Friday, 6 March 2015

preserve .... a burnt book

It was my idea last year to suggest to Fiona that we do a 'burn book' and in my mind's eye I thought Fiona would hand me some pages of her lovely delicate burning with which to work, and in exchange I would hand over some very delicate but randomly burnt paper and somehow, magically, a soft pretty kind of burn book would emerge.  Ha!  Things don't often  work out as you see them in your minds' eye and this book couldn't be more different from the one I envisaged.

That being said, the challenge has resulted in a book that I would have to say is probably my favourite.  The resulting book looks quite simple but it took months of head wrangling and stomach aching to reach this point.  Fiona's work is very distinctive and when I was presented with seven pages of her gorgeous calligraphy about the burning of books, and ideas that can't be destroyed but fly onwards, I knew I had some serious thinking to do.  To somehow take apart her work and make it mine, and yet because her words were profound, I needed to find my own words, my own reason for bringing this book into being.

In July last year I committed to a project called 'Absence and Presence' - a printmaking project as part of a large ongoing body of work across the globe called 'Mutanabbi Street Starts Here'.  Instigated and co-ordinated by Beau Beausoleil who is based in San Francisco, this work has been in direct response to the bombing of Al Mutanabbi Street, the cultural precinct of Baghdad in 2007. Home to intellectuals, printers, writers, book shops and coffee shops for centuries.  I have yet to make my prints (I have until July this year) but my mind is always ticking over ideas and thus the burning of books, the destruction of priceless treasures, the preservation of books and so on has been on my mind for some time. For longer still is the heartache I feel every time I read of, or hear of the wilful destruction of libraries and the burning of books.  

I am a great fan of asemic writing and rarely use explicit text in my work.  Never in fact.  this book however has two layers of written text.  Not hugely legible because it is engraved into the perspex with a dremel, but if you try hard you can read what is being said.  The black writing is done on the inside of the book and then inked so in fact the writing is then reversed.  I have listed some of the atrocities perpetrated by human intent upon libraries from pre 206BC when Qin Shi Huang had order the burning of books and burying of scholars in Xianyang, Qin China through to the latest heartbreak in Mosul were ISIS burnt 8000 rare books and manuscripts.  

The burning, and there was a great deal of it done to these pages, and then the writing down of these details about the destruction of Libraries throughout history, left me feeling quite desolate.  I had downloaded an article about the burning of books in Mosul by ISIS in the Fiscal Times by Riyadh Mohammed written on February 23 about half way through the article was this lovely passage ...

'900 years ago, the books of the Arab philosopher Averroes were collected before his eyes ..... and burned.  One of his students started crying while witnessing the burning. Averroes told him ..... the ideas have wings .... but I cry today over our situation.'

I thought about using those words ' ideas have wings' in this book, but instead, wrote on the outside of the book, or I should say engraved with an etching needle, the words from one of my very favourite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins - God's Grandeur.  You can read these words quite clearly if you go hunting across the pages - they don't leap out but they are there.  I have included a copy of this poem at the end of this post.

In my previous post I did mention that there had been enormous difficulties in the making of this book and many of those were due to the structure/construction of the perspex.  I was going to write of these difficulties but really, they are not important.  I am pleased with the result of this book and though it certainly is not the first perspex book I have made, I have included new ideas and techniques in this one which I will use again.  This collaboration of Fiona's and mine certainly does push us but each time we complete a book, we find we have learnt something new about techniques and mostly about ourselves and the way we see and thus make.

I do need to add for those of you who may be looking around for the burnt paper which was to be my contribution, and with which you have seen me play in the last couple of posts.  I decided not to use any of it.  The paper added nothing to the concept of this book and felt superfluous so I felt quite happy to just put it aside.

a pity to have to photograph the book with a white paper background as you lose the effect of the burnt fragments being suspended in the perspex - much like specimens on a slide

this photo gives you a better idea of the floating and layering between pages

some evidence of my text
pity about my reflection - or the cameras' reflection

do love this blue and will intentionally be bringing blue over and through some of my earthy work

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).  Poems.  1918.
7. God’s Grandeur
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;        5
  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;        10
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

two books meet ..... endure and preserve

Endure and Preserve met today and though the books were truly impossible to photograph, we could feel them grinning at each other as much as we were as they looked each other up and down, then lay quietly beside each other like coupled companions.

I had very little success in photographing these books and I am sure when you see more photographs of the individual books, you will see why.

The books began their life ingrained with angst and really during their making seemed to hold that angst tightly to their chests.  I thought I was the only one having problems, not just with pinning down a thousand ideas into one that would work, but also in the actual construction of the book.  More of this will be revealed when we post on our individual books.

Apart from the delight in our books, enhanced perhaps because of the struggle in realising them, the thing I enjoyed absolutely the most today, was spending time with Fiona.  As she said in passing today, we have hardly seen each other since November.  And that is true.  My life was a tad manic from about September last year, and then I had so many trips both local and overseas, followed by a time of incredible busyness and then hibernating for a couple of months due to poor health.  So, although we live very close by and are great friends, there just simply has not been the opportunity other than a snatched hour here and there.  Today was bliss.

We had time to talk about our next, and last, book and to plan our exhibition at Noosa Regional Gallery later this year.  Big sigh.

I had hoped now to have been heading to bed but have only just made it onto the computer to post on the books' meeting, and then I also want to write another post as tomorrow I am leaving very early for New Zealand and will be away from blogland.

As you can see, it is very difficult to see what these books are like though you get a hint.
Fiona's pages of words wrought beautifully throughout her book.
In my book her words have been burnt, bled and obliterated in order to make the book look like work I have made.
In both our books there is a delicious layering effect through the perspex.

I have included a couple of photographs of my book as a teaser but also to show you how much the surrounding light can affect the book.  I love the image above reflecting the blue of the sky which was flooding the room upstairs when I was trying to photograph.

The image below was taken in the studio under harsh light.  No lovely blues - and probably a more honest representation of the book.  Only a professional photographer will actually be able to get any decent photos of the books and I think we will both resort to that down the track.

Off now to write a post on Preserve.  A name I like but upon which I have not yet settled....

Sunday, 1 March 2015

what not to do .....

I have finally finished my 'burn book'.  Tick.  The books meet on Wednesday and Fiona and I are pretty excited to see what we have come up with, considering the starting point we both had.  This was one of those collaborations in theme and materials and we haven't actually spent time together working on the books so neither of us has any idea what the other book looks like.  There must be a resemblance of course as we are working with the same materials.  Watch out for our posts on Wednesday night.

For the last LONG while it seems, I have been playing with ideas for this book and most of that time seemed to come up with ideas which were much more along the lines of what not to do ....

We are hoping that these two books will form the centrepiece or highlight of our collaboration so it is quite an important book and as such necessitated quite a deal of thought and work.  The photographs below are nothing like my book, but they were very earnest efforts in trying to visualise a way forward.  To no avail.  They make quite interesting photographs though, and maybe on a small scale, would work very beautifully as a book.  But not this time.

As well as learning what not to do, I have learnt a great deal about burning, controlled burning.  Well mostly.  The house remains standing and I still have all my curls and eyebrows.  Seriously though, I have learnt techniques about controlling burns to achieve the effect you are wanting.  Not always easy where paper and fire are involved.

    I am heading off on Thursday for  two weeks.  An artist  friend Steph McLennan  and I are heading
   over to New Zealand to stay at Moeraki on the South Island.  There we will be working with the 
   Moeraki Boulders .... finding heaps of inspiration I hope.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

continuing with burning .....

Way back in September, Fiona and I began work on our next collaborative book and since then life has intervened with my creativity in this direction and it is only now that I am back working on this project.  You can see the exchange Fiona and I made in my post of 24th September 2014 and will notice that I received beautifully handwritten pages from Fiona when I handed over some ragged burnt paper to her. There was a slight misunderstanding in how we both conceived our exchange which was quite rare for us.  However, with these beginnings we have been challenged to make our books and last week I set to deconstructing some of Fiona's pages.  It is always a challenge to take apart someone else's work and make it look more like your own, and yet, because you are working collaboratively and want to see the other's work in each piece, leave enough of the work to recognise.

I have been getting some interesting results in burning away at Fiona's pages - always having plenty of water and wet cloths close by to put out flames as they occur.  I am looking forward to taking my own burnt pages in a few different directions now that I have a sense of where I am heading with these ones.  Although I haven't moved on with the artwork, I have solved a number of the technical problems I foresaw  in the construction of this book.

Each page is quite large - approximately 54 cms x 19 cms and there will be seven pages forming a concertina book within perspex.  I have sewn large perspex books before and am not really looking forward to that stage of this book.  The deconstruction and burning is appealing to me so much more.  I hope all the ideas I am am juggling around in my head will be able to be realised and that this book will be ready to meet Fiona's next Wednesday when we have our 'bookmeet'.

These photographs were taken in fairly dull light and are bit fuzzy .....

Playing around with the idea of engraving on the perspex - both inside and on the outer side as well.
I will have to think about what to write so that it looks more effective than these scribbles but I do like the effect.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

retake on WW1 'Pieces for Peace' .....

Many of you would have followed my journey last year in the making of my book for the Exhibition 'Pieces for Peace' in Belgium.  Fiona, Barry, Helen and I, have been given the opportunity to show these books again as and adjunct to the Personal Histories Exhibition which will open in March at the Redland Art Gallery.  Simultaneously, and opening a day earlier, Caloundra Regional Gallery has asked if we could make an edition, in my case a variant, of our books to show as part of their Exhibition 'Of Peace and War'.

Fiona asked us each just before Christmas if this was possible as she has been organising with Saffron Drew and I very bravely nodded - keeping in mind just how long the book took me to make.  I decided to make two more books thinking that it would not take that much more time than making just the one.  I think it may be a little like childbirth ..... you forget the details otherwise why would you opt to go through it again!

I have finished one book and the other has parts done, and will just have to wait a little while till I can get back to it.  There seems to be no way to get around the fact that all the little marks of x's/+'s and ='s that form the background of my last page, take somewhere between five and six hours to make.  It is a very good thing to do in front of television, remembering that you are listening more than watching.  I could do something else, or make the marks much bigger but really, I like the overall effect and I would really feel like I had cheated.  Hence one book for the moment, and the other to come. And when a book takes a few days to make even when you have already prepared the embossing and printing plates, five hours isn't that long - it is really just that it messes with my hands.

The only real change to the original work, is that I have paid more attention to the cover/binding.  I have been think on this quite a bit of late .... really since being in New Zealand with Fiona in October last year when she spoke on our collaboration.  Someone at a later stage said to her, when looking at our books, 'where are your covers, don't you think the cover is important?'.  As predominantly bookbinders and letterpress people were at the Conference, it pulled me up a little to realised how little attention I pay to the 'covers' of any book I make - in fact very often the cover is just made up of my first page, or a perspex slip case is made to hold the artist's book.  For me, it is all about the artwork and not the binding which matters.  Having said that, I was totally enthralled with the bookbinding we saw whilst we were at the conference - and briefly I played with the idea of starting my life again and becoming a binder and conservator of books.  Then reality settled in and I realised that I do what I do, and even then there is not enough time to do that.  I am an artist, not a bookbinder and though I am completely envious of the skill of those who bind beautifully, it is not something of which I will make an 'art'.  However, I will certainly be trying to make more of an effort!

Preparing the pages.
This book has embossed leather covers, and as you can see below, an engraving on the front, recessed.
Still an hour or two of marks to complete.

The old and the new. The glue is still wet and white.
I have named the two books 'Beyond War' and the inside cover page differs from the first book.
The Japanese paper I used for the engraved prints reacted quite differently with the ink.
Although I was initially disappointed with the lack of intensity of the covering black ink, I ended up quite liking the way the underneath marks were still visible.  I think it adds interest to the image.
I think having the pages inverted if the books is in a cabinet will allow for easier viewing.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

brussels and ypres .....

Catching up with a few posts about my trip to Belgium and UK last November/December.  Sometimes though when your head is buzzing with the present, it is really hard to go backwards in time to record happy travelling times.  I think these memories cement in the mind but are harder to extricate and record verbally as time passes. This post is about the couple of days in Belgium.

The Northern Hemisphere really knows how 'to do' Christmas.  Brussels and Ypres were awash with Christmas spirit and cheer.  And of course Belgium knows how to do CHOCOLATE.  Yum.  Funnily enough, chocolate addict that I am, it hadn't occurred to me until we were feasting on chocolate  visually through shop window decorations that the penny dropped that I was in Belgium - home of my favourite Belgium chocolate.  Oh gosh all the windows were beautiful .....
and the streets full of shoppers (and no doubt other chocolate lovers) 

decorations and rooftop golds gleaming in the evening light
would love to have some of these Paul Klee cushions - especially that bottom right hand one
We had the two nights in Brussels but our one day in between was spent in Ypres to visit the WW1 14 x 18 Pieces for Peace Exhibition. We arrived mid morning by train from Brussels and the light was still glowing low.  An amazing though very cold time to be visiting the Menin Gate Memorial - dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the area around Ypres in WW1 and whose graves are unknown.

This was a very sobering experience as we realised that each of these names on the wall represented the death of a soldier.   Someone's husband or son, brother or father.  We were both very heavy hearted as we wandered about.  Of the approximately 300,000 soldiers killed in and around Ypres, 90,000 have no known grave.

Ypres is surrounded by city walls - a beautiful way to see the town especially with this extraordinary light.

Before heading to the Exhibition we met up with Saskia Maeyaert who is the lady responsible for the idea of this Exhibition and with a small group, its organisation.  I think meeting Saskia was the highlight of my trip to Belgium - only wish we had more time though she gave up much of hers having lunch and the afternoon with us.  The exhibition was marvellous - beautifully set up as you can see from these photographs and the work of a really high calibre.  We all received very comprehensive catalogues which we will treasure.  There is so much talent out there.

This was my absolute favourite piece and was one of the winners of the bookbinding section of the exhibition.  The work is by Ile Declerck from Belgium.  It is a lead book with transfers of images and texts and I really really want to know how to do this as it is sublime.    I will be writing to her.....

There were dozens and dozens of books to admire and covet, though knowing we had a catalogue, I didn't photograph many,  besides which I was way too entranced.  Some of the calligraphy however led me that dream space where you think that 'if in another life .... you could/should/want to be ...'  Anyway, a calligrapher I am not but these images come pretty close to my ideals of a combination of painting and calligraphy.

Another artist from Belgium - Yves Leterme.

Inge Vos from the Nederlands
And another Belgium artist - Veerle Missiaen.  This, another winning piece,  stretched a few metres across the wall when open and was presented that way.