Non-linear time

Humanist data viz; non linear time… what does that even mean? what could that mean in practice?

My first attempts have been mapping shifts in time in fiction.

The first was inspired and guided by Like Talking With a Friend: Intimacy in Lucia Berlin’s Peripatetic Narratives (https://lithub.com/like-talking-with-a-friend-intimacy-in-lucia-berlins-peripatetic-narratives/), an analysis by Alexandra Chang of a short story written by Lucia Berlin. As it happened I had read the story, Stars and Saints.

Chang makes lots of interesting points on the strategies used by Berlin in the story and what they allow her to achieve. I’ve focused on one element – seeing how Berlin plays with time and speed.

Berlin’s story starts bottom right, “today” (story chronology on x-axis), on line 1 (y-axis shows the line of text in the narration). The story finishes top right, back on “today” on line around 269.

In between Berlin zooms back and forward in time – her earliest childhood (in green on the chart), a number of incidents in adulthood (the purple column), but mostly in a period of her childhood covering the main events of the story.

Sometimes the story’s time zips around. Things happened. The adult Berlin reflects on them, and on similar or contrasting experiences in her life. At other times the narration moves smoothly forward, taking the reader through events in the order they occured.

Producing the graph certainly helped me to read the story with great attention, taking in more of the shades of meaning and correspondences Berlin is presenting, as well as some of her method. Once I developed the base visualisation I was able to use it to track and explore a number of ideas and themes. Just one version is shown here.


Earlier this week I finished reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book has a number of narrators and interlocking story lines. By the end I felt I almost had a handle on what had happened. I made a table and then sketched it out.

time movement in Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

There are three main threads of time through the book.

  • A series of historical events from 1791 to 1969. The story moves back and forward through this period as the novel progresses. This is shown on the y-axis
  • A series of letters, interleaved through the historical sections, mainly presented in chronological order. The exception is the final letter presented which is a slight step back in time line. This is shown on the x-axis.
  • A journey of a few days that was undertaken just after the first letter but completed before the second. This is not included in the diagram, but the timing is indicated in the note at the top.

Developing this certainly helped me to better understanding of the structure of the novel. It would probably help me to understand more about the content and the themes presented, if I were to re-read with this beside me – but that’s not something I want to undertake at the moment.


I think this idea could be used as a more active, integrated, part of reading. A lot of authors play with time, and I quite often get confused.

I’m also interested in taking the graphs themselves and doing a further transformation – for example treating them as a pattern or a literal thread in a textile piece. A couple of ideas are bubbling…

Tricia Flanagan – Digital Materiality

Conductive embroidery was a one day workshop given by Tricia Flanagan at Gallery Lane Cove during the time of her exhibition Digital Materiality –Coded Textiles. There was a presentation of theory and materials, a couple of simple practical exercises, and discussion of possible applications. We also spent time in Tricia’s exhibition.

Tricia had prepared thermochromatic threads and textile paints by combining specialty pigments with standard textile binding medium and screen printing medium. “Thermo” (heat) + “chroma” (colour). At standard room temperature the powders are red, blue, yellow… Heated, the colour vanishes. So white thread or fabric painted with red pigment + binding medium looks red when cool (the outside colour on the thread) and white when heated (the red vanishes, so the underlying white of the thread or fabric is visible).

Heat was created by making a circuit using a battery and high resistance conductive thread. The thread warms up as the current passes through it.

Top: Simple running stitch in conductive thread, on a rainbow of thermochromatic paint
Bottom: circuit made with battery. Heated thread warms fabric and colour changes

Top: thread painted with thermochromatic paint, couched with a mix of conductive thread and ordinary coloured sewing thread
Bottom: Circuit made with battery. Some colour vanishes, based on proximity to conductive thread.

A simple, static circuit – not exactly exciting. A variation was a sample that had multiple part-circuits. Connections were made by a dangling tassel (metal washer covered by buttonhole stitch in conductive thread) that would brige gaps depending on where it fell on the fabric – effectively a tilt-sensor.

From the studio we went up to Tricia’s exhibition space, to see some of the many what-ifs that this little taster could lead to. One in particular blew me away.

BODYecology 2016 – present (ongoing) handspun merino lambswool, indigo, acrylic, steel, wood, electronics, weaving loom and video

There are basically three parts: a sleeping mat; a winding and dyeing apparatus; a loom.

On the left in the photo above, the sleeping mat. A sensor in the pillow recognises when Tricia is lying there, and the central mechanism is switched on.

At the back left in the centre is a pile of undyed yarn cakes. The other end of the yarn is tied on to a bobbin mounted on a bar at the front. When the mechanism is switched on the bar turns, winding on newly-dyed yarn at a steady rate.

The path the yarn takes is exciting. That metal canister at the back right is an indigo dye vat. The travelling yarn is plunged into that to varying depths. The dyed yarn goes past a blow heater, then is taken on a zig-zag path so it is dry by the time it reaches the bobbin.

How deep the yarn goes into the dye vat varies the time the yarn is exposed to the dye, and so the depth of colour. So what controls the depth of the plunge?

Sleeping Tricia wears a fitness monitor. Data collected on her sleep is sent to a controller on the central mechanism. Deeper sleep –> deeper plunge –> deeper colour. Longer in deep sleep –> longer length of yarn deep dyed.

The next day Tricia can wind off the yarn dyed through the night, and use it as weft on the warp. Apparently it takes around a month to complete the woven piece.

Another view, showing a completed weaving at the back and on video.

Some of my details are probably a bit off, but the basic idea… Sleep patterns coded and made visible in a textile. Beautiful!

See a little of the action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL-gsrJUjL4

I was hoping to visit the exhibition again later, for a closer look plus more conversation with Tricia. Of course as things turned out that couldn’t happen.

Some links:

A mist-enveloped tangle

The aim: “I want to bring this back into the realm of learning to read; expanding and enriching reading; making the work of reading visible.” (21-Mar-2020)

A byproduct:

The intention was attentive and active reading of Lines by Tim Ingold. To me, fascinating stuff. For example: “Apprehending words as they are seen on paper, both motionless and open to prolonged inspection, we readily perceive them as objects with an existence and meaning quite apart from their sounding in acts of speech.” While for those in a culture of ‘primary orality’, where writing is unknown: “For them words are their sounds, not things conveyed by sounds.” Interested in sculpture|objects, in the material expression of abstract ideas, in understanding the poetic… Ingold seemed to be speaking to all of this.

Except that large chunks were absolutely incomprehensible to me. I tried to read a bit wider, to backfill knowledge, get some context. Sauserre, linguistics, semiotics, literary theory …  in them a vortex of words I thought I knew swirling and multiplying, morphing into strange, fabulous, disturbing forms that meant nothing to me.

So – time for active reading. I took a page of Ingold’s text, swirled and distorted it in gimp, took the printout and folded it to create a structured, visually readable form.

Let’s look again, this time with some light showing through.

Sadly, I was not enlightened.

Maybe up close.

It doesn’t help. Still nothing. Still straining to read … something.

The folding was fun. It took me back to OCA folding exercises. Could it be an additional transformation in reading Anne Carson’s Candor? Within that reading so far there had been printmaking (25-Feb-2020) and manipulation (1-Mar-2020).

The same simple fold could suggest a well, a cocoon or cage, a cuff or choker (do I mean jewellery?), the domestic cup of tea…

And while doing this, I lost my bearings. Ingold remained enticing and impenetrable.

I was trying to change how I read, and learnt  the act of reading has changed fundamentally over time, changing the way people think of, understand, and interact with the world. “For readers of medieval times, the text was like a world one inhabits, and the surface of the page like a country in which one finds one’s way about, following the letters and words as the traveller follows footsteps or waymarkers in the terrain. For modern readers, by contrast, the text appears imprinted upon the blank page much as the world appears imprinted upon the paper surface of a cartographic map, ready-made and complete. To follow the plot is like navigating with the map.” Ingold quotes Leclerq: – “One was expected to read a text, … ‘with one’s whole being: with the body, since the mouth pronounced it, with the memory that fixes it, with the intelligence that understands its meaning and with the will which desires to put it into practice’. Thus reading was, at one and the same time, both an ‘acting out’ and a ‘taking in’.”

Other writers added new paths in the labyrinth.

  • Michael Taussig in I swear I saw this: “In this threshold situation, language opens up such that sound and image, image and sound, intepenetrated with automatic precision and such facility that no chink was left for the penny-in-the-slot called ‘meaning’.” Taussig explores at length the use of drawing in addition to / companion to writing in his field notebook. If I understand correctly, he finds writing acts to erase memory. In re-reading, it is drawings and the spaces of what is not written that triggers recall.
  • Jane Hirshfield, Ten Windows, brings in the body and emotion of the moment. “Poetry’s words can be ink- and sound-stored stably, then, but the poem itself cannot. It is the score to a music for which we are instrument and audience both, held in the procedures of its making.” Snatched phrases among much more that is relevant, “… cognition’s own beginnings, in the construction and discernment of patterns” and “Resonant, fragrant, traveling more than one direction at a time, poetic speech escapes narrowing abstraction and reification as richly as does life itself.”
  • In an essay by John Berger: “The repeated lines of words and music are like paths.”
  • Via TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad I was taken to the chorus. For a while I was carefully differentiating, then realised the Greek chorus often included movement and repetition, so not far from the dancing chorus line or the structure and repetition of a song chorus.
  • Italo Calvino in Six memos for the next millenium contributed “…Hermes/Mercury, god of communication and mediation, who under the name of Thoth invented writing, and who as the ‘Spirit of Mercury’ also represents… the principle of individuation.” I saw something like that elsewhere – that moving from the primarily external stimulus of orality to the private internal world of reading allowed a sense of the individual self to develop. (which comes first – the need, the technology, the response/change???) Calvino also provided a quote from Galileo – “to praise the greatest human invention, the alphabet.”
  • In Eros: the bittersweet, Anne Carson: “Oral cultures and literate cultures do not think, perceive, or fall in love in the same way.” Carson sees a common thread: “The archaic age was in general a time of change, unrest and reordering. In politics with the rise of the polis, in economics with the invention of coinage, in poetics with the study by lyric poets of precise moments in personal life, and in communications technology with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet to Greece.” A breaking down into units that could be used building something larger and more general.
  • Jen Bervin, speaking of her work Silk Poems in a video by Charlotte Legarde: “One thing that was very important in the development of the poem itself was the lineage of Islamic textiles and manuscripts and within Islam you have a restriction on the use of the image so the letter and the word has a lot of responsibility to bear in communicating complex ideas and one thing that informed the poem a great deal is that collapse of scale, how you’ll see a large letter but it’s actually composed of smaller letters. That definitely comes from Islam.”
  • From the snippets in Walter Benjamin’s Archive, of visual attack on the senses of advertisements, signage, posters. The use of text:
    “Deposited in the letters of the metal or enameled signboards is a precipitate of all the forms of writing that have ever been used in the West.” “…broadsheets… which squander dozens of different alphabets in disguising an open invitation.” “Still color, the first drops of a shower of letters ran down the walls of houses (today it pours unremittingly, and and night, on the big cities) and was greeted like the plagues of Egypt.”
  • In all this movement there is also the extravagant use of language by authors. Umberto Eco (on literature) of James Joyce: “the language of all peoples, ground down to a vortex of free-floating fragments, are put together again and then deconstructed once more in a whirlwind of new lexical monstrosities, which coagulate for a second only to dissolve once more…”
  • In this cacophony I tried to get an overview using the dense fabric of wikipedia – entries on Orality, Writing Systems, Print Culture, quite a few others – before taking a desperate step back when I risked being mired in theory and academia.

Thinking of writing as technology feels new to me. The cultural changes that caused and/or responded to changes in communication technology – from primary orality, through the introduction of the alphabet and script, the printing press, electronic media… the movement from song and sound to sounded reading to silent reading… the shapes of letters and lines…

I have all of the books quoted above. I think I’ve finished one of them. Attempting to contain detail, to get a coherent view of all I have been reading and thinking about led to a major redevelopment of my notetaking and blogging practice. Not a story for today, but it is that collation and adding of metadata that has allowed me to get even this far in the tangle.

I had to hack away the undergrowth, the twining, strangling, enticing vines. I need to find my waymakers, make my path.

What do I return to, what gives me energy, arouses my curiosity? What in all this (and all I didn’t include above) do I want to explore further?

  • The poetic
  • The line
  • Pattern 
  • Balance | boundary | threshold | provisional | uncertainty
  • Materiality – objects, ideas (???)
  • How I work – in particular lately:
    * reading
    * notebook 
    * data viz and literacy

If the history of communication technology can be described as

Orality | Script | Print | Electronic

and in each mode there is/was a correspondence to different ways to think, feel and see, what could happen if I treat chronology and concepts of “progress” as irrelevant? Instead at least some aspects of each could be seen as tools or techniques, ways of living, with different strengths and weaknesses. Then can I pick and choose between modes? Prise ideas and assumptions open by switching modes?

Add to that the toolsets or modes I was already trying to move between

Reading | Writing | Drawing | Data viz | Making

Deliberately tangling up modes, using them in different ways, eg printmaking
– as reading [tool to aid comprehension]
– as exploring ideas [technique to extend out]

If all this seems confused, verbose, self-indulgent… I’m not disagreeing. But it feels good to have said something out loud. I have a mud-map of a terrain. Good enough for now.

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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