Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life's Curveballs

Whether it is a natural progression of my condition, the medication I started last Friday, the excitement of Rugby World Cup and its aftermath, or my virtuoso aptitude for slacking off, I've been living in a haze for the last little while.

I don't remember feeling so "out of it" when I was on the same medication in 09, but back then I was much worse, so perhaps there was no head space for monitoring.  It's like being suspended in time and space; or getting a heavy dose of dentist's laughing gas; or mildly intoxicated.  I have a vague recognition I'm not getting anything done, and a strangely remote sense of frustration I'm wasting my life, but most days I sit quietly and wait for the haze to go away.

I can't read, think, or even look at photos and graphics, but I have been watching reruns of mindless TV shows, (not good docos), and sleeping a lot.  That's another thing; the medication messed with my sleeping pattern for a few days, but that seems to have come right.  When I remember, I try mild exercises or gardening, and sometimes they've worked, sometimes I fell on the floor with exhaustion and just stayed still for a while.

Arm pain got bad enough I've have acupuncture treatment twice in six days with one more at the end of the week.  Acupuncture works for me, but the treatment takes a toll, leaving me dysfunctional for half a day afterwards. So, another good reason to stay still.

Commitments and due dates can be good at times like these, it forces me to concentrate and get something done.  I had to prepare a dozen posts for the group blogs today, which entailed reading and making sense of the instructions, which are usually simple and straight-forward but not at a time like this.  It took me six and a half hours but I got them done and scheduled. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not sad, or in a bad way.  I just feel suspended while the rest of the world moves forward, like in the Matrix movies. What I have been musing, very vaguely because that's all I can manage, is how disproportionately long the time you prepare/anticipate an event is to the duration of that event.  And yes, I'm talking about my impending trip.  I think we've been trying to get ready for the last month or so, and we're only going away for three weeks. Hopefully, in that time, I'll find my way back to being present in my life.  And get back on the loom bench. 

You gotta laugh at what life throws at you.  Because it's not hard. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mind You...

It's not that I've been cranky, but certainly powerless.

Dad went into the hospital before a long weekend in Japan, and ended up staying in the ICU for a week because he couldn't breath.  He's abandoned his lifelong creed that healthy (or ill) body comes from healthy (or ill) mind, and has switched to "pity me" mode this week. Mom is still holding on to the family tradition; we make light of ill health. I'm constantly trying to gauge where the truth lies. 

We've had strong spring sea wind and our chimney became either skewed or loose; last week when we had very heavy rain, we actually had a leak; pot sitting on top of the wood burner, and us listening to the drip-drop while watching the telly.  I was reminded of my parents' previous home where terracotta used to get shifted or blown away in typhoons some years and containers were placed all over upstairs and we fell asleep listening to the drip-drops in autumn typhoon season.  Though I've been in touch with my chimney guy, he's so busy I may not be able to get him before we leave. Meanwhile, we continue to have heavy rain every three or so days.

My problems are trivial compared to real problems folks have.  But sometimes my life plays out to me like a bad play - lots of little trials without much tribulations or redeeming denumount - yet not terrible enough one can recall how bad it was.  Forgettable.  My life and goals have gotten smaller. 

I was right to see a doctor yesterday, even though my regular guy is away, and even though I wondered if I was being a bit alarmist.  I think the locum was right in getting me back on mild meds, at least for the next short while. Life of a weaver in Nelson has got to be a bit more exciting, you know. Even with two tennis elbows.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I'm not doing much, but the arms are going crazy. I do the physiotherapist's menu once a day most days, though I suspect that's not enough. I haven't done anything strenuous in a couple of weeks, just minimum housework. What's most aggravating is by now I should know better about my condition and know how to live so the arms can be better faster, but it's not going that way. In the mornings I stare at my To Do lists and wonder what I am capable of doing that day and this has been doing my head in.

A friend has been doing my head in; she works hard at her art, she's good at what she does, but also feels she deserves more recognition and financial rewards, that people should be coming to her, and she's disgruntled; I used to enjoy talking to her a great deal, but after listening to her for most of this year, her sense of entitlement has been doing my head in for a few months. 

I've had a mild virus last week. And a dental emergency the week before that, which led to major money worries for next year. Ironic as the emergency happened the day I figured if we can pay our health/life insurance in April instead of January, we won't be in such a bad shape every summer after we pay our house/contents/car insurance in November. I knew this for ages but never took action. That almost feels immaterial now; I'm shopping around for a different dentist as we don't live anywhere near the right zip code to be his patients anyway. The strangest thing is, I can manage emergency spending of three figures by scrimping and saving; four figures worry me but I can figure out a way to manage when I can approach it calmly, but a five-figure dentist fee? I can only laugh out loud and live in denial. But that's doing my head in.

In case you hadn't heard, there has been a small event talking place in New Zealand, called the Rugby World Cup. We haven't been big fans of rugby (union) for about six, seven years, (players' high salaries, drunken shenanigans, wife-/girl-friend beating and name suppression, etc,) but I've been watching almost all the games in the last two weeks. It's something I can do without using my hands much. But have you heard there is an oil spill on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand for the last two weeks? Last night's top news item was how the All Blacks celebrated their win (against Wallabies/Australia) in their underwear! And we have an election at the end of November, with a referendum on our voting system; all four choices sound like something you pick up kissing the wrong guy or girl. And yes, all this is doing. My. Head. In.

Group R met yesterday; one member, Judy, left to concentrate on her work so now we are five and that small change made a great difference; five feels much cozier and less formal.  It was good to see everybody, but nothing earth-shattering to report. Changing Threads is going ahead in 2012, but there is no size limits this time.  Submission closes a fortnight before Creative Fibre National Exhibition, but they open on the same night.  And five months after that, Group R's "Beginnings" exhibition opens. No, they're not doing my head in, but I'm extremely frustrated I can't work.

So, I guess, overall, I've been frustrated and angry how the second half of this year has turned out.  Especially since I felt I finally got the hang of weaving more regularly, not just planning and thinking about it.  It appears very often when my weaving life is on an upward swing, something happens to take away the inertia.  So I've kept my head down and tried to stay calm, and have been making up and checking off items on To Do lists; mostly to do with preparing for our upcoming trip, but with art- and weaving-related things making an occasional appearance.  Yeah, I feel a bit sorry for myself, but being a victim doesn't get much done, so I try to keep my head down and bum up most days.
Mom wanted hints on what her students can do on two shafts; my Log Cabin samples fit the bill.  I've also posted about Silver vs. Golden Ratio in my Japanese blog so we can discuss it. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Area" Postscript

"Jolly Lucky Us" Award: due to a misunderstanding with the group that was to follow us, The Refinery extended the Area Exhibition by two weeks.  Lucky, eh?

"Saying 'No' Politely" Award: make no mistake, every time the Richmond group contacts me, they are nothing but courteous and polite, but this morning they rang to ask if I would write the article for the paper Creative Fibre magazine.  I thought that was pushing it a bit, and I declined, politely, I hope.  Photos, I was going to take for group blogs I mind anyway, but the magazine, and the greater group, have different goals from mine; it's more a correspondence among friends than educational/informative, and certainly not critical, and where a gathering is covered, there's an unspoken rule the article must end with, "And a good time was had by all."  I'll still select and send them the photos, no problem.

"Good Grief" Mention: apparently the brown garment has become such a problem they are going to take it down and put it on a dressmaker's dummy.  Richmond was courteous enough to ask if I would mind, and no, I don't mind because it's their exhibition, but in this case, I think it's their loss. And if the makers wanted it on a dummy in the first place, they should have arranged/instructed Richmond.

"Go for It" Mention: the blue garment on the plinth, I was most definitely going to hang from the rafter, until I was instructed the shibori-pleated scarf must stand like Queen Liz I's collar.  After much pondering I placed it on the plinth and propped the scarf up with a surprisingly small amount of tissue papers I could muster.  I was told this morning Richmond never liked it, so they are going to bring in another dummy.  In this cake, it will most definitely show off the garment much better, so they get a big happy "Go for it" from me.  

Note to self:  If ever I'm asked again to hang an exhibition, ask to bring in all the dummies they can corral, just in case.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to Create a Spectacular Textile Exhibition

I continue to think about what makes attractively-installed textile exhibitions. Much of what I like fall more or less into one of two categories:

A) a spectacular, often historic or architecturally-interesting, venue installed with a series of often simple, often translucent/transparent cloths. The arrangements tend to be sparse and ordered.  This style enhances/transforms (the mood of) the venue more than showcase the textile.  It also frequently and instantly makes one look at the venue, and the larger world, in a difference light. Though in person I've seen this style only a few times, I'm usually very partial to it.  Well-planned lighting can transform this style of exhibition into entirely different shows in the evening; 

B) exhibitions focusing on one or few featured pieces; sometimes the exhibitions consists only of these few pieces.  Exhibited pieces are usually crafted "beyond" simple cloths, if they start from a woven cloth at all; they are either heavily enhanced/ornamented, including distressed; take the shape of reliefs or sculptures; or use new or unexpected material, such as light-conducting threads. Works can be huge or tiny.  Nowadays there are many which cross over "art" and fashion; in New Zealand, WOW, which started in a paddock outside Nelson, contributed to this.

It is easier to focus on individual work in this style of exhibition; whether I like a particular exhibition or not depends on what proportion of the exhibited pieces I liked/disliked.  Lighting can create great effects when skillfully employed.  This style is less distinct, in that the difference between this style and the crammed, art-society style is a matter of degree; the intention to feature some pieces instead of putting all works on equal footing appears to be key. 

I'm certain Category A exhibitions are designed as exhibitions first and the necessary elements created to realize the vision.  Category B can go either way, and in some instances they may exhibit works of disparately created/submitted works like Creative Fibre exhibitions.

When I revisited "Area" on Wednesday, I didn't think it was any more spectacular than other Creative Fibre exhibitions I've seen.  (I.e. several at the top of the South Island this side of 2006-ish, 2000 Christchurch Festival and 2005 National Exhibition in Wellington.)  I can't help thinking they are more or less, well, pretty much the same.  Some venues are wonderful, (Refinery's big gallery, NZ Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington among them); some are downright nasty, (sorry, but The Suter's McKee, and even Refinery's front gallery if it doesn't lead to the big gallery.)

Because of the ample space and air in big gallery, we had a lot of breathing space even during the relatively well-attended opening, (fabulous attendance considering the cats-dogs-and-monkeys rain), and we did receive great feedback about the venue. I also felt that most exhibited pieces were given nice breathing space.
How could I have made it better? For one, a uniformity of support material, i.e. dowels and fishing lines, and some kind of guideline for heights.  For expedience, (and because I really didn't want to sound like a bully,) more often than not working pairs and threesomes grabbed whatever materials were nearby, and hung one piece in each area which made that piece attractive, then hung other pieces around it to create harmony in each area. (Though considering there were no set rules in these areas, I feel we made a pretty good job of it.)

Definitely the size and placement of certificates and "Do Not Touch" signs. Among other things, I don't believe in placing the latter in screamingly predominant positions, and in some cases they destroyed the negative space between exhibited pieces, but I didn't think of this until I returned on Wednesday. It may have been partly due to the person whom I believed posted the signs being exceptionally tall. 

Though my personal taste veers on sparse, the most important thing I learned from this exhibition was that uniformly-sparse can be more boring than clean; ebb and flow, and quiet, meaningful pauses, if it suits the mood I want to convey, create a more memorable exhibition/experience.  

As a cloth weaver who doesn't want to alter the cloth too much, what can I do to make interesting pieces to submit to exhibitions?  I've been thinking about this and soliciting advice since mid-2006:

* huge or tiny, because they attract me more; I am more critical of the "normal" sized items that suit the purpose;
* something that makes the viewer look up.  This is because I try to make items after studying the venues it will be installed when I can, and venues I'm most attracted to are those with high ceilings. Given time and budget, an alternative is to build something viewers can climb on, so they can look down at my piece;
* something viewers can walk/sand/sit/lie inside/though/below, or have to walk around to see the whole piece;
* piece viewers can see through, so there is the cloth/s in front, and something else (possibly another piece of textile) behind/beyond, or effective use of light and shadow;
* effective use of mirror, though this is boarding on cheating.

It's way past high time I stopped working on the list and start making something to reflect my thoughts. I'm once again thinking of a solo exhibition, some time way after "Beginnings" next October. 

Have a look at some of these, and tell me what you think.  More importantly, what do you like?

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Andrea called me wondering if I would like to hang a textile exhibition at Refinery Art Space. It was the Nelson Marlborough Buller Area Exhibition of Creative Fibre, (read: regional exhibition of the national guild organization.) I didn't know about this exhibition because I'm not a member of Creative Fibre this year, but the host, Richmond group was looking for someone to oversee the installation.

Of course I wanted to do this. I've only ever been the top dog of an exhibition once, for my miniature exhibition, and though I voice plenty of unsolicited opinions, I've only assisted Lloyd Hardwood and Arts Council Nelson with their shows.  I wanted to see if I had learned anything.
As you enter the building, this is what you see.  Coincidentally those red and gray pieces in the foreground are my merchandise in the shop sitting in the usual place.  Because the red leads into the exhibition, and in particular the exhibition's overall winning piece, the red and black scarf, I felt it was OK to leave them there.
The front room, especially the right half, is a dark, small space, which means we have greater control of lighting, and in person, the white lace-knit pieces take one's breath away.  The catalogue numbers, certificates and "Do Not Touch" signs were put up by Richmond Group; I might have negotiated the placements of these, but I didn't think of it until I revisited the exhibition to take photos on Wednesday. 
And now the left of the front gallery. Straight ahead are bags of sample fibers you are allowed to touch.
That skinny plinth is not crooked, but the floor so is.  When we discovered the electric drill for holes in concrete had been put away, Ben looked for holes we could recycle to hang three pieces meant for other parts of the gallery. The placement of the large piece on the left in particular was a happy accident, as the entrance looks warmer because of it.
Moving slightly to the right, the blue piece was one of the only two pieces taking advantage of the height.  The wall on the right, under my direction, looked boring, and was totally reworked by everybody else to a great result.
Turning further right, you see there is a wee corridor. Suspending the kete (woven flax baskets) was Duncan's idea and was well-received by the maker. 
Turning further to the right, we transition to what is usually perceived as the main wall.  The garment at the far end is suspended from the top of the partition wall.  We took great care in taking advantage of the height of the gallery for this piece, completely reworking the hanging at one point, but this was the one piece the maker lodged a complaint to Richmond group.

One aspect I'm pleased about is when I went back on Wednesday, the normally ever-so prominent main wall did not look more important than other walls. For this, I give credit to the helpers who created clusters of submitted work at the beginning, and then assigned walls and areas to each.
The corridor.  The big box in the corner is a permanent fixture.
As you came out of the back of the corridor, you are hit by a splash of colors.  (The shadow you see in the left edge of the photo is the blue suspended piece.)  This is from a traveling suitcase with an unfortunate title of "Sock it to You", not part of the Area Exhibition proper.  I was informed it is a suitcase, and did not plan on it taking up a quarter of the big gallery.  I was not involved in this section.

Work submitted by Marlborough Weavers can be seen here.

Even though I was on my feet for 12 hours, I had a blast. Three goals surfaced, goals I probably started formulating when I spoke to Andrea, and which I could put into words only as Ben and I staggered into the car. 

1) The exhibition should aim to look like an art exhibition, not a display by a Women's Institute (not my words, surprisingly,) an old-fashioned art society, or at an Agriculture Show/State Fair; it must look attractive to people outside Creative Fibre.

2) The exhibition should invite Creative Fibre members look at their work and the exhibition as a whole with a new perspective; the exhibition must demonstrate that each piece (or as many pieces as possible) is worthy of scrutiny. I wanted my helpers, the Richmond group, and all area Creative Fibre members to feel they own the exhibition. 

3) Everybody who take part in the installation should have a say, and I must be open to different aesthetics. 

I think I achieved 2) observing the visitors Wednesday morning, and hopefully 3) as I left many/most decisions to the helpers.  As regards 1), I believe fantastic things can be done with a bit of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, (not my forte, though,) and without necessarily an extravagant budget. My taste is more on sparse/sterile, but I know it's not to everybody's liking; instead of making an entire exhibition look minimalist, I will learn more by studying negative spaces in exhibitions.  An advantage in this venture was my intimate knowledge of the gallery, its space, its staff and its workings. In future, I shall look at exhibitions from the installation point of view more often and more closely.

* * * * *

The day we hung this exhibition was five months away from 2012 National Exhibition paperwork due date, and a year away from the planned opening of Group R's "Beginnings" exhibition.

Out of Print

Trying to rest my arm, I made my way to Ben's work library and "met" a book after my own heart. It's called "The Art of the Maker: Skill and it's Meaning in Art, Craft and Design", by one Peter Dormer, Thames & Hudson, 1994.  The linked obituary makes him out to be a cantankerous supporter of middle values.  In the book he doesn't diss conceptual/modern/installation art, but laments the loss of skills, or what he calls "tacit knowledge" in art and craft, comparing these skills with engineering and science.

All rights are reserved, so I can't quote anything.  He sound far milder in defense of craft compared to Yanagi, who he may or may not have read.  I'm halfway through, but my take on this book, after reading 45/104 pages) is much gentler and more suggestive than condemnable. He uses plain language, making this an easy read for this genre, but I'm still proceeding at a old, sluggish snail's pace.  

Don't rush to Amazon and such places looking to buy a copy, though.  If you live near an educational insitution with an art department, their library may be your first port of call.  Though published in 1994, this tiny volume (110 pages) is out of print and now fetches somewhere between 100-180 pounds on, and I found one for NZ$300 on a NZ website I hadn't heard of. 

On a rare moment of bravery, I wrote a polite email to Thames & Hudson, explaining the situation and inquiring "... if you have considered reprinting this book, on affordable paperback, or even in an electronic version. I hope so, because it is like a breath, or a blast, of fresh air in today’s concept-heavy environment."

Reply from Thames & Hudson the next morning read:
Dear Meg,
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately The Art of the Maker is out of print.
Kind regards,
Alexandra Levy
Doh!  I wished I could say it's only their loss, but in this case, I insist it's bigger than that.  Did he have that a bad reputation in Britain, I wonder. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oh, Crap!

I am confident of my cashmere, merino and merino-mix pieces' heavenly hand, but I was never satisfied with my cotton pieces' hand, and once in a while I take them out for walks.
Because I wanted to avoid staying home where weaving and other tasks tempt me, I walked around town a bit on two Tuesdays in a row.  There were Rugby World Cup-related events in town and quite fun for people-watching.  

Far left and middle pieces have 2/20 cottons in the warp at 36EPI, but the far left has 2/60 cotton in the weft, the middle has 2/20 cotton in the weft.  The far left is woven more loosely, while I tend to pack in the weft in the middle. 

The far right piece has 2/60 cotton in the warp and the weft, at 140EPI, and much more relaxed pick. 

The far left piece has a nice-ish hand, a little "unreliable", but tolerably soft.  If you are wearing overly dangly earrings, I wouldn't recommend you wear this scarf.  The warp colors are dominant and the weft gives a slight hint of another hue, more noticeable when I had a series of them next to each other.

The middle is, yes, my absolute fav style to weave.  It feels coarse and yucky.  The scarf often gets vertical, warp-wise creases, with which you're stuck for the rest of the day.  It's a good fabric, but not a nice scarf, unless you wear it under the collar of a jacket or a coat, have good posture, and aren't lugging around heavy backpacks.  I think a wider shawl, say 90cms, might work; otherwise, I have to investigate how to improve on the hand.  As is, at 6-inches wide and around 150-180cm long, it doesn't work for a person of my shape, posture and lifestyle. 


The far right, if you remember, was meant to be woven at around 90-96EPI, but was accidentally woven 160EPI.  (Wrong reed; couldn't be bothered to resley.) This piece feels like a light raincoat fabric, and gets more vertical creases than you care to observe.  Much sampling needed.  But then I don't weave with 2/60 in the warp that often, so not urgent.

This piece had 2/20 cotton in the warp at 36EPI, and 2/20 as pattern and 2/60 as tabby/holding (can't remember the right word just now) weft.  Because this piece was unexpectedly short, it doesn't really compare with the others, but does feel much nicer than the middle piece. 

I'm very disappointed my most fav style turned out to be.... (in unison)... crap.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The reasons I blog have changed over the years; a main one recently has been because I can't remember what I do.  I have indulged in my compulsion to share, as if parts of my life will disappear, as if they never took place, unless recorded here.  (And for mild-to-moderate depression, it's good therapy.) 

About two weeks ago I knew my arms were much worse, and when the physiotherapist confirm it on my fourth appointment, I finally started to take the matter seriously.  I accepted I won't be weaving until I get back from Japan, I won't be able to ready the garden for spring, and most urgently, I shouldn't be typing.  It helped (!) that I was in sufficient amount of pain so I had to slow down, and I concentrated on things I could do with less muscle movements.  And the exercises she'd given me.

Planning/designing projects has been one, (though nothing I can show you yet); reading has been another, (separate post); and I finally got around to tidying the bookshelf in my stash room.  It took six hours during a torrential and thunderous Monday, but I feel as if I shed a few lawyers of old skin, and I'm ready to move on. No books were harmed in the process, but some were downgraded to the study bookshelf, while others were upgraded to the stash room.  Three tall piles under the bed have disappeared and are placed in the appropriate areas of the stash room bookshelf.

I feels defragged!

I hadn't intended to go cold turkey on the blog, but that's how it happened, and I learned after about a week I wasn't too concerned about my blogging "duties"; nice to know I didn't take my life that seriously.  But I've a few things to report, all in due course.