#60: Saskia Bunce-Rath – A thin star wind grows

21st Apr 2023

In A thin star wind grows Saskia Bunce-Rath evokes nostalgic memories and emotions. Her figures inhabit cosy, often quiet spaces of contemplation, trepidation and joy reminiscent of childhood and coming of age. Ahead of this exhibition, City Art Reader editor Cameron Ralston discussed these works with Bunce-Rath. A thin star wind grows opens 5.30pm Wednesday the 26th of April at City Art Depot and runs through to the 15th of May. 

i am thinking very hard about cosy duvet and the smell of laundry, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 224x173mm, 2023

Cameron Ralston: Compared to what you’ve shown previously here, these works feel less cosmic and more domestic perhaps. Where were you coming from when making these? 

Saskia Bunce-Rath: I remember when we talked previously, I was all stressed about the state of the world, as most people are, and climate change. Doomscrolling et cetera, which was reflected in what I was doing. I wanted to step away from that and explore childhood wonder, softness and comfiness, little moments of cosmic awe maybe. I feel like there’s still a bit of that in there.  

Is that indicative of your own head space? Is there a change in yourself that is reflected in these more upbeat works? 

Maybe, but at the same time it’s a little bit depressing still. Like with the scrolling traps, going through Instagram and watching the reels and seeing the videos saying ‘you know you’re old when…’ or ‘kids from the 90s will get this’. Then thinking about that and going into my 30s and looking back as the time from my childhood gets further and further away, I wanted to spend some time reminiscing and making artwork that was more playful. Like remembering that feeling of being in the backseat as a kid, going down the corridor wrapped in a duvet so scared, stepping out of bed at night and being scared there’s something below – but in this work it’s just a little orange creature in the carpet grass. 

Do they represent specific memories for you, or is it more of a feeling you’re trying to evoke? 

I think some people can recall their childhood memories very specifically but I get more flashes or feelings and emotions. Like little clips. So, it’s definitely inspired by that. It’s not specific, like I went camping at xyz, but I remember the feeling of camping and lying on the grass looking at the stars, finding dew drops on my shoes on the morning. 

tiny, tiny, get under, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 196x246mm, 2023

I think they’re all quite relatable experiences too. They still have a bit of that whimsy to them and perhaps feel more hopeful and aspirational. 

That’s what I was going for. I was showing them to my flatmate Lukas and they said, ‘You really captured this feeling of cosy wonder’. That’s what I was trying to do. Make some cosy art that people could look at and feel something from those threads of nostalgia. Which I was maybe afraid to do before because people wouldn’t take it very seriously. 

Do you think that’s people not taking the imagery you use seriously, or the medium? 

Maybe a bit of both, or it could just be a latent insecurity in my mind about how I should or shouldn’t be creating art. But I really just wanted to make some fun things and have other people feel that when they see my work. I watched an Agnes Martin documentary and what she said about capturing little emotional experiences really resonated with me. I’m hoping that gets reflected back when the audience looks at these works. I want them to be a bit joyful. 

Is felt a new medium to you? What motivated you to use that? 

I was getting tired of embroidery for a bit there, but I really love fibre and textile arts like knitting and crocheting. I was looking around for inspiration and came across needle felting and decided that’s what I’m going to try next.

You’re self-taught?

Yeah. It’s pretty simple. You have your fabric and felting wool. You pick out your colours, then you stab them with a felting needle and it binds the fibres of the fabric and wool together. Again, it’s quite a painterly medium, people refer to it as felt painting. It created this fuzzy strange atmosphere which I really liked, maybe because it was so opposite to the thread which is so crisp. It made it feel dreamier. 

i’m there whispering. and that window., felting wood & embroidery thread on calico fabric, 198x147mm, 2023

It does suit the mysterious nature of the works. And it works well with the softness of the bedroom scenes. 

I had so much fun doing the pillows.  

It reminds me of van Gogh’s bedroom paintings. 

Yes! That was a big inspiration for the work soft snow tears collecting and I guess you could say starry night for this one, i’m there whispering. and that window. Not that I’ve done it here, but I was also drawn to the felt because I could potentially make something quite big and it wouldn’t take me so long. So, I’ve began to expand the scale into new works I’m making. 

I’ve grown quite used to seeing your figures in this small scale. It would be interesting seeing them at big scale.

The camping figure is the tiniest one yet.  

a thin star wind grows, felting wood & embroidery thread on calico fabric, 220x183mm, 2023

It’s fascinating seeing more human elements in these works – like pieces of technology (earphones, cars). Where before it was a bit more primordial with fires, planets… 

Mountain ranges. Yeah, I haven’t done that at all before. 

Have you changed anything about how you’re making the needleworks? 

Just in this little work which I made right at the end. I was looking at it thinking, ‘My cup runneth dry! I can’t embroider any more floors’ so I decided to try a new technique, I was hoping it would excite me. So, I did all these French knots and it was really rewarding. 

It’s a good point of difference but also makes the jump between this and the felt a bit softer. I think the works also play a bit more with three-dimensional space. In these you’re creating rooms which is a bit of a difference. 

I do struggle with creating three-dimensional space and I wanted to try something a bit different. I’m happy with how I’ve managed to capture it. I really had to have a talk with myself, about not staying in my comfort zones for composition and just re-using the same motifs I felt comfortable with. 

nobody is gonna get me, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 143x95mm, 2023

Are your titles still quite poetic? 

Yeah. I was thinking should I make them a little funnier, but I couldn’t quite commit to it. Some of them still are a bit humorous but a few of them are quite serious. In a group show in town I had a work called me waiting at the fish and chip shop. So, I was trying to tap into that type of humour with a few of the titles, just experimenting a little again.  

It feels more immediately biographical compared to previous work, but you’re not going for so obviously self-referential here? 

I think they’re still pretty similar? Normally I’m lifting them from old diary entries or poems. Or putting passages I’ve written though Google Translate and translating it over and over and seeing what strange sentences get thrown up and picking bits that I like and re-working them. 

Have you tried using AI? 

I did! But it wasn’t helpful. I was like, ‘Give me a weird poem about cosmic-ness in the style of E. E. Cummings.’ But what it came up with wasn’t helpful at all. 

 Have you been reading or watching anything that has come in around the work? 

 My reading can be pretty embarrassing, so I will not tell you about the terrible thriller books I’ve been reading. But one book I enjoyed and found inspirational is a series of short stories called The Wrong Heaven by Amy Bonnaffons. There is this one story where a woman creates these tiny figurines and they start coming to life and she has a crisis about it; she has to hide them from her boyfriend but they are running amuck in the apartment. So yeah, things that instigate that little whimsy and elements of magical realism.   

i can always see a disc of warm sun if i look up, embroidery thread on calico fabric, 275x325mm, 2023

A lot of people come into the gallery and find your work quite accessible, whether it be the medium or subject matter, but there’s always a lot of depth behind that. 

 Maybe it’s just where I hang out online, but whatever I’m tapping into there’s a whole bunch of us that are doing this kind of thing. These art trends or movements are maybe part of a collective conscious, where we’re tapping into these same things at the same time which I find really interesting – seeing people in Europe and USA doing similar things, the ideas manifested entirely independently of each other but still reflective in each other’s works, an obsession with hand-craft, colours and anthropomorphic figures. 

Do you see any global reason for people linking into these same ideas you’re exploring? Perhaps searching for cosiness and happiness in a world of constant catastrophes? 

Yes, I think so. I think the medium as well, people are drawn to embroidery and crafts where you can see the physical labour. Going back to these roots of making. Like on Tik Tok and stuff you see people making artisanal bread from scratch, which you don’t have to do – you can buy that from a shop. It’s about enjoying the process of making and the escapism of being fully present with the object of your creation. 

Recently, as well, my artwork has found the teeniest bit of traction online. It has been quite heart-warming to see people post my artwork in a way and say what they’re thinking about it and how it made them feel. I love how people online will express what they’re thinking, stuff like, ‘I love the lil rat man in this’, aha, or, ‘it’s the colours for me!’. So yes, that has been quite lovely.