Thursday, June 12, 2008

For the courageous collector

I have proved that it is actually possible to make an artist's book in the rainforest. It was not easy, it was not quick, it didn't turn out quite as I hoped and there will not be an edition but it is done and (ironically) it is called Dry.

Why was it harder here, than back home in my well organised, well lit, dry studio, or even in my bedroom, or a kitchen table at a housesit? Ah my gentle readers, sitting in your civilized homes and offices far from the tropical rainforest, allow me to elucidate.
(Soft focus caused by camera steaming up)

For a start, the rainforest is never dry and although there are days when it is not quite as damp and muggy and relentlessly moist as usual, paper never really stands a chance of staying free of ripples, mold or general fragility. Then there's the ever present dirt. Most obviously there is an endless supply of gecko shit and bits of dead insect falling onto every surface with alarming frequency. You wouldn't expect the rainforest to be dusty, but it is and the prevailing wind keeping a haze of rainforest detritus blowing through the windowless, doorless rooms of the house and adhering to the damp paper.

But worse is the dim lighting. Natural light is never bright this far down the triple canopy and the super-efficient bulbs running off solar power are not exactly glaring nor well-placed for measuring out equilateral triangles in light pencil onto textured handmade paper. The best surface available for measuring, cutting and gluing is the big handmade table in the middle of the deck-come-living room which is the centre of the social life of the B&B. But best is a relative term for a beautiful, funky table with a surface that maintains the quirks and irregularities of the tree trunk from which it was hewn. And of course, whenever I spread out my paper and tools, someone wants to come along and eat lunch or drink a cup of tea, prompting me to quickly sweep my activities into the corner of the table furthest from the comestibles.

All these challenges have slowed me down but not daunted me! Dry was completed today. It's made out of Chinese Burr paper that Helga and I made on the Sunshine Coast in April. The paper was a bit ripply to begin with (due to not being dried flat for long enough) so I gambled that the moist air would enable my manipulations to ease it into a useful state as I made the book, and that's worked out all right. Not having a press, nor being willing to turn the moldy books around here into a makeshift press, my book is pretty springy anyway. The paper has also been dribbled with watercolour paint allowed to spontaneously flow and soak into the unsized paper.
The text (about drought, the first section of the Water Rights poem in this post), is handwritten, since I don't have access to a press, or indeed even a laser printer, here.
The structure is an experiment with folding a string of equilateral triangles, intended to evoke a kind of flowing stream of paper and text which, in the end, I consider to be only partially successful. To read the text you have to keep twisting the accordion folded triangles in a bit of a tricky way which requires courage and creativity from the reader. Since even my less demanding books often evoke anxiety in a reader figuring out how to open each page, this one could induce palpitations in a nervous novice.

So its probably a good thing that it's a unique book, that I will not be putting myself through the angst of trying to create an edition under rainforest conditions (besides, I have used up all the Chinese Burr paper on just this one copy). Instead, I will start working on the next, completely different book, one that I hope will overcome the environmental challenges in a more satisfactory manner.
Dry, for the courageous and creative collector. POA

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