Archive for the 'Writing' Category

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

More print and text

The recent interest in print-making, text, and paint continues.

Session 1
First up was a day with Claire, who showed me a neat textural technique using layers of acrylic paint, sprayed water, and a plastic card to move all around. Some interesting effects, with lots of possibilities around number of layers, ordering (when to use light or dark), waiting time between actions etc. All was on watercolour paper – cartridge paper just disintegrated in the pooled water.

Claire had a specific future purpose, and while fun this technique didn’t fill the need. We branched out with different experiments. I focused on creating texture in acrylics using various rollers and scraping tools.

Later I came up with a new variation in my quest for text on prints.
* stylus on bamboo tablet to get a very crisp, clean piece of handwritten text into gimp – white text on a black background.
* in gimp opened an image of the orange and blue texture print shown at the top of this post.
* used the text as a layer mask of the texture image. From the snip of the gimp screen you can see that this gave an image that was transparent except for textured colour in the shape of the handwritten letters.
* Used techniques developed previously (22-Jan-2020, session 1, first text attempt) to size and position the coloured text on a fairly gently coloured sheet of watercolour paper that Claire created in our print session. A detail of the result:

Very happy to have this in my toolbox of text techniques.

Session 2
In the previous session I used some old and close to empty tubes of cheap acrylic that were loitering in a drawer. Claire had some luscious Matisse flow paints, and looking at the gorgeous colours of creamy, pigment laden paint, there was definitely some materials-envy going on. Imagine that old movie technique of a calendar flipping over, and we come to session 2, with me the happy owner of … new paints. Derivan/Matisse have a big range of colours. I decided to treat myself to two of their “sets” – Australian Colours and Primaries. This session was all about experimenting with the Australian Colours.
First the spray and layer technique to create a background, with other colour laid on with the side of a plastic card.

A couple of texture experiments provided the base for more computer text printing. I don’t have a clear vision of where I’m going with these text experiments. Somehow I want to play with legibility – by overlapping, using handwriting, breaking the text up in some way…

All the oddments of paint went onto a few pages of A3 cartridge paper. Waste not, of course, plus I suspect collage will pop up sometime.

Session 3
Short and focused, a first look at the split primary mixing set, which also includes black and white. I made a simple colour wheel of primary and secondary colours (not shown), got some tones with black, and made a spray and layer colour sampler.

Session 4
This was inspired by a video from Dan Tirels ( So far I’ve only watched Monoprinting Abstract with acrylic paint on stretched canvas, but checking now see there’s lots more. Dan spreads paint on a piece of thin plastic (like the single-use plastic shopping bags recently phased out). He puts this paint side down on his canvas or paper, using hands and various tools to transfer the paint and create various textures and marks. It reminded me of carbon paper (for those of you who remember typewriters). So naturally, I had to try it for text. Some purple Akua intaglio ink, some red and blue acrylic. Some on a hard surface, some on a padding of newspaper. The ghost can be nice, and on one I shifted the plastic part way through to break up the lines of text. This was all on plain white cartridge paper. There are a lot of incidental marks, but if this was fragments of text over (or under) other elements I think it could work very well.

I was hoping to get more inspiration, in inspiring company, in a monoprinting class. Sadly they didn’t get the numbers and it was cancelled. So the next step is TBD.

Mono printing and text

Attentive reading, complete with careful note-taking, isn’t enough. Heresy? A simple recognition of my truth – which has taken me a while.

This isn’t cramming for an exam without a care for the info drop-out in the following week. It’s not skimming around, pulling together some facts and figures, some quotes and ideas, for an assignment. I’m reading to produce knowledge in me. It takes time – new ideas need to be tried out, connections made, existing knowledge reconsidered.

Making – moving from thought to materiality with knitting, weaving, paper, … – gives space and time for a different sort thinking. Critically, I have found that making which in some way responds to my reading becomes a form of knowledge production in its own right. It’s not just a distraction or filling in the time or simply another part of life – each project has allowed me deeper understanding of what I am reading, and to discover more about how I work and what is attracting my interest. However those earlier projects were all quite time and labour intensive. I wanted to mix it up with something a bit quicker, a bit more responsive to the moment.

Project outline
Monoprinting. It’s quick, versatile, responsive. Plus it’s something I’ve done a fair amount of before (blog search results), so building on skills.

Imagery – build on reading, so glyphs, experiment with what a humanist data viz could look with, plus continue to mine my history with stamps, stencils etc from previous work.

Text – the new element. A curiosity about “poetic” has been growing (see for example the reading scarf project (7-Jan-2020) and recent threads (18-Jan-2020)). I’ve been attempting to write poetic snippets, based on a reference in Jane Hirshfield. All very cringe-worthy, but I feel attempting it myself might make it easier to see and understand what people who know what they are doing are actually doing. I’ve never been successful with getting text into a monoprint.

Session 1: cobweb removal, first text idea
* Akua liquid pigments
* gelatin plate
* glyph stencils cut in paper
* general approach based on Linda Germain video (this link goes to a page on her website, with a mini-course for the price of your contact details).
* computer printed text on monoprint

Results: Space made, tools and materials found, cobwebs disturbed.
A selection:

First text attempt: chose one of the lighter monoprints, scanned it, and opened in gimp. Used image to decide size, font, colour and placement of text. Using the text layer only, printed the result onto the original monoprint.

I’m quite happy with this result – quick and accurate. However I’m not convinced by the regularity of the font on a very informal print.

Second text attempt: Scanned in a monoprint. Hand wrote one of my snippets and scanned that in. In an attempt to integrate text and print I added a faint extra layer, an enlarged and distorted version of the text. I printed the full image – the scan of the monoprint and both layers of text. This means the original monoprint is unchanged.

The result is … alright. I don’t have strong feelings about it. Perhaps the approach could be useful in some future application.

Session 2: Introduction to monoprinting workshop with Kirtika Kain
This workshop was in the studio of Gallery Lane Cove – Kirtika’s work was on exhibit upstairs at the time (20-Jan-2020). Kirtika was very ambitious for a three hour course. To help us build concepts and ideas, we started with 20 minutes of stream of consciousness writing, then some time mind-mapping, exploring words and themes that resonated. We all made monoprints using an A5 piece of acetate as a plate, backdrawing, and printing using barren and press. Next came making and use of stencils, plus other objects as a mask. Running short of time, Kirtika demonstrated drypoint etching on the acetate, and both intaglio and relief printing, then a final burst attempting chine-collé. It was full-on, and I don’t know how the other four students, all I think quite new to print-making, coped. For me it was great as a refresher and energizer.

My “designs” were based on thoughts of humanist data viz and the distorted grid. Messy and unclear, but there’s an energy I like.
A selection:

My first backdrawing included some overall scratching with fingers, and produced a cloudy jumble. The second attempt I tried hard to keep clean, pressing only with the pencil while backdrawing. I love that line! Of course the y-axis is wrong, I need to mirror that… and so,

I needed to try mirror writing!

Session 3: mirror writing on acetate
* Akua intaglio ink
* acetate and gelatin plates
* mirror writing (mostly)

Backwriting with biro (that had run out of ink), acetate plate

Ghost print

Akua intaglio on acetate; writing into inked surface with wooden skewer (direct, not mirror writing); stamped onto gelatin plate; printed off onto paper using brayer

I made the gelatin plate over four years ago. It has been used repeatedly, and between times sat in the garage with minimal protection. The clearer white dots above are pocks on the plate, not a product of the method. I think there’s some potential here (assuming I melt and reset the plate) – especially given the freedom of being able to write directly.

Not shown: Mirror backwriting, gelatin plate. Did not work.

Acetate plate, mirror writing into ink using a wooden skewer.

Session 4: extending
* Attempt longer text
* Think about page placement
* Combine text and other effects – some in this print session, some by using pages from previous sessions
* An additional method for monoprinted text
* Using yupo paper stencils as both stencil and as pre-inked stamp
* Acetate and gelatin plates

Some results:
Mirror backwriting on acetate plate.

In the print above, the ink of the biro used in backwriting shows through the paper and the transparent yellow plate ink. It assists legibility. However the ghost below is basically unreadable. The only point of interest is that I printed on what was intended to be the back of the page. Excluding the workshop prints, all of the work in this post is on paper originally used in the life drawing workshop with David Briggs last year (16-Feb-2019). Odd here, but could be something to play with… And now I look at the ghost again, it might work to write or paint (watercolour) the text into the blanks of the yellow…

A more complete attempt. More legible. Plus improving on placement (I’m edging towards an A5 booklet idea). The text is based on childhood memories of storms at the end of hot summer days. The infinity shape is my glyph for memory, the stamping is intended to suggest storms.

Experimenting with another text method – writing in printing ink onto acetate. Stamping that onto the gelatin plate, then printing off. Squelchy. I’d need to find a better way of managing the amount of ink in the writing.

Finally some general play.

I’m pretty happy with my results overall – not the individual pages, but in the options I now have to work responsively and relatively intuitively as a support to and extension of my other creative activity.

Jane Hirshfield Ten Windows, page 41


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