Monday, February 20, 2012

What I actually do

Big oil spill in progress

 I've got three substantial works in progress at the moment and flit between them according to where I am, how hot it is or whether my fingers are getting tired of felting needle, stitching needle or crochet hook.  The making is of course in addition to working on a few proposals and applications and negotiating to consign existing works to out of town galleries.  2012 is turning out a busy and exciting year!

The needle-felted top of Te Aroha (935m)

I've finally pushed out my Tui Mine piece from the shores of planning and preparation onto the wide sea of making.  Starting at the top of Te Aroha, thick pads of New Zealand bush greens are being felted onto the contour lines above the mine.  I'm still waiting for embroidery threads to arrive in the post before I start stitching and can get a sense of what these mottled colours will ultimately look like. Hopefully less like camouflage fabric than they look right now!

My whole floor area covered in blankets and pattern pieces to be cut out for the big oil spill

Meanwhile, my urge to stitch is more than being satisfied with long waves of big black oil spill.  All the pieces of blanket are cut out, and as I felt, then stitch them around the edges of this very large work, it becomes more and more awkward to manage. Rolled up in its dust sheet I think of it as a baby whale, soft, heavy and compact.  But there is no longer anywhere big enough in my life to spread it out to see in full or pin the newest piece flat.  I have to work in sections with the rest of it folded or piled out of the way.  Despite this limitation I can tell it's looking good, well past its unlovable adolescence and into a big bold strong maturity.

Dispersant: colour check 
Last, but not least, are my globules of Dispersant. The count is now about 325 and there seems a good chance I will make it to my goal of 400 by the deadline (it didn't look so possible a month ago, but I've been working hard at it).  I recently took some time out from crocheting to choose a colour to paint the backdrop to the installation, one of my favourite shades of blue, a deep, cool under-water-column for me to fill with my tea dyed globules.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fired up about Stockton Mine and Denniston Plateau

Stockton Mine (photo from Solid Energy)
I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of open cast mines (photographs, diagrams and maps) trying to make sense of the distorted landscapes; trying to understand what is up or down, to grasp the massive scale and identify different activities and elements.  I spend a lot of time trying to think how to respond to, interpret or represent open cast mining in my work.  I have mostly been frustrated and disappointed with my attempts to bridge the gap between my ideas and what my hands can produce.

It does seem as though my lack of first hand experience is an impediment, and that in this area at least, my imagination alone is inadequate for the task I set it. I have visited one open cast bauxite mine, at Weipa in Queensland Australia, but that was before I knew to look for what I would now.  That visit was certainly seminal in making mining such a priority for me, but the tour bus had filthy, heavily scratched windows, and my memory (and few photographs) are similarly hazy.

My best photo of Weipa's bauxite mine, taken through scratched and dirty bus windows. Bauxite sits on top of the earth at Weipa, they just scrape off 10m or so and then 'landscape' the much lower ground behind them.

Last night I went along to a talk about plans to mine Denniston Plateau in the South Island of New Zealand.  Over recent months I have read all I can, focused in on Google Earth from every angle, sought out every image of  Denniston and its sister Stockton Plateau where open cast mining has been underway for many years. My poor brain has felt as dull and dim as the Weipa bus windows in trying to visualise Denniston and Stockton.  But listening to Kevin Hackwell of Forest and Bird speak, while seeing his beautiful slides projected large and clear, was like knocking that opaque window out of the frame and seeing through clear air at last.

Finally, I can make sense of the geology of the Plateaus- tipped and cracked into different angles as they are, they still share the relatively shallow but very hard sandstone cap on top of high grade coal.  I could see with my own eyes the 80m tip of Mt Augustus being bulldozed into rubble and tipped down into the fertile, wild valley below. I could see the boundaries of the conservation land that includes the Plateaus.

I was completely engaged through the early part of the presentation, utterly entranced by the unusual ecosystem that clings to the exposed rocky top of the plateaus; the snails, the birds, the crayfish all intriguing.  Then the first slide showing Stockton's open cast operation flashed up and I felt a thrill through my body that seemed at odds with the groans of dismay uttered by the grey-haired greenies that filled the audience around me.    For me though, seeing the mining so clearly, and so well contextualised, was utterly compelling, fascinating and exciting as well as horrifying.  Finally I could make sense of the light and shadow, the shades of rock, the textures of each layer as the overburden is scraped away to reveal the thick rich black seam below.

Kevin had extraordinary stories to flesh out the images before us. The tenuous consent to mine nearby Happy Valley was granted at the last minute based on Solid Energy's spontaneous offer to roll up the wetlands and store them for a few years, then reinstate once all the coal had been removed(!). A case has been taken by investors in the Australian Stock Exchange against Bathurst for misinformation in their prospectus for mining Denniston.  Bizarre and possibly futile efforts to relocate the unique carnivorous snail from Mt Augustus before it was decapitated.  The mysterious jewel-like flatworm, unknown to science, found by contractors during the snail removal, whose photograph has been suppressed by Solid Energy.  Our new government reversing its promise to publicly notify the access agreement that allows Bathurst to mine on Conservation land, just two days after last years election.

Biking home after the talk, under the moon rising golden and swollen in a halo of little clouds, my mind was full of the stories and images of Denniston and Stockton. What had been a nagging ache of desire to visit there was simultaneously sated and inflamed.  I am full of ideas and eager to begin making confident at last that I know what to do, but it also seems even more urgent to find a way to fund a field trip to see for myself.  The urgency is not just to feed my creative hunger, but also because this year is the turning point for Denniston. Consent has been granted, but will be appealed to the Environment Court (and possibly beyond) this winter. If the appeals lose all the way, mining could begin on Denniston next summer.  It is a crucial time for public activism and thus raising public awareness. If my planned textile works can help raise public awareness to positive effect, then I want them not to be too late.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A visit to the unit

The first action on visiting is always to move the spinning wheel and tapestry frame out into the hallway so I can access what I need. I share the rental on the storage unit with a friend who rarely needs to access his excess household possessions, so his bits are all at the back (top layer of mattresses visible). 
My studio flat is too small to contain me, all my possessions and all my home and studio activities. One of the ways I manage around this is by renting a storage unit about five minutes bike ride away.  Everything that is not in at least weekly use lives in the storage unit. I visit the unit once every week or two. I pick up and drop off what I can fit on my bicycle (or persuade someone with a car to help me, if there is too much bulk for my bike). I spend time there working too: packaging pieces to send to collectors or galleries; photographing work against the big bare walls of the corridor; and sometimes even doing the odd bit of stitching.
Note the green forks on the front of the bike which has lost its some of its glamour since the original forks had to be replaced in a hurry recently.
The list of things to do at the unit this weekend included packaging up a framed work to send to a collector. You can see it squeezed into the saddlebag on the back of my bike above.  I was also going through my fabric stash to choose fabric to sew a dust cover for my new sewing machine.  The vintage curtain fabric below is very funky and fun but also too ugly and weird for me to want to use in something decorative or sartorial. The yellow ground is printed with images of playing cards, smoking paraphernalia, coffee and booze.  I don't share any of those addictions, but making things is my addiction so I finally feel like I've found the right purpose for the cotton.

I learned how to use my new sewing machine on the dust cover project.

The most important task was to get into my Box o' Bergy Bits and prepare some for sending to an exhibition in Auckland next month, at Sanderson Gallery's new Paper/Project space.  The exhibition is called 'Object' (opening 6 March) and I am sending up four of my icebergs, including Big Berg.  When Big Berg was dis-installed from the Imagining Antarctica exhibition last year, someone cut short the fishing line used to suspend it. Since getting the fishing line into the Berg in the first place had been a long morning of tears, bad language and several broken needles, I've been postponing this repair task for months.  Now the time had come, but within the first five seconds, my only big needle broke.  It will have to wait a few more days while I re-equip.  (Lesson learned: provide dis-installation as well as installation instructions).

Iceberg resting on exhibition details
I finally got round to another long procrastinated task, to sew printed cotton labels onto the bases of the smaller bergs.  I've been frustrated with my previous labelling system for a long time until I came up with idea of getting labels printed on cotton that I can sew discreetly onto pieces. At least those pieces that have backsides or bottoms. It makes me cringe have my labels visible which was a problem with my old labelling system, as curators seemed to love to show them off and I would have to go around my exhibition trying to hide the labels, only to find them dragged out into view next time I visited.

What better to have on my label than the URL of my brand new gallery website ?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Brand Shiny New

I'm overjoyed to announce the launch of my new 'gallery' website at  It's been years in the dreaming, months in the planning and weeks in the making. The intention with my new site is to provide a reference point for collectors, curators and others to easily view  the best of my recent work, find biographical information and links to interviews and so on.

I find creating digital work very stressful compared to the slow sensual pleasures of hand crafting physical objects; so I can't praise too highly my website developer Conrad Johnston at Darnoc. Conrad's calm and competent approach helped me to overcome my angst and develop my own web skills as well as a new website.  He was particularly patient with my fussy intolerance of anything that didn't match my vision- even when my vision didn't match my (tiny) budget.

Bibliophilia will carry on being my blog right here on Blogger. The gallery website is a complement, not a replacement. However, the URL link, that I've been using for this blog for several years, now will point visitors straight to the gallery website requiring another click through to the blog. If you are a frequent visitor, you might want to save to bring you directly to Bibliophilia for new content most weeks.  But  please do go have a look around at first.

One of the joys of being an artist is getting to know the people who love my work enough to buy it, so I thought long and hard about how to enable people to buy my art via the website.  Rather than clicking through to a shopping cart, anyone interested in buying a piece just needs to send me a message. (More information is available on the website.)  That way you and I, both know we are dealing with a real human being.  It might not be quite as instant as shopping on Etsy or Amazon, but since whatever you are buying from me took weeks, if not months to make, an exchange of messages over a few minutes or hours seems an appropriate way to transfer its ownership.

Please share my new website with anyone you think would be interested in an overview of my recent work, and this blog with anyone interested in the unfolding process of its creation.