Napier, Balance and Hanging with Clare Plug - LONG

The conference in Napier was great. There were a lot of designers, many of them furniture makers, I understand, and art teachers and students. Many spoke specifically about how they design, and spoke to the central theme of the conference, how to transition from a solo studio artist or member in a collective, to a cottage industry or an industrial designer.

I had this quasi-Synesthesia thing happening, too, where I'd be listening to the talks and looking at slides and suddenly see designs or fabrics to do with work and had to make notes. So my notes are littered with rather specific work ideas.

Many of the presenters mentioned they had their first or main break at previous conferences/symposia. I know I should go to the social parts of these gatherings, but I don't. Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery, I understand, do wonderful do's the night before, with good Hawkes Bay wines, gorgeous nibbles and live piano in the art gallery, delegates mengling amongst the exhibition. These, however, remind me too much of my standing near the door with warm beer in hand trying to look busy or bored at a frat party in college and are too painful and embarrassing. I don't even like the tea and lunch breaks. So again, I didn't go, only to find out again that there was quite a bit of networking that took place.

Among other things, I was impressed with the number of New Zealand artists and small industries operating in environmentally friendly/sustainable ways, and/or keeping an eye on how to improve their operation. That evening, the first programmed that popped up on the telly was a documentary on Methyl-Bromide on textiles from India and China; this very chemical has been in the news a lot because they spray it on logs at the port of Nelson, and I began to think about getting hold of "kinder" cottons and dyes, and perhaps going back to using more wool in my practice. The enormous price tags and the long-distance shipping is usually what stops me, but perhaps I can start looking for more sources, or discuss alternatives with my existing yarn sources.

Many of the presenters taught/teach in art school, and there were lots of messages to the art students in the audience. I felt a bit sad as I was reminded once again, I'm in the very minority of having stumbled upon weaving late in my life, and not having gone to art school. I felt like an intruder, an impostor, and not the real deal. The next day Robbie Grieg, furniture designer for CandyWhistle among other things, took me aside and told me the flip side is I'm not encumbered by the art school experience, and to keep making things I like to make.

The most memorable visuals were Robbie's Milan experience and how things go wrong, Robert Foster's Fink designs and how he studies each material and then created/modified the designs. It also hit me that nowadays, when people say "textiles", often they mean what's on it, as in surface design, or how they're used, like stamped and made into cushion covers, and seldom about the cloth itself. Again, that made me feel an outsider.

Having said all that, after a day of being immersed among creative minds and their desire to make beautiful, (and this lot wanted to make utilitarian) things, I came out freed and energized.
I felt overflowing with strong desires to concentrate on the making, and making well, and though I love to share, I don't always owe anyone any explanation about what or how I do. And that I don't have to filter my making though words and concepts if I don't want to.

Because I continued to have a hip/leg pain, I walked around a lot, and discovered a many more design shops, cafes, independently-owned shops, and a Turkish takeaway place. I picked up dinner at the Turkish place Saturday night to discover two of the chaps who worked in a Turkish place in Nelson for years had moved up there. One of them was amazed I recognized him right away, so I updated him on the Nelson shop, the owners, and their new restaurant. This is so... New Zealand, shall I say.

Saturday and Sunday, I was lucky I got to hang around Clare Plug. And not only did we sit next to each other and talked about the presentation, but she took me to a kitchen store where I finally found a respectable whisk, (ergo my thank you with a whisk-themed tea towel); a giant garage sale where I got another, wonderful, idea about work; and a Mediterranean food store. And she gave me a bag full of feijoa picked Sunday morning, which unfortunately I can't show you because they are gone.

Clare understands my penchant for a simple, sometimes even austere, aesthetics, and I don't have to explain why I had to cut out colors so I can concentrate on structure and texture. And yet her understanding of design is sophisticated and she can explain to me the process of bringing an idea into reality, and she appreciates others' processes. She particularly liked Robert Foster's presentation.

We also talked about how Nelson and Napier are similar in many ways, but to me, somehow Napier appears a tad more vibrant than Nelson, with a tad more money for arts, for example. I'm aware sometimes I sound very negative about this paradise we live in, but I think it's because I believe Nelson can be so much more. We also talked about living in big cities vs. large towns, and we agreed that as lovely as the abundance of artistic stimulation in cities like Wellington and Auckland could be, we might be too busy being stimulated and don't have enough time making art. And we concluded we both live where we are meant to be living, and being allowed occasional jaunts to these fabulous gatherings.

By the way, her "Look South" exhibition will be held at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, July 2 – September 26, 2010. For now there appears to be no official opening planned, but if I find out anything, I'll let you know.

So it was that I was coming home with more impressions than knowledge, and reconsidering the benefits of going to conference social. On my Wellington to Nelson flight, the very end of my journey, I sat next to a man whose picture I've seen. He turned out to be Dr Richard Nunns, something of a godly figure in New Zealand, preserving and promoting indigenous Maori musical instruments. Because I do better one-on-one, I began to talking to him. I didn't know he lived in Nelson, but I know his artistic other half, Brian Flintoff, who carves many of Dr Nunns' instruments. It was a most wonderful 25 minutes, learning about his travels, about how he stumbled upon his calling, and that one of the most famous shakuhachi players is one Mr Mitsuhashi in Yokohama, my maiden name and my home town, but alas, no relation.

So it turned out to be a another fabulous weekend in Napier. But then trips to Napier always turns out that way.

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