Monday, March 31, 2008

Two old exhibitions

I was just sorting through some old photos and I found this one which I meant to post at the time of my exhibition, Domestic Pilgrimage, but it never happened. This is what the lantern book, Sky in the City, looked like at dusk, from outside the Yvonne Rust Gallery looking in.

(This was taken on my cellphone, not my lovely new Lumix, but I still think it's pretty despite the blur.)
* * *
Also, while noodling around on the net I stumbled onto this great set of photos by Jay Dee Dearness of an artist's book exhibition in Noosa, Queensland, last year (one of my books, Big Storm, was in it). Books 07: Works of Imagination: The search for the impossible. I didn't make it to Noosa for the exhibition last year (though I will be in Noosa in a couple of weeks) so it was a lovely treat to see the photos. Seeing the work of other book artist's inspires me more than almost anything else, and right from the start my main exposure to other artists' books has been via web photos.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Book as Art Exhibiton

Karori Sanctuary

Two and a half years ago Auckland City Libraries purchased three of my editioned artist's books for their Special Collection. Special Collection books are available to be viewed at the library on request, so they are not the kind of books that you would find while browsing the shelves. I don't expect many people have requested Waipou Forest, Karori Sanctuary and Wind Talk* and so they are probably not seen very often at all.

Waipoua Forest

Until now. In my Quarry mail slot the other day was an envelope from the Auckland City Libraries with the brochure/catalogue for their current exhibition (10 March to 31 May 2008) called The Book as Art: contemporary artists and fine press books. The exhibition includes 40-50 books from the special collection including New Zealand book artists such as Elizabeth Steiner, Barbara Schmeltzer and J&J Bennett. There are books on show that I have heard of or seen photographed but never looked at in three dimensions, such as the book illustrated on the brochure: Circulus sapientiae by Hildegard von Bingen- A pop-up book by Claire Van Vliet and Katie MacGregor; (Janus Press in 2001),. The exhibition is organised into categories such as Words, Images, Paper, Shape, Dimension, Covers and Structure.

It is fair to say that I am itching, squirming and salivating, to get down to Auckland and see this exhibition for myself. Fortunately, I am passing through Auckland next weekend on my way to somewhere else and I can easily make a detour to the Special Collections Exhibition Room in the Central City Library. I can't wait!

Wind Talk

All photographs by the infinitely talented Katrina Ching of Wellington.

*Additional copies of all three editions are still available for sale on request- contact me at meliors6/at/gmail/com.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wedding Joy

One of my oldest and most precious friends got married on Saturday to a handsome, decent, dear man. Their small, intimate, relaxed wedding was a delightful balance of informality and sincerity, threaded through with the irrepressible sense of humour they share. They both glowed with the beauty of being in love, the excitement of making commitment, and the pleasure of being with friends.

The ceremony took place in a garden where the guests took shelter in the shade of tall, low-hanging trees while those of us with roles to play stepped out into the bright sunlight to speak. Richard, celebrant and the couple's friend, warmed us up with references to Burnham Woods and other more romantic Shakespearean plays, delighting the many English-teacher and bibliphile guests.

Invited to give the first reading of the service, I chose a poem by Margaret Atwood called Habitation, and managed to say it all without choking up. In fact I managed to stay dry eyed until much, much later in the evening, when after lovely food, bubbly wine and some touching speeches, the ukulele player struck up a waltz while Cam and Jo danced together on their marvelous deck that Cam built, surrounded by a deep circle of joyful friends.

by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert

the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

Friday, March 21, 2008

Water Rights

Just south in the drought

the river is a sluggish trickle.

You have sucked the water table

to a bitter stain and now your acres grow barren.

Press your lips against damp rock,

licking at a memory of abundance.

There will be no relief for your parched tongue

while your mouth is mumbling

mantras from a foreign climate,

your feet stumbling a rain dance

meant for a different sky.

You can wait with cupped hands

but when it comes, water will spill between your fingers

and wash away the last of your estate like ashes.

In the dry that follows,

you will still be thirsty.


you can set off to find a fresh spring.

Travel light for a long journey.

Try camping by a small circle of green in the desert

and this time

learn from the land.

Just north in the Wet

rain falls like gravel for weeks.

Roads wash out and trap you on high ground,

drains choke, paper curls,

your clothes grow mold between wash and wear,

your skin prunes to an alien organ, overwhelmed by

too much water for the cleared land where

it pools, then erodes in its rush to the sea.

But the forest soaks it up, lush and glorious,

singing in the mud relentlessly

reaching back towards you generously

growing over the edges you’ve tried to define

and reclaiming territory meant for monsoon.

No mistake.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Whangarei Women-Write On!

I took time off work this afternoon to attend the opening of the latest exhibition at the Whangarei Museum in Manau.

I was honoured to be selected to be one of the local women writers featured in the exhibition including Daphne de Jong, Jane Mander and my friend Rosalie Carey. Several of my artist's books, and the assemblage 'Charnal Grounds' were displayed beautifully in a big glass cabinet (my whole career I've been hoping to have a glass cabinet to myself!). They also had a small wall display of some Mags' photographs of Love Letters at Your Feet, and some printouts of Bibliophilia's more book-related posts for people to leaf through.

Downstairs was a related exhibition on the history of writing with a dozen antique typewriters (and a couple of early 1980's computer keyboards). My favourites were the old portable writing desks, folding out into a sloping felt writing surface and filled with all the accouterments of nineteenth century correspondence: quill pens, pen knife, ink well, blotters, wax and seal as well as other mysterious items like funny tiny trowels.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Throw off Friend

I taught my first letterpress class today. Given that a year ago I was a complete novice, stumbling without guidance up a trial and error learning curve so steep that I should have had crampons and a rope, offering to teach might seem arrogant. But I am going to be leaving Te Kowhai (and Whangarei, and New Zealand) soon, and we want to make sure that my hard won knowledge does not all leave with me.

I had two keen student, both passionate printer-artists with a genuine interest in letterpress. I did no planning or preparation for the class other than decide to lead them through the whole process of composing a few words, locking in, proofing, printing and cleaning up. We managed to complete all this, with a cup of tea as well, in under three (pleasantly exhausting) hours.

Because I was self taught for nearly six months before Jim and the other printing posse adopted me, I knew what bare essentials to focus on for achieving a half-decent print without endangering themselves or the equipment. Some of the things I glossed over (like make-ready) will no doubt come back to haunt my students, but they are experienced enough at relief printing on other kinds of presses to figure it out (I hope). And I will always be email-able.

Among the things I did emphasise was the importance of the throw off lever. The 'throw off lever is your friend' I said, demonstrating its wonderful ability to make or withhold contact between the platen and the type. In the storm of printing jargon I was throwing at them, and with the need to co-ordinate three limbs in different movements and rhythms while balancing on the fourth, they both forgot the name of the lever and took to calling it 'friend'.

I feel sure that Ruth and Jeanine will keep letterpress alive at the Quarry after I am gone. They caught the exhilarating buzz of simultaneously pumping the treadle, sliding the papers, throwing their friend on and off, laughing, talking and admiring their text. Printing on a platen jobber is an exciting addictive activity. They can look forward to fumbling their way to making fine prints, hopefully without all the mistakes I made on my way. I feel relieved to know that my beloved Arab press and the cabinets of type will be used, maintained and appreciated.

I also feel a delicious melancholy to be leaving my friend the Arab. I have never bonded so closely with a machine, never felt such strong sentiments towards an inanimate object, never anthropomorphised a chunk of metal, the way I have my sweet Arab. He has sometimes infuriated, often frustrated, mostly pleased and regularly thrilled me. He has engaged my body, my mind and my soul in a collaborative, creative process. He has inspired new directions for my work and my life that were unimaginable until I stood in front of the feed board, placed my foot on the treadle and spun the fly wheel. The Arab has given me a bigger life than I knew and now I am throwing him off to go live it. All I can leave the Arab is some new friends to engage with, and I have found him two with enough passion and enthusiasm to keep his wheels spinning.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How nuanced is my silence?

After four days with total blogger's block I am resorting to my favourite fallback: the old poem. This is actually a newly discovered old poem, so old that when I found it scrawled in my own hand on a dogeared scrap of paper buried deep in a particularly neglected strata of documents it took several long moments of scanning three decades worth of broken hearts to identify the source of that adolescent angst. The angst is adolescent (yet timeless), the poem isn't quite that old.

How nuanced is my silence?

Each day I ignore you for a different reason.

Sometimes I am sad, sometimes angry.

Sometimes I am scared

of feeding my hopeless infatuation

with your irrepressible charm.

Sometimes I am too busy or

too tired to find the strength to face you.

I lower my eyes

and press my lips together

holding inside me

a maelstrom of disappointment

and desire, love

and hate, humiliation

and hope

all churning indiscriminately

behind the fa├žade of ignoring you.

You know where to find me.

If you approach

I won’t walk away.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Merit Badges

The two talented women of Pod Post make embroidered merit badges for letterpress and bookbinding. I recently estimated my letterpress experience as 300-400 hours which I felt earned me some merit badges for my efforts. I reckon I can probably justify my book binding merit badges after four years making books.

I never accumulated any merit badges during my brief and ignoble stint as a Brownie so I have no sash to sew my self-awarded badges onto. Besides I want to display the geeky evidence of my obscure skills as publicly as possible. So I stitched the badges onto the day pack that I take pretty much everywhere with me. This way, should I ever have the good fortune to be followed down the road by another print/book geek, they will recognise me as a kindred spirit and strike up a conversation about friskets or sewing frames.

As an added bonus, the badges arrived from the USA (swiftly and) in a groovy mail art envelope.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Garden Discovery Tour

I finished printing the back of the bookmarks today. I had done all the composing last weekend so I just had to fiddle about with make-ready and then pull my prints. It was quick and easy and so were all the other little jobs on my to-do list, so after lunch I walked over the hill to the Quarry Gardens where they are having a Garden Sculpture exhibition. It was hot and sunny so I paid particular attention to those sculptures sitting in the shady spots. But there was lots of good and interesting and diverse art to enjoy. It was a great place to play with a new camera.
Because I came over the back way I missed out on picking up a catalogue before I looked at everything, so I can't tell you who made the works in these photos. I don't know who curated, I suspect more than one person since some of the works were placed with exquisite sensitivity and others plonked down in places that did them no favours at all.

The exhibition is on all weekend, so if you are in Whangarei I highly recommend a look. Also, on Sunday there is a art and craft market at the Quarry Arts Centre and I will be selling books and prints and a few other bits and pieces. See you there!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hot Foil Hands

I've been printing bookmarks again. These bookmarks are for the Centre for Fine Print (University of West England Bristol)'s Bookmarks VI. I narrowly missed out on contributing to Bookmarks V last year, so I'm getting in early this year! The requirement is to produce an edition of 100 signed and numbered bookmarks which will be distributed internationally through art galleries. I am using it as an opportunity to try a new fount, a new machine and some paper I haven't printed on before.

The paper I'm using is old nautical charts which I picked up in an op shop a few years ago. The charts are fascimiles of mostly nineteenth, some early twentieth century, etchings which were offset printed a few decades ago on gorgeous, heavy, smooth paper. I assume they've been made redundant by GIS and other electronic navigational technology. I chose the charts with the thickest paper to cut up into bookmarks (now, don't get all precious on me about cutting up old charts, they are common as muck in this yachties' town). The charts started out as approaches to harbours in Newfoundland, Cote du Norde, Scotland and New York but now as 19x6cm strips most of the bookmarks are anonymous in isolation.

The fount I'm using is Rockwell, which is a bit of a gothic style type, slightly Old Western (as in cowboys) looking, but relatively fine in its serifs. It's old-fashioned looking, yet quite clean and sharp. Te Kowhai has Rockwell in 3 or 4 sizes, most of which appear to have been hardly used- if the pristine shiny state of the type is anything to go by. I'm using the 24pt which is bold enough to be legible when overprinted on even the busiest slip of chart. The text on the plain white back is in 18pt Rockwell with my favourite ornament, the pointing hand.

The new machine is Jim's hot foil press, which is the tiniest printing press I have ever used. It looks like a cross between a sewing machine and a microscope. We spent hours playing with it on Friday afternoon, trying a dozen types of printing surfaces (paper, vinyl, leather) at different temperatures to see what it could do. What it does best is print a brilliant gold foil with a mirror surface and intricate detail onto glossy smooth surface. In comparison, any matt or textured material takes only a dull and patchy print like unpolished brass. Sadly my beautiful charts are not glossy enough to do the gold foil justice, but happily my clear vinyl bumper stickers work a treat. So today I printed a hundred tiny golden hands onto sticker paper, which I will cut out individually and and stick on the front of the bookmarks, thus satisfying my persistent desire to make things as fiddly and complicated as possible.
Samples of hot foil on different materials.