The first solo exhibition of Phil Ferguson AKA Chili Philly at the Australian Design Centre crosses traditional boundaries of art, design, craft and performance.
A series of crochet hats made in bright colours (often in the shape of food or other recognisable fun shapes), the work is simple in some respects, but understanding it as just that would be to sell it short. Ferguson does not make crochet hats as artworks, or even to sell. Instead, he makes the hat, wears the hat and posts an image of himself wearing the hat onto social media.
This crucial three-step process of making, wearing and sharing constitutes the work. For Ferguson himself, crochet as a medium is inconsequential – he describes it as a skill he picked up (although one could argue that it is part of a resurgence in craft activism or craftivism). Instead, he describes how he created the work specifically for Instagram: “People like seeing a well-developed series on the internet. The end result is the image on social media,” he explains.
The work is also performative – and originally was created so that Phil could meet like-minded people after moving to Melbourne. The connection to the gay community is celebrated in the exhibition’s partnership with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. “This all comes from a place of drag,” says Ferguson. “I purposely put myself in that position to meet people and get experiences. I am part of my work.”
Because the work is able to be read simply as an image of a guy wearing silly hats and because of the reach of social media, Chili Philly has large appeal across a range of people and ages.
Lisa Cahill, Director of the Australian Design Centre, describes how she was flicking through Instagram when she came across Chili Philly and showed the clip to her eight year old. “‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘that’s Chili Philly I’ve seen him on ABC! You should do an exhibition of his hats.’ We contacted Phil, teamed up with Mardi Gras and City of Sydney and here we are.”
Cahill describes the exhibition as a show that is: “on one level fun and vibrant, and celebrates that side of the spectacle in Mardi Gras, but it’s also very much about the resurgence of interest in handicrafts, in this case crochet, and at another level shows how an artist can use their creativity and the tools of social media to create a huge following and commercial and creative success.”
Crafty Ways with Social Media with Phil Ferguson on 1 March 2017
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