Monday, April 25, 2011

Last glimpse of the backside

I'm experimenting with lighting to try and get the colours to photograph. Here the greens are about right, but the blue and red are way off.

My island piece has a name now: No Mine is an Island. I was describing the work to someone* at a party this weekend and they made the pun first, and it seems the Right Title on so many levels. I do tend to assume all puns are bad puns, but surely if there are any good puns this must be one of them.

I have all but finished embroidering the two main components, island and ocean, and next will sew them together before mounting. On this last day before all the workings disappear I thought I'd share with you some evidence of my 200-plus hours of handstitching and felting so far.

I am unreasonably fond of the 'wrong side' of my embroideries. I think in my childhood I was impressed upon with the importance of the back of the work being neat and tidy, and I'm a little proud of my relatively ordered reverse.

The underside of the ocean. This is what the back of blanket stitch looks like.

The centre of No Mine is an Island is the deep crater of the open cast mine which extends below sea level by some 7cm. It may not be obvious to a casual observer but the depth of this negative space seems quite radical to me. In the same way I am eager to share the underside of my crafting, I am also eager to understand and share what is usually unseen: the dirty secrets of extractive industries, what is below the surfaces of earth and sea, and the unintended consequences of what we buy and consume.

My island mine is an imagined and generic representation of extractive industries. The raw red gouge of the mine and its tailings were inspired first by my dream/poem and then by images of iron ore tailings. Arguably not the most toxic tailings produced in mining activities, but irresistible because it looks like the earth is bleeding from a fatal wound.

The underside of my island, with the bottom of the crater appearing as a tower from this angle. In the foreground you can see a little of the felting as it reaches round the edge to the bottom of the plain cream blanket.

*I was a little drunk at the time and can't remember who the punster was, but I'm happy to give credit where its due if reminded!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Island progress

Looking down into the mine. Can you tell that it's deeper than sea level?

This is all I'm doing. It seems like I might finish it in time, if I don't slack off.

Close up of the ocean surface.

The sea is the portable part of the project, though relatively bulky I still take it everywhere in a large plastic bag and pull it out to put in a few stitches whenever I can. The island is still separate and worked on at home: its much more awkward stitching and requires a table and superlative lighting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Building an island

I am entirely focused on my island project, frantically working towards a deadline, which I am not entirely confident I can meet. I stitch every minute I can find of every day. The rest of my life is uncomfortably neglected and I worry about the consequences but I keep stitching. It's a huge project, and inevitably more complicated in the making than it seemed in the planning.

Each layer of blanket, cut to the contour lines of my imagined island and its deep opencast mine, is needlefelted for colour and increased height/depth. This stage seemed to go on forever and unlike my iceberg sculptures, I couldn't start stitching until every layer was felted.

But finally I began stitching, inside from the bottom of the deep mine, up and then over the hilltops and finally starting down the ridges and gullies that are the sides of my rugged island. The mine's tailings seep down one gully like a blood trickling from a mouth, or lava overflowing from a volcano.

The vivid grass green of my island is very difficult to photograph accurately. Anyone who has flown into New Zealand from overseas would recognise the colour: New Zealand pastures are an impossibly bright green, more intense than anywhere else I've ever seen. This is the colour of my island, not the colours in these photos.

The island is hard to stitch because its 3D, so my needle is usually going in and out at awkward angles, there are tight corners and uncooperative gaps. The sea that it will sit on is easier to stitch, being flat. But it's huge and is the part of the project which most threatens my ability to meet the deadline. But these days I can do flat blanket stitch practically in my sleep, and literally while I read. Only turning a page interrupts my sea stitching, and only threading a needle interrupts my reading (right now, the very compelling Steig Larsson Millenium trilogy).

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Bethwyn and I finished our altered book responding to the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch. We are quite proud of our collaborative intensity and focus which went into the making, and of the finished product which successful captures our feelings as we witnessed the disaster from a safe distance, yet so close in our close knit country.

'Munted' is a wonderfully dry kiwi colloquialism for 'broken' and has become widely used even in formal situations to describe the infrastructure damage caused by the earthquake.

Bethwyn and I offer this collaged book with heartfelt compassion, respect and sympathy for everyone who survived that awful day. It is not our tragedy to describe, but we hope that by bearing witness we can contribute in some tiny way to the recovery process.

We have donated 'Munted' to the Many as One art for Christchurch fundraising initiative being run by Claire Beynon. You can make a donation (in any currency, of any amount) to go in the draw for this book, or one of the other exciting art works and books that have been donated to support earthquake recovery in Christchurch. Please do check out the Many as One blog.