Archive Page 2

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???

Printmaking as reading

There have been a few more preparatory/practice steps.
* moving away from square in paper woven baskets.

I particularly like the deep edge turnover, which stands out from the base creating some lovely shadow. Less effective was the life drawing sketch on craftpaper used for weavers. The drawing is not just broken up by the weaving, it is entirely dominated by the colourful texture of the cartridge paper print.

* Another brief print experiment using acrylic paint – this time with retarder added, hoping to get thinner layers to allow more detail in the texture pickup. The paint still dried too quickly on the plate.

I love the colours and the texture (both to eye and to touch) these paints give me. The stamp used is quite large, made in polystyrene foam using a soldering iron (from memory – it was during classes with Marion Boyling, over a decade ago). I just haven’t achieved fine detail.

* The old gelatin plate was melted and reset. Version 2 is thinner and softer. In a later print session (see below) the surface was slow to spring back after pressure, becoming uneven. I’ll probably make version 3 with all new ingredients and cut up version 2 for stamping and specific shapes.

Enough preamble. Time to attempt printmaking as reading.

From when I received the readings for the first Intensive Creative Research session last year, I have been trying to improve, to get more value from, my reading. My daily schedule changed to dedicate time to reading. I’ve tried different locations – around the house, coffee shops, libraries… I sit, I stand, I pace, I read aloud, I gesticulate. I sketch and colour and knit word by word and record times that I weave into textile data visualisations. I argue with the author, follow up points on the internet, buy more books referenced in the footnotes. I want to read slowly, attentively, to take in ideas and make them part of my mental toolkit, to make connections with other authors and ideas and my own experience. I imagine little tendrils reaching out in my brain, curling around each other, becoming more and more dense, building (there’s definitely felt-making in my near future!). I’ve experimented with repeated passes of reading – first to get a sense of the author’s message, with only brief notes to capture any ideas that pop; then again, more closely, with more extensive note-taking; then possibly stepping back to look at structure, at the how of what has been written.

At heart a Maker, I wanted to get more making into how I read. The knitting worked well, but quite slow and addressed a specific issue (ie I couldn’t bear to read the text any other way). The weaving was very slow and at one remove from the reading – it recorded the activity but didn’t progress it. This time around I’m hoping for a process that can be deployed quite frequently and in an intuitive, responsive, supporting plus extending, way.

First attempt
* text. Anne Carson, Candor, part of the collection of writing in Float.
This is one of the texts we’ll be discussing in the first 2020 Creative Research meetup in a few weeks. A good starting point, being quite short, and I didn’t complicate by combining external ideas (other texts, experience…).

* image generation. After reading the text a few times I looked for specific clues that could be translated into print – materiality, imagery, text, colour, texture, pattern, …

* print preparation. This step could be quite flexible. Weaving and skeins are strong images in Candor, so as potential stamps or stencils I made a couple more squares on the Weave-it (one in wool, the other kitchen string), and loosely tied a skein of wool. Red is a dominant colour in the text, so should be dominant in the print. I wanted some delicacy, an attention to detail, so chose akua inks and pigments rather than the acrylic paint. I turned through stencils and stamps I’ve made in the past. Ideas of the domestic, the home, are important in the text, so I selected some of the stencils based on a family jug – developed in April-2012 as part of the OCA Textiles: A Creative Approach course.

All this plus much more was laid out in my printing area, together with a photocopy of the original text and my image generation notes.

* mono-printing. I didn’t refer back to text or notes – they were effectively internalised. Most of the mark-making tools sat untouched. Just an hour of focused play and experimentation.

I’m not claiming any of these are great prints. I do feel much closer, more involved with, the original text (which I was keen to re-read when I came in from the print-station / garage). Plus I’m planning further transformations. Some folding, or weaving, perhaps collage-ing (either on to the print or part of the print onto something else).

More back and forward

A quick and excited post – after yesterday‘s ambivalence, today I’m definitely moving forward.

Overnight I remembered the very first project of Mixed Media for Textiles – Folding and crumpling.

Two A4 pages from yesterday’s printmaking have moved into three dimensions.

The first has a few strategic cuts, but remains a single, connected, piece of paper – nothing added nothing removed. The photos show it rearranged a few times.

The second was folded and crumpled, with one spot of glue added. It’s quite stable – the photos are different angles of the same form.

So we have:
* bringing forward what I’ve done before (mine-ing my history)
* data viz potential, with folding and interlacing in three dimensions making concrete a humanist view of non-linear time
* a path towards small sculpture
* an intuitive, experimental work process
* I’m sure there’s more, but I have brain fizz

Printmaking: x steps forward + y steps back

= ?
I’m not sure where that leaves me, especially given “progress” is not a helpful concept and art-making is not a two dimensional space.

page overview

While trawling the net I found a method for transferring black and white photographs onto paper – multiple steps involving glue, patience, … Then I realised I’m already printing onto my prints. Why not photographs? After sampling the printout of different manipulations (the original colour, posterized, threshold, various methods to get grey scale), I selected a photo of burnt bushland from near Mount Borrodaile (29-Aug-2013), and computer printed onto a monoprint and text related to our recent bushfires (detail shown in post 10-Feb-2020). It didn’t print properly across the whole page, but an interesting result. Detail below.

A couple of the “waste” prints from 10-Feb-2020 went through a paper shredder and were woven based on learning from a class with Alice Spittle (3-Dec-2018), although substantially modified given the different materials.
They are around 10 and 18 cm high, quite quick and fun to make, and I think very pretty. There are lots of places with potential to vary the form – something to explore further.

I’ve also finished a little vessel that has been languishing since December. I had planned to print or stamp onto woven paper yarn, but while making decided the proportions demanded a smaller woven area. The base is a box from a mobile phone, 13.5 cm wide, and it’s more delicate in person – the scrunched wires look very heavy in the photograph.

Next to new print-making – and this is where things start going backwards. Over a week or two I drew up a list of experiments, based around using my new acrylic paints with my gelatin plate (rather than my “standard” akua inks):
* Wax crayon resist (gelli arts video). I prepared some cardboard with 7 different waxy crayons and pencils. Neocolour soluble crayons were the only ones to work. More experimentation needed.

* Stamping onto a small woven paper basket, made when I first experimented with the technique. Shown here is the basket before I made a horrible painty mess of it.

* Printing onto a square of paper yarn and wire, made on a weave-it frame as a substitute for little black and white number shown further up this post.

Didn’t even attempt it. I was realising that the change to acrylics was a bigger step than anticipated. A number of ideas just got dumped – effects of vaseline on stencils (link); printing onto interfacing (link); printing on tissue paper (Carolyn Dube video).

I tried using one of the paper stencils cut in the class with Tianli Zu (16-Feb-2020). Using medium weight paper was always going to be a stretch and I didn’t help by letting the painty stencil dry while trying to ghost stamp (is that a thing?) with it. On the other hand, the bits of green paper left on the print are quite interesting – a sort of poor woman’s chine-collé perhaps.

By this time I was wheeling fast and loose. Both sides of paper, planned/improvised/random… I now understand why many people on the internet videos work through a stack of already printed paper. My Akua inks are beautiful and transparent, and I think would need careful planning to use many layers. With acrylics you can keep working on a page, layer after layer, trying for a better result. A selection of my outcomes:

All the above were on A4 110gsm cartridge paper. Can you believe they were the better ones of the bunch???

I did one print on 200 gsm watercolour paper, and got much richer colour. I wasn’t conscious of using more paint, though I can’t rule it out.

Quite a few of the prints included at least some element of “waste not” brayer and stencil cleaning. One of my more favoured results of the day was the single A3 page of cartridge paper that was entirely waste not leavings.

Some of the above may join others not shown on the overprint pile. I suspect paper weaving is in the future of others.

Separate to all this I am getting clearer ideas on how I want to use print-making as an ongoing element of my practice. My theory is that it will make me a better reader, but I have to get better at the basic technique first.

Daughters of the Dragon – exhibition and workshop

This exhibition is on at Gallery Lane Cove until 27 February 2020. It “contemplates contemporary Chinese cultural heritage and identity in an Australian context from a female perspective”, and features work by three artists.

Mimi Tong

Mimi Tong used ink dyed bamboo cotton yarn in her installation. It appeared to be finger-knitted to create more body and texture, with more texture from the uneven ink. It was effective in bringing energy and volume to the space allocated to her, which would otherwise have been sparse, while still at least in my eyes remaining domestic in scale.

Some of my reading lately has been around lines, writing, drawing (Tim Ingold and Michael Taussig) – both overlaps and differences. I don’t know the significance of Mimi Tong’s title, but it made me wonder if there was more there than I understood.

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan

More clearly script-based was Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s installation Rubble. Made of unglazed salt dough, the fairly roughly made characters were distributed on low plinths around the space. A three part video installation, Hands, appeared to show the making and cooking of dumplings.

Why “rubble”? It didn’t appear to be broken. Unable to connect, instead I wondered about the stamp making possibilities of salt dough in print-making.

The central part of the gallery space, where the visitor enters, held Tianli Zu’s immersive installation Shen Long. It was a beautiful experience.

Tianli Zu
Shen Long

Tianli Zu
Shen Long

I had the opportunity to chat in a group with Tianli Zu during a break in a workshop with her. She explained that the work was based in thinking about the water dragon. No one has ever seen this, so it is her impression of it.

There are so many elements to this. Hand cut mulberry paper, painted with many layers of Chinese ink. It was hung from the walls, and from the ceiling using a multitude of threads (representing the wind). Painted and heat distorted acetate suggest water. The projection onto walls and across the ceiling was based on stop motion photography of the cut paper. It also included text – poetry (in english) by Tianli Zu. Recorded music, composed and performed by her son Andrew Zu, played in the background. Strong currents from the gallery air conditioner kept everything in motion.

The workshop was two very enjoyable hours on paper cutting. Tianli Zu began by giving us some background and an appreciation of the philosophical basis of paper cutting. The balance of positive and negative, the duality of two cut lines needed to reveal the shape, the combination of deconstruction and reconstruction, letting the paper drop away without forcing or tearing it, were all important. We tried to find a smooth rhythm – Tianli Zu finds paper cutting a meditative process, a means of problem solving. There is a care and thoughtfulness built in. And how do you repair it if you make a mistake? Don’t repair – Make another cut!

The gallery provided A4 paper that was a little heavier than Tianli Zu would have preferred, so she reduced the number of folds for our first attempt. While she demonstrated, she was very keen for everyone to make their own choices in the cuts made.

Next up was cutting using images provided by Tianli Zu as templates. She explained the symbology of some of them (suitable as a gift for an older person as it included the character for long life, or suitable for a woman to give to a man to show love – a frog shape, suggesting fertility – as in “I’d like to have your baby”). I’m not sure about this one, but it was definitely a challenge – with the advantage of additional pleasure in finishing 🙂 We were encouraged to work fluidly, not sticking rigidly to the design of the template.

Now we were encouraged to draw our own designs – based on a teapot shape provided, but creating our own designs internally. That was actually one of the key takeaways for me: don’t just cut a shape, make it beautiful with flowers or other forms inside.

Finally I went back to one of Tianli Zu’s designs.

Cutting stencils for use in print-making was my main motivation for taking the class. As well as the cut forms I have kept the negatives – the outside frame and many of the smaller bits removed. I’ll have a session soon trying out these paper ones. Some thoughts for the future:

* Not just the outline. Add internal shapes to create beauty and interest – always with awareness of the positive and negative shapes being formed.
* Cut rhythmically, fluidly. Cut from above or below, supporting the point where the cut is being made.
* Select the tool – large or small scissors, knives… – suited to the shape you want.
* Cut small pieces first. Reward yourself with the longer cuts later.
* Develop shapes with additional meaning, even if it’s not apparent to all.
* Don’t repair. Cut.

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

Kirtika Kain – uppercase

On the final day of this exhibition at Gallery Lane Cove I went to a discussion between Kirtika and Judith Blackall. Earlier in the week I did an evening workshop with Kirtika, an introduction to monoprinting – more on that soon.

Kirtiki Kain
silkscreened iron filings, tar and wax on kozo paper

This exhibition was part of Kirtika’s prize as recipient of the 2017 Lloyd Rees Youth Memorial Award, and was displayed in a separated corner space within the 2019 Award show. Kirtika was born in New Delhi into the Dalits or Untouchables caste. Her father was a beneficiary of affirmative action and trained as a chef, a profession which enabled him and his young family to migrate to Australia. Kirtika is careful to point out that she herself hasn’t experienced discrimination due to her caste. Instead she seems to be an outsider – growing up as a migrant on Sydney’s northern beaches, travelling to New Delhi as a foreign visitor, impacted by caste stigma which is not lived but still inherited.

After initial training in psychology Kirtika received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2016, winning a scholarship to complete her Masters in 2018. In 2019 she completed residencies in New Delhi and Rome, had a solo exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney, was included in a few other exhibitions, then spent November working intensively in the print studio at Lane Cove to create the works for uppercase. The whirlwind continues, with Kirtika already advanced in work for her next scheduled exhibition.

Kirtika is interested in transience. She enjoys the process of making works, rather than feeling a need for them to continue existence – tricky when you get to the commercial gallery situation (she “felt a bit taxidermied”). Kirtika uses the transformation of materials to examine themes of caste stigma, ancestral memory and the language of power and reclamation. The language is a way of accessing her history. In the mid-twentieth century Dr. B.R. Ambedkar transcribed into English the social rules that over generations have been internalised by the Dalits, rules condemning them to subhuman status, denied the smallest vestige of prestige or honour. Kirtika explained she feels the impact of the words on her body as she works with them, and she selects materials responding to this – waste, or with religious and cultural references, or capturing the feeling such as with the density of tar. Materials that hold a history.

Fitting with Kirtika’s interest in the process over the result, she included in the exhibition some of the screens and plates used in creating the works.

Some of the screens were old ones found in the gallery studio space – beautiful, but bound for a cleaning and return for future use. The double meaning of “uncleaned” only occurred to me while writing the caption below.

A number of works used layering very effectively. Edges, fragility, materiality gave impact and depth.


Gathering threads

A warning: this post is intended to be useful to me, and on the blog for the tools it gives me. If any of it is of use to others it will be by accident, not intent.

Exploring a new venture, going a bit further. An occasional bringing together of ideas – but no polish, no photos, travelling light.

Clusters of thought developing:

  • the poetic
  • observation
  • poetic, humanist graphing
  • how to read
  • In One Way Street, under the heading “Attested Auditor of Books”, Walter Benjamin presents an historic sequence of script – inscriptions on upright stones; manuscripts written on sloping desks; the horizontal bed of printing. A pause of a few hundred years here with the book, for script “a refuge in which it can lead an autonomous existence”. Winds of change from the late nineteenth century. Newspapers are read more vertical than horizontal, there are graphic tensions as Mallarmé and later the dada writers play with space, font, placement of text, while film and advertising use the “dictatorial” perpendicular. Script is “pitilessly dragged out into the street”.

    And suddenly something written almost a century ago is incredibly modern – “… the chances of [a modern reader] penetrating the archaic stillness of the book are slight. Locust swarms of print, which already eclipse the sun of what city dwellers take for intellect, will grow thicker with each succeeding year.” Information overload, social media – we are overwhelmed with print. Print on the hard, vertical surfaces of phone and computer.

    So a nice statement of a challenge. For me the kicker is Benjamin’s “qualitative leap” responding to all this quantity, with writing moving further into graphic regions. “In this picture-writing, poets, who will now as in the earliest times be first and foremost experts in writing, will be able to participate only by mastering the fields in which (quite unobtrusively) it is being constructed: statistical and technical diagrams.” The poetics of data visualization!

    Beautifully leading to Johanna Drucker. Previously (7-Jan-2020) I wrote that Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production takes a very wide view, almost a survey of the literature. The information is condensed, so can be difficult. A section on “Humanist Methods” was fascinating, exciting, relevant – and difficult. Until… following the footnotes, I found Drucker’s original paper – on the Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ) website – “an open-access, peer-reviewed, digital journal covering all aspects of digital media in the humanities.”

    For now, I’m trying to keep focus. There may be riches beyond the dreams of avarice on that site. That’s for other days. The current excitement is that the paper on the website is the complete version with all the explanatory bits of what was difficult and condensed in the book.

    This is getting turgid, so time for some dotpoints.

  • All data is capta. Looking for a succinct explanation I found “Capta is not data as we typically understand data. Capta represents what is seen, thought and felt. Capta, according to phenomenologists, is the ‘data of the conscious experience’. ” ( There is interpretation. The observer is always a participant. A simple example: a bar chart may show hospital admissions by gender, male and female. That’s still often standard, but that simple binary is an assumption, and highly problematic. A count of national population may not include temporary migrant workers. Is time fixed intervals or as experienced (time waiting for a bus = coffee with a friend?).
  • Every metric is a factor of X (the phenomenon) – potential factors: a point of view; agenda; assumption; presumption; convention. A “self evident fact” is a constructed interpretation.
  • Complexity, ambiguity, gaps can be hidden and distorted in graphs.
  • A humanistic approach entails qualitative display of graphical information. “By definition, a humanist approach is centered in the experiential, subjective conditions of interpretation.” (page 130 of book).
  • What could this mean in data viz? Time becomes temporality, and instead of a neat, consistent, linear progression could have folds, loops, whorls, arrows of force, gaps, changes of scale… Think about that coffee – as anticipated, experienced, remembered, by you and by your friends, or observers.

    Drucker concludes her paper “[Graphical expressions of humanistic interpretation] are as different from the visual display of quantitative information as a close reading of a poem is from the chart of an eye tracker following movements across a printed page.”

    It feels like something I should know – but what is poetry? when or why is something poetic? Jane Hirshfield when discussing Bashō writes of “… a tool for emotional, psychological and spiritual discovery, for crafting new experience as moving, expansive and complex of ground…” (I’ve twisted the quote out of context). Some relevant ideas/techniques:

  • juxtaposition, transformation
  • the recognition of impermanence, ceaseless alteration, interdependence
  • (An aside: In the context of chaos theory Drucker writes of dynamic unfolding, transformation, adaptation and emergence. An interesting correspondence of language. And thinking of poetic language, some more from Drucker: “These graphical tools are a kind of intellectual Trojan horse, a vehicle through which assumptions about what constitutes information swarm with potent force.” (my italics, but look back at Benjamin). A dry start, but startling imagery at the end.)

  • the beauty of the most ordinary circumstances and objects (wabi)
  • test ideas against the realities of observation
  • (A jump to Leopardi who claimed fine arts give pleasure by the imitation of nature, with objects imitated “beauty, memory, the attention that is paid to things that we see every day without noticing them, etc”.)

    (And back to Drucker, who pushes for more nuanced presentation of ambiguity and uncertainty, with observer-independent reality a presumption, not a given. “Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it.” )

  • an aesthetic of transparence and lightness
  • pointing to both the world and the self
  • Slowing down. I’m writing this in part because attentive reading and careful notetaking isn’t enough. I need to integrate what I am reading into my mental structures. I used to think of this structure as a scaffolding or framework, giving context, a holding place and a place to build on. Now it seems more like a rubbery network of connections that shifts and adapts and accommodates and absorbs – and if all goes well allows me to extract as required.

    More on reading and note-taking: Walter Benjamin claimed “Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, the road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it; because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of daydreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command.” Obviously not mindless copying, but this has encouraged me to make more extensive notes, longer direct quotes. Leopardi in Zibaldone also appears to make extensive use of quotations.

    It’s still not enough. Sometimes it takes me a long time to see the obvious, but I’ve been coming to acceptance that I can’t “squeeze all the juice out” no matter how attentive the reading. I need to grow and learn, and in the kind of books I am reading there will always be more to find. Plus each time I read, it is as a different person. Maybe this is a good place to circle back to Jane Hirshfield: “haiku remind us that a person should not become too fixed in a singular sense of what the self might consist of or how, or where it might reside.”

    In what feels a bizarre and futile quest for completeness here I introduce an essay by Umberto Eco – “Intertextual irony and levels of reading”. This essay was my morning reading for five consecutive days. Many times I was bewildered, despondent, angry, frustrated, defensive. Basically I don’t have and will never have the wide knowledge of literature to recognise any but the most obvious allusions to other texts. I’ve started too late, but in any case that’s not the game I want to play. So I will take what works for me, and turn it to my own uses. That, over all that I’m reading, is still plenty. More than enough. And always more to come.

    Hopefully taking time to gather together strands from reading will help take me further, intensifying the impact of my reading. I’ve found Making connected to reading, such as the recent scarf (11-Jan-2020), opens up my understanding and response. So Making as knowledge production.

    Other threads bubbling :

  • Challenges of translation. In Eco and Leopardi.
  • Provocation. Drucker describes her paper as a provocation to a larger project.
  • Exploration versus outcome. Asimov in Second Foundation: “Finished products are for decadent minds.”
  • Metadata and tagging. Leopardi’s slips, Benjamin’s “three-dimensionality of script” in card indexes
  • Reading period: 5 – 15 January 2020

    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


    No Instagram images were found.

    Calendar of Posts

    March 2021
    M T W T F S S

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.