Weaving text

I usually try to keep this blog as a little bubble, separate from the mundane details of life. There’s no mundane at the moment. I’ve been trying to be alert to moments of warmth: a whole community – family, friends, neighbours – working separately and in coordination to keep my independently living 91 year old mother safe and happy; wary, weary, yet smiling glances from strangers as we trawl emptying supermarket shelves; multiple staff at that same supermarket – at the checkouts, sorting trolleys – managing smiles, some jokes, staying calm, human and real; friends I haven’t seen for a while, checking in by phone or email; a family eating an evening meal together – using facetime to include the daughter eating in her isolation space in the house.

A welcoming glass
Chez Nolan Popup Café menu

Yesterday we couldn’t come together for a family birthday celebration. Instead I collected my mother and drove her to a small pop-up café – which she was surprised to find situated in my loungeroom, complete with linen-set table and menu. After the meal all her children joined her via Skype. What normally would have been a pleasant restaurant meal became memorable.

I hope that despite stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and perhaps worse reality, you are able to see, share, create some moments of warmth.

At a slowed pace, my reading and paper weaving experiments have progressed. In my little woven basket, a drawing on the cut paper was lost (25-Feb-2020). Could I weave a flat page, rather than a vessel, and what would happen to text on the paper?

Step 1: flat weaving.
Fold weaver strips to form a right angle. A little concentration at the edges. It worked well.

Step 2: using text-printed paper (A3).
In the first version I folded all the strips in the centre. It ended with all the length on one side. With later experience I see it could continue to grow up the left, but at the time I stalled.

Step 2 – second attempt
I tried lengthening weavers as required by gluing on extra paper. I ran out of extras, and didn’t want to start cutting lengths already active in the weaving. This time I kept weaving as long possible, leaving sections some areas unwoven or even with gaps.

There are some positives. Where a strip spans space without being crossed, the text becomes legible. This might work as a good trigger to viewers to attempt to read the woven text. Also the text is based on my reading – in this instance quotes to do with fragmentation. A nice match between abstract theme and physical experiment.

Step 2 – third attempt
This time I increased the size of the text, hoping to make it easier to perceive. On earlier attempts I’d noticed the shredder-cut strips had some bends and distortion – only apparent to me when I introduced text. In this attempt strips were hand-cut to control distortion, also ensuring each line of text was divided neatly into two weaver strips. Rather than folding all in the centre, strips were folded to keep individual lines of text aligned.

All the strips finished at around the same point, but I wasn’t pleased by the proportions. It’s virtually impossible to decipher. The backlit version has promise.

Step 2 – fourth attempt.
Text is a fraction larger, and each line cut into three slightly narrower strips hoping for more legibility. Double length weavers were created by joining two strips together. It took some experimentation to get the rows of text to flow as I wanted. Each set of three long strips was folded to keep text aligned.

During the process I spilled some water on the table. The blurring is actually quite interesting. The text is still hard to read. The outcome is fractionally larger than A4, in the proportions I was seeking. The movement of text across the piece is as I intended. The idea of fragmentation is not strongly seen – not necessarily a negative. Once again the backlit version attracts.

Where to next? I want to bring this back into the realm of learning to read; expanding and enriching reading; making the work of reading visible. Whatever that means…

ARTEXPRESS 2020

ARTEXPRESS is an annual series of exhibitions around the state showing a selection of artworks by NSW Visual Arts school students. A couple of works in the current AGNSW exhibition particularly resonated with me.

Benjamin Tavita Displaced
This artwork was based on Tavita’s research of his culture and island home, likely to be wiped out within 50 years. The sculpture is a collection of a series of frames or windows, in which hang boards combining images, data visualisation, text, and paper weaving. On the reverse of each board is what I think are traditional patterns laser cut in paper, with some lovely shadow effects. Lots of techniques I am interested in, and a good move forward from more straightforward documentation.

Lemah Orya Mending broken things after the Afghan war
This work also reflects on challenges in the artist’s homeland. The collection of sculptures use Afghan ceramics “mended” in an extension of the Japanese kintsugi method. That’s something I’ve played with in the past (for example 11-Aug-2019), but with none of the elegance and detail of Orya’s work.

The gallery website has extensive information on all the works shown, including images of works and sample process notes for some. Definitely worth a look.

Reading Candor

Reading||Making has continued. Again I visited Candor, Anne Carson’s text, looking for guidance in transformation of the monoprints (25-Feb-2020). “If you are not the free person you want to be, you must find a place to tell the truth about that… You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer.” Jane, wife of HG Wells, made faint pencil marks on the letter of sympathy she received from her husband’s mistress. Jane – born Amy Catherine – fulfilling her husband’s domestic expectations.

A square of one print became a folded envelope. It is named – “Jane”. Bound by net, by woolen skein, by the trappings of domesticity, by the stones of the well. Inside, hidden, her name – scratched, mis-written (my oops), torn.

I like this little object very much… except that in the end it is so literal. As I worked at reading the text I found it more and more full of imagery, of the material, the specific.

Playing with printed card, finding shapes, became more abstract.

As reading the process has worked. There is familiarity, and I still find more. Slow. Attentive. Absorbing and making connections. Can I claim that in these photographs the work of reading is made visible???

Printmaking as reading

There have been a few more preparatory/practice steps.
* moving away from square in paper woven baskets.


I particularly like the deep edge turnover, which stands out from the base creating some lovely shadow. Less effective was the life drawing sketch on craftpaper used for weavers. The drawing is not just broken up by the weaving, it is entirely dominated by the colourful texture of the cartridge paper print.

* Another brief print experiment using acrylic paint – this time with retarder added, hoping to get thinner layers to allow more detail in the texture pickup. The paint still dried too quickly on the plate.


I love the colours and the texture (both to eye and to touch) these paints give me. The stamp used is quite large, made in polystyrene foam using a soldering iron (from memory – it was during classes with Marion Boyling, over a decade ago). I just haven’t achieved fine detail.

* The old gelatin plate was melted and reset. Version 2 is thinner and softer. In a later print session (see below) the surface was slow to spring back after pressure, becoming uneven. I’ll probably make version 3 with all new ingredients and cut up version 2 for stamping and specific shapes.

Enough preamble. Time to attempt printmaking as reading.

From when I received the readings for the first Intensive Creative Research session last year, I have been trying to improve, to get more value from, my reading. My daily schedule changed to dedicate time to reading. I’ve tried different locations – around the house, coffee shops, libraries… I sit, I stand, I pace, I read aloud, I gesticulate. I sketch and colour and knit word by word and record times that I weave into textile data visualisations. I argue with the author, follow up points on the internet, buy more books referenced in the footnotes. I want to read slowly, attentively, to take in ideas and make them part of my mental toolkit, to make connections with other authors and ideas and my own experience. I imagine little tendrils reaching out in my brain, curling around each other, becoming more and more dense, building (there’s definitely felt-making in my near future!). I’ve experimented with repeated passes of reading – first to get a sense of the author’s message, with only brief notes to capture any ideas that pop; then again, more closely, with more extensive note-taking; then possibly stepping back to look at structure, at the how of what has been written.

At heart a Maker, I wanted to get more making into how I read. The knitting worked well, but quite slow and addressed a specific issue (ie I couldn’t bear to read the text any other way). The weaving was very slow and at one remove from the reading – it recorded the activity but didn’t progress it. This time around I’m hoping for a process that can be deployed quite frequently and in an intuitive, responsive, supporting plus extending, way.

First attempt
* text. Anne Carson, Candor, part of the collection of writing in Float.
This is one of the texts we’ll be discussing in the first 2020 Creative Research meetup in a few weeks. A good starting point, being quite short, and I didn’t complicate by combining external ideas (other texts, experience…).

* image generation. After reading the text a few times I looked for specific clues that could be translated into print – materiality, imagery, text, colour, texture, pattern, …

* print preparation. This step could be quite flexible. Weaving and skeins are strong images in Candor, so as potential stamps or stencils I made a couple more squares on the Weave-it (one in wool, the other kitchen string), and loosely tied a skein of wool. Red is a dominant colour in the text, so should be dominant in the print. I wanted some delicacy, an attention to detail, so chose akua inks and pigments rather than the acrylic paint. I turned through stencils and stamps I’ve made in the past. Ideas of the domestic, the home, are important in the text, so I selected some of the stencils based on a family jug – developed in April-2012 as part of the OCA Textiles: A Creative Approach course.

All this plus much more was laid out in my printing area, together with a photocopy of the original text and my image generation notes.

* mono-printing. I didn’t refer back to text or notes – they were effectively internalised. Most of the mark-making tools sat untouched. Just an hour of focused play and experimentation.

I’m not claiming any of these are great prints. I do feel much closer, more involved with, the original text (which I was keen to re-read when I came in from the print-station / garage). Plus I’m planning further transformations. Some folding, or weaving, perhaps collage-ing (either on to the print or part of the print onto something else).

More back and forward

A quick and excited post – after yesterday‘s ambivalence, today I’m definitely moving forward.

Overnight I remembered the very first project of Mixed Media for Textiles – Folding and crumpling.

Two A4 pages from yesterday’s printmaking have moved into three dimensions.

The first has a few strategic cuts, but remains a single, connected, piece of paper – nothing added nothing removed. The photos show it rearranged a few times.

The second was folded and crumpled, with one spot of glue added. It’s quite stable – the photos are different angles of the same form.

So we have:
* bringing forward what I’ve done before (mine-ing my history)
* data viz potential, with folding and interlacing in three dimensions making concrete a humanist view of non-linear time
* a path towards small sculpture
* an intuitive, experimental work process
* I’m sure there’s more, but I have brain fizz

Printmaking: x steps forward + y steps back

= ?
I’m not sure where that leaves me, especially given “progress” is not a helpful concept and art-making is not a two dimensional space.

page overview

While trawling the net I found a method for transferring black and white photographs onto paper – multiple steps involving glue, patience, … Then I realised I’m already printing onto my prints. Why not photographs? After sampling the printout of different manipulations (the original colour, posterized, threshold, various methods to get grey scale), I selected a photo of burnt bushland from near Mount Borrodaile (29-Aug-2013), and computer printed onto a monoprint and text related to our recent bushfires (detail shown in post 10-Feb-2020). It didn’t print properly across the whole page, but an interesting result. Detail below.

A couple of the “waste” prints from 10-Feb-2020 went through a paper shredder and were woven based on learning from a class with Alice Spittle (3-Dec-2018), although substantially modified given the different materials.
They are around 10 and 18 cm high, quite quick and fun to make, and I think very pretty. There are lots of places with potential to vary the form – something to explore further.

I’ve also finished a little vessel that has been languishing since December. I had planned to print or stamp onto woven paper yarn, but while making decided the proportions demanded a smaller woven area. The base is a box from a mobile phone, 13.5 cm wide, and it’s more delicate in person – the scrunched wires look very heavy in the photograph.

Next to new print-making – and this is where things start going backwards. Over a week or two I drew up a list of experiments, based around using my new acrylic paints with my gelatin plate (rather than my “standard” akua inks):
* Wax crayon resist (gelli arts video). I prepared some cardboard with 7 different waxy crayons and pencils. Neocolour soluble crayons were the only ones to work. More experimentation needed.

* Stamping onto a small woven paper basket, made when I first experimented with the technique. Shown here is the basket before I made a horrible painty mess of it.

* Printing onto a square of paper yarn and wire, made on a weave-it frame as a substitute for little black and white number shown further up this post.

Didn’t even attempt it. I was realising that the change to acrylics was a bigger step than anticipated. A number of ideas just got dumped – effects of vaseline on stencils (link); printing onto interfacing (link); printing on tissue paper (Carolyn Dube video).

I tried using one of the paper stencils cut in the class with Tianli Zu (16-Feb-2020). Using medium weight paper was always going to be a stretch and I didn’t help by letting the painty stencil dry while trying to ghost stamp (is that a thing?) with it. On the other hand, the bits of green paper left on the print are quite interesting – a sort of poor woman’s chine-collé perhaps.

By this time I was wheeling fast and loose. Both sides of paper, planned/improvised/random… I now understand why many people on the internet videos work through a stack of already printed paper. My Akua inks are beautiful and transparent, and I think would need careful planning to use many layers. With acrylics you can keep working on a page, layer after layer, trying for a better result. A selection of my outcomes:


All the above were on A4 110gsm cartridge paper. Can you believe they were the better ones of the bunch???

I did one print on 200 gsm watercolour paper, and got much richer colour. I wasn’t conscious of using more paint, though I can’t rule it out.

Quite a few of the prints included at least some element of “waste not” brayer and stencil cleaning. One of my more favoured results of the day was the single A3 page of cartridge paper that was entirely waste not leavings.

Some of the above may join others not shown on the overprint pile. I suspect paper weaving is in the future of others.

Separate to all this I am getting clearer ideas on how I want to use print-making as an ongoing element of my practice. My theory is that it will make me a better reader, but I have to get better at the basic technique first.

Daughters of the Dragon – exhibition and workshop

This exhibition is on at Gallery Lane Cove until 27 February 2020. It “contemplates contemporary Chinese cultural heritage and identity in an Australian context from a female perspective”, and features work by three artists.

Mimi Tong
Script

Mimi Tong used ink dyed bamboo cotton yarn in her installation. It appeared to be finger-knitted to create more body and texture, with more texture from the uneven ink. It was effective in bringing energy and volume to the space allocated to her, which would otherwise have been sparse, while still at least in my eyes remaining domestic in scale.

Some of my reading lately has been around lines, writing, drawing (Tim Ingold and Michael Taussig) – both overlaps and differences. I don’t know the significance of Mimi Tong’s title, but it made me wonder if there was more there than I understood.

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan
Rubble

More clearly script-based was Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s installation Rubble. Made of unglazed salt dough, the fairly roughly made characters were distributed on low plinths around the space. A three part video installation, Hands, appeared to show the making and cooking of dumplings.

Why “rubble”? It didn’t appear to be broken. Unable to connect, instead I wondered about the stamp making possibilities of salt dough in print-making.

The central part of the gallery space, where the visitor enters, held Tianli Zu’s immersive installation Shen Long. It was a beautiful experience.

Tianli Zu
Shen Long


Tianli Zu
Shen Long


I had the opportunity to chat in a group with Tianli Zu during a break in a workshop with her. She explained that the work was based in thinking about the water dragon. No one has ever seen this, so it is her impression of it.

There are so many elements to this. Hand cut mulberry paper, painted with many layers of Chinese ink. It was hung from the walls, and from the ceiling using a multitude of threads (representing the wind). Painted and heat distorted acetate suggest water. The projection onto walls and across the ceiling was based on stop motion photography of the cut paper. It also included text – poetry (in english) by Tianli Zu. Recorded music, composed and performed by her son Andrew Zu, played in the background. Strong currents from the gallery air conditioner kept everything in motion.

The workshop was two very enjoyable hours on paper cutting. Tianli Zu began by giving us some background and an appreciation of the philosophical basis of paper cutting. The balance of positive and negative, the duality of two cut lines needed to reveal the shape, the combination of deconstruction and reconstruction, letting the paper drop away without forcing or tearing it, were all important. We tried to find a smooth rhythm – Tianli Zu finds paper cutting a meditative process, a means of problem solving. There is a care and thoughtfulness built in. And how do you repair it if you make a mistake? Don’t repair – Make another cut!

The gallery provided A4 paper that was a little heavier than Tianli Zu would have preferred, so she reduced the number of folds for our first attempt. While she demonstrated, she was very keen for everyone to make their own choices in the cuts made.

Next up was cutting using images provided by Tianli Zu as templates. She explained the symbology of some of them (suitable as a gift for an older person as it included the character for long life, or suitable for a woman to give to a man to show love – a frog shape, suggesting fertility – as in “I’d like to have your baby”). I’m not sure about this one, but it was definitely a challenge – with the advantage of additional pleasure in finishing 🙂 We were encouraged to work fluidly, not sticking rigidly to the design of the template.

Now we were encouraged to draw our own designs – based on a teapot shape provided, but creating our own designs internally. That was actually one of the key takeaways for me: don’t just cut a shape, make it beautiful with flowers or other forms inside.

Finally I went back to one of Tianli Zu’s designs.

Cutting stencils for use in print-making was my main motivation for taking the class. As well as the cut forms I have kept the negatives – the outside frame and many of the smaller bits removed. I’ll have a session soon trying out these paper ones. Some thoughts for the future:

* Not just the outline. Add internal shapes to create beauty and interest – always with awareness of the positive and negative shapes being formed.
* Cut rhythmically, fluidly. Cut from above or below, supporting the point where the cut is being made.
* Select the tool – large or small scissors, knives… – suited to the shape you want.
* Cut small pieces first. Reward yourself with the longer cuts later.
* Develop shapes with additional meaning, even if it’s not apparent to all.
* Don’t repair. Cut.


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