Monday, July 26, 2010

The Good Oil

I'm in a stitching frenzy- not working to deadlines, just too excited to stop. Late at night, almost sick with exhaustion and I'm still reluctant to put down the blanket. Early in the morning, my hands are so cold I can barely thread a needle, but a cup of hot ginger tea thaws me out. Middle of the day, I mostly have to do other things, but I always have my workbag close by just in case there's a moment of stillness when I can pull out some stitching.

So what am I so excited about? My oil and water experiments are starting to finally pay off. The first two little pieces are completed and looking lovely, spurring me on to make more and better. I've got two colour ways going: tarry black and that orange-rust coloured crude you can see all over the Gulf of Mexico right now.

My most successful piece was inspired by a photo of globs of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. They reminded me of pancake ice, which I thought about a lot during the Antarctica months.* When I spotted the turquoise blanket in the Red Cross Shop last week (a purchase which ironically made me miss the bus) I was afraid the colour was going to be tacky and brash but it's perfect. There seems something very retro about this work, entirely appropriate for our out-of-date obsession with wasting precious preserved sunshine as fuel to burn.

I've been stitching black onto grey for a few pieces and this is the first one of them finished. It is based on a striking aerial shot of oily black waves sliding up a Louisiana beach. I was surprised by how effective the black thread looks on the cream blanket (much prettier than real tar balls on the sand), so now I'm working on another version with more sand and less sea.

As I stitch, I listen to the news: as well as Friday's oil pipeline explosion and consequent ocean spill in Dalian, China; BP's next new deep sea drilling site, off the coast of Libya, is 200m deeper than the disastrous well in the Gulf of Mexico. I guess we should just cross our fingers that they've learned something in the past few months.

This is peak oil folks, the easy oil is all gone, so our increasing demand means more risks, more pollution and more environmental harm. Not to mention more potential for violence and corruption, which is of course what the Mediterranean needs most these days.

*And actually I've started on a new pancake ice piece with a similar design but pale icy colours.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National Poetry Day Giveaway

Gratuitous macro shot of My Antarctica

It does seem odd that while I didn't have my own internet connection for three weeks I was super conscientious about regular posting to my blog, then I got slack as soon as the connection returned. Instead I've been catching up with everyone else's blogs (eg Bookshelf Porn) and working on some other internet-based projects and sort of forgot about Bibliophilia for a few days. Oops.

But I'm back now and to celebrate, here's a giveaway!

The next few weeks of my life include an unusual number of public events. First up is National Poetry Day on Friday and I'm one of the guest poets at our local poetry event at the Public Library. I've written quite a few poems since I last did a public reading and I'm looking forward to sharing fresh material. Some of which is so fresh that I will probably fine tuning up until the last minute.

In honour of National Poetry Day, I'm giving away a *signed* copy of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones which happens to include my hard-working poem, Two Kinds of Time. (Also anthologised in the 2010 Rhysling Anthology, featured as last week's Tuesday Poem on Book in Trees, and was made into a limited edition artist's book (sold out) and a short film). All you have to do to go into the draw to win your very own signed copy of Voyagers is comment on this blog post before midnight NZ Time on Friday 30 July.

Keep an eye on Bibliophilia, and/or follow me on Twitter or Facebook to find out about what else is dragging me out of my introverted little world the next month or so. Also, keep an eye on the Waikato Times next week where I will be one of the local poets interviewed in the lead up to National Poetry Day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ta Da

My Antarctica is finally finished and mounted, after eight months of hard work.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A tidy corner

Finally after months and months of anticipation, I'm lacing My Antarctica onto its board, the final stage before I can move it off the table and have some space back in my studio/home. I leapt out bed this morning in eager anticipation of finishing by the end of the day.

This is by far the biggest piece I've ever laced onto a board, and I've been psyching myself up for how hard it will be and how long it will take. After stretching and pinning the blanket in place on the board, I had to round up a couple of willing friends to help flip it over so that the continent is face down (thanks Anna and Chris). Then I trimmed the excess fabric, turned in the corners and stitched those in place first.

Finally it was time to start lacing, always a fraught yet tedious task to finish any mounted embroidery. I knew that this huge piece would take much longer to do, be physically more demanding as I run around the board to take every stitch, and have more potential for snarling with longer threads getting tangled in more pins. What I didn't anticipate was how often the thread would get tangled in my own feet.

The snarling threads manifest my irritable mood of this harsh mid-winter, which seems beset with difficult demands and challenges. The only way to untangle threads is with a light touch, relaxed breathing and much patience. I seem to need these qualities in every aspect of my life these days.

So, after two hours of concentrated lacing I've completed the long side. It resulted in the world's most boring photo, which I won't inflict on you, but I'm pretty pleased with the firm even tension. I was exhausted at that point and had to have a lie down. After spending this sunny afternoon using other people's wireless and washing machines (thanks to Bethwyn and my parents), tonight I intend to finish lacing the short side. Then, at last, I can slide the board off the table and lean My Antarctica against the wall.

What better time than mid-Winter to ease the sense of claustrophobia inherent in these short days by getting most of my room back from the cold continent? Room to stretch, room to cut and fold paper, room to put things down, room to lay out fabric and threads I want to look at together. I will dance in celebration.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The New Black

Bad luck comes in threes so I'm hoping I've finished this week's run of minor disasters and trying to look on the bright side, keep my spirits up and all that. And as of right now, I have fixed all three broken items of infrastructure. So in the spirit of general positivity, here's three good news items, all in black.


Best news is that I finally got my book press back all clean and shiny and ready to use. Anna and Chris gave it to me the very first time we met, and it took me a whole year and two house removals before I completed the restoration. Now, sandblasted and painted, it is lurking in the corner of my studio waiting for me to stop stitching blankets and make some books again.


While sorting out a shameful year's worth of filing the other day I came across these lovely paper butterflies my daughter gave me six months ago. Finally they are up on the wall to enjoy.

And always, always, the pleasure of blanket stitch, lately in black... here's a sneaky preview of a work in progress.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

From white snow to black sludge

Attaching the backing sheet for support behind the blankets Antarctica

I'm making slow but steady progress on the boring bits of mounting Antarctica to hang. Meanwhile my creative imagination is running away in a new direction, one more in tune with the zeitgeist: telling stories about oil.

I've had the curse of oil on my mind for many years. As an early adopter of the concepts of peak oil and human-induced climate change I've thought a lot about the past, present and future of ancient sunshine preserved for millenia only to be carelessly extracted and briefly frittered away on supermarket bags, lipstick and Sunday drives. I have enough of a grasp of oil issues to be confident about the choices that I make for my own behaviour, from shopping to voting.

Yet, it's one thing to ride a bicycle to the supermarket and fill my cloth bags with a preference for local and organic foods. It's quite another to think about how I might want to express my ideas in a visual form. As Tim Jones says about political poetry*, its hard to make it work. I'm not interested in making anything ugly or didactic, instead I'm aiming for unflinching beauty. I've got some ideas coming along nicely in that direction but for now I'm in Research and Development mode, looking out for images of the oil industry and its impacts.

These days there's no shortage of pictures of reddish gunk filling the Gulf of Mexico, but as this interview with Peter Maass reminded me, the Niger Delta has experienced the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every year for the last 50 years. Fifty years of voluminous toxins saturating the water, earth and air where some of the poorest, and now sickest, and most violence afflicted, people in the world have the misfortune to live on top of oil.

I want to see what oil looks like leaking out into the land, as well as the sea, and so I've been watching this excellent BBC documentary The Curse of Oil, which has gave me dreams about wading through stinking black sludge.

I don't think I could be contemplating making art about oil if I hadn't spent seven months bathing my psyche in the serene story I'm telling with My Antarctica. Next I'm hoping to tell a story about oil that is beautiful enough to make me happy and compelling enough to make even one person stop driving so much.

Oil in Ecuador from Time/Ivan Kashinsky via Peter Maass' blog

*as part of a discussion with readers in the comments appended to his wonderful poem, No Oil