In January this year I made 3 large twined mats for an exhibition in Odense, Denmark curated by Jette Mellgren in response to a special basket from Uganda. The text below accompanied the work in the exhibition. The work may be seen in my new gallery Asante Sana Gallery and the exhibition catalogue is available online as a free download.
It's not everyday that a Ugandan Dragonfly basket arrives in your studio!
A beautifully made openwork vessel twined from stiff grass, the basket is both elegant and perfect in form and function - not that I am so familiar with Dragonfly gathering! In parts of Uganda women working in the fields collect Dragonflies in April and November, place them in these close necked baskets, stuff the opening with a bundle of grass to prevent them from escaping, and when enough have been gathered they are fried up with oil and spices to give a healthy snack similar to shrimps.
As a maker challenged to respond to this basket there are of course many choices to be made and possibilities that could be followed. The basket sat in my studio for several weeks among many others and amidst materials, tools and inspirations waited to 'talk' to me - for an idea to come of how to start the making process. I looked at the basket and considered the possibilities of making woven dragonflies, of creating translucent wings, of things suspended and with the same airy lightness that the basket and its prey suggest.
However in the end I followed perhaps a more conservative path, to respond to material and technique rather than idea and function. As a basket maker originally trained as an artist this is perhaps a curious response, but one that for me makes complete sense at this moment. 2011 has been a year of great inspiration and many travels for me and at the end of it I have found a greater commitment to the craft of basket making and a resolution to immerse myself further in its many facets that have fascinated me since childhood.
So my response to create a series of three mats using the same making technique and more specifically the 'windmill' start at the base of the basket, as my starting point is the choice that I have made. Using different materials for each mat provided a fascinating insight into the ancient technique of twining and as each material had it’s own very specific qualities I was forced to re-think technique and aesthetic as I progressed. Each mat has it's own distinctive qualities and different details, I am delighted to have been given the chance to take part in this exhibition and learn so much in the process, I hope my fascination and enjoyment of this traditional Ugandan basket is evident in my finished work.
Tim Johnson January 2012