Christine Hellyar

Binding Restricting

Artwork Detail

Like a historical novel, Mrs Cook's Kete - Thought Trays is based in fact, but is woven together using fictional elements. It examines the events of history through the eyes of a minor character in them-Elizabeth Cook, wife of the explorer James Cook-offering a unique and untold point of view. The work is based on the fictional premise that Mrs Cook's collection of souvenirs from her husband's travels were found in kete (flax bags) abandoned in the attic of her home in Clapham.

Hellyar has organised the objects into 7 trays according to their 'typology' or function; a system used at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, where Mrs Cook's Kete were first unpacked. The categories Hellyar uses are also inflected by Mrs Cook's position as a wife and widow. Her fictional collection consists of items relating to domestic tasks: gathering food, cooking, sewing, cleaning, dressing and adornment. Hellyar reflects that she is "interested in raising questions about the kinds of interactions that may have occurred between women from opposite sides of the world during the late eighteenth century." Consequently one finds under 'Binding Restricting' a book of threads which includes embroidery silks with harakeke, kiekie, hibiscus and muka.

The historical character of Elizabeth Cook has had quite an influence on Mrs Cook's Kete - Thought Trays, down to details such as the embroidery of the classificatory categories on the silk tongues which line the trays. The artist, however, insists that the items are not intended to be authentic or to directly imitate the original objects. Rather they are signifiers for the originals which allow the exploration of thought systems and taxonomies both of the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries and encourage reflection on how these are constructed and how they have changed through time.

Binding Restricting
Christine Hellyar
Production date
pumice, plaited hibiscus purau, embroidery silks, flax, fibres
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2004
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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