Solo Exhibition held at Art Hole Gallery, Christchuch, July 2020.
Photographs by Stephanie Defregger.
Review by Orissa Keane
Urban Earth (2020) is the first solo exhibition of Simone Bensdorp. Using felting techniques and a range of natural fabrics, fibers and plant dyes, the audience is invited to engage with their generously tactile surroundings which encourage close looking and touching. There are textures of puckered silk, felted into merino and ‘eco-prints’ of foliage on silk with such detail that provokes thoughts about process and material like on the 33 Days (Quarantine Quilt). Evidently, some works have been made because of the lockdown, others in spite of it. There’s a great deal of care that goes along with felting, from the actions taken to perform the task, to its use for warmth and wear. It’s also a skill that Bensdorp shares and encourages others to utilise through teaching workshops.
Upon entering Arthole gallery, Ōtautahi, the viewer can see wall hangings of various sizes; some reminiscent of landscapes, some incorporating found objects. Tension hangs from the thin layer of silk which contains stones, the weight tearing and pulling at the threads. The silk is felted onto merino, making a closed pocket which holds the stones. Bensdorp has hung these works in such a way that there looks to be no strain on the wool felt, only on the silk, highlighting the strength in the material and method, and placing tension and calm within one object.
The artist noticeably seeks to practice sustainable object-making, using renewable and natural materials alongside refuse. Four works situated together operate as a series, linked by their inclusion of found objects, frame and composition. The “found object” in artistic practice is not always so literally found - as it has been in this instance - on the side of the road. The works in this series are titled after streets of Ōtautahi. The objects such as bottle caps, bolts and string are felted into the composition, covered by thin layers of fabric or fiber. After exposure to water during the wet felting process, the bottle caps have rusted, like an attempt at decomposition, giving the appearance of the felt absorbing the detritus. This series demonstrates the importance of place in this exhibition and suggests a practice of mapping. This could be either of areas familiar to the artist, or equally the survey of the unfamiliar, documented by the collection of materials. This includes the use of dyes made from locally sourced plants and, while the stones look unremarkable, the felted works place them in a landscape. The colours are cohesive and the artist offers a kind of legend to where they come from through a plant ink painted series and the tapestry-like, felted work Colours of Ōtautahi. Considering the generosity shown towards the audience in Urban Earth, it will be worth following Bensdorp’s future work.