Sunday, 19 November 2017

Budget tally

Of course I welcome the possibility of a tax on single use plastic in the forthcoming budget; and while for this budget the term 'single use' includes "packaging, bubble wrap, and polystyrene takeaway boxes", it does not include plastic drinks bottles which may be subject to a 'return and reward scheme'. Hooray.

On my beach clean this morning I thought I'd list everything I found that could be considered 'single use' (I was out for approx half an hour and covered a strip 10m max):
35 plastic drink bottles, various sizes
4 q-tip shafts
1 burst helium balloon with ribbon
3 seedling plant pots
1 earplug
1 bucket
1 Tampon applicator
1 gun cartridge casing
1 two-litre screenwash container
1 cleaning spray container
4 drinking straws
length of meshed strapping
toy bucket handle
toy spade
3 spray cans
5 drink cans
2 food tubs without lids
6 hot drink cups
countless fragments of plastic sacking
countless polystrene balls
a zillion teeny bits of takeaway food containers
3 chunks of polystrene packaging (all larger than 10cm square)

This amounted to four large shopping bag loads. Most of which is now destined for the local landfill, where it at least won't be eaten by sea-creatures but is unlikely to remain inert.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Introducing the Octobook

Several weeks before Blue Planet II hit our screens the Octobook was gestating. A very different beast from my previous artistbooks it plays between physical, image and text equally, celebrating that most extraordinary of creatures, the octopus, or perhaps, rather than celebrating it, the book might be said to be envying or maybe even emulating it.

A how-to guide, a pocket survival manual for the curious and creatively adventurous among us, this beauty is the result, I'm sure, of spending most weeks this year playing (aka sewing, gluing, folding and dithering over colour coordination) under the expert tutorage of Sylvia Waltering (of Battenburg Press ). Not that we made an octobook in class, but having to think about how to make our best book from each design, how to nip and pinch out the cloth, to sew and fold and fold again and just what were we going to do with all these books we've made, the ones we didn't quite make and the ones we've yet to make, we slowly learnt how to, in short, make a book for any occasion.

I fell in awe of the octopus earlier this year when on a Marine Conservation Society organised rock pool safari we witnessed a lard white octopus caught in a net instantly transform to scarlet when it was freed and hit the water. I mean instantly. Split second white to red. I couldn't have blinked faster. Still confused it first swam away from the shore and then curved back towards us before finally diving under, all the while it seemed to be eyeballing me. I was held captivated by its black stare. 

A month or so later I heard China Mieville enthuse about their physical intelligence at Sounding the Sea as part of Hull's City of Culture, then dipped in and out of reading bits and bobs online, and just the other week I read Peter Godfrey Smith's Other Minds that explores cephalopod intelligence, the connection between their evolution and ours and their canny behaviour. 

Underpinning all this has been my thinking about how we might expand our sense of subjectivity beyond our limited egotistical concerns, so learning to converse with, or relate to, a wider world; how we might experience our embodiment differently to remember what our species is in relation to other species, how we might recalibrate our sense of exceptionalism by drawing our physical, mental and emotional understandings in and out of each experience, so we can recognise our power and vulnerability, our coming into ourselves as we reach beyond ourselves, as we lose the rigid sense of ourself.

And of course all that sounds ridiculously self-important and grandiose, so, much better to disguise it, as an octopus would, as something else... a book

You can buy one from this page of my website

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Fking Up

For the past couple of weeks we've been working towards a hardback book, collating things to photocopy onto various pages and then stitching them into signatures adding a spine, covers and fretting about uniformity. Except of course these aren't about being neat and regular. The pages are a mix of blank white paper and coloured textured papers and images of our things. The writing space I am used to is disrupted by stuff that I may be inspired by, irritated by, write around or have to skip over. When Sylvie first introduced the idea I was surprised at how unsettled I was by it. The space I was used to entering was already inhabited and I was going to have to negotiate it. This says plenty about me without having to go further. And enough for me to take the finished book in both hands, excited as to how I'm going to write in it, what I will write in it, in response to or against that which is already there.

I've been writing recently about the control I assume when writing, a similar control to what I inhabit when sailing: if not control perhaps then a calm resilience to face whatever, move through it or accept I cannot take the boat out that day. As part of this piece of writing I tried to write out all the expressions I use in speech (aka shout) with the word 'fuck', and then to string them into one sentence. I can trace this desire back to reading Joshua Clover's and Juliana Spahr's #Misanthropocene. Mine hasn't worked out like theirs (obviously), but I like it as a first dipping in of a toe to the waters of angry. There's plenty to be angry about, and plenty of reasons to channel that anger into articulate writing that still reverberates with the anger to the point that its tension holds the words together while threatening to overspill. Tripping myself up within the confines of a homemade hardbacked journal that will suddenly present something I was not writing about seems like a good place to continue the experiment.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

an immense or boundless expanse of something

..according to the OED, also "(hyperbolically): a very great or indefinite quantity". And, look, all those vowels too. Vowels are how we personalise a word. We pronounce consonants similarly, but vowels, in any language I suspect, are open to how our breath passes through us. 

We were playing with letterpress last night at Hot Bed Press, with the inspiring Elizabeth Willow. There was a choice of four large wooden sorts - limited by the letters available and which each of us wanted to use for our particular words. So, I make a word that is of "indefinite quantity" out of a restriction. And in this image it is the word that has substance in the white, although due to my inexpertise, its substance is feint, thinning, patchy.  

It is a word so huge, in a picture so apparently empty I am lost for more words for this blog. All this feels so contradictory, shunting against my skin somehow. And quietly. It is all so quiet - in me and on the paper here. How can that be when it is so enormous? So full? I do not know if this is foreboding or calm. Just as the letters could be rising or sinking.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Fold upon fold upon fold

As part of Lancaster Words Festival, artist Sally Slade Payne and myself ran a writing and book-making workshop on plankton for 7-10 year olds (and their adult). It's been a while since I've worked with that age group and I'd forgotten just how much fun and zeal there is to be had. Everyone pitched in with gusto: from the simple introductory facts I had about plant and animal plankton, to the relish of creating a new vocabulary for them. We worked as a group to generate ideas and information (there were a few experts on plankton and the sea in the group), and individually to begin to write from the plankton perspective before thinking about how to visually represent them in either a concertina book or a hanging one. Both books had layers in, to convey the ecology of the sea.

What I was most thrilled about was the interest in this amazing plants and creatures, how this microscopic ecology caught everyone's imagination to the extent they created these most amazing books. With luck and some organisation, this will be the first of many plankton inspired workshops...

all pics copyright Sally Payne.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

What the real prize is

It was my last class last night before the summer break begins: two months of thinking about the books and bindings I've stitched and glued and what I might use them for. With a stonkingly stimulating class a week many of us felt there hasn't been the time to think how we might put to use what we're learning ... although learning manifests in odd ways. Just going to the weekly class I've been thinking about my new writing in terms of three dimensional shape and form, how it occupies space and will be carried into a new place. Folds and territory are plentiful in my thinking.

The piece I mentioned in my last post has been bedding in - on the paper, in my imagination, and elsewhere - to the point I made a simple origami whale to hold some of the lines from the poem. I spent one afternoon of great obsessional fun deciding on the right whale (as it were) shape - the more complex origami whales weren't so suitable for printing text on - and then faddling about with layout of the text. And whenever I thought, I really ought to stop and get on with some work, I remembered this was work.

It's only the last class for me because I've been short-listed for the Ivan Juritz prize and there is a party in London next Tuesday night to announce winners and for everyone to meet the judges and each other and hopefully have a jolly nice time feeling experimental and creative. I have an ambiguous relationship to competitions - notwithstanding the cost of entering them (although this was free) I feel uneasy about setting ourselves up in competition with each other. I'm not sure it is necessary in life - I prefer a more cooperative style of considering ourselves in context and amongst each other. Each of us feed and bounce off the work already made/written. Ideally (or idealistically, you decide) we are each producers in the creative chain that stretches in four dimensions (including the apparently invisible), without any of one of us another link might not be made.

And how can we compare such different things as individual artwork? However prizes are great ways of creating interest in what is being written or made. Because people have engaged with my work who may not have already come across it I already feel a winner. Since being long-listed I've felt a surge of confidence in my work that I've not really experienced before - in that I trust what I want to write or make, I trust that someone else out there might enjoy stumbling upon it, I trust that those ideas that just pop into your head and I say Oooh yay! to are actually worth exploring because they might just turn into something that works. I think most importantly, the channel for those ideas has been greased by this and I'm hearing more and more of them. What more of a prize is there than that?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

seeing the sea

These are my first ever two-colour lino cuts. My first - last week's single colour - of a minke whale - did not work well enough to share beyond the workshop, so this week I decided to move to the other end of the oceanic spectrum: phytoplankton. A few drops of seawater contains about a million bacteria and about 10 million viruses naturally, swarming and multiplying. And while my registration is not as accurate as it might be, I am rather pleased with these six editions. I don't know what I'll use them for, if anything, but will content myself with being pleased for the meanwhile. It is a rare sensation.

From these two weeks I'm interested in how slipping into the microscopic realm, attempting to represent what I've not seen, has proved itself easier to convey than the huge. Although I've not seen a minke whale in its entirety I was lucky enough to see the fin of one off the Northumberland coast a few years back, Yet what I produced via lino was, I think, too insubstantial to convey the wonder, the fluidity and musculature of the creature and my emotional experience of it. The unseen frees me from the shackles of subjectivity, to explore patterning and abstraction that then is released to become something other than my intention. How many of you recognised these as phytoplankton, after all? And it doesn't matter that you didn't -- that they don't really look like anything that actually exists -- they have a new sense of becoming -- snowflake -- crystal -- doodle -- wheel hub -- it doesn't matter now, beyond their cohesion within the frame they're in.

This is interesting to me given my current writing project: which is notes towards a stranding, working off some fictions I wrote a couple of years ago, auto-writing, "facts" and other - as yet unknown - stuff. It seems to me the only way to approach stringing these thoughts and experiences together is through a kind of abstracted patterning, maybe also to fuck up the registration so the layers do not lie neatly in sync with each other but create a tremor, a blurring, or, as was suggested in class this week, a three dimensional effect. So I think this means writing tons, mashing it up, writing more, cutting away and seeing what is left.

I feel a renewed sense of confidence for my anti-methodological approach to my work since being shortlisted for the Ivan Juritz prize. I wasn't expecting this at all. I was happy enough to have made an interesting piece of work to submit to it in the first place. And now it's sitting alongside all this other amazing work. 

This confidence means I'm prepared to work on / muck about with / write / read / walk / linocut / faff and ignore these ideas, accepting that much of what I'm doing just doesn't work, get excited by small moments of illumination, and keep on at it because I trust this compulsion that is interested in how these things do connect: a compulsion that has brought me back to thinking and wondering about them again and again, that probably won't leave me until I'm vaguely satisfied that I've got them out -- in a form that something in its own right -- distinct from me -- with a pulse of its own --

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Screenprinting the ocean

I laid out the poem a fortnight ago for it to be set into a screen prior to last night's class, so I was already at one remove from it. It's a poem I wrote at the Manchester Art Gallery last year, in response to a drawing by Hondartza Fraga. We were to make several prints of it, in the first hour of the class, so picking colours of paper and then mixing up ink was a speedy affair, overshadowed by the enormous frame we were to work with. With no previous experience of screenprinting there seemed a lot of potential fuckup points to it. Throughout the hour I was focusing on the paint: flooding it, drawing it back; the frame: propping it, setting it; the angle of pull: tippie toes, forty five degrees, pressure. It was me and this large levering machine, which felt as far it might get from writing a poem.

Then the covers: more colour choices, more folding, cutting gluing, tucking, wiping. The poem was lost to my consciousness, hidden away inside quick decisions, physical activity and the desire to get it right. So when I came to open the completed book and read it, I was strangely moved, in a way I've not experienced with a piece of my work before. It was familiar but unknown; mine but also somebody else's (I hadn't chosen the design, after all). I opened the booklet awkwardly, struggled to find the start of the poem, read it slowly, unsure of how clear the ink was on the paper in the folds, and closed the book with the sense of the poem in my hands, the poem had become the thing it was describing, the thing I was holding. It was both an embodied and disembodied experience. Unsettling, sad. It was the poem. The poem had enveloped me. I feel that means it's active, sparking. I think I'm pleased.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Mermaids and other consciousness

This is a trace monoprint. Before yesterday I didn't know such things existed. We were introduced to it at the Hot Bed Press class as a simple way of making edition images. I was skeptical, I'm not an image maker and because of the process any text would have be written backwards. Now I love backwards text. I used to relish reading it (I still enjoy reading text upside down) but writing it backwards gives it a naivety I'm not sure appeals.

So I went with a simple mermaid. Simple? Well, yes the process is remarkably simple, a skim of pain on glass that is etched in reverse onto a piece of paper. Strangely absorbing. But the mermaid bit? I'm not so sure. I've been reading about posthumanism, expanded subjectivities and interspecies entanglement and am very taken by it as a way of writing a positive view on the crisis that is our world, a step towards a positive futuring perhaps, that decentralises the human while not dismissing ourselves, especially as fundamental to the current situation. So these past couple of weeks I've been reading Donna Haraway, this, Rosi Braidotti and Anna Tsing and finding my thinking charged.

Until I ran into the question of consciousness, and what exactly it is. I understand the mythological usefulness of creatures like mermaids, but to explore and step inside the consciousness of a fish, as a human, requires another degree of engagement. How do I shed enough of my own perspective to engage honestly with the perspective, concerns and physicality of creatures that breath oxygen through water, live in the near dark and move according to celestial bearings, chemical clues and, the totally alien to me, drifting with currents (as most larvae do). And do not speak. I love Les Murray's 'Translations from the Natural World', I think in it he manages to deconstruct language authentically to convey the consciousness of the animal, but how does this work if I wish to acknowledge the human speaker? If I wish to explore the potential relationship and dynamic between the two? If I want to acknowledge the human presence (and destructive capacity) alongside the animal. How do two consciousnesses interact? Where is that venn diagram? Where do the two awarenesses intersect and separate? How do the bodies know - on a chemical or physiological level - of the other?

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

On testing what I don't know

This is phase one of an artistbook of a diatom chain. I'm not sure how it'll develop, beyond the folds and spots. I have a poem I could put in it, but have yet to establish how it’ll spread across the folds and if it is the right poem. I have a week to decide. As it represents a colony it seems appropriate to let my thinking grow incrementally, visually. 

I currently believe it’s also the starting point of a workshop I'm hoping to deliver with a group of 7-10 year olds in July on plankton, writing about plankton and making a simple concertina to contain the writing and any images.

It is the first time I've made a booklet before knowing what to put in it. I’m taking the year long artistbook making course at Hot Bed Press (thanks to the AHRC) and last night was the first in a two-parter on concertinas. I was immediately attracted to incorporating pop ups (those little corner folds that contain the green dots). I loved pop up books as a kid, how they extended the reach of the book, often asking for some interactivity; and while the geometric delight of these triangles aren’t in the same realm of tugging paper slips and revealing new words they do break the rectangular shape, add another layer of repetition and throw shadows on the card. The concertina is already three dimensional in its structure, the zig zag folds of the concertina and this will have two separate hard backed covers so the booklet will remain expandable as seen above. So to add the folded pop outs in the top and bottom corners creates addition to this depth, a representation of some of the beautiful patterns found in these microscopic algae.

Punching holes into the card may convey the silica, its lightness, transparency somehow. Someone in class last night had used their awl to pinprick tiny holes in patterns which gave me the idea of writing the entire poem in holes. Gulp. This would require neat writing, precision and the acceptance that you’ll only be able to read it from one side. Test required.

Question: how important is it that the two sides are mirrors of each other?

Another test: cutting thin strips diagonally to the folds. More light, more clashing lines, more shadows.

Another test: using ring binder strengtheners. More geometry, more texture, more layers of white.

Question: How much colour do I want for these creatures?

Since only have the one concertina to experiment on I feel limited in the explorations of adding text. There are two consequences to this: I don’t use text, I become entranced with the blankness; or I become bold, step outside how I’ve treated text previously, cut it from another block of text – interesting if I could find text on sunshine or photosynthesis. Perhaps I’m thinking back to the Humument here …

Question: How important is the threat of plastic to this colony?

Another test: Stamping ink circles from the end of Q-tips found on the beach.

Question: could these be random or in syncopated patterns?

Questions and tests stretch ahead, which need to be punctuated by walking and researching. John Cleese once said no one (or was it just Monty Python?!) was ever inspired by the computer. I don’t agree. It can inspire if tempered with interaction with the physical world. That lies as the foundation for my current thinking and writing: the mix of experience and scientific understanding. How essential it is for me to balance the multiplicities of how to engage with the world, especially a world that is so often remote, invisible or microscopic.