Tactile, domestic and fabulous art

Pam Hall’s ‘Housework(s)’ at The Rooms until Sept. 7

Published on May 22, 2014
Multimedia artist Pam Hall will display her exhibit, “Housework(s),” at The Rooms in St. John’s until Sept. 7.  — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

“Housework(s)” is a unique and comprehensive exhibition fabricated from visual artist Pam Hall’s interpretation of art as “social labour.” Not only do you get to see art created, which is special, but the art being created is tactile, domestic and fabulous.

Houses of fabric suspended from five poles are hung from the ceiling. Panels of cloth and photographs line the walls. Assortments of tiny paper houses cluster atop podiums. There is film, sound, pieces to walk around and inside, and in the middle of it all, three women busy at their sewing machines.

This is “Building The Work House,” wherein Hall, Lois Brown and Anne Troake sew and iron aprons, each a one-off, some strictly utilitarian, some cake tiers of ruffles. Eventually, these will be gathered to structure a house.

The other components include “Small Gestures,” a series of digital photographs documenting Hall’s regular practice of creating house shapes — think the basic outline children draw — from multicoloured buttons, pink stones, barbies or clover.

Another wall features “The Apron Diaries,” colour photographs of fishplant workers in their work gear topped by (highly individualized) aprons, and text briefly outlining their labour histories (hours worked, when they started in the workforce). A side “chapter” expands the testimonial to deli and cafe workers — it’s the apron that draws them together.

“Building a Village” was curated by Facebook — anyone, anywhere, who wanted to participate was mailed a folded house template, which they finished and finessed as they pleased. The abundance is amazing and there are additional templates on hand for anyone who’d like to make one. A video adds some highlights of design and display. (Nearby, “Housing Knowledge” is a suite of five folded houses, exquisite in their source material of botanical reference books, offset by photographs.)

“Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge” is a page-by-page textbook of crafts and lore — “Making Fish”; “Snowflake Variations” (of knitting patterns for mittens); “On Lacing and Filling Snowshoes; A Job For A Patient Man.”

A this point in the exhibition there are three houses. “The Knowledge House (vintage encyclopedia and atlas pages, thread, fabric, all on bamboo supports), asks, “Do we not, in fact, ‘stitch together’ what we know?” “The History House” (mixed media memory clothes), details a collaborative project Hall conducted with B.C.-based Margaret Dragu. “Towards a Newfoundland House of Prayer” (inscribed cotton strips, hand-knit netting of cotton fishing twine, beach stones) is backgrounded by three looped audio tracks of individuals reciting their wishes, and, again, anyone can add their own. “A Providence Prayer Blanket” is also found in this room, as well as a miniature “Prayer” house and some photographs of prayer strips tied to branches.

Hall is well known for her interdisciplinary, multimedia, environmental, anatomical and land-based art, and all those interests and that history are seen here. Several throughlines are enfolded, which includes, but doesn’t end with, acknowledgment and dialogue. Take the ingenious compactness that consistently uses function to express form, and form to enhance function, add the open-ended generosity of allowing visitors to contribute their own creativity, their own hopes, and you can see: this is one inventive mother.

“Housework(s)” continues at The Rooms until Sept. 7.