Posted on July 28, 2016
An Interview with Linda Chee
An Interview with Linda Chee Trusted Clothes
Tell us about yourself – family background, personal story, education, and previous professional capacities.
I have a complex cultural background that reflects the Australian migrant society. I am a quarter Chinese, with a Czechoslovakian mother. To complicate matters further my husband is Latvian. All of these influences manifest itself in my aesthetics and textile influences.
My Slovakian side, my grandmother would beat flax and make linen. The Chinese sensibility is embedded in natural fibers such as silk, wool, cashmere as well as a sense of design that is not a Western paradigm.
My education and working life is embedded in education and have a Masters of Education, teaching and heading an art department for 36 years. My specialization was art history with an emphasis on contemporary Chinese art practice. I worked in Singapore as a curriculum specialist, and wrote a book called “In the Picture”.
Recently I retired, but have continued to pursue my passion for eco dyed textiles and presenting workshops at my studio in Franklin Tasmania, Australia. I love giving workshops; I understand that people learn differently preferring to work with small groups or individuals in unison with my practice and breaking perceptions of textiles and eco-dyeing.
Not everyone wants the same thing out of a workshop, I endeavor to help individuals understand where eco-dyeing comes from and how the process does not impact on the wider environment. I want individuals to enjoy making textiles, with the trust of its origins and its sustainable practices as well as something that is a ‘one of’ unique to their making and understanding of all its components.
Overall it is making sense of where it comes from – the environment where I live, and where the Australian aesthetic comes from for us. It is about translations through the textiles into, sometimes, hand-knitted, hand made and unique.
I chose to live in Tasmania because it is like the end of the Earth. (Laughs). I live in the last municipality before Antarctica. There are only penguins beyond us (Laughs) followed by the white wilderness.
Living on the waterfront with a magnificent view of the trees and leaves I work with gives me a great opportunity to understand their role within the environment and time to contemplate my own work.
What is the importance of ethical fashion to you?
Ethical fashion means that I’m not destroying things. I’m not using someone else as a form of labor making everything myself. I obtain my woven blanks from overseas, only because in Australia, no one can produce the fine weave I want. I create all of my knits, with many hundreds of hours of work in my studio, when someone buys an artwork by me, they can be assured it is a ‘one of’. I use Tasmanian White Gum Wool, Nan Bray’s sheep are shepherded by her and this loving care produces 17.5 micron wool without chemicals connected to the land she in which she grazes the sheep.
Ethical to me is understanding the roots from where my materials come from and being able to tick the box that says I am being true and honest to myself and the environment. As an artist I enjoy producing works that are appreciated and used by others who follow a similar path that I tread
From an ethical and sustainability point of view, I am assured I tread lightly; if I am only taking leaves from the ground or trimming some trees for eucalyptus, nothing is destroyed. I’ve planted my own trees. We have about 4.5 acres, which is about 1.8 hectares. I will have all of the leaves in a few years, I will only need to forage for that special treasured leaf.
I use water from my own springs or the fresh clear creek water. If I need mineral rich water I go a few kilometers down the road or to the nearby ocean. The water along with the spent eucalypt leaves are poured back into the garden providing sustenance for my plants thus completing the cycle, working with nature, rather than against it.
Gently brewed in aluminum or iron pots Eucalypt leaves are like magic; there are complex components within them when combined with materials found in nature or the rusted detritus of the built environments impart vibrant organic colors onto the finely woven fabrics
I go out armed with a pair of clippers, people think, “There she is foraging again.” I only take what I need at a time. I believe this is an Aboriginal principle; take what you need and never destroy what you’ve got.
It will sustain itself because it will re-grow. I will never harm the soil, the land, or the air. This is important as a way you produce. Everything that you produce gets put back into the soil again – or the waste created by you. It is our responsibility to be in balance with nature.
What meaning or personal fulfillment does this work bring for you?
As an artist, as an art teacher, I am married to an artist as well. I realized I was a slow maker and needed to create through a tactile form. I wasn’t a painter or traditional artist. It is part of my cultural heritage. I felt that I could pursue my own aesthetic knowing my cultural heritage with interpretations through the Australian landscape.
I happen to live and work in one of the most beautiful studios, which is designed by award-winning architects, Room 11. What happens is that you work and live in balance it fulfills you holistically; it is emerging back into the landscape in a mental way.
In a balanced studio environment I could pace myself to create and play every day. I have a sense of place. I’m always engaged with my art making through all of these things. That sense of place is embedded as being Australian, but through the filter of all of those cultural heritages that come with my own background.
These are the aesthetics of the beauty of nature. It sounds cliché, but in the sense of what I understand and have learnt by teaching art, history and teaching children. It made me somebody that is fulfilled, finally, after all of these years. I am not a young person anymore. I am 59.
I can create something meaningful for me and know that don’t have to make thousands on them. Once I was asked this question at the Sydney Makers Faire, the Powerhouse Museum, Australia. He didn’t understand, why I chose to become a slow maker. I saw all of the computers, robots, and amazing things that were there. But that wasn’t me. One at a time, with care and consideration to each creation.
So, those one-offs all have a back-story. Those leaves. Where did they come from? What materials did I use? I can tell a story about the wool too. I connect to people like that.
When I process it, I can tell the whole story. I can talk about micron value. I can talk about the particular trees. When a person takes ownership of that piece, I feel the narrative will become an oral history that will continue over time.
You wrote an article in Trusted Clothes. You described that earlier about eucalyptus. With regard to ethical and sustainable fashion companies, what’s the importance of them now?
Particularly now with the way we’ve handled our world. For a start, ‘there’s the threads’ that people try to wear because it is fashion. Fashion doesn’t necessarily have to be unethical. I think that too many people buy cheaply. I call it ‘cheap plastics, fantastic’.
That’s the way I look at the world. I am at the other end of the scale. I want people to buy less, to buy quality, and to understand where it’s come from, how it’s been made, and why we should wear something that are renewable and sustainable.
You shouldn’t be a slave to a fashion that makes you look stupid. Too often, people are tricked by the advertising that is around. I think we need to be less shallow and understand the back-story and understand what we’re doing, and how we’re doing.
We should use less. ‘Less is more’. It’s plastic fantastic. It’s artificial. It’s about making fashion in unsustainable ways and ruining the end product. It won’t be here for forever. We’ve wrecked our own climate so much. I live in a pristine world down here and I don’t want it destroyed.
I live with people on one island. It is only 500,000 people. It’s unique. I know what it is like living in the city, I lived in a city, Sydney. It’s three million people. Pollution, cars, and a loss of natural environment.
I got annoyed by the way people lived. There was a bombardment of everything. Here, I sit back and if people could do that a little bit more. They would have a more holistic view – what we do, what we wear, what we eat, and how we live our lives.
I’m glad I live in place like this.
Thank you for your time, Linda.
Thank you for your time, Linda.