Kate Just’s recent work walks the fine line of a woman exploring her own burgeoning sense of identity and that of an artist playing to the stereotypes of feminine transformation.
Coming from a very personal place, her ideas are sieved through mythological stories of female transformation to become works that are tactile and immediately engaging.
One of the stories is the Greek myth of Daphne, lusted after by a hapless Apollo, but not wanting a bar of him, begs her father to be turned into an evergreen laurel tree to elude her suitor, but instead becomes an object of his perpetual admiration. Another story is that of Persephone, a carefree nature goddess abducted by Hades to become the goddess of hell but by doing so, becomes the origin of the seasons, as the earth blooms for the 8 months she’s above ground with her overprotective mother, Demeter. Just’s work sidesteps most of the normal pitfalls that the subject matter carries through the knitting that she uses to reinterpret them. But therein lies the fine line. By referencing these stories, the work comes under a scrutiny that cynicism may deplore, yet the material, the knitting, obviously labour intensive, and carrying a strong association of femininity, makes you want to reach out because you know you’ll enjoy touching it.
A modern, woolen woman on a suburban, woolen lawn sinks into the woolen underground. The woolen arm all that remains of a women who has turned into a woolen bush. These are delightful things to observe. The knitting brings the myths of the woman transforming in nature, with the subtext of the overbearing patriarchal influence, into an urban interpretation, yet without knowledge of the stories, the personal ideas risk being lost in translation, and with knowledge of the them, they risk being derivative, yet the risks never eventuate.
One work in progress is the knitted skin of a half-woman half-snake that sprawls over Just’s studio floor. It looks tough, like armory, clearly discarded as the exit hole through the belly implies. The piece itself is immensely appealing to look at, yet the ideas sit uncomfortably. The themes of sexuality and transformation that Just explores in her work are thick in the piece, and whilst in modern western culture the snake has come to acquire negative connotations of sexuality, in ancient times it represented fertility, eternity and healing. The work resonates through its deep archetypography.
That the skin of the creature is shed on the floor beside this engaging and verbose person, you can’t help but imagine Just having crawled out of it herself. There is a sense that through her creative process, Just is documenting the stages of her own transformation, sexually, creatively and culturally and where this is most accessible is when the subject matter steps into the universal: everyone can identify with the discarding an old skin.
Author: Hop Dac
Images: Copyright Kate Just, Australia 2008
Kate Just’s ‘Lady Bush’ was featured on the first Artabase Collectable Swap Card, distributed in Australia July 2008.