Monday, December 31, 2007

Sea Circles

I thought you might like to see what I'm doing with all the circles being die cut on the C&P press. They are watercoloured in shades of blue and green and then sewn together with tiny beads. It will eventually be a square metre or bigger (depending on how many circles are usable in the end), with a lovely drape to it. So far I've sewn about 100 circles, only 700 or so to go...

The piece is called New Shroud for King Tutankhamen and will involve hieroglyphics and a John Donne quote.

Thanks Louise for cutting most of these for me, you're a letterpress natural!

Two Presses

I've printed my first wedding invitations, as a gift for Jo and Cam who will marry in March. They are pretty austere invites by today's fashions, just text (Outline Shadow and Verona faces) printed in blue ink on some old creamy embossed cards that I was given a while ago. The only reason I know anything about fashion in wedding invitations is because when one is looking for letterpress links on the internet, inevitably wedding invitations come to light as the bread and butter of many (most?) printers trying to make a living from letterpress. I don't get invited to many weddings myself, and the few I've been to lately have used homemade laser printed invitations. But out there in the world of aspirational wedding fashion deep impression letterpress invites are apparently the thing to have.

One of the entertaining letterpress blogs* I've discovered recently is Poppy Letterpress, in which a young Canberra graphic designer gets engaged, decided to make her own wedding invitations and takes up letterpress printing with great gusto. She has also very recently bought a Chandler and Price Old Style press, which from the photos, is very much like mine. I hope she is enjoying her C&P more than I am my one, I suspect so since until now she has been working on an Adana table press with much frustration.

Unfortunately the more I work with the C&P the more I appreciate the Arab. Yesterday I was die cutting circles on the C&P and printing invitations on the Arab and the opportunity for comparison did no favours to the new press. The C&P is so big and heavy that it is difficult to maintain momentum at the slow pace I like to print. In contrast, the Arab is little and lithe, and I know it so well that I can be very agile with it. I now realise how lucky I was to get my start in letterpress on this sweet beauty.

I don't regret buying the C&P but I'm not sure I want to keep it either. If someone made me an offer for it (and it would be a perfect press for a taller, stronger, faster printer) I could probably say goodbye without tears. Parting from the Arab, on the other hand, would break my heart.

*I finally got round to updating my links section down on the right there, scroll down and you'll find it. As well as old favourites you'll find lots of lovely letterpress websites and blogs. Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Messing about in boats

A few years ago, when my friend Sarah started whole-heartedly following her passion for kayaking, I could only summon the most abstract of support and interest for this enthusiasm. I am not sporty and do not feel a great affinity for watery environments. For some reason too murky to delve into I felt particularly averse to trying kayaking.

But I overcame all sorts of fears and aversions to take up swimming this year, and have enjoyed gaining confidence and competence in the water. I learned that I could take on a physical challenge in the same way I take on other kinds of challenges.

Sarah often bemoans her friend's lack of interest in kayaking, and frustration with finding people to go paddling with. So, mostly because I love her dearly rather than any great desire to kayak, I organised a trip for us when she came to stay last weekend. I contacted a new friend, who with her partner, run Pacific Coast Kayaks and booked us on a guided kayaking trip.

In a party of 8, mostly women, we took a leisurely paddle up the Patua Estuary last Sunday. I was in a double kayak with Sarah, and she kept us afloat, going in (more or less) the right direction, and paddled alone when my shoulders packed in.

I discovered I really like kayaking- at least at a gentle pace on calm waters (I can't imagine ever wanting to try white water). I like the sensation of gliding across the silky surface of the sea. I like the gentle splish splosh dripping sounds of the paddling. I like the rhythm. I really liked seeing bush and birds from the water.

Despite my extreme nervousness on my way to the water, once I was on it I felt completely safe. It was nice to be a paying customer and be so well cared for by Mark whose calm competence was utterly reassuring. It was very very nice to be with Sarah and share in her greatest passion. And it was delightful to paddle in and out of the company the friends and family who made up the rest of the party and stop for lunch and coffee on a ribbon of muddy bank among the mangroves.

Despite getting so sore that I couldn't paddle the last stretch home against the wind (luckily Sarah is so strong and enthusiastic that I believe her reassurances that it didn't matter that I became a dead weight), I loved the whole experience and can't wait to go on another (shorter) trip. When I look back at this year of taking on so many new challenges (learning letterpress, taking up swimming, making a career change, putting on a solo exhibition) kayaking will stand out as a sweet surprise for its ease.

Photos thanks to Sharon Ketko (that's me in the blue hat and Sarah in the white cap).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gifts from de Nile

It's been a week of denial, or rather the gradual erosion of denial. Most startling was the realisation that a whole week has passed since my last post. Really, it felt like only yesterday...

Most famously I was in total denial about the need to do any shopping for the upcoming orgy of gift giving that I feel obliged to participate in. (I bought the most important gift online a few weeks ago and the ensuing smugness obliterated any perspective regarding the other near and dears).

Surrounded by office-mates covering their desks in wrapping paper and filling the air with the farting sounds of cellotape as it is wrenched from the roll still didn't make much of an impression. Until a colleague asked how my Christmas shopping was going. To which I blithely replied that "I'll just stop at a service station on Christmas Eve and pick up a few things on my way to Hamilton".

Goodness! I might as well have announced that I would be convening a devil worshipping ritual in the middle of the Christmas feast. Such outrage! Such incredulity! Such public shaming! Um, guys, I was sort of only joking. But at lunchtime I slunk out, blitzed two of my favourite shops and managed to purchase pleasing gifts for almost all the important folk in less than half an hour, while sticking (more or less) to my budget and my loosely applied purchasing policy of hand made/ NZ-made/fair trade/organic/good cause. And then I forgot all that self-righteous consumer- activism when I was suckered into a bookshop on the way back to work.

Rest assured, friends and family, no service station/liquor store/supermarket gifts will be inflicted by me! I'm afraid though, that on the whole I will be introducing more pretty yet useless objects into your life and so you will have to find somewhere to put them, and probably spend an extra few seconds a year dusting them or find a discreet opportunity for regifting (perfectly acceptable after you've read the books). Oh, and because I left it so late, anything arriving in the USA by post will be, um, more of a Purim gift in timing. Sorry.

I do wish I had been as organised as some of my workmates who are giving dolphins, goats and chickens away (as certificates of sponsorship for various worthy causes). If only I hadn't been in denial, I too would have had enough time to buy on line, and next Tuesday my family members would be trying to look thrilled with a card announcing that someone in the developing world has got a new goat thanks to my anti-consumerism. And so there's one less goat bringing prosperity to a dirt-floored hut somewhere. Sorry about that too.

Anyway, getting into the spirit at this 11th hour I am pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling more enthusiastic about Christmas than I have for a long time. I hope, dear readers, that you all enjoy the time off, the company, the gift giving and receiving, and the special foods as much as I intend to.

Chag sameach!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How it is going

There has been no sun seen in Whangarei for eight days (although it did stop raining for a few thrilling hours in the middle of Monday). I spent the first five of those wet, grey days pretty much confined to my 'bed' with an unpleasant and exhausting stomach virus, while my flatmates filled the house with paint fumes and chainsawed down trees in the garden. On day 4 I was extra sorry for myself because it was my birthday and I could still only eat plain white rice and tinned fruit, and not even those with impunity.

There was one glorious highlight in the middle of that almost relentlessly miserable period: my exhibition received an astute, positive, full page review in the Northern Advocate, Whangarei's local daily newspaper on 6 December.

Many people over the past few weeks have asked me, 'How's the exhibition going?', a question that puzzled me when I took it literally: the exhibition is pretty static, it doesn't really go anywhere, it just is. 'It's going fine, thanks. Nothing's fallen apart or been broken'*.

But my naive responses generally lead them to unpack the question and reveal it as a delicate probe into the economics of the exhibition, specifically 'have you sold much?' And when I answer that questions with 'Zero, zip, zilch', there is an almost embarrassed sidestep into 'but have many people come through?' (I don't really know because no one keeps track of the numbers) and 'have you had good feedback?'

At last, a question that I can say an emphatic 'YES' to. The visitor's book is full with comments that move me with the heartfelt appreciations expressed. Most people who talk to me about the show are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. A sister artist wrote me a beautiful, bilingual poem about it. A busy working mother told me about the effort it took to find the time to attend, the calm that descended on her as she walked through, and the cleansing tears that overcame her inside the privacy of You are Beautiful. People seem to enjoy trying to decide which is their favourite piece, and often fail to choose only one. Several visitors have returned more than once, either to bring friends through or to have time there alone. It is lovely to read and hear this kind of feedback, especially as it greatly outweighs the ambivalent, 'I don't get it', minority.

I didn't really expect to sell much, if anything, and my low expectation no doubt helped create that reality. But, I consider Whangarei simply too small, too poor and too far from an urban sophisticated art market where my work might attract buyers -although enormous, fragile, installation pieces must be hard to sell anywhere. I would have been thrilled to make a sale or even sell out, but I didn't do it to make money.

For me, it was almost enough to simply succeed in putting on a well conceived and well executed exhibition and have plenty of people come through and be moved and stimulated by it. The one other thing that I really wanted was a substantive, thoughtful review: as an external record and, especially, as an objective critique.

Lawrence Clark's review made some gentle, pertinent, criticism of a couple of pieces that I am least satisfied with. He 'got' the pilgrimage narrative. His responses to each book suggested that he found them thought-provoking, and in general, satisfying. Reading his write-up felt like getting a pretty solid 'A' for my work.


*Unlike my friend, Kim Cohen, whose beautiful, eerie installation at the Old Library last month had to be closed after one day because of vandalism.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Canyon of Your Heart

I have three potential books mulling in my imagination and my planning at the moment. All three are, in my mind at least, saturated in rich colours, in contrast to the work I am exhibiting at the moment.

One work is in response to the criteria of the NZAG Art Awards - to reference somehow the following four themes: circle, stamp, equality and cool blue. One book is an extension of my love affair with the Mobius strip - which will not let me go until I have created a completely satisfactory Mobius book structure. And one is being driven by a poem I wrote a little while ago, which starred in the Saturday edition of Love Letters at Your Feet, but is now demanding a more tangible, sustainable, manifestation.

The canyon of your heart

Here we are
on top of a cliff
looking across a vast canyon
towards the rising sun.

While you double check the weather forecast
and unpack your bags looking for the matches,
I put my toes to the very edge of the earth
spread my arms

and imagine the warm breeze collecting me
in its sure embrace, imagine
soaring across tender tree tops
following the glitter of a river swollen with spring.

When you are ready
I lift my own pack to my shoulders
and follow you over the precipice
down a narrow, crumbling trail.

We descend slowly and carefully,
into a sandstone bowl
every colour of rust and sunlight,
all the maroons of a veteran’s faded ribbons.

On the canyon floor
we walk hand in hand
through gnarled ancient tree trunks
and tumbled boulders as big as houses.

Midday, we rest in the dapple of the willows
so still and quiet together
that one by one
deer and coyote come to drink upwind.

We walk on through lengthening shadows
until we pull off our packs
and make camp by a round
pool of deep, glassy water.

Dark falls through mauve, cobalt, navy
and the sky becomes a spangled curtain
draped over the canyon’s mouth,
our small fire a flickering tongue of light.

An egg-shaped moon rises late
and rouses us to watch
its reflection pass slowly
across the pool’s surface.

Leaning together for warmth
you tell me stories
about the night animals we hear
until I fall asleep in your arms

in the canyon of your heart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dirty work but someone's got to do it

I spent many happy hours with my new Chandler and Price (C&P) press this weekend. I managed to remove the electric motor and belt arrangement, all but two stubborn brackets with phillips screws that won't budge- someone stronger than me will have to extract those.

As I anticipated, the C&P is much more sleek and handsome without all those cumbersome, ugly, accouterments of the mid twentieth century. It was a simple matter to hook the treadle back into place and start the clickety clack of its manual operation.

Beginning to remove the decades of accumulated filth was my next task, and lubricating its joints, which I suspect had been overpowered by electricity rather than regularly oiled. The cleaning job will take a few more sessions of transferring thick layers of greasy dust (or is that dusty grease?) from machine parts to a new permanent residence under my fingernails, but already the C&P is taking on a proud sheen.

I will have to have a part machined before I can reattach the rollers and print ink, but fortuitously I have a forthcoming project involving screeds of die cutting, which the C&P is already in good shape for. I put a fresh tympan on, locked a die form into the chase and fiddled about with make ready until I could cut little circles with ease. I remember from my last die cutting adventure with Jim, that the make ready succumbs to pressure more quickly from die cutting than from printing and seems to need regular reinforcement in order to keep cutting well.

Now I have a little stack of perfect 5.5cm circles in cream card with which to experiment. Very satisfactory.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The road to enlightenment is not linear

I am, in general, opposed to travel. Holidays, work trips, trans-hemisphere-immigration, family visits, international conferences, sight-seeing... I've done it all, all my life long, and enjoyed very little of it.

I am obsessed with the idea of staying in one place, planting trees, making a home and never going anywhere ever again. But despite my strong desire to stay put, I continue to live an unusually transient lifestyle.*

So when it came to thinking about my first solo exhibition, it is not surprising that I could find in my work a common thread: the tension between my desire to stay home and my semi-homeless reality. This theme resonated with the quirky shape of the Yvonne Rust Gallery (YRG) which directs visitors up steps, around a hairpin bend, down a ramp around another corner and into the wedge of the main space, which ends in tight, almost claustrophobic, corner - a relatively complex path within a single, small, open space.

It seems to me, from my prejudiced position, that at least some of what people crave from travel results from a heightened awareness engendered by immersion in the unfamiliar. I believe mundane, familiar places and activities can be just as rewarding when that kind of heightened awareness is activated at home. Thus I wanted to offer Domestic Pilgrimage as a kind of armchair traveller experience in which the viewer could be inspired to see themselves and their surroundings with the fresh eyes of contemplative attention.

My vision for installing Domestic Pilgrimage was a literal and linear path as outlined in my Artist's Statement. I wanted that metaphorical journey from mass delusion to inner truths to be experienced as a physical journey through the YRG. Each piece had been chosen to represent a place of learning along the route of the Pilgrimage, each carefully considered in relation to the other pieces to generate a coherent narrative.

O what hubris! My painstakingly planned itinerary came unstuck in the installation, that intense three day personal growth workshop undertaken with my darling E, who as a real life pilgrim, knows all about letting go of control. E has numerous qualities that made me eagerly accept her offer to come up from Wellington to help install the exhibition. Aside from being intelligent, generous, clear seeing, direct and honest, hardworking, and unfazed by emotional expression, she's undertaken Shikoku's 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan, worked as a curator for four years, and is incredibly stylish to boot (certainly turning heads in Whangarei last weekend!).

I couldn't have wished for a better person to be installing Domestic Pilgrimage with. She followed my curatorial lead until I couldn't think straight anymore and then she gracefully stepped in and curated the show through that impasse and to completion. She also, during that busy weekend, managed to totally re-style my studio from a chaotic work room into a beautiful welcoming area (not to mention feeding and clothing me when even those simple decisions seemed beyond my abilities).

The enlightenment part of the Domestic Pilgrimage went in mostly according to my plan. We started at the end of the journey, with the biggest and heaviest piece. You are Beautiful didn't fit exactly how I had originally hoped when I designed it for the wedge corner of YRG. But I had realised that a while ago, so it wasn't a shock when confirmed on Friday morning. It did fit in another, even better way, with the three mirrored pages at acute angles reflecting multiples of each other and us and eventually the distant gallery through the mist of the Membranes. Membranes also went in smoothly, if slowly, and benefitting from some careful editing over the next couple of days.

Sky in the City, the lantern book, was my Slough of Despair, my real challenge of the installation and occasion for a major tantrum releasing my fear and frustration, my exhaustion and overwhelmedness, my confusion and disappointment: feelings a lot like travelling in a foreign country! At the time it reminded me of the transition stage of being in labour: that bit before the pushing where you curse a lot and no one else can do anything right (though in this case I tried not to blame anyone else for my struggles) . Hard as the lanterns were to install (and I was still tutu-ing with them on the day after the opening!), they at least ended up on the wall where I had wanted them.

When I eventually couldn't continue to ignore my inability to figure out how to install the first piece of Pilgrimage: Addicted to Capitalism, I began to negotiate with E for her to take over that work. She wasn't prepared to take sole responsibility for that piece in isolation, but rather had a broader vision for it and several other pieces. Our negotiation was lengthy and challenging but I was, and am, incredibly proud of how we did it.

Where my plan simply followed my pilgrimage narrative around the room, E's approach paid more attention to how the individual pieces looked in their places. Articulating our different perspectives and coming to appreciate each others', led to a compromise in which three of the first four works in Domestic Pilgrimage ended up different parts of the gallery than I had originally planned. By Sunday afternoon the exhibition looked much better than it would have if I had clung rigidly to my structure. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to let go of my preconceptions.

The Pilgrimage, as a journey of spiritual devotion, was enacted in the soul work of installing. Each person takes their own path through Domestic Pilgrimage. I might be a tour guide, but I am not the only one, and I abandoned my flag on the stick last weekend.

* Transient for various reasons, most of which I accept responsibility for as the result of my own choices. However I do harbour some considerable resentment towards the state of the economy which, despite my best efforts to be a force for positive change, continues operate not only as though the laws of physics don't apply, but also as though an inflated housing market which excludes and/or impoverishes so many people is a Good Thing. Not!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Monday morning, I was back in the Gallery re-hanging the lanterns which kept falling like autumn leaves from Sky in the City. My original idea for attaching them turned out to not be the best - and one of the many lessons learned through this exhibition is Fully Test All Technical Aspects Before Opening.

Anyway, it was a quiet time alone, as I worked my way up the 3.1 metre tall lantern book reattaching the 140 or so of the lanterns that were hanging loose. Only a few visitors came by while I was there and it suited me that none seemed very interested in chatting or lingering.

But one gentleman walked in, stopped at the top of the entrance steps and exclaimed, "Oh! I thought there was an exhibition on."
Thinking he was put off by the ladder and my little array of tools, I replied, "Yes there is. The show opened yesterday. I'm just doing some repairs, but please come on in and look around."
He took a couple more steps in and said, "But there's nothing here."
"Yes there is," I insisted. "It's an exhibition of artist's books, come and have a look."
"An exhibition of what?"
"Artist's books."
He took a couple more steps, and finally noticed Love Falls, the first piece on the wall. He peered at it for a few seconds and then turned and left without saying anything more.

I gave a mental shrug and continued with my lantern-fiddling, thinking about the encounter. All the people at the opening who were so enthusiastic about my work were primed for it, looking for it, ready to see and find something for themselves in it. Many people commented on how it was so unlike anything they had seen before/in Whangarei.

Everything in the exhibition is in a limited palette, predominantly white background with black text. There are some blue greys, the very dark brown of Charnal Grounds, the golden buff of the lanterns and a splash of bright pink here, a hint of emerald green there. There are few graphic images or patterns and they are very minor. If you were coming in from a bright sunny day to the dim inner light of the gallery looking for the bold colours, big canvases, solid ceramics or turned wood that are the usual Yvonne Rust Gallery fare, you might honestly not be able to see my work.

Domestic Pilgrimage has been described as minimalist, Zen-like, subtle and pristine. I think it is bold work (as in daring) and challenging (in the sense of demanding sustained attention - rather than being confrontational) , but it is certainly not gaudy or bright!

Witnessing Domestic Pilgrimage's invisibility to a casual visitor makes me wonder if a different kind of gallery space would make my work stand out more strongly. Dark walls rather than white? Spotlights rather than diffused natural light? A sophisticated urban contemporary art context rather than an earthy, quirky, crafty context? I think I would like the opportunity to find out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Artist's Statement

Domestic Pilgrimage: a journey from Samsara (the delusions of suffering) to Nirvana (enlightenment).

Domestic Pilgrimage begins with Addicted to Capitalism, poking fun at the ubiquitous ways our society distorts our awareness, and impairs our ability to be aware, through socially sanctioned addictions.

Love Falls is about looking to romantic relationships to feel more connected and alive, yet those relationships are often sabotaged by our confusion about the nature of reality and the transience of emotions.

Charnal Grounds is a memorial to the dharma (teaching) of staying present in the darkest depths of despair, without escaping into addictions and distractions; coming to understand that suffering is as transient as pleasure and of no more or less importance.

The mobius Meditation Journal has no boundaries between inside and outside. Meditation involves a series of repeated attempts to quiet that part of the mind that is so busy distinguishing between ‘like’ and ‘not like’. When the mind is stilled to a blank page, the breath connects you without judgement.

Do the Dishes takes the discipline of meditation into daily, domestic life. Being fully present in each moment, no matter how mundane, brings great peace.

Sky in the City takes that awareness for a walk, beyond the sanctuaries of the meditation space and home, into the crowded concrete city.

The final two works in the Domestic Pilgrimage were inspired by the enthusiastic conversations taking place between Buddhist psychology and the frontiers of western science, concerning the nature and origins of life, the universe and consciousness.

One of the defining features of all life on earth, past and present, is Membranes, those permeable boundaries that paradoxically both spatially contain and connect all beings, from slime to humans.

Another commonality is DNA/RNA, the purpose of which is to communicate information across time. Like books, DNA tells stories that reminisce all the way back to our bacterial origins in primordial oceans. You are Beautiful responds to intersections between the searches for inner truths through contemplative practices and the inner truths being decoded from our DNA.

Photographs by Louise Simms.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The opening of Domestic Pilgrimage was delightful. The weather was glorious and the outdoor setting for the food and wine part of it was beautiful. We put the finishing touches in the gallery minutes before people started to arrive, and I felt that everything was perfect, so could relax with my family.

The food, which my parents made with help from E, Louise and Liz, was a work of art in itself.

Lots of people came and said lots of lovely things about my work. They tended to spend quite a long time in the gallery which mostly had a hushed atmosphere, before coming out into the hot sunshine to socialise.

This is what is next for me, but I will also post more about the show soon.

Thanks Liz for these lovely photos, and for all your advice and encouragement over the past months of preparing for the opening.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Visit from an old friend

Moe iho au i te po nei
Ka kite au i to wairua
E awhi mai ana i ahau
ano pea kei te ao nei*

A couple of nights after the funeral for Brad, I dreamt that he gave me an enormous rain water tank. At the time it seemed like an odd thing to give someone as transient as myself, but it was gifted with such affection and respect that I was pleased to accept.

Over the next two or three months that tank filled to overflowing with new ideas, skills, words and images, until I pleaded for a break from the floods.

I've spent the past three or four months drawing down on that well of inspiration, creating Domestic Pilgrimage which opens this afternoon.

This morning Brad visited me again. I dreamt I was in the gallery, and Brad was perched up on the cross beams by the entrance, looking out over the exhibition, looking very pleased and proud. As dream conversations go, what we talked about was lucid, memorable and reassuring.

Dedicated to the memory of

Brad McGann


*rough translation: Asleep in the night, I saw your spirit, and I felt your embrace. Perhaps you are still here with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Still making lanterns...

... but last night I also finished You are Beautiful, Meliors' Scarey Biggest Book Ever.

The catalogues are printed, the posters are up, I've had some embarrassingly good media attention and an emotional meltdown. So really, its just making lanterns left to do, which I should finish tonight.

Folding lanterns only requires about 5% of my attention and I've really had enough of being fully present in this particular now for now, so while I make I'm already looking past the two days of installation and the exhibition opening to what I will get to do next. I'm going to play! Paper-making and C&P press cleaning and writing and drawing and making stickers and... who knows what other fun, bring it all on!

Preparing for Domestic Pilgrimage has required absolute focus, discipline and hard work this spring. Now I am ready for a free-form summer of artistic experimentation and self-indulgent dabbling. I remember being in such a dynamic space this winter just past and how the work I am now completing evolved so thrillingly from that playfulness. I look forward to enjoying the next round even more while bathed in hot sunshine.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Making Lanterns

Pretty much everything is as ready as it can be for installing the exhibition at the end of the week.
The main task to be achieved between now and then is finishing my Lantern Book. Sunday was spent reprinting the most sloppily printed pages to look a bit nicer. And now I have to fold them all.

This is such a repetitive, dare I say, tedious task that I thought I would share the endless cycle with you, dear reader.

On Sunday, when the typesetting and printing was going smoothly, I reckoned it was taking a minimum of 8 minutes to set the type, lock it, proof it, print it and dis(tribute) it back into the drawer. When I am on a roll with folding, I can make a lantern in about 4 minutes.

My lanterns are a well-loved origami structure which many people recognise as the water bombs they used to make at school to torment teachers and nerdy kids like me. I learned it from my dear friends on Dancing Vege Farm in upstate New York.

Expanding the tightly folded structure into a little cube filled with air is the trickiest part. After about 70 or so lanterns I have finally perfected my cotton bud expansion technique. Only another 90 to go...

It's all very monotonous and wearisome for my young 'helper' and Bella is quite tuckered out from trying to hunt down the lanterns (the belt is an effective distraction when slithered about from on high, though not necessarily as enticing as the abundance electrical cords snaking around the room) .

Sunday, November 11, 2007

39 weeks

A week out from the opening and it's feeling a lot like the end of a pregnancy: emotional, exhausted, irrational, scared, excited, inevitable, on the brink... If I pulled a tarot card right now it would probably be the Tower. I feel like my judgment is unreliable, yet I have been impulsively making some major decisions.

For example, I bought a printing press this week. Since I don't have anywhere of my own to put a ton of dirty old cast iron, Neil said I could move it into Te Kowhai Print Trust. I didn't have time to check with anyone else, so I'm hoping no-one gets cross with me. A couple of members came by today to see for themselves the rumoured new press, and seemed to agree that my impulsive rescue from the scrappers fate was a good idea.

Here it is coming off the truck shrouded in baby blue. Shifting it a dozen blocks across town was a major logistical exercise involving joists and hoists and a big truck and a hand truck and the fork lift pictured above. The man on the left was the amazingly good humoured truck driver who responded to each new challenge with equanimity. The fork lift driver never cracked a smile.

The Chandler and Price Old Style (C&P) is fitted with an relatively recent electric motor which is surplus to my requirements (I like letterpress because it is slow). The C&P makes the Arab look very small and clean in comparison, but once the belt and motor attachments (visible as the white hose and the wheel on the far right, above, and the small wheel at the back, below) are removed, it should be much more sleek and balanced looking. Machines in those days were designed to be elegant as well as indestructible.

Don't worry, I won't be abandoning my beloved Arab for the new big boy in my life, even if he does have a brake (the Arab requires skill, strength and sheer nerve to try and stop mid flow). As the C&P has been used exclusively for die cutting for at least 13 years, I will probably stick to cutting on the C&P and keep printing on the Arab, at least for a while. But eventually I will put the rollers back on and let the C&P have a print run and see how it goes

Meantime I look forward to researching its provenance (Murray thinks it was part of the Northern Advocate plant -our local daily paper- and apparently they have very good archives) . I haven't managed to exactly date this model yet but the Old Style was made 1884-1912 (after that C&P made New Style recognisable by their straight spokes instead of the curvacious ones like mine has).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mobius Dream

After staying up far too late to write the previous post I spent much of the night tossing and turning in a disturbing half-dream in which the mobius book would not fit into its box: one of them was kinked and I had (typically) done my maths wrong.

It was like a persistently unsolvable cryptic crossword clue. I thought I was awake, yet my kinky mobius problem seemed compelling and implacable as only a dream can be. The boundaries between sleep and wake were as elided as the surfaces of a mobius page.

I finally convinced myself it was not something I could solve in the night, and sunk into a peaceful sleep, ruefully remembering the dream this morning when I woke properly.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meditation Journal

I have been infatuated with the mobius strip (a band of paper with only one side and one edge) for quite some time. I made my first mobius strip book about two years ago during my green paper phase (using up leftovers from the Bush Book series). It was a dream journal and although conceptually interesting, it was structurally unsatisfying.

The thing about the mobius that makes it so irresistible is that it has no inside, no outside and no boundaries between verso and recto and these qualities make it challenging to bind as book pages, which is what I keep trying to do.

A year or so later I returned to mobius strips, determined to find a better way to bind them together as pages attached to a spine. I fell in love with this version of the mobius for the way it evokes vertebrae. Life circumstances were not amenable however, to the creation of a book of chunky three dimensional pages that cannot be closed. There was nowhere to keep it, no where to show it. Until now.

In anticipation of including a mobius book in my Domestic Pilgrimage exhibition, I first made a three page version, to ensure that it would work as well as I visualised. For the past few months that model has been hanging over my bed where, upon opening my eyes in the morning, the thrill of seeing its creamy curves, and anticipating the pleasure of eventually getting to make the real thing motivated me to get up and on with all other fifty things higher up the To Do list than the mobius book.

Friday, mobius finally surfaced as the next thing To Do. Sometimes books that I have spent months or years thinking about before I make them are nothing but disappointment and frustration. The mobius book surprised me with the ease with which it came into being exactly as I had visualised. Based on my earlier struggles with the three page model I thought the full size version might take two or three days to make, but it was done in less than a day. I hung it in the studio for a few minutes to take blurry camera phone photos and to see how it works vertically: something like a dinosaur spine.

It is a little bit taller than me, and a little slimmer (an idealised version of myself as a book). I also made a box to keep it clean and safe until the exhibition, and the box (made from windscreen packaging) resembles nothing so much as a very low-budget coffin. I didn't try lying in it, but I'm sure I would fit comfortably. However the book is so light that I can easily carry it in the box by myself. (I found the Styrofoam peanuts in a rubbish bag outside a shop the night before and decided to rescue them from their intended landfill fate).

I don't often make blank books- usually my inspiration starts with the text and the structure follows. I toyed with writing poems for this book and may yet make a future edition with text. (In fact I'm certain this is not the last mobius book I will make.) However, living with the three page model in my bedroom has made me appreciate it's pristine qualities: the shifting shadows of white on white, the echoing curves of thick creamy paper, the miraculous mystery of its mathematical qualities.

I have used it many times as a meditation focus, riding my breath up and down the snowy slopes, breathing in and out as one continuous loop. Hence this unique blank book is called Meditation Journal. Its future owner is welcome to use it as a book to record their meditative insights, to hang it in front of their meditation cushion or to enjoy it as a kinetic sculpture suspended from the ceiling, rotating gently in the slightest breeze.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Three Weeks

Three weeks from today my exhibition will open and I will be ready. I will. No doubt in my mind, despite the nervous little laugh that burbles up involuntarily whenever the incredible soon-ness of 18 November arises in conversation. And these days I have very little ability to initiate conversation on any other topic.

My last few days at the Quarry have been right on track for my tight timetable and today I actually edged ahead, with a productive session of printing lanterns. Last time I made a lantern book I was laser printing from a Word document and the most time consuming aspect of the project was the origami. This time I'm setting and printing one word per lantern on the proofing press, a process that took about two hours to print the first word and the rest of Friday to print the next 30. There are 156 words in Sky in the City. The origami seems insignificant in comparison to the endless monotony of printing... and I figure I can enlist E's expert origami skills if I'm still folding lanterns while we are installing the exhibition. Fortunately I knocked out another sixty or so words onto lanterns today, working until I was so tired and cross-eyed that I started making stupid mistakes.

That's when I cleaned up TKPT and walked across the spring-beautiful Quarry to my little Studio 4 to put in a few hours on Meliors' Scarey Biggest Book Ever. It's called You are Beautiful and it is so ridiculously big that I have to enlist help whenever I want to move one of the wooden pages. I persuaded a friendly stranger (thanks V) to help me shift the first completed page out of the way and put a fresh blank page out to be worked on. (The book is so big and the studio so small that I can only work on one page at a time).

Oh, and in between the lanterns and the Big Book I made a start on the last work for the show by cutting luscious Incisioni 350gsm to make Mobius strips. Due to the lantern printing progressing unexpectedly well I might actually have time to make the Mobius book without sacrificing a day of annual leave or a night of sleep. And perhaps my laughter might be a little less nervous when I flick over the calendar to November and come face to face with the big red circle around Sunday 18th.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dishes Done

Tomorrow is the postmark deadline for submissions to 'Fresh Impressions: Letterpress in Contemporary Art', an exhibition at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. I really really wanted to include my book Do the Dishes in my submission but I literally only finished it this afternoon, snapped some photos on a borrowed camera (thanks Lulu) and burned them onto a CD to put in the post on my way to work tomorrow morning.

By nature, I am not inclined to finish things at the last minute. I generally try to have a generous margin of several days between completion and due date. Not for me, the pulling of all-nighters, late delivery of work or the slipshod proofreading at the 11th hour, so this experience has been a little stressful.

This book has been gestating for two years, since experiencing the epiphany described in the poem. First I wrote the text, then I imagined the book and always knew it could only be letterpress printed, so then I had to find somewhere to learn letterpress and then get enough skill to come close to manifesting my vision. Oh, and I had to learn die cutting (and get the necessary equipment made for that).

Actual work on the books that I finished today began a couple of months ago, with the covers: first a pattern, then text, then realising that the pattern overpowered the text, I had to learn how to soften if with a colleographed tint and assemble the tools for that (thanks Ruth).

Then with Jim's help I laid out the text margins justified to a circle shape and die cut the pages into circles. Last weekend I spend a whole day in assembly line attaching the pages to the spines: it is tricky to get circles lined up straight!

That's when I realised that I had forgotten to get the silver paper I wanted for the end papers (actually boards) and removable spines. Whangarei being the art supply wasteland that it is, I decided it would be just as quick and certainly less expensive to pick up the necessary paper when I was visiting Hamilton this weekend for a party, rather than mail order it. Saturday afternoon at Gordon Harris did the trick (and for once I resisted all temptation and didn't buy anything not on my list!). I drove back to Whangarei early, early this morning, so as to have a full day's work on the books at the Quarry. Unfortunately I quickly realised that I had underestimated my silver paper requirements and only had enough to complete three books. ARGHHH!

Fortunately I just as quickly remembered that I only needed one book finished to photograph and I managed to do that in the fading light of the rainy afternoon. Thank goodness for digital cameras: of the seventy or so photos I took, about four were good enough (though embarrassing to put on the same disk as the superlative photos by Mags). The drama continued with some difficulty in figuring out how to get my laptop to communicate with an unfamiliar camera, but a phonecall to my tech savvy daughter (every poet should have one) and a reboot eventually did the trick.

As well as hoping this book will travel to Oregon next year, I intend it as the centre piece of my upcoming solo exhibition, Domestic Pilgrimage. Finishing Do the Dishes means I have now made more than half the pieces for the exhibition. With less than four weeks until the opening and three books left to make (all big and complicated) I expect posts here will continue to be sparse. Bear with me, dear readers, I promise not to completely abandon Bibliophilia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Taking a breather

every once in a while
in the frantic whirlwind of my life,
I remember to draw
attention to my breath.
For a second or two,
sometimes with persistence,
ten or twenty seconds
I follow the mobius strip
trip of air through my body.
When I allow my breath
to cradle my attention
it feels like being a baby
embraced on a loving lap:
total trust
total safety
total relaxation.

Breathe in.
Breath out.

Try it.

The photograph is a detail from Charnal Grounds, one the pieces I have recently finished.
Photographed by Margueritte Kent.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Vintage Railway Poster

This poster was one of several highlights of my visit to the Heritage Park last weekend, found in the railway station.

The hair!
The suit!
The cigarette over dinner!

Those were the days, before the trains were sold to overseas buyers to be run into oblivion.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Book as Art

A new reader in Spain voted for a post about The Book as Art. And since she has one of the most delightful bibliophiliac websites I've seen in a while: Imatges i Paraules (where my lack of Spanish literacy is no impediment to enjoying her wonderful images of books, readers, libraries, artist's books etc) I can only oblige.

Judging The Book as Art by its cover will not lead you astray. It's a beautifully designed and case bound hardback of a manageable coffee table size i.e. possible to hold comfortably for reading in bed, not just leaning over the coffee table. The red cloth with gold embossed lettering is enlivened with a photograph of one of the most intriguing artist's book featured inside the covers.

This is not a 'how-to' book but a museum catalogue highlighting books held in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each featured book is illustrated by one beautiful photograph (occasionally two) and a short statement by the artist. This is the book's only shortcoming: very few artist's books are so simple as to be satisfactorily illustrated with a single still photograph. This limitation is theoretically somewhat overcome on the National Museum of Women in the Art's website where, if you have broadband, you can use a page turning tool for view multiple views of each book. My laptop took hours to open each high resolution photograph* so I returned instead to the hard-copy book.

The range of books provides a good overview to the broadest definition of what constitutes a book... from lavishly illustrated conventional codex structures to fanciful sculptures; from all text to all image; with pop-ups, prints, silhouettes, paint and assemblage; from comedy to tragedy and from sublime to mundane; there are books to delight, challenge, comfort and pique.

I found many of the artist's statements worth studying as closely as the photograph of their work. The statements make me wonder if perhaps book artists tend to be more articulate in writing about their work than many other artists who might have developed their visual language skills at the expense of fluent writing. I don't know, but anyway, this is as much an art book for reading as for looking at the pictures. And the three essays (by the curator and two famous book artists) that introduce the catalogue both continue the theoretical conversations that I follow on Bookarts-List and share personal stories of lives immersed in the book arts.

Rich and stimulating fare. I've borrowed The Book as Art from the ABC library but I think I would like to have a copy of my own, if anyone was starting to wonder what to give me for my birthday in 2 months time.

*which is why the picture is from Imatges i paraules not NMWA

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wellington Magnolia

The first nomination for Magnolia of the Year has been received from E.
Nominations are still open,
despite the magnolia flowers being replaced by leaves in Whangarei already.

Send me your magnolia photos please!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Learning Curves

Talking with my mother this evening I realised that in both my paid work and my creative work I am immersed in hugely steep learning curves. I spend six days a week in intensely challenging and rewarding learning environments.
In both the planning office and the print studio it feels like there are quite high stakes riding on my ability to learn fast and produce high quality work. No wonder I've been quite tired and a bit cranky lately.
Sometimes I just don't have the energy to wax lyrical about the good things I've experienced and even less energy for finding a good humoured irony to describe the inevitable disappointments and challenges of working at outer edge of my abilities. Sometimes I have to fall back on my policy of 'if you can't write something positive, beautiful, witty, informative or hopeful then don't write anything'. Sometimes blog posts never leave my imagination or have a chance to expand out from a scribbled sentence in my journal.
Just so you know I may or may not get round to posting about:
  • an account of my visit to NorthArt Gallery and the Bookworks exhibition which is on in Northcote, Auckland until 3 October.
  • the story of the runaway Ossi cat (now returned to the lap of luxury and catnip treats)
  • a review of The Book As Art, my pick as the book-about-artist's-books book of the year
  • the full body book I'm working on
  • the paper bag proof subscription series
  • my new mp3 player (another steep (though short) learning curve but so very very good)
  • Spring Cleaning Day at TKPT (7 October, do come along and help if you are in town!)
  • Deep Economy, electric cars and sci fi novels
  • local body elections
  • Magnolias, kowhai and port wine trees
If you like, you can use the comments function to vote for which of these posts you would most like to read, which might help motivate me to write it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An infinite capacity for taking pains

"Perhaps the essential quality desirable in a compositor* is an infinite capacity for taking pains, whatever kind of work is to be done." (Chapter 1: The Qualifications of the Compositor)

"The young compositor eager and anxious to make good progress in mastering the technique of his (sic) craft is often in the position of "attempting to run before he is able to walk". (Chapter 2: Composition)

"Unfortunately, and short-sightedly, many employers (or their overseers) appear to believe that the young student-apprentice will be happily engaged for week after week on clearing. This is by no means true; rather does the apprentice begin to wish he (sic) had never seen a composing room - and this is understandable." (Chapter 9: Clearing and Distribution)

"The accuracy of all type calculations depends largely on an intelligent analysis of the copy and any deviations required thereby, together with an alert perception of the relative differences between type founts, the space to be occupied by setting matter in different styles, and the judicious allowance for correct grouping and spacing throughout the work." (Chapter12: Case-Room Calculations (3))

From Printing Theory and Practice 2: Compositors' Work. Charles L. Pickering. (Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd: 1948)

Thank you, Mark, for sharing this lovely little book!
We'd love to see the others in the series: Bookwork, Compositors' Equipment, Typographic Design etc.

* A compositor is one who does composing or type-setting with movable type.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More printing metaphores, and some tangentially related photos

Printing creamy white, Incisioni 350gsm 50% cotton paper, light and white and foamy and stiff as a Pavlova. A Pavlova is bland until scattered with dark rich fruit sinking into the whiteness- it is the contrast of sweet and tart, of soft/crisp/creamy/chewy that makes the Pavlova so very, very good. And until the paper takes a print it is waiting to become irresistible. Once printed, my mouth waters: I want trace the impression with the tip of my tongue and taste the sweet tang of words made tangible.

The verso side taking the soot-black ink like a feather pillow accepting a dreamer's head.

The recto side the merest judder of texture, like snow blown into shallow ridges, then frozen to a thin crust.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In which I compare printing to chocolate

The other day I was doing a bit of surfing/research into the printing press at Pompallier House in Russell. I have written about Pompallier House before, when I visited there a couple of years ago. Since starting to make my letterpress dreams come true, one of my persistent fantasies has been to print on the much older flatbed Gaveaux press at Pompallier.

So when I found this web page, about a couple of Wanganui printers and book artists who did just that earlier this year... well, I was simultaneously excited to read about their project and jealous that they did it first and relieved that they've paved the way (presumably) for other printers to follow.

Anyway, I printed out the webpage (first pasting it into a Word document for elegance and efficiency) on the big colour laser printer at work. I showed the printout to one of my posse of retired printers and rather than comment on the content of the article or the illustration of the Gaveaux press, he admired the quality of the digital printout. This man has spent his working life printing through at least three massive revolutions in technology. He spent his career working hard to make the most crisp, clear and consistent marks paper possible with whatever machines were available.

On the other hand, in my working life, the perfect reproduction of a digitally designed page is something that I take for granted. I notice digital printing just enough to be aware of the mismatch between its high quality (and high resource use) and the mundane and ephemeral uses it is most often put to in the office.

And when it comes to reproducing my own creative writing, I devalue digital printing compared to letterpress. When I think of digital printing as flat, I'm not just referring to the way the ink sits on top the paper. To me, there is something lifeless and empty about what is spat out from the black box of a digital printer. Laser printing, ink jet, photocopying, even offset- they all seem to lack the texture and energy and life of letterpress printing. These are the M&Ms of print- superficially appealing and of utilitarian value but ultimately unsatisfying in their physicality.

Fine press printing, where master craftsmen patiently apply the fruits of centuries of accumulated expertise to well-tuned machinery to produce an exquisite balance of ink, paper and pressure is like the cabinet of a Belgian chocolatier- the pinnacle of the craft. Since I have had little direct experience of either fine press printing or Belgian chocolatiers, these remain the stuff of my lottery-winning daydreams.

The letterpress I am making at TKPT is grainy and sweet, like homemade fudge. My experiments and accidents produce results that are sometimes sublime and sometimes rubbish (just like my fudge). I have learned to love the inconsistencies and irregularities of text that is born of the marriage of my inexpert enthusiasm and the well worn type I use. While it is always satisfying to pull something approximating an ideal print, it is just as delicious to find beauty in the qualities my teachers and textbook try to avoid.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Toolbox

Terry Fleming, one of my posse of retired printers, gave me his journeyman's toolbox last week. I almost burst into tears, overwhelmed at such a generous, thoughtful, incredibly useful and appreciated gift. I feel so honoured.

The best thing in the toolbox is the quoin key- regular readers will be familiar with my pining for this implement. It's a dream to use. Another treasure is the micrometer which is a remarkable instrument for measuring infinitesimal lengths to ensure all the printing surfaces are type high and the same height. I haven't quite got the hang of that one yet, just as I am still struggling to get comfortable and competent with the printer's rule and measuring in ems. It's a big leap from millimetres especially for a near math phobic like myself.

The Arab press is looking very flash these days, since David Golding cleaned the rollers and made a new tray. I had no idea that the rollers were actually pink and green matte rubber not shiny black from years of not being cleaned properly.

But despite all this freshening up of the platen jobber I spent the weekend on the proofing press working towards my next book: Do the Dishes. One project was proofing the longest page of text. The book's pages will be die cut into circles and I'm trying to justify the type to echo the curve of the page. It was tricky, but with Jim Morrison's expert coaching the last proof looks perfect and I will start printing the edition (of ten) on the platen next Friday.

My other weekend project was printing a background pattern for the book's cover using the upper and lowercase 'o's of about 7 different typefaces arranged in a block on a galley. I've come a long way in terms of technical skills since my previous attempts to print unlocked type on a galley. This time it was pretty much effortless to pull a good print. The idea was to evoke bubbles, but it looks more like a retro curtain design from the 1950s. Square matrices inevitably make for a grid-like pattern and there is no way to get the circles all bumping up like bubbles. But I really like how it looks and I am quite happy for a such a modernist-looking design to be on the cover of the book. Realistic bubbles might have been a bit too naff. Paper bag proof subscribers can look forward to some very groovy bags with this design on it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Wild Green Yonder

One of my oldest and dearest Fish Club friends is launching her new book The Wild Green Yonder next week. Check it out!

While Philippa was WWOOFing* her way around New Zealand a few years ago I was one of the lucky people getting her occasional group emails (if she was doing it now she'd probably be blogging). They were facinating, inspiring, funny, sweet and addictive. And now she's written a whole book about the experience of two and a half years volunteering on organic farms.

Kim Hill is interviewing Philippa tomorrow at 11am on Radio New Zealand National. And if you miss that, you can read an article by Philippa about WWOOFing in the travel section of the Sunday Star Times.

*I always thought WWOOFing was the verb for participating in willing workers on organic farms, but it might be World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Don't know, doesn't matter, same difference, you get the idea etc.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Die cutting with the Arab and Advisors

Is there no end to the marvelous talents of the Arab press? On Friday I finally got to try die cutting, and it was as successful and easy as one could hope for. Die cutting is where a shaped blade is set into the chase and used to cut paper in the same way that the press prints- instead of ink marks on the paper you get crisp clean cuts.

I've been working towards this new trick for a few months. The most time consuming thing was figuring out how to get a platen sleeve to protect the platen from the sharp blade of the die. Many conversations with the various chaps who are my loose and informal advisory board eventually emboldened me to commission a sleeve from a metal work company in town.

I don't know if my advisory board fully appreciate what a cultural leap it was for me to get a part machined to my specifications. I can't think of anyone in my family or any woman of my acquaintance who has ever done such a thing. When I ventured to the industrial area of town and picked up the finished platen sleeve from a grungy workshop on Port Road I felt the kind of trepidation that I feel visiting a foreign country. The satisfaction of seeing how sweetly the sleeve fits the Arab was like that of completing a successful negotiation in pidgin and sign language in a foreign market. For extra affirmation, my advisory board members have all been very impressed with the sleeve and it is still so new and shiny that even a casual passerby would have to think it rather special.

Then the ever generous Murray Inder gave me a couple of oval die forms that he doesn't need anymore so the Arab's first cuts (in this phase of its career anyway) were egg shapes. When I come to a particular die cutting project (and there's one coming right up) I can either borrow a die, if Murray has a suitable one, or get one made any shape I want. But the ovals were just right for figuring out how to do it.

The rollers have to come off the press when you are die cutting (otherwise the rollers would get shredded by the blades) so that was to be my next thing to figure out. But then David Golding showed up on Friday morning, having made a beautiful new (oak?) tray for the Arab (the old tray was broken and even an old repair job had broken long before I ever saw it). David is one of several retired printers who contacted me after the Arab and I featured on the front page of the paper a few weeks ago, and he is fantastically helpful. He offered to take the Arab's rollers away and clean them properly (apparently they are too shiny to hold ink properly) while I had a go at die cutting.

He also explained why the die forms were covered in rubber. In my ignorance I had imagined the rubber was a removable protection to stop the blades getting damaged in storage. But no, the rubber provides a springy resistance so the paper doesn't stick to the die form but is pushed back to the platen after it's cut. Lucky he told me that before I started trying to get to rubber off!

With all the necessary elements in place I set about my usual trial and error approach to extending my printing skills. There was nothing about die cutting in my new bible, General Printing, a 1950s text book that my dad gave me recently but common sense goes a long way in printing. My recent lessons in make ready (placing bits of paper behind different parts of the form or platen to ensure an even pressure) were fresh in my mind so I was able to progress steadily towards cutting a complete egg in one kiss of the die to the paper. My number one coach, Jim Morrison, showed up just as I achieved this so I was able to show off to him.

We spent a happy few hours fine tuning the lays and make ready to produce lots of lovely creamy eggs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MacArthur Park

I never understood the words to MacArthur Park, they seemed so silly as to be unbelievable, surely I was mishearing:

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

Why would someone leave a cake in the rain? What happened to the recipe? Why such wrenching emotion about a wet cake? But together with high school friends I sang along anyway as I danced to the Donna Summer disco version and it has a little hook in my heart whenever I hear the soaring violins or the part where it suddenly speeds up from a slow soppy ballad to a dance beat.

Yesterday I was delighted on my way to work, and even more delighted on my way home, to see someone has staged MacArthur Park in Mander Park, Whangarei. Mander Park is one of the two parks I walk through between home and work. It is a big open square of grass bounded by two very busy roads and two very quiet ones, with a playground, some big old deciduous trees, one diagonal path through it and lots of daffodils right now.

And yesterday someone left a cake in the rain there. I always imagined Donna's cake as being a fragile yellow sponge (there's a yellow dress in the song too) melting in a drizzle, but the Mander Park cake was a big old fruitcake, the kind with about an inch of marzipan icing set like rock. The rain was pounding down on it for much of the day and it still looked as solid and impervious at 5pm as it had at 8am. I tell you, you could roof a house with that icing and stay dry inside. The fruitcake itself was holding up pretty well despite valiant efforts from flocks of sparrows and pigeons.

I imagine it as an wedding leftover that has been hanging around someone's cupboard for months or maybe years, solidifying to a stone-like consistency until they couldn't stand it anymore and took an axe to it, hacking it into chunks and then carrying the heavy, heavy sack of dismantled cake to the park before dawn and heaving each big piece onto the grass hoping the rain and the birds would just make it all go away. But that cake, man, that cake, it is shining on the grass like blocks of white marble. That cake isn't going anywhere fast.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Count 'em and weep

I am making a piece called Charnal Grounds, a sort of mixed media thing which is almost finished except for the printed text. For the text, I have collected four short poems/fragments of poems written at different times when I felt like I was facing the worst life could throw at me. I'm pleased to report that even at these times of feeling like death would be a blessed relief I could write about it with a sense of humour.

Anyway, on Sunday, I was composing the type with Jim Morrison, an amazingly generous, talented and fun teacher of printing. We got three of the little poems in the chase in 10pt Roman italic (I don't want such bitter, dark words to be too easy to read!) and then realised there were only two 'e's left in the e-compartment. I searched the rest of the case and found two more, but four 'e's were not going to be enough to make up the fourth poem of the set.

It was nearing the end of a long afternoon so Jim and I, (along with Peter Strong, another helpful printer who has offered to help me out) locked and proofed what we had. We talked about printing the page in two separate runs in order to recycle the 'e's we do have but in the end I decided I would rather write a new poem, with only four 'e's and print the whole page at once.

Revisiting the feelings of Charnal Grounds when my life is in pretty good shape means there is some dissonance between my emotions and my experiences. It's a useful lesson in the immateriality of feelings. And out of feeling a bit yucky for no real reason other than paying attention to old hurts I was able to summon a new Charnal Ground poem using only four 'e's.

Cast out
on the hot high plains of humiliation
my skin shrinks and pricks
hairs twist viciously in my follicles
my eyes parch and throb
as tears fill my mouth:
if I try and talk, I'll cry.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Under a smiling new moon

Earlier today I caught up with a friend who I hadn't talked to since he and his teenage daughter helped chalk Love Letters at Your Feet during the Mid Winter Arts Festival. He told me that his daughter, when asked what she enjoyed most about chalking poems in Cafler Park, replied: "Seeing Meliors get so excited about it."*

And that reminded me how much I did enjoy it, the memory having been dimmed slightly by the intervening rainy weeks and my new focus on preparing for the Domestic Pilgrimage exhibition in November. Emboldened by no rain all day(!) this evening I spontaneously decided I'd go out with my chalk and write up some fragments of the poems I've been working on for Domestic Pilgrimage. It was pretty dark and I seem to have lost my intuitive judgment of word spacing at speed, but I had fun. If it doesn't rain before dawn there should be a somewhat legible surprise for farmer's market shoppers and library users on Saturday morning.

I wrote a couple of fragments from Do the Dishes which I am making into an artist's book at the moment and a couple of very fresh poemlets:

How gentle we must be
How resilient we are


Come back to yourself
you are beautiful
when you are here

*Which made me think about how rare it must be for young people to see adults show uninhibited passion for their work.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chandler and Price for sale

I received a call a couple of weeks ago from a lady at T & D Print here in Whangarei. They are upgrading to digital printing and are looking for someone to buy their old platen jobber press. It's a Chandler and Price (a much better known brand than TKPT's Arab) with the number 837 on it. It looks very much like this C&P press on Briar Press and the one on this site.

I'm not in the market to acquire a printing press (they just aren't portable enough for my transient lifestyle), and if I was I would want something with a big platen so I could print posters and wallpaper, big stuff that the Arab can't handle. In fact, the C&P is very like the Arab, they could be brothers, at least to my inexperienced eye.

But I couldn't resist the opportunity to visit a venerable old press so I went round for a bit of tire kicking. In a tiny print shop chock full of machinery, the C&P is tucked into a little alcove with just enough room for a skinny operator to get in behind the feeder board. They have disconnected the rollers and and the treadle as it has been used solely for motorised die cutting and creasing. But all the bits are still there and it would be pretty simple to convert it back to a foot operated printing press.

It's a lovely press it deserves to go to a good home where it will be used. If you are interested, call T & D Print on (09) 438 1194