Archive for December, 2018

Quickly taking stock

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

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

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

Side and bottom views

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

A series of manipulations on copper sample F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looping in soft string

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

Random looping around card using tension

Using packaging cardboard as a stamp

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

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

New scarey music making

August joining

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

October sampling with different sizes of wire

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

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


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

More link-and-twist

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

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili
Lightning (detail)

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

Sample p3-44

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

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

Twisted netting

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

A quick posing – peeking at possibilities.

Strike a pose

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

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

Definitely thrilling.

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

The lecture is now available on SoundCloud – Sound isn’t enough. You can get a list of the major images from – in my case I have the handout with my scribbled notes from the night. I’ve been able to track down most of the images, now on a Pinterest board.

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

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

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

Exhibition: Noŋgirrŋa Marawili – from my heart and mind

enamel paint on aluminium board
150 x 100 cm

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

natural pigments on bark
153.5 x 82.2 cm

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

natural pigments on bark
199 x 86 cm
upside down?

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

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

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

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

Now to finish as I started.

enamel paint on aluminium board
200 x 122 cm

natural pigments on board
240 x 122

Workshop: Maori basket weaving with Alice Spittle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finished bolga basket from class with Godwin Yidana

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

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


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December 2018

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