Interview with Jacqui Burnes and Sarah Weston
This October, Craft Victoria was pleased to present the first solo exhibition of designer, maker and artist Isabel Avendano-Hazbun, in Oh My Goddess! In this exhibition Avendano-Hazbun presents her much adored pieces of wearable art and sculpture, drawing on her experiences of growing up in Colombia and exploring mythical and historical representations of women, gender and identity to create an array of rich and colourful pieces that ask us to consider the position of women in contemporary society.
Growing up in Colombia, you spent a great deal of time in the studio of your grandmother, watching her work as she design and make costumes for Festivals and more – and we can see this influence in your work. Could you speak more about growing up in Colombia and this part of your life?
My grandmother’s workshop is in her house and I grew up in that house. It came as a shock to me when I realized my grandmother wasn’t a child like I was because she set no boundaries. Me and my sister, who is just a year older, would always be at her workshop, we would watch her work, cutting patterns, fitting dresses, choosing fabrics, dealing with clients and staff. She would even take us to the Miss Colombia pageants at the Hilton Hotel in Cartagena and to New York to buy fabrics. She is still working today. She is a very well known designer in Colombia, she is a legend in my hometown, it is impossible not to be influenced by her and her work when I was growing up.
A maker, designer and artist, you have an extensive background in textiles and fine-furniture design and often speak about being fascinated by the connections and tensions between your two mediums. Can you talk to us about your love of these two materials and how you approach the process of exploring the relationships between these two mediums
I started working in textiles; it was an easy and familiar choice when I decided to study design. But during my time at university and throughout my internship in a physical theatre company I started to love working in 3D so I decided to enroll at a one-year intensive course for furniture making. At the school they also had a weaving department so I was honing my skills in weaving and furniture making at the same time and the similarities between timber and textiles just began to appear. You can bleach, dye, weave, stack, layer, glue, and sew them. And so I began experimenting using techniques that where considered exclusive to textiles on timber and techniques that where exclusive to timber on textiles. Now, when an idea comes to mind I immediately try to think about how I can mix up techniques from these two mediums into interesting outcomes. Also, there is no denying that there is a certain freedom in changing mediums.
You’ve described yourself as being driven by curiosity and process, seeking to challenge the lines between furniture and everyday objects and sculpture, installation and public art. At what point, in your opinion, does an ordinary, everyday object defy such material categorization and become ‘functional sculpture’?
Art is about ideas so for me the distinction happens when an object regardless of its functionality works as a medium for the maker to express ideas and concepts in a visually compelling way. Another thing is the level of skill with which something is made, these things make an object transcends its utilitarian purpose and it becomes something else, it is defined by something other than its functionality.
Oh My Goddess! is a spotlight on “contemporary female warriors”, alluding to the use of the body and adornment as a political methodology and commenting on a woman’s place in society – can you tell us a little bit about how do the pieces created for this show reflect these ideas?
When I started working on this show I was thinking about womanhood and specifically the ingrained bias against women simply because they are women, it is an ongoing battle, hence the spotlight on “contemporary female warriors. I wanted to make work that made the wearer feel fierce and strong, but it could also be an object for healing through its texture, scale and beauty. The pieces for the show are colorful with exaggerated proportions as a way for the wearer to claim space. They are also slightly militaristic as well as futuristic in aesthetic expressing a desire for immediate change, expressing that the future is now.
Are there any particular women in your life you turned to as inspiration for this collection?
All of them. I am surrounded by amazing women everywhere. I think the world would be a better place if it was ran by women. Women make everything better.
It’s hard to believe this is your first solo exhibition. In fact, we’ve been lucky enough to have you at Craft before; most recently for the Craft Cubed Window Walk project and as a finalist in the 2017 Victorian Craft Awards. Can you give us a hint as to what you’re working on for 2018?
I’ve applied for a couple of residencies where I want to develop more sculptural work in a larger scale using interactive components but with similar themes and techniques as my more recent work. I am also collaborating in making props for a couple of films.
Finally, if you could choose any woman from history you could adorn with one of your pieces, who would it be and why?
I know she’s not dead but it has to be Grace Jones. Her style, which comes from her, subverted notions of race and gender; she defies categorization. I also think that her greatest achievement has been remaining her defiantly idiosyncratic self, you have to love that. She would own it.