Friday, June 26, 2009

First Fossils

Spontaneous stitches.

With the coral-making safely behind me (or rather steaming ahead as semi-finalist in the National Contemporary Art Awards - woot!), stitching fossils is my latest consuming passion.

I've been thinking about this for many months but didn't let myself start until You are an agent of change was all finished. Somehow I knew that once I got a taste for this fossil work I wouldn't be able to tear myself away from it to pay proper attention to anything else. My test piece was a tessarolax fittoni, an extinct gastrapod from the Cretaceous era (145-65 million years ago).

Two fossil images

I stitched it onto a piece of an old blanket that I found in an op shop, already felted probably by hot washing at some point. It's a lovely fabric to work with. The tessarolax is stitched next to the blanket label, which though worn to shreds, says "Kaiapoi Woolen Mfg Gompany Christchurch New Zealand (All Pure NZ Wool)". The Kaiapoi Woolen Company closed in 1978 after a century in business. It was the beginning of the end of an era in which New Zealand companies manufactured most of our needs and few goods were imported from overseas. Two fossils then, together on one blanket, representing extinct species of a past ecology.

Kaiapoi Woolen Company Mills, Kaiapoi (a small town I've visited a few times: Hi Sharkey!)

The next square of Kaiapoi blanket is being stitched with a crinoid, a sea lily enchinoderm, from the Mississipian period (362-323 million years ago) of the Paleozoic era. Now that I'm confident about working on the felted blanket, I feel inclined to be more adventurous with texture and colour. It's all done free hand, as I'm basically making it up as I go along, with reference to my sketches from photos in fossil books. Stitching the coral felt like drawing with thread, and this feels like painting only much much slower; at the glacial pace that I like to work and that so suits this subject matter.

Some species of sea lillies aka crinoids still exist, though in nothing like the numbers of the distant past when this forbesioncrinus meeki flourished on the sea floor of what is now Indiana, USA. Despite the name they are animals, related to sea stars.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fringe Festival Fun and Happy Bus Winner

Congratulations Carol, for winning the June Giveaway. Carol, you need to contact me with your details so I can send you your Happy Bus, as I can't find an email addy for you anywhere! All the rest of you, please don't feel you have to miss out on the Happy Bus. You can get one on Etsy, at Auteur House or Browsers in Hamilton, or email me directly to buy or swap (I will exchange Happy Buses for zines or good chocolate now that I am back on the sugar bus).

Inside the Happy Bus

It looks like my earlier reticence about sharing dental stories was misplaced as that post got plenty of comments! You'll all be pleased to know that I went back to the dentist for more root canal work and with only a local anaesthetic I remained calm throughout the procedure. After the anaesthesia awareness debacle I decided to try hypnotherapy to help with my tendency to panic in the dental chair, and it certainly seems to be working.

Distracting and debilitating as that whole experience has been, I have managed to have a great Ignition Fringe Festival so far. Thursday night I went to the Performance Cafe and saw a mixed bag of short performances. The highlights included great girl guitarists, a hilarious singer (I wish I could play you his E-Stalker song to the tune of Tom Petty's Free Falling) and dancers in pink bunny ears. Fringe Festivals are exciting precisely because they are full of unknown artists but I'm afraid I lost my generosity and left when the heavy metal/ traditional Chinese instrument band came on.

I spend Friday installing Membranes in main street windows . First I had to build a couple of devices for hanging the curtains from. Thankfully the installation is in the CityHeart office which is brimming with friendly, helpful engineers. John Pearman, the man who is in charge of ripping up Victoria Street and turning it into a pretty, pedestrian and bike friendly thoroughfare, enthusiastically applied his engineering know-how to my installation and came up with a brilliant design, easy enough for me to make by myself.

After a few hours of measuring, sawing, drilling, and screwing in lots of hooks and eyes, I was well ready to take up the more meditative task of ironing each panel before hanging it in the window. I love ironing anyway, but I particularly enjoyed doing it in such an incongruous situation. The guys were busy ripping up the road directly outside the office, and there was a steady stream of blokes in orange safety vests and muddy boots coming past me and my gradually expanding work of ethereal femininity, joking about getting me to iron their shirts.

Looking out across the ironing board, through Membranes to the road works

It took a bit more than four hours to get the whole thing installed and looking good enough, a very pleasant days work. By the time I finished my flatmate Adrienne Grant was installing her Fringe contribution in an empty shop front directly across the ripped up road. Since I already had a sack full of cleaning rags I helped with washing her windows too. Her installation is part of the Monopoly Project, which is a commentary on the recession's manifestation in the form of empty shopfronts taking over the middle of town.* And on Saturday night I joined a tour of all the Monopoly Project installations, where each of the artists spoke about their work as we progressed around the board.

Saturday night was also the poetry reading, An Ashtray Full of Shotgun Shells, at Browsers. There was a good turnout, and some good poets. I read Cold Sailing, in honour of the swine flu, and a selection of my rainforest poems. I love it when complete strangers introduce themselves to me as readers of this blog, hi Cally (not Kelly)!

There's another week of Fringe Festival events ahead... I'm particularly looking forward to Stitch Oddity, where crafters make music with their sewing machines.

*The irony of the "CityHeart" project to beautify the main street even as it empties of commercial tenants is lost on no-one. I think its wonderful that both the CityHeart team and the commercial landlords are letting us artists play with these ideas in their spaces this week.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Daintree Calling- The Film

I recently had the good fortune to participate in a project to learn digital storytelling. Through my involvement in Art Makers 'Glass Hedgehog' project, I was buddied with Dylan Calhane, a talented third year computer design student at Waikato University. Dylan applied his digital design skills to turning my photographs, painted paper collages and words into a beautiful video poem. You can see the results of our collaboration below.

Dylan is not only talented and knowlegable, but also a generous teacher. Although the techniques of the 3D animation he was creating in AfterEffects went totally over my head, it wasn't for lack of his patient explanation and demonstration. I did absorb heaps of Photoshop tips while preparing the paper collages and photographs, and enough basic digital storytelling techniques to have sparked an appetite to make lots more video poems on my own.

Dylan and his classmates in the Computer Graphic Design Degree are having their Degree Project Exhibition this week at the New Place Theatre at the University of Waikato. If you are near the campus, I recommend checking it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

June Giveaway and Weird True Story

Paper engineering with a suitably toothy quality

I'm in a post-completion slump having finished a number of major projects all in the space of two weeks, including the two book-making courses I was teaching. I remember this state from after opening my solo exhibition. I'm someone who is happiest when charging off down the road to a new destination, but once I've arrived I am disappointed to feel so aimless, even though I am too tired to throw myself wholeheartedly down the next path just yet. It's not pretty, and this time my lethargy and lack of focus are exacerbated by new developments in my never-ending saga of dental-trauma.

I do try to avoid sullying Bibliophilia with too much personal information, especially involving dentists, but really, this latest incident is so very weird that I'm gonna tell all. If like me, you have no tolerance for other people's dentist stories, feel free to skip ahead to the June Giveaway details at the end of the post, with the Happy Bus photo.

Weird dental story begins here

Despite the fact that just before leaving for Australia in April last year, my dentist thoroughly checked my mouth and declared it free from any impending problems, within six months I was in root canal agony in the rainforest. Six months later, I am in the middle of another root canal and seven, yes 7, cavities. How did I go from clean bill of dental health to a mouthful of decay and disaster in only one year? That's the first unsolved mystery. I'm reluctantly wondering if drinking pristine mountain spring water instead of fluoridated town supply might be implicated, since nothing else was different in terms of my vigilant dental hygiene and sugary snacking habits.

So, onto the second and far more intriguing mystery. Two days ago I placed my mouth in (or rather around) the hands of my fifth(!) dentist in 14 months. This dentist, despite his scary handlebar moustache, has won me over by being altruistic in his pricing policies and proactive with painkillers. At our first meeting, while I explained my increasing penchant for panic attacks while under the drill, he grabbed my arm, pushed up my sleeve and started prodding the inside of my elbow. I don't recall any other dentist ever offering me a general anaesthetic, because surely I would have taken it as eagerly as I did this one.

I remember the needle going in and then the next thing I know, I'm sobbing as I hear him say, "take the needle out now". Apparently, after about 40 minutes and 4 1/2 fillings I started having a panic attack while unconscious. All attempts to calm me down failed, and I carried on like that for about half an hour until I came conscious and stopped crying and started babbling and eventually laughing.

Apparently anaesthesia awareness occurs in 0.01- 0.02% of cases and when it does "about 94% experience panic/anxiety." But why me? Why a panic attack? As well as the general, I'd been thoroughly numbed with local anaesthetics so it seems unlikely that I felt any pain (I certainly don't remember feeling any). All I can think is that recently reading about anaesthesia awareness must have lodged the idea in my subconscious mind, along with my oft-repeated self-description as someone prone to uncontrolled panic attacks in the dental chair. (I don't tend to have panic attacks anywhere else).

It's all very strange and discomforting. Not to mention frustrating that I still have considerable work left to be done, including the root canal which has started throbbing again. And, the lingering effects of the not-so-effective anaesthesia have left me, 48 hours later, still weak, shaky and foggy-headed. I'm hoping that unloading this strange story onto my innocent reading public (I know you didn't come here to read about teeth) will help me to move on, and reclaim some of the focus and energy I miss.

(Dental story over, you can start reading again)

Luckily I have lots of copies of Happy Bus, my zine, to cheer me up. Happy Bus is a potpourri of writing, drawing and paper engineering, mostly by me, along with a few friends. In it you will find: how the Dalai Lama got Western scientists to study happiness; a guided meditation and a journalling project, a playlist of happy songs (including many suggested by Bibliophilia readers), a poem about small town living (written in upstate New York and illustrated in Far North Queensland), an article about laughter yoga, a list of happiness inducing email newsletters and an origami envelope of stickers including some homemade gold elephants.

You can go in the draw to win a copy of Happy Bus by commenting on this post before 9am 22 June (NZ time). If you don't want to wait that long, go straight to my Etsy shop and buy one for only $5! Please buy one anyway, I need the money to help pay the dental bills...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sketchcrawl the Tron #2

A few of the sketchers starting out at the Waikato Museum forecourt

Our second Sketch Crawl in Hamilton was a huge success, with about 18 people sketching together. That's about three times as many as our first Sketch Crawl the Tron, including established artists, lots of art students and people who hadn't drawn since they were at school! It was very exciting to see so many people enjoying sketching, chatting and walking. We sketched at the St Paul's Cathedral, the band rotunda, and down to the river and the cute little gazebo under the bridge.

I experimented with my new watercolour pencils, using a brush dipped in tiny a jar of water to get a painterly effect on the go.

We had glorious early winter weather- crisp and clear; warm enough in the sun to comfortably sit around outside. I didn't need to wear all the layers I brought until very late in the day. There was one shower, perfectly timed for our refreshment stop at Metropolis Caffe, where we sketched eachother and the dishes on our tables.

A full spread of the opposite side of the table at Metropolis

After eating and drinking, people started to drift away, but not before I managed to snap photos of most people's sketches which can be seen in the Sketch Crawl the Tron Gallery. It was fascinating to see how almost all of us got more confident/looser/'better' at drawing over the course of the afternoon. (All the sketches illustrating this blog post are my own).

The sci fi corner of Browsers as seen from the gold velvet sofa

As the sun disappeared behind the buildings, a small, committed core of sketchers flopped into Browsers bookshop. Browsers is one of those spacious yet cosy second-hand bookshops scattered with sofas and armchairs. I managed to resist buying any books only by drawing them instead. I love the look of books on shelves and in piles on the floor.

Last drawing, at dusk at Rodeo Bar, Anna looking a bit like Emma Thompson, which inspired us to go see Last Chance Harvey that night.

It was a great day, but it's left me a bit burned out from trying, not terribly successfully, to take care of everything. Next time I'm going to find someone else to photograph the event and the sketches. I just couldn't get my act together to write down people's names to identify their sketches. I also didn't get as much drawing done as last time, though I was bolder in experimenting with colour and different kinds of marks. Despite my exhaustion, I am looking forward to doing it again in a couple of months.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

You are an agent of change (artist's statement)

Polyp by polyp, stitch by stitch and choice by choice, whether conscious or not, we all create the world in which we will live and die.

The slow, accretive nature of my artistic practice is an analogy for both the natural world and human society. The incremental processes of stitching mimic, and represent, the construction of a reef by millions of tiny coral polyps. These ‘domestic arts’ also signify apparently unrelated individual human choices regarding food, housing, transport and energy; and their cumulative environmental impact.

Alive or dead, coral reefs are teeming with stories about the nature of interdependence, sustainability, resilience, time and hyperbolic mathematics. Juxtaposing a shelf reef of crocheted live coral with an embroidered atoll of dead coral, You are an agent of change embodies both my fears and hopes at this turning point on the brink of coral’s sixth global extinction since life began on Earth.