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I am pleased to announce the launch of my work into the Craft ACT shop!

For those Canberra locals who haven’t seen or heard of this exciting place — I urge you to visit! Located in Civic Square on London Cct, Craft ACT exhibits some of the region (and Australia’s) most amazing makers. They have an exciting and dynamic exhibition schedule within their two gallery spaces, and have recently launched the new Craft ACT shop! The shop features works from local makers — textiles, glass, ceramics, jewellery, objects and publications. All products are designed by talented craftspeople and handmade, so by buying up you’re supporting independent makers.

I have submitted some teacup rings and wireframe neckpieces, the latter including stainless steel, sterling silver and 24k gold plated brass, all on oxidised sterling silver chain. You can see some examples of this series here, and learn about the teacup rings here.

My works will be in the ‘crucible showcase’ at the entrance to Craft ACT until Saturday 22nd May, at which point they will enter the shop. They are available as “cash and carry” so you can buy one from the display and take it home on the spot! What more could I ask or??

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Here are the installation shots from my 2009 graduating show.

I made an extension to the Picnic Gems series (of early 2009) and created some more wearables derived from my earlier experiments with wireframes and goatskin parchment.

I apologise that the shots aren’t great — most of the pieces were sold (hence the little sticker dots everywhere) and I didn’t get a chance to shoot them using the flash. Thanks to all of those wonderful buyers out there! This really renewed my working vigour.

I’ll shortly be sending out pieces to a few suppliers, so stay tuned! I’m also working on some more costume-y pieces for my etsy store, which includes a bit of an overhaul/rebrand.

In 2010 I’ll be completing an honours years at ANU, so my next major project will involve refining a concept and further material explorations. Watch this space…

This course is also run by Dutch designer Herman Hermsen, and involves the design and execution of an exhibition of student work – small-scale series production available for sale. Part of the theory behind this exhibition is that during times of economic instability, buyers are less likely to invest in expensive, one-off artworks, while simultaneously being skeptical of mass-produced goods from large-scale manufacturers.

For the maker, this opens up a niche – handmade pieces from independent designers at a reasonable price point are now more desirable to the market.

The exhibition has 9 student participants, mostly final-year or masters students (which makes me more than amateur…) who are each developing their own marketable range of products – wearables, accessories or decor pieces.

So how can we make a coherent exhibition out of this broad range of work? It seems that the contemporary jewellery scene is the only place where it is commonplace to exhibit production pieces. Of course, the dichotomy of exhibiting jewellery is that it almost negates the function of the pieces themselves — what is a piece of jewellery if it is behind glass, without a body, a wearer, a life? It becomes and empty object, the dialogue of the piece is changed, overlooked.

To me, these pieces need to communicate something about their context. For me, there is a constant struggle to justify my making production pieces in a world that is already flooded with products. Empty objects, only given purpose by the consumer, to be returned to emptiness once the next-gen designs appear.

The concept of inbuilt obsolescence in products keeps me awake at night. Perhaps this is why a can empathise with the works of makers like Karen Ryan, Marc Monzo and Denise Reytan.

In order to deal with these anxieties, I find myself drawn to forgotten objects as a basis for my work. Jewellery, being a highly personal and communicative medium, seems an apt place for re-contextualising these ‘lost’ objects. At the same time as making production pieces, I want to subvert the concept of mass-production itself. But how?

For the last 3 years or so, I’ve been working on an ongoing production series of ‘Teacup rings’. These rings are constructed from the handles of second-hand melamine teacups which were in production in Australia between the 1950s-1970s. During this time, melamine was a fashionable material for kitchenalia, picnic ware and crockery. I buy the cups from op-shops, garage sales and estate sales. Each wearable piece is hand-carved and unique. The shapes in the pieces reference the original lines of the products from which they are derived, as well as the natural movements of my tools when I carve. If you are interested, the pieces are available from Workshop Bilk.

I’ve decided I will keep working along this theme, using vintage plastics from abandoned mass-produced objects. Aesthetically, I like the concept of referencing the original forms. I have begun a few experiments, but more on that soon.

I’m also in charge of the graphic design/marketing team for this exhibition, this means there’ll be logo/identity design, packaging, promotional material, website and installation work to follow, too. 

Materials: Control vs dialogue [pt. 1, learning to listen]

Materials: Control vs dialogue, [pt. 2, explorations]

 

I realised there is something inherently destructive about the way we all approach materials. There is something destructive in all methods, all attempts at change. 

As humans, we once revered things – places, materials, objects. Once mountains were sacred places, trees were the work of gods, the natural order of things was acceptable, beautiful, illuminating. But through our attempts to control things – materials, processes, places – we have reduced the world to the sum of its parts. We move mountains on a daily basis.

 

Of course, innumerable advantages have come from our explorations – tree becomes wood, wood becomes house, house adds 50 years to the life expectancy of a man. An overly simplistic model, of course, but the approach has almost certainly been about control and destruction in order for creation to take place.

 

My explorations, arguably, have also involved destruction. But I have tried to move this process away from destruction and more towards deconstruction – allowing the material to decide it own form through my interactions.

 

I consider the larger context of this work, relative to the original form of the material and it’s intended purpose. The fabric, made of unbleached cotton fibres, is usually used for clothing, to envelope the body and protect it from the elements. the fibres themselves are natural, harvested from a tree, combed and carded and spun into strands. So then, what becomes of this deconstruction of the material?

 

*      *      *

 

I start to think about what to put inside the fabric shreds. I have some pig knuckle bones from the legs I skinned for my Konfrontation project. I had boiled them down from the flesh, further deconstructing the object. The bones are smooth with undulating, irregular forms. They vary only a little in size, and when moved around in my hands, they tend to nestle in one another’s forms.

I make a little installation on my wall with magnets and these works. I meditate on the forms and their materiality.

 

These bones, remnants of life, of a form and an ‘else’, evoke a sense of loss in me. I think that maybe this process, wrapping these remnants is a kind of mourning. My work with animal remains for my Konfrontation project has taught me that there is a profound and significant association of loss and loneliness with these things.

In these works, I am cradling these remnants. I let them decide the forms through gravity, through their own weight and physicality. They change the form of the fabric, creating tension as they drag it downwards. The softness and fluidity of the fabric envelops the bones, trying to understand their complex geometries, keeping them close.

 

*      *      *

 

I think about the format of these works. Should they be wearable? An installation? Their context changes when faced with a living body. The viewer will interpret them in a different way when they appear as a wearable. There is always an element of choice, decided communication between wearer and viewer.

Conversely, as an installation piece, there is a larger dialogue between maker and viewer, and between viewer and object.

 

I kind of want to make an installation which includes a body. A body not adorned with mourning pieces, but a mourning adorned with a body. More thought required.

 

You can see the precursor to this text here (pt. 1, learning to listen).

We are instructed to choose a material we have a kinship with or would like to further explore in this class. I know I would like to explore the properties of textiles, and I have two in mind: one is silk organza, a light, fine woven fabric with little drape and a fair amount of body (I have some in black and in white); the second is an unbleached cotton jersey – standard knit, soft, light and drapey with a one-way stretch. Both of these fabrics are made of natural fibres and each has its own inherent qualities.

I begin with the black silk organza. It is stiff, strong and light. It is semi-translucent, and has a visible warp and weft. It has a small amount of give on the bias,  but almost none along the grain. I can easily pry fibres from the raw edges of the fabric, each thread long and even.

The second fabric is very different. It drapes; caresses and folds over the surfaces it touches; it stretches and flows with ease. It’s colour is flaxen, off-white with flecks of brown and grey. Using the crochet hook, I begin to unloop individual stitches from the raw edge of the fabric. I tug gently at the column of stitches, which form ladders in the fabric, perpendicular to the raw edge. Adjacent stitches merge into one gap. Entire rows become hanging threads, crinkled from their previous formation. Making ladders in the fabric change the tension, the flat plane of the fabric that existed now has more volume, more surface, extending beyond it’s previous borders. Further work makes an intricate, delicate kind of lacework. The drape becomes cascading shreds and threads. 

There is something missing from the equation. There is a kind of emptiness, the strength, the fragility, and lightness of the material is undefined. The stretch and tension is now latent. I take some glass beads, and bind them into the fabric, one by one, creating a huddled mass, weighty and finite. The material is pulled taut around the beads, parallel lines in the ladders warping around the beads, creating rhythmic concentric patterns. The remaining fabric trails behind, given a new quality purely by contrast. 

 

Both material and process are an integral part of this project. I am continuing my exploration into materials, simultaneously confronting my fears surrounding them.

My first experiments with pigskin involved removing the pieces from the feet (which were bought from the supermarket, and later boiled to obtain bone material) which were covered with a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and table salt. They were left in the sun to dry out and preserve. Unfortunately, the skin was crudely sliced, and ended up being thick, lumpy and mostly unusable.

My second attempt at skin preparation involved carefully slicing the material (this time from a back-rib cut of pork) and scraping the fat and ligament tissue using a large kitchen knife. This work-intense process breaks down the fat cells in skin, compressing the layers into a much finer, semi-translucent skin. It also meant that I extracted a vast amount of pure pig fat, which is visible as a creamy white substance in the photos below. I am coping a little better when dealing with animal materials now, and was able to sleep after doing this one…
My hands are visibly softer today, too. I think there is something kind of poetic about this process.

I mounted this new piece onto some wood, stretching it out using pins to keep it from contracting and rolling up. It is now drying, and should be ready for working in a few days.

Meanwhile, I’ve been considering the techniques which I might use with these materials. Scrimshaw is the very old technique of hand engraving into bone or ivory and filling the engraved surface with India ink to create drawings. Traditionally, the imagery depicts maps, animals, typography, portraits and nautical scenes (it was a popular past-time among whalers). I like the poetic metaphor of scarring the surface of the material, making stories into histories. I found a few helpful tutorials: Female scrimshander Viveca demonstrates her technique on mammoth ivory, using oil paint as a fill; Mark A DeCou’s tutorial uses powder horn and printer’s ink; while Michael Sheppard’s site gives an insight into the history of scrimshaw and contemporary applications of the technique. 

I am also fascinated by the idea of marking the skin, either via a crude form of tattooing, or perhaps pyrography. Belgian artist Wim Delvoye tattooed live pigs, which lived as artworks, and were taxidermically preserved post-mortem. Pyrographers traditionally use leather or wood as a drawing surface, upon which marks are burned using a hot metal tip (like a soldering iron). Sue Walters works with some less usual materials like paper and vegetable ivory (tagua nut) and makes remarkably high-fidelity work. I’d also like to try this technique on bone, too.

I have also begun to consider and experiment with other techniques; superfine crochet based on Irish crochet; various types of hand-worked embroidery (cross stitch, needlepoint, whitework, etc.) More on technique in the next few posts, I think.

 

Without overanalysing, I think I am drawn to these intricate, repetitive and time-consuming techniques as a way of transforming and connecting (or is it re-connecting?) with the materials. And those who know me well know also of my compulsive hand-work as an anti-anxiety activity…

I’ve been considerably frustrated by his project over the last week — the mixed responses from people have forced me to rethink my approach.

On one hand, people have been confronted by the process of the project thus far, seeing the full visceral nature of the material, but on the other hand, the feedback I’m getting from other people in the class is that it’s simply not confronting enough through materials alone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about concept and communication through making. someone once said to me that in order to communicate a concept through objects, you must peel back the layers of meaning and metaphor so that the idea is basal. So that the concept can be communicated simply. It seems obvious — viewers will layer their own meanings on to the form, you needn’t weigh it down with excess metaphor.

I began to consider the reasons behind my revulsion of the violent acts, behind the cruelty, the flesh. I thought about the time when I decided to stop eating meat, when the feelings of revulsion were at their highest.

It began in 2003. I was barely 18, in my first semester of a design degree, living at home, It was in January of this year that my home town was hit by serious bushfires. My mother and sister got caught in the path of the fire whilst trying to rescue my sister’s horse, and were seriously injured. My mother received second and third degree burns to over 30%, and my sister over 65%.

In the weeks and months following, both of them underwent multiple procedures and surgeries in an attempt to save their lives. There were kidney failures, collapsed lungs, tracheotomies, amputations, muscle grafts, skin grafts, skin and bone debridement, and multiple serious infections. Bodies deconstructed and reconstructed. Somehow, both of them made it through, and enjoy a relatively good quality of life today (in no small part due to their incredible strength, determination and depth of character).

Of course, the initial shock of learning the ill fate of a loved one is severely distressing, but nothing could have prepared me for the visceral horror I was to experience over the course of that year.

I remember in full, vivid horror my first sighting of my mother and sister, in the Intensive Care Unit. Having been airlifted to a specialist unit in Sydney, my dad and I had risen early on the Sunday-after-Black-Saturday to make the three-hour drive [in absolute silence].

In a reclusive ‘mediating room’, we were given a two-hour ‘prep’ from the head burns specialists as to the current conditions. They informed us of the present, asked about the past, and talked only about the immediate future. As if the week after that didn’t exist. They described with typical frankness what the bodily state of the patients were, in numbers and science, in probabilities and cold, hard facts. The full extent wouldn’t be clear for at least a week, but it was at present not promising.

Then, my father and I were led into the ICU.

I will never forget the smell of that place. Heavy chemical disinfectant, masked with a heady, unrealistic floral perfume. Heavily sweet ammonia, struggling to mask the saltiness of stricken bodies, of plasma and sweat and blood and protein. Like one is the antithesis of the other, and somehow they are meant to make a neutral product. There are still certain supermarkets I can’t enter because of that smell.

We were led past elderly people with the rattle of imminent death in their lungs. Past overdoses, past diabetic comas, past organ failures, heart attacks, strokes. Past people hooked up to machines, machines that breathed, pulsed, pumped. Machines that beeped and hummed and beat in a tired, stagnant rhythm. I hated that place. It was a machine. Senseless. Giving and taking life, like some absurd, impulsive god. A Deus ex Machina.

At what was almost the end of the line, I peered through an almost shut curtain, seeing a morbidly obese shape, bloated, heavy, straining under the weight of breath and machine. A swollen, amorphous shape. But when our guides stopped short of the end of the room, I knew something must have been wrong. Very wrong.

That mass of flesh, it was them. One of them. I couldn’t tell which one. Their bodies, in a state of extreme trauma, ballooned up with fluids. So much so, that the skin on their limbs and hands had to be split [through all layers] via scalpel. In this situation, no pressure bandages are applied. The skin was heavily damaged – pink and black, wet with fluids and patched up with squares of mesh dressing – white and soaked with blood and yellowing plasma.

I couldn’t tell them apart. Not immediately, anyway. It is profoundly disturbing to not recognise your own relatives. Those unconscious mechanisms we have for facial recognition hit a wall. I was overwhelmed by this intense absurdity. Simultaneous love and revulsion. The grimace on their faces – massively swollen lips pulled back in what may have been pain, terror, or sheer physical reaction – revealed their teeth. Like what dental records are to the decomposed body, the teeth were the only recognisable remnants of my mother and sister. Yellow-white teeth, still straight, regular, defiant.

I have included below images of patients with similar injuries, which will give you an impression of the physical trauma associated with severe burns – but I must warn you, they are GRAPHIC and REAL and I don’t really think you need to look at them to understand the nature of the subject.

It is impossible to empathise with someone in this state. I say impossible because the I think that if you were somehow able to comprehend being conscious in that horrific state, feeling the sensation (or lack of sensation, as is experienced with severe nerve damage associated with full-thickness burns) of a forever-changed, forever-changing state. I have felt so much guilt for being unable to comprehend that. For dissociating my concept of them from the reality of them. It has taken so long to reconcile those two things. I still have not reconciled my guilt.

So then, what becomes of the KONFRONTATION project? For me, material and process becomes a way to reconcile these memories. More on material and process in the next post.

I must also add this link to the Boston Globe website, as it houses some dramatic imagery from the recent bushfires in Victoria, Australia. The images show the cruelty and fragility of the Australian landscape and the devastating aftermath. Again, your personal discretion is advised.

KONFRONTATION, pt. 1 details the background to the project.

I have begun exploring bone and horn as possible materials for my project. 

I purchased a piece of hunting memorabilia – a trophy mount of the antlers of a Roe deer (complete with sawn-off skull fragment) – from the local fleamarket.

After a very confronting trip to the butcher, I purchased some cheap bony cuts, including sliced beef shinbone and pig feet. More confronting was having to handle the pieces themselves (having not touched meat for around six years, it is a very alien concept to me…) and extracting the usable material from the cuts.

First, the pieces are simmered for a long while in water with a bit of detergent. This helps break down the fat, marrow and remaining tissue. For me, the smell was horrendous. It was rich and heavy, and loaded with the artificial citrus of the soap didn’t help. It smelled like an old kitchen. In fact, the whole 32sqm of my flat smells like an old kitchen, despite all the windows being open, and copious amounts of air freshener. A part of me keeps telling me I shouldn’t deny myself the full extent of the experience, but my nausea dictates otherwise…

Scraping off the excess flesh and removing the marrow was also less-than-enjoyable… The marrow became this sloppy, gelatinous mass, which was to be pushed out with a brave finger. Fortunately, it revealed on one piece a stunning area of lacy, porous bone. Less than ideal for traditional carving, perhaps — but something I’d like to exploit.

After boiling away the tissues, the bones are to be sunned for at least a few days. Thitutorial on bone preparation details the rest of the process, which I am yet to complete. This succinct supply and prep list is also really helpful. Luckily, most of the tools can be found on a jeweller’s bench, and I will happily improvise where necessary.

Luckily, I also obtained a small piece of pre-prepared cattle bone to play with. It is a beautiful material, dense and chalky, with subtleties of texture and colour throughout. It polishes beautifully, too. My preference is to use a nail bufffer (the dispoable kind, usually with two emery surfaces and two buffing surfaces adhered to a cushioned board), which is what I often use on my melamine pieces, after initial emery (anything up to 600). 

The smell released from the bone from carving is also pungent (though not as much as the boiling, fortunately). It has the distinct smell of umami – the proteinous aroma present in meat, mushrooms and human semen… 

I’ve included some pictures of this intitial research below, but I should warn you in advance – it’s not so nice to look at. But then, we’re all part of the system, right?

Roe deer trophy mount, sliced

Roe deer trophy mount, sliced

Roe deer trophy mount, sliced

Roe deer trophy mount, sliced, with skull piece

Cattle shinbone, after initial boiling

Cattle shinbone, after initial boiling

Cattle shinbone, in different stages of preparation

Cattle shinbone, in different stages of preparation

Cattle shinbone, after initial boiling

Cattle shinbone, after initial boiling

Pig feet, ready for boiling

Pig feet, ready for boiling

Pig foot, ready for boiling

Pig foot, ready for boiling, knuckle intact.

Tools for working with bone

Tools for working with bone

Roe deer trophy mount, large red deer antler, cattle shinbone

Roe deer trophy mount, large red deer antler, cattle shinbone

{N.B. This post has been edited for clarity.}

“Konfrontation” is the name of one class I am taking, led by Dutch designer/maker Herman Hermsen.

The aim of the project is to create one or a series of objects (which may or may not be wearable) which in some way deal with the concept of confrontation. This could be a confrontation between viewer-and-object, viewer-and-wearer, maker-and-object, or myriad other combinations.

My response to this brief is to create a series of wearables which deals with our individual capacity for violence and the acceptance (or, for the most part, inacceptance) of this very human attribute. It is confronting and difficult for the average person to accept that they could willingly kill, physically harm or cause pain to another sentient being (be it animal or another human). However, we are faced with this prospect every day. Humans eat and use animal products; and wilfully exploit and harm one another.

So how do we deal with these ever-present threats to our composure?

For the most part, we don’t kill our own meat, skin our own hides our gut our own fish. Our animals come from factories — plastic wrapped, pre-minced, de-boned, tanned, canned, safe and inert. We are not the slaughterers, not part of the violence. Behind doors, from field to supermarket to plate. Through avoidance comes transcendence, apparently.

And likewise, when faced with the prospect of human-to-human violence, we document it with morbid curiosity — film, television, hi-res, full-colour glamour-horror — we recoil in disgust, and are compelled to disgust; to dissociate ourselves from the violence; to avoid admitting our own capacity for violence. Our humanness. So creates necessity for such spectacle. So we can constantly recoil. So we can remind ourselves of how much we are “not that”.

Enjoying our avoidance over the 6 o’clock news while eating a steak dinner.

But I cannot deny myself that I do not have this capacity. In fact, I want to embrace it. The beautiful thing about being human, having free will, is our ability to make choices. Knowledge is bliss. I am not advocating violence, by any means. Suffering is the consequence of violence, and suffering is terrible. We must remember, we all have the capacity to suffer.

The thing I am most interested in are these ‘safety mechanisms’ we have in place, in order to somehow deny our own capacity for violence.  Constructs to protect our selfhood, our identity. 

My intent is not to create an overtly political or evangelical statement, but rather an enlightening one. I want to create beautiful objects with the remnants of violence. To explore the tension between self-identity, beauty and violence. I strongly feel that the statement is far more powerful if the audience draws conclusion of their own accord, rather than being smacked in the face with it. The last thing contemporary art needs is another misanthrope.

More importantly, I will confront myself within the process of making these works. Having been a vegan for five years (which I am no longer; as of December 2007 I have been a vegetarian) I have begun to accept the nature of human experience and my own capacity for violence, my own “humanness”. So I am willingly partaking in the cycle, buying animal parts, preparing and using these materials, these remnants of violence.

Now, onto the background research:

OurDailyBread1 OurDailyBread3 OurDailyBread2 OurDailyBread4

The film Unser Täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread) demonstrates the concept I want to explore. It is an un-narrated documentary constructed solely out of footage from inside food-production factories, in the form of a series of rhythmic, composed vignettes. There is no overt political, moralistic or evangelistic overtones, rather the hypnotic effect of repetitive production lines is what is so compelling.

The next instalment will document practical research – materials, techniques and aesthetics.

{N.B. this post has been edited for clarity.}

Next: KONFRONTATION, pt. 2

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