Tuesday, December 30, 2008

RMIT MFA Online Catalogue/Website

At the end of each year, RMIT University usually produces a small soft cover catalogue to display the works of their post-graduates. I remember they were handed out at the commencement of each academic year, and I really enjoyed looking through them and reading both the artists statements and the CVs. It was interesting to see the wide range of experience that people brought to the course, some straight from school, through the TAFE system, an undergraduate degree and on to this masters, while others had spent a decade or more out in the "real world" before "something" drew them to this particular course.

I found all of that background inspiring and motivating. During that time, we had some candidates who had already established notable reputations, and I have to say that did make me feel honoured to have been accepted.

Anyway, for some reason which I missed hearing about, the old tradition of the hard copy catalogue has gone and this year an online catalogue was produced. This has benefits of course, inlcuding an online presence for those who don't already have one. We have also been able to include a greater number of images for each student, so the website does operate as somewhat of an online portfolio. Generally it's considered more enduring and professional, but I miss being able to flick through the images and stop at one that piques my interest to have a more detailed look.

Anyway, here is the link to the website (click on the image) - and please don't be put off by the annoying way you have to chase the words around (you'll see what I mean if you go there....but maybe I'm just showing my age). This year's MFA candidates created a varied and interesting body of work, and it is great that it is available online for anyone interested to check out.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Anyone love maps?

I know a lot of people are fascinated by maps, and despite not being great at deciphering them, I place myself in that group too. In fact, I suspect my fascination may relate to the mystery held within the map...so much information...so much potential. I really like hand-drawn personalized "mud maps" which show landmarks that have special meaning to the drawer. And I also love old maps, which reveal so much about the thinking of the time, like this one. I used it about a year ago in this collaboration with Alex Itin for the Flickr "Library" group.

However, this post was prompted by a Christmas gift from one of my brothers-in-law. It's a book of what I would call "art maps" entitled, Where are you?

I tried to select just a few of my favourites to share with you, but I found it too hard to narrow the choices down, so I decided to scan the back cover which has detail shots from a number of the maps. If you click on the image, you should be able to see an enlarged version.

And one that isn't on the cover, but I simply had to show you. I don't know whether the one below is my favourite, but it does leave me open-mouthed in wonder. My cat would so love to play with that!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Resistance: porcelain flag book (still in progress....)

I thought you might like to see what stage of development the porcelain flag book made it to by assessment time. It looks quite good from a distance but I'm just not happy with the detail. There are two aspects that need work:
  • the decals: these are quite large as decals go and tricky to apply without air bubbles; having them fill the flags to the edges means any flaws are highly visible. I actually did a second firing of flags to replace the imperfect ones, but the colour was quite different due to variance in the firing schedule. (I had to fire quite fast because time was tight.)

  • the way the pages and the concertina spine join: clay shrinks at various stages during the making process - when it first dries and during each firing. For adjacent pieces to fit "nicely" it's best for them to dry and fire in position. This is common practice with something like a teapot and its lid. Working with flat slabs, I thought I would be able to get away without doing this, but I was wrong! The problem is especially obvious in the view below.

Monday, December 01, 2008

RMIT MFA Graduate Exhibition

For anyone in Melbourne, I'm posting this invite to the MFA Graduate Exhibition. The work of the 33 graduating candidates (including yours truly) will be on show across two gallery spaces. The variety and the standard is impressive, and it just might be you'll see early work by a future "name". In case the detail on the invite comes up a bit small, you can see times and dates here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Master of the House

Well, it's all over...and I've been bopping around, singing Madonna's "Holiday" and feeling like a woman reprieved.

The set-up went well, the data projector initially refused to speak to my laptop but then consented and my video documentation of Wraith showed up beautifully. I managed to annoy one of the other masters candidates but having booked the space he wanted, but I introduced myself and showed I was apologetic, and now we're friends.

I was introduced to the examiner, shook her hand and made myself scarce.

A little over an hour later I returned. Some of my work is staying for the Graduate Exhibition which opens on December 3, so there wasn't too much for me to pack up. It was all a bit underwhelming. Nothing more to do but go about my business and wait.

The next day, Wednesday, I headed down to St Kilda by the bay, had a nice lunch, before returning to the CBD. I dropped in to Hand Held Gallery a recently opened art space which focuses on artists books. Megan Herring, the owner was there and it was great to meet her. The gallery reminded me of a fledgling BookArts Bookshop, which I visited in London, and wrote about here. I really hope Hand Held takes off. It's so wonderful to have a space basically dedicated to artists books, and I really feel that Melbourne is the city in Australia that could sustain this type of venture. I added Like Weather to Megan's stock, and she promised me a spot in the window.

Then I went to visit Hannah Bertram, who I studied with at RMIT when I was initially enrolled and living in Melbourne. If you haven't visited her website, do yourself a favour now and check out her gorgeous work. She had a bottle of wine on hand to celebrate with me, and convinced me that it was okay to celebrate just getting this far, without waiting for the result.

And while I was sitting chatting with Hannah in her studio I received the phone call....a pass! No amendments to be made. Hurray! Time to break out the champers!!!!

Wraith on Video

Here's the video documentation I put together for the assessment. It's about two and a half minutes long, no sound. The close-up video shows some digital glitsching that actually added to the sense that a change was occurring. Unusual for a techy fault to work well!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flag book defeat

I'm blogging from Melbourne as I wait for tomorrow to install my work at RMIT in readiness for the final assessment on Tuesday. It has been a mad rush these past few days...I came down a little early to be available to see my supervisor before the week-end, but that wasn't possible. It just ended up making things more difficult because the tasks I still had to finish off had to be done here in the hotel room, and of course in my fuzzy anxiety-headedness, I forgot a few things and haven't had access to my own equipment.

The final piece I"ve been trying to complete is of course the porcelain flag book. It is finished, in a way, but it isn't what I would call "an elegent solution". The covers do not sit nicely, and although the whole thing looks good from the front, the back view is clumsy and at a bit of a tilt! This type of construction is always a challenge in ceramics, because clay changes so much, both in drying and in firing, and parts that don't dry together never seem to fit together well.

The whole work would have been a lot easier in porcelain paper clay, but this just doesn't have the same translucency or finish as porcelain. Another option would be a product called Keraflex, which comes in sheet form and is new to the market. It's also pretty expensive, but when I think about the expense of a double set of decals, it may have been a cheaper option after all.

I am determined to continue with the idea until I find a solution I am happy with, but I'm not sure about presenting this work for assessment on Tuesday. Tomorrow I'll discuss it with my supervisor. On the phone he pointed out that we often judge our own work more harshly than others do, but I am of the opinion that the work is fine to discuss in my written proposal, but shouldn't be one of the actual works I display.

I have some visuals to share with you - photographs of the flag book and a two-and-a-half minute video documenting Wraith, the installation I showed at the beginning of the year. I took the footage in the gallery, but have only just edited it together. Unfortunately, there's very limited uploading on the connection I'm using, so you'll have to wait till I get home for those. Well, I'm off to do some meditation and try to shake this headache...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just a matter of days...

....and it will be over. It's been a long 5 year journey, and I can't say I won't be pleased to bring this all to an end. Of course, I'm talking about my masters. On Thursday I will be heading to Melbourne to allow some time to see my supervisor before the final assessment on Tuesday next week. My work will be reviewed by an external examiner, meaning someone who does not work for RMIT University, and in fact I am not allowed to know who it will be. I presume I will find out just before it occurs, because I believe we are introduced just before they look at the work.

Yesterday I finally completed the clamshell box to hold the porcelain pages, Self (States of Change). I followed this tutorial as I had never made any boxes before, and I have to say it is a great guide. I am quite happy with the way it turned out, and it was such fun, I know I'll be making lots more boxes.

Below are some pictures I took this afternoon, creating the visual documentation that will be part of my submission.

I am still working on the porcelain flag book...it is close to finished, in fact should be finished, but I wasn't happy with the way some of the flags decals came out of the kiln, so I'm re-doing them. It's down to the wire...I had to phone the decal maker this morning and have him urgently repeat my order, express post it to me overnight, I'll apply them to some spare porcelain flags I made (phew!) Tuesday, let them dry over night, fire them Wednesday, take them out of the kiln Thursday... in time to catch a 3 o'clock plane...that is down to the wire.

But I do promise when it's done, I will post some photos for you to see...just not necessarily before the assessment.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Some context for my work

Oh boy, I am really sorry to have ignored you all for so long, but you know why. Thanks for the messages and support from everyone who contacted me since I last posted. I've been doing a lot of writing, documenting my "research methodology". Sometimes I wondered whether it was all going to seem as if I just leapt from one idea to the next, but when I came to write it down I was relieved to find that I did actually follow some sort of logical sequence, despite at times feeling as if I was feeling my way through the fog.

I wrote the literature review back in 2005 before I left Melbourne and took my first leave of absence. I was expecting to have to do a significant re-write, but in fact there was very little to add, and I found it sets a good foundation for the work I've done. There's about a page and a half of "context" which I thought I might share. There's a bit of jargon, and I do apologize for that, but I don't think it's terribly heavy reading.

If you're not interested, just scroll to the bottom to see a pic of a clay portrait I've re-worked on perspex for this installation. This is instead of the portrait on the canvas. Oh! and I've re-made the clay pieces for the floor that the cleaner threw away...

In 1991, Suzi Gablik proposed a new paradigm for art which rejects the “autonomous individualism” of modernism and encourages “the artist to see beyond social passivity, culturally conditioned modes of distancing and the denial of responsibility.” She argued that art can no longer be about “value-free aesthetics”, but rather that the artist has a role to play in drawing a community together in a process which is less about reference to the self, and facilitates a genuine culture of caring and healing.

Responses by artists to Gablik’s call, have been varied. Bill Drummond, former member of KLF, working along social justice lines, has established The Soup Line, which runs from Belfast through Nottingham to Ipswich. Any person living on this line can contact Drummond and he will make soup for them at their home. The idea was inspired by the 13
th century tradition upheld by the Church of Scotland which celebrated communion once a year only with a communal dinner in the church.

Other artists, including Wolfgang Laib (Ottman, 2000) and Ana Mendieta (Viso, 2004) have sought to utilize their art work as a means to understand and embody their spiritual practice. Snell (2005) quoted Laib speaking about his work, “I have always had this almost na├»ve belief that a pollen piece, or a milkstone, contains a message that could change the world.” Laib has been strongly influenced by frequent trips to India where he experienced art, spiritual practice and everyday life as intricately interwoven. Similarly, Mendieta made pilgrimages to her birth land, Cuba and in her ‘Silueta’ series “sought out a primeval consciousness through spiritual communion with nature…these pieces were enacted as a kind of personal religious rite” (Feldman, 1999).

In a chapter on the potential of exploring the spiritual through conceptual art, Feldman (1999) discusses the work of a number of artists including Wolfgang Laib, Ana Mendieta and Bill Viola, video/installation artist. She states that: “Until recently, the work of German artist Joseph Beuys stood as the sole spiritual stronghold in conceptual art.”

Artists working in this way are connected by an engagement with the spiritual traditions of ancient civilizations and certain eastern religions. The belief systems underpinning such approaches focus on the interconnectedness of humans and nature, viewing life as a cyclic process, rather than as a linear progression. This is the underlying principle of process philosophy which “affirms the body-mind continuum, the social or relational self, and sympathy as an essential way of knowing. Process philosophy makes qualities and capacities that have been associated with weakness, vulnerability, and women central” (Christ 2003).

“The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence” (Suzuki 1970). Likewise, feminist scholars of religion have attempted to define the spiritual in terms of immanence instead of transcendence and view physicality as embodying spirituality. Koppman (1999) asks: “…How would it change our lives if we were to accept change as constant, to see death as part of life as part of death?”

The work in this project will explore the concept of change as a central tenet of existence. The idea of “change” implies process, transience, fragility and ultimately death. Work which explores these must engage with time and performance, and heightens the sense of preciousness of the experiential. The notion of change and the human inclination to resist change will be explored through the materiality of the work.

This is the trace left on perspex by a low relief sculpture in white clay.
The darker lines and marks are shadows on the wall behind the perspex.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's Spring in Brisbane....

.......and the weather is amazing! It's all blue skies, temps in the mid to high 20s, cool breezes in the afternoons...it's impossible not to feel happy.

The Dipladenia is going crazy, heavy with flowers and climbing all over the fence, and I couldn't resist spending a little time photographing the flowers and playing with the images. I love the colours and textures in these close crops.

But back to the task at hand...Everything came through the bisque without a crack, and I've managed to polish everything up...days and days of work, but suitable for doing while sitting on the sofa watching TV or listening to music.

Yesterday I did the porcelain firing, and now I'm waiting for the kiln to cool. I don't expect to be able to open it before tomorrow morning. I supported the concertina spine with a bed of alumina and a clay props for each end fold. The props were formed in the plaster mould and painted with alumina in wax so they wouldn't stick together in the firing. Porcelain becomes quite soft and can warp or slump in the high temperatures required to achieve translucency, so it's often necessary to use props or supports. Fingers crossed!

In the mean time, I've been writing up my work and sorting through the visual documentation. It really feels like it's all so close to an end now...I believe I am going to make it! And by the way, I'm managing to keep the nausea and headaches at bay most of the time by eating a very healthy and low fat diet, and drinking ginger tea when necessary. I swear by that stuff! Fantastic!
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Liver problems, an aborted bisque and then success!

I wish I could tell you that the gap between posts was a sign of intense productivity, but unfortunately it isn't. I have picked up an adenovirus, which is supposed to be a minor infection, often not even noticed by the healthy. It's supposed to last about a week but I've been sick for several weeks now and over a fortnight ago I started feeling quite nauseous whenever I eat, as well as much more tired than usual, light-headed, and even throwing up occasionally.

When I went to the doctor he told me that all my liver tests were abnormal, due to the adenovirus. I've had to severely limit the foods I eat and cannot tolerate any fat at all, not the slightest spray of olive oil or a scrape of butter on my toast, without becoming nauseous again. Ginger tea has become my saviour.

I finally managed to get all the pieces for the flag book ready for their first firing and loaded them in the kiln last Friday. I started it up to "candle" overnight, ready to complete the firing on Saturday. I awoke in the early hours of Saturday with a moderate headache, but attempted to continue with the firing. I thought I could just rest and go to the garage every hour to check on the kiln's progress. But by 9am the headache had become a migraine and I was throwing up....I forgot about the kiln for a while, I must confess, but around 10.30 I sent my lovely husband to turn it off. I couldn't walk to the toilet unassisted, so there was no way I could continue with the firing.

I'm not sure what temp the kiln reached before it was switched off, maybe about 500-600 degrees. Yesterday I had a look at the pieces and they definitely had altered in character, but they didn't have that bone dry, almost chalky look of bisque-ware. Today I had another attempt and this time we made it to 1000 deg. Next step....lots of sanding. It's only 8 weeks till assessment so I have to try to push on, but it's very slow at present.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Forming the concertina spine

This week I finally managed to get back to work on the flag book. You may remember this post where I showed you how I made the mould for the concertina spine.

To form the clay spine, I roll out a slab of clay. When it's nearly as thin as I want I lie some plastic sandwich wrap over the top and press it onto the clay surface. I can then use the plastic to lift the slab and flip it over, so I can apply plastic to the other side. Having the plastic as a support allows me to handle to clay slab a lot more easily, roughly even, and I can roll the slab much more thinly without it cracking.

When the slab is the desired thickness, I lie it onto the mould and begin to stretch the clay into the angles of the mould.

Below you can see I leave the plastic on the clay at this stage
because it lets me shape it quite firmly without cracking.

Next I cut the clay down to the desired size and then continue shaping the angles and smoothing the clay surface. When I'm happy with the result, I cover the slab loosley with plastic to slow down the drying process and leave the clay to dry and firm up. When it reaches "leatherhard", it will hold its shape and can be removed from the mould. The clay is still quite wet at this stage and can be carved and smoothed gently. It is important to remove the concertina from the mould at this stage because as the clay dries it shrinks, and if left on the mould it will eventually crack.

Below you can see the finished concertina spine sitting on a foam
cushion. Now I leave it to dry thoroughly before the bisque firing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Installation - wip

At the end of August I made a short trip to Melbourne to present at a tutorial and to see my supervisor at RMIT Uni. The trip went well, and it was great to have a space to set up my installation work and get a much better feel for it.

Although I have s p a c e in my workshop, it is definitely a garage, and it does seem to suck the emotion out of work, and make it hard for me to tell whether things are working as they should. A huge white room like Marion Borgelt's studio would be great, but even a small blankish space like the one in this video would be fine.

This is the work I presented for critique (sorry it's a bit dark). Or I should say, I tried to present this work... I set the work up the day before the tut in order to try out a few different spaces and arrangements, and discuss it with my supervisor. Unfortunately the next morning when I arrived with the class and the course coordinator we discovered that a somewhat overzealous cleaner had "tidied" away the crucial shards from the floor! Ah well! It seems that what consitutes art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder....

Thankfully I took the time the day before to document the work. The photos, together with what was left of the work enabled people to give me some valuable feedback. There is a bit of tweeking to do, but generally the work went down well and I'll be able to include it in my masters.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Finally...Self (States of Change)

I'm really sorry to have kept my regular readers in suspense for soooooooooooo long about the outcome of my last firing. Thankfully all went well and I set about binding the pages. Well, sort of. Once I had the pages in my hands, I wasn't sure about the original binding I had planned.

Originally I thought I would make an accordian book, using a simple technique explained by Julie Leonard in the Penland Book of Handmade Books. This would involve gluing book fabric to form hinges between the porcelain pages. Somehow seeing the pages made me feel something a little more elaborate might be better, so I did some more research and selected another technique by Julie Leonard.

Below you can see that the technique is a variant of the same method. The pages are framed in windows, allowing both the front and the back to be visible, and then hinged in much the same way.

Images from: Penland Book of Handmade Books, p.217
Published by Lark Books, 2004.
All rights remain with them

Still this did not feel quite right. It dawned on me that I was enjoying playing with the pages and putting them together in different ways. This also opens up the meaning of the series, and allows for the images to be read as both disintegration and reconstruction. I think this reading is a lot more hopeful, and also realistic. I don't see life as a linear path, but much more of a spiralling journey, where we retrace ground, spend time ruminating and re-hashing, and slowly move on.

You can see the full range of pages on my Flickr page, here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Adding the decals

Thought you might be interested to see what the decals look like before they are fired...don't worry, they won't be yellow afterwards.

I fired them yesterday and now have to wait for the kiln to cool down. I have to admit I'm sending up frequent invocations to the kiln goddess - I'm feeling really quite stressed about it as this is my first decal firing. The application has to be done with great care to make sure that any air or water bubbles are removed. When I did the test firing I didn't manage it, so this time I took a lot more care but I still don't know how they'll turn out. I would usually do another test, but I'm running a bit short of time. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Three Porcelain Pages...

....sitting in the sun

Some of the pages awaiting decals. These are for the concertina book (not the flag book obviously)*. They've been fired, polished, and then re-fired to 1280 deg C and are now translucent, as you can see. The decals should arrive later this week, so by this time next week I hope to have fired them.

* Sorry if I'm confusing you with mixing posts on the two books, the flag book and the concertina book. I am working on them in tandem because there are periods when I have to wait while things are drying. It makes sense it have two projects on the go at once to improve efficiency.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Progress: Mould Making

A few photos to show you how the mould-making is going. I finished the clay accordian form and here I'm building the surrounds, ready to pour the plaster. There's clay on the outside if the boards to stop leaks, and also between the form and the boards on the inside so the edges will be neat. That's the worst part in my opinion, as it's so fiddly to make it really smooth.

Here the form is fully surrounded. You'll notice I stuffed up slightly - I didn't put the boards together properly, so the last "wall" was too small for my boards. Never mind, I just used clay. In retrospect that might have worked better for all four sides because it was much easier to push the wall onto the form and make a neat join. I have seen clay walls collapse mid-pour....resulting in rapidly setting plaster all over the floor...so I usually go for the boards. I'll have to give this more thought if I end up doing more of these.

Below: the plaster setting....no leaks, YAY!

And the mould fresh out of the surrounds. You can see the end where the clay wall was - it's a bit wonky and has sharp edges, but they can be smoothed out. You can probably also see how untidy the sides are - that's where I used extra clay to join onto the boards. Tomorrow I'll do some cleaning up and take another picture. Hopefully it'll be a lot smoother and ready to go!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Clay Concertina Spine

If you've been wondering about the outcome of the firing I mentioned in my last post, it was only so so. It turned out that there were eight pages without cracking, but they weren't my "best" ones, so I decided to make some more and then make my selection.

While they were drying I made a start on the second porcelain book I want to make. It will be a flag book, and the whole idea is to play with the idea of the moving flags. If you're not sure what a flag book looks like, my book "Like Weather" is an example. By making the entire book from porcelain, with no hinges or joints of any material at all, the flags will be immobile.

I have to confess that except when absolutely necessary, I avoid mould making and casting my work for one simple reason. I don't enjoy the process. But there are times when it really is the best way to make a form, and the concertina spine in a flag book is one of those times. Joining all those 1 inch wide slabs and getting the angles just right, would be a very tedious process and highly inclined to cracking and inaccuracy. By making a mould, there is the opportunity to re-use it in the future, to make more concertina spines if this one turns out well.

First step is making the desired shape in clay. Here's a sketch from my visual diary to show you what I am setting out to do.
I made a rectangular block of clay and I am carving out the V-shapes at the angles shown. I've made a couple of jigs at the correct angles from old credit cards to help. Here's a photo of my progress so far.

Surprise! Surprise! I am actually enjoying this part of the process! This is as far as I made it because unfortunately late last week I had a migraine. It is taking me a couple of days to get my brain functioning again, but hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to finish shaping the clay.

This week I've also done some work on a couple of my trip photos. I've posted the results on my flickr photostream, if you are interested.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back in the Studio

This week is my first back in the studio. Things are serious as this semester is my absolute last chance to complete the masters. Despite the pressure I'm trying to enjoy myself, and I am looking forward to some dedicated time making.

I'm also trying to keep a bit of balance - I have set aside 1 day each week to spend with my husband, as well as a weekly visit to my mother plus 1 other social "contact" each week. I am aiming for 3 solid days of working, (of course, when I say day, I mean "CFS day" which is highly variable, but for me is a maximum of 4 hours work, starting somewhere between 11am and 2pm) and the remaining day is for whatever seems most pressing that week - it might be physical rest, it might be housework or cooking, or maybe more time in the studio.

I am hoping that the time with my husband and friends will de-stress me enough to allow me to keep this up. I guess I will know how I am going in a few weeks. I know 3 days working doesn't look that much, but I know my limits, and I know that the pressure can get to me pretty quickly. I start to feel exhausted and then the migraines start. Will it be enough? I honestly don't know, but I know I'll have to be disciplined and intelligent in my approach, as well as having a good dose of luck!

Anyway, I was pretty happy with the progress I made this week. I tidied up the clay pages you saw here, and loaded the kiln for the bisque firing. For those who aren't familiar with firing, the bisque is the first firing, to around 1000deg C. You take the temperature up slowly (about 90deg C per hour) until you have passed the critical point of 573 deg, where crystal inversion occurs. After that you can take the temperature up more quickly. Once the firing has reached temperature, you turn the kiln off and go away. You have to let it cool naturally until it reaches a temperature where you can handle the pieces in your bare hands. Any over enthusiasm in opening the kiln before it has cooled, may result in your precious pieces cracking at this stage.

Well, I was patient. I was very patient. But still the firing has not been completely successful. Quite a lot of the pages have cracked, and I'm not sure why. Fortunately I made nearly 3 times as many as I need, but even so I'm not sure that I have enough that I am happy to use. I had heard that Imperial Porcelain is inclined to crack, but I presumed this was in the forming. As I had few problems at that stage, I thought I was in the clear, but perhaps it is a problem in firing.
If there is anyone reading who has any suggestions, I would be pleased to hear from you!

For now I'm off to bed, and tomorrow I'll take another look at the slabs and see if there are enough....I only need 8, so keep your fingers crossed for me.....

In the meantime, here are a couple of my photos from the trip. The first one was taken in the garden at Borthwnog Hall and the second is at Avesbury Circle in England. The yellow is a field of rapeseed behind the girl.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Craft Revolution

Marisa Molin: From the series Symbiosis

Last week-end I went to see "Craft Revolution" at QUT Art Museum. From the website:

"Craft Revolution explores the idea that craft is radical and revolutionary, through an exhibition and online discussion. Rejecting the dominant culture of consumption and the loss of community, craft is a means of creation and engagement that is slow, purposeful and often cooperative. It is this rejection of the dominant consumptive culture and the return to historic or traditional practices that makes craft revolutionary."

The show is only quite small, I found it disappointingly so. It includes some traditional craft works as well as more contemporary pieces. Personally, I'm not really sure they really added much, although the message was clear: your craft doesn't have to be highly conceptual in order to be radical. Still, it was works with a conceptual base that I found most inspiring.

Marisa Molin's works (above) were a case in point. Contemporary jewelry makers are currently among the most radical craftspersons, in my opinion. Working with the relationship of adornment to the body opens up so many avenues. I was especially pleased to see the actual works by Molin, in addition to the photos depicting them in relation to the body.

Another work that really appealed to me was a gorgeous dress by Tallulah Filloy which brought together aspects of traditional Maori costume with a skirt made from a beautiful red bathmat. Yes , I said bathmat. And yes, if it was in my size, I'd wear it!"Our Father Who Art in Heaven", 2008 by Ann-Maree Hanna

But my favourite work was this one by Ann-Maree Hanna. Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of it as it is installed for this show. It is quite breathtaking in it's beauty and profound in it's message. The work is made from embroidery thread and is a scrolled version of the Lord's Prayer written in arabic. The calligraphic lines of the script rendered in gold are suspended from one end and gently fall to the floor, where the rest of the prayer remains on its giant bobbin. The lighting is used to great effect to cast the shadow of the words onto the wall. The bringing together of Christianity with the language of the troubled middle east is such a beautiful sight, I'd recommend this exhibition for this piece alone.

You can read and see more about this show on the QUT website (where I found the photos, and sorry, I don't have permission) and on the associated blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Borthwnog Hall Photos

As promised in this post, a few photos of Borthwnog Hall and surrounds.

Home again, home again...

A quick snap of a few of the treasures I brought home with me. I still have a few posts planned about art I saw in Belfast and Paris, and as soon as my head stops spinning I promise I'll be straight onto it...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We spent nearly 3 weeks in "Noran Ion" as the locals call it (Northern Ireland to the rest of us) and while I was there, I saw some wonderful posters. They dated from the twenties and thirties and were commissioned to promote travel in Ireland, especially in Ulster (Northern Ireland). There were a few different artists employed but I liked the work of Norman Wilkinson the most. While originals can go for GBP8,000 I was able to find some good quality reproductions at Yard Gallery. We came away with two - including the one above, which depicts Glenariff, one of the nine Glens of Antrim. We weren't able to drive up Glenariff because the road was closed for work, but below are a couple of my photos taken in the same area.

By the way, I've finally managed to open most of the files of photos I've taken on this trip and am slowly starting to upload some of them to Flickr. You can take a look here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Tate Modern and the Bookartbookshop

I headed off to the Tate Modern with high hopes. With several exhibitions to choose from, I opted for Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia. Unfortunately, the day I went to the Tate was the day after my second migraine, and it was just a bit too conceptual for me. Then I moved on to another exhibition about minimalism, and I discovered just how perceptually-based minimalism is. It seems simple. Large areas of colour and form, and I thought I could just sit and soak it in, but the effect it had on my brain was very disturbing. The colours seemed to leap off the walls and my head began to spin. It wasn't long before I had to leave.

Luckily I was a lot better the day I headed out to Hoxton. I had heard about the Bookartbookshop in a Book Arts Newsletter and I was hoping to add to my little collection. For a very small space, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of examples of artists books in this shop. I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours poring through various books, many only priced at 10-15 GBP. It made me realize that there is a very particular type of artists book that really excites me, enough to want to open up my little purse and let the moths out, any way. The ones I love have a feeling of the handmade. This may be quite raw and primitive or of course it might be exquisitely handcrafted. They don’t need to be totally handmade, photocopies are fine, I just don’t really go for anything too mechanically produced. In the end I chose just one to buy, titled Round the Block by Kate Farley. Here's a few photos of some of the spreads. To me, this book had an aesthetic that is just about perfect - hand drawn lines, gentle shapes, references to the city and the country, human contact, suggestions and hints - gorgeous!

Certain Trees

This is the second exhibition of artists books that is currently on at the V&A Museum. It focuses on a group of British book artists and includes multiple works by each published by their small presses. These included Tarasque Press, Coracle Press and Wild Hawthorn Press. It’s interesting to see works by artists who specialize in a medium, and compare their works with those in Blood on Paper. These works seemed very “English” to me. By this, I mean that they were thoughtful, understated and exhibited a very particular sense of humour.

The artists shown here have all made a number of artists books, and as such, the works were part of each artist’s body of work exploring the book form. There was a lot to be learnt from examining these books and having the time to absorb what they were saying, but unfortunately they were all displayed in cabinets. This meant that you could often only see a single spread, and while what you could read was often amusing, or quite lovely, I felt I was missing a lot. Standing in front of a glass cabinet really doesn't encourage you to spend time with a work. I'm always disappointed when I don't get to handle artists books, but especially so in this case, where the content was quite crucial. Nevertheless, there was still enough to see to make the visit worthwhile. There’s some more information on the V&A website.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blood on Paper

The V&A currently has two artists books exhibitions, Blood on Paper and Certain Trees. The two shows are a great foil for one another, presenting two very different aspects of the book arts. Unfortunately I have posted my brochures home, so I’ll have to write from memory. I guess this is an interesting exercise in itself, as it will show what really made an impression.

When you enter the exhibition the first work you encounter is Anselm Kiefer’s book which was commissioned for the exhibition. Unfortunately I can’t remember its title, although I know it was something about “nature”. It is taller than me and a codex form, with a speckled grey surface which I thought evoked galaxies. It’s the first time I’ve seen a book of human scale and it was intriguing to stand beside it. As a book, it was massive, as are the galaxies, but really I longed for some human-scale content on the pages with which I could interact.

Blood on Paper includes books by some of the big names of contemporary art – Picasso, Matisse, Robert Motherwell, Anish Kapoor to name just a few. It is interesting to see what artists of this calibre do with a medium that is not their primary form of expression. In some cases, the works represent earliest examples of artists books as a modern genre and I did enjoy seeing some of these iconic works. An example is Ed Ruscha’s 26 Gasoline Stations, a photographic essay in concertina form, which is an early example that is often cited.

The most surprising work was a digital one, which turned the two walls of the gallery into the open pages of a book. I never did quite work out who the artist was, but if anyone reading knows, I’d love to hear from you. There were white and red words projected high onto the walls, and they slowly moved around the “page”. I sat for a while and observed their movement, and realized that they were in fact layered, and therefore perhaps represented multiple pages. Occasionally the words would form sensible two or three word phrases, other times they would bounce off each other like a toy car rebounding from an obstacle. Mostly, it was not possible to make any sense from the words and I thought the work operated as a very effective metaphor for the virtual online world, which contains so much information, but arguably contributes relatively little that is understandable.

I also enjoyed 'Danger Book' by Cai Guo-Qiang. His work often includes fireworks and I’m familiar with it from the Asia Pacific Triennials in Brisbane. This work included a video of the book being formed, as well as its charred remains. Fireworks were set across the pages and once ignited, it did appear possible the whole thing could be destroyed. I did really enjoy the smells associated with the book and the allusions to the burning of books throughout history, while obvious, remain with me and are still disturbing.

I love an exhibition which introduces me to a new artist that I end up loving, and this one did that. The artist was Eduardo Chillida and maybe I should know him, but I didn’t. His books were examples of beautiful bindings and I was really pleased to see this type of book included in the exhibition. From my google search I see Chillida is a sculptor, and I guess I should have realized I would love books made by a sculptor.

In the final space in the gallery, music by Brian Eno was playing, creating a quiet, meditative space well-suited to the books here. There were works by Anish Kapoor, Caro and another one by Kiefer. This one was three large open books laid flat. The pages were created with paint and medium, but the effect was highly textural and initially I thought they may be clay. I could have stood and soaked up these pages for ages.

The V&A website has some good information on this exhibition, including quite a few pictures. You can find it here and here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

9 Days in London....

Tube station: surprisingly deserted

....is definitely not enough, especially when you have migraines on two of them. Never mind.

My main interest in London was to visit some art galleries and maybe do some clothes shopping, and I was able to do both those things. I had a long list of potential galleries, which I knew I would not be able to get through, so I was forced to try to prioritise. This is harder than it may seem, because you never know when you are going to stumble across some jewel, an artist whose work you connect with powerfully, but with so little time, I just had to go for the big names.

My list of must-sees was: the V&A, Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery and a little shop called Bookartbookshop at Hoxton.

At the V&A there are currently 2 artists books exhibitions, Blood on Paper and Certain Trees, which was really lucky, although I was sad to see that the ceramics galleries are closed till 2009 for refurbishment. I also managed a quick whirl through the 20th Century Design galleries, and these were great to see.

Over the next few days I will post some more about the art I saw, but now it’s time for a confession. On my last day I headed off to the Saatchi Gallery. I was really looking forward to seeing some very recognizable works of art, but when I arrived I found it is shut while they move….re-opening in summer. Pooh!

So what can a girl do to cheer herself up in circumstances like this? Well, to give you a hint, I’ll tell the non-English of you that the Saatchi Gallery is in Chelsea….and another hint here. Yes, ladies, I shopped till I dropped!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kew Gardens

Went to Kew Gardens on Monday, but I was too late....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

North Wales


Twenty-two years ago I was lucky enough to spend 9 months backpacking around Britain and Europe with my (then) future husband. Early on our travels, we met a lovely woman who kindly offered to let us stay in her cottage in Wales. We made our way there in mid-March and found a charming old place with a wood stove for heating, nestling into the hills of Ty-cyn-haef near Dollgellau. Our fire building skills were rudimentary, and the weather was c-o-l-d and rainy with occasional sleet. The clouds sunk low over the hills, obscuring the highest mountain in Wales, Cader Idris. It was in this chilly setting my (then future) husband proposed to me.

To celebrate, we donned our best gear including high heels for me, and tottered down the main road for what seemed like a mile (but wasn’t really) in the dark. We were hoping to have a celebratory dinner in a rather grand-looking restaurant we’d spotted. When we finally reached the door we were turned away – the place was fully booked for a private function.

We struggled back up the hill to our cottage to celebrate with Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie (it comes in a tin, for those of you not familiar with the brand) and a Sara Lee dessert.


So before heading north we did some research and from the description and the location, we booked into a B&B that we thought just might be that restaurant….and we weren’t disappointed. We were able to spend 2 nights there in Borthwnog Hall, a grand old house built in 1680, situated on the estuary of the Mawddach River. And this time the skies were clear and the sun shone, so we saw the mountains and were amazed to realize what a truly beautiful area it is. I wish I could show you. I had planned to, but the folder of photos of Wales seems to be corrupted and I can't open it at the moment...hopefully I'll be able to sort it out but till then you can see a few pics on the Borthwnog Hall website.

Added 20th June, 2008

Finally added some of my own photos of Borthwnog Hall and the Mawddach estuary here, and some more on my flickr page.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Once upon a time a girl from Australia ventured far from her homeland, to country known for its green valleys and its leeks. One clear, cool afternoon the girl went for a walk on her own, taking her camera. She had not gone 50 metres from her door when she spotted a beautiful wood, and the ground within the wood looked as if it was covered with snow.

As she drew closer, she could see that the “snow” was actually flowers. Entranced, she walked to the wood, pushed open the wooden gate and entered into a sublime wonderland.

The Australian girl had never seen such a thing, but she was curious about the strange smell in the wood. Savoury, earthy, not exactly pleasant, but not really unpleasant either. She could not identify the odour.

She followed the paths through the flowers, taking photos in every direction.

Then she spotted a path that climbed up the hill, and thinking she might find a place to take a better photo from there, she began to climb. Through the trees ahead she could see something…a dark, square-ish form. She couldn’t be sure what it was, but she had to investigate.

At the top of the climb, the path led away to the left and then curved out of sight. Her curiosity building, she began to walk quickly. And then it appeared….a castle.

Now this is a story with a moral. There was a freezing wind near the castle, so the girl took only a couple of photos and decided to return the next day, bringing her traveling companions. When she returned, she became engrossed in the view, and trying to take a good shot of Mumbles from the hill, the girl turned her ankle and fell over. She tore her brand new pants, bruised her left knee and sprained her right ankle. So the lesson from this story is…never mind the view….always look where you are going!

P.S. The strange smell came from the flowers which were garlic!

Thursday, May 01, 2008


While I am traveling I will try to keep in touch by posting photos and some commentary here. In the spirit of this being a blog about art, I’ll try to avoid straight holiday snaps, and keep to either: pictures of art, potential sources of future inspiration for work, or photos I have worked on in PS.

Unfortunately I think my photography skills are still pretty basic, but hopefully they might improve having this two month period to work on them. I can usually manage to make photos usable for inclusion in a mixed media art work, but they really aren’t of a standard where they can stand alone yet.

If you are interested in seeing some more photos of the trip, more in the line of snaps, I will be posting them on my Flickr page.

Although I am in St Davids in the far south-west of Wales, today I will post a couple of photos of our first stop in the UK in London (Twickenham). This was really just a “recovery” stop, but the Thames was across the road, and the park across from us was just lovely. I’ve hurriedly put together a 360 deg panorama I took while standing in the park. It’s pretty rough, and needs more work, but it’ll give you the idea.

This is a view of the local boys’ school, taken from the same park. You can see that even though it is the end of April, and lots of bulbs and fruit trees are flowering, there are still some trees without their new spring growth.

I hope to have some photos of Wales to post soon. I experimented with using “camera raw”, and am having a bit of a time working out how to open the files! Raw files, for those who don’t know, is apparently a better format to use unless you are an expert and can be sure of always getting the exposure etc absolutely correct. There is more capability to modify the file without losing information. Raw files are smaller than uncompressed tiffs, and have much more information than jpgs. I made the mistake of thinking that all I needed to do was to change the setting on my camera to “raw” and start shooting….silly me! Anyway, I’ll share what I learn, once I can get it all to work.