Immigration, displacement and memory are the impetus for a new series of embroideries by Adelaide-based artist Nina Frigault. Frigault was raised on Miscou, an isolated French Acadian Canadian island, and has returned to this tiny fishing community only once in the 15 years since she moved to Australia, “You get used to a level of detachment,” she says. “From your old home and your new one. It’s a survival instinct, but you have to become a new person. That’s how you grow.”
Circular linen mounts embroidered with gentle accumulated pastel stitches form part-remembered, part-constructed landscapes, simultaneously Canadian and Australian. Power lines, cockatoos and vehicles inhabit these topographies, and fragments of text in French narrate Frigault’s internal sense of place. Her process is highly intuitive: “I found a piece of netted doily. As I held it I got a vivid picture of Dad stitching nets for the September herring season. I dyed the netting dark, dark blue – like the Canadian water in autumn – and embroidered a cloud over it.” On Miscou, clouds reveal the prospects of weather and catch. In Frigault’s work, they suggest the fickleness of memory and inspire a sense of continuity between distant places: “Looking at a cloud, you feel you could be anywhere, but it’s an illusion. It’s not tangible.”
In counterpoint, the challenges to her sense of place are indefinable: time, distance, forgetting. With the slow, repetitive technique of punch-needle embroidery, the artist has found a physical context for reminiscence, letting her memories pass through her hands into stitches. “As I work, there is a flow of images from the past,” she says.