Friday, September 29, 2006

MajicCatsMini - Flying Star Toys

I've been so busy making toys for the State Library of Queensland these last 7 months that I've hardly had time for anything else! But I've managed to squeeze a few hours of designing in from time to time, and as usual continue my obscure studies.

Among my studies is the study of folk magic and the traditions of amulet making. This is not a new interest for me in fact I was mixing exotic perfumes and studying the zodiac since I was barely a teenager. While I crammed for chemistry I read religiously the way of the Wicca and at University while the aspects of Keynes where discussed my mind was also turning over the interpretations of the Kabbalah. I've always been interested in considering all sides to this big wide world not just the familiar ones. Curiosity, artistry, spirituality and a scientific-like process all pull me towards not just study but investigation. To do and to know, not just to think.

As I've been an embroiderer for most of my life I love fabrics and threads. Over time a great sensitivity to textures and sheens and fibres develops. One's fingers twist each thread differently and the needle is worked with the prowess of the conductor's baton. I love embroidery not just as an end product but also as a process - quiet, concentrated discipline that secures between its threads the heart. Fascinated, my studies have brought me to learn of the roots of embroidery as amulet. Designs and colours and subjects where all worked for the purpose of protection: decorative aprons around the waist where not to keep the dirt off but to magically protect the belly; an embroidered towel by the stove was to protect the fireplace. Anywhere or anything that people felt was venerable to the evil eye was in some way guarded by a magical devise. Once you become aware of it you can still see aspects of it today, and the world becomes a magical place indeed.

With a dual interest in folk stories, I'm drawn to discover the active imaginative link to our subconscious life. The type of art I'm developing seeks to recover this knowledge and then apply it, to satisfy our deep human need for beauty, love, belonging and security. I've found that these objects work because they are so rooted into human history that they function upon us and our environment just as colours can promote certain feeling like blue for calm, red for passion. This is the magic of objects: that their presence effect us.

MajicCatsMini's are black cats embroidered with Japanese untwisted art-silk, banded with protective cross stitch in red, blue and green and joyful life-giving flowers and vines. Their reflective button eyes stare out to confront those with harmful thoughts. Their colour acts as a warning for only friendly people and spirits to approach. The cloth I've chosen for the front is a course woven cotton to invoke its ancient roots and while the penne velvet back in electric colours balances with our modern environment and comes in five variations of red, green, blue, yellow and purple. These hand-embroidered cats stand 13cm high and are weighted with steel shot. MajicCatsMini are guardian protectors and are a part of my Flying Star Toys collection.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Planet of Visions - Life After Theory

Having come through the Humanities of the 90s I have spent a great deal of my time caught in the complexity of Theory: from Faucault to Freud, from Nietzsche to Kierkegaard, from Socrates to Social Darwinism, from Keynesian Economics to Milton Friedman's Economic rationalism, and from the Italian Renaissance Neo Platonism to Post Colonial Surrealism, and so on. Like Narcissus, I have been trapped at the waters edge of Theory gazing into the lines and crevices, to see a picture of the landscape of the human mind and history, unable to pull away from the beautiful puzzle. Narcissus, it should be remembered, starved to death and there in lies the reason for the stories endurance - it is a warning.

Philosophy is intergal to the life of human society whether we aware of it or not. They are the visions in which we live. The theories of the 20th century have extended the ability to scrutinize ourselves, our past, our modes of thinking and to see the stratus of convention that make up a civilization. Analysis though does not alter the conditions of society nor do they quell the individual's internal needs and feelings. As was written above the Temple at Delphi, to Know Thyself means not only to recognize the relative state of things but to understand ones position within the current state and the value you bring to that position. These are the most difficult for the journeyman on the path of knowledge because the answers will come only from crossing outside of theory into the path of power and responsibility (to cross from the University to the Senate as it were). These are the parts that contain the truth as it is to oneself - Narcissus must turn away from his refection to regain his body and his face so that he might live.

Theory's trap is to keep one in a state of reflection - to see the myriad of choices, but to stun the motivation to choose. This is a normal function, that is what rational thinking is for, it acts as a pause - a look before you leap. Unfortunately, once the enormous scope of choice and consideration is opened up to the mind, resolve is paused almost indefinitely as one's mind filters through every possibility for the "correct answer" to guide action. The correct answer will never come as reality in this sense is infinitely relative. But we are not only rational, and this should not be forgotten. Of equal importance are the other three Zoas; who are passion, sensation and instinct. They each play a living part in our lives and will us to act with or without reason. Truth as it is to oneself is found here. It is only via the expressions of true feeling in ones actions that one can really live in the world. In effect, it is to choose and to act bravely upon those choices - be them flawed or no.

If theory gives us anything it gives us the knowledge that in the world, vision competes with vision and the vision that holds influence is the one we give into. Civic duty is the participation in creating and supporting one's vision of the world, to advocate among your peers and in the everyday interaction. As human beings we are filled with visions many of them poor sketches of the brilliant bowls of human existence, we need not let them overpower us. Knowledge's gift is to bring colour, clarity and contour to vision to paint it in rich hues that enliven the spirit. Artists need not be philosophers, nor need they create art that is merely the mirror reflecting theory's face. They can feel free to create there own visions and we, the audience, may feel free to be convinced or to object. Let only that we stand proud and respect ourselves enough to speak our minds.


This post has been written in response to Larry Buttrose's essay "Reality's Triumph Over the Relative" from The Sydney Morning Herald September 16-17 2006 (not able to be linked) and to the post by Adam "Back to Reality, Again" from the University of Sydney's Thinking Culture blog. This is a slice of my thoughts as they are when considering the nature of Theory and the Arts. A small slice.

The two images are by Hundertwasser (one of my favourite artists). The first is Landscape with Violet Sun, Paris, 1956, mixed media, 51 x 25 cm. The second is Irinaland Over the Balkans, Rome, November 1969, mixed media, 36.5 x 51 cm. (forgive the book spine image) These pictures are from the book

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Papercuts of the World - Folkart

I have a fascination with folkart, perhaps because the best of it contains just enough perfection and just enough humanity.

Let me show you some beautiful examples of the folkart of papercutting. Papercutting originated in China (paper was invented in China). Instances of papercutting in China can be traced to the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (A.D. 386-581). Later, in the T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906) references to papercuts can found in a poem by the poet Ts'ui Tao-yung. Other sources from this period describe papercuts being worn as hair ornaments by ladies in form of flowers and butterflies.

Above is an example of a Chinese paper cut using red paper. Chinese papercuts can also be white paper that has been coloured with ink to create full colour effects. This image is from wikipedia's Chinese papercut page which has lots of good information about the Chinese paper cutting tradition.

Japan uses the art of papercutting not as festive decoration but as a method used in dying fabric. These papercuts are often extremely elaborate and the pieces are reinforced with hair or thread fine enough not to be seen once the printing has occurred. The picture below has been decorated using this method known as Bingata; these colourful cloths originated in the warmer climate of Okinawa in the 14th century.

These pictures have come from the books: Japanese Floral Stencil Designs and Dyeing Originated in Okinawa: Bingata (Japanese Designs and patterns, Mitsumura Suiko Shoin, ISBN 483810104x.

Scherenschnitte (pronounced shear-n-SNIT- a) is the Swiss name for papercutting and they have a rich tradition of their own. While mainly know for its black paper silhouette many fine examples of Swiss scherenschnitte exists that use coloured papers in layers as well. Above is a heavily worked piece capturing aspects of village life and symbols of love by Johann-Jakob Hauswirth (1808-1871). The image above comes from the book: Paper Cuts by Jakob Hauswirth and Louis-David Saugy, Charles Apotheloz, Thames and Hudson, 1980 ISBN 0500271704.

Polish paper cutting is called wycinanki (pronounced vee-chee-non-kee) and has two types: the bold, black symmetrical style called Kurpie (coor-pye) originating in the Kurpie district of Poland; and the layered paper style that features animals and people from the Lowicz (wo-vitz) district which is shown above. For a quick look at some more examples of Lowicz papercut designs click here, and for a neat little article on the history of Wycinanki: Then and Now from University at Buffalo State University of New York is quite good. The image above comes from the book: Traditional Papercutting: The Art of Scherenschnitte

The distinctive designs of Hawaiian quilts (example above) are based upon papercuts of the lush sub-tropical Hawaiian flora. This quilt was designed by Kathy Nakajima and was appliqued and quilted by Studio K , 2000 (dimensions 109" x 84"). I loved the way Kathy Nakajima describes her inspiration for the quilt:

"The Queen Emma Summer Palace is my favourite place to visit when I'm one the island of O'ahu. Near the entrance, I always see Hawaiian flowers blossoming in a vase. From the windows comes the cool, soothing wind that always takes me, momentarily, to another world. The colours of this quilt are the colours of the wind at the palace. And the pattern is the flowers that are blossoming in the vase."

The applique technique using papercuts for designing can also be seen in the American Baltimore quilt style. The quilt and quotation above comes from the book: Hawaiian Quilts: Tradition and Transition, Reiko Mochinaga Brandon and Loretta G. H. Woodard, University of Hawaii Press, 2005, ISBN 082482928x, page 125.

Papercutting was recently taken up by some British artists; this website of Mister Rob Ryan was passed along to me by Rebecca the Wrecker. Above is an example of his very fine work called "Rise Above It", 2004.

This is hardly a comprehesive look at papercuts but if I do find some good images of the Mexican Papeles Picado and white lace-cutwork I'll do Papercuts of The World - Part 2.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Divine Comedy

In 1997 I decided to read the Dante's The Divine Comedy . I studied it with three different versions of the translation: one was poetic, another a simple translation and the third had huge discussion and annotated sections. Was this part of some course I was studying? No, as usual I had taken it upon myself to study something other than what I was supposed to be working on. While working on it I thought it would be a good idea if I could recite some by heart. The first Canto of The Inferno was committed to memory via the method of pacing back and forth in my tiny "Ivory Tower" aka bedsit reciting aloud until I had it word perfect. If the people in the opposite tower where to have looked in and saw my pacing they would have thought I had a good reason to be living in government housing (albeit a very pleasant Canberra one with views of the War Memorial Dome and Captain Cook's Fountain in the distance over the leafy trees.)

To further the impression of it upon my brain I continued to recite the first Canto under my breath as I walked to Uni, this was about 35 minutes away at super walk speed and offer plenty of time for practice. This too must have looked a bit strange, if any one could have focused on me as I whooshed past in my black Bolivian hat, a concentrated stare on my face, with lips whispering in some arcane language. At any rate I was too busy to gawk at any potential gawkers.

For all that effort I recited the first Canto only twice before another person. One of those times, however, it was shared with some kangaroos. My friend and I while on pilgrimage up Mount Ainslie, had chosen our picnic spot by a wattle grove on the hillside, it turned out that the same spot was also the secret Kanga Klan's resting spot and the kangaroos that bounded in from all over the mountain stopped with some surprise to see us, uninvited guests, plonked down not some feet away from their pregnant females. I had been so caught up in the drama of the poem that I hadn't noticed all this and when finished my friend whispered with almost fear in his voice, "We have company". Four or five giant male grey kangaroos where standing bolt upright in a ring around us, for all appearances an interested audience. Never-the-less, once the performance was over I thought it might be best if we acted like well mannered guests and departed before we had out stayed our welcome...needless to say there was no encores.

I recently treated myself with a visit to Archive Fine books in Brisbane city. I love it there, walk in the door and suddenly you've left the consumer glitz and entered the quite sanctuary of old and rare books. What popped off the shelf in the first few minutes was two wonderful William Blake books - one of them William Blake's Watercolours of The Divine Comedy. The picture above is his version of The Stygian Lake with the Angry Sinners Fighting (Canto 7, The Inferno) is from the book I bought. Since William Blake is my favourite poet and artist this book is a real treasure for me. It's a beautiful folio size book with very good quality prints. There's not a lot of writing about it but this is mainly a picture book anyway, which doesn't bother me one bit.

I also got my current copy of The Divine Comedy from Archive Books some years back. I wanted the translation that had been the focus of my earlier devotion, which is by the Reverend Henry Francis Cary. My edition is very old, you can feel the typeface imprinted on the page and the pages are unevenly cut, there's and inscription on the inside dated Easter 1928 and it evidently belonged to a school at some point.

While I'm no longer word perfect on my recitation of Dante's Divine Comedy I'll leave you with a small slice of the Cary translation:

In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell,
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet, to discourse of what there good befel,
All else will I relate discover'd there.