Friday, May 29, 2009

May's winner and my week

And the winner of the May Giveaway is Robert Frazier from the Science Fiction Poetry Association in the USA. Congratulations Robert, who won a copy of Non-Linear Time, the book of the film. Non-Linear Time is available for only $10 in my Etsy shop.

Thank you everyone who entered by commenting on the May Giveaway post, there was a record number of entries (and comments) for this blog to date. Watch out for the announcement of the Giveaway for June soon.

Ignition programme with Membranes listing

My energy this week has been veering between beginnings and completions. I am working on proposals and planning new projects, as well as preparing for installing Membranes, my giant book, in the city for Hamilton's Ignition Fringe Festival mid-June. But mostly I am in a harvest glut at the moment with the equivalent of a table covered in tomatoes and zucchini that have to be dealt with right now, even while I enjoy the fruits of my labours.

Hand sewn, with a tricky centre-fold and an envelope of hand painted stickers, I don't do anything easy

Stacks of the Happy Bus zine are in various stages of paper engineering and assembly. A few have started their road trip already: if you are in Hamilton you can get Happy Bus at Auteur House. If you are anywhere else come to my Etsy shop, or if you prefer, contact me directly.

The front cover is very nice, but I love the back of Voyagers best.

My contributors copy of Voyagers arrived in the mail today. Lovely to be part of another beautifully designed book, and in such esteemed company. I blush to see my name in the contents with great poets I have admired from afar for so long, and delight to read what old friends have written. Voyagers can be had from Amazon, or the publishers.

A beautifully designed perfect bound book.

The still-nameless coral piece is rushing into the final stages. I have laced the crocheted reef onto its board, next is lacing the embroidery. I am ridiculously fond of the back of my embroidery which is about to disappear from sight forever more.

Embroidered bleached coral from behind

A frustrating shopping trip today did provide one happy find, the ideal frame for a piece of embroidered coral that was originally a test for my brain coral stitching (not the design I ended up using though), and then practice for lacing onto boards. I'm pleased with the result and with the perfect frame, have sorted out Sarah's birthday present for tomorrow (I hope she isn't reading this yet, but if you are, Happy Birthday dear!).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cute kids, stunning sculptures, and homemade rice crackers

My weekend was full of variety. I was out and about all day on Saturday, wrapped up in many layers, under a crisp blue winters sky.

In the morning I was showing small children how to make simple books at the Migrant Resource Centre, who had invited local artists to come along and show children of refugees and migrants some different art forms, in the lead up to their exhibition of children's art in June. There were lots of children with their parents, speaking many languages, and all very excited about making books. It was great fun. Even the tiniest had a go... I got the littlies to draw on a piece of paper and then we made their book together, with the child helpng to press down the folds.

Everyone over about 4 years old enjoyed making their own books, either or both of the examples I prepared. I showed them what Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord calls a Hotdog Book, which is universally popular simple structure, and a basic accordion with a folded card cover. Anyone lucky enough to be spending time with children should check out Susan's Making Books With Children blog and website. Its a brilliant example of the how-to-craft genre on the internet, full of inspiring ideas, excellent advice and clear instructions.

Henna handpainting

Some kids were so enthusiastic that after making several books, they wanted more, and when one little boy asked about folded paper games, we started making fortune tellers (aka cootie catchers) for everybody. It was wild! And there were six other art activities all just as busy and exciting as mine: painting, stencilling, flax weaving, drawing, pottery and henna handpainting... The henna handpainting was fabulous, but did inhibit book making participation a bit, as eventually every little girl there had hands covered in wet henna patterns, but the really keen ones just made books one handed! It was impressive.

Memories (cast glass) by Jenny Smith

I had to slip away a little early (straight after the delicious Columbian lunch) to go on a long anticipated expedition with my friend Aalix to the Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park to catch the e:scape exhibition before it closes at the end of the month. It was a perfect still afternoon, chilly in the shadows but bright sunlight and a vigorous hillclimb to keep us warm.
The most book-ish of the sculptures: Absolute Divide by CK Reynolds (Rho print arial photographs on marine ply)

I nearly succeeded in having an entirely computer-free day on Saturday which meant I returned to the laptop with renewed enthusiasm for my work on Sunday morning. It was cold and rainy almost all day long, and by evening I was glad to stop staring at the screen and make a rustic potato and leek soup with home made rice crackers. I was improvising, but it turned out quite tasty and goes something like this.

Homemade Rice Cracker Recipe

1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cold butter
3 Tbsp parmesan
1 Tbsp garlic granules
pinch salt
generous grind of pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/4 cup (rice) milk
1 Tbsp sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 200 degree. Put all the ingredients except the milk and sesame seeds into a bowl and rub or cut the butter in as though making pastry or scones. Mix in just enough rice milk (or other kind of milk) to make the dough stick into a ball but not be sticky. Roll or press out onto a greased baking sheet and sprinkle sesame seeds on top, press into the dough. Cut the dough into squares and slide apart on the sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May Giveaway- The Book of the Film

It's been a little while since I've editioned an artist's book, and this one was kind of spontaneous, inspired by the spontaneous little film I made called Non-Linear Time. This book consists of the unbound letterpress printed tissue pages that feature in the film, presented in a handmade portfolio. It is an edition of 12 and they are for sale in my Etsy shop.

Or you, dear reader, can go in the draw to win one by commenting on this post. I'm not requiring any particular kind of comment this month, as an experiment to see if I get more entries. So now is a good time to delurk and let me know you are out there! Comments received by 7am May 29th will go into the totally random draw (disinterested passerby co-opted to pull name from hat) and the winner will receive a signed copy of Non-Linear Time, the artist's book of the film.

Of course if you want to read the whole of the original poem that Non-Linear Time is extracted from you should buy Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (2009) on Amazon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Coral Threnody

Crochet coral taking over my life

I am nearing completion of my longest-term current project, and rather than being the gentle glide across the finish line that I naively anticipated, it is more like flying into Wellington airport in a small plane with gale force winds.*

When I came up with my plan for combining crochet 'live' coral with embroidered 'dead' coral, the result was to be called The Sixth Extinction. Coral has gone (more or less) globally extinct five separate times in the 3.9 billion years there has been life on Earth. It is entirely possible that the sixth global extinction of coral could happen in my lifetime. Still, millions of years after each extinction event, coral has reemerged in appropriate environments, so y'know its not like extinction is an unmitigated disaster for the planet.

But, but, I hate, hate, the thought that coral will become extinct on my watch, that my great grandchildren will never get to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and see the amazing wonders of that alternate universe under the warm water's surface. That humans of the future will look at photos of the long extinct freaky creatures of the reef and curse me, us, for being so greedy and careless and passive.

As I patiently stitched away on my dead coral embroidery (about 120 hours of stitching over four months) I tried to believe that maybe what I am making could help make some tiny bit of difference to the outcome of bleaching from ocean warming and acidity, rising sea levels from melting glaciers, destruction from increasingly violent and frequent storms, poison from land-based industry toxins washing out to sea, disruption of delicate interrelationships from over-fishing and shell-collection and all the other myriad grim consequences of human behaviors.

As I stitched, I remembered the wonder of coral sex, when a barely-waning spring moon synchronises a massive spawning by billions of hermaphrodite coral polyps of different species; all releasing clouds of tiny gametes simultaneously, literally filling the water column with their eggs and sperm, a plankton feast for other species, but a grand breeding and dispersal programme for coral.

And I thought of all the other people around the world who care about coral, especially those who are also crocheting coral reefs to remind us that coral matters, not just to dive tour operators and mathematicians, but to everyone. Wishing somehow that every stitch we make can somehow help the reefs to recover.

The name of the piece evolved over this period from The Sixth Extinction, to Lament for the Ocean and finally (when I was researching war poems for my Anzac day chalk installation) just Threnody, which means much the same as lament, but has the attraction of stretching into a textile pun. Then I finished the embroidery and laid it out with my collection of crocheted coral and realised that my original design doesn't work. The scale of the intricate embroidery and the cartoony crochet clashed and neither technique looked very good in that formation.

Devastated, I put it all away for a few days to try and dash the tears of disappointment and frustration from my eyes. In those few days I came across two separate articles announcing a miraculous recovering on two separate coral reefs, Australia's Great Barrier Reef (the inspiration for my work) and some reefs off East Africa. In both cases, reefs seriously damaged by bleaching within the past few years have defied expectations and are recovering. In both cases an unexpected/underestimated combination of "ecological mechanisms" enabled the recovery, but more importantly, the reefs that have recovered are all relatively well-protected from fishing and have reasonably good water quality.

Coral celebration

Suddenly Threnody didn't seem like the right kind of name for my evolving coral creation. The combination of dead coral and live coral always allowed for a more hopeful reading than my litany of sad names suggested. I decided I wanted to redesign the piece to emphasise the possiblity of recovery allowed by both nature's resiliance and people's right actions, but I was stuck about how to do that.

Luckily one of my housemates is a thoughtful, dedicated artist, so I decided to ask Adrienne's opinion. She encouraged me to imagine moving my work out of only two planes, to extend beyond the frame, to think more about creating a reef installation. With her inspiration I have started playing with my crocheted coral, growing multiple little reefs in a variety of environments, such as a rack of freshly washed dishes.

With less than three weeks to my deadline, I am crocheting new coral communities in every spare moment: on the bus, at the pub, in front of the tv, while visiting friends. I have a new design which I think embodies not only my fears for the future of coral but the also the new evidence that its not too late for us to make a difference.** Now all I need is a new name.

Dish rack coral reef

*If you are lucky enough never to have flown into Wellington, know that it is a heart-stopping, stomach-churning experience even in a big plane on a still day.

**You can help save coral reefs by all the usual good-for-for-the-environment things including:
  • eating only fish that is not endangered or no fish at all
  • minimising coastal developments such as housing, logging and roads which wash sediment out to sea where it chokes reefs to death
  • not buying any products made with shells, coral or other sea animals unless you know that it was sustainably and ethically harvested (ie scavenged off the beach)
  • avoiding pollution and litter especially near coasts and down storm drains

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Non-Linear Time

I'm learning to make digital stories from my poems. I have just finished my first attempt and proudly posted it on You Tube. Have a look! Its only 44 seconds long.

I made Non-Linear Time using Windows Movie Maker, the software that came bundled with my laptop. It's very easy to use, but with limited flexibility, which is why I've gone for a very simple little film. Anything fancier could only have been cheesy.

The images are of some letterpress printing I did back in the early days at Te Kowhai Print Trust in 2007. I was going to make an artist's book of my poem, Two Kinds of Time, but my ambitious experimental approach outstripped my letterpress skills at the time and after printing these pages I got frustrated and went onto other, easier projects. But I've hung onto the printed pieces of tissue, thinking that one day I would go back to making Two Kinds of Time.

Two Kinds of Time actually does have a book existence. I was inspired to write the poem a few years ago when Tim Jones first mentioned that he was going to be editing an anthology called Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand. After a long wait Voyagers, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones, is finally out on Amazon right now and will be available in NZ early June. But for some reason Two Kinds of Time is one of those poems that has kept nagging at me for concretization*.

So, last week, inspired by the digital storytelling course I am taking through Artmakers and impatient to be doing more than I could in that context, I thought I'd try to make a little film on my own. I've developed a storyboard and worked on images for the whole poem, but it's a demanding project to squeeze into a busy life and I've decided to do a George Lucas and start in the middle of my story. Eventually I hope to make parts one and three of Two Kinds of Time (Linear Time and When You Sleep) but for now, I have released Non-Linear Time on its own.

*There are a few nagging poems waiting in the wings, they know who they are!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where do I start?

Inbetween everything else I managed to finish this Daintree Journal(photographed as work-in-progress) complete with painted page stubs, fold out handdrawn map and a variety of papers within its multiple sewn signatures.

Sometimes I'm slack about blogging because there's nothing much going on that I want to share with the internet. Sometimes I'm slack because I have too much to say, but no time to say it. Last week was one of the latter, when ideally each of the following paragraphs would have made a carefully crafted post on their own but since I still haven't found time to do all sorts of other regularly scheduled tasks, like laundrey, what follows is a swift survey of the week that was... intense.

I started teaching both of my book making courses at Arts Post, and I have delightful students, every one of them. The first night I was so nervous I couldn't even talk properly as my tongue felt like a swollen, recalcitrant sausage suddenly squatting in my mouth. Thursday morning was much easier, partly I suppose because I know all those students personally. All the students in both classes successfully completed a few little books in two different structures, including the Basic Book Craft Skills pamphlet (on sale here). I still have to work on getting the flow better so that the class isn't too rushed nor do I run out of material too soon. But I learned so much from the first week that I'm sure this week will be heaps better. I'm certainly feeling much more relaxed and confident anyway.

I also did a one off session this morning at Hamilton Girls High School with the Year 13 design students who are doing a unit on artist's books. That was so much fun! What a neat bunch of girls, they really got into making the Basics book, after I did a show and tell of some of the artists books I have made over the years.

Another big event last week was my Pecha Kucha presentation. I got quite nervous about that too, in the final hour or so before my turn. But it went well and I got masses of wonderful positive feedback afterwards, including a new enrollment for my Thursday class! I was thrilled to meet so many people excited about artists books, like Alice Lo who has her university students to make artists books, and awesome book designer Alan Deare.

There was lots more going on last week in and around my public appearances, including welcoming back a friend from 3 weeks in Mexico and farewelling other friends off on extended overseas adventures. And I finished the embroidery on my big coral project and got very involved in my digital storytelling/video poems projects, but these last thrilling developments really do deserve posts of their own so check back soon!

Inside the aforementioned Basic Book Craft Skills which is selling like little hotcakes on Etsy, and proving a satisfying first book project for my students.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Book Arts Treasury

I have my creations appear in Etsy Treasuries pretty often, but Bibliophile*, created by The Uppity Woman is a real treat. It's a book arts themed treasury and there are some cool pieces in it: check out the Horror Novel by Vets. Remember, Etsy Treasuries are only online for four days, so click through and have a look before Sunday. As with so many things online, it's the number of visitors, comments, and click-throughs that make a Treasury noticed in the competitive marketplace. This is one of those situations where if you do a bit of surfing you are doing me a favour!

*How could I not love the name?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Bad Ink Day

Yesterday I decided, based largely on the unpleasant smell and the presence of many small insects, that it was time to drain the walnut ink. I've been soaking the walnuts for about 2 months in a large lidded pot on the back step. Now that it's definitely winter I'd quite like my soup pot back in the kitchen. None of these indicators (smell, insects and repurposing the pot) are to be found in the collective wisdom of the interweb regarding the making of walnut ink. If you have stumbled across this post in the search for walnut ink making advice, I suggest you keep googling: there's plenty of useful information around that will serve you better.

My walnut ink, unfortunately turned out to be much more insipid that my tests had suggested it would be. It does make a lovely golden brown wash but sadly is too light for writing, unless you want to forge documents from the Renaissance. I am disappointed and a bit surprised at how it all turned out since I am not a particularly impatient person, and when I started brewing my ink I was prepared for it to take as long as it would take.

I woke up feeling very out of sorts yesterday, which was probably why I impetuously decided to finish off the ink by straining it through cheesecloth (which I should have dampened first but didn't). Naturally the disappointment of having made such a poor job of the ink only worsened my mood, feeding into a spiralling miasma of frustration and failure that coloured almost everything I did all day.

Fortunately the only irrevocable mistake of my Very Bad Day was the ink. I had only invested a couple of dollars and a couple of hours in the project to that point, so nothing has been lost but potential. If anyone has a use for two litres of sepia walnut wash, let me know. Meanwhile, today I have begun fresh with a positive attitude and determination to try and do right.