30 March 2011


Unexpected sound, across the road from the bus stop at Vauxhall - unexpected sight - lovely (shame about the background).

29 March 2011


At Postman's Park, which contains the Memorial to Historic Sacrifice, established by George Frederick Watts in 1900. The Park expanded in the late 1800s to include several burial grounds, hence the gravestones.

28 March 2011

Waiting for the train

Text project - almost finished

This morning, in a caf near Hampstead Heath, I was still having further ideas about how to make the Goa stones* into a "book" - noticing, and noting, useful words while reading bits of the weekend paper. Finding text that will be useful is something the project is about, after all -
I was also still thinking about how to present the final "book object" - just one, on its own? Several in a box? how to label it/them....

Looking back, this project has gone through a lot of different stages for me, starting with the first little book and its "found" words, added to by the "found" photos (abstract close-ups taken in a room that's seen better days). Tackling the Goa stones, I first tried replicating them as round books, then as spun-paper nests, and made boxes and containers for them (notably and variously of silk paper) -
The final idea took as its starting point the Goa stones being seen as a panacea in their time, and regarded as foolish magical thinking from our point of view today, when we have drugs to target specific ailments. Do we have any ideas about contemporary panaceas, and what kind of ailments would they be particularly useful for? Well, there's money - if anything goes wrong, throwing money at it usually helps. And of course there are lots of things wrong with contemporary society. So I developed the idea of "a panacea for society's ills" - a medieval-looking moneybag, sumptuous on the outside (like the fancy cases the stones were kept in) and with the "ills" written inside.

At first I tried to make some "money" to go in the bags, using lead curtain weights so they would be nice & heavy when picked up -
The "soft money" was a non-starter; and the metal coins looked silly and crude - but the glass and stones that I came across while rooting around made me think of something else -
After making a list of society's ills (a long list!) I chose some and screenprinted them onto silk, using the puff binder to give the words a slightly sticky feel -
Out to the Parkland Walk to gather some smooth, round stones (wasn't sure how many I might need...) -
And here are the first of the moneybags - two are velvet, the third was the prototype; one more to make, to replace the prototype -
The contents - easter eggs??! -
Just one stone is much better -
I'd like to write "THROW ME" on the stones - a futile gesture, isn't it....

This has been an interesting and valuable project, and the learning from it isn't quite over (a few final decisions, and the crit, tomorrow) -- at this point, though, I'm ready to move on to something else!

*In the words of the Medicine Man exhibition: "Goa stones are artificially manufactured versions of rare stones formed inside the stomachs of animals (bezoar stones). Originally they were made in India from a paste of clay, crushed shell, amber, musk and resin. Used for numerous complaints, including the plague in Europe, they were especially recommended for poisons. Goa stones were highly valued commodities as is shown by the elaborately tooled gold and silver tripod stands made to contain the stones on display here."

And the Museum of London says: "This compound of bezoar, shell, amber, musk, resin and crushed precious gems came from the Jesuit Pharmacy in Goa, India [in the 17th century]. The 'stones' were imported by the East India Company and were so precious that they often changed hands for up to 10 times their weight in gold. Scrapings mixed with water were drunk to treat stomach complaints, fevers and plague."

26 March 2011

Text project again

Next week sees the part-timers' crit for the text project, started so long ago, and based on the "Medicine Man" collection at the Wellcome Institute. I did the first part right away, and have been revisiting part 2 (conceptual body books, so-called) for some time. However on re-reading the brief, I'm less sure than ever... "Choose an object that suggests a potential book form" - the filigree case containing the Goa stone ... like this one in the Museum of London -
But I'm more interested in the stone itself - antidote, cure-all, preventative, panacea - perhaps even placebo. The brief goes on: "Consider the book as a container of information ... and produce a text that could be stored in this form" (eg, boxes, bottles, hinged objects, receptacles, jars). "Try to incorporate found material from your research into your text... combining words and phrases from your found material alongside and within your own text."
Some of my ideas for the potential book(ish...) form are round books; nests for the pills (made of paper string), in their special boxes, and also a string with words spun into it, to be knitted into a talismanic garment (this string, and the garment, is "just a thought" so far).
As ideas develop ... lately my focus has been on "a panacea for the ills of society" - in other words, money. The Goa stones changed hands for huge amounts of money, because they were believed in absolutely (and perhaps because they were prestigious as well as precious, hence the filigree cases they were kept in). They often changed hands for ten times their weight in gold ... which brings us to the bottom line: money, the cure for all evils, the modern panacea, the way to fix anything and everything, even all the social ills - ?
After making a loooong list of possible social ills (despair, poverty, debt, greed, anger, exclusion, etc etc etc) I made a medieval-looking purse to put "misery money" into. (The "money" was made of lead curtain weights - lead being a base metal and satisfyingly heavy; and that's actual Red Tape used for the strings.)
"How is this a book" asked my son. Uh ... it opens and closes?? Oh yes ... it's called the Text Project... where is the text in all this?
Not quite there yet.

Snakestones (research for Text Project)

A variant of bezoars / Goa stones - and very controversial they turned out to be.

"As New World flora and fauna came to the attention of European physicians and as Europeans gave increasing attention to indigenous African and Asian medical therapies, seventeenth-century natural philosophers and physicians faced a vast expansion in the number of plant and animal substances purported to be of medicinal value. The snakestones, called piedras della cobra de Capelos, began to trickle into Europe, primarily from India, in the 1650s. The stones themselves, illustrated in Figure 1, were lenticular in shape, of green or reddish color, and about the size of a small Italian coin."

The missionaries and merchants returning to Europe in the early 17th century "also transmitted lore regarding the abilities of such natural products to cure various types of sickness. They reported that natives of India and China used snakestones to cure poisoning inflicted by snakebite. Supposedly, the stone adhered tenaciously when placed on top of a poisonous wound. After sucking up all the poison, it fell spontaneously from the wound, leaving the victim in perfect health. If later soaked in a bowl of milk, the snakestone was drained of its imbibed poison (which
it imparted to the milk, turning it a greenish color) and could be used repeatedly."

"Those who imported the stones, which reputedly were concreted naturally in the heads of indigenous poisonous cobra snakes, claimed that they acted as antidotes to all forms of poisoning in the human body. The high seriousness with which the debaters tested the claims of these merchants and missionaries, their painstaking gathering of experimental evidence, and the passion with which they constructed their arguments for and against the efficacy of this remedy suggest that the stones evoked issues far deeper than the prospect of adding another ingredient to the standard toxicological pharmacopoeia of Western Europe."

"Snakestones were simply one among the numerous exotic medicaments that virtuosi prized."

"the local brahmins of the Quam-si Province of China skillfully captured native hooded cobra
serpents and surgically extracted the stones from their skulls.... the brahmins also manufactured equally efficacious stones from a mixture of the heads, hearts, livers, and teeth of the serpents; although he noted that they guarded this recipe for the manufacture of artificial stones with strictest secrecy, he warned that some spurious stones were in circulation since the genuine merchandise commanded a high price."

Snakestones persisted as a medicine into the 18th century, largely on the basis of verbal reports in correspondence, often at second hand. This was an era when medicine was based on balancing the "humours" of the patient, and new treatments (such as mineral-based quick-acting drugs) were looked on with suspicion.

The Snakestone Experiments: An Early Modern Medical Debate. Martha Baldwin. Isis Vol. 86, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 394-418. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/235020

Recipe for Goa Stones (research for Text Project)

Emerald, ruby, topaz - and camphor, musk, resin - and even actual bezoar - are among the ingredients.
from http://www2.iict.pt/archive/doc/12-tWalker.pdf

Textile exhibition in France

We have till the end of the year to see this; the museum is near Mulhouse, in eastern France.

DMC, l'art du fil

at Ecomusée Textile

Husseren-Wesserling, France

through December 31, 2011


Marialuisa Sponga - "S-Composition n.4. From Thread to Thread"

Participating artists include Sylvie Bailley, Nathalie Dentzer, Marialuisa Sponga, Laurence Malval, Sofie Dieu, and Helga Widmann.

While looking for the artists' websites, I found this listing of French textile artists, with links to their websites -


25 March 2011

This week at college

Is this your idea of "being at college"? It was a good moment, at South London Gallery cafe after a seminar by two former book arts students who graduated in 2006.
Discussing their collaborative practice with the aid of PowerPoint slides that were part personal narrative and part academic discourse, Monica Rivas Velasquez and Barbara Greisman nevertheless had some interesting things to say about reflections (the visual kind) and losing oneself, about being lost and being present. Two aptly cryptic sayings from my notebook: "Keeping to the subject is the best way we have of keeping off the subject" and "the allegorist can never have enough of things" -the latter is from Walter Benjamin, who spent much of his time, allegedly, recombining fragments of paper (on which he had written) into new meanings.

On the way back from lunch I noticed a small(ish) round stone in the road, a few inches from the curb, and couldn't resist picking it up. This has repercussions for the development of my "text project" - more of which (at great length and tedious detail) later no doubt (the crit is on Tuesday...)

Back at the Wilson Road basment studio, we all assembled to provide a mid-term review for Wiebke, whose work had moved from seascapes with horizons to something less calm and more gestural, but in the same large format -
Wednesday started with a shortish session of screen printing - I'm still on the "big coloured pages, which will be a book of some sort eventually, but I can't decide yet what size or how many pages" project, and hoping it's nearly at an end.
The reading group (only four of us this time, the part-timers, as the full-timers are writing their essay, due next week) met to talk about this chapter in Joanna Drucker's "The Century of Artists' Books" -
We would have liked to see some books post-1993 (the book was published in 1994 and republished, with an "author's preface to the new edition", unchanged in 2004 - about which there was some speculation), and had some questions of who these books were directed at - preaching to the converted? Do such books become historical artefacts; where can they be found (they're hardly mainstream) and what sort of effect does this invisibility give them - indeed, how would you use an artist's book to have a social effect? would you have to be subversive, to pamphleteer -- and how would you compete with other media? who would be interested, anyway? how would you catch their interest, perhaps by relating to their lives a bit...

The practitioner lecturer was Judy Price, a London based artist who works with video,sound, photography and installation. Her practice is sited within the borderlines and interchanges between video and photography. Price was recently artist in residence at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, working with archival film material from the British Mandate period in Palestine. "Divided loyalties" - eg of officials - seemed to have a large and problematic role in her projects, which lately have concerned narratives and myths in contemporary landscapes, especially Palestine.

Although Thursday was strike day for lecturers, I couldn't keep away from screenprinting. I really want to move on to the next phase - plus there was some fabric for the "text project" to print. On the way, someone had stuck up these salient posters, with their careful typography and telling messages -
University Of The Arts London
Is One Of Britain's
Universities (National Student Survey, 2010)

Nigel Carrington
UAL Head Honcho
A Year
£100,000 More Than The Prime Minister

CCW [Camberwell Chelsea Wimbledon, 3 of the UAL colleges]
Of Its
Annual Budget
Not Including

Under the New
"Efficiency Measure"
Up To
7,000 Hours
Teaching Time
Could Be

As quickly as possible, they were removed....

Not so good for students needing An Education to prepare them for jobs, life, etc.

Meanwhile, in my own post-job life, I got on with screenprinting ... avoiding battles ... still in my comfort zone -
Fabric with words printed in puffer-paste (more of this later, there'll be no avoiding it) ... and once those were done, back to the "journey lines" on paper. The grey-yellow-white combination has long been one of my favourites - note to self: Use it more -
The final print for the day (dark bit on the left) - backing sheets and papers all layered up, and some of the masking (to protect the red area) already removed -
One task for the weekend is to go through the sheets already printed to see if some can be regarded as "finished". On many of them, small areas are left unprinted - originally my intention was to leave these "open" but I seem to be losing sight of that, and the project is evolving in a different way, into lots of small areas of different colours, along with "accidental" overlaps. Also, it was meant to be random, and I find myself being very careful with what goes where. Are there rules, or aren't there rules??

Alphabet Street, London

Street artist Ben Eine persuaded the merchants of dreary old Middlesex Street (which runs from Liverpool St station to Petticoat Lane market) to let him paint their shutters with the letters of the alphabet. More pix are here (from where this pic is borrowed) and even more here. Unfortunately I rarely find myself in the area after business hours...

Being a street artist is different from doing graffiti, he says here.

Last few days for Anthony McCall exhibition

Drawings are at Spruth Magers (from whose website this photo is borrowed; on the website is a link to an interview with the artist) and the "light works" themselves are at Ambika P3, Baker Street.

"Four digital projectors beam elongated wigwams of light from the ceiling into the haze-filled space below. Each projector creates a shifting pattern on the floor, forming the “footprint”, as McCall calls it, for the ever-evolving structures that hover in mid-air.

"The effect is calm, meditative, otherworldly — as if McCall is expertly manipulating moonbeams, or somehow tethering the Northern Lights within a gallery.

"All four works, presented in the UK for the first time, were made since 2004, shortly after McCall — who was recently commissioned by the Arts Council to create Column, a twisting spiral of cloud that will rise above the River Mersey as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad — began producing art again after a hiatus of two decades." says this article.

24 March 2011

Digital literature

Food for thought - the quote of the day comes from the diapsalmata blog:

"When language dons the dress of design, as it must online, its visual component starts to signify, to make meaning. Of course, written language always has a livery -- we just don't tend to notice it much when it's the utilitarian sweatsuit of Times New Roman text on an 8.5"x11" page. On the web, though, the decoration of links is necessary for navigation. "

And once you decorate the links ... there's no knowing what will happen next ...

What font are you reading (or writing) in?

Mind the gap

Art I like - Ngozi Omeje

This photo of Nigerian potter Nogzi Omeje's "Couple" was seen in a current ceramics magazine in the library (I neglected to write down the details) - but not much of her work is available on the internet. Here is a story about her recent residency in Seattle.

22 March 2011


The old magnolia tree in front of Kenwood House is about to burst out in glory.

Map folding

Is it a map ... or a book? Can it be both? (Will I be trying out this structure?)

Book du jour

A portfolio - slightly bigger than A4 size - for carrying fragile stuff around. It's edged in masking tape and held together by red tape. (Sort of a modern metaphor?) And it's based on this, which I found in Hungary in, what, 1987? and again last week when clearing out my paper drawer -

Two trees in a Holborn churchyard

With the buds ready to burst into new leaf, do you welcome the upcoming greenness or feel sad about the disappearing silhouettes?

21 March 2011


Clay house

There's something very appealing about this "house"... perhaps it holds books?


The "skybirds" project has me looking through my photos... These were taken about a year ago, when the volcano in Iceland stopped air traffic, and Kew Gardens, which gets a low-flying plane a minute, was filled with birds chirping.

Fritillary fields

At Kew Gardens last year - ah the joys of spring!

Lily pond

The Water Lily House at Kew Gardens. In late summer it's covered in huge plants.

Proofreader needed

At the Museum of London, no less ... flood plane, hah!

Book du jour

Tunnel books from a found object - the handles of a carrier bag. The one on the right was meant to be an "improvement" in that it had a solid back - but cutting and folding the softer plastic didn't work out very well. Who knows, it may be a useful idea for another time...

20 March 2011

Cycle route

Blue pavement - to match the colour of the hire bikes. Good to see more routes, more road space for bikes

Book du jour

"Glyph" is an experiment in sewing into tracing paper - trying out the properties of different types of thread, and the interplay of pages that's possible with transparency.
The idea of the deliberate knot evolved from fastening-off the thread - as did the idea of having both ends of thread dangling on both sides of the page. Two ideas worth developing.