Fancywork 2000

Fancywork – embroidery and the texture of place

A series of human-scale embroideries, worked over photographic images of landscapes, lead the viewer to reflect on themes of gender, identity and colonisation.

Shown in 2000 at The John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University of Western Australia, then touring regionally in Western Australia with Art on The Move. Reconfigured as Holly Story, 2003 at The Church Gallery, Perth, Australia.

Artist’s statement:

Fancywork presents embroidery in a new context, layering the familiar imagery of European domestic culture over the “wild” natural environment of south west Australia, invoking the feelings of dislocation and strangeness experienced when negotiating arrival in an unknown place. The series of human-scale embroideries, worked over photographic images of landscapes, lead the viewer to reflect on themes of gender, identity and colonisation. The combination of the intimate world of the fancywork embroiderers with the “truth” of photographic imagery is both unsettling and evocative.


(Fancywork is) about the clash of cultures, the dashing of expectations and the hope for something better, that necessarily comes with the “colonial adventure”. Smart, witty and occasionally moving, Story’s show is further enhanced by its scholarly catalogue.
Robert Cook: The West Australian, November 15, 2000.

From the catalogue

Story’s work is marked by an intelligent integration of scale, material, format and treatment to convey her concept with optimum acumen. …. Nature, industry, culture and history are constantly blended to give her work multiple readings and atavistic character. This is exemplary in Fancywork.
Margaret Moore, independent curator: Fancywork catalogue essay, Perth, 2000, pp. 2-4.

Seven Embroideries

Fancywork was made possible by the generous support of many individuals and organizations after its inception in 1997, and to all of them my heartfelt thanks. In that year I received assistance from the Australia Council for the Arts and began to examine embroideries held in private and public collections in the southwest of Western Australia. The sheer volume of production in the area of embroidery is astonishing. Historical societies are repositories of literally roomfuls of embroidered objects. Many of them have no recorded history. Some are very humble; some exquisitely crafted; some are washed to a shred; others obviously never used. Within this abundance I slowly traced the threads of a narrative that has been re-told in the seven embroideries of the Fancywork series.

Embroiderers make choices, albeit usually prescribed ones. Choosing one design over another, they reveal something about themselves as well as the kind of world they live in. In this my process as a contemporary artist has been no different. Amongst the literally hundreds of pieces I saw, some immediately “worked” for me. My cultural background, experience of dislocation and slow, awkward process of transformation that often accompanies arrival and re-settlement have necessarily played their part in my selection of images with which to work. I hope that I also convey a sense of the emerging wonder and delight that is part of that measured conversion.

The landscape of the southwest of Western Australia was the setting for my coming of age in Australia and it is now a backdrop to my memories and a presence in the shapes of my future. The photographic images I have used are a means of honouring this now-embodied sense of place, and of presenting the drama and beauty to be found there. The truth of photographic representation is filtered through my vision and in a sense they are inventions as much as the embroidered images that are stitched into them.

Embroidery has become an endless source of inspiration. In art history it occupies an honourable place as one of the earliest systems of representation. It remains a hugely popular creative pastime in the community and I share that pleasure in its seductive texture and the meditative growth of rich colour and form across a surface.

There will be viewers of Fancywork who are used to the form of embroidery and perhaps perplexed by the context, whilst for others the form will require new critical attention as a serious practise in a contemporary art space. Fancywork embroidery can be bizarre, passionate, nostalgic, devout and downright ridiculous. I hope that Fancywork will provoke, delight and inspire all comers, each according to their desires.

Holly Story,
September 2000