Archive for the 'Techniques' Category

April making

April has been a quiet month of slow and gentle rebuilding, with more making than thinking.

Last post (22-Mar-2021) I showed examples of 3D writing, resin bangles, and coiled vessels using fabrics worn by my mother. This month’s variations:

WIP coiling completed, and embellished with a “family heirloom” hatpin. 19 cm diameter
A small, chipped jug, gifted by mum as material for re-making a few years ago, was broken up…
The base was repurposed in a tiny nest – around 7 cm diameter
Another fragment formed the centre of a shallow, saucer-like form (slightly over 16 cm diameter).
More fragments remain in the “to be considered” queue. I’d like to use every skerrick of the jug eventually

Feeling that some of the character of the prints was lost in the wrapping and coiling process, I experimented with embedding swatches in resin. All of this series so far start with a circle of fabric around 19 cm diameter.

First attempt – the resin+fabric, supported on a silicon sheet, was draped over a form too soon.
Attempt 2 – still too soon.
A free-form bangle while I considered my next move
Getting better, but this was with waiting 8 or so hours before draping. Brushing silver-coloured pigment over part of the resin before draping is effective. This shows the patterning of the fabric used in the top photo – the bowl with a hatpin.
The bangle has a few wraps of the same fabric in it.
Drips under control! I didn’t want to move to a different resin if I could avoid it, but Sydney temperatures in my unheated, single brick garage are a bit marginal. This time I followed the manufacturer’s suggestion of pre-warming the resin bottles in a water bath, plus put the setting resin on a warming tray repurposed from mum’s flat.
The vessel had gold coloured pigment brushed over the back. The same fabric is in the bangle, plus the broken-jug vessels above.
Thinking I had the resin-curing more under control, I tried pre-cutting slits in the fabric, wanting to spread it out like a lattice pastry top as the resin was setting.
It was a nasty, sticky battle and a disappointing result. Not sure if this is worth pursuing.
The bangles top and bottom in the photo are repeats already shown above.
The centre one had two new ideas, aiming to display more of the original fabric pattern – silver-coloured pigment brushed on the inner side of the mould before adding resin, and the fabric a single bias-cut strip (left over from making its matching vessel). This sample is a bit scruffy, but I think there’s good potential here.
This bangle uses some of the 3D writing of Anne Carson’s text seen in my last post.
The text had a tendency to float up in the curing resin. I quite like the effect of it almost escaping at the top, so only sanded the edge the minimum needed to remove sharp edges.
Very happy with this, and lots of possibilities to take it further.

In March I did an evening class in making silicon moulds (yay Sydney Community College!). The plan is to make my own bangle designs that better showcase fabrics. The tutor suggested I make my initial form in polymer clay, use it to create a silicon mould, so I can then cast the resin.

I haven’t got to that yet. Instead I wondered if I could use polymer clay elements to neaten up the beginning and ending of a coiled vessel.

My very first attempt at using polymer clay. 9 cm diameter.
The great thing about first attempts is you can look forward to improvement.


Following the “making reading” shown previously (22-Dec-2020) I wanted to take it further. Anne Carson’s work “Wildly Constant” in Float felt a good subject.

I slowly wrote the entire text.

Then I played with my new object(s).

As well as rearranging the text objects, I attempted a series of digital transformations – scanning the objects then optical character recognition (OCR); scanning the printed page and OCR (very accurate and boring); recording voice then automated transcription… Basically trying every relevant app on my fairly new tablet and seeing what distortions or misinterpretations I could generate.

Nothing very exciting emerged, plus priorities changed. My mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, my father was seriously unwell at the same time, and then my husband (his not life-threatening). Five months, three patients, a total of nine hospital admissions to four different hospitals. My normally quiet, reflective life was turned upside down. One of five siblings, I took lead for mum with the various health professionals, while my sister took charge with dad. We were fortunate to be in Australia – Covid complicated things, but it was always possible for at least one us to visit and provide support. Mum’s hopes at diagnosis were for a final summer with family and friends, then to die at home. The five of us, together with a lot of professional support, were able to achieve that for her.

Life, creative practice, was restructured to new necessity. Not too mentally demanding, fitting into small fragments of time, supporting and nurturing me so that I could support and care for others. Reading changed – Kyo Maclear Birds Art Life Death was a great standby. There was a lot of reflective writing. Making – well I came up with a new project, as I explained to some friends who were e-discussing earrings:

I got my ears pierced in 1977 – went travelling after school, was living in York (UK), and it was a low-key assertion of adulthood. Lots of my earrings contain memories – of travels, or gifts, or connected to an exhibition, or that I made myself or bought from friends. Selecting them each day was part of checking in with myself – how do I feel? what am I doing? what message do I want to send? But over the years I’ve come to like dangley and for me they just don’t work with masks.

During mum’s illness I started wearing bracelets and bangles. Partly that same checking in, planning for the day. More important was as personal armour. One link is once knowing a child with behaviour problems, who wore an elastic band to snap if they were feeling stressed. Another from some sci-fi show where they wore wrist-lets that could produce a personal force-field. I rub them to centre and slow my thoughts and reactions – echoes of rosary beads, or maybe worry beads.

Extra fun – you get to “curate” collections of arm ornaments in different combinations. Plus I only had a couple of “proper” bracelets so I started improvising, wrapping chains and neck-pieces around my arms – stuff I haven’t worn for decades or maybe never (weight makes neck sore). I even dragged out some wire and beads to make a few bits, and in the last couple of days have played a little with resin. All very minor demands on time and focus and energy, when I don’t have much of those. It’s felt like my one reliable piece of self expression as everything else creative fell by the wayside.

What does that look like?

More experimentation with resin is planned – perhaps combined with 3D text in some way. With luck this will be a low-key project that recurs over time.

Since mum’s death I’ve begun another small increments, potentially recurring project. She used to love wearing brightly patterned cotton skirts – often Liberty prints. With the permission of the siblings I’ve been using the skirts to make small coiled bowls. Stitching them is quiet and meditative, or I listen to podcasts or an audio book. I’m on my third, and it feels a gentle expression of love.

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 ( 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 ( 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.

Just starting

So it occurred to me

I’ve decided to try typing. Just start. Not looking sideways at the overwhelming, suffocating mass of things I could maybe include. It’s paralysing. The possibilities. The variations. Jump in.

It reminds me of our childhood backyard pool. I’d try easing myself in, getting used to the cold slowly, but the others would laugh or splash me. It was better to dive, swim a couple of laps, then call up to those still hesitating. “Come on in, the water’s lovely!”

Complex. Those shifting childhood rivalries and pacts. The patterns of shadows criss-crossing ripples  as we played in the water. The lacework of the jacaranda above us, always dropping something – blossoms, twigs, leaves. The endless summers.

Complex is not the same as complicated. Things like jumbo jets are what Paul Cilliers calls “merely complicated”. There’s an enormous number of parts – but you can list them, group them in component systems, analyse the workings and understand the whole. In a complex  system there are shifting connections between the parts, between the system and its environment, feedback loops, non-linear interactions. There are no clear beginnings or endings, no single or repeating paths.

Now I’m reminded of Jane Hirshfield in Ten Windows: “Two plus two will always equal four. A sonnet or string quartet is infinite in its reaching through us.” Hirshfield quotes physicist Niels Bohr: “The difference between ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ is that a fact must be either true or false, while two opposing truths can be equally right, resonant, and informing.”

And suddenly we’re tiptoeing around because it would be easy to go down paths of different orders of infinity or the inability to prove all truths in axiomatic systems of maths. Which is exactly where I don’t want to be. Let me point at that shiny and attractive object over there…

… and we’re back to just typing. Going back to Cilliers and his chapter Approaching complexity.

Since we are in the midst of this process of change, a clear description of what is happening is not easy, but the heart of the matter is that our technologies have become more powerful than our theories. We are capable of doing things that we do not understand.

Change. Earlier I quoted from Jane Hirshfield’s chapter Poetry, Transformation, and the Column of Tears. Which doesn’t sound entirely enticing, but then we find:

We look to particular works of art, and to art in general, to renew and change our lives.


poems offer [a] transforming intimacy, one that collapses all distance entirely. This intimacy lies in the basic condition of comprehension we bring to the realm of art: in art’s transparent rhetoric, whatever enters awareness is experienced as part of, as continuous with, the self. The most recalcitrant object or fact, placed in a poem, is no longer fixed in the outer. It is alloyed with the reader’s or writer’s experiencing self – inside the body and memory, inside felt expectation, the murmur of music, the lifting or slowing of pulse and breathing.

which to me suggests the importance not only of transformation, but of welcoming the complexity of ourselves and our world, of being aware of and open to that multitude of paths and possibilities. That sometimes so overwhelm me, even in something so simple as trying to tie down some of what I’ve been reading and thinking about lately.

Circling back to Cilliers, not far below my last  quote from him we find

The power of technology has opened new possibilities for science. One of the most important scientific tools has always been the analytical method. If something is too complex to be grasped as a whole, it is divided into manageable units which can be analysed separately and then put together again. However, the study of complex dynamic systems has uncovered a fundamental flaw in the analytical method. A complex system is not constituted merely by the sum of its components, but also by the intricate relationships between these components. In ‘cutting up’ a system, the analytical method destroys what it seeks to understand.


We have to deal with what we do not understand, and that demands new ways of thinking.

Which leads to another connection. The changes, the new ways of thinking, demanded by an earlier once-new technology – writing. I’ve only read a bit of Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy, and viewing through the lens of a highly literate person in a highly literate society the idea of an oral culture is near-impossible to comprehend without distortion. Still, I’m going to cherry-pick a bit:

abstractly sequential, classificatory, explanatory examination of phenomena or of stated truths is impossible without writing and reading. Human beings in primary oral cultures, those untouched by writing in any form, learn a good deal and possess and practice great wisdom, but they do not ‘study’.

Mashing that up, the incredible technology of writing supported the abstract analytical scientific method, and now the incredible technology of modern computers can support moving beyond simplifications of the analytical method to approach complex systems.

Which is not to dump the analytical method, which can remain a useful tool – but now in a different context. And I finally get to a connection I wanted, to Johanna Drucker and a boom-bang knock you out series of quotes (because I have them in my notebook blog and it’s all gold)

“dislodging the centrism of Western epistemologies, in particular those grounded in the administrative sensibility with its peverse attachment to control through standardization and normalization.”

“The differential algebra of the humanistic world always has a factor of experience in it, a recognition that knowing is situated in lived lives, human beings, whose individual experience is always in process, always interpretative. Will we think differently because of the ways interpretation takes shape across networked contingencies?”

 “We may yet awaken the cognitive potential of our interpretative condition of being, as constructs that express themselves in forms, contingently only to be remade again, across the distributed condition of knowing.”

“Our responsibility is to infuse the engineering capability with an imaginative sensibility.”

Drucker asks

“How can we create fragmented and correlated points of view that connect one mode of analysis and display to another in a way that makes their connections legible?”

and how to enable

“framing, enframing, entanglement, hierarchy, listing, and other schematic strategies of composition? These involve the production of multilinear discourse as well as non-linear modes (even though the alphanumeric sequence will persist, visual, audio, tactile, and simulacral modes will increase.”


“The social futures of activities and effects, concepts and practices, exist in an unbounded and often unframed and non-delimitable tissue of associated links and trails.”


Let’s take a step back from Drucker’s exciting, emboldening, and very difficult, challenge to take the charts and statistics and data visualisations of science and analysis, and to modify them to enable a humanistic version of knowledge production through visual forms. Forms that reveal and allow one to explore the complexities of our lives rather than putting society into a straight-jacket of pre-aggregated types and life stages and goals.

It all sounds very theoretical, very abstract. But this year we’ve all been living very directly with computer models and statistics that drive where we can go, inform how we behave, who we can interact with, all with life-changing, potentially life-ending, outcomes. The complexity, the connections, the stakes … what can I say that doesn’t  seem trite and beside the point?

This year I’ve appreciated news reports that make the effort to remind us that statistics are actually individuals, their lives and families.


I return yet again to just typing. What are the options?

With an uncomfortable lurch, I turn to consider an essay by Ross Gibson which has provoked me. Has led me on this difficult chase. To this particular path of links and dead-ends and minor revelations.

To summarise and paraphrase in a very unreasonable way, Gibson seems to suggest that in our complex world, facing crises that demand transformation in our lives, we need to contain the infinities and windows opened by art, reduce them, limit and explain them, to make them acceptable to government actuaries. To committees. To scientists. To academics and scholars.

Rather than opening possibilities and minds, he wants to keep them safe and cozy. No, no, don’t worry about the myriad possibilities we face. Don’t worry about all that nasty complexity, that ambiguity, here’s a nice little formula that converts it back into the analytical methods we all know and love. Knowledge, certainty, progress – all are still possible and meaningful. Just check my numbers and this handy-dandy chart.

Provocation. Charlotte Wood writes about “the grit of discomfort and disorder”, of taking the time to look at what annoys and unsettles us, that has the capacity to make us feel bad – ashamed, lonely, angry, fearful, confused, disgusted…

Wood contends that to attempt to understand the unknowable and uncomfortable, to put in the hard work without necessarily any epiphany or resolution, to struggle, has its own reward. “In their radical otherness they have forced me to think, and that is suddenly more transcendent and precious than beauty.”

Provocation. To work from a position of provocation is exhausting. I know, because I have a long history of getting annoyed by something, making sweeping declarations of disapproval, then putting in time and effort and proving myself wrong. Wrestling with grit gives me focus, purpose, calls forth energy. But it’s often a negative, draining energy.

To the extent there are beginnings, this piece of research, of writing, was provoked by reading Ross Gibson. I’ve tried to narrate a path through complexity – his writing, some of his references, other recent reading – that I have taken to reach the provisional conclusion that I still disagree with Gibson’s analysis. In lots of ways and for lots of reasons that I haven’t covered here. But that’s one of the things about a path through a complex system – you can never narrate it all. And why would you seek to? I’m with Robert Francis who seeks “the old obliquity of art” which “proves  / Part may be more than whole, least may be best.”


Paul Cilliers, Complexity and postmodernism

Johanna Drucker, Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production

Robert Francis, Part for the Whole

Ross Gibson, The known world

Jane Hirshfield, Ten windows: How great poems transform the world

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy

Charlotte Wood, Reading isn’t shopping

(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
  • (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

Experiments in plaster

Back in March this year – it seems a long time – I did a one day class in Body Casting with Kassandra Bossell. I’ve done a couple of classes trying out figure sculpting with her (1-Apr-2017); she’s a great teacher and I was keen to try something new.

We started with a ladling of plaster in our cupped hands. Weight, gradual warmth, and then some gentle wriggling to free ourselves. The detail captured is beautiful.

For the main part of the day we worked in pairs, selecting which of our body parts we wanted to mold and taking turns to plaster each other. Hands and feet were popular. One couple were casting the woman’s breasts as part of a Masters piece. I wanted my hand and lower arm, but emerging from a lump of material, not fully rounded.

The mold was painted with shellac before being used to cast the postitive. It’s a bit broken up due to a number of undercuts which made removal of the final cast difficult.

So difficult that the cast was broken into three parts, plus some anonymous lumps and powder. I knew that invisible repair is not my aesthetic, and immediately thought of kintsugi-inspired scars (7-Oct-2018). Which meant waiting until I got home.

Time passed.

I see some interesting possibilities using the techniques to make the base or a component for an object/sculpture.

Some more time passed. I tried using some plaster bandage, left over from the class, at home. A vessel form, extended by some netted wire.

Can you tell the body part?

A change of orientation, lighting, and an addition, makes it clear.

The knotted net was a nod to fishnet stockings.

The plaster bandage is light and moderately strong. Lots of potential.

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 (, 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???


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May 2021

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