A hare sprouts gold lamé from its woollen coat, a gull sports a golden beak, a kingfisher is adorned with sequins, a skunk’s characteristic white stripe is embroidered, a deer wears a fluffy bonnet, a raccoon wears a diamond mask, and a galah in knitted stripes is festooned with pompoms. As Louise Weaver put it in the title of an early work (recently reissued, as if to remind us of her method), “I am transforming an antler into a piece of coral by crocheting over its entire surface.”
In each case, the natural skin has been replaced by a beautiful handcrafted cover, a new ornamented carapace in a bizarre and wonderful fashion parade of exotic species. So while the shapes are recognizable – fox, hare, deer, lorikeet, cat – the colour, texture, material, and patternings have been dramatically altered to make another point entirely.
Weaver has rendered this fantastic bestiary in various media – including wool, linen, silk, mohair, plastic, polyamide, nylon, and foam – using traditional handcrafts like crochet, appliqué, beading, or embroidery, and often working with a taxidermist. The animals’ bizarre attire derives from different fashion epochs, and the effect is decidedly out of time. Indeed, the variation in colour and pattern might even reflect an alternative evolutionary course, which has left radically different traces in the species. And Weaver’s work is particularly resonant in Australia, where the kangaroo was once thought to be a ‘mistake’, the platypus a ‘scientific hoax’, and the whole country was exempted from God’s creation.
These figures might then belong to a long tradition of apocalyptic representation, in which the world takes on unconventional, monstrous, or indeterminate form. It’s a tradition that begets fanciful figures such as centaurs and winged horses, as if some cataclysmic event has left radically different traces in the animal kingdom: a dancing bear in haute couture rather than chains. The world is transformed or, rather, mixed up; the characteristics and appearances of one thing are exchanged with another.
These figures also recall the development of evolutionary science, from Lamarck to Darwin, which made Biblical sense of the scattered debris of Creation by positing a single origin for all species. Natural events – principally, a great flood – were thought to play a central role in reorganising and redistributing plant and animal life. Through the theory of transmutation, one species was thought to become another under the duress of such cataclysmic events. Which is to say, the end of one world was rendered as another world altogether beyond the conventional limits of space and time – a figment of the scientific mind at the limits of science, as much as something allegorical or symbolic.
One can observe the transmutation of species within Weaver’s more extensive environments, too, which are subject to similar neo-evolutionary forces. Crocheted squirrels and beavers gambol among embroidered trees and carpeted rocks; a languid bobcat rolls in a luxurious black shag carpet; and icons of industrial design, such as Vico Magistretti’s Eclipse Lamp and Brian Steendyk’s Expresso Chair, feature amid crocheted stones and carpeted Elysian Fields, fabricated streams and woods.
Although these tableaux are suffused with contrary signs that might well presage the end of the world as we know it, we can also see through the reassembled detritus to a mysterious calamitous event that has rejoined creativity of all kinds within a new world. These beatific scenes tend to matching colour and texture, aesthetics linking disparate elements and techniques. A list of some of the materials is telling: lambswool, Japanese silk, diamontes, synthetic fur, cotton, Swarovski crystals, a Comme des Garcons shirt, a Martin Margiela goat-hair stole, felt, Geoffrey Mance’s ‘Fruit Light’, starfish, lurex, polyester, gourds, silver leaf. These things represent diverse, disparate fields of endeavour, which one might only find dispersed throughout the aesthete’s private home (from trophy room to wardrobe); their eccentric combo in Weaver’s work is an intense distillation of refined civilised taste.
In Weaver’s work, art, craft, fashion, and industrial and interior design are all compared to the design in nature, just as evolutionary science has culminated in a theory of ‘intelligent design’, which asserts the primacy of order, symmetry, and aesthetics in explaining the development of species and behaviour. Weaver’s work seems to affirm that evolution is neither accidental nor entirely driven by ‘the fittest’, but also by the beautiful.
Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.