Exhibition: John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new

Installation view Milmilngkan
John Mawurndjul

Mardayin at Milmilngkan (2006)
John Mawurndjul

Recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, this exhibition, a comprehensive survey of the artist’s work, is huge.

Just after it opened I was lucky enough to go to a day of events at the MCA – first a discussion between the artist and curatorial advisor Keith Munro with interpreter Murray Garde, then a panel discussion including curators of the exhibition, Mawurndjul and Garde.

The presence and charisma of John Mawurndjul was commanding, mesmerizing. He could sit quite small and quiet, sometimes watching what was going on, sometimes apparently far away in thought, but when he was active, listening or speaking, and especially when he stood up and moved around as he spoke, there was an energy, force, strength. He communicated with his whole body. His hands were beautiful to watch.

Mardayin at Milmilngkan (2006)
detail of rarrk
John Mawurndjul

In that description above I’m sure there are cultural assumptions that I’ve made, interpretations of expression that are unfounded. At this point knowing my ignorance and having an intention to listen deeply seems the best I can do.

Language was a major focus of the day, and is in the exhibition. Translation is difficult – see https://www.creativespirits.info
/aboriginalculture/language/why-translating-english-to-aboriginal-languages-is-so-hard
for some of the reasons. Murray Garde did an amazing job as interpreter, including stepping out of that role at times to give the audience some context, then back into Mawurndjul’s words. In the exhibition most of the signage is in Mawurndjul’s words together with a translation into english.

Thylacine (c. 1995)
John Mawurndjul

There are untranslateable concepts and entire contexts. Plus there is the responsibility to look after special places. The paintings have layers – a surface which I can see and appreciate, the aesthetics, but more layers that remain hidden, that relate to cultural knowledge that can only be shared with a restricted group – based on age or gender or participation in particular ceremonies or kinship… Painting these works has been dangerous, and has taken a toll on Mawurndjul and his health.

Place is the other strong element of the exhibition. Focal places for spiritual essence. The artist directed placement in both exhibition and catalogue, “with works grouped by kunred (places), then animals and spirits, mimih spirits followed by lorrkkon and etchings” (from catalogue). And known place can be very specific – for example a photo of a fish trap fence, in the particular place in a creek where the zones of brackish/salt and fresh water mix, where tides and flow and water levels combine.

Birlmu Barramundi (1996)
John Mawurndjul

Mardayin is a special, secret ceremony, held in special places. There is a gravitas, a weightiness, power. There are emblems, such as dilly bags with tassels. There are protocols. Public and private knowledge must be maintained. Mawurndjul wonders who will take on stories after him. And he has to balance the secret nature of topics, the toll they take, with the pressure on an artist to make work to request, churning it out.

Mawurndjul’s father taught him it was OK to teach non-aboriginal people, to facilitate communication, to share the great intellectual achievements of aboriginal culture. But coming from my culture it’s hard to listen properly. I think of the binary abstract | figurative. But something can be wholistic (be careful of the spelling), not abstract but hard to see, involving ideas, people, relationships. Garde explained learning about this culture as being like walking towards the horizon. You see something interesting you want to learn about and walk towards it, and when you reach it you are still far from the horizon. There’s always further to go.

Birlmu Barramundi (1996)
detail
John Mawurndjul

The Breaking Ground panel discussion was more focused on the current exhibition. The curators didn’t have an idea or plan of the show before setting out. They followed the artist’s leadership. He wanted to give a legacy of understanding of his paintings. Here is his language, his words, his thoughts.

The different curators spoke of the arc of a practice, deep time, here and now. The innovative style, breaking ground, showing multiple hierarchies of time in one narrative. The contemporary in conversation with the past.

Mawurndjul was asking us to listen deeply, just as in his culture he listens to their old people, their ancestors. Listen and learn. Plus the concern to do his best to make sure his own people, children, learn the stories about who they are.

The process of building the exhibition wasn’t easy. The artist and curators wanted to show to a western audience, through the eyes of the people who live the culture. There were politics. There’s always the need to make money – Mawurndjul talked about the hard work and travel making and sharing his art, and then his pockets are empty.

Mimih Spirits installation view
John Mawurndjul

It was an inspiring, thoughtful day. Mawurndjul and the curators were so positive, emotional, about what had been achieved. So when I actually visited the exhibition a week later I was taken aback. I couldn’t find that sense of the personal, the voice. When I saw signs in two languages I just read the english. The original words didn’t seem to register with me, get beyond my eyeballs. I knew the ordering and placement of the works was deeply considered and significant, but I couldn’t see it. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work. I saw a sameness instead of appreciating difference. I wanted maps at the beginning of each section, to get a better sense of place. I wanted to hear the sound of language, not just in the resource space. I wanted …

After leaving the exhibition I realised I hadn’t listened. I hadn’t given time. I hadn’t let go of expectations.

I wanted him / them to make it easy for me. I demanded.

I’m not happy with myself.

Time to start over.

Workshop: Matthew Bromhead – Drawing and Sculpture

This workshop at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre was wonderful and dangerous. Wonderful for all the reasons below. Dangerous, because it could swallow me, instead of me swallowing and making my own from it.

For a start, there was a muddle with dates and at the last minute the workshop was delayed a week. Three of us were lucky – we could manage the date change and Hazlehurst was generous enough to run the class with such a small group. With three people and a generous and responsive tutor the class morphed to respond to us. What did we want/need? Let’s do that!

And for me there were so many resonances and gongs chiming and layers of coincidence and correspondence and a vibration… language still fails me. “Exciting” and “cool” were repeated ad nauseum – I really need to work on my vocabulary! Over the past couple of years I keep loosing and finding myself – and, shockingly, confrontingly, here I found myself in exactly the right place and time.

Deep breath.

Point one. Matt’s a great guy. All he can teach is what he knows – and he is prepared to teach that. It seems no holds barred.

Point two. He uses my wire. Well, let’s keep it honest – Keith Lo Bue‘s wire. And Matt was excited to find someone else who uses it. (I’m talking 1.57mm annealed steel tie wire – get with the program guys!).

Point three. Matt is teaching process. Provisional, play, chance… Make, draw, see

Deep breath.

Are you excited yet? I am.

Throat cleared. Refocused.
I can do this.

Matthew Bromhead’s website is https://www.bromhead.com.au/. He is currently exhibiting at Gallerie pompom in Chippendale. I’ll see you there next Saturday. His practice includes sculpture and drawing.

Matt taught us about elegance and decorum. (I could do with a bit more decorum).
He taught us about intelligent play, chance and intuition.

A limited set of materials. Thick brass wire. Air drying clay. Timber off-cuts. Plaster cast in clay. Steel wire (thump of heart), dental floss and tacks. Just a touch of acrylic colour gives polish, completeness.

Mixed Media Sample p5-11

[Resonance – casting plaster. See work done as part of Mixed Media for Textiles including 23-Feb-2016, 26-Sept-2015 and my “glorious failure” 14-Sept-2015.]

Calder (of course) is an influence. Drawing zooms in. There is counter-balance, leverage. Chance and intent. Work on the precipice.
Danger.
Risk.
Respond as you go.
Play.

Drawing from sculpture. Impetus exists within the sculpture. Texture, tone, values, repetition. Observe, embellish, invent. Multiply viewpoints, softly smudge, be sharp and thin. Begin with building, then change, add, subtract.

I dissolve and emerge.

Who am I? Where am I?
How self-indulgent am I, writing gibberish… ?

Roseanna and Vanessa were both delightful! (that sounds condescending, but I’m just a little drunk on wine and joy and it’s true). It was a pleasure to spend a day with them, to learn with them, to discover and grow with them.

I’m in a state where words release and expand.

Don’t edit.
Expose.

Share.

Let’s all expand.

Some photos.

Matt demonstrating

Roseanna sculpture

Roseanna sculpture + drawings

Vanessa sculpture

Vanessa sculpture + drawings

Vanessa detail

Judy sculpture 1

Judy sculpture 2

Judy drawings


So yes, the day was really fun. Permission to play. Total absorption in process. Growing up in a family of bellringers I recognise a reverberation that’s almost stupefying. So find some points of solidity.

Embracing chance is a key. I’m thinking of Ruth Hadlow of course, of clarity about the beginning because the end is indeterminate. Junctions could be a place to show or find myself. The air-drying clay gives structure without creating a restraint to experimentation. Could I change that up? The plaster casting spoke to my Mixed Media samples. Push that. Then something around austere elegance. It will be interesting to see Matt’s work in person, the level of detail and elaboration. Roseanne, Vanessa and I all brought in extra elements of texture, sparks of interest away from the main focus, rewarding closer attention. What of “my” materials and techniques can be brought in without creating mud?

John Chester Jervis’s earrings

John Chester Jervis (JCJ) was a great great … uncle on my mother’s side. Born in London in 1823, he spent around 30 years in Australia before returning to London and Nice in later life. Mum’s research on his life can be read at megshistory.wordpress.com/
john-chester-jervis/
.

Furniture, vases and other oddments believed to have been his have been passed down through the family, including a small pile of shaped and engraved pieces of mother of pearl. Such counters were crafted in China and introduced to England by the captains of the East India Trading Company. These would have been used in bidding and scoring card games and were popular in the period around 1700-1840. Mum recently agreed that I could use some of the pieces to make earrings for anyone in the family who wanted some.

A few of us spent some time pairing up counters and beads over the recent family weekend. First results are shown below. (and before you look – from the photos I’ve realised there’s some rework to be done with poorly matched amethyst).


The photo on the right gives an idea of relative sizes – plus some of the pieces still available for a few in the family who were interested but haven’t decided details yet.

A postscript – I’ve mentioned JCJ on this blog a few times before. One of my favourites was an exercise in an Art History course in which I mixed family history with the requirement to act as a museum curator selecting artwork for a room in a terraced house. See 13-Oct-2013.

Happy 90th birthday mum!

Recently my mother celebrated her 90th birthday, with a big party for friends one week and a weekend away with family (four generations, 22 of us) the next. For many years her mantra for a healthy life has been to include physical, mental and social activities in every day. The pace is a little slower now, but the interest in and care for others, her curiosity and keenness to explore the world around her, are constant.

I’m the middle one of five children, and we worked together to organise the celebratory Festival of Margaret. Among many other activities, mum used to run a Friday afternoon Craft Club, not just for the five of us but for all our friends around the neighbourhood. That’s the genesis of my joy in making, and I really wanted to bring one or two elements of that into the party.

First, how to identify the hosts – the children? Matching nametags, a photo of the five of us, modified to highlight who was who. Below is mine, plus me in full flight giving a response to mum’s speech.

Second, how to help people mix given they were such a diverse crowd? Make-your-own nametags, with lots of coloured pens, pencils and stickers to play with. Some were more elaborate than others, and only a couple were left behind for me to photograph.

Next, my sister suggested a wishing tree. One thing led to another.

Instead of simple tags, something big enough to write a little story about shared times? So everything got a little bigger and it became a message tree.

Instead of a plain or generic back, why not personalize it and bring in some colour? Mum has always been a keen traveler. I used the background of photos of her on her journeys and printed them onto the message cards – 88 different images. The example on the right is from a beach on King Island, a wonderful and eventful weekend together back in 2012 (7-Oct-2012).


For the tree I used straightened 2.0mm galvanised wire, twining with 0.7mm wire. Given the number and size of cards it needed to accommodate it had to be fairly large – around 85 cm tall and 69 cm diameter. It’s very stable on the wide base.

You can see a bit of the tree in action behind mum in the top photo. Shown here is a mockup before the party when I was testing the idea.

The tree and basket of cards were on the same long table as the gear for making nametags, and there was a real buzz around them. People shared some funny and happy memories, and wishes for the future.

It was a great party, a really positive and friendly vibe. Other siblings were responsible for organising an extensive slideshow of mum from baby to now (my goodness she’s traveled far and wide!), some yummy afternoon tea, a beautiful cake, colourful decorations, set up and smoothing things along on the day… everything to make sure that mum could relax and enjoy her day. I felt so proud and happy for her, and also so lucky to have such a family.

The next day I used the hanging loops and some more ribbon to join the cards into a book-like form. It’s sitting on mum’s kitchen table, a momento of a happy day.

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The second, family only weekend was great too. More talking, laughing, eating, and a lot of activity enjoying time together. There will be a little making coming out from it, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Jane Tadrist: Silver Jewellery Etching

This class at Sydney Community College was held on two Tuesday evenings. Going straight from work it made long days, but I’m pleased with my results and learning so definitely worth the effort.

Very broadly the steps followed were:

1. Preparation of images (done prior to class).
These needed to be black and white, printed in specific dimensions to fit the metal pieces we would be using.

I spent a fun afternoon going through images of old sketchbook pages, looking for possibilities. For example some pen and ink scribble from 2011 (A Creative Approach sketchbook 1), already interpreted multiple times including in print on cotton (22-Mar-2012), was the base for both square and strip designs. Not sure what designs would work best, I created quite a few, all printed out in both positive and negative forms.

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2. Selection of images and transfer onto PNP Blue

Copied images on PNP

It was a multi-step process to get a photocopy of selected images onto PNP Blue (Press N Peel PCB Film, sold at some electronics stores to make Printed Circuit Boards). The film is expensive, so you want to get the most from each sheet, it has to be toner not inkjet, pros and cons of different designs were discussed, not-quite-right images were carefully doctored manually…

3. Preparation of metal
The constant, awful, truth of jewellery and small scale metalwork, in particular my nemesis – soldering (30-Apr-2018). Flat, to size, filed, no plastic coating, sanded, scrubbed, rinsed, carried tenderly and gingerly lest fingerprints should be left on its pristine surface…

4. Transfer of design onto metal and protection of areas not to be etched.
The toner on the PNP film is transferred onto the metal using heat – domestic irons. The toner will act as a resist, protecting selected areas while any bare parts are eaten away. Nail polish and tape were used to protect sides and back.

This was as far as I got the first night. The actual etching takes time, at least 30 minutes and considerably more depending on a range of variables.

5. Etching metal
The prepared metal is put in a chemical bath – ferric chloride for base metals and ferric nitrate for silver. These chemicals need to be treated seriously, carefully – after all, they dissolve metal. Fumes, safe materials for holding the chemicals, proper personal protection, all had to be considered. Work with care and attention, and there won’t be a problem. As well as the safety procedures, Jane gave us lots of tips on correct temperatures, agitation (of the bath, not the users 🙂 ), methods and angle of suspension and more.

6. Check, remove, neutralise, clean
We all worked on preparing more metal and samples as soon as the first strips were in the etching bath, which helped with the waiting and anticipation. A check every 15 minutes or so, and eventually we decided the etching was deep enough. Each piece of metal had to be neutralised in a baking soda solution, then lots of cleaning to remove toner, tape, nail polish.

7. Further enhance and use your metal
I think everyone in the class etched three pieces – strips of brass and copper, a square of silver. Unfortunately we all ran short of time on the etching of our second strips, and they were less deeply etched. Some had time to create a jewellery piece during the class, but it was getting late and I chose to wait for the weekend.

Some of us decided to use liver of sulphur on at least some of our pieces. It creates colour, a patina, on the metal and can be buffed back to bring out highlights and make the etched pattern more obvious. I thought it was always black, but a couple of us got other colours.

I was able to get a few photos of other people’s work, plus permission to use them here.

Vicki’s silver square, with liver of sulphur colouring

The silver we used was 3 x 3 cm. Vicki’s design came out really well. I’m not sure of the source of her design, it’s quite a formal pattern, but there’s still a lot of movement. The amount of detail is effective, and I like the variation in size or boldness of line. The colouring from liver of sulphur works really well to suggest a peacock display.

Dilkie’s silver square

Dilkie chose to keep her silver natural, not adding any patina. The clean lines of the floral pattern stand out well and the eye is easily able to follow the lines with no additional contrast needed.

The photos were a surprise, as the slight pitting and irregularity isn’t visible to the naked eye. I think if anything it gives a little extra life to the piece, an extra variation in the way light is reflected, and it shows the history of its making, the hand of the maker.

Dilkie’s cuff, in brass

Dilkie’s cuff uses a simple, formal, and very effective pattern. It catches the light beautifully.

I need to think some more about the kinds of pattern that work best with this technique. I’d taken a few more formal or rigid patterns, but was interested in seeing how “expressive mark making” would work. I think it makes it harder for the eye to follow, so the patterning is more muddled.

The scribble design shown at the top was used on a brass strip. It was long enough to make a cuff, with offcuts that I used in pair of earrings. The original design is quite bold, but I used the low-res blog version rather than the original photo, and the result is clearly pixelated.

Cuff and earrings. Brass


There’s no deliberate patination or colouring of the metal. Somehow in the etching process the unetched areas took on a coppery look. No idea how to reproduce it, but I really like the effect.

The pattern I used on the silver square was less successful in terms of being easy to interpret, but I like the abstract nature of it.

Sketch 20150815

Black and white square design

The source material was a print made in August 2015 while researching for molding and casting (21-Aug-2015). I used gimp for the image manipulation, which was as simple as selecting an area and changing colour mode to indexed using a black and white (1-bit) palette.

Liver of sulphur was definitely needed to provide some extra contrast, and I got some areas of colour as a bonus. I think the others were planning to use their squares as pendants, but for me it’s always about the earrings.

There are flaws – a few scratches, holes a bit off centre – and the ear-wires may well be changed. But I wore them out to dinner over the weekend, got some nice compliments from my well-trained family, and am happy.

My final strip of copper just didn’t work. It needed longer in the etching solution, but the design is quite bitty and was always going to be a challenge.


Sample p2-20 b

The original photo was of a sample of joining with overlapping edges, using cork and insect screen (22-Jun-2015). Originally I thought the black and white design had a flow that would guide the eye along, but it’s really just scrappy. Back home I tried using liver of sulphur to bring out contrast, but there really wasn’t anything there.

A detail of the “good” end.

The class is being run again later in the year. It will be the same number of hours on a single Saturday. It would mean a longer stretch of time to get work into the etching bath (most of us ran out of time on the first evening), but you don’t have time to process, reflect and plan before the second half of the class. Tempting, especially if there’s opportunity to experiment with other forms of resist, alternatives to PNP (wax, different forms of marker…).

Finished tealight from previous class.

I’ve enjoyed two classes with Jane, who is very knowledgeable and happy to share ideas and tips, plus prepared to go a little off topic if asked. I realised during the class that I’ve never shown the finished tea-light holder from her workshop earlier this year. It was seen soldered but still needing the base resolved and of course all that pesky cleaning still to go (18-Feb-2018).

There isn’t an actual tealight in the photo, just a desk lamp shone down into it. I think the treatment of the bottom edge works well with the theme, and it had the advantage of not being too precise so very suitable to my beginner skills 🙂 .

I see in the post on the earlier class linked above that I was thinking of a home soldering area “before the end of the year”. Obviously I’ve brought that forward (30-Apr-2018), and with some extra tips from Jane, today I tried cutting and shaping some copper to make a cylinder with a tight fit that I could solder. It took some time, but I got my best-ever fitting seam. Haven’t actually soldered it yet – I could feel that I was both tired and impatient, so I walked away – but I have renewed hope.

Cuff – resin offcut from Confluence basin

Finally, as part of tooling-up to finish different things I bought an oval bracelet mandrel during the week. (an aside – it’s rather dangerous for me that Australian Jewellers Supplies is just over the road from my workplace.). As mentioned above, in jewellery terms I’m all about the earrings… but I’ve recently been thinking of extending out to cuffs, bracelets and bangles. This is an offcut from the basin element of Confluence (8-Apr-2018), softened in the work-room microwave and formed. Possibilities!

Nicole de Mestre: Vessels of Mass Consumption

Nicole de Mestre’s recent exhibition at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown was a thought-provoking experience.

Nicole de Mestre
Pods; Urban stalagmites

First, the work itself. I’ve seen and written a little about it before (23-Oct-2016). This time it was seen en masse, in a bright, light, open space. Nicole had hung groupings of similar types of work together, the multiples providing coherence and structure, allowing the viewer to appreciate the variety and interest within a particular group while overarching themes and approaches to material became apparent.

Nicole de Mestre
Tales of the Sea series

Nicole’s process is driven by found materials. Living in NSW’s Central Coast area, tide debris on beaches, kerb-side piles of domestic discards, and social networks are rich sources. The worn and weathered surfaces are treated with care and respect to reveal their beauty.

Nicole de Mestre
left: It’s not easy being green.
right: Where the forest meets the factory

Nicole de Mestre
Ocean Nest series

The smaller upper entry level was a rainbow of colours. Most of these could loosely be called “baskets”, or of course “vessels”, I think generally coiled and stitched. Nicole’s extensive collecting habits are apparent, for example It’s not easy being green incorporates Xmas trees, shadecloth, wire, whippersnipper cord, fishing net and tent fabric as well as the more conventional cotton and rope.

I enjoyed the careful editing of materials so that each piece had its own story and identity, the detail and texture created by Nicole’s handling of materials, the use of found stands which gave baskets more presence and added a pleasing contrast of dark, hard, straight lines of manufactured forms backgrounding the more organic happenstance of the vessels.

Nicole de Mestre
The beach below was deserted

Also on this level were two small, framed collages using textiles and found materials. Nicole told me these had been made at the beach, sketches – a process she is keen to explore further. I found these fresh and exciting. The sense of place, of working quickly and intuitively with materials found to hand gives energy to the work. They come from an entirely different direction to Alberto Burri’s collages (29-Apr-2018), but there is an affinity in the textures and forms created. I’m slowly building a brief for my own investigation based on these, extending my past experiments in collage.

The long wall of the larger lower area of the gallery showed series of assemblages – Foundscapes, effectively landscapes, and Tales of the Sea which had two variants, sailing vessels and the scarcely seaworthy piecemeal improvisations of refugee boats. Two came home with me, although one only briefly.

This sailing boat has a sense of movement and urgency. The sails are full, the flag bends in the stiff breeze. I hope a welcome addition to a friend’s harbour-side home, responding to the views outside, the interests of the family, and the layered, textured, and varied collection of objects within.

Now hanging in my workroom, and catch the early steamer is one of the group of assemblages that reference the experience of refugees, risking everything in the hope of a new life in safety and security.

Nicole de Mestre
and catch the early steamer
(Tales of the Sea series)

It took some careful consideration before deciding that I could live with this day to day. I find it beautiful, full of texture and interest and movement, I love the combination of strange and mysterious oddments, but that aesthetic response must be shadowed by the history behind. There’s still a level of discomfort, but in an undoubtedly self-serving way I find comfort in being uncomfortable, in being reminded, in reflecting on the human ability to find beauty in dreadful circumstance (that last would be much more convincing if it wasn’t others’ circumstances). Nicole told me she tries to walk a fine line, exploring issues and raising awareness in her themes while still retaining the appeal in her work for a wider, potentially purchasing, audience.

Nicole’s assemblages and collages include snippets of text. I think all of Tales of the Sea include phrases from a book, Tales of the Sea. Keith Lo Bue is another artist who uses this sort of idea (for example, The story of a shadow), also using assemblage of found materials. It’s an effective way to provide additional depth and narrative to a work, and I think could provide both challenge and guidance in the many decisions that are made in the process of creating a work. Most of my reading for some years now has been information-based – history, artists, techniques. While not seeking narrative, perhaps I could attempt to add a poetic note… Scary thought, which makes me think I need to try it.

Nicole de Mestre
Totally wired

Totally wired has the energy and exuberance I love in pieces incorporating wire. This work reminded me of Tracey Deep (29-Sep-2016), who also finds inspiration in domestic discards.

Nicole de Mestre
Cooler basket

This piece include parts from a fan guard, a recurring material in Nicole’s work. It can be seen above in some of the Tales of the Sea series, and in a more restrained way as a rim to a basket form. This year’s Sculpture at Scenic World exhibition includes an installation by Nicole, What lies beneath, a series of spheres constructed from fan guards (https://www.sculptureatscenicworld.com.au
/artwork/nicole-de-mestre/
), and apparently she has hundreds more stashed in her workspace. It’s a testament to the power of social networking (acquiring the material), and fascinating to see the variety of ways in which an rather bland form can be reinvented. (It happens I have one or two squirreled away in my garage, which may surface one day).

at Artisans in the Gardens

Another form and texture Nicole returns to in her work is the base of a tin can. They have been used in banksia-like forms in Artisans in the Gardens (23-Oct-2016), and in the current exhibition as the base of some baskets.

Nicole de Mestre
Some like it hot

On a larger scale is Some like it hot, which uses the base of an old water heater.

Detail

Above are a couple of shots to show the amount of detail that is included in the work, and this same care and attention is apparent throughout the exhibition.

Nicole is addressing serious issues in her work, here particularly environmental concerns and the plight of refugees, but it is done with a light and often quirky touch. Titles of works can be evocative – Ocean nest, The rising tide, Ghost bird – or jokey – Inglorious basket, Enough rope, Rabbit proof basket. Even the title of the exhibition has multiple meanings. Earlier I used the word “intuitive”, but in fact I think her skills in recognising potential in apparent rubbish and in combining materials in beautiful and interesting ways are the result of long and thoughtful practice. I was lucky enough to have a long chat with Nicole in the exhibition space, hearing about her somewhat eccentric and creatively rich childhood, her studies and work in woven textiles, her later training and work as an art and then special ed teacher. I’m hugely impressed by her work ethic and productivity – apparently list-making is key. I was also flattered that she invited me to the exhibition via a comment on this blog, and that she finds my writing inspiring and thought provoking.

In fact I’ve had such a strong and positive reaction to my whole experience of the exhibition that it’s been difficult to write this blog post. One concern was just being too gushing. I’ve had to tease out what exactly speaks to me that I want to bring back to my own work. The use of basketry techniques and metal, particularly wire, the weaving background, was always going to catch my interest. There is texture, variation, delightful details. The work is well done, but there is no attempt towards perfection – both materials and Nicole’s aesthetic sensibilities lead to the pleasure and beauty of imperfection. There is power in responding to materials, seeking out the best and the potential within them rather than just forcing them to your will.

Environmental concerns I find difficult and at the moment I don’t want to go there – or not in a major way. Tricky actually in basketry circles, as many makers are sensitive to environmental issues, harvesting their own materials or recycling. I have lived all my life in cities, I’m employed playing with numbers on a computer in a city office, I might be forced to but at the moment can’t imagine a life without plastic – in so many parts of my life I’m clearly a cost to the environment. Add in that I’m often cynical of claims that something or other is “environmentally friendly” or at least more so than something else. What does that mean exactly? How careful and thorough and complete and non-self-interested was any life-cycle assessment? So respect to those who do, and waste avoidance where I can, but no environmental themes for me.

Nicole asked me about this blog, saw me as a writer. Not the way I see myself. I write here because it helps me think. I write because I want to remember, and computers are better at that than I am. I write because it gives me a sense of progress (nope, I will not go down the rabbit hole of what progress is or whether we should seek it – this post is already long). For quite a while I used it as my learning log for OCA studies, my main means of communication with my tutors.

It turns out this blog is approaching ten years old. My first post was July 2008 and I wanted to record my learning as a beginner weaver (my 2008 posts); this will be post number 636. I’m pleased if my writing is of interest or use to others (a quick check shows my most viewed post by far was on diversified plain weave, back in October 2009, over 10,000 views). I’m mindful that what I post will be read. But really it’s all about me and all for me.

So now I’m faced with a recurring problem – how do I stop writing? (this post, not the blog generally). No grand conclusions. No clear takeouts for the future, although I think there are quite a few ideas scattered above I want to bring forward in a new brief. So for once I’ll lapse into the domestic. It’s my son’s turn to cook, I’m hungry and something smells interesting. Time to investigate.

Links
Council media release for exhibition https://www.innerwest.nsw.gov.au/news-hot-topics/media/media-releases/vessels-of-mass-consumption-at-chrissie-cotter-gallery
Nicole’s website: http://nicoledemestre.com/
Nicole on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Nicole-de-Mestre-artist-228097140561051/

Soldering simple???

Maybe for some.

I’ve made a few attempts to learn to solder.

Last year was a one day class on soldering electronics. At that time I didn’t know it was a different thing to soldering metal. It was disappointing in other ways, the organiser agreed and refunded the cost, so all will remain unblogged and unidentified.

In January this year was a week with Christian Hall (7-Jan-2018). I was out of my depth, nervous of the torch, and the one soldered join I brought back was basically the tutor demonstrating and me watching.

In February I tried a metal smithing class with Jane Tadrist (18-Feb-2018). That time my little tealight was soldered, but I now admit sadly that Jane did the first seam as a demonstration to the class, and the second so at least the thing would be done before we ran out of time.

The time spent with Christian and Jane was certainly not wasted nor without learning. It was just without me, hands-on, soldering.

So over the weeks of March I bought a soldering kit, a heap of associated paraphernalia including air extractor and fire extinguisher, and rearranged the garage to create a safe soldering station. Finally in April, I’ve spent time with me, hands-on, soldering.

There has been sawing and filing. There has been butt, T and even a little sweat soldering. There has been melting and balling of silver. There have been many hours finding and watching videos, and more hours reading library books – the excellently named Simple Soldering by Kate Ferrant Richbourg and Soldering Made Simple by Joe Silvera. There has been some wastage, and some metal repeatedly and brutally cut, soldered, recut, resoldered… There have been many failures and somewhat fewer not-exactly-successes.

Towards the end of the month there has been a hint of what I was originally aiming towards. The attempted sweat soldering didn’t work. Everything slipped around. Much of the solder became a “decorative element” rather than providing any structure.

But I like the way it cleaned up.

Germination II


It’s reminiscent of Germination II, at a much smaller scale. Importantly, it’s something I’m comfortable exploring in a domestic environment. Plus it’s a good reminder that the soldering is a means to an end. “Good enough” is enough.


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