Monday, January 14, 2019

New Poem Art Quilt: Everything Is Temporary

Cloth and words are linked. Text is "a written account" and it also comes from "to fabricate." Both "text" and "textile" come from the Latin root, texere. To weave. Words, threads, fabric. It's interesting that we use the word "threads" for lines of conversation, but we don't say we are wearing a poem.

More and more I've been taking past fabric experiments and laying them out on the table to see what kind of conversation they will have. My little quilt, "Conversation" was one of these. The latest gathering was a combination of fabrics I created in response to African cloth I saw at The Met in April 2018 and a poem I had published online in Eunoia Review: "Everything Is Temporary."

So I had this.
A technique based on sewn, resist-dyed cloth from Senegal or Cape Verde.

And my March 2018 experiment with accordion folding cloth and clamping it between quarters before dying.

And several pieces I stenciled with metallic paint onto black that were inspired by a resist-dyed cloth from Cameroon.

Which came together with a variety of Japanese sashiko patterns to make this.

Working on this quilt I became aware of scale and pattern and how varying both adds dimension. Larger patterns come forward, smaller ones recede. Did I want a heavier looking stitch or a lighter one? How many strands of embroidery floss would look best? Should it be the thicker sashiko thread? A curvy or geometric stitch?

Various languages merge for me here.
Text and textile.
 Interweaving, crossing cultures, dancing together.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book exhibited at SFCB

The current exhibition at San Francisco Center for the Book looks at the influence of Freud and his inspiration for several artists' books. Titled, Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book this traveling show was organized by Susanne Padberg, the proprietor of Druck & Buch in Vienna. (Translated from the German to English here.)

Vienna-based Freud has fallen out of favor, most notably due to his male-centric theories. But papermaker and book artist Robbin Ami Silverberg took those words from out of his mouth and onto the wall in her installation, created in 2012, Freud's Wallpaper, which repeats his bafflement at the female sex, considering her, "a problem." Silverberg has literary punched holes in Freud's argument. Alongside the cutout paper pulp writing, which creates a delicate, lacy pattern, she adds pillars of "misogynist proverbs," printed in tiny, harsh, san serif type.

Biography, created in 2010 by Sarah Bryant, seeks to connect our bodies and our use of materials to the outside world through the elements found on the periodic table. She has presented a pleasing and spare design to examine natural versus humanmade objects. 

This page opening lists on one side: sunscreen/nerve agents/gunpowder/rudimentary knives/shampoo/surgical tools/antibiotics/antihistamines/poison gas/disinfectant/incendiary bombs/stain/antacid/stink bombs/dirty bombs

And on the other: artillery/rocket propellant/antidepressants/improvised explosive devices/lethal injections/plaster/anesthetics/laxatives/deodorant/mustard gas/chemotherapy/smoke bombs/guns/painkillers/bullets 

These list poems rely on the juxtaposition of the words to paint a picture in the viewer/reader's mind. We get to free associate (a Freudian term) and gain access to our unconscious without censorship.  For example, with "painkillers" near the end of the list, the word within a word "killers" becomes charged. And "bullets" might also remind one of "silver bullets" or miraculous cures.

Maureen Cummings's visually appealing 2008 book, Anatomy of Insanity, made me laugh out loud, due to the typographic and colorful overlays on the illustrations. But the content is serious.

The wall text explains that it: "explores gendered beliefs about insanity that flourished in the 19th century." The book was inspired by the patients' records from the archives of McLean Hospital, "one of the first and most progressive mental hospitals built in the United States" in 1818. In the pages of handwritten documents, which you can imagine on clipboards, males seemed to have more complex diagnoses, and women's troubles seemed to stem from the simple fact that they were women.

Perhaps included for its obsessive process, dated from 1999, the 2010 book, Orphan, by Sam Winston, was the book that drew me in the fastest. The painstaking work, the organized collage format, and the transparent paper, all work together beautifully. For me, my take away is that language is slippery, having different meanings at different times and in different situations. But I haven't read the complete text.

Each of the globes (or rounded shapes) contains one word, repeated multiple times, and cut out and taken from many sources. According to the wall text: "Winston has collated scraps of paper, diary notes, and typed word documents all pertaining to the idea of the inexpressible."

Even better, Winston reads the story and shows it at the link. It's better if he reads it to you, so I won't recap.

There are many more books in the show. These were the ones that caught my eye. The show is up through January 20, 2019. SFCB is the last host after The Center for Book Arts in NYC and Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.

Freud's theories are woven into our culture. We still talk about the Id, the Ego, the Superego, and the Oedipus complex, among other Freudian concepts. But as we examine gender in a different light, many of his ideas aren't relevant to contemporary life. This exhibit does not necessarily embrace Freud, but it looks to push back and use him to open up questions and to spark further discussion.

Unrelated to Freud, back in the bindery, I found three of the four prints from 2018's Roadworks event hung all in a row. Patricia Wakida's, mine, and Rik Olson's.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Fabric Marbling with Pietro Accardi

I started the new year by being a student in a fabric marbling workshop with Pietro Accardi at San Francisco Center for the Book this past Sunday. I don't take many classes, and this was a treat. The hours of the class were 9:30am to 5:30pm, and within that time frame we introduced ourselves, watched Pietro demonstrate three different patterns, and worked individually to create twelve designs of our own, and with his expert guidance.

Specially formulated acrylic-based paints are used for this process, which he buys from Prochemical and Dye.

Fabric marbling has several steps, the first of which he kindly and generously front-loaded for us: the scouring of the fabric and the application of an alum/water mixture sponged on one side. Each of us were given twelve, pre-cut, pre-treated pieces of fabric: six of a lesser quality cotton, six of his preferred fabric, Pimatex cotton (available from Dharma Trading Co.). To start, all we had to do was cut off any loose threads.

And prepare the bath. Powdered carageenan (seaweed, a thickener) is whisked into a tray of water and let sit for about two hours. Pietro says most people mix it in a blender and let it sit overnight, but he likes to do it by hand, making it almost spiritual. While we whisked the powder in, a little at a time, the Center had some soothing music playing.

I only thought to take photos once he had begun. Here was the first pattern, and Pietro is laying a sheet on the water.

Pulling it up. (He also put down and pulled up strips of paper to remove excess ink around the edges).

Squeegeeing the excess water/carageenan mixture against one of the wrungs of the drying rack.

In between, he whisked the bath, fanned the bubbles out with a piece of cardboard, and skimmed the water with newsprint.

Then, on to a new pattern.

He used a wide variety of combing tools that he had made from wood, nails, and pins, as well as a pipette, which he also used to apply the paint. As he used the tools he said he was "stretching" the paint.

Pietro's three different patterns (L to R): the palm, the bouquet or peacock, and the tornado.

With my first piece, I played with a variety of tools and approaches, to a messy end. I decided I needed to master something first, before I made up my own way. 

So, I kept practicing the chevron pattern, which is a basis for many other, if not most, patterns. The printmaker in me wanted to get it right, and I liked how it looked like feathers. At one point, Pietro called it "the Alisa pattern" because I had made so many. My classmates were trying all kinds of things and doing some fantastic experiments. After being startled at the bright blue, I stuck to the same palette of the shaded blue, red, yellow so I could possibly use the unified palette in one project. This was my batch. The first six were on the inferior cotton cloth. The two on the left were my made-up attempts.

The second round was on the Pimatex. I also started using more paint.

After they are dry, you iron them, then you can back them and use them to cover books or boxes, or in a sewing project, which I am likely to do. A few of my favorite full-sheet patterns.

I liked watching Pietro teach. He would come over and look deeply at whatever a student was doing, then make a tiny suggestion. He knew instinctively what pattern would work with however the ink was laid out in the water, and what to suggest. When I complained that one pattern was too dark, he suggested adding white to it to open it up. When I sighed that one of my patterns was too white, he showed me a technique for sprinkling the white next time like more of a mist. When I asked how to do a particular pattern, he gently steered me to something better for the base I had prepared.

By the end of the day, some of the alum from the treated cloth got released into the water and disrupted the patterns a little (you can see it in the middle photo of the three, above). It happened to many of us, and Pietro said that aside from trying to clean the top, remaking the bath is the only thing you can do to get rid of it.

I was satisfied with the process and progress. I found out that one can't do armchair marbling. While it helps to have other kinds of experience, it isn't enough. To make something nice, one must have good materials in hand, and one must practice. There were several patterns I didn't get to do, but there is sometimes a "Marbling Lab" scheduled, so I may need to go back. 

A very beautiful book he had out was The Art of Marbled Paper: Marbled Patterns and How to Make Them by Einen Miura. I was told it was in the Center's library.

You can see more of Pietro Accardi's work at his website:
Looks like he is teaching Intro to Western Paper Marbling at SFCB on Saturday, April 27. I highly recommend it! He is a master of the craft and a fine teacher.