Changing Threads creative director, Ronnie Martin, with Christine Wingel’s entry, ‘Wall a Bit’ at the Refinery ArtSpace. Photo: Kate Russell.

Ten big years of Changing Threads

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French fries, tea bags, surgical masks, price tags and men’s shirts aren’t usually considered ‘art’ – but one local exhibition is challenging that perception.

In 2009, Nelson artist Ronnie Martin wanted to change the way people viewed fibre and textile art. So, she created the Changing Threads Contemporary Fibre Art Awards.

Ten years on, and she’s proved that it’s not all about quilting and embroidery.

“We wanted to stretch what fibre was – from woven plastic bags and twisted wires – anything that can be used to create a passive artwork. Traditional work such as weaving and stitching has been twisted and taken into a contemporary context,” says Ronnie.

“Now, we’ve built on its early beginnings and we’ve seen the work standard lifted and lifted.”

So much so, that now Changing Threads is considered the most prestigious exhibition of its type in New Zealand.

The exhibition opened on Friday night at the Refinery ArtSpace and this year the awards attracted 160 entries from around the country.

After what Ronnie describes as a “rigid selection process”, only 42 made the final cut.

“What is actually finally shown is the cream of the entries. For a lot of people, just reaching the final selection is a mark of success.”

Ronnie says she has seen the work change over the years.

“I think people have actually realised we are very open to all sorts of work, and even the whole idea of the concept of ‘what fibre is’ has been very exciting. People have done paper, wood and even put things into stretched glass. We are very open.”

But, apart from being well executed, the work must also have meaning.

“We want to present work which has a strong conceptual basis. It has to be well executed, but it also has to say something. What we didn’t want was pretty pictures for the wall.

“It gives people a chance to say something quite powerful, and quite strong, using traditional techniques.”

Ironically, Ronnie’s love for textiles started when she went to a class to learn how to make a quilt for her baby, who is now in his 30s.

“Then, for me, I realised there was a lot more I wanted to see.”

She says for her, the joy has come out of creating the exhibition.

“I think it can actually stand alone anywhere in the world. I’m very proud of where we’ve taken it to. I think people can see now that the work can be quite challenging, but very exciting.”

Changing Threads is on at the Refinery ArtSpace, 3 Halifax St, until April 24.