The Embroiderer’s Jouissance

Kalgoorlie embroidery

The Embroiderer’s Jouissance

The Embroiderer’s Jouissance

A woman arrives in a West Australian mining town. Beneath her feet the ground is blood red. Above her the scorching summer sky is an endless clear blue. The air is hot, dry and dusty. She is surrounded by the noise of heavy industry. This noisy town exists for excavating gold. In this foreign mining landscape her bodily appearance is immediately assumed to be a connection to home, brothel or mining. She is confronted by these restrictions of feminine identity and feels stripped of her familiar feminine voice that until then resided in the discourses of art and education.

The woman looks around for Other feminine voices, spaces, minds… anything. Some women are feverishly stitching quilts in private. Their voices squeaking through the tiny stitches that tightly grasp small flimsy fabric scraps together. Why are they stitching like this?

The woman picks up a piece of cloth and begins to stitch her own Desire.

Embroidery’s secret pleasures are illuminated by Lacan’s theories of desire and identity. Desire seeks the sensory pleasure found in the intimate engagement of stitching in defying the shame bestowed by public trivialisation of embroidery’s tropes of feminine fecundity. The embroiderer’s jouissance resides in the slippage between private pleasure and public derision.

Desire’s quest for sensuality and pleasure drives this obsessive stitching. By engaging in a distinctly feminine domestic activity such as embroidery with all its associated references—passivity, virtue, goodness, fecundity, cleanliness—the woman attempts to construct a contemporary feminine identity in the midst of a landscape plundered for gold.