Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brass etchings

Some 50 x50mm photo-etched plates for Shannon to experiment with as impressions on porcelain. I wonder if it will work!

Friday, March 19, 2010

After rain

Crummunda Park, Currumundi. The girls and I went down the other day to see the wallum after all this rain. The paths were flooded with shallow sepia coloured ti-tree lakes. I took photos and thought about the form of the banksia tree, the children looked at things through their magnifying glass. I think they are getting the hang of the wallum project which has become through necessity a family affair. Of course bribery in the form of a swim and various delicious snacks is essential!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Midyims and Nujigums: Navigating by the Flowers.

Midyims (top) and Nujigums (below)
I've been thinking about the different ways we use maps and navigation techniques to get around the wallum and find various plants. Recently I was walking around the backroads of Cooloola National Park with my technology savvy companion who relies on GPS to get around town and bush. You can see contour marks, roads, compass and where you have been on this gadget so it makes it quite difficult to get lost unless the batteries run out. Luddism makes me triumphant when this happens! I am wary of such technology, preferring an old style paper map, a fairly good sense of direction, some visible landmarks and a 'solar derived' notion of north. But all these devices, new and old, while setting out to 'close the distance' also seem to somehow put a distance between person and landscape so that you can pass through a place without knowing or feeling or being there.

Shannon and I were at Peel Island last month walking through cypress and eucalypt forest with the National Parks ranger looking for a narrow slither of wallum . Peel is quite flat and I lost my bearings soon after leaving the road. As Shannon related, we were being carefully guided so we found the open wallum fairly directly. We made our observations, took our photos and the snakes kindly let us though. Then we took a 'short-cut' back to the road through a dense and high fern, peat and melaleuca forest which required us to push through with our whole bodies. Evidently the forest had regenerated after fire more quickly than our guide anticipated. For a brief moment we had that feeling of being lost. Everything looked the same. Forest stretched as far as we could see in all directions and every few steps the false floor of the peat layer gave way and we fell through to the true ground like Alice in Wonderland. But we did feel that we were really 'there', wherever 'there' was.

This experience led me to ask Shane Coghill, traditional owner how he would navigate when landmarks are not easy to see. He related how pathways to significant sites are told in stories and it may be years before this knowledge is called upon. And when it is, there is considerable pressure to find the site, with knowledge concentrated in a chosen few to keep the sites safe. In what would probably sound like mysterious metaphor to me, the story might describe the patches of midyims and nujigum (pronounced midge-ims and nudge-ims) and their delicious berries along the way. Knowing the plants is important and the seasons too, as deadly snakes are associated with these species at certain times of the year. Children are warned off the delicious fruiting midyims (now fruiting) for fear of the death adder which hides under foliage, tempting berry-eating wrens with a protein hit by wiggling its tiny worm-like tail. And the tell-tale blue staining on a child's mouth will alert a watchful parent if they have been spending too long feasting on Nujigums where red bellied black snakes are found.

So this awareness, with an intimate understanding and embodiment of the spirit of the land makes it possible to find places without paper maps or high-end GPS equipment. That there is more going on than the graphical representations of contour lines is both fascinating and mysterious to me and presents a new way of being here/there.

It is this kind of mapping and the creative journey that I think of when rolling the words "Swamp Cartography" around in my head. I hope that the jewellery, ceramics and glass works that we create will have the immediacy of notes taken along the way.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Porcelain prototypes

Pouched Coral Fern and wallum impressions on Southern Ice porcelain.

Three little pillboxes.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The wonders of the Canberra Glassworks

engraving, originally uploaded by rebeccathewrecker.

Rebecca the Wrecker and I have just spent 3 days at Canberra Glassworks doing a masterclass with glass artist and teacher extraordinaire Kirstie Rea. We had an amazing, inspiring time.

Canberra Glassworks is a state of the art facility based in an old power station. There are so many workshops covering different aspects of glass forming that we didn't get to see them all, the cold shop, the mold making room and the sandblasters were the ones we concentrated on. Once again we came back to our impressions from the wallum as the source of inspiration and made molds for glass using these.

I was particularly interested in the sandblasting which combines a painterly approach as the resist used is PVA glue. For these little pieces I sandblasted brushbox blossom silhouettes onto the back of "float" glass (common window glass) and used a diamond stylise to etch a drawing into the glass on the opposite side.

Glass engraving is such an immediate way of mark making, the scratchiness of the drawing echoes the twiggy scratchiness of wallum vegetation. I really liked using the window glass as the everyday nature of this material creates a subconscious visual reference linking the glass drawing to windows and all that they represent. The automatic assumption with a window being to look through or out of it, hopefully the viewer of this type of piece would be inexorably drawn towards the drawing to looking closely at and through it!

While we were in Canberra we did a talk for the ceramics students at the Australian National university Ceramics Department. Rebecca and I were struck by the vibrant, international diversity at both ANU and the Glassworks. The place is buzzing with international artists coming and going, Australian artists and students are constantly encouraged to make international connections in terms of residencies and, entering competitions and other professional development programs. It is very exciting for studio artists to be in the hustle and bustle of a creative, institutional atmosphere and I highly recommend anyone thinking of coming to Australia to consider doing a residency or a degree at Canberra Glassworks or ANU.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Canberra Glassworks

Shannon Garson and Kirstie Rea

We have just returned from the most wonderful and inspiring 3day intensive class at Canberra Glassworks with a wonderful artist, Kirstie Rea. We were so lucky to have such an experienced and enthusiastic teacher who seemed to understand immediately what we were doing! Kirstie showed us many different kilnforming, sandblasting, wet grinding and diamond engraving techniques so that we were exposed to a broad range of possibilities working with glass. It was fantastic having Kirstie all to ourselves.

Preparation for sandblasting- Shannon painting PVA on window glass.

There were some overlaps between Shannon's ceramics and glass and my coldworking techniques but I found it really beneficial to learn the proper ways of doing things in a glass workshop and loved learning about fusing glass.

Pulling apart moulds from the kiln

My favorite technique involved making impressions cast from plaster moulds using botanical specimens and moulds made from silpression and silver/copper. We filled the cavities using pate de verre (glass paste made from tiny grains of glass), glass powder and sheets cut to size. It was quite a magical process with pieces of non-descript plaster and greyish glass granules disappearing in the kiln overnight to emerge in the morning, melted flat and brightly coloured. Of course firing schedules were carefully planned and numerous technical and safety procedures observed but there were some truly magic moments breaking the glass from the plaster.

The massive turbine room in the Glassworks- a converted powerstation.

The glassworks was a wonderful place to learn- well set up, organised and plenty of friendly and dedicated workers and artists to learn from. We hope to return there later this year to further develop our work for Swamp Cartography.