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COVID Dis-Comforter

2020, Hand embroidery, machine applique, cotton, 150 x 200 cm

COVID Dis-Comforter is a stitched journal in which I have documented the personal, political, and social implications of the Coronavirus. The quilts aesthetics take inspiration from the Westbury Quilt made by Misses Hampson in Tasmania 1900-1903. I first saw this quilt at the Making the Australian Quilt exhibition at the NGV. I stood in front of it and thought it was one of the most honest and personal works of art that I had seen. The rest of the quilts in the exhibition were equally inspiring and seeing the power and personal political voice that was present in each quilt changed my perspectives on working with textiles and the ingrained history in the medium in which makers have conveyed their own stories and hidden messages in cloth. 


And so, we arrive in 2020. A year of unprecedented upheaval (except for scientists who research communicable diseases and epidemics and have been warning the governments for years to prepare for such events).   When it first started to spread, I became obsessed with the news. Checking it frequently as though if I knew what was going on to the hour, I could somehow have some kind of control over an out of control situation.  The collective anxiety was palpable. Like many creatives, I felt everything I was making at the start of the pandemic was irrelevant.  It wasn’t until I recalled the history of women recording through textiles that I found my pandemic project. 

The graphic symbol of the virus takes centre stage in the quilt as it has become an iconographic image.  Cuddled in by its consequences and influences.  Each square was constructed as a hand-embroidered and machine appliqued illustration of issues pertinent to the spread of COVID-19.  From the ridiculous toilet paper obsession to the Australian Governments fumbling through keeping the economy and the wealthiest members of the nation afloat.   

Home 'Sweet' Home raises the issue that home is not necessarily a safe space in which be locked down for all members of our community, especially for women and children.  It profiles the leaders in the crisis, like Jacinda Ardern who seemed like a beacon of hope, truth, and realness when we were faced again and again by politicians who seemed unconnected with the reality of how people live in this country.  To Norman Swan who became the pin-up boy of COVID his soothing informed voice providing logic and insight when everything felt forever changing.  

It also documents my own personal journey through the time of March to July. Being aware of not using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Working from home illustrated by the stitched drawing my 4-year-old did to help me out, he also would write lists of what I needed to do for the day.  Teaching online from our spare room, trying to hide the mess and disarrangement that most spare rooms have.  My panic buying of comfy tracksuit pants, house plants, books, wine, and fabric. I was also under the delusion that I would be able to get so much done in lockdown, forgetting for a brief moment that I am a PhD candidate, sessional lecturer, artist, mother, partner, and workaholic. In reality for me like most parents, there was far less time.  On a very personal note, the Tasmanian and Victorian square relates to a very close family member being in intensive care (not COVID related) in Melbourne during the start of the Victorian resurgence. So for the month of July, I have felt incredibly far away from my family in Victoria.  And as I write this Victorians are battling extreme circumstances and an uncertain future still.

I also borrowed directly from Misses Hampson to include a lost time square as I felt it was highly relevant to what we were all experiencing, that March was a complete write-off.  There is a square that reflects on the abandonment by our federal government of the arts sector, being one of the hardest-hit industries, it feels like the fact that the arts employ more people than the mining sector has been completely disregarded. I also acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement that surged after the brutal witnessed murder of George Floyd. It sparked an awakening in Australia as well which is a long overdue of the battles the indigenous population face here with police brutality and deaths in custody.   

The new normal is documented directly as well as through the stand here, hand sanitiser, washing hands guides, chained up playgrounds, face masks, and people in biohazard suits.  And the rise of the flipping sourdough. Never has a bacterial growth received so much attention in social media and even my students were discussing printing from it for the printmaking works.  

All together it makes a somewhat sporadic collection of sections held together by the threads that have interwoven our lives. There are obviously so many more issues that I could have covered and it is not over, but this is my reflection for now. 

Nicole O’Loughlin  

July 2020  

Photography by Gerrard Dixon

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