the ziggurat. What a magnificent thing. If I only I knew how it came to be and by whom.

Perhaps one day, Mae Finlayson will be able to tell me.

And perhaps one day, Mae will find my cats, and what a day that would be.