Bethany van Rijswijk: Shapeshifter

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Under a kaleidoscope of leaf-mould and earth / and a pelt of yellow lichen / the costume of an unknown maiden / found where the sea once covered the Baltic / has precisely the same red-banded patterns / as certain hallucinogenic mushrooms / once revered as gods.

The art work of Bethany Van Rijswijk is best listened to.

It does not make any sound but each image is filled with whispers and stories and instruction.

There is a world stained blue.
It is terribly small, but contains multitude and bleeds light when it is cut. In another country, the wise women ate the sacred flesh and opened their eyes: this is what they saw. The plant world, silent and filled knowledge. The insect world, locked in a thousand year romance with the herbs and flowers, dancing together, their bodies imitating one another for the purposes of sex and dreaming. All was quiet; there was abundant oxygen.

Now see: here is a lineage of women. The old ones gradually show where stories come from, and they come from blood and from plants. There are traditions so small they are swept aside in history, where enormous events crush things and there is loss, stories are not told, the baton was not passed. But there are still the women and some of them recall a line here, an anecdote here and fragments survive, passed across time measure in aging and generations, not in number and wars.

The insects keep busy and the plants say nothing.

Here is an old book; look into it, observe a quality of image, a particular kind of printing, a grading of colour.
Imprinted in certain pictures, there are stories and magic, and blood, blood and work, work and family, family and death and magic, which is no more or less than the magic of needle and thread, no more wondrous than knowing the right mushroom to pick, the one that does not poison your smallest daughter, but there is no story because no one wrote it down; it was not important (but it was, really).

See the heresy here now.
Bethany imagines: it is fiction.
If you cannot see your imagined world because despite it being fact, factually it is gone, so it escapes erasure by becoming fiction (based on fact) and it no longer matters if it is real.

We may choose, which is a great luxury.

If one cut out images, cutting is irreversible. One needs to be quite careful. It’s not so much associated with art, more with sewing, and that’s quite reasonable, because sewing and tapestry are art forms we call traditional, or dismiss as craft, and are not really art (which is made by heroic brooding painters who may have a lover to clean up their messes) Which is not reasonable at all. IS it?

Take scissors and old books and make a new mythology of plants and women and insects.

Here you are: there are stories here, new ones made from the fragments of old, borrowed, stained blue with vision outside of time.


28 January – 25 February 2017

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Open Saturdays 10 – 4 to the public and by appointment

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Suite 7, Level 1, Moonah Centre
Cnr Hopkins and Main Road
Moonah TAS 7009

Bethany van Rijswijk is a visual artist and poet based in Hobart, Tasmania. Enriched by her studies in world folklore, ritual, and costume, her hand-cut collages and poems create an imagined mythology from found images and phrases. A psychedelic strain of “Eastern European granny decoupage”, her work explores the relationship of women’s folk art and poetry to the other world. Her first solo show, ‘Shapeshifter’ owes much to the scholarship of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas and chants of Maria Sabina, as craft comes to be viewed as a vehicle for glimpsing the sacred within the mundane.

See Bethany’s work featured on The Jealous Curator

Image: Bethany van Rijswijk, Fly Agaric, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.