In writing 'You-Matter' for the Red Room and Australian Design Centre to accompany their 'Obsessed: Compelled to Make' exhibition, I drew on my background in visual art, particularly in ceramics, for relating to the materiality and processes of creation. I also drew on my experience in teaching practice-led research in craft and design to explore how thoughts, theories and practices are entwined - particularly how and where to find inspiration, and how it is possible to 'think with the hands'.

One of the trickiest things about this commission (as opposed to other ekphrastic commissions), was that this exhibition did not as yet exist! That is, I had only the interviews, CVs, bios, statements, and proposals from the artists to go on. This meant that I had to really tap into their pre-preparatory processes of making - the generation of ideas, the first experiments with materials, and the obsession that provides the motor behind everything, driving the creative endeavour.


The idea will take heart
will fall for things            obsess over them
will find the will
the nerve              will radiate

Read 'You - Matter' by Sarah Rice


Some of the artists' thoughts and quotes make their way into the poem as well as the mistakes, the slip-ups, stops and starts, the mess, and meanderings. The most useful thing I received was a list of the materials that the artists were proposing to work with. This for me was the heart of the matter - matter itself - the wonder and magic of material - the strange way in which it works its way into our hearts - reaches out to us as we reach out to it. The tactile nature of material, the way it draws us in is something I myself was drawn to.

This poem is however as much about the materiality of words and the crafting of writing, as it is about any other creative process. As Rumi suggests: 'Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love'. After all, as the contemporary Japanese novelist Novala Takemoto says: "Obsession makes everything possible."


Dr Sarah Rice is an art-theorist, visual artist and writer. She holds a PhD and university medal in Philosophy, and a graduate diploma in Visual Art. Sarah trained in ceramics and drawing, makes visual art in response to poetry and visa versa, and collaborates with other artists across diverse media... Read more »



The workshops

Obsessed: compelled to make

Dr Sarah Rice led a poetry workshop encouraging participants to write creatively in response to the objects and designs in Obsessed: Compelled to make (Australian Design Centre). Focusing on the materials, processes, and motivations behind the artworks, Sarah took participants through her approach to ekphrasis – writing about art – and read her poem 'You – Matter', created in response to the exhibition. Below are some of the poems from the workshop.



(In response to Kate Rohde's Phoenix, Rabbit)

Exploding candy
tingles sight.
Brittle lace loops the belly
climbs the neck.

A yellow ring of sherbet sounds.
Leaping rabbits, tempted by candy carrots underfoot,
are frozen by the brittle crunch.


(In response to Elbowrkshp’s Larapintine Studies)

Stumbling across the bottom of the sea
stubbing toes on eons of formation.
How many years, how many toes have come and gone
since you thrust out of the salty water?

Now your dusty heart has dried in colors of flesh.
You promise to be putty in the right pairs of hands,
shaping home and hearth.
Another temporary bed
comforting against the flows of tide and time.


(In response to a selected textured material)

I am sponge.
I take, and when I can, I give.
I clean and scour at any hour.
I remove the unwanted.
Water, spilt milk, perhaps even tears.
Squeezed I am not hurt, but rebound to mop another day.
Dry I might just blow away.
When my job is done I am
thrown across the room but
miss the sink.
My damp seeps unchecked
into the red and white linoleum.


(In response to the workshop)

Words emerge
like bricks of chopped spinach
stuck to the ice at the back of the freezer,
chipped out and dropped on the sink with a hollow clunk.
Slowly thawing in the warmth of active attention
they ooze their way out,
lumpy and bumpy,
uneven in sound and shades of meaning.
Slightly disheveled newborns.


The Last Polo Fruit

Wrapped in silver buried in the dusty point of a pocket, lies the last polo fruit.
A hollow purple eye peers enticingly as its silver coat drifts discarded,
in the rush to enter between youthful pink lips.

Sticky sucking sounds pour forth as the circular sugar rattles against incisors, molars, gums.
Juicy purple saliva washes over luscious cheeks, drips between gaps,
dribbles over gums.

The last polo fruit changing from succulent solid to melting glass,
to a thin shard of flavour, that cuts,
as it passes across, stained and swollen sensory papillae. 

Polo Fruits are a British boiled sweet, and were just the right size, colour (and flavour!) for a young child’s hands.


I am bandage

I wind my long
arms around you
keep you
together when
broken, split or
your guts hang out.

As your fluids colour
me, I wrap
my shape
to your new being
hold your hopes
together, until
cast off.

Sometimes I am
leaves picked to
layer you deep
in my smell
my mysteries.
I can even heal
your secrets.

But I can’t
seep into you
I abandon you
to your own
secret healing
with prescriptive
solutions or pellets.

In gauze I flounce
even flirt when out
always together
bear signatures
of your fans.
In my whites
I shout  beware
of your heart -
hazlife, carapace
for dirty dealings
once breached by love.

Uncurled I could
muffle your screams
skin coloured
I camouflage
reduce the drama.

We had a deal
my warp and weft
keep things straight
add elastic for
to bind in
figure eight
spirals, turns
and reverse
all ways
available in the
how to manual
how to love
my overlaps
mimic muscles to
pattern their healing
 - as if they’d forget
the heart is a muscle
you know.

Managing the end
of me is always
difficult, slippery
relentless unwind
a runaway likely
to pile up
be unfaithful
with that
metal clasp.