30 November 2010

Sunny Sunday afternoon

With the sun streaming in on a frosty Sunday, it was a pleasure to sit in my "weekend studio" and work on books.
The text project for reading week (last week) started with a visit to the "Medicine Man" exhibit at the Wellcome Collection - with the task of finding three different objects that you feel can be related. On Friday I spent quite a while looking at objects and taking notes (not drawing...) and found myself drawn to amulets and reliquaries of various sorts - objects that offered the hope of protection - and speculating about the belief systems behind them in cultures without western medicine (which after all is basically another belief system). Magical instruments - and community rituals that validate and reinforce the belief about their efficacy.

"Write continuously for three minutes in response to each of the objects" - on Sunday, looking at my notes I chose objects almost a random, but the three did have that commonality of being protective. "You might decide to change the normal way in which you write" - ok, let's try that ...

Then, find the parts of the writing you like and intend to continue to use. These words and phrases become objects in your visual-textual "gallery" - to be used on the page "in groups across a sequence of pages to hint at the network of relations that you identified when you began".
Though I also wrote about a17th century amulet against Lilith and a Victorian lampoon of "universal vegetable pills", most of my words came from writing about a reliquary bundle from Gabon (in times of great danger everyone in the village would get out their reliquaries, containing bones from ancestors, to amplify the ancestors' protection).

I picked up some scraps of paper that were lying nearby - and the book wrote itself - which may or may not be a good thing! I'm not happy with the final page and will revisit the rest later, both in terms of the words used and their layout on the page. There are suggestions in the brief for websites dealing with visual, sound, and concrete poetry.

Part 2 of the project starts with choosing an object from the exhibition that suggests a potential book form. I'm using the "Goa stone" - an object I'd never heard of - bezoar (hairballs) considered so precious, so curative, that they were kept in elaborate containers -
This photo comes from here. Bezoar stone is a calcified concretion found in the stomachs of some animals, and was prized for its supposed medicinal properties as well as being believed to act as an antidote to poison. The scarcity of bezoar stones by the 17th century led a group of Portuguese Jesuits working in Goa to come up with a man-made version. These so called 'Goa Stones' were a mixture of bezoar as well as other precious objects believed to have curative powers (narwhal tusk, amethyst, ruby, emerald, coral and pearl), but mainly clay, silt, resin, shells, and musk. In an age before the birth of modern medicine the wealthy had absolute faith in their ability to ward off everything from assassination attempts to depression. Until the beginning of the 18th century, when medical authorities began to debunk the belief in these stones, they could sell for more then their weight in gold and were often contained in splendidly ornate cases.

I started with the idea of making a round book, out of newspaper (to reference the mud and other ordinary, unlovely things used to make the stones), and of cutting out some of the positive or commendatory words on the pages to decorate the case for the "stone". Cutting the newspaper into squares was a revelation - I wanted text, or at least black-and-white, both sides, but found very few of the squares worked that way - indeed most had neither text nor black-and-white; rather, they had coloured advertisements.

The folded edge, cut off, looked promising - it sewed together into a chunky 3D shape - so I cut circles out of the other folded edges, punched a couple of holes in each, and set to make a (5cm) "round book" - which had an interesting transitional phase -
before a little reconfiguration, and some needleweaving, made it into a ball. (In fact it could easily be a xmas ornament!)
The rest of the task for part 2 is to produce a text that could be stored in the chosen form. Part of my "form" would be the case for the "stone" ... I'm not sure whether the ball would contain the text, or the case would be the surface for the text. There are many possibilities - and we are to "try to find a way of combining words and phrases from your found material alongside and within your own text." When developing the book form, we are asked to consider how the use of materials would change the use of text, and whether the text produced could/should be edited in light of this.

Some writers to research (most are new to me) are Gertrude Stein; John Cage, Jackson Mac Low (I'm glad to find his 9 Light Poems), Hannah Weiner (inventor of a new form that she called large-sheet poetry); Ronald Johnson ("ARK" took him 20 years to write, but he made a modest living writing cookbooks); William Burroughs and Brian Gysin (both part of the "Tangier Beats"); Kenny Goldsmith (creator of UbuWeb); Kristin Prevallet (poems made from found fragments, news stories, etc); Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (video works that use performance and text to explore interactions of language, meaning, and memory); Juliana Spahr; Susan Howe. The links here are the result of very brief research - there's lots to come back to.

29 November 2010

Flower project - nearing the end

More reconstituted fragments - this time on larger (9"x9"; 23cm square) origami paper. Too large for my A4-size printer - so I cut it down to A4 size (21cm wide). Its flimsyness meant that several sheets got jammed in the printer - which needs the computer to be restarted to get the printer working again. Tedious.
The colourful little books, with their unfinished idioms etc, and their second-level phrases, are mounting up - each different. I'm not entirely happy about the covers yet -
There's another book, the story of the project. It took 8 versions before I was happy with the pictures, the text, the layout, the printing, the paper, the colours - the black and white version has flower colours added with crayons -
For the presentation, a few large pictures that encapsulate the story - they're now concertina'd together in sequence -
along with smaller versions that tell the story in words -
The words in the window will continue for another couple of weeks - tomorrow's words are No. Time. Like. The window boxes are getting crowded with origami flowers. It looks very cheerful - lots of tulips - I haven't tried the camellia yet...

Oops I've been calling this the "flower project" but really it's the structure project. Looking for structures that could be books - I think that apart from the window-as-book installation aspect, my take on this project has been fairly conventional really. I've learned a lot of practical things about developing the books themselves - little things that make a difference - or do they?? - I now need to stand back from this, and presenting the work could be one way of doing so, if I remember to listen to what I'm saying - and to what others say!

Stone applique

A bomb-damaged building (second world war) on Gower Street, repaired with inlaid stone. Small pockmarks remain.

28 November 2010

From the past

What an amazing surprise to receive these letters, found among the parents' papers, kept safely all these years. I have absolutely no memory of writing them, and would have been just turning 6 - my birthday is a couple of weeks after (Canadian) mothers' day -
The letter below, from my aunt, starts "Margaret has no patience with writing." We (aunt, grandmother, brother and I) were still in Quebec and the parents had driven out to Vancouver to find somewhere for us all to live.

The next letter must have been written some weeks later, or on a day of greater patience. I'm thanking Mutti and Papa for the lovely presents in a parcel. Probably my aunt or grandmother sat patiently with me, spelling out the letters, or encouraging me to copy what they had written down - this is speculation; I have no memory of learning to write (or read) but certainly couldn't do so in English before going to school, or later in German almost till I was in high school.
The women in the family, skilled in needlework and other practical arts, encouraged us children to make things (and to develop patience). From an early age we made presents for the aunties in Germany - cross-stitched borders on gingham teatowels, embroidered egg cosies. Once, visiting my aunt, she showed me a drawer where she had kept all these gifts. In those days, time filled in what money couldn't provide. Perhaps we'll need to get back to that way of thinking.

27 November 2010

Art I like - Tom Phillips

"It is a good recipe for an artist to persist with a task, to head for the often drawn mountain, to set up the familiar still life: return to the same spot and dig a little deeper." - Tom Phillips, on his blog (6 April 2010, wherein also lies mention of the design of the 50p coin commemorating Johnson's Dictionary)
I'm pleased to have come across Tom Phillips' blog - his work had an enormous influence on me, years ago - his many different projects, his industry, and his enjoyment of making new and unexpected types of art. Like the Women's Work "quilts" made out of prostitutes' cards found in phone boxes, before the days when everyone had a mobile phone. The wire writing, the painted biography in 20 panels, the work with postcards, the Humument of course - and 20 sites N years, which impressed my son as a teenager when we saw the slideshow at the Tate. And more - get an idea of the variety of work on his website or here.
The first piece of Phillips' work I encountered was the frontispiece to Dante's Inferno, in the British Library when it was still housed at the British Museum, and before his translation of the book was published. I took time to read the copious caption, and what looked like a simple picture became rich with references, things I wouldn't have thought about and some I'd never heard of. It was definitely a wake-up moment.

Flower project - more books

After worrying about whether the sentence-formed-from-the-third-word would remain hidden, I was pleased to see that with the new books, it seems to jump out at you -
This is because the words are printed on, not glued. The extra thickness in the folds was getting in the way. (Not something I would have realised without actually making the samples.)

The spine seemed a bit flimsy so I wanted to make more of it - perhaps a sort of honeycomb?The green papers are slit halfway up on alternate folds, but I couldn't get them to fit together into a "honeycomb" (hint: don't use a patterned paper - its busy-ness gets in the way). Trying out the structure with scraps helped. I built it roughly and marked the insides, then took it apart to see what was going on. Each side of the paper becomes an "inside" alternately as the two strips are slotted together. This opens all sorts of patterning possibilities, but that's something for another day maybe - let's stay focussed....
It looks like the only way to get a honeycomb is to glue the joined strips. But that sets off a whole new train of thought - a 3D flower structure -
... bursting into bloom ...
Little strips with slits can hold the two rows of interlocked paper together - they're tricky to fit in, though!
Here it is, done - I won't be using it for the spine of these books, but maybe another time for something else? -
One solution to having a more weighty spine is simply to use heavier paper - or even light paper folded double. I don't seem to have any green paper, but found this old poster from Jane Prophet's Conductor exhibition at the Wapping Project, cut an origami-paper sized square, folded it in half -
The cover is under development, and might simply consist of an extension of the spine.


The V&A courtyard lit up for a "Friday night late".

26 November 2010

Shadows, Finsbury Park

All of a sudden - it must have been the especially clear bright sunlight - I noticed the contrast of the sharpness of the near object and the fuzziness of the more distant one.

Shadows, Euston Road

The afternoon sun was bouncing off the mirror building on Euston Road, making double shadows (like when you have a pair of lights shining on an object). And - as I noticed only in the photograph - the reflected sun was bouncing off the glass building across the street, making ghost-shadows --

Flower project - hidden messages

Through a choice of phrases on the basis of the final word, the week's words can form a subsidiary sentence - or at least a fragment or phrase -
The first two words of the first phrases have been edited out of the photo, to make this subtlety more obvious. What you see will be cut in half to make two books. I've found some giant-sized origami paper, which will make bigger books, and my diligent domestic dears have been looking through the list to make even more exciting "sentences".

Now the problem with the structure is to make this "hidden" reading available... perhaps those five words need to be the title of the book - especially as these volumes will make a little library?
Meanwhile the words in the window are different every day (Rather. You. Than., today), but the number of flowers is increasing only slowly. Just wait till that new origami paper gets made into giant tulips ...


Christmas stockings, made to be sold, by my Swiss friend, Beatrice, when she lived in London all those years ago.

Three little words

I'm finding lots and lots of "well known sayings", more than three words long, that have an expected ending but are more fun with an unexpected one. The technical term for these is idioms ... I prefer them not to be exhortations, or instructions; rather, more like comments, or observations.

"Dead men tell ..."; "Every dog has ..."; "First come first ..."; Nothing succeeds like ..." - etc.

25 November 2010

Muybridge at Tate Britain

Muybridge is well known for his studies of trotting horses and other animal locomotion. The exhibition also included his scenic photos of California, and the 11- and 13-plate panoramas of San Francisco in the 1870s. He also photographed in Central America, going there after being acquitted of the murder of his wife's lover.
As you entered you saw a window with a grid, like the background in Muybridge's photos. People walking out of the exhibition would be "cut up" into segments by the arrangement of mirrors - fascinating -

What especially interested me was the cable-car tracks and other markings on the streets of San Francisco in the panoramas, and the strange scale of the figures in a few of the photos. Muybridge's scenic photos definitely used skies from other negatives, but did he play around with the foregrounds as well?

An amazing amount of work - 20,000 negatives, printed first as cyanotypes and then edited and printed in the finished format.

Found objects

This quilt emerged from a bag during the studio cleanup -
It's one of my "splinter quilts", a series sparked by a workshop with Alison Schwabe a few years back. It's half quilted and the bag also contained the binding. There are lots of thread-ends to bury, so it will take about 20 hours to finish. A nice project for weekend evenings in winter, perhaps.

This object -
is part of this -
Boiler repairs are in progress. It's hard to find parts for a boiler this old!

It was the need for the plumber to get at the boiler that started the whole studio-renovation thing. What was "just clearing out this cupboard" turned into a major upheaval - but it's starting to feel like it's worth it.

Simple bookbinding

For this session, we were in the book conservation studio, a bright place with its specialist equipment* and lots of storage drawers for various papers. Camberwell has a two-year conservation programme, during which students spend 10 weeks on placement.
Windows on all four sides, and huge workbenches - I want to move in -
We made a two-signature pamplet - here are the trimmings (a decent guillotine is on my wish-list) -
and this is how it looks when finished -
The trick is that both signatures are sewn with one stitching - and the sewing doesn't show on the outside -
I salvaged the offcuts to make some tiny books, which are yet to be sewn -
*I forgot to take a pic of the "press and plough", in which a blade moves back and forth to trim the edges of the pages, a few at a time. Here's what it looks like (I want - but don't really "need" - one!) -
For the home workshop, a nipping press would perhaps be more useful - but I'm making do with boards and a pile of books, so there's no hurry for that either, even though there's now room in the renovated studio. The traditional ones are very heavy, and they cost a bomb!

Yummy label

...and yummy contents - home-made marmalade - thanks, Sue!

24 November 2010

"Flower" book progress

Trying to work out a structure for the book that will hold a selection of three-word sentences. This sample has folded single-sheet sections sewn into a zigzag spine (with a kak-handed sewing sequence) -
I glued a cover onto the extra tabs at each end of the zigzag, to hide the messy sewing. Ignore the horizontal folds - these just happened to be the bits of paper that were handy. It was all about making folds that wouldn't overlap the spine -
When it came to using origami paper, green made a nice spine, and a sequence of colours emerged (starting with "blue Monday" and ending with a happy colour in the Friday position). Instead of sewing, these were to be glued in -
Scrap paper keeps the glue from getting everywhere, along with butting up the edge of the section. The scrap of paper can be used to flip the glued bit of spine onto the section -
The cover was glued only to the front tab, and wrapped around the rest of the book, so the spine can stretch out (you'll see why it needs to stretch, in a minute). The pages now need some words -
These were printed out and strips cut and glued; making the words fit better on the page needs attention -The final words of each "unfinished saying" make a sort-of-sentence -
Perhaps that final touch makes the little book too complicated? And ... what about the cover design? Ah, while typing that I had an idea ...