Q&A with Jennifer Robertson

9 November 2017

Giving has at its heart generosity."

Internationally renowned woven textile specialist, Jennifer Robertson, collaborated with Emeritus Professor Ian Jackson from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) to create two exquisite woven textiles after receiving the Vice-Chancellor's College Visiting Artist Fellows Scheme (VCCAFS), which encourages and celebrates interdisciplinary research.

Jennifer generously donated one of the works, Crystal Imperfections as Agents of Deformation, to RSES as a wonderful example of what can be achieved through interdisciplinary research.

Please tell me about your connections to ANU.

I first came to ANU back in 1993 from Fremantle, WA, to attend a masterclass workshop with Japanese textile planner Junichi Arai. I remember thinking Canberra was a nice scale for a capital city and that being surrounded by mountains, bush, wildlife and a beautiful campus made it quite special. In 1997 I was asked to come and teach for one academic year to replace someone on maternity leave – that was 21 years ago!

How did your collaboration with Ian Jackson come about?

I was looking for a collaborator on the ANU RSES researcher pages. Normally I work solo in my studio as my field requires one person working on one piece of equipment at any one time, but I was interested in collaborating with someone outside the field of woven textiles and was drawn to earth science as I am interested in mineral science.

Ian is a rock physicist and I wrote to him to see if he was interested in working on a project together. I didn’t know at that early stage what a collaborative project might look like, but through the process of getting to know Ian and his research and building a relationship, a project emerged and gradually became clear.

Basalt Thread

What was it like to work with a scientist?

Working with a scientist took me out of my comfort zone, which was beneficial for my practice-led research in woven textiles. Whilst I experienced a high learning curve as I hardly knew anything about the field of mineral science, I read a lot and was very interested in the subject matter. It surprised me that some of the terms used to describe earth science are so similar to woven textiles, even at an atomic level.

I found the process of forming a collaborative relationship a richly rewarding one and I think part of the value for me was seeing a project emerge and develop from a different perspective. The process also built valuable new skills and took my work in woven textiles in a strategic new direction.

What inspired you to donate your artwork to the RSES?

I was very grateful to ANU and the Vice Chancellor for receiving the VCCAFS. It is a ground-breaking scheme in Australia and I really appreciate the foresight and vision in implementing it. I think this scheme is highly valuable for artists and recognises non-traditional research outputs in creative ways that push new boundaries and ask new questions.

I was happy to donate the piece that most closely referenced Ian’s research and felt it was most appropriate to donate the piece back to the RSES at the conclusion of the project. I have since heard that it is richly appreciated in its new home at the RSES which is satisfying for me. As it is on permanent display it means that many people see it who wouldn’t necessarily visit a gallery, for example, so it has a reach that is broader than art. Scientists understand and appreciate it too and I think generally there is potential to enhance many different spheres with art and creative endeavours as the inclusive approach to other disciplines makes for a richer experience for all.

Sometimes the separation between different disciplines can inhibit collaboration; this scheme makes sure artists are placed in a college outside the arts. I would like to see the creative arts further grounded and nourished in all disciplines as the creative arts are intended to be part of and enrich our everyday life experience for the benefit of everyone.

Why do you feel that it is important to give?

It feels nice to be generous in donating the artwork. Giving builds a collective environment that has capacity for extension to make a richer, more open and encompassing experience for all. It builds relationships and community. I feel that giving has at its heart generosity. This is such a wonderful virtue; it’s enhancing for everyone that participates in it and encourages those who receive to also give.

Imagine if all VCCAFS recipients gave one piece towards a VCCAFS collection that’s accessible – a wonderful resource to showcase. Giving transcends our preoccupation with ourselves and our finances, and challenges our thinking that time is money. It really is a wonderful activity.

Story by Eva Medcalf

Images by Yen Eriksen 

Page owner: Philanthropy