Amelia Wallin
One Thing After Another

On Camille Laddawan: Opus No. 1

Whether it is accumulating words on a page or beads along a thread, the logic is the same: just keep going. Place one after another, and watch it build before your eyes. Or so I tell myself in order to achieve the focus and presence required to write. But of course writing is not unidirectional, it circles back in on itself, continually replacing and refining. The art of beading affords no such revisions, it marches forwards in time, marking moments passed with each bead threaded. As I work on this text, artist Camille Laddawan shares updates as she creates her beading Opus 1: 16 hours, 30 hours, 50 hours, 120 hours. Seven centimeters of beadwork is achieved in approximately eight hours.

Camille Laddawan, ‘Opus No.1’, 2023. Image courtesy of Brock @ Wip Lab.

Beyond serving as motivation for the completion of a task (this text), the idiom “one thing after another”, carries with it negative connotations. The phrase implies the casual accrual of unsatisfactory events that individually may be dealt with but in their total can seem insurmountable. A referral to yet another department, a case closed without prior warning, an obtuse message from a government agency. Occurrences such as these, where the administrative processes of institutions defer, silence or counter individual voices of complaint, is of driving interest to Laddawan.

Laddawan’s critique is embedded into the very fabric of her work. The patterns in her beadwork contain fragments of text drawn from her personal encounters with the administrative functions of government, legal and healthcare institutions. To achieve this, Laddawan has created a visual score adapted from Morse Code that she refers to as “tone code” . In tone code, each letter of the alphabet is encoded in a combination of light and dark beads. Laddawan’s adaptation is efficient – more commonly used letters are replaced with fewer characters, and therefore require less beads. The word “time”, for instance, would consist of seven beads, and a word with less frequently used letters, such as “work”, includes 13 beads. Using this method, Laddawan has translated emails, family archives and meditations on life and death as well as her own experiences of moving through the judicial and health systems.

Opus 1 borrows its name from a piece of music by Tim Carleton that is currently used as the hold music for the Australian Government's Centrelink call centre. This work presents Laddawan’s first translation of music into tone code. Here, the institutional hold music that signals perpetual delay and deferral through its continual looping is translated via tone code into thousands of beads. Laddawan’s experience of creating this work — first the careful act of translation, followed by the embodied precision of the beadwork — is a duarational experience that can’t be sped up or streamlined. The moment of waiting, the embodied experience of time passing, is rendered visible through the durational act of beading itself, irreducibly embedded into the weaving’s composition.

Why is it that twenty minutes of hold music can feel like twenty hours, yet twenty minutes of something you love can pass in a flash? In an attempt to account for these differing experiences of time, French philosopher Henri Bergson conceived of la durée; durational or lived time. On the one hand there is the objective time of calendars and clocks, Bergson argued, and on the other there is la durée time that is subject to feelings, experiences and individual agencies. Whereas clock time is measured in units and modules, la durée knows no such bounds, it is time experienced as a continuum. Hold music, such as those favoured by institutions, is designed to occupy a void, to aid in the passing of (clock) time. With each hour that it took to complete Opus 1, Laddawan translates the feeling of being on hold. For her, the durational and embodied act of beading reproduced the agonising clocktime of hold music.

The aesthetic of Laddawan’s beaded works takes their cues from modernism. In Opus 1 a palette of blue and brown glass beads are set against a backdrop of plated sterling silver. The visual effect is of something solid yet fluid, like jewelled chain mail. Stylised and harmonious in colour and composition, they recall the measured watercolours and textiles of Anni Albers and the intricate hanging wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa. This association is further pronounced by the gridded frame upon which Laddawan creates her work. The grid, as argued by art historian Rosalind Kraus, was one of the central tools of modern art, and occupies a position of aesthetic preeminence in the twentieth-century canon. Kraus evidences the paintings of Agnes Martin and Joseph Albers as emblematic of the modernist grid.

Camille Laddawan, ‘Opus No.1’, 2023, beading, installation view: West Space Window, Collingwood Yards 2023. Image courtesy of artist.

“By virtue of the grid”, Kraus argues, “the given work of art is presented as a mere fragment, a tiny piece arbitrarily cropped from an infinitely larger fabric. Thus the grid operates from the work of art outward, compelling our acknowledgement of a world beyond the frame”. Laddawan’s decision to exhibit the work on the loom attests to a sense of perpetuity or incompleteness. This feeling is further articulated through the modularity and repetition of the beaded score that follows the continual looping of Carleton’s music. Like the experience of being placed on hold, there is a niggling sense that this could continue for the foreseeable future. However with Opus 1 Laddawan puts forward a slither of this perpetuity: 120 hours of clock time or la durée marked bead by bead. Opus 1 draws attention to time spent, whether it is beading, or writing or placed on hold, it marks the accumulation and duration of ‘one thing after another’. At the same time, it attends to the world beyond the frame, the messy time of feelings and subjectivity that endures.

This text was written in response to Camille Laddawan: Opus No. 1, 11 Feb → 12 March 2023 in the West Space Window.

Camille Laddawan creates beadings inscribed with fragments of text and music notation by way of a visual code. Camille’s work questions and prompts discussions about how institutions conduct and influence individuals. Through the use of code, her work comments on the nature of institutional language, and the difficulties of navigating it. Camille’s work seeks to make these experiences and ways of communication visible.

Amelia Wallin has held curatorial and administrative positions at Performa (New York), Campbelltown Arts Centre, Biennale of Sydney, Performance Space, Performing Lines and Vivid Ideas. She has played an active role in Australian arts development through directorial positions at Firstdraft, Tiny Stadiums Festival, and as co-founder of the residency and exhibition program Sydney Guild.