Archive for February, 2013


Today I saw the Menagerie Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

The impact of lighting and shadows has been a recurring interest in my OCA work (for example 17-Feb-2013). There were some wonderful examples in Menagerie – all the more impressive because it’s in the Vernon wing (built 1896-1910), a huge room with tremendously high ceilings and lots of high windows. Photography was permitted (no flash).

Taking this photo I was concentrating on the shadow of Emu (2007) by Laurie Nilsen. Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of the artist of the piece at the bottom left, although I remember it was made of bull kelp and referenced the Devil Facial Tumor Disease that is threatening the Tasmanian Devil (more information on that at

Lena Yarinkura Camp Dogs, 2008

Garth Lena Echidna, 2006

Frewa Bardaluna Stingrays, 2008

Module Reflections -Textiles 1: A Creative Approach

Eighteen months ago, on 25-August-2011, I wrote about my hopes from the OCA course. I am now in the throes of packaging up the final assignment for this module. How has it gone?

  • Purposeful exploration. Tick! One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the course is the structure – skills and ideas are introduced, you do initial exercises, then use the skills as one component of later sections.
  • New skills, particularly in design. Another tick, in the context of this being a foundation course. I’ve learned and improved. I need to practice and learn more if I want to keep improving.
  • Learn ways of expressing myself. Yes. I chose a theme which was very personal and which I found very challenging. I’m glad I did, and I feel the final piece is true to me as a person. That’s very satisfying.
  • Incorporate weaving in the work. Marginal. There was the structure section of the module, but that was mostly tapestry – very valid as weaving, but not previously my “thing” and not what I was thinking of in this point. On the other hand, I’m rather proud of myself for choosing not to use weave in the final piece.
  • Improve/train memory, with sketchbook work and a framework. My sketchbook work basically stopped during Assignment 5. I also slowed down on reading about art history. Both are very disappointing – it felt good and I enjoyed it when I was in rhythm. Definitely something I want to return to.
  • Learn about what others are doing in textiles. A strong yes. I’ve done more reading and been to more exhibitions, both textile and other forms of art, than ever before. This also fell apart during Assignment 5, when I developed a rather obsessive and narrow focus, but I’m confident will return.
  • Do things I wouldn’t have thought to do myself. Definitely. I never expected to make yarn and weave with fly-screen mesh, but now I think it’s a very exciting material that I want to use again. Overall I feel I’ve tried to push myself beyond my comfort zone and given the levels of discomfort I felt at various times I should rate that as achieved.

Those were all the hopes I listed, but I’ll add that I’ve found writing these reflections very helpful. I’m good at finding flaws – in de Bono’s terms I’m a strong black hat ( – valuable in moderation but… Writing my reflections I’ve tried to acknowledge the good parts in balance with areas needing improvement. It still feels uncomfortable, but my inner critic could afford to lose a little weight.

This style of learning suits me and my  circumstances well. I’m looking forward to more.

Project 10: Reflection

Having completed my “piece of my own” last Saturday I’ve spent time looking back through my themebook, design development and construction. On Sunday I also re-visited two major sources of inspiration.

sketch20121123_24dThe first was the Francis Bacon exhibition, now in its last week at the Art Gallery. I posted about this in December, just as I was finishing Assignment 4 (see post 25-Nov-2012). I wrote at the time it “felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing” and “in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book”. I did sketch after sketch melding those screams and the nursing home room.

On this last visit my perspective had changed. I no longer saw Nancy – that image has developed down a different path. Instead I found myself seeing the paintings as paintings, looking at colour and mark-making and composition. I noticed details that I’d totally missed before. I was more familiar with the paintings, able to move on from that raw emotion. Interesting.

The second visit was later the same day, my standard 4pm Sunday with Nancy. Her voice has changed in the last week, it’s a little deeper. She’s still shaky and weak after the episode a fortnight ago and is even thinner – the bones of her hands used to be prominent, with the skin falling away, but now there are dark caves underneath the bone as the skin curves under. It is amazing the tenacity and endurance of the flesh, and I should be clear that not every moment is bleak or filled with despair. I’ve learnt a lot, read experts’ opinions, tables of statistics, lots of individual views and I have much stronger and clearer opinions myself – but it will be good to put those to one side for now and focus on doing whatever little I can to support the person, Nancy.

So on to the Assignment questions.

Can you see a continuous thread of development from your original drawings and samples to the final design?

Over the development period I had lots of ideas that were winnowed away as the design progressed. Ignoring the paths not followed, elements of the final design are evident from the early stages of collecting material in my theme book.
p10_path01A page dated 23-June-2012 has a little sketch tucked on one side that is surprisingly like the final design.

sketch20120701_nancybedJust a couple of days later I recorded the impact of the new, deluxe but too short bed that Nancy had been allocated, and the resulting contortion of her body.

In Stage 1 of Project 10 (blogged 22-Dec-2012) traps/constraints was one of five areas of focus I considered, and red tape was mentioned under the heading of strong emotion.

sketch20121226In Stage 2 (blogged 28-Dec-2012) I had considerable more clarity of focus – an exhibition piece focused on an individual and the critical experience of loss of choice, trapped in intense physical and emotional pain. The moodboard shown in that post has been a powerful guide throughout my work on the final piece and included the sketch shown here which is very close to the completed work. There are differences in the detail level – the figure itself was formed by binding, the container had bars more like a prison…

figurev2_01The plasticine model I made of the figure (first seen in the blog 1-Jan-2013) was a vital part of the design development. It let me think about the work in three dimensions, the shapes that could be created. I referred to the model throughout construction of the figure.

sketch20130123sketch201301dI also made extensive use of photographs of the model. It was an opportunity to check for other design directions, plus I gained familiarity with the shapes I wanted to make and I’m sure that assisted the actual fabrication. Re-reading that post I see mention of the importance of shadows. I’d forgotten all about that – it turns out my assumption that the shadows would be interesting was spot on.

shape_sample_04I tried a few construction methods for the figure (see post 6-Jan-2013), with the felt version the clear winner. I noted down a couple of extra ideas at the time which were included in the end, such as use of Nancy’s own dress, a loose “skirt”, and contrast colour in the mouth. One of the discarded samples had binding in the black spikey yarn overtaking the body, and I used that on the leg of the final figure.

sketch20130108Ongoing sketchbook work also played a part. On 7th of January I played around with overlapping words, and this was later developed into the binding on the container. This element was the last to be resolved in construction of the piece, as earlier ideas for interpretation of it did not work well in practice.

Further sampling and mockups assisted in colour choice and what I thought were final design decisions – although in retrospect I was too quick to dismiss my concern that “the sample wrapping is much too confused and visually distracting” (blog post 28-Jan-2013). This led to the only significant change of the design during construction. The plan of stitching words on black cotton tape to bind the container did not work. Another round of sampling was required to find different materials and techniques (blogged 15-Feb-2013) – although in the end the solution harked back to my earlier thoughts of red tape.

In summary I feel there was is a very clear and continuous thread from initial collection of theme ideas, through all stages of design development and sampling, to final design, construction and the finished piece.

Do you feel you made the right decisions at each stage of the design process? If not, what changes would you make?

I think I made good decisions at each stage. I kept true to the emotion which drew me to my theme in the first place. The choice to make an exhibition style piece was right in that sense, but it had to be interpreted within the postage constraints of volume, weight and cost.

shape_sample_02I’m pleased that I was able to make decisions that hurt, that I didn’t want to make. Judith Scott’s work (see and my comments 28-Dec-2012) really influenced me with those overtones of constriction and distortion of the body, but my small sample raised problems with scale, and as a story having the body bound within a container didn’t quite make sense.

nancy_leno_2It was difficult to give up the covering blanket (see post 7-Jul-2012). I was so happy doing that bit of weaving. It would feel so right right as a weaver to have some weaving incorporated in the final piece, and even now looking at my work I can imagine a little blanket in there. However I think it would have been unnecessary complication and would have detracted from the work as a whole.

Were you able to interpret your ideas well within the techniques and materials you chose to work with?

Generally I feel the work is a sound interpretation of my design.

The wire I used at the core of the figure was not firm enough to get the shaping I wanted. The figure is more rectangular rather than curved. If I wanted to do something similar in the future I would explore other materials, gauges and type of wire, or at least doubled the wire.

I thought the figure could end up looking like a doll (or at one point an alien in a cheap sci-fi movie) but in my eyes it avoids that. The strange proportions, the multi-jointed leg, contribute to an overall sense of wrongness.

The synthetic organza ribbon and the printing film can look a bit artificial and plastic depending on lighting direction and intensity. Overall I think that choice was alright, but not spot on.

The biggest test of my choices is yet to come – will the work survive multiple trips through the mail?

How successful is your final design in terms of being inventive within the medium and coherent as a whole?

I don’t think I have been inventive as such. Possibly using the needle-felting tool to attach the dress to the body was unusual. Crushing the box was a small thing that may not be obvious but gives some interesting reflections. I think it was a good idea to scan the binding yarn and include it on the printing for the ribbon – not something you might be conscious of when looking at the work, but a subtle ratcheting-up from the alternative of blank space between phrases. I did things I‘ve never done before, but nothing that hasn’t been done by others.

In my eyes the final work makes a coherent whole. Each element has a purpose and makes a contribution. I’m not totally convinced by the black yarn binding, it’s a bit clunky visually, but it’s very important structurally. Obviously I hope to go on to make more and better work, quite possibly on the same theme, but Aged Care pretty much achieves what I set out to achieve.

I have tried to follow a development process, but my emotional attachment may have taken over from course requirements at times. I don’t regret that at all. I wouldn’t want to work with a theme I find so intense all the time, but certainly it should be a substantial part of what I do.

It’s ironic that this work about the voiceless will itself never been seen or heard.

Project 10 Stage 4 – More photos!

I thought I’d posted enough yesterday, but I just noticed the effect of the late afternoon sun.


Lots of shadows.

Shadows inside the container too – can you see them cutting across the neck and coming down to gag the mouth?

Given my previous obsessions I’m amazed I didn’t try for a silhouette sooner. I love the way the balance has changed – the dark figure, the ribbon binding almost reduced to “just” the words.

Project 10 Stage 4 – Aged Care

Below is a series of images of Aged Care, my final piece for the OCA course Textiles 1: A Creative Approach to Textiles.  Click on a photo to be taken into a carousel that lets you scroll through the full size images one by one.

Aged Care
Words trap the voiceless.

Quotes and sources:
“the elderly or vulnerable may be coerced into agreeing to end their life for somebody else’s gain” Comment by “jo jo” to article Novak, L. “Euthanasia could become a matter of will in South Australia” Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“it is inherently wrong to end a life in answer to suffering” From “A Disability Position Statement On Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide” Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“Reducing the availability of means of suicide as a preventive strategy has been advocated as an important strategic initiative”. Cattell, H. “Suicide in the elderly”. In: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2000) 6: 102-108 doi: 10.1192/apt.6.2.102 Accessed 20-Aug-2012
“voluntary euthanasia could be open to the terrible abuse of the elderly” Gillian Mears discussing her earlier (now changed) views on the topic, quoted in Power, J. “Author’s new view on final chapter”. Accessed 19-Nov-2012
“the act of suicide in late life is rarely a rational act or an unavoidable tragedy” Cattell, H. “Suicide in the elderly”. In: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2000) 6: 102-108 doi: 10.1192/apt.6.2.102 Accessed 20-Aug-2012
“fraught with danger” Rob Stokes quoted in Tovey, J. “Euthanasia is just a bridge too far”
Accessed 23-Oct-2012
“affects the values of society over time” Quote in Davey, M. “Doctor slams ‘arrogance’ on euthanasia” Accessed 24-Oct-2012
“a Trojan horse for involuntary euthanasia” Kelleher, T, Death on demand: euthanasia and assisted suicide in Australia – (AFA Journal Vol.32 No.1 2011) Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“the abuse of elderly people by coercion and psychological manipulation” Accessed 22-Jan-2013
“regardless of circumstances, no suicides are all right” Russell, P. LIFE ISSUES: Assisted suicide rationalised by misguided motives Accessed 11-Feb-2013
“exploitation and perhaps callousness towards people in the end stage of life” Julie Gillard quoted in Davey, M. “Doctor slams ‘arrogance’ on euthanasia” Accessed 24-Oct-2012
“euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation is never safe”
Accessed 11-Feb-2013

That’s it for the presentation but since this is my blog and my soapbox, I’m going to give voice to my take on assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia for the elderly.

I believe the individual should have the final choice on whether and when to end their life. Safeguards – checks and balances – are needed to ensure that there is no coercion or manipulation. It will be difficult to draft the legislation, but being difficult doesn’t mean impossible. It won’t be perfect, nothing is – the current situation is far, far, far from perfect.

The individual should be able to make a living will, setting out various potential circumstances and what they want to happen. If a person thinks that’s dangerous, then don’t make one – or even better, make a living will with clear instructions that to you personally every second of life is precious and you want every step taken to prolong your life as long as possible in all circumstances. It’s your choice.

I think that for many people, if they are confident that their wishes will be honoured, they will be able to relax and enjoy their life longer. Knowing they won’t be trapped, that they have control over their own life, the final step can be delayed until they are ready. Maybe with extra time, with no fear of legal consequences, they will be able to discuss their personal choice and reasons with their family and loved ones. That could make a difference to those left behind.

Excellent palliative care, identification and treatment of depression, support for those lonely or grieving – all have been raised as removing the need for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. In practice there isn’t the funding available to make these services available to everyone and they are not the choice of everyone. In Nancy’s case, she was “lucky”. She spent time in a psych ward following her suicide attempt and later spent a couple of months in an acute care hospital while her specialist attempted to find a balance of medication that dealt with her pain without too many side-effects. There has been no ongoing support in the nursing home. Even something as simple as a heat-pack – the one sure way to ease her pain a little – is only available sporadically.

To address this, I believe any savings in the system due to reduced long-term care of those individuals who choose assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia should be immediately used to provide additional funding to palliative care, treatment of depression, and all those other valuable programs that support individuals, perhaps making what was unbearable bearable – for at least a little longer.

Project 10 Stage 4 – part 2

After making the figure (blogged 9-Feb-2013) the second major phase of construction was the binding tape.

p5_text_choicesIt turned into a multi-stage process to decide just what I wanted and how to achieve my design. Since this course is so much about process I want to show the various steps and decision points. I’ve been trying to observe myself work, and one standard sequence is that I ask myself a question or come up against a problem, it rumbles around in my mind – conscious and unconscious – I have various conversations with myself, and generally an answer, or part of one, or a new question, comes up in minutes, hours or days. This time multiple iterations of that pattern were needed. It’s not inspiration, it doesn’t come from nowhere – but it’s hard to explain where it does come from.

p10materials031. Initially I collected a reasonably wide range of ribbons, tapes and yarns. The sampling during Stage 3 clearly showed that using all of them was way too busy (blogged 28-Jan-2013).

2. I pruned the proposed bindings down to just two widths of black tape, plus the spikey over-twist yarn (which I think is reminiscent of barbed wire). In the top photo step 2 shows the text stitched in bright rayon threads. I purchased some matt cotton thread in the colours of the figures’ “dress” to use on the actual piece.

3. Although I have completed the various Research Points of my current course I have continued reading, particularly on the subject of “craft”. In an essay on the genesis of “Craftivism” Betsy Greer writes about the impact of a parade she watched in Greenwich Village (1). Puppets floated along in the parade, omitting words but powerfully conveying anger and frustration on a range of issues. The tangible visual imagery seemed potent, hard to dismiss, more powerful than raised voices.

I don’t think my work really fits within Craftivism and it’s not a term I would choose for myself. However I did stop and re-evaluate my purpose and whether the use of text could weaken rather than enhance any impact of the work. For me a critical point is that the text itself does not contain the protest. Instead I am showing the words of others and the consequences of those words in practice. These words, however well-intentioned, however much based on deeply held beliefs, are trapping individuals who themselves are voiceless. The contrast of the harsh impersonal words to the experience of the voiceless individual is the whole point of the piece. So the words stay, in the hope that one day they will change.

4. Having decided to keep the words, I wondered if it would be more effective to make them less prominent. The focus should be on the trapped figure. Perhaps the nature of the trap should be less obvious, only understood at closer range and with some effort on the part of the viewer. I experimented stitching with various values of grey on the black tape, and found intriguing the darker values that looked more like texture at a distance then revealed their message when close.

Unfortunately when I did an initial trial wrapping of the final figure in the container using my prepared tapes the result was awful. The black tape was just too dominant, even when just using the narrower version. I would try a new wrapping, walk out of the room a while, come back – still ugly and uninteresting, concealing the figure way too much.

5. After some walking and pondering I decided to try organza – ribbon and torn strips of cloth. Shopping fitted into a lunch break didn’t produce many options. I couldn’t find black organza ribbon in a width that just fit the sewing machine stitched letters. The white organza looked great at first, but reflected too much when I used stronger lighting. Another problem was legibility. Using a wash-away stabiliser helped the sewing machine to form the stitches, but they distorted and became unreadable. I quite like making the viewer work a little to gain information, but I don’t want them to get frustrated and quickly turn away. Torn or handcut edges didn’t seem to fit the harsh impersonal nature of the words.

6. I tried writing by hand on the narrow black organza ribbon using a variety of pens, pencils and crayon. It was difficult to make the lettering legible. Also it felt important that the text had a impersonal machine-made look.

7. A way to print on organza ribbon was needed. Next lunchtime I was over to the art supply store where they recommended Grafix Rub-onz. On the way back to the office I remembered a very early idea about red tape – perhaps I could find red ribbon in a good width. While making a short detour to the fabric/craft store I realised that since I would be printing from the computer I could scan in my spikey yarn and use that image in the gap between printed phrases. Suddenly I was very excited.

Using the Rub-onz product is fiddly but do-able. There’s a bit of a plastic sheen from the film – but since the ribbon is organza the lettering film could show through from the back, much reducing the problem.

8. (not shown). There was quite a bit more thinking and experimenting with the extra choices now available. What font to choose? I chose Arial – bland and impersonal. All upper case, all lower or a mixture? I chose all upper – to me it looks more spikey, harsh and angular, plus there’s the idea that these phrases are being shouted out so that the individual can’t be heard. The end result also reminds me of police tape around a crime scene.

Earlier today I finished creating text on 5 metres of tape, which is now in a test wrap on the container. I look at it every now and then, wondering if I’m happy with the placement or how it could be improved.

(1) Greer, B., 2011. Craftivist History. In: M. E. Buszek, ed. Extra/Ordinary: Craft and contemporary art. Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 175-183.

Project 10 Stage 4 – part 1

This Stage involves making all or representative part of the designed textile. I should be able to complete my piece in an amount of time appropriate to the assignment – fortunate since it would be difficult to isolate a representative part!

I started by making the figure – the most critical element and also the one most technically challenging and beyond my existing experience and skillset.
figureconstruction01First up was the head, which you might be able to see middle left in the photo – a core of the purple merino, then a “skin” of the blend I chose in the earlier colour mixing process in Stage 3 (posted 28-Jan-2013). Next the torso, needle-felting using Border Leicester wool. At this stage I didn’t incorporate the wire frame, thinking that it could cause broken needles and also repeated flexing of the wire could weaken it.

figureconstruction02Inserting the wire proved difficult, but after some tense moments not impossible. There is one wire running from the head, through the torso to the right foot – a spine. A second wire forms the arms, with a twist around the spine. A third wire is the left leg, one end twisted around the spine. Most of the mass of wool above the shoulders was cut off later.

figureconstruction03Some additional pieces of wool were added to give some additional shape to the torso. The mouth has been cut, revealing the purple interior. I intended to make the figure slightly larger than the plasticine model, but at this stage was concerned at just how much bigger the figure was becoming.

figureconstruction04A merino skin has been added to the torso. This photo shows the process of wet-felting the arms and legs. There are four layers of merino, long but just one fibre-length wide. The dark blue “veins” are only in the final layer. I’d been thinking of trying to keep a wrinkly look to the skin, or perhaps that falling away from the bone affect from loss of weight and muscle, but found it too tricky at this scale.

figureconstruction05The basic figure pretty much finished – and much larger than the plasticine model. That’s a 30 cm / 12 inch ruler on the left. There were some technical issues getting to this point.

shape_sample_05I had wanted to get a wrinkly neck like the earlier sample (posted 6-Jan-2013), but while putting it on decided that could only have been done by starting at the head, because the torso was pretty much fixed and I couldn’t move it to compress the felt.

I then partly proved this wrong by changing the way the head was attached. Relying on the strength of the felt alone seemed dangerous given all the travelling this figure is going to do. Eventually I put the wire entirely through the head and bent the end at an angle (covered by a needle-felted “toupée”), plus a dot of hot glue at the base of the head.

The big concern at this point is that the figure looks like a puppet alien in a low-budget movie.

figureconstruction06Next a dress was created, first shaped and slightly attached to the body using the felting needle. This worked well in terms of shaping, basically breaking down and softening the structure of the cotton fabric so it conformed quite well to the torso shape. I snipped away unneeded material as I went. It wasn’t well attached, so after some experimentation I used a dilute glue, painted all over the fitted fabric.

figureconstruction07This is almost the finished figure. The arms and legs are unfinished because I wanted to do some dry-fitting in the container, see what shapes could be created, before making a final decision. I’ve also put a few stitches in the skirt of the dress, hoping to hold it in place while travelling, plus couched some black yarn winding its way up one leg. Those details can wait for the final “reveal”.

Overall making the figure went well. A few details didn’t go as planned, but given I was taking multiple leaps in dark, unfamiliar territory it went better than I expected. On a more sombre and real note, the greatest difficulty during the making of the figure was a health challenge for Nancy last weekend – probably a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) from what one of the nurses said. I was visiting her at the time. Without going into detail it was very disturbing to witness and I was relieved later to find that she has no memory of it – just woke from a little nap to find I had vanished and nurses were bustling around her with an oxygen tank. One of the hardest parts was trying to understand or know what Nancy wanted. I know she’s refused medical or hospital assistance in the past, that she not infrequently says she hopes that each day, each night, will be the one she dies. At one point early in the attack she was trying to say something but was incomprehensible. Did she want help? I couldn’t sit there passive. I went and got the nurses. I feel a hypocrite and that I failed her, but more important is what Nancy is feeling – and that’s unbearable to think about.

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February 2013

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