Archive for the 'Reading' Category

I sit

I sit in my new Drawing Room. It’s not for drawing in, although I might choose to do so at the old white melamine desk. Drawing happens in my Work Room (previously known as the Dining Room). Instead here I can withdraw and sit. Private, quiet. Not busy.

I sit in Grandma Goodyer’s dining chair. The two carvers are here. The other chairs, and the table, are going to my nephew. I have no Dining Room for them. My father’s bookcase is in here. My mother-in-law’s needlework. Some of my sons’ toys and books. So much from my mother and generations of her family. It could be deemed a Family Room of sorts.

I sit here reading, the morning sun fractured through the faceted glass of the east-facing wall, brightening the yellow walls. It is lovely in the morning, although I worry about the treasures in mum’s display cabinet, the delicate old books, the textiles, the fine leather gloves held in walnut shells. A Morning Room then – except my mind goes immediately to Mourning Room. I may mourn in here at times, but now I sit as if in a nest of nourishment and love, a place of joy and light. A Sun Room. My son’s room. The plaque is still on the door – Kenneth’s Room: Happy Memories Brighten Quiet Hours; the image a small boy sitting, fishing.

I sit with a folding wooden table beside me – a wedding gift to my parents. It holds my morning cup of tea, my book. On my lap this chilly autumn morning is mum’s cream blanket which I darned with coloured wools. My drawing board, complete with smudges of charcoal, lies across the arms of the carver – an improvised writing desk. I am comfortable. There is lots to do outside this room, lots I want to do, but it is not demanding my attention. I can remain in stillness a bit longer in this Sitting Room.

I sit and consider possibilities. It’s not a State Room, Salon or Parlour. This is not a public space. While there is a bed for guests, especially visiting sons, it is not a place for lounging.  The built in wardrobe holds my art supplies, but it would be a disservice to call this a Store Room.

I sit and let my eyes and mind wander. I reflect on my life, the people I love and who love me. This room, containing so much of others, reflects my tastes and interests, my place in life. A Reflection Room? The light glinting off glazed cabinets and mirrored wardrobe seems to echo my soft chuckle.

I sit beside one display cabinet, another is on the opposite wall. They were joined in my mother’s home. By the door is her corner cabinet, a fake antique – my brother has its match, the real one. It welcomes me to the room, showcasing all the vessels of cloth, resin and clay I have made over the past fifteen months of mourning. Mum’s skirts and blouses, my hands and heart. At the moment the other cabinets are a jostle, but over time I plan to curate an ongoing series – my life, my work, my family. So a gallery or museum – an Exhibition Room.

I sit in my Drawing Room. It is a place to rest, to reflect, to read, to write, to stitch, to withdraw to, occasionally to sleep in. It is a place to simply sit. A place from which I can venture forth.

Line, pattern, index

line, pattern, index; palimpsest and piecing

That was the title of the mini research project I drew up for March.

There were some beginnings:

All above but the writing square are samples based on two classes with Lynn Yuhr (https://www.instagram.com/lynnyuhr/), presented online by Metalwerx. Lynne’s teaching and notes were exceptional. Metalwerx provided excellent support and admin.

Sally Smart
The Artists House
AGNSW

Work by Sally Smart at the Art Gallery of NSW thrilled.

The “index” element came from reading Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan. I was interested in the idea of indexing as an act of deep reading. Struggling to read a dense chapter in Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry as preparation for the creative research group, I decided to try indexing. Just developing a set of headwords was challenging and very effective in both engaging a higher level of attentiveness and in identifying the flow of Hirshfield’s argument.

Next I attempted to combine a few of my focus elements in building an index – or a series of indexes – of the Daily Balance photographs I showed last month.

It became elaborate. An example:

Daily balance #5
Combined with an old charcoal scribble, which was then rubbed back and covered with white paint
became a new charcoal sketch.
I then identified what most attracted my attention and…
a pattern was formed

The next step was going to be the pattern expressed in polymer clay, which in a way I can’t now see was going to become one of a set of pattern index cards. There’s a gap in my thinking here. That’s an index?

At the same time I wrote a paragraph triggered by the various elements – the story behind the glass frog which was a gift from mum.

Plus a list of materials which could feed into an index. Which could be based on edited photos of mum. The closest I could find to polymer clay was a photo of mum holding some children’s play clay. The photo has the sharp image of clay, and the pixelated memory shape of mum.

This was A Very Bad Idea. I was obliterating my mother. I’ve removed the photo from this post because I don’t want to see that again. The entire chain of work was abandoned, although I may return to the pattern generation element.

Instead I have diverted to consider a coincidence in the use of language. Dennis Duncan writes of the “compressed story telling” that can appear in an index. Major incidents in Jane Doe’s life in staccato bursts and page numbers. Jane Hirshfield writes that good poetry, and image in particular “by gathering many energies toward a single end, creates an intense compression of meaning; it carries into the mind the solidity, particularity, and multi-facetedness of actual objects.” And leads on to enlarged awareness.

Different forms of compression can distil down, or open out. Which led on to mapping and models, and how patterns can be found by drilling down into the detail of sunflower pollen or by looking up, stargazing the constellations. In Evocative Objects Mitchel Resnick writes of his attention being held not by the stars, but the spaces between. He went on to explore “systems in which complex patterns emerge from simple interactions among simple parts.

Pattern finding – the simple describing the complex? complex pattern from combinations of the simple?

And then there’s the surprise of the unexpected, a disruption in the pattern. (Explored by Jane Hirshfield in Hiddenness, Uncertainty, Surprise.)

More investigation required.

The Red Exercise Book

Found in an anonymous pile
behind the hanging files
of the two drawer cabinet
underneath the dressing table
of the large spare bedroom
of my mothers apartment.

A Red Exercise book
Begun in March 1939

A father’s pride in his daughter
(he was a school headmaster)

A girl on the cusp of leaving childhood
becoming a young woman

There are newspaper clippings, a congratulatory telegram

Never late and never absent
A family summer holiday
Relaxing and celebrating a job well done
a future beckoning
The final page used.
101 blank pages follow.

Look again at that last page. The dates.

As a reward the precious young scholar has an extended holiday. Two weeks later she travels home alone. In a country newly at war. Her family “glad to see her”.

I don’t recall ever seeing this exercise book before. There are plenty of family stories of what came next. In the end the start of high school was delayed by six months. Bomb shelters needed to be built, and the older girls were given priority to finish their education. Later the school bomb shelter was flattened – on a holiday Monday, so it was empty of students.

There were months of broken nights in the coal cellar. The first air-raid alarm was bombers flying over to industrial targets in cities to the west. The dangerous time was the second alarm as the bombers returned, dropping unused bombs wherever they could. School started late the next day If the second alarm was after midnight.

Grandpa built bunks in the coal cellar, chipped the mortar from the bricks separating them from next door – a way out if only one house was hit. There was a celebratory Opening Ceremony of song and poetry.

The very specific timing of that last page of that exercise book feels like a publicity blurb – a girl on the cusp of becoming a young woman; a country on the cusp of war…

And her “first long distance journey alone”. She bought a suitcase with her first pay as a teacher, and came to Australia alone by boat aged 24. In part it was to meet her war-time penfriend, and the family who sent them food parcels through the war. We have the albums of her travels – in Perth, then by land across the continent to Adelaide and then Sydney…

How can I, as a daughter and as an artist, respond to this?

Cautiously
Lightly
Over time
Without confusing the objects with my mother, our relationship, my grief
Nothing Monumental or Memorial.
Responding. Perhaps a series of small gestures. Oblique.
Interleaved with other projects. I want to respond, not be taken over.

So far one focus is administrative – scanning and documenting whatever speaks to me while working with my siblings to clear the flat. And as my concentration continues to improve, reading around the terrain.

  • Kate Zambreno Appendix Project. The ongoing, always provisional. project of writing about her mother
  • Greg Dening No single, stable history. No zero point. My construct of her world. Represent | Re-present | Re-present (make it now)
  • Jonathan Safran Foer Everything is illuminated. The self-interest, the individual needs, the deceit, the unstable past looking for family history
  • Kate Briggs This Little Art Looking at translation, the suspension of disbelief. Translation across time rather than language?
  • Anne Carson Nox Building a tentative and partial picture from fragments
  • The weight, the demands of the archive. Walter Benjamin; Kate Zambreno
  • Eula Biss “How motherhood radicalised Adrienne Rich”. The anger and frustration
  • Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly Songlines. The third archive.
  • Jane Rendell “The Welsh Dresser” in Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism. Unpacking a container of the past
  • Lydia Davis “Happy memories” in Collected Stories. Had me thinking about the different types of memories
  • Adrienne Rich “Six meditations in place of a lecture” in What is found there. Writes of Eduard Glisant’s work: “Relation is turbulence, exposure, an identity not of roots but of meeting places; not a lingua franca but a multiplicity of languages, articulations, messages.”

Possible future reading

  • Referenced by Zambreno
    • WG Sebald Austerlitz
    • Bhanu Kapil Ban en Banlieue and Schizophrene
    • Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Dictee
    • Roland Barthes The preparation of the novel
  • Kim Mahood Position Doubtful: Mapping Landscapes and Memories The burden of history?
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Notes on Grief
  • Max Porter Grief is the thing with feathers
  • Krissy Kneen The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s already daunting. In any case, I want making to be a (the?) primary tactic in thinking through this. Containers and the circular – which enclose, embrace, trap, exclude and so much more have already been seen in resin, fabric, coiling (30-Apr-2021).

I’ve made early attempts using polymer clay. The idea is to spend some time with some of the objects in mum’s apartment. Focus on and respond to colour, pattern, line. The materiality. Create some time and space and quiet in my mind to reflect on all I continue to learn about the person.

The container that is the Red Exercise Book. The embossed red cover. The shape of the inked letters in Grandpa’s hand. The ripples and reflections of the sea, that summer in Weymouth. I want to create my own new memories with them.

And only just now, as I’m about to hit Publish, I notice the scroll and “Volume 2” on the cover. What???

Making reading

I continue to be absorbed in the intersection of language, sound, image, text, and ways to transform and mix between different modes. 29-Aug-2020 showed some related work.

In The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard writes of “‘… galleries of words’. which describes extremely well this fibered space traversed by the simple impetus of words that have been experienced.” This set me playing with writing in space – plastic filament text using a 3D pen, quotes from recent reading, and the mobile form to emphasise space.

I like the shadows and movement of this. The text is still quite flat and linear.

I wanted to work with text and ideas very literally, but not illustrating. Emphasising the thingness of text. Perhaps bring in other crafts – basketry is a good fit for creating space. A Tower of Bable or a Trajan Tower of text? The plastic text is quite brittle. Perhaps writing on insect mesh would give stability and flexibility.

Initial tests were promising. A form from 2016 suggested itself.

I tried other bases and forms to write around, other ways of presentation. The text below comes from Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy.

Looking for another transformation – filtered, distorted and merged photos in gimp.

I was less happy with a sideways step in materiality. This next sample’s text is from The Botticellian Trees by William Carlos Williams (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=19139). A very appropriate text. I’d really like to work more with this poem, but this wasn’t the right application.

At this point I returned to the earlier idea around flyscreen. This time I wrote out the full text of Part for the Whole by Robert Francis (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/24187/part-for-the-whole). I think the idea of fragments, distortion, reflection, reconstruction sits very well with this treatment.

The weaving was awkward. The initial idea was to plain weave the text strips and support them with twining in a thin yarn – similar to the 2016 sample. Given the poem is about views of a sunset I was thinking of painting yarn in an appropriate colour progression – the light being overtaken by the dark mesh of night.

However in 2016 I used aluminium screen that responded well to shaping. This fibreglass mesh was obstreperous. I used pins at each crossing of strips to keep it together as I worked. The outcome was lumpen.

It went onto my “thinking table” – a place where I display items of inspiration, work that is part of an ongoing investigation, in this instance a work in progress where the next step is unclear. All together, a chance for a conversation. I can see it all from my work table and often find myself looking in an abstracted muse.

I started seeing this

and this

The vessel fell on what I thought was its side, and the text became more legible, the form less inert. The shadows became more interesting. How would it look with a different background?

This is an unedited photo, and I like the series of transformations involved. A poem made into a physical object – mesh and plastic filament. Then made into an even more dimensional form using basketry. A sunset some years ago in Canberra was photographed, printed out, carefully positioned behind the woven form; together they were lit and photographed. In and out of different modes of being. I’m happy with this result.

(relatively) recent making

Above is the making involving most time, and least interest. These are just some of dozens of masks for close family. The one point of pride is that they are entirely made from stuff already in the house.

The interesting making, the slow making, the making as part of reading and thinking, deliberately slowing down reading and thinking, is a lot less colourful.

Back in May (29-May-2020) I covered some reading and ideas, and just a little of the associated making.

This time I want to flip the focus. This is intended as a material form of thinking, not descriptive, in parallel with other work, articulating ideas, a form of discovery, or slowing down, or “back blocks” thinking (hands and front of mind busy, so back of mind is free to work)

It still needs a quick extension of reading and associated ideas.

  • Deleuze and Guattari a thousand plateaus
    especially rhizomes; asignifying rupture; lines of flight
  • https://historyofenglishpodcast.com/2019/03/27/episode-123-a-material-change/ (thanks Kevin!). Connections between text and textiles in the english language
  • Italo Calvino – the infinite or absolute space and absolute time, and on the other, our empirical perception of space and time; kinds of knowledge.
  • Rebecca Solnit – a quote said to come from the pre-socratic philosopher Meno. “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is unknown to you?”
  • Michael Taussig – Handwriting “an ancient technology that allows the pen to slide away from forming letters and words to form pictures and back again to words.”
  • Gaston Bachelard – paths of desire; epistemological break or rupture
  • An interview with Tom Mitchell – “The space between words and images is a kind of void into which (and from which) ideas, passions, narratives, representations emerge. It is the “third space,” the in-between where contingency rules.”
  • Johanna Drucker Graphesis. So much! I’ll pick out capta; models; nonlinear time; “Reading was always a performance of a text or work, always an active remaking through an instantiation.”
  • Walter Ong. Literacy and orality. Just beginning here.
  • Harold Innis. Orality and literacy; space and time bias of empire. Balance. Material focus – parchment; paper. “Mosaic” writing.
  • Richard Powers The overstory. Another version of rhizome; an interesting structure of time in the story. “But people have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.”
  • Anne McCaffrey – The Pern novels show a society under sudden rapid change after a long period of stability with an oral recording bias.
  • Partly reading, partly writing, and definitely related to my making was work using lists as a structure in my creative research group led by Ruth Hadlow.
  • Other reading humming in the background, but not on my current melody line – Giacomo Leopardi; Terry Pratchett; Jane Hirshfield; Francis Ponge; Lydia Davis; Jonathan Safran Foer; Walter Benjamin; Lauren Elkin; Bruce Pascoe; Lucia Berlin; Myriam Gurba; Kate Zambreno; Patti Smith; Jamaica Kincaid; Brian Dillon; Tegan Bennet Daylight; Kate Grenville; Jorge Luis Borges, Colum McCann…

Some initial attempts using fibre techniques didn’t work out.

scrumbling (crochet?) to suggest connected folded forms (rhizome);
the interconnecting ideas / themes.

The small sample using carded and spun mixed fibres looks like carpet underlay, with colour and texture dulled and flattened.

colour much stronger in photo than in life (like photo better). Sample too thick.

Trying to isolate and highlight fibres and fabric snippets included in the spinning, and then woven also didn’t thrill.

Writing, how we write, how we read, see think. A change of orientation:

Michael Taussig

A process – observing; photography; writing; image and paper manipulation…

This started with a glass of water

William Burroughs’ cut up method was referenced by a few of the authors, including Taussig and Deleuze and Guattari. I tried an experiment involving text and the mingling of fibres in felt.

Text on commercial prefelt
text/pre-felt cut and layered
the inks ran
total failure

How else could I get layered text?

Text by Harold Innis, in folded blizzard book form

In this particular form a lot of the text retains its horizontal orientation and the sequenceing of the original text. I don’t think I’ve made the most of the translucency of the paper.

Can I use some of this, and extend it by somehow subverting a “list”?

a list of reading – imagine authors and books/essays listed down on the left, 50 days from left to right. The line connects books as I read them, over the days, within a day.
a list of authors and quotes from that reading
Lists layered, folded
  • The lines – like sharp tools or misshapen fingers
  • Text beneath is legible, but fractured
  • Form – a series of triangles rising from a square
  • The text feels jagged and angry too. Tools or weapons.
  • Legible where just “plain” double sheet – base + 2 triangles
    Still readable, from separate sides where simple fold – 2 full triangles, 4 half triangles
    Doubled fold – 4 half triangles – can see outside but centres lost.
  • So actually most is readable with care and turning
  • But broken. Fragmented. Not giving.
  • I like the energy of the lines, across the entire centre and seeming to wrap outside – it would be 6 triangles but 2 are blank space given movement of line.
  • I like the crispness (used A4 tracing paper)
  • Like sticking with black on translucent white

Worth another attempt

A list (?), at least collection, of scratchings in my notebook
A list of lists in my notebook
printed, layered, folded
Pile them up for a list of lists of lists??
Reminiscent of Brancusi’s Endless Column

Stefan Wray quotes Gibson
“Lay down a map of the land;
over that, set a map of political change;
over that, a map of the Net, especially the counter-Net with its emphasis on clandestine information – flow and logistics –
and finally, over all, the 1:1 map of the creative imagination, aesthetics, values.
The resultant grid comes to life, animated by
unexpected eddies and surges of energy,
coagulations of light,
secret tunnels,
and surprises.”

Next I thought of the “pearls” given to Michael Taussig by Simryn Gill. They were text, strung. Another form of list?

A list of quotes taken from Brian Massumi’s introduction to a thousand plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari, printed on an old life drawing, then cut into truncated triangles.

Rolled and glued into pearls, my first intention was to string them together. But that would be limiting connections – hardly appropriate for rhizome quotes.

A few more rizomically inappropriate arrangements
More rhizomic, and including an n-1 unit
I’m happy with this

Non-linear time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

time movement in Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

There are three main threads of time through the book.

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

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


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

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

A mist-enveloped tangle

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

A byproduct:

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

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

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

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

Sadly, I was not enlightened.

Maybe up close.

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

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

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

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

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

Other writers added new paths in the labyrinth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the history of communication technology can be described as

Orality | Script | Print | Electronic

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

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

Reading | Writing | Drawing | Data viz | Making

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

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

Weaving text

I usually try to keep this blog as a little bubble, separate from the mundane details of life. There’s no mundane at the moment. I’ve been trying to be alert to moments of warmth: a whole community – family, friends, neighbours – working separately and in coordination to keep my independently living 91 year old mother safe and happy; wary, weary, yet smiling glances from strangers as we trawl emptying supermarket shelves; multiple staff at that same supermarket – at the checkouts, sorting trolleys – managing smiles, some jokes, staying calm, human and real; friends I haven’t seen for a while, checking in by phone or email; a family eating an evening meal together – using facetime to include the daughter eating in her isolation space in the house.

A welcoming glass
Chez Nolan Popup Café menu

Yesterday we couldn’t come together for a family birthday celebration. Instead I collected my mother and drove her to a small pop-up café – which she was surprised to find situated in my loungeroom, complete with linen-set table and menu. After the meal all her children joined her via Skype. What normally would have been a pleasant restaurant meal became memorable.

I hope that despite stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and perhaps worse reality, you are able to see, share, create some moments of warmth.

At a slowed pace, my reading and paper weaving experiments have progressed. In my little woven basket, a drawing on the cut paper was lost (25-Feb-2020). Could I weave a flat page, rather than a vessel, and what would happen to text on the paper?

Step 1: flat weaving.
Fold weaver strips to form a right angle. A little concentration at the edges. It worked well.

Step 2: using text-printed paper (A3).
In the first version I folded all the strips in the centre. It ended with all the length on one side. With later experience I see it could continue to grow up the left, but at the time I stalled.

Step 2 – second attempt
I tried lengthening weavers as required by gluing on extra paper. I ran out of extras, and didn’t want to start cutting lengths already active in the weaving. This time I kept weaving as long possible, leaving sections some areas unwoven or even with gaps.

There are some positives. Where a strip spans space without being crossed, the text becomes legible. This might work as a good trigger to viewers to attempt to read the woven text. Also the text is based on my reading – in this instance quotes to do with fragmentation. A nice match between abstract theme and physical experiment.

Step 2 – third attempt
This time I increased the size of the text, hoping to make it easier to perceive. On earlier attempts I’d noticed the shredder-cut strips had some bends and distortion – only apparent to me when I introduced text. In this attempt strips were hand-cut to control distortion, also ensuring each line of text was divided neatly into two weaver strips. Rather than folding all in the centre, strips were folded to keep individual lines of text aligned.

All the strips finished at around the same point, but I wasn’t pleased by the proportions. It’s virtually impossible to decipher. The backlit version has promise.

Step 2 – fourth attempt.
Text is a fraction larger, and each line cut into three slightly narrower strips hoping for more legibility. Double length weavers were created by joining two strips together. It took some experimentation to get the rows of text to flow as I wanted. Each set of three long strips was folded to keep text aligned.

During the process I spilled some water on the table. The blurring is actually quite interesting. The text is still hard to read. The outcome is fractionally larger than A4, in the proportions I was seeking. The movement of text across the piece is as I intended. The idea of fragmentation is not strongly seen – not necessarily a negative. Once again the backlit version attracts.

Where to next? I want to bring this back into the realm of learning to read; expanding and enriching reading; making the work of reading visible. Whatever that means…

Reading Candor

Reading||Making has continued. Again I visited Candor, Anne Carson’s text, looking for guidance in transformation of the monoprints (25-Feb-2020). “If you are not the free person you want to be, you must find a place to tell the truth about that… You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer.” Jane, wife of HG Wells, made faint pencil marks on the letter of sympathy she received from her husband’s mistress. Jane – born Amy Catherine – fulfilling her husband’s domestic expectations.

A square of one print became a folded envelope. It is named – “Jane”. Bound by net, by woolen skein, by the trappings of domesticity, by the stones of the well. Inside, hidden, her name – scratched, mis-written (my oops), torn.

I like this little object very much… except that in the end it is so literal. As I worked at reading the text I found it more and more full of imagery, of the material, the specific.

Playing with printed card, finding shapes, became more abstract.

As reading the process has worked. There is familiarity, and I still find more. Slow. Attentive. Absorbing and making connections. Can I claim that in these photographs the work of reading is made visible???

Eavesdropping at a half-open door

“one has to teach the skill of reading even to those who are no longer illiterate”

“uncultured readers… with a vague knowledge that there is something else here, and enjoying the text like someone eavesdropping at a half-open door, glimpsing only hints of a promising epiphany.”

Umberto Eco, on literature, pages 171 and 219.

Some days I have the confronting feeling that I’m a beginner in something I’ve practiced daily for almost six decades. Then I tell myself to stop being maudlin and self-indulgent, and just get on with it.

I have tried to make visible the work of reading. I have complained bitterly when I found reading challenging. I have made reading the foundation of every day. I write about attentive reading, focusing on every line and word… but lately I’ve wondered – am I getting all I can from all this effort? In particular, am I making connections, building usable knowledge. I note correspondences as I go, and the use of indexing glyphs in my notetaking has been useful in later consolidation around particular ideas. Possibly I need to be more alert to the need to extend my glyph set.

In my last post (7-Jan-2020) I tried to link books and authors with fabric swatches. That was step one in an experiment.

The previous data viz experiments were generally useful, giving me space and time to think, seeing from different angles, generating some surprises… I decided to look at where I was spending time reading, and to search for rhythms and flows in the mix of reading. Keep mine-ing the existing tool set and stash. The brief developed:
* Start recording time spent reading.
* Repeat the scarf form. This time with weaving.
* Begin simple, with options to elaborate as the process continues. So plain weave. I put a 2 metre warp of black cottolin on the 4-shaft table loom, a straight threading.

The result is a record of four weeks of reading – 30 November to 27 December. Information encoded:
* Length of weaving is proportional to length of reading. Four centimetres = One hour.
* Beginning of day is marked by 5 picks in cotton – white on Sunday, then darkening greys reaching black on Saturday.
* Indicate book by weft – torn fabric strips.
* Most reading was done in my workroom. If outside the house, a supplementary fine coppery weft was added (“sunshine”). If bedtime reading, a supplementary weft of silvery white was used (for the moon).
* When a book or essay was finished (not many were), mark by 5 picks in red cotton.

Detail – Wednesday 18 December 2019

In the detail above you might just be able to see the cotton picks at the beginning and end of the day. The book swatches all look quite different when squashed down and used for weft.

Umberto Eco on literature

John Berger
Selected Essays

In the morning I read Umberto Eco for 45 minutes. John Berger accompanied me on the bus, and in a cafe waiting for CPR training – a total of 50 minutes and a glint of sunshine.

Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

At that time I was reading Jane Hirshfield before sleep – hence the loops of white rayon. I wasn’t taking in much, just trying to find the flow, to get an overall sense, hoping to learn enough to be able to read it again with more understanding. Thirty more minutes, and a total of 8.3 cm.

Classic uses of a data visualisation are discovery (learn something new) and storytelling (communicate ideas). I can’t claim either here. Using standard viz software I would have waited to collect all the data before even starting, then probably run a variety of statistical analyses, experimented with multiple chart types, maybe colour themes and scales, transformations, brought in other data sets for context or comparison… There’s the faintest hint of this in the fringes.

By amazing chance, the number of warp ends was precisely four times the number of days woven. So each piece of fringe is one day. The fringing shown above records the total amount of time recorded reading each day (range from 0.67 to 2.75 hours). At the other end of the scarf the number of books read is shown – from 1 to 4 each day. Note the same information is already encoded in the weaving. This is simply a different chart type.

plump folds, showing more of the fabrics

Despite the proportions, the resulting textile can’t really be called a scarf. It does not drape softly and warmly around the neck. However while it sat on my desk over the last week, I came to love its edges. And to appreciate that “not drape-able” could also be described as “sculptural”

reading scarf sculpture

So perhaps wearable sculpture.

Click for larger image


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