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Artist Room | Seeing with a Listening Ear

Artist Room Portfolio


Artist Room

29.09.22 - 21.11.22


Amy Rusch’s abstract fields of energy

In the first extensive presentation of her wide-ranging artistic practice, Amy Rusch is showing a suite of textile works linked to her diverse interests in drawing, sewing, sculpting, sailing, mapping and archaeology. All the works in her exhibition Seeing with a Listening Ear are composed from salvaged materials. The thread is a mix of inherited fibres – passed down from her maternal great grandmother Nouchi, a milliner, maternal grandmother Johanna, paternal grandmother Sunray, and great aunt Jill – gifts from family and friends, as well as bought threads. Rusch sutures these diverse fibres onto found plastics that she has been collecting since high school. The ensuing compositions present as largely abstract fields of colour.

In purely formal terms, the works in Seeing with a Listening Ear can be categorised as embroidery. However, Rusch’s unusual choice of found plastics as underlying material, coupled with her liberated use of the sewing machine as a drawing implement, points to the limitations of reading these deliciously haptic works as – merely or simply – textile pieces. They aspire to be more, to be received as “kinetic fields of energy” and “patterns of force that seem exuberantly and sensuously alive, not bloodless, cold, or static,” as the art historian W. J. T. Mitchell wrote in 1977 of William Blake’s majestic figural works. I will return to Mitchell often as a means to parse the richness of Rusch’s skilfully coordinated pools of colour that vibrate with their own unique energies.

Rusch’s compositions vary between more elaborately stitched pieces and more schematic pieces dominated by line and stippling. The former are executed using three or four dominant. While abstract, they variously evoke topographical maps, shuttle-woven brocade fabrics, marbled endpapers in books and even the abstract landscapes of Walter Battiss, Eric Laubscher and Clive van den Berg. Printed geographical maps are an important reference in Rusch’s practice. She describes Seeing with a Listening Ear and a Question of Time II (2022), a densely stitched composition dominated by pink and brown, as a “topographical landscape”. This large work translates her experience of time spent on a koppie at an archaeological site in the northern Cape.

In the manner of the great impressionistic mapmaker Moshekwa Langa, Rusch’s uses apparently poor materials, the castoffs of our industrial civilisation, to produce enigmatic maps that frequently encompass aspects of her biography. Seeing with a Listening Ear includes three pieces from for her Ocean Contours series that reference blind contour drawings made during a sailboat crossing of the Southern Atlantic. These minimally stitched works eschew the top-down topographical view preferred in many of Rusch’s other compositions, a view that blissfully stipulates no fixed orientation and – like with a paper map – allows many points of entry.

The blue ground of the Ocean Contours series is also chromatically and materially distinct. Rusch salvaged the material, PVC tarpaulin, from the site of scientific fire experiments in Jongensfontein. This coastal settlement is located near Blombos Cave, an archaeological site on a private nature reserve that is known for its vivid deposit of engraved ochre fragments featuring abstract designs. Rusch was part of a team tasked with making professional display copies of these important archaeological remnants. Rusch’s beginnings as an artist – as distinct from accomplished artisan and fabricator – are relatively recent. Rusch marked this transition in the middle of the last decade by building a wooden kayak. She also produced three stitched works that revisited her teenage experiments on her mother’s sewing machine.