Archive for April, 2019

Glossary investigation – Teeter

Unbalance: Teeter

1867 James Russell Lowell Biglow Papers Series II

      An’ I tell you you’ve gut to larn thet War ain’t one long teeter
      Betwixt I wan’ to an’ ‘Twun’t du


Notes: Lowell wrote this long poem in response to or inspired by the American Civil War. In this and other writing he attempted to emulate the true Yankee accent in the dialogue of his characters. See – a search for “teeter” in the document will bring you to the passage.

I find it next to impossible to read. What language were others using at that time? Using around twenty quotes about the Civil War, written at that time, I selected key words and ordered them by count of occurrences and then alphabetically to create the accompanying list.

Materials used: Galvanised steel wire, fishing weights, wooden block. Photographic documentation continues to be unsatisfying, so I have made an initial experiment with video. One of the delightful things about this piece is how much it teeters, while still requiring surprising effort to dislodge. The balance point is a vertical wire sharpened to a point, on which sits a horizontal 1.57 mm wire that has been hammered flat and given a pockmark. The fact that it can fail, can fall, seems important and appropriate.

More glossary entries
Structure based on lists

Glossary as a list of words connected with unbalance

  • Oxford English Dictionary used as source of quotations, not definitions
  • Making, motion, and photo documentation in response to quote
  • Text response in a list
  • Process notes
  • Energizing objects investigation – 6

    Potential for play

    Mum let us each invite a neighbourhood friend to the Friday Craft Club. We cast and painted plaster models. We carved soap (Peter-from-next-door rubbed his eyes, causing stinging, causing crying, causing rubbing of eyes…). We made papier-mâché heads for hand puppets, then wrote and presented plays. Even in those days I was keen on projects like the costumes, involving stitching. Potato prints. Flip books. French knitting using wooden thread spools and some crooked nails.

    I keep remembering more. Carving foam with a heated wire. People would move too fast, breaking the wire. Weaving mats with strips of paper (yes, my hand goes up again). Splatter painting with toothbrush on wire mesh, creating soft silhouettes of leaves. All sorts of constructions with paddlepop sticks and pipe cleaners and balsa wood. A bag of clay from the local pottery works became lumpen pigs and doorstop ashtrays. Not that anyone in the house smoked, so that was odd. In any case they all had unpredictable wobbles. Not well balanced.

    Alternate version

    Notes: I decided to limit myself to objects on my worktable. It’s not as visually dynamic as I hoped. The V formation looks balanced. Perhaps the earlier, simpler version is more effective.

    More energizing objects.

  • Balance to create motion
  • A sideways step through memory
  • Process, objects…
  • Caption
  • Glossary investigation: Disequilibrated

    Unbalanced: Disequilibrated

    1891 Jean-Marie Guyau Education and heredity. A study in sociology

        Obviously, then, there is no possible remedy for this common disease called neurasthenia, to which all criminals, poets, visionaries, the insane, hysterical women – in fact, all whose mental equilibrium is disturbed – are subject; races simultaneously descend the scale of life and morality, and there is no ascent. The disequilibrated are for ever lost to humanity; if they do propagate their kind for a longer or shorter period, it is all the worse for them.
    initial quote from dictionary in bold above



        Whose humanity is lost?

    Notes: It seems an investigation of unbalance returns repeatedly to “hysterical women”. The quote above is from the preface of a book.

    Skim reading shows Guyau was discussing the powers attributed by some to heredity, only to challenge and dismiss them. The actual focus of the book is on the role and types of education and Guyau’s vision of reforming education with proper attention to moral, physical and intellectual development – lifelong education. Long hours of studying to pass an exam and then forget all is rejected. Skipping to the chapter dedicated to education for women, it’s not clear to me if Guyau disagrees with the logical outcome of prevailing principles that “… the disequilibration produced in the woman by intellectual work will therefore necessarily be greater than in the case of the man” (p. 260). He does appear to agree with the assumption of a girl or woman’s primary role as future mother. Given the precise direction of her future is uncertain, given vagaries of husband and family, “it should be clearly understood that we have not to teach her everything, but to fit her to learn everything, by giving her a taste for study and an interest in every subject” (p.270). Skipping ahead we find: “Inspire children, and especially young girls, with a taste for reading, study, works of art, and elevated amusements; this taste will be worth far more than all knowledge, strictly so called, artificially implanted in them; instead of a mind furnished with lifeless knowledge, you will have a mind at once living, moving, and progressive” (p. 274).

    A 1891 NY Times review of the book I found annoying and confusing in tone.

    A side note – the treatment of Guyau’s mother in various wikipedia references. The Guyau entry highlights the influence of “his stepfather, the noted French philosopher Alfred Fouillée”, while the mother, Augustine Tuillerie, gets a brief mention as author of a book and a link that doesn’t work. Her book gets an entry. There is also a french language entry for Augustine under her pseudonym G.Bruno. I’d like to know more.

    Balancing the mobile was particularly challenging as the upright spikes flipped at the slightest change. Also challenging was photography for this entry. The composite photo is static.

    Individual photos give some idea of the shapes made.

    More glossary entries
    Structure based on lists

    • Glossary as a list of words connected with unbalance
    • Oxford English Dictionary used as source of quotations, not definitions
    • Making, motion, and photo documentation in response to quote
    • Text response in a list
    • Process notes

    Glossary investigation: Pendulum

    Unbalance: Pendulum

    1818 Lord Byron Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

          Thou pendulum betwixt a smile and tear

          Mood swings

    Pendulum still

    Notes: Inspiration for this came from seeing Alexander Calder’s 1936 work Tightrope at the National Gallery of Victoria. My gallery photos didn’t come out well – better to look on the Calder Foundation website

    More glossary entries

    Structure based on lists

  • Glossary as a list of words connected with unbalance
  • Oxford English Dictionary used as source of quotations, not definitions
  • Making, motion, and photo documentation in response to quote
  • Text response in a list
  • Process notes
  • Energizing objects investigation – 5

    A towering thirst

    I picked up bar work while travelling. First time was in a roughish part of Edinburgh, the Lady Nairne. Learn on the job in those days, no RSA. Back in Sydney I continued learning:

  • if someone asks for scotch, don’t give them whiskey.
  • if someone asks for ice in beer, double check. They wanted juice.
  • if dad asks for a pony of beer, be glad he dropped by to say hi, not embarrassed by the unmanly glass.
  • Notes: This came together very quickly in the kitchen. Initial focus was the top section, which surprised in coming together reasonably easily and holding well.

    More energizing objects.

  • Balance to create motion
  • A sideways step through memory
  • Process, objects…
  • Caption
  • Glossary investigation: Trepidation

    Unbalance : Oscillation : Trepidation

    1667 John Milton Paradise Lost

          They pass the Planets seven, and pass the fixt,
          And that Crystalline Sphear whose ballance weighs
          The Trepidation talkt, and that first mov’d;

          Fixed stars
          Precession of the equinoxes
          Trepidation of the equinoxes
          Obliquity of the eliptical

    Notes: Un-Balance, an infinite series of adjustments, led to Oscillation, a regular periodic fluctuation in value about some mean, nudged a memory of Kepler and the music of spheres, and on to Trepidation, the hypothetical oscillation in the precession of the equinoxes.

    The mobile took a literal approach. A central “earth” in wood; two arms, each with a “planet” in metal (both copper one side, aluminium the other) circling the earth, each planet balanced with a metal swirl, a swivel allowing the trepidation circle. Without movement, flat and boring.

    More glossary entries
    Structure based on lists

  • Glossary as a list of words connected with unbalance
  • Oxford English Dictionary used as source of quotations, not definitions
  • Making, motion, and photo documentation in response to quote
  • Text response in a list
  • Process notes
  • Energizing objects investigation – 4

    Step 1

    Step 2

    Step 3

    Step 4

    Once a week mum would cook with one of us. Special one on one time, precious among five children. Hand made receipe pages, line drawings of blue open-fingered hands rubbing yellow butter into flour.

    Scones for afternoon tea.

    Notes: Improvising with objects in the serviced apartment when visiting Melbourne for the opening few days of Alexander Calder:Radical Inventor exhibition.
    Paper cord (made from 2 sheets of A4); books; series of kitchen implements.

    More energizing objects.

  • Balance to create motion
  • A sideways step through memory
  • Process, objects…
  • Caption
  • (Metaphorical) gluttony and indigestion

    Apparently it’s now called Freshwater, but when I was a child we would sometimes drive in summer heat to Harbord Beach. A heavy red and white umbrella. Zinc cream. Burning feet trudging through the sand. Staying between the flags, jumping into waves, attempting to body surf.

    And some days the waves, churning sand, would catch you up, tumble you around, water up your nose, struggling – which way is the surface? And you’d stagger out, legs trembling, eyes stinging, swimmers dragging down from the weight of sand in the pants, hair drying crunchy with salt. Exhausted. Wanting more.

    So I’m mixing metaphors between title and intro, but that’s just how it is right now and we’ll all just have to make do. Because over the last five weeks I’ve been tumbled, and gobbling, and racing back for more.

    The blog’s never going to catch up, so a sprint through. Visual focus remains un-balance.
    Joel Crosswell in Dirty Paper at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

    Bad reflections in the photo. Lots of flickering movement.

    Toby Ziegler Your Shadow Rising at MONA

    Toby Ziegler
    Empty Pond

    A grid rather than balance.
    Layers, accepting chance, multiple approaches (film, installation, …).

    ZERO at Mona
    Much more time and need for thought and research on Zero and Nul movement(s).

    Stripes rather than balance. Amazing what clever placement of some nails can do.

    There were multiple examples of the revealed depth of Fontana. Plus movement, vibration, balance by Bernard Aubertin, Jesús Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely…

    Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth Eyes as big as plates at Salamanca Arts Centre

    Hjorth and Ikonen
    Eyes as big as plates

    A wonderful, calming, enriching experience. I chatted for a long time with the two artists, who were incredibly welcoming, forthcoming, encouraging, generous… See more of their project at

    Intensive Creative Research with Ruth Hadlow. The first of our group sessions was held over three days in Hobart. “Intense” doesn’t cover it. Work flowing on from it includes my Energizing Objects and Glossary investigations.

    Battery Point, Hobart
    I walked the harbourside sculpture trail, but found myself more drawn by views of boatsheds, cottage gardens, inventive weather vanes and tardis side gates.

    Janet Laurence After Nature MCA Sydney
    This major survey shows the depth and wide ranging approach of Janet Laurence. Concentric rings of layered and image-printed fabrics combine with light and film to immerse the viewer in trees, within a tree, in the history of our relationship with trees. Modern and ancient knowledge and technologies are brought together. All our senses are engaged.

    A huge tree, killed by drought, has been pieced together in one of the galleries. It is bandaged, glass tubing suggesting life support, or perhaps an exchange between tree and environment of fluid or air. Engraved markings in the bark, and the insects who made them, are celebrated. Is salt rock a blossoming new growth, or the death of salinity? Eyes on balance, I was impressed by the few supports needed to stabilise the tree in the space. A slight discontinuity in deep fissures in the tree showed the small adjustments made to adapt it to its new life.

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    John Chester Jervis, National Library of Australia
    A trip to Canberra with my mother was focused on the photograph albums of a 19th century ancestor – my great great great uncle. The albums were recently donated by a distant English cousin.

    Mum with John Chester Jervis photo album

    Mourning locket for Louisa, briefly reunited with photograph of her sister Ellen and brother John

    Mum has researched the Australian period of John Chester’s life, from the 1840s to 1871 –

    While in Canberra we also visited the National Gallery of Australia, in particular Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate. There were many familiar works included, but there’s nothing like a bit of parochialism.

    Ford Maddox Brown
    The seeds and fruits of English poetry

    The central section of The seeds and fruits of English poetry by Ford Maddox Brown is a study for an enormous painting, Chaucer at the court of Edward III in the AGNSW collection. It’s one of mum’s absolute favourite works, and whenever we have a few minutes spare at the gallery you’ll find us visiting it.

    Māori Markings: Tā Moko was fascinating.There has been a contemporary resurgence of this practice, which is of major cultural significance.

    Yayoi Kusama
    The spirit of the pumpkins descended into the heavens

    The bright yellow room presented by Yayoi Kusama is billed as an experience of both claustrophobic and infinite space. I’m sure we weren’t the first to find it puzzling. I’ve been vaguely aware of Kusama’s work in the past, and find the obsessive character of it disturbing and in some sense empty.

    We also found our way down to Bodies of art: Human form from the national collection. There we found Number 24, Harry Boyd, by Harry Klippel.

    Robert Klippel
    Number 24, Harry Boyd

    Robert Klippel
    small polychromed tin sculptures

    It’s hard to believe this massive piece of sandstone was carved by the same man who made the multitude of inventive wire and tin forms which I most recently saw in Mosman as part of Destination Sydney. (I think they’re actually part of the AGNSW collection).

    Hossein Valamanesh

    Robert Klippel is definitely one of the artists on my list the research further for un-balance.

    Part of the interest of un-balance is the constant potential for complete loss of balance – for falling.

    On the information plaque Hossein Valamanesh is quoted: “Leaving aside narratives the work stands for itself and is about falling with grace.” The long bamboo shivered just slightly in the gallery’s currents of air. The work is beautiful and elegant, but I struggle that it seems to be set at the moment of impact, where grace can no longer hold. The ground is so solid and hard. I’d like to see it Falling on a plinth, white or even perspex, curving to swoop joyfully upwards.

    No photos, but I’ll briefly mention Hassall Collection at Drill Hall Gallery. No photos – we happened to arrive at the same time as a very large group of people from Canberra and Sydney, and it was hard to get viewing space.

    In the last few days I’ve been on another interstate trip – this time to the National Gallery of Victoria, and focused on the opening events of Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. An amazing experience, needing its own post. While there I took a couple of hours to roam NGV galleries, looking for anything that spoke to me of un-balance.

    Francesco Clemente
    The Midnight Sun XII

    I have no idea what to make of this painting, but I stayed with it for a long time. There are scales. There is a balance achieved in the composition in a way I don’t understand. Research needed.

    Paul Cezanne
    The Uphill Road

    The geometry here is amazing. The roof and tree line, with the path at the bottom, struggle to balance that steep, sliding slope.

    Then in the bottom right corner, and possibly among the last brush strokes on the canvas, is the slightest hint of a straggle of weeds. And I think that braces, props up, the entire thing.

    Currently hanging next to the Cezanne is The bridge on the Seine at Chatou by Maurice de Vlaminck.

    Maurice de Vlaminck
    The bridge on the Seine at Chatou

    Full of energy and zest, and I don’t think the artist cares one whit that the bridge and the entire village on the right bank is about to slide under the waters of the Seine.

    Mari Funaki

    A dreadful photo, lots of reflections and blurry focus, but I want to remember the works of Mari Funaki. A much better photo is on the gallery website here. A beautifully balanced insect of a thing which could leap across the room in an instant. That leftmost leg is wide but thin – the whole thing looks like it could tip backwards, at the same time as it seems perfectly in control.

    Just minutes later I was looking at this jar – Predynastic Period, Naqada II 3500 BCE-3200 BCE. EGYPT, Diospolis Parva


    Maybe looking at Funaki’s work I should have been thinking of birds rather than insects. And these lines actually would make a good segue to Alexander Calder and his zoo drawings. But not today.

    Instead I’m going to finish where I intended to start – at the pile of books that have accumulated over the same five weeks. In no particular order:

    Hassall Collection: A masterpiece Collection of Australian Art. Exhibition catalogue.
    John Berger. A Painter of Our Time
    Dora Garcia I see words, I hear voices
    Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. Exhibition catalogue.
    Landscapes: John Berger on Art
    Richard Serra, Hal Foster Conversations about Sculpture
    Alexander Calder & Fischli/Weiss
    Sol LeWitt: Between the Lines
    William Kentridge Six Drawing Lessons
    Joy Kenward The Joy of Mindful writing: Notes to inspire creative awareness
    Ruth Hadlow Granite
    Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better
    Joan Pachner David Smith
    Anne Carson Float
    Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroder (eds) Agnes Martin
    Eyes as big as plates. Exhibition catalogue
    Sarah Edelman Change your thinking: positive and practical ways to overcome stress, negative emotions and self-defeating behaviour using CBT (Lent to me by a work colleague who thought I was stressed. Can’t imagine where he got that idea!)

    All this added to the metres of unread and part-read books already piled up on the shelves.

    Five weeks, four capital cities, sixteen books. Good days.


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