Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mexican Train Dominoes

I'm having a bit of a break from stitching and other creativity while I focus on generating some reliable income to support future art activities. For these few weeks I'm doing fulltime work at a computer which means that the last thing I want to do in the rest of my time is more computer- so blogging, twitter and facebook are all neglected. And while I would love to do some stitching and making, I can rarely summon the energy and focus to trust myself on anything that matters. Plus I need to rest my hands from all that typing.

Thus I am finding myself at an unfamiliar loose end in the weekends. I understand it's what's considered leisure time: this non-productive, unstructured couple of days, when my sole goal is to stockpile energy, clean clothes and easy food for the coming week.

Besides cooking ahead and doing laundry; taking lots of naps on the bed, the sofa or the hammock (thanks Matt); and daydreaming endlessly about the live-in studio I move to in a couple of weeks; I have also been playing games. For example, Mexican Train Dominoes with Anna. Very good fun. Almost fun enough to compensate for having been airlifted out of my Antarctic adventures for a few very hot and humid weeks of regular working life.

NB Full time work will give way to part time work later in February,when I will resume my usual activities, and blogging about them. Meanwhile, you can look forward to the occasional post about something unrelated.

A special book

The book comes in a convincing faux-tin slip case, representing the real tin box in which Dreyfus stored his journals to protect them from the paper-ravaging conditions on the island.

I was lucky enough to get a close look at a very special limited edition book, recently acquired by my father for a great sum. Cahiers de l'isle du Diable presents the journals of Alfred Dreyfus written while on Devil's Island. The book is in French, so I can't say anything much about its content, but Editions Artulis/Pierette Turlais have made a beautiful book object as a limited edition of 30o (published in 2009).

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me is the exposed spine, visible even when the book is in its slipcase. Usually a book's spine is only deliberately exposed to show off fancy hand-stitching. This book appears to have machine sewn signatures with a slight sticky memory of book glue, the sort of spine that is inevitably hidden inside a cover.

The practical advantage of this kind of spine exposure is that the book can easily be opened flat, without any damage to the cover.

I'm guessing that the designer included this feature as another representation of the original conditions which Dreyfus was writing in 1898. Was it usual then for blank notebooks to have an exposed spine? Although the spine does not conform with popular book arts ideas of a spine worth exposing, it appeals to my post-modernist sensibility, and in combination with the faux-tin slipcase, offers a strong, edgy, industrial first impression.

Easing Cahiers de l'isle du Diable out of the slipcase, my industrial first impression of was immediately countered by the soft faux-vellum cover of the book itself. The front pages are also transluscent paper, allowing multiple pages to be perceived simultaneously from the outside, inviting one into the book. The paper's transparency is deceptive, as my father tells me that the contents of the journals are opaque, enigmatic and contested by scholars (not unlike the life of Dreyfus himself).

The cover, and the first section of the book are fascimile, photographic reproductions of Dreyfus's actual journal pages. These are heavily decorated with repetitive images, doodles mostly based around an X, embellished with more or less symmetrical lobes and curves to seem organic: as in pictures of brains or intestines or other organs/organisms.

Even the edges of the pages, on all three sides, have been printed with the doodles.

Some pages are entirely filled with these doodles, while others have Dreyfus's neat copperplate handwriting and occasionally an engineering or mathematical diagram. Dreyfys was imprisoned on Devil's Island for five years, and filled thirty-odd journals during that time, but only three of them survived to be included in this book.

Dad invested in this book as reseach towards a book he is writing about how the Dreyfus Affair transformed the collective imagination at the turn of the twentieth century. Early in the twenty-first century, this publication exemplifies a contemporary phenomena transforming our ideas of books from neutral technologies for storing/dispersing words and images, into art objects which embody imaginative technologies for sharing complex experiences, memories and projections.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gully Intrigue

Hamilton doesn't really have hills, but instead is riven with many gullies, like hills in reverse. One of these is near my present home and across the road from my old primary school. When I was little, my friends and I used to play on the edges of its impenetrable wild, weedy, scrub. More recent walks along Grey Street have allowed me tantalising glimpses of the gully transformed into an impeccably groomed lawn, cut by crisp, white concrete paths on which I've occasionally seen people walking.

Curious, I've wandered all the nearby streets trying to find an obvious way into this half-hidden park but with no success. In yesterday evening's sultry heat I was determined to solve the mystery for once and for all. On Beale St I found a path leading down to a small, scruffy, clearing smelling of sewage or dead things, between Boys High and Marian School. Not the right place or the right ambiance, so I retraced my steps and then entered the grounds of Boys High.

I've avoided that Beale St shortcut to Boys High for my whole life, even though it was the obvious short cut to my intermediate school. Back then I was too self-conscious and scared to walk through teenage boy territory, so for two years took the long way round. I wonder if something unpleasant did ever happen to me there, because I continued to avoid it even as an adult. Yesterday I told myself I am too old to care what anyone, let alone unknown teenage boys, think of me and finally used that track alone.

Once on the school grounds I followed the border between Boys High and the NZTC, seeing the elusive park more clearly than ever through the high barbed wire fence. My desired destination was obviously part of the NZTC grounds, and when the Boys High track petered out in a over-grown swamp I turned back. This time as I passed the NZTC the entrance was swarming with people, and I could hear choruses of amens coming from the windows.

Wondering if I would fail in my objective to enter the gully that evening, I walked back along Grey Street looking hard for any other access points. Suddenly, I spotted an open gate half way along a private right of way. I quickly ducked through the gate and down a steep gravel path and lo! I was in the park. A great expanse of velvety lawn stretched in front of me, broken only by lush flower beds, and beyond a beautiful orchard and vegetable garden.

I had the whole large area to myself, except for a few ducks behind a dam. In it's silent emptiness it reminded me of the description in Robert O'Brien's The Silver Crown (one of my favourite children's books) of the grounds of the black castle where Ellen rescued Otto from brain washing. The black footpaths in the book were one of the mechanisms of mind control for kidnapped children. That creepy association, and my fear of being told off for trespassing, somewhat spoiled my walk in the park. And now, with my curiosity sated, I'm not sure I want to go back again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mail Art Delights

I've started new job this week, a straight (non-arty job) that will eventually be part-time in the evenings but the intensive training is full time every day for a while. Regular office hours are proving a chrono-shock after a couple of years of unconventional and mostly self-directed timetabling. So it was a lovely surprise to come home at the end of my long day to find this slid under the door.

Feel free to send me interesting snail mail at this address, but soon, as I'll be moving (again)!

One of the pleasures for me of snail mail activities is that I retain no expectations in my short term memory. It can take a week or more to receive the swapped zine, the Etsy order, the promised present or in this case the mail art postcard... and I have inevitably forgotten about it, until it arrives.

The front of Asta's postcard

I found out about Asta's mail art project on Facebook, and sent her my address because I always leap at the chance of interesting snail mail. When her mail arrived, it was an extra delight to see my postcard is a microscopic photograph of some moss that Asta grew herself! As you know, I like making a bit of mossy art myself, and so does my flatmate Adrienne Grant who was brewing up moss-growing concoctions last year.

The back of Asta's postcard

Another nice surprise was Asta's warm and personalised message on the other side of the postcard. But when I picked up the envelope again, it felt curiously heavy and sure enough there was more! Cute stickers! ~which will embellish my next few outward-bound items of snail mail. And a PS note:

Because I really want to send LOADS more of these postcards, perhaps you could help me, promoting this idea to your friends. Addresses can be emailed to aska(dot) doll (at) gmail (dot) com Facebook Group Mail Art Project. THANKS SO MUCH!!!!!!! :-)

An envelope full of delight

Go on, you know you want to!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Shifting Margins

Antarctica: slow and steady

Ice flows
in long deep breaths
out of the mountains
grinding valleys and canyons
into boulders and dust
carried, eventually, out to sea.

I pant, I flood, I flicker
and soon disappear.

Ice melts, and sinks in the rising waters
hills become islands
and continents creep
driven by shuddering gouts of lava.

We fidget at the shifting margins
swatting new mosquitoes,
evolving new rituals,
engineering new brains.

Mangroves: finished