31 August 2013

Biting the bark

My latest artists book acquisition is "Algonquin" by Chris Drury.
It describes seven days' canoeing in Algonquin Park, Canada, illustrated with photos of birch(?) bark - the words are from diary entries, the bark was collected and bitten into. The endnote makes the connection:

"The Algonquin group of languages is thought to be eleven thousand years old.

"It is spoken by tribes in an area which encompasses North Dakota through to Michigan and up through Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

"Around 2000 BC a written language evolved which had its beginnings as bite marks on bark."

The idea of a written language evolving through bite marks is intriguing but perhaps shouldn't be a surprise in the light of the various mark-making possibilities available to people, and how the marks changed (or not) when transferred to other material - eg, cuts in wood to cuts into stone. What's even more intriguing is why some groups needed or wanted to have a written language - the simplistic answer is the need to keep records of commercial transactions, or of laws. (I need to find out a bit more about this...)
Photo from here
Back, though, to the bitten bark. This is a traditional art of some First Nations groups - the Cree, for example. It was commonly used as a source of entertainment; the bitten patterns would light up when held in front of a campfire, depicting dreams and stories that were shared and passed on to newer generations.

While in - or rather, near - Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics, I saw an article about birch bark biting in the local newspaper which identified Pat Bruderer, a Cree from northern Manitoba, as one of the last remaining practitioners of the art. 

In this article her son makes the suggestion that this skill might have been used to create hunting and fishing maps in times past. The article also tells of the process, starting with collecting the bark, then peeling it till it's very thin (and fragile), folding it up to 16 times, using different teeth to make different marks, and then unfolding and smoothing it out. 

Another practitioner is Angelique Merasty, who died in 1996; more information on her technique is here. It took her 3-4 minutes to bite a picture, and she could make up to 50 a day, when the bark was fresh. She taught the technique not only to Pat Bruderer but to Angelique Merasty Levac
Angelique Merasty's personal style
(published in Canadian Woman Studies, Vol 10(2-3), [1989])

The bitings are called wigwas mamacenawejegan in Ojibwa, and are also known as "transparencies" or "chews". 

30 August 2013

Art seen in Edinburgh - Peter Doig and Peter Liversidge

Revisiting the exhibition highlights seen last week in Edinburgh - a daunting process, as there's so much to research and digest before putting thoughts into words.
The Peter Doig exhibition was much advertised and well attended, and what's not to like? He lives on a tropical island, the paintings are big, the colours are luscious - the display was nicely divided into an awkward display space. Apart from the paintings themselves, I enjoyed the informative captions and the "back matter" shown in vitrines - preparatory sketches, photographs - and the variants of a work shown on the walls in some instances. (Didn't buy the catalogue, though.)
The show is on till 3 November; the artist is interviewed here.

Also mainstream: Peter Liversidge at Inglesby Gallery, an artist entirely new to me. The exhibition reworks a set of prints called "The Glove" by Max Klinger (1881; analysed here), first of all installing a subtly altered version of the original-sized in a cosy "Victorian parlour", then remaking them greatly enlarged in the space upstairs.

The glove itself -or rather, a marble replica - has dropped out of the prints and onto the floor -
Klinger's theme is obsession; the theme of this exhibition is one that runs through Liversidge's work: finding and repositioning.

In another room is a small piece - and its proposal. A big part of Liversidge's work is the typed proposal for each exhibition, which he prepares at his kitchen table -
(The photo is in an enticing book published by the gallery.)
April 2013.

I propose to install to the right of this framed proposal a small grey shelf, 1150 cm from the ground and 450 mm from this proposal. The shelf will be exactly the same size as this piece of paper, which is: 297 x 210mm.
The shelf will remain empty for a calendar month, after which it will be activated. During the following month I will mail objects to the shelf installed as it is in it's new location. Once the second month has passed I will stop posting the objects so that the grey shelf becomes host to a group of mailed objects. These mailed objects will make the journey from my studio in London, to their new home in Einburgh via Royal Mail's national postal system.

Peter Liversidge.
The postal art has a 70% success rate of arrival, he says in this article - which describes him as " a poet who proposes to "investigate coincidence" and "a composer" of other people's actions".

This describes how the proposals "work" - Every element in an exhibition of work by Peter Liversidge begins at his kitchen table with the artist writing proposals on an old typewriter. These hand-typed pages present an array of possible and impossible prompts for ideas and artworks in almost every conceivable medium. In a sense the first articulation of every work is in Liversidge’s head, then on the typed page, then in the mind of the reader, and finally (perhaps) as a realized object or happening. Over the past few years Liversidge has worked in this way with an increasingly diverse body of institutions. 

Liversidge has also done the "Hello" flags that flew around the city - a seemingly simple idea.

One show I missed seeing was the Dovecot Studios exhibition - there wasn't time for everything! - but you can read a good overview here. The studios have been going for over 100 years, weaving tapestries and rugs and working with artists of the day.

I had hoped to include Christine Borland and Brody Condon's "daughters of decayed tradesmen" show, and  Ilana Halperin's "library", in this post, but have run out of steam, so ... another time.

"Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street" videos

Back in March I took part in an evening related to the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project, on the anniversary of the bombing. The main event was the poetry readings, and I organised a small display of artists books made for the project and gave a short talk along the lines of "what is an artists book".

The videos (filmed and edited by Tony Wallis) are online - here. What we neglected to do was to make a video of the book exhibition, but time was short and we were new to organising this sort of thing ... it was quite a learning experience all round!

29 August 2013

Poetry Thursday - Storm at Sea by Rumann

"Storm at Sea" by JMW Turner (via)
Simon Winchester's book Atlantic mentions the Gaelic poet Rumann, son of Colman, "who is said to have enjoyed a standing among the Irish equal to that of Virgil to the Romans or Homer to the Greeks" and whose best-known short poem, "Storm at Sea", was written in about 700. He gives one of its eight stanzas, translated in the 1950s by Frank O'Connor -

When the wind is from the west
All the waves that cannot rest
To the east must thunder on
Where the bright tree of the sun
Is rooted in the ocean's breast.

I'd love to read the entire poem, but it's not the easiest thing to track down on the internet; perhaps the Poetry Library has a copy somewhere. Anpthine mor a Maig Lir (or Anbthine mor a muig Lir) may be the original - any Gaelic scholars out there who can tell me whether it is?

Here's a nice little story about Rumann -

"The mediaeval poet Rumann mac Colmain came to the Vikings of Dublin seeking aid for his people, who were dying of famine. The Vikings wished him to compose a poem in praise of their ships, and he did this in "swaying" metre and with sounds of the sea. He then demanded in payment "a coin from every bad foreigner, and two coins from every good one!" Every man of the Vikings gave two coins, and so Rumann had enough money to save his people form hunger."

This site gives the same story (and another), but doesn't add the dramatic detail of the famine. Rumann died in 747 or 748.

28 August 2013

Colour mixing 3

While away from my home studio in the past couple of weeks, I've really missed the daily painting of colour swatches into the old dictionary. It's good to get back to it ... though by the time the whole book is full, I'll probably be glad to be able to stop at last!

Here are the recent sessions, always with the challenge of finishing with a colour mix that segues into the start of the previous session (the page with the orange marker), and identified by the headwords on the dictionary page.
P to patriarch patter 907-933
cadmium yellow, crimson, titanium white, paynes grey, viridian, cobalt
obeisance oblige to oviform oxlip 871-905
cadmium yellow, indanthrene blue, mixing white, titanium white, crimson
muskeg mutable to nut nystagmus 837-869
crimson, indanthrene blue, paynes grey, mixing white, titanium white, bright green, cadmium yellow
masticot material to muskeg mutable 775-835
yellow light hansa, red oxide, mixing white, paynes grey, titanium white, 
chromium oxide green, interference blue, light blue violet, indanthrene blue, crimson
long look to mascon mask 743-773
lemon yellow, cobalt blue, paynes grey, yellow light hansa, mixing white, red oxide
k to lodicule logogram 687-741
magenta, cobalt blue, mixing white, paynes grey, titanium white, hookers green lemon yellow 
A scrap of paper stops the paint making blobs at the bottom of the page - by using one scrap for each session, they can serve as a record of colours, page numbers, date...

(This post is linked to Off The Wall Fridays.)

"I have a dream"

50 years ago, Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech. BBC has asked notable figures to record the text. I heard it by chance on the radio this morning, and it was a wonderful re-creation. You can hear it via the BBC News site (here), enhanced by evocative photos -

It's well worth taking 15 minutes to revisit this important moment in history.

(If speechmaking and rhetoric are of interest, and if you have access to the BBC i-player, another programme earlier this week will give much insight - Stephen Fry's English Delight - 5 days left to listen, at time of writing.)

27 August 2013

Anglo-Saxons and atmosphere

BBC has a television series about the Anglo-Saxons - King Alfred etc - which I've been catching up with via the i-player, as much for the scenery as for the history. Looking forward to watching further episodes.

I loved seeing the rain on the plain - Salisbury Plain - which looksmuch as it did when Alfred fought the Battle of Edington and won, in 878. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says: "the raiding army granted him (Alfred) hostages and great oaths that they would leave his kingdom and also promised him that their king (Guthrum) would receive baptism; and they fulfilled it." Alfred adopted Guthrum as his godson, as part of the peacemaking process, and Guthrum took the baptismal name Aethelstan - not to be confused with Alfred's grandson Aethelstan, who upon conquering York in 927 became the first ruler to control all of England.

But back to the rain on the plain -

We drove across Salisbury Plain not so long ago, and I loved the expanse and the colours. Even then it was set to rain, so we saw some marvellous skies -

The plain is the largest area of calcareous grassland (with thin soil and short, hardy grasses) in northwest Europe. Stonehenge is not too far away; lots of history...

Catching up with JQs

Yesterday I had the entire day free (bank holiday monday!) and spent it catching up with the journal quilt project (theme: olives).

My ideas for this are getting zanier and zanier, and my dislike of appliqueing round(ish) shapes is getting more pronounced, so I decided to paint some onto fabric. Painting seems less formidable now that I've been mixing colours daily and applying them to the dictionary pages. In about half an hour I had the basis for four more JQs -
Painted fabric ready for layering and quilting
By the end of the day I'd listened constantly to Radio 4 and several JQs were ready -
Clockwise from top left: Olives in Winter (quilted with snowflakes); X-ray Olives;
Ghost Olives (using the back of the painted fabric); Olives behind Bars
Olives in the Rain (using monoprints on fabric made some years ago);
Olives on Sticks (on a piece of pile furnishing fabric)
These are still on the design board -
The top one, Olives on the Shelf, needs the masking tape removing and replacing with ... what ...

Once those are done, the year's quota will be ready - which in a way sabotages the idea of journal quilts, if you think they should be made regularly (one a month) rather than in batches. My rationalisation is that working on the theme, over however prolonged or concentrated a time, develops creativity and productivity, which after all is the purpose of the project.

I've mostly used straight lines of quilting, regularly spaced, and feel no desire to deviate from that. The snowflakes used in Olives in Winter were a pain to do on the machine (but the fabric was a pain to handstitch) and look clumsy - well, practice makes perfect and much practice is needed on this! That said, I'm less than happy with some of the so-called parallel lines, and am thinking about how to improve them.

26 August 2013

Quote of the day - stopping

Stopping is almost as difficult as starting.  -Jackie Morris, artist, writer, illustrator

On her blog, she goes on to say: "What I think I have learned is that you have to do something in order to discover the best way to do it, and in the doing of it you always learn more and better ways to do it so you could just keep doing the same thing over and over. But you have to stop and let go and give it up almost. And sometimes you have to stop and start again. And how do you know when? Sometimes you realise too late that it was half an hour ago. "

To add my own thoughts: 1. It's as important to have a stopping time as to have a starting time. When writing a dissertation (in 1990, was it?) I  belatedly learned the value of setting yourself a starting time, but it wasn't until sometime in the 21st century that I even heard of the value of setting yourself a stopping time. I used to hang around at work and get "just one more thing" done, while sensible people went home - mind you, I loved being in a quiet office at last! Now, setting my own timetable, I'm uneasy if my chosen starting time goes by and I haven't started ... but I'm still able to let the stopping time sneak past, especially on the computer.

2. You do have to do something to learn how - and you have to do it over and over until it becomes ... not automatic, but easier. While doing, you have to pay attention to what's happening - eventually that habit of paying attention will become automatic and your response will seem intuitive. And yes, when it's easy, you can go on and on doing it ... so, what's the optimum number of repetitions, when is enough enough?

3. "Sometimes you have to stop and start again" - and you have to let go of the physical results, because you've taken all you need from the process.

Written on stone

Cemeteries abound in beautifully cut text - 
When the lettering is lead, added onto the stone, the stone behind might weather -
... and the letters can loosen, drop away -
A slow falling from memory ...

25 August 2013

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

An unwieldy name, but it does what it says on the tin - and has expanded to a second building, formerly an orphanage, inside which I could happily live ... spending my "working hours" in the Gabrielle Keiller Library -
 Books on three sides of the room, and beautifully-built cases
"Cabinets of curiosities" from Roland Penrose's collection
and sleeping, several rooms away, on the platform in The Paolozzi Studio -
 The studio "is a recreation of the two main London studios where Eduardo Paolozzi lived and worked. Paolozzi's gift to the national Galleries of Scotland consists of three thousand sculptures (mostly plaster casts) and moulds, two thousand prints and drawings, three thousand books and a large collection of the artist's tools and materials, toys, periodicals, scrapbooks, manuscripts, photographs, and slides. The studio reconstruction, conceived and carried out by the National Galleries of Scotland in collaboration with the artist and his assistant, contains most of this material. The large studio table supports a variety of media for sculpture, e.g. wax, plaster, and bronze. The work stations on either side of the entrance show paper-cutting for image-gathering and collage. the space below the sleeping platform houses the bulk of the artist's library, a plan chest of prints, and an area for making scrapbooks. The wooden boxes stacked around the walls are full of small plaster elements that are collaged together to make composite sculptures and installations. Examples of Paolozzi's home-made furniture, e.g. stools and plinths, are interspersed throughout the room." Have a good look round here.

Eduardo Paolozzi grew up in Leith, Edinburgh, moving to London in the 1940s. Throughout his career, Paolozzi combined his work as an artist with teaching in art colleges in Britain and in Germany. He reflected his enthusiastic and encyclopaedic variety of interests by frequently changing the media and styles in which he worked.

Interestingly, Keiller (a major collector of surrealist art) was Paolozzi's most important patron, and displayed his sculpture in her four-acre garden. She had been a champion golfer, thrice married; the money for collecting art came from selling a ranch in Texas that she inherited. Andy Warhol painted her dachshund.

(There was no time to see the other building, but outside it is a major earthwork (by Charles Jencks) on which you're allowed to walk ... no time for that either! "Next time...")

24 August 2013


"Art everywhere
... three posters at Newark station
Glorious sight, Durham cathedral, built between 1093 and 1133
Trying to catch that flash of pink (rose bay willow herb)
Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in the distance
Strange how those well-spaced posts are in the wrong place when you want an uninterrupted photo!
Light and shadow at Waverley Station

23 August 2013

A few (full) days in Edinburgh

The joint certainly is jumpin' during Edinburgh Festival! We did a lot of walking around, a lot of sitting around (watching things and eating), a lot of looking at art, a lot of museum-visiting. My head is swimming and I can't decide what to write about first, so for future reference, here's a list of what we saw. 

- Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
- Richard Wright, Stairwell Project at ditto
Richard Wright has used a Renaissance flower motif to enhance the space over the staircase
- Paolozzi's studio recreated at ditto
- Charles Jenks' earthwork outside ditto
- Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen (Christine Borland and Brody Condon) at New Calton Burial Ground
- Old Calton Burial Ground  (mausoleum of David Hume figures in Jenny Erdal's The missing shade of blue)
Mara Menzies and Isla Menzies as Susi and Chuma, faithful companions of explorer David Livingstone
- "I knew a man called Livingstone" by Toto Tales Productions at National Library of Scotland - and the Livingstone exhibition there
- display commemorating the 200th anniversary of publication of Pride and Prejudice at ditto; also the John Murray archive
- one of the mysterious books is on display at the library -
"Mystery book sculpture" left anonymously at National Library of Scotland
- Peter Liversidge at Ingleby Gallery - and his "Hello" flags dotted around town
- "The Principle of Uncertainty" - a quantum mechanics lecture (!) performed by Andrea Brunello
-Peter Doig at Scottish National Gallery - and many discoveries there, poetic films by Margaret Tait, and Pietro Testa's drawings
- talk by naturalist Mark Cocker and photographer David Tipling, who have published "Birds and People", which is definitely on my wish list -
430,000 words, photos from 39 countries, contributions from 81 nationalities - and it only took 6 years...
- another Literary Festival talk, by George Goodwin, about the battle of Flodden in 1513 and the personalities who shaped Europe at that time
-"Beethoven for Breakfast" concert, followed by coffee and pastry, with a wonderful of the castle 
Some of the 100 multiples, aggrandised by plinths
-many art exhibitions at Summerhall, including Lawrence Weiner's "100 Multiples", the Richard Demarco archive, Kaori Matsumura,  and Fiona Banner's "The Vanity Press", and a multiscreen installation by Michael Nyman
- a five-screen film called Bonanza
- "Amazing Amber" at the National Museum of Scotland
- Ilana Halperin, The Library, at ditto - a small but intensely thoughtful show, beautifully displayed
- many, many more things at that museum, including the musical light show that constitutes the striking of the Millennium Clock (every hour on the hour)
Rum goings on in the old dissection room
- and what we mainly went for - "This Side of Paradise" by Dudendance, with strangely shaped bodies, darkness and mystery, mist and shadows, eerie lighting and sound.... film clip and proper pix are here