17 August 2023

Talking with Ribbon art installation saves wristbands from landfill, celebrates the power of community

| Keeli Royle
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Eloise Cleary at Dapto Ribbonwood Centre with part of the Talking with Ribbon artwork.

Talking with Ribbon will be showcased at this year’s Yours and Owls festival and then installed at Dapto Ribbonwood Centre. Photos: Keeli Royle.

When the Yours and Owls festival was cancelled last year due to rain, 30,000 wristbands and lanyards were destined for landfill, but a local artist has taken the potential trash and turned it into something special by creating a new installation and sense of community achievement.

Eloise Cleary has worked creatively with the festival team since 2016, so when they asked if she wanted to keep the unused ribbons it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“I didn’t know at all what I was going to do with them yet,” she said. “And they were just sitting in my brother’s shed for months, as well as these cubes.”

But a callout from Wollongong City Council sparked her interest and created an opportunity to ensure the wristbands didn’t go to waste.

“The brief was just to run six to eight community sessions with a group here at Ribbonwood and to create a large art installment of any kind to be displayed here at the centre,” Eloise said.

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She already had the materials; it was about deciding what exactly she would do with them.

“I was picturing big tapestry, quilts or chandeliers, and then I bought all of these pool noodles and I started wrapping these pool noodles but I didn’t want it to look like wristbands, so I started plaiting it for fun and I was sticking that to the pool noodles.

“I came up with this image one morning where I thought maybe I could get everyone to make their own little artwork and I’ll put them in perspex cubes and then my partner said, ‘Why don’t you use the 30 cubes you have in the shed?’”

Although reusing found objects was something Eloise was familiar with, she wanted to take a different approach to this project and rather than working with people to express their individual creativity, this was all about the collective.

“Everyone doing the same thing, working towards a common goal is what really inspired me this time around,” she said.

But for Eloise, the installation was about so much more than the finished product, it was about the people who came to the community sessions to plait the ribbons and contribute to the work.

“It was beautiful, every week, the conversations that were being had and you could just tell people looked forward to it,” she said. “Just getting to sit there for a few hours and get to do something that you’re not thinking about; we’re not looking at our phones, we’re not doing housework even, just switching off.

A close look at one of the cubes with the original wristbands it was made from.

A close look at one of the cubes with the original wristbands it was made from.

“So for me that was the real art, and this is just a testament to what comes together when everyone has a common goal.”

For seven weeks, people of all ages and different cultures came together for the sessions to plait the ribbons and share their own experiences and stories.

“There was a really beautiful moment of an elderly woman teaching a young boy how to plait.”

Now Eloise is in the process of bringing it all together by meticulously attaching the thousands of plaited ribbons around the cubes and her vision is finally coming to life with half a dozen cubes completed.

It’s a feat she said would’ve taken forever if she had have done it solo.

“The amount of time it takes to create one – I love how much that reveals what can be done when a group of people come together.”

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The final work, which is called Talking with Ribbon, will go full circle and be displayed at the Yours and Owls festival this year before it is permanently suspended in the foyer of the Dapto Ribbonwood Centre.

“I can’t wait to see how the people that created it react when it’s installed,” Eloise said. “That’s just going to make the whole thing even more worth it.”

And it also brings Eloise back to special moments in her own childhood and spending time with her grandparents.

“Whenever I was visiting as a little girl my oma [gran] brought me here and she was part of the embroidery club here for like 40 years and I was always coming to this centre to do textiles and things,” she said.

“I remember in 2001 when the big Ribbonwood mural out the front was built and I would ask Oma if we could walk that way because I was obsessed with it and now this work is going to be displayed pretty close to that. I love that.”

To find out more about Eloise’s work, visit her website.

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