Yinka Shonibare’s ‘The British Library’

In Yinka Shonibare MBE’s new installation, The British Library, he explores the impact of immigration on British culture by covering hundreds of books—written by those “both celebrated and unfamiliar” who, as immigrants, made unique contributions to what is now accepted as ‘British’ culture—with his trademark Dutch wax (batik) fabrics. Gold tooling on the spines declare the names of all these individuals who, at some point, came to Britain as immigrants, and made their mark.

The British Library asks us to evaluate our attitudes to immigration and immigrants.”

I am always impressed by Shonibare MBE’s work…but especially love this installation, for the sheer joy of seeing whole book shelves crammed with books that have been covered in bold, parti-coloured Dutch wax fabrics. Fabulous! Although not actually bound in these fabrics (I don’t think Brighton Library would let anyone change the covers of their books…the fabrics are merely wrapped around like dust jackets) it certainly sets my own bookbinder’s imagination daydreaming about actually binding my own library in similar, flamboyant fashion.

I did say it was a daydream. 🙂 As though I didn’t already have enough to do for 5 lifetimes…

www.yinkashonibarembe.com

House Festival 2014.

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a peek at my work

Musa volatilis Haas

A quick look at some of the things I’ll be taking to the gallery tomorrow:

A dozen Flying Bananafish…not at all like the drab, digitally altered photo above of a whole fish, but brightly colored, with iridescent wings and beads and glitter and EVERYTHING. Party fish, these guys.

Musa volatilis

I’ve also made half a dozen embroidered marbled fabric works, stretched over frames like paintings.

Embroidering onto marbled fabric was a lot harder than I thought it would be—and, as I found when I searched the internet to see what other stitchers had done with the combination, I was not the only one who hesitated, when faced with the densely patterned fabric. Even the great embroidery blogger, Mary Corbet, balked at the task.

When you think about it, it’s just printed fabric, and you should be able to stitch over it with wild abandon, right? Except that, with an actual marbled print, you become painfully aware that every stitch or appliquéd piece or attached bead and sequin is going to cover up marks that are unique and can never be re-created in exactly the same way, again. That gorgeous swirl of hairline stripes and feathery loops, a serendipitous juxtaposition of colors that look so incredibly luscious they seem to glow…marbling is dense with little gorgeous patches like these, and an embroiderer really can feel like she is gilding the lily by trying to add her comparatively chunky stitches and clumsy solid color blocks.

But I gave it a whirl, anyway…sometimes I tried to fit my stitching in with the bigger picture, so that the marbling played a part in the story of the piece. At other times, completely defeated but desperate to have done something more than greeting cards for our marbling show, I treated the fabric as though it had been commercially printed…smacked a great big clumsy design onto it, and stitched it, and the marbling fell away into the background, losing meaning and pride of place. I think I understand a little bit, now, about what motifs work, and the feeling that I am after, but there is not time to start on new pieces. Hopefully the knowledge will still be with me for the next time I attempt to overstitch marbling.

island shack

The island shack piece you’ve seen (but in this pic it’s done), plus 5 others that you haven’t (because they didn’t exist until I embroidered them all today…my eyeballs feel like they’re trained on the tip of my nose, now!)

potted folly

spray

Camp Nonpareil

cat & bunny in pink marbling

pondwater

If I can squeeze them in, there are another three or four stretched marbled fabric pieces that I’d like to embroider, plus a few handbound journals of my own that I might, if I push myself and work till the wee hours of the morning, manage to get done in time for the opening night of Throwing Stones for Fun & Profit.

In case I forgot to invite you, everyone’s welcome…we’ve crammed a small room plus the foyer of the Darwin Visual Arts Association choc-a-bloc full of marbled works, most of them featuring our own imaginative twists and experiments with this ancient traditional craft.

December 6th, Friday at 6:00 P.M.Darwin Visual Arts Association (DVAA)
Frog Hollow Center for The Arts
56 Woods Street
Darwin CBD

models and mail art

model for a bed

I use plasticine a lot to make models or mock-ups for drawing…especially strange, three-point perspective drawings. It’s cheating, sort of—not because I am drawing from clay models, but because I then pass them off as drawings of the real things—but it sure beats looking at other people’s pictures on the internet., and there’s the added creativity of shaping stuff with my hands.

There’s a painting I want to do that involves a bed, and since I haven’t got a proper-looking bed to draw (our single-layer mattress sits on a low wooden platform, just 6 inches off the floor) I made one out of plasticine. It’s about the size of a pack of playing cards. Will do my sketches using this.

I did a few drawings of the bed, and then added a pair of oars to it. Just playing with the form. Nice way to calm down an overactive mind and smoothen the thought wrinkles from between my eyebrows. It may well become the subject for some other drawing. And so it goes…

rowing to dreamland

Also made a mail art postcard for a friend in Germany today. A scrap of Indonesian sarong on one side, the beautiful old-fashioned wrapper of a bar of Spanish chocolate on the other.

chocolate postcard

Tea with Lady Lavender

tea

Hello, sorry It’s been so quiet on here. I’ve been quite busy making stuff…just didn’t remember to take pictures of anything I was doing, hence nothing to show you or blog about.

Yesterday I started working on a series of mixed media journal covers because I visited my own ETSY shop a few weeks ago, and things were looking very, very lonely and neglected. I am trying to get back into bookbinding now, because I have a dozen or so text blocks of beautiful paper all bound and ready for covers. The covers are always the hardest part (but also the most fun) because I don’t like to repeat myself, and I tend to get stuck for a long time, fiddling with tiny details on every single one.

The subject of this batch of journal covers is tea time; this one’s predominantly lavender. The base is painted artist’s canvas. I’ve used various papers—tea stained pages for the tea cup, and my own marbled paper for the tea, some gift tissue—and bits of fabric. Machine as well as hand stitching. Acrylic paints (and some dimensional glitter paint), acrylic inks, and some shading with colored pencils.

tea

tea

What have you been tinkering with lately?

Hopscotch

If you’ve been following along for a while I think you’ll notice the way I jump from doing one thing to another. For a spell I might be obsessed with embroidery, and everything I post about will be related to that. Then I’ll get into bookbinding, and embroidery will sort of fall by the wayside. Lately I’ve been into drawing and painting, to the exclusion of everything else. To someone following this blog (and who probably subscribed because he/she really enjoyed seeing just that one dimension of creative expression I happened to be working on at the time) this hopscotching back and forth probably seems really capricious , undependable, and erratic…a kind of craziness.

The funny thing about this is that, for me, there is almost no difference between painting, stitching, sewing clothes, or binding pages together. For one thing, the principles you absorb by doing one craft or art form are carried over into all your making. The mind is not a hard drive and can’t be partitioned so definitely. Hands practiced at one form of work will take what they know—that sensitivity, that intuition—and apply it to the next task.

A line is a line is a line…you seek variety and expressiveness when you make a line, be it in ink or thread. In all practices a line can be a dot that went for a walk; it can be an arrow that shows the way, or a guide that leads the eye; it can be a road, or a boundary, an edge, a bridge across an abyss, an umbilical cord, a ball of thread that will take you into the labyrinth, and then lead you back out again.

Layers can be pages, can be leaves, wings, curtains, veils. They can speak about concealment and revelation, can talk about light and shadow, about translucency, about juxtaposition, about sequence, story, the what-happened-next, what-lies-behind-the-next-hill, and who is the monster a the end of this book? Ultimately, all are statements about the passage of time.

Ideas about form, space, edges, progression, texture, the what-ness of the material, its intrinsic qualities, its limitations and how to push the material beyond those limitations, are all part of some greater, all-encompassing journey to expression of Being…to integrity, or maybe even some kind of Truth.

whites and not-so-whites

Jude Hill’s What If Diaries approach to making is a key that unlocks the door to a thousand doors. It’s a marvelous question, hanging there in the space around your work table when you are trying to push your own boundaries, trying to give birth to monsters or gods. Just by reading her own posts, where she asks “What if…?” over and over, like a mantra, you absorb the habit of asking the same thing of yourself.
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When you finally stop trying to imitate Jude’s work (a natural compulsion, but you won’t get anything of your own out of it…Jude asks “What if?” and dives off a cliff, and you just follow along hanging on to her coat tails?) and really start to ask your own What Ifs, magic happens. Things come into being. And they are yours. Rough, maybe, or too plain, but the making gives delight, and the thing made is something new (to you, anyway). And from there you see other doors…directions, a fork in the path. I could go this way with it…or I could go that…

Holding firmly onto the end, toss imagination’s ball of string out in front of you, and let it unroll down the path, around the bend, and out of sight. Now reel yourself in.

I stopped making lists and thinking about things, yesterday, and decided to do something physical. Scoured the boat for whatever white-ish fabrics I had (for the Whispering Whites part of the Diaries) and found 10 meters of white cotton gauze (I was going to make a mosquito net, once upon a time), a few bits and pieces of lace, crochet, and damask, some brand new ladies handkerchiefs, those stained white bedsheets I dug out of some hotel’s rubbish, and some great triangular cotton bandages from an Army First Aid kit.

I decided:

To heck with looking for fabrics that carry memories for me, those colonial drawn thread and fillet lace gowns or rotting church veils, some bride’s trousseau or the doilies my grandmother made…I don’t want to build an altar to the past. I want to work with my head and heart firmly planted in the present, and push out from here. Synthetic organza? Poly-linen? Fusible web and spray-on adhesive? Wire to give structure and form? Acetate for strength that lets light through? Sure, why not, if these are what I have and know how to use? I firmly believe that if women of the 19th century had access to these things, they would have made no bones about using them, too. They were practical women.

Also, as with everything else that I do, I will dance my wild hopscotch between painting, paper craft, printmaking, sewing, embroidery, and anything else I care to add into the mix. Because I am not partitioned. 🙂

What if the thing I love the most about white fabric is the way that light glows through and around the fabric, and shadows or silhouettes of varying intensities are the counterpoint to that luminosity? What if white could become a vessel for light? What if I worked with the idea of vessels and three-dimensional space, rather than stick to the flat Nine Patch?

The Nine Patch squared?

The Nine Patch cubed?

*eyes wide* OHHH………

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Origami balloon, made from a single square cotton handkerchief, four seams, and some tiny, tiny stitches to keep it from opening up.

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There it goes! My ball of string, jouncing along down a hillside and out of sight. I’m off after it. See you later!

Spirit Cloth

DSC_0001
I am doing Jude Hill’s “What If?” textile workshop this year. If you aren’t familiar with Jude Hill, she is the author and maker behind the blog Spirit Cloth.

I have followed Jude’s blog for years and years…drawn to it by the photos of Jude’s powerful, storied textiles (she dyes, weaves, embroiders, and layers bits of raggedy, salvaged, vintage or distressed cloth into works that seem to embody so much more than aesthetics and a set of skills. They aren’t flashy, slick, or neat cloths, and you don’t see many of the gaudy commercial printed fabrics in her pieces. Instead you find these rich, frayed layers of earthy colors, and hand-worked stitches that are more like the sensitive, exploratory marks made when drawing, rather than the frilly, showy, vivid, loud stitches of, say, today’s crazy patchwork creations.

But more than Jude’s works, I am drawn to her words (and to the silences that pool, gathering like moon or morning light, around her words). She seems so earthy, and yet so unaffected by the frantic energies of the world. For me she embodies the archetype of the wise woman who lives in a forest outside of time…there she sits, dyeing her cloths in copper pots, stitching her beasts and her moons and her paths and her stories, watching the seasons change, feeding the stray animals that circle her home (drawn perhaps by her serenity and openness) and taking that Life, and incorporating it, so simply and yet so, so wisely, into her spirit cloths.

On her blog, she doesn’t screech her own ego all the time, doesn’t blow her own trumpet, doesn’t pull stunts to draw attention to herself. There are no blogger awards badges. There are no giveaways or product endorsements. There are no animated GIFs of pulsing hearts (thank God). There are no OMGs or LOLs in her posts. She doesn’t GUSH over every new thing that comes along…she doesn’t squander her love or her language on mere THINGS. Her words are few, and choice, and simple. Unpretentious.

All that. I am drawn to all that like you wouldn’t believe.

So I went to her, this year, at last…perhaps to learn a thing or two about the way she works…but mainly just to be able to sit, as it were, at her feet, like a student, like a disciple, and be very quiet, and listen to her. And hopefully learn a little bit more about how to become such an unaffected, meditative, imperturbable and self-possessed woman…doing my quiet thing, in the forest of my spirit, still in the world but no longer excessively of it.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.