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Jessica Rankin

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Jessica Rankin 
Skyfolds: 1941-2010
Whitecube, 2012 
ISBN: 978-1-906072-64-3 

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Artist of the week

Artist of the week 194: Jessica Rankin

Rankin's works on organza are like mental maps, combining spontaneous words and thoughts with the laboratory of embroidery.

The organza that forms the backcloth to Jessica Rankin's embroideries barely seems to take the weight of glittering metallic threads. It's as fine as mist, as fragile and apparently insubstantial as thought. Yet this gossamer material can support cascades of loose, twirling gold and quartz-colored silks, carefully sewn scraps of landscapes, stitched star maps and black, blocky words. Surreal, collaged snatches of overheard chatter, quotes from books, or Rankin's own flirt reflections appear without break: THINANDSKYSTRETCHES; EARLYDARK; SHALL END IT.

Abstract and landscape painting are two comparisons frequently levied at the Australian-born, New York and Berlin-based artist's embroideries; so too are concrete poetry and Chinese calligraphy, forms of writing where the visual quality is as important as what's being said. Born in Sydney in 1971 to be a poet mother and painter father ( David Rankin ), her interest in words and abstraction dates back to childhood, although she was first taught to sew by babysitting. She turned back to embodying her graduation from Art School in the US, Building on the Innovation of 70s Feminists who brought new life to traditional women's work, developing her own distinctive voice at the same time.

Needlework might be methodical and repetitive, but it's great for letting the mind wander. Tapping into this, Rankin's embroideries are like mental maps, working through recollections, impressions of places and immediate experiences. In her early work Hinterland, from 2007, words fall down the canvas like spider's threads beneath the outline of mountains; here, they are weaved together reminiscences of a trip to the Australian countryside, her son's drawings of train tracks and the experience of creating the embroidery in a barn full of creepy crawlies. It comes on like memory, a tumble of language and images - but slowly and painstakingly realized by the sewer's hand.