Casting the net

 Valerie Kirk. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

Valerie Kirk. Photo by Belinda Pratten.

Valerie Kirk tells KATHARINE PIERCE why not knowing who you’re working with shouldn’t hold you back.

Every time you search for something on the Internet your computer casts out a net to retrieve information from a huge, worldwide network of computers, smartphones, servers and consoles.

These millions of points combine to form the twists, knots and twine of the World Wide Web, hauling in your ’catch’ of webpage results. It was this idea of being able to communicate with people all around the world that inspired textile artist Valerie Kirk from the ANU School of Art to cast a ’net’ into cyberspace and connect with
universities on the other side of the globe.

The connections she and fellow artist Nancy Tingey made would ultimately form an online exhibition, NETS, and create an opportunity for artists from around to world to interact, share and discuss ideas.

NETS is a global project across the textile departments and related artist communities of three universities: the University of Cumbria, UK, Novia University of Applied Sciences, Turku, Finland, and ANU.

"Cumbria University was very keen to do an international exchange with ANU and they had a preexisting relationship with the Novia University, so it became a three way partnership," explains Kirk.

The artists involved in NETS responded to the project’s concept in individual and original ways. Their pieces ranged from the political networks of society to social, environmental and family networks.

Kirk herself chose to examine the issue of the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish, which has been driven to the brink of extinction.

The catfish can grow to 10 feet and 350 kilograms. Kirk designed a tapestry woven in the shape of this very large fish.

"This giant fish has largely been fished out for game and is suffering from habitat loss," she says.

"The plight of this species really interests me, so I chose the subject to raise awareness of this environmental concern."

In order for all NETS participants to share their work with each other, a virtual gallery was established.

"To organise a real exhibition like that would be so costly. Transporting work around the world is incredibly expensive," says Kirk.

"The whole experience was a bit of an exercise with what you can do with the Internet and how that compares to the reality of meeting people."

After much virtual interaction with her networks across the globe, Kirk finally got to meet her fellow artists in October last year at the final NETS exhibition in Finland, which also formed part of the European Culture Capital celebrations.

"After doing so much virtually it was wonderful to meet all the people involved. The most fulfilling part of the experience was making real connections with people," she says.

"We got to share our deep immersion in the techniques and contemporary exploration of textiles, and acquire insight into our different histories and traditions."

For Kirk, the final exhibition of illuminating artwork and the lasting network of she has made show what you can achieve when you cast your net far and wide.

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