Friday, 27 February 2015

An Al-Mutanabbi Street Collaboration

The Presence and Absence of the Light

I participated in the Artists Book section of ‘Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here’  Project with a book called ‘Absence’ and when the call came out for the printmaking project called ‘Absence and Presence’ I was delighted to have the opportunity to explore this idea of the destruction 
of culture further.

I spoke to an artist friend, Jack Oudyn, with whom I  have collaborated on projects in the past, and who also intensely supports the rights of freedom of speech and democracy.  We felt that if we collaborated on the print we would be making a statement about support and solidarity between artists, particularly our fellow artists under threat in Iraq.  After much thought and discussions about freedom of speech, around the time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, France, we started work on the print.  Since that time there have also been reports of the destruction and burning of books in Mosul in Iraq.

The print is a combination of two prints, the first is a linocut of an Islamic screen which has openings to let in the light of the world, culture and literature, and others that are blocked by an aggressive arrow pointed shape moving across the screen.

The second digital print of abstract asemic writing underlies the first print.  It also contains the jumbled letters of the words Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, but only fragments of the print are visible through the openings in the screen, and these letters do not appear in their entirety in the displayed print.

The composite print has a 3D element in that the openings in part of the screen have shutters (or perhaps book covers) that need to be opened when the print is on display.

Five of the edition of  ten prints of  The Presence and Absence of the Light are on their way to the United Kingdom and the United States for inclusion in the 'Absence and Presence' exhibitions held as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Into the Void

Into the Void (at the space between day and night) is a new book I've made this year.  The structure is one I've used before as a circular shape, but I wanted this one to sit like a fan.  The front depicts day and shows parts of figures painted in black ink disappearing up into the top of the book coloured an orangey sunset colour and painted in gouache.

The book is wider at the base and double sided, the back being the night and showing the outlines of figures drifting around in the space.

The cover is of faux black and white leather with a paper insert and leather spine.

This is one of my books that will be on display at the Cairns Regional Gallery in 4 x 4, featuring three sculptural books each by four FNQ artists and four SEQ artists organised by Rose Rigley and Fiona Dempster.  They will then be displayed in Brisbane in the middle of the year.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A New Experience

It's never too late to try new things, and this morning was the first time I have ever been into a radio studio and interviewed.  Ross Davies and I were on Steve Austin's Morning show on 612 ABC in Brisbane to talk about the book 'Three Brilliant Careers'
An interesting experience! 
You can listen to the interview Here

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Family Secrets

Family Secrets, begun in early 2014, has been sitting almost finished on my desk for most of last year and I recently decided to do the small amount of work required to finish it off.  I had originally thought I would make it for Robyn Foster's exhibition Personal Histories, but later changed my mind when I decided to make The One Pound Pom.

I'd made a Victorian Puzzle purse structure for my Christmas card in 2013, and was inspired to use this structure in another way.  I liked the way that even when you opened out the first folds, there was a second closure to be unfolded and it seemed very secretive.

I cut very large sheets of Arches paper and stained them with a mixture of tea and walnut ink to give them a very foxed aged appearance.  I made four puzzle purses and mounted them onto four pieces of heavy card covered with brown Canson paper.

These were then mounted onto a long aged and daggy piece of leather whose three edges I had folded and glued. The four segments then folded inward onto each other 

The fourth edge was the natural edge of the skin and had a pleasing shape which ended up on the front of the folded structure and was tied with a thin strip of pink leather, looking like something I could imagine having in a drawer that did contain letters or family secrets.  This was where I got to when the project was abandoned last year.

 I needed to make some little secrets to go into the puzzle purses, so I decided to make a small folded booklet for each.  I searched the internet for fonts that were attractive visually but difficult to read.  I envisaged something thin and tall.  I found just the thing I was looking for with a font called 'Disclaimer'.  I searched the family history and printed out a couple of facts that the family would have tried to keep secret in days gone by.

The book can be displayed with just one purse opened or can look quite stunning when displayed with them all opened with their booklets - and yes the secrets can be deciphered.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

The One Pound Pom

One of the first tasks of the New Year has been to finish off  two books that had been made last year but were sitting with some details unfinished.  One of these was the book I made for the Personal Histories Exhibition of 100 books organised by Robyn Foster and which will take place from the 29th March to 10 May at the Redland Art Gallery in Cleveland.

I wanted to delve into the family history and make a book about my husband's ancestor, Timothy Dempsey, who was transported to Australia in 1821 after being found in possession of a forged one pound note, which I guess was a fortune in those days.   Timothy couldn't read or write, so obviously he wasn't the forger, and was no doubt a young man leading a miserable life in Wiltshire in England (though he was originally from Cork in Ireland). 

Despite all the hardships he would have faced being on a prison hulk in Portsmouth for many months and then surviving the trip to Australia on a convict ship, overall it turned out he was quite lucky.  He was sent to the Bathurst region to work on the farm of Henry Fulton and was given a Ticket of Leave after seven years which allowed him to move around the district freely and to work.  After another seven years he received his Certificate of Freedom.  He was granted land, married and had a large family and after his death was buried in the biggest most impressive vault in the local cemetery at Blayney.  Not bad for someone who would have continued a poverty stricken miserable life in England.

How to tell this story visually?  The most intriguing idea for me was to somehow make a reference to the convict ship and the journey.

I have always liked the Kurilpa pedestrian bridge over the Brisbane river near the Gallery precinct, which is suggestive of a boat with all its masts and rigging and  this inspired me to think of adapting this idea into a book structure using concertina folds, satay sticks and linen thread.
I experimented with lots of random masts along the middle and sides of concertina folds, but was not happy with the result and I decided it needed simplifying.

On Arches paper I printed three important historical documents - Timothy's trial at the Wiltshire Assizes, his Ticket of Leave and his Certificate of Freedom.  To these I added rubber stamps of dates, the verdict and sentence along with details of his time on the prison hulk and convict ship.  Crosses for his signature were completed with wax seals.  I joined the docments and folded them into a concertina structure.

I inserted masts of satay sticks into the three centre mountain folds.  These were sewn in with linen thread and tied down with rigging.  The stitches formed a nice pattern like the steps of the ladders up to the sails. The trial document contained a reproduction of the one pound note in question, and this was also printed and used for the main middle sail, along with a painted Union Jack for the back sail.

I cut some copper shim and made some convict tokens as an approximation of the tokens the convicts often made from pennies and engraved roughly themselves (or they had finer ones made by one of the forger/engravers in prison with them).  I had a book from the library with photos of many of these surviving tokens (now in collections) and I was able to engrave authentic sentiments on the copper.

The final step was to roughly draw in ink and brush a simple sketch of  the convict ship and its rigging, and I liked the contrast between this crude drawing and the finely, well crafted handwriting of the documents, like the contrast between the convicts and officialdom. 

I made a folder/box for the structure to sit in, complete with ribbon and wax seal and I thought the book was finished.

Then recently I thought of how to make a cover for the book by sewing the middle valley fold onto the spine of a book cover.  But what sort of cover would you have on a convict ship?  I opted for some very rough canvas, hand-stitched and roughly cut and made two covers, but it frayed so much I had to edge it with the sewing machine.  I inserted the book board inside the covers and stitched them to a leather spine.  The last step was to stitch the middle of the book structure onto the leather spine.