To Learn to Read is to Light a Fire

WAFTA’s twenty five + Crossover exhibition opened at Holmes a Court Gallery at10 Douglas St West Perth on Friday night. I am delighted to have my work To Learn to Read is to Light a Fire jury selected and to be hanging alongside 41 other thought provoking and beautiful works. Open daily until 12 November 2022.

The text in this work is written in Pitman’s Shorthand.

Imagine if we needed to be able to read this to navigate the world.

How would we manage to fill in government forms, read labels on containers, follow a recipe, get a drivers licence, enjoy reading a good book, get, and maintain a job, communicate with friends and family, read this blog post.

I was astounded to discover in 2021, 7 million Australians lacked the basic literacy skills to navigate daily life. To do the things I just mentioned.

I chat with some teacher friends they nod knowingly that this is big problem, so many kids are falling through the gaps with this basic skill that affects their education and every other part of their life going forward.

The reason I chose to illustrate this message with Pitman’s Shorthand, is because my mother, a shorthand typist has used these mysterious squiggly marks throughout her life. Shopping lists, notes to herself, (possibly ones she didn’t want us to read), lecture notes when she went back to Uni as a mature age student. Over the years she has tried to explain it to me and when I decided to make this work, I sat down seriously with her and her high school Pitman’s shorthand book to learn for myself.

Beyond the initial P, B, T, D, Ch, J, I started to get completely lost. I realised that it was probably more important NOT to know what this text says, that to rely on others and to trust how they interpret the text correctly is how it must feel for people who are illiterate in today’s society.

The Text says-

 Historically, churches would have stained glass windows to visually tell stories for the illiterate.

How is it that in two thousand and twenty one, seven million Australians lacked the necessary literary skills to navigate normal life?

The work is made from all the tiny scraps of fabric left over in my studio. I sandwich them between two sheets of solvy, a thin plastic sheeting. I machine stitch all over to secure all the fabric together and then wash the solvy away in hot water.

The shorthand symbols are then cut out. The netting is made by stitching on sheets of solvy securing the symbols as I go. The whole work is then very carefully washed.

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