Experimentation: unbalanced – 2

Einstein wrote “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (well, according to one website the original was in a letter in German, and there are a few different translations around)

It fits with what I saw of gymnasts recovering balance (3-Jan-2019). Maybe I could fluff it into some “deep and meaningful” statement, but let’s not.

Back to the 30 day challenge. What does unbalanced/precarious/… look like?

Day 10
A classic approach, with basic geometric shapes and primary colours. Can I fool the eye / expectation by mixing materials to play against size | weight expectations?

Day 10

The dark blue was a poor choice for the small but heavy round fishing weight. I didn’t anticipate the impact of the line of the cardboard (used to block the distracting background). It adds to the feeling that the right side is sloped down, heavier.

Day 10 – in motion

It was actually really difficult to get this to balance long enough to take a photo, even with some tactical use of bluetac. An upset in motion provides a more dynamic photo.

Workbook day 10

I also tried a couple of drawings to see if I could get something more interesting to happen. Not convincing.

Day 11
This version was easier to photograph, as it was actually quite stable.

Day 11

A slight change in the cropping of the photo makes it a little more dynamic.

Re-cropped photo

The blue disc is no longer centered, reducing the sense of balance, plus the full shadow seems to be reaching up and almost pulling the tip down.

Day 12

Day 12

More balancing of simple shapes. The large egg, possibly fragile (actually rubbery) and the small disc. Yawn.


This was another difficult one to photograph, as it wasn’t very balanced. The failure is more interesting.

On reflection I realised my theme is meant to be un-balanced. The last few days were way too literal and way too static.

Day 13
Reading about Yayoi Kusama in Part Object Part Sculpture. A couple of snippets: “One is lost in a sea of apperceptions, as haptic and optic no longer seem demonstrably different from each other.” “… allows one, how counter-intuitively, to lose one’s boundaries …”.

This had me thinking about the loss of balance as one disperses in the seriality and repetition of the environments created. Which led to consideration of precipice/unbalanced/danger as a loss of orientation. Which led to Tony Tuckson, the sublime, Rothko – work which fills the vision, which I sway in front of. The shimmering movement. Leading to the shimmers and distortions and teasing gaps in the vision before a migraine. Which does actually circle round to danger and loss of balance.

Day 9

Having got this far, I noticed the reflections on the little corrugated piece on an earlier experiment. With movement or lighting changes or a bit of breeze that could give a shimmer.

Kitchen foil, folded and corrugated

Some kitchen foil, folded to fit through the little corrugating press.

It was then carefully unfolded. The result was firmer when forming a new shape (those clever corrugations!). The changes in direction caused by the different folds create points of interest.

Unfolded. Corrugation tool in background

Tried some more complex pre-folding, to get more changes of direction.

Just pressed, then opened

Day 8’s experiment was used as a stand.

Potential for lighting effects.

The photo looks rather static. Close cropping doesn’t help. With some extra shimmer from a breeze and some thoughtful, maybe flickering lighting, this has potential.

Could using it in a mobile increase the flickering I was thinking of? I made some more pieces of corrugated foil and put them on an early mobile conveniently hanging nearby (see 26-Dec-2017). A lazy photo gives a blurred indication of the result.

Sorry about the blur!

Plus: The foil is light and the large surface area collects any air movement going. This mobile is constantly on the move.
Con: Mobiles are all about balance, not un-balance. This version floats gently in space.
Possibilities: More complexity. A wider space, more pieces flashing and flickering past each other. Random puffs of air from the ceiling, creating a bit more vertical as well as rotational movement. Complementary (strobe?) lighting. Add colour to try to get reflections.
Also: Take a look at stabiles. My attempt 9-Sep-2017 has a gawky, ungainly, risky looking movement to it.

Slight variation:

Left side corrugated twice

The foil on the left above went through the corrugation process twice, unfolded and refolded between times. The surface is a bit less regular, the reflections broken up a bit. A small change, but could be a nice refinement.

Day 14
Thinking about loss of balance, I attempted to give an idea of a spinning top losing speed and balance over time. The sequence or passage of time is indicated by scale and intensity of colour.

Day 14 – first version on the left; with addition of “shadows” on the right

The “shadows” added later provide a lot of information to the eye. The whole thing doesn’t quite make sense, there isn’t enough variation and plausible change, but somehow I accept it.

Day 15
A reo-wire figure was quickly put together, with a total disregard for actual body proportions. It allowed some quick and easy posing with fishing line and blu-tac.

There’s a lot of cricket on TV at the moment, hence a “catch” as the first pose.

Day 15

I like that the shapes formed aren’t necessarily physically possible with muscles, tendons, etc. I’m definitely interested in the lines and proportions of the human body, suggested but incomplete or not quite right. Our minds put a lot of work into interpretation as something well known.

Day 16
An actual photo of an amazing catch was the basis for this outline.


Given foreshortening the proportions seem a little out. Note again the impact of shadow, assisting interpretation.

“Real” proportions

This wireframe plan was based on a photo, still and full frontal, so at least in theory should be close to “real” proportions. I wonder how much variation there is in practice.

This week I’m going to summer school, Anatomy for Life Drawing. Hoping it will provide lots of relevant inspiration.

Research: Unbalanced, Precarious

3-Jan-2019 presented my brief-to-self exploring the pivot / balance point / precipice / knife edge / danger / unbalance idea. I wanted to actively explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like, and showed the first nine days of experimentation.

In tandem with this I’ve done some more concentrated research:
* a couple of hours at AGNSW, searching for relevant examples;
* some internet searching;
* a review of this blog to find work that has caught my eye in the past.

Art Gallery of NSW
At first it seemed surprisingly difficult to find examples that fit the investigation. But of course most artists want to keep your eyes on the work. Even if dynamic, with lots of movements, diagonals, etc, paintings generally resolve with some form of balance.

Matthew Smith
Jugs against vermillion background

I’ve seen this before. For example Matthew Smith’s work Jugs against vermillion background. 31-Jan-2014 I wrote “The most surprising thing in viewing this picture is the balance. There is so much information and action on the right, and on the left… I’m not sure how well it shows in the photograph, but that red on the right is so intense, so solid, while the red on the right hand side is just a bit darker, not quite so saturated – and it works.” All the action is on the right, there’s even half a body sliding diagonally down off the frame, but my eye doesn’t go with it. The space and the intense colour on the left provides balance.

Charles Meere
Atalanta’s eclipse

In the painting by Meere above, the two racing figures are unbalanced. The painting as a whole is dead steady.

Robert Klippel
No 102 Metal construction (1961)

Robert Klippel
Left: No 48 Entities suspended from a detector (1948)
Right: No 35 Madame Sophie Sesostoris (1947-48)

Last post I showed some small sculptures by Robert Klippel. Those were from 1995. A much larger metal construction made in 1961 is a complex and fascinating form, with lots of unexpected projections and unlikely balance in the detail, but overall staying steady and firmly in place.

The earlier suspended entities has a very sturdy upright, well able to support the small elements hanging from it.

William Kentridge
Bird catching (2006)

This print by Willian Kentridge, aquatint and drypoint on paper, is more relevant. The figure is definitely falling, one foot not even visible, the other foot outside the internal frame, and although it seems likely the body will fall within the space of the print it doesn’t look like anything can stop the tumble.

I took a couple more photos of different things, but on review they’re not convincing.

Internet search
This was more successful, especially when I changed the significant search term from “unbalanced” to “precarious”. Results have been collected on a new pinterest board – https://www.pinterest.com.au/fibresofbeing/unbalance/

Blog review
A scan through photos previously shown on this blog produced some more examples.

MoMA at NGV 15-Sep-2018

Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
1913 (cast 1931)

Seeing the work itself, appreciating the scale, was important. This work has movement, but not the sense of potential loss of control. It is striding confidently.

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Non-Objective Painting

I found movement and depth in Rodchenko’s work, but I wouldn’t say it’s in imminent danger.

National Gallery of Victoria

François-Raoul Larche
Loïe Fuller, the dancer
c. 1900

This lamp base has movement, with the additional sense that it wouldn’t be possible to hold the pose for any length of time. In a beautiful and elegant way, it is unbalanced. And I note here a resistance in myself – elegance, the controlled movement, lessens the sense of the precarious.

13 Rooms exhibition – 13-Apr-2013

Coexisting Clark and Beaumont

Nicole Beaumont and Sarah Clark occupied a plinth together – eight hours a day for the eleven days of the exhibition. A sequence of movement for one to stand up seemed particularly perilous.

In Just a Blink of an Eye
Xu Zhen

Xu Zhen’s work is a suspended moment. Entirely beyond precarious, yet motionless.

Art History annotation 23-May-2014

The Townley Discobolus
One of several Roman copies made of a lost bronze original made in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Myron.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The moment before an explosive release of energy, however I found the work strangely static.

Paul Landowski
David combattant
bronze, cire perdu (lost wax)

I showed for comparison a David actually in action here in Sydney. The figure is focused, committed. Action regardless of consequences.

Matt Bromhead Longline exhibition at pompom 22-Jul-2018

Matt Bromhead

Seeing Matt’s work and taking a workshop with him (10-Jul-2018) are a major drivers of this exploration project.

ARTEXPRESS 2018 exhibition 18-Feb-2018

How Irrigating
Hannah Raeside

There are better photos on the AGNSW website – https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/insideartexpress/2018/hannah_raeside/. Not quite what I’m looking for, but some very interesting elements – both for balance, and for use of (I’m guessing) concrete.

Sculpture at Scenic World 2016 exhibition 1-May-2016

Elyssa Sykes-Smith

This suspended work by Elyssa Sykes-Smith has bodies reaching, stretching, impossibly.

Her work in Sculpture by the Sea 2013 (3-Nov-2013) shows what appear at first glance more static figures. Quickly the strain of the figures, the weight of stone, give a sense of impending doom.

a shared weight
Elyssa Sykes-Smith

Sculpture by the Sea 2016 6-Nov-2016

Johannes Pannekoek
Change ahead

Is this unbalanced or precarious? I suppose the answer is “yes”, but it is so massive it seems stable. There’s also that sense of elegance in the movement, a confidence that seems to dilute what I’m seeking.

Tom Bass Annual Studio Exhibition 2-Oct-2016

Margo Hoekstra

Centered, but precarious.

Lisa Reidy

This doesn’t really fit my current brief, yet feels somehow relevant. An echo of Louise Bourgeois’s Personages? Arms outstretched, striving for balance?

20th Biennale of Sydney 3-Apr-2016

Nina Beier
Installation view

Another “maybe” example. Clearly there is something clever done to suspend the mugs, but the end impression isn’t one of danger or movement.

Art History research – Gillian Lowndes 26-Feb-2016

Gillian Lowndes
Cup on Base
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Another seminal work for me. So exciting.

The mug is broken. There has already been a collapse, and another is moments away.

MMT research at AGNSW 30-Jan-2016

Fiona Hall Slash and Burn

Definitely dangerous. Menacing.

Art History assignment 9-Dec-2013

Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot
Edgar Degas
bronze, cire perdu (lost wax) 1900-1910 cast 1919-1921

Macquarie University Sculpture Garden 26-Jun-2016

Errol B Davis

Experimentation: unbalanced

1-Jan-2019 included a dot point about ongoing research on the pivot / balance point / precipice / knife edge / danger / unbalance idea. 4-Aug-2018 has more words – Precipice, counter balance, leverage, impetus, precarious, shimmer, shiver, glide, hesitate, teeter, catch (of breath), instant of focus, moment of coherence and balance, the space between – spark, pivot point, point of balance (mobiles!), tipping point. 22-Jul-2018: Play with balance. Go for risk, the precipice. I prefer my humour whimsical or quirky. Push beyond the first idea. Surprise yourself. 14-Apr-2018: my brief for Confluence – Capture that moment of coherence and balance when everything comes together just before it all flows apart. Back on 26-Feb-2016 my research on Gillian Lowndes identified an attraction to Unbalanced; balancing act; teetering; precarious – and included a small brief. That led on to my whole approach to the final assignment in the OCA Mixed Media for Textiles.

The new brief is pretty simple, with a major goal to get beyond words and research and actually do something:
* explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like
* illustrate off-balance most days and document for 30 days.

Day 1
A photo from a search on unbalanced provided the basis for this pencil sketch.

Struggling for balance on a post

Day 2
Trying out placement of “blocks” in watercolour. How much is enough to give the impression of disaster about to strike? That final block at the top appears almost stable/static.

Angles and gaps

Day 3
A search on images of gymnasts provided forms that are more balance-in-motion. The gymnast couldn’t have held that position, but the sequences were generally controlled. Of more interest but not used here were videos analysing movements of gymnasts fighting for balance on a balance beam. An initial flailing of limbs was quickly turned into a more flowing sequence of movements, recapturing balance.
This silhouette was made in gimp, based on a photo.


Reading and general workbook activity has been continuing throughout. One of the joys of the summer break is having some more time. Hope the momentum continues.

With all my fiddling on components over the past few months, I never got far in actually making something. This current project was intended to get me unstuck, and initial signs are positive. I’m actually interested in trying this out.

Day 4
Having got the new shelving pretty much level and balanced, tried playing with marker and watercolour looking for minimal expression of unbalance. Doesn’t look too promising.

Revisiting past work

Unpacking some old OCA work to start filling the shelves, it was interesting to see how many played with asymmetry and pushing the notion of balance. I love the defiant lines (“plastic horsehair”) escaping up and out.

Materials from that time continue to be important, especially the resin. Heat-distressing techniques too. Building and destroying.

Day 5

Sketch of Femme Volage

Notes on Louise Bourgeoise

Reading about Louise Bourgeoise’s series of Personages in Part Object Part Sculpture was interesting. Helen Molesworth writes of the human scale of the work, and then this: “Each work displays the same tenuous sense of balance as they grow increasingly slender towards the bottom, and seem precariously placed on flat metal bases…”

I’m not convinced that either of my attempts look particularly unstable.

Day 6
A photo of a mountain climber was the basis for the day’s watercolour.


Workbook day 6

Ideas progressed on actually making, incorporating some of the materials and techniques from the OCA samples.

I’ve also been thinking about my motivation for wanting to base lines on the human body. Looking around at past work, the body appears again and again. I don’t have a compelling message or wider purpose in my art. On the other hand, the body fascinates. People are so unfathomable, and no matter how closely I look it gets me no further in understanding. I don’t think I can read an individual’s life in their face or body, but I keep trying.

Day 7
Another attempt to use reduced lines to show unbalance. Not convinced.


Day 8

Robert Klippel
Small polychromed tin sculptures

On a visit to the Mosman Art Gallery for its part of Destination Sydney: Re-imagined, I was entranced by Robert Klippel’s small sculptures. I’m sure I’ve seen them in the past, but this time round the impact was much greater.

Strangely enough, in all this world of intricate and quirky forms, pretty much all looked balanced. The was a sense of sturdy whole-ness. It had me questioning my obsession – but not enough to change course. Instead when I got home I tried once more to find simple lines that illustrate unbalance.

The next step was to try to create something like it in wire. There were modifications as I tried to minimise the “foot” of the object.

First steps into three dimensions

Day 9
This variation attempts to play with visual weight. The base includes a fishing sinker – heavy for its size. The end “flag” is very thin metal – not much more than foil. The structural use of blue-tac isn’t exactly elegant, but at the moment quick improvisation seems key.

Ideas of visual weight

Postscript: while searching back in the blog for “balance” I found 29-Aug-2018, titled “Walking in circles” and excited about Part Object Part Sculpture and Alberto Burri. Fast forward to 1-Jan-2019 in which I wrote about circling, Part Object Part Sculpture and Alberto Burri. Blimey! It’s lucky I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of “progress”.

Items of interest

Go Tad!

What happened to December? I blinked and it was gone. Work was particularly busy. There was a graduation. Given the time of year there were plenty of social and family gatherings. That leads to my first blog-able item.

John Chester Jervis’s earrings
First blogged 6-Jul-2018, that pesky time vanished and it was the day before our major family Christmas dinner that I finished the final few sets.

I dressed up some little white boxes for presentation, gluing on papers matched to either recipient or earring.

I’ve checked the family tree. JCJ was the brother of my grandmother’s grandmother. It was fun to share some family history.

Plain weave and twining copper vessel

Side and bottom views

Somehow missed in my last post, a small vessel in copper. It’s basically the same as the blue and green waxed hemp twine piece shown 11-Dec-2018 – but prettier.

Twinned copper vessel

Motivated in part by trying to understand my strong and negative emotional response to a recent exhibition (18-Nov-2018), in part by the future need to have an explanation or story about myself for the upcoming creative research program, I’ve been some purposeful reading, thinking and writing. It’s a work in progress (and always will be), but a few dot points:

* The line – Still need to write about the current Tony Tuckson exhibition at AGNSW. The quality of line is fascinating. The exhibition catalogue led me on to the “gestural calligraphy” of Pierre Soulages, then on to the rhythm, line and structure of Chiang Yee.

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Paul Klee gets a mention of course.
Stroke, mark, line – for me dimensional in space, and based on the body – my own movement in making, and the form derived in some way from the body.

* Chance and intent. See Matt Bromhead for this (10-Jul-2018). In the Tuckson catalogue Denise Mimmocchi writes “Tuckson’s sketchbooks reveal that their overall forms were often considered, but the paintings appear deeply anchored to their rapid moment of execution, and the Bacchanalian rush of colour” (p. 52). Aida Tomescu finds “an essential link between the precise readjustments, the measured approach and the final open structure, which has a feel of utmost spontaneity and improvisation” (p. 76). Matt’s process was to look at the result of play, adding touches to bring elegance and decorum.

* Space. Here a link generated by reading Textile Perspectives in Mixed-Media Sculpture by Jac Scott. Chicka Ohgi looks at the interface between the space and the objects. She works “not knowing the consequence of [her] actions”, which are only revealed in installation in a space.

* Haptic – bodily experience, textile background. In Part Object Part Sculpture Briony Fer considers the Italian neo-avant-garde in the 1950s and the “literal materiality of a thing” (p. 51). I’m still reading in that section, so more another day, but the work of Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana is very exciting.

* Sensuous | Austerity. Mimmocchi writes of the “sensuous line work” of Tuckson, and the “austerity” of the compositions of Barnett Newman. I am not comfortable with the sensuous – perhaps the convent school education lingers – but I think challenging myself here could be productive. In her foreword to Part Object Part Sculpture Sherri Geldin writes “Deftly dodging the plethora of industrially replicated machinations known as Minimalism, Helen [Molesworth] follows the more sensuous, tactile, and handmade impulse that simultaneously coursed through sculptural production over the last fifty years” (p. 11).

* Enough, not everything. Tomescue: Tuckson “uses absence and the incomplete form” (p.77). It’s amazing what the human eye can do, leaps of interpretation. Plus make the viewer work, invest in looking, participate.

Jac Scott
Image from Textile Perspectives in Mixed Media Sculpture

* The pivot, balance point, precipice, knife edge, danger, unbalance
A conversation with a friend months ago has led to ongoing reflection on what this could mean.

Jac Scott uses an image of her own work in a chapter on plaster. Perhaps more elegant and controlled than what’s in my head. There’s no sense of danger. Plus I’d prefer free-standing.

Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) 1956, edition 1959 Dame Barbara Hepworth http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00955

Scott mentions Barbara Hepworth in the Metal chapter. Again elegant and controlled. I like the use of folded metal as a construction approach. Also there is tension in the strings which gives a sense of potential energy stored. Could there be a snap and a spring and an unravelling?

Louise Bourgeoise Observer

Helen Molesworth writes of Louise Bourgeois’s body of work entitled Personages: “Each work displays the same tenuous sense of balance, as they grow increasingly slender toward the bottom, and seem precariously placed on flat metal bases” (p. 39).

Over the weeks I’ve identified a circling, a repetition and revisiting of ideas which at times felt suffocating, instead of my usual sense of enriching. As I get deeper that question of stagnation has faded. Currents are reappearing, but in new combinations and with different emphases.

Part of the regrouping has been a simple matter of seeing. Over the summer break I have bought shelving – storage shelves, bookcase, but in particular some display shelves. I now sit surrounded by work done over the last decade and more. I can see recurring threads, and ongoing change and experimentation. Most of the base building work was finished yesterday, but I’m still going through boxes, trying out what I want to see for now.

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My workroom is the-room-formerly-known-as-the-dining-room, and most but not all of the objects visible are my work.

Learning brief
As part of the research and reflection I’ve developed a little brief for experimentation. It’s ongoing, so more on that another day.

Mimmocchi, D., 2018. Tuckson. Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Molesworth, H., 2005. Part Object Part Sculpture. Penn State University Press.
Scott, J., 2003. Textile Perspectives in Mixed-Media Sculpture. Crowood Press, Limited.
University of Wollongong. 2016. Artist in Residence: Chika OHGI. [ONLINE] Available at: https://lha.uow.edu.au/taem/artistsinresidence/UOW220670.html. [Accessed 1 January 2019].

Quickly taking stock

A scamper over recent activity. It’s basically a continuation of the Swirling November post (18-Nov-2018)

Scarey music twining
More twining in 5-ply waxed hemp twine. A little bit of fun, but it turns out I need to pay more attention to the process if I’m playing with shape and colour. It doesn’t quite fit the requirement.

The green and blue one started as a piece of plain weave, with warp and weft becoming the spokes as I twined up the walls of the shape. It worked moderately well, although badly tensioned and lumpy. The shine is from mod-podge, used to handle all the pesky ends in a thread that didn’t want to sit quietly. I’ve since used the same structure in wire, shown later in this post.

Side and bottom views

Continuing with some of the pieces of heat-treated copper from Swirling.

A series of manipulations on copper sample F

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I like the combination of copper and resin. The different textures, reflection, transparency, work well together. The wrinkles and folds of the flattened version are also interesting – good texture reminiscent of clothing, and a strong, ungainly form.

Other samples didn’t thrill. Smaller pieces of copper wire were just fiddly and annoying, although improved when I started using the ring clamp (the wooden pivot kind). An attempt to make looping more interesting by mixing materials worked in the sense that I could keep it airy, with the wire providing structural support. But looping is so round and enclosed.

Realising the roundness was a problem I tried plain weave in 0.5 mm brass. This was before the class with Alice Spittle (3-Dec-2018). Some of the techniques in that might have helped get a better result. I might return to this, but the particular sample was not a happy experience or result.

There has been progress since this, but first another disappointment.

Monoprinting with stamps
Back in October I was planing a print-making session with stamps made using basketry techniques (1-Oct-2018). I finally got to it, more in the spirit of “let’s get this over and done” rather than “I wonder how this will work” and “what else would be interesting to try”. A self-fulfilling prophecy?

Using the gelatin plate, lamp black ink rolled on then taken off using samples of “flat coiling” were under-whelming.

Looping in soft string wasn’t picked up at all. Shown below is some scrap paper, used to semi-clean the stamps after printing. Some OK texture.

Looping in soft string

It’s hazy, but a stamp made of cardboard with tensioned wool looping around it is quite effective.

Random looping around card using tension

Using packaging cardboard as a stamp

Some cardboard packaging worked quite well – it could be the base for further work.

Altogether not a strong result. The intention was to work through a series of design exercises in a book, but somehow it’s not working for me at the moment. Time to park that, maybe return another day. Especially as a couple of more engaging things have come up.

New scarey music making

August joining

I’ve been looping on and off for a few months now. Back on 4-Aug-2018 I tried it as an alternative joining method for sculpture inspired by the class with Matt Bromhead (10-Jul-2018).

October sampling with different sizes of wire

There was looping with Mary Hettmansperger (17-Sep-2018), then sampling blogged 1-Oct-2018 and 21-10-2018. The print-making above helped me to realise that the enclosed swirls of looping just weren’t what I’ve been looking for.

A quick dip into The Primary Structures of Fabrics by Irene Emery, under Single Element (which also includes looping) gave me linking – in particular link-and-twist. Some quick experiments and I experienced a thrilling flash of recognition and revelation (thanks for that phrase to Henry Eliot, writing about literary classics in The Guardian).


The sample above is 32 gauge brass. I quickly worked up some more – more 32 gauge but smaller spacing, some black 28 gauge, and then 0.5 mm brass.

More link-and-twist

Irene Emery clearly instructs that this is not netting, nor is it knotless netting (an expression she finds hard to justify in any context). Still, I use a netting shuttle in making it and link-and-twist is a mouthful. I’m going for the casual “netting”, generally speaking and unless formality is required.

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili
Lightning (detail)

That sense of recognition was undoubtedly influenced and strengthened by my viewing of Noŋgirrŋa Marawili’s work (7-Dec-2018), one of many related experiences.

Sample p3-44

Another is a sample of netting dripped with resin for Mixed Media for Textiles (23-Sep-2015). In fact looking back at that, and above at the resin shard, has started me thinking again…

Back to the “netting”. Look what happens next.

Twisted netting

It holds shape. It can be spread wide and light, or squeezed into shading. Line and form in space.

A quick posing – peeking at possibilities.

Strike a pose

The large scale black is from the class with Marion Gaemer (26-Dec-2017), and has since haunted my sketching and pondering. I think the underlying mesh from Bunnings is actually link-and-twist. The plaster and wire channels Matt Bromhead and more from Mixed Media for Textiles (4-Aug-2018).

The link-and-twist is ideal for scarey TV watching. Wire controlled on the netting needle, no risk of scratching self or companion. Very simple to start and stop. Mindless but productive. Here is a component that’s exciting, adaptable, links to my past, meets my need to be making…

Definitely thrilling.

Laborious fun
Also in Swirling I mentioned the excitement of a lecture by Lisa Slade , including the “swirl of fragments in my mind”.

The lecture is now available on SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/artgalleryofnsw/lisa-slade-a-present-past?in=artgalleryofnsw/sets/art-appreciation-the-hidden. Sound isn’t enough. You can get a list of the major images from https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/members/current-members/member-events/hidden-language/ – in my case I have the handout with my scribbled notes from the night. I’ve been able to track down most of the images, now on a Pinterest board.

It’s not easy listening. Every step of the way, including the image gathering, leads to another internet search, more exploration, reading, rabbit holes… I’m up the the sixth minute of the talk. My version of fun 🙂 .

New opportunity
In that swirling November post I signed off with a certain satisfaction about my current path – “Maybe one day more formal study, or a group, but not for now.” That was then. Fast forward three weeks and I’ve signed up to Ruth Hadlow’s Intensive Creative Research Program in 2019, a structured one year program involving four 3-day intensive sessions in Hobart. “The program will focus on a creative research model of practice, incorporating reading, writing, material investigations, dialogue and critical analysis. It is cross-disciplinary, and oriented towards process-based contemporary arts practice.” So not formal, as no academic bureaucracy, and not group, in that the focus is individual art practice. Terrifying and exciting.

There was more. I’ve been reading and musing, writing up page after page in my workbook. Time for that another day. Maybe.

Exhibition: Noŋgirrŋa Marawili – from my heart and mind

enamel paint on aluminium board
150 x 100 cm

natural pigments on bark
left: 150 x 56 cm
right: 150 x 60 cm

natural pigments on bark
153.5 x 82.2 cm

Images are the only possible way to begin this post. Go back and look again, follow any links to the holding institution which may have a better photo. Note the dimensions – these aren’t small works, and the impact in person, plus the impact of having so many works together in the gallery space, is huge.

This exhibition is at the Art Gallery of NSW until 24 Feb 2019. I find it hard to move around AGNSW at the moment, since this exhibition keeps calling me in (although Tuckson: the abstract sublime has opened in the next gallery. Recently I was standing in the space between the two, vibrating as I tried to decide in which direction to walk).

At first the formal aspects caught me. Stripes, grids breaking out of rigid structure, dynamic diagonals? These are deeply embedded in my visual system, autonomic reflexes are triggered, and it is a visceral reaction as my heart races, my breathing quickens, as I stand, swaying – just barely not dancing – in front of the works.

After the first couple of visits I read the exhibition catalogue. Highly recommended, it starts with a very descriptive, almost lyrical, essay by Cara Pinchbeck, followed by two more essays that further ground the work in Noŋgirrŋa’s culture and experiences. For me the liberating thing is that while these works are deeply embedded in tradition, deeply thought and felt and lived, they do not contain the sacred. I find it gives me permission to connect, to think my own stories, in front of the works.

This year’s Art appreciation lecture series 2018 was themed The hidden language of art: symbol and allusion and Cara Pinchbeck gave one of the first lectures, but that was focused on Macassan connections and I don’t think Noŋgirrŋa was mentioned. However using the catalogue and internet sites one can build up a kind of dictionary.


“The grid refers to the landscape of Wandawuy, a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks, its structure also reminiscent of woven fish traps” (from the NGV website link). Variations in colour evoke calm or still, silty or clear waters. There is movement, flickering sunlight, rippling waters.


In Yathikpa a web or trail of diamonds can refer to flames, tongues of fire. Jagged parallel lines spear lightening across the sky.

Lightning and sea spray
natural pigments on bark
243 x 70 cm
Photo: AGNSW

In Lightning and sea spray there are large rock formations top and bottom. The diamond net relates to the clan designs for the saltwater estate of Yathikpa, breaking down in the water to trails of sea spray as the ocean crashes onto them. Or that could be sea-grass. I think the dots on the rock are barnacles.

That explanation sounds so dry and clear-cut. Referring to a different painting Cara Pinchbeck writes “They may be barnacles on the rock, or a dilly bag full of the day’s harvest. The uncertainty is in the duality, and Noŋgirrŋa plays with this with intent.” So a level of ambiguity, a level of challenging convention at the same time as diligently and decorously observing protocol. Noŋgirrŋa has created a space from the sacred, while still relating to clan designs, to tradition, to her own personal experience. She has created space for herself, and I feel she has given me space. There is ambiguity – that means I can have my own interpretation. It is the expression of one woman, not a statement of what is sacred to a clan – so I feel able to experience a sense of connection to an individual, which would feel improper to a belief system not my own.

Lightning in the rock
natural pigments on bark
310.6 x 110 cm

The great increase in scale of design, the use of space, less repetition, an absence of rigidity – all of these seem on a continuum with wider movements of contemporary art as well as on a continuum with more traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works in the collection.

In one of the catalogue essays Henry F. Skerritt writes “[Noŋgirrŋa] takes the ‘data-sets’ of Yolŋu art and uses them to create new contexts, to literally shape a new present. This is not to suggest that Noŋgirrŋa’s work is some kind of ‘hybrid’ form, caught between the traditional and the modern. Rather, it pictures the presence of coexisting worlds that resist assimilation.”

One thing I find odd. There is an absolutely enormous bark painting – in my undoctored photo here it hangs… well, portrait orientation. In the photo on the NGV website it is in landscape orientation.

Is the idea of “right way up” not relevant? The orientation means it fits nicely on the piece of wall, but surely that shouldn’t be a consideration.

natural pigments on bark
199 x 86 cm
upside down?

There’s another example. Yathikpa (2013) took me ages to find the in the catalogue – the photo there is upside-down compared to the hanging in the gallery.

Maybe I’ve been too used to reading things in a particular way, making it a cultural habit that I’ve turned into an unconscious, unexamined rule. Curious.

Do we look at art to understand others or ourselves? Reflecting on this exhibition, for me it’s both. In large part, I want art to be personal. I look for me. I make for me. I write here for me. But for me the most powerful art brings connection, even if that connection is standing companionably, looking across the world and thinking our own thoughts. A friend remarked that I was “scathing” in a recent about an exhibition (18-Nov-2018), then some thought-provoking comments from Jane have sent me researching and writing page after page in my workbook, exploring the many types and purposes of “art”. It’s not my intention to consider those wider questions here, although it’s clearly related.

I recently read Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, by Amanda Curtin. From Perth, Australia, O’Connor went in 1906 to Europe, to make her life as a painter. She spent over forty years in Paris, with focus, determination, drive, obsession. Uncompromising? Close to it, it seems, but life is always more complicated. There are a couple of works by O’Connor in the AGNSW collection, but I don’t recall ever seeing one in person. (links: Still life, Paris, Nursemaids in the Luxembourg Gardens). O’Connor hasn’t been entirely forgotten – the biography of course, also the inspiration behind an exhibition by Jo Darvall in Busselton – but she’s not well known. Is that her time and her gender? An east-coast-centric art establishment in Australia? Whatever, the idea of strong, determined, not-exactly non-compromising but finding her own path with determination – there’s a link I see to Noŋgirrŋa and a link I’d like to see to myself. And in writing that I have a connection, something of an anchor. From my workbook “I seek connections, but I won’t compromise to connect. I don’t insist on my terms if yours are compatible.” Is that modern individualism, the death of community? Perhaps a different kind of community.

Now to finish as I started.

enamel paint on aluminium board
200 x 122 cm

natural pigments on board
240 x 122

Workshop: Maori basket weaving with Alice Spittle

This workshop at the Australian Museum was an absorbing, centering and very satisfying day, with Alice as a warm and generous guide.

Observing protocols, respecting tradition, was an important part of the day. There was a sequence of ceremony – acknowledgement of traditional owners and custodians of the country where we met, and also the country where the New Zealand harakeke (flax) we would use was harvested; Karakia (perhaps incantations or prayers) invoking the spiritual guidance and protection of Earth Mother and Sky Father; each introducing ourselves, if we chose with our connections to family and place. To me this was a reminder that what we do can have wider ramifications, it gave a deeper sense of purpose, a calm focus.

Alice took us through the nurturing and harvesting of the harakeke. Every step considers the health and sustainability of the plant. Which leaves to take, how to cut them to enable water run off and avoid disease, when to harvest… There is also a spirit of generosity, the belief that sharing is a way to abundance. And integral with the spiritual, the philosophical, there is the practical – the integrity and ongoing availability of the fibre. I’ve been an urbanite all my life, am happy to use plastics and synthetics and metals, try to be mindful of my footprint on the earth without actually changing anything I particularly want to do. Although it’s not a path I follow, being reminded of another way… well, I’m not sure what that means to me yet. (For more on harakeke, see my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/harakeke/.)

The project for the day was a two cornered basket. Alice had the material already prepared, so we could go straight into softening the strips, weaving the initial square, starting a second layer and the magical moment when it pops into 3D. All the way through Alice would explain and show traditional ways and alternatives.

I think everyone in the class was able to finish their basket by the end of the day. Later at home I made some cord with the flax for a handle and closure, incorporating a little paua shell and silver pendant by Margaret Jordan in Paihia, Bay of Islands – a gift from my father.

At the end of the day Alice shared out remaining materials. I was keen to show respect in my use of the harakeke, given it is highly prized and in some sense sacred. I also wanted to both consolidate learning and push a bit by trying for a four cornered basket. It turned into a bit of a scramble, improvised rather than traditional, and rather gappy and loose.

In theory the jagged tie-off at the top is easier than the “flat” of the first basket. I made it difficult because I wanted to try tucking the ends to the inside rather than outside, so that only the shiny top surface of the leaf is visible. I suspect that structurally this is weaker, but I like the look.

computer wire, neoprene, whipper snipper
My response to the class with Frances Djulibing

In the morning while we were waiting for the final couple of participants Alice showed us a few extras, including spinning fibres from the harakeke. She used her arm, pretty much from the elbow down to the palm of the hand, rolling down and up the length of her thigh, to create a two ply thread. At a broad level it was very similar to what I saw demonstrated by Frances Djulibing from Ramingining, in the east of Arnhem Land, at a workshop at the MCA in 2013 (see 31-Aug-2013, which includes a long, wordy description of what I could see/understand of the process). The fascinating part is the difference, which I think is due to the different materials being used – an expression of location. The banyan fibres were shorter, more chaotic, and Frances was constantly adding more. Alice was working with a long, regular, bundle of fibres, the length of the leaf. She started holding in the middle, spun one side, then turned to do the other. The final length of the yarn is a reflection of the size of the plant. Another element I want to remember is a change in the position, the angle, of the hand holding the growing length of spun fibre. Without changing grip it allowed Alice to bring the two strands together for the upward plying movement.

Finished bolga basket from class with Godwin Yidana

Godwin Yidana from northern Ghana taught another variant on this spinning (31-Jul-2017). The materials again reflected local environment – plastic water bags, recycled and scrap fabric, plastic shopping bags. An old rubber thong (flip-flop) was used to protect the leg and improve grip.

At the top of this post I mentioned our personal introductions. As part of my connections, my explanation of who I am in the world and my place in community, I talked about the three examples of spinning, using local materials and one’s body, different but the same. A community of makers across cultures. Making thread, weaving – basics for survival, and capable of supporting expressions of self and aesthetics. Powerful stuff.

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