Monday, 13 October 2014

Basics and the Multiverse

Many years ago when I returned to teaching , with small children needing care and only a martyr of a sister in law to help me with that job, I was distressed when a new colleague warned me not to mention that I had children. We were supposed to be corporate world, teachers, as opposed to the teacher that I had been in my early days who focussed on teaching children about how connected we were to everything.
 I wasn’t allowed to clock off and do my own home life thing and then catch up on work in the quiet of the evening. I had to sit through endless meaningless jargon meetings full of catch phrases and participate in committees and sub committees because that’s what corporate worlds do. None of it had anything to do with teaching but of corralling and subjugating teachers into fear of losing their jobs. It was a horrible time and I left to return shortly after on my own terms.

In those early days university research was undertaken as a quest for knowledge. Australia was a leader in knowledge production but as a country we were much like many modern day artists and not very good at making a buck out of our own discoveries. Our inventions and discoveries went off overseas and Big Pharma funded production while making a hefty profit. Our scientists freely exchanged information with scientists all over the world in a frenzy of excitement about adding to knowledge but at some point the paradigm was turned on its head and money was only made available for research that would produce profit for the end producer. Trickle down economics from the behemoths to the universities was falsely presented as in short supply. 
The inevitable consequence was squeezing out of research departments or charging for knowledge. And so Australian scientists had to learn the hard way that there is no money in research that upsets investors or governments. Every facet of our education system has gone the same way and if a teacher is innovative then that becomes a money making venture to produce a “package” to be sold to other schools. Everything is very tame but if a big investment has been made then an equal investment is made in advertising and flogging a product to be swallowed as the latest and greatest. 
Our education minister loves to make inflammatory commentary on education policies I suspect mainly as a distraction to other government subterfuge but by degrees art education has been commercialised and trimmed down to return to basics. I hope we have come far enough in child psychology to recognise that art is a basic especially in the life of a child.

I have knowledge. I still discover and create. I have no end purpose to my creating other than to see what I can do. I remain curious and many things tickle my curiosity on an hourly basis. As soon as I go into end market mode something in me deflates and dies. I have to relieve the suffering by practising a different form of art and enquiry, drawing, painting, sewing, photographing, cooking, gardening, printing, carving, sculpting, writing. 

So in my absence from blogging I have nearly finished my first picture book based on a knitted character that emerged from my bucket of threads.
I have discovered where a magpie lives, I have experimented with black clay which is really difficult to match to a glaze.
I have explored some different forms of serving dishes, I have discovered a lovely little feature on my tablet camera which photographs in the negative.
I have produced several watercolour paintings,
a print or two, knitted icord for pendants, produced drawings for a commission for Ingrid Tufts
experimented with possibilities with tissue paper. I have experimented with slips and scaffold bases,
I have redesigned some of my workspace and with help from loved ones have developed a shop page ( where some of my objects can be purchased and I have committed to Craft Victoria's New Craft initiative at Victoria Market

Some of my work is also out in the world at White Rabbit Collective in Sydney Rd Brunswick and if you are out on a Western Victorian road trip drop in and see lovely Linda at Gray St Flowers in Hamilton where I also have some work. In a week or two is the opening of the Linden Postcards exhibition which has changed format this year to only 2D work so it's just as well I keep my finger in the drawing pie as well and have two entries in it. 
And like everyone else on the planet I have bumbled through dark days dragging my sad sack of worries but I have the advantage of education and freedom of thought and speech and association. I live in a vibrant multicultural, multiverse full of ideas to synthesize and rub against one another. My heart goes out to all those places on this planet being ravaged by monocultures of thought, religion, race and agriculture. My body is telling me as a result of a systemic allergy to live on a bland repetitive diet but my mind doesn’t need to succumb. 
If you want to follow more of my artwork I can be found living in Instagram world under the handle @crankyceramics. For those of you tentative about having an online presence like instagram in order to connect , it is possible to have a private account containing nothing while still enjoying the plethora of activity out there. I post there almost daily.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Whitewashing and Colour Revolt

Some things have been distracting me of late which involved a lot of waiting and anticipation. It also entailed a trip to Cairns to see the result which was overwhelmingly beautiful and promises years of joy to come.

I am not good at waiting situations and either go into a frenzy of distracted creating with no great overriding plan or I freeze up and do lots of nervous energy things involving cleaning and re organising.
I can assure you on this occasion my house and studio are not clean or tidy and I have been productive in every area of creativity for weeks.

My Instagram account ( @crankyceramics) has been a source of excitement and confidence building and no doubt that too will go through a slump or fall off the map as the next big thing comes along.
We are all assailed by doubts about everything we do which is why governments hell bent on power will seek to undermine our confidence and keep us in fear. I  have met someone like that on more than one occasion, someone so fearful of losing status or power, that nothing stands in their way to keep themselves on the top of the rocky pedestal. Personal attack and sabotage are their weapons, and public bullying and mocking with shrill voices that betray their panic. The day I turned up to the  grade school breakup party in a "homemade"dress instead of a shop bought dress,confused me as I longed for the crude factory sewing, the ridiculous price tag, and skimpy throwaway design, over my floral swiss voile dress cut to fit my figure by my mother and in a colour chosen to bring out my eyes. I had learned shame by being different and the powerful girls had learned from their mothers that being different was a weakness that could be exploited. I didn't realise that my intellect, my sporting ability and my enormously long hair were what the girls were afraid of because these drew the interest of the interesting other people-my mates, the boys.

I see the Instagram community as a place where people are taking a risk to come out and tentatively show their wares. Some of them are already well advanced with their skills, some of them are running a commentary on their practice and daily inspiration, and some of them are seeking inspirational others.  For some of us shrugging off bullying and shyness, it is a good place to learn to handle praise and attention.Kindness never hurt anyone and it is good to foster some positive constructive praise for young and aspiring artists. My past teaching career was always about launching kids and I can't help but continue that. Just as the sting of a bully can fester in your weakest moments, an uplifting word of targeted praise can sustain a child through some of the most brutal times.
As a gardener, I know the judicious use of white flowers can lift a chaotic riot of colour or lighten the edge of a driveway at night, but a garden made of white is a very difficult thing to pull off.  Likewise a landscape of just a couple of species of plants only stands out because of surrounding gardens throwing it into relief.
 The landscape in ceramics has been very white for a long time. It is a safe choice for restaurants because it is cheap to produce and replace, it implies purity and cleanliness, and it is tradtional and conservative. White has been used as a canvas for the kitchen artiste to squirt swirls of pseudo foods as paint around and elevate the eating experience beyond the mere inhalation of calories. In its most zen like form each element can be savoured for its essence, and in its worst iteration can appear like sputum samples from a thoracic ward frothing and sliding around on the shiny white canvas.

But the shrill and panicked voices of leaders around the world trying to conserve power while whitewashing their populations, their coral reefs, their immigration policies, their housing stock, and their dishonest monetary practices, agriculture and food production practice, is also being played out in every aspect of our lives, while our foods are being filled with synthetic chemicals and our air and oceans and rivers are filling up with their filthy byproducts. Filling the vulnerable with false fears of gods, and economic doom, while providing nothing to alleviate pain or ignorance or starvation is the weapon of the power hungry.

At the same time people are looking to artists for glorious vibrant works that counter balance the conservative background. The walls of urban environments have been the canvas for a grafitti explosion unknown 50 years ago. Yarn bombing of construction hoardings and traffic furniture seek to ameliorate and highlight the hard restrictive environment of the city. And the explosion of body art in every walk of life is a constant reminder of the rebellion even the most conservative people feel in their hearts to the march of globalisation and  homogenised corporate takeover of every aspect of their lives.

Natural art is disappearing from our environments and it is rare to see a fruit tree in a park, dangling with clusters of children and bird life hungry for its seasonal goodness. As suburban gardens are built over with blocks of apartments, low maintenance landscapes are chosen over exuberant and flamboyant flowering  and perfumed shrubs which require regular pruning and tidying by knowledgable gardeners. Maintenance men with electric brooms are NOT gardeners. Whole swathes of generational knowledge are being lost to an unbalanced world view, that corrals and contains and categorises humans like goods on supermarket shelves. We buy into the view that we cannot continue the urban sprawl because it undermines the centralised food and energy production model we have had to swallow.

Toxic chemicals, don't belong in food or water. They are put there to...I don't know why.

Toxic and not so toxic chemicals can make glorious colours in glazes,and in their encapsulated underglaze colours are permanently safe from leaching into food or the environment and are safe for use in the studio.
I love  unbridled colour and its ability to flush out the panicked and conservative, status anxious in a crowd.
I think ceramics can be a political act.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Fungi and the World Wide Web

Some months ago I was at a local trash and treasure market and couldn’t resist a bargain of a garbage bag full of wool. It was in long loosely tied skeins and rather an odd selection of colours but it was only $5.00 and I felt sure I could do something with it. I like nothing better than turning something considered as excess rubbish into something value added.

What I discovered though is that I love bringing order to things. I am persistent and patient no matter how many loose ends I find.

 My life’s work seems to be about fighting entropy, the encroaching weeds, the overwhelming disorder of laundry, groceries and refuse.

So it was quite a surprise last weekend to find myself becoming passionate about one of the agents of entropy. I took part in a field survey of fungi in the Apollo Bay area with a passionate group of amateur naturalists as well as extremely knowledgeable professional expert guides including Alison Pouliot
We got to eat Lawyers Wig mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) for breakfast which were delicious. They were once a source of ink and so I made some ink from them by leaving them in a strainer to leak their inky juice and then made this painting of them.

I love to discover how much more I don’t know and believe me I haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s not surprising because in Australia there are literally thousands and thousands of unnamed and unclassified life forms. We just don’t have enough resources to do the work and government funding for scientific research is a very slim wallet.
A tiny little Ruby Bonnet (Mycena viscidocruenta)

When Britain set out to conquer the world and expand the empire she sent scientists to collect specimens from all the lands she invaded, just like humans have done with space travel ever since. It seems we can keep expanding our horizons, and the search for a Goldilocks planet is part of that endless quest to expand empire or to find a replacement for our own for when we have trashed this one. But there is just so much here to explore and to know.
Possibly Aminitis

Some of our greatest advances in medicine have come from fungi and moulds. Penicillin, cyclosporine (used in transplants) and where would we be without yeast for bread and beer and moulds for cheese?What we don’t know about the world of fungi is much greater than what we do know. Much of our knowledge of the plant world came from much earlier botanists and biologists who made their discoveries with the most rudimentary scientific equipment.Modern technology is making it more possible to see up close that which was only theoretical or blurrily similar to another. And yet we have never been more separated from real life up close than we are at this time in history. 

Children don’t wander around picking flowers and tugging at weeds, nor climb trees and share a limb with other wildlife. They dig in sanitised little plastic clamshells where their experience of digging to China is limited to the edges of Trueville. Their vegetables come in plastic packets so they never have the morbid thrill of finding a caterpillar sampling their peas in the pod first. They don’t poke and prod the earth to find potatoes and carrots for dinner or slip their hand under a warm hen to find a fresh egg. Everything in the most networked time in history is at the same time disconnected from its natural interconnectedness in the web of life.Fungi are the agents of entropy but are paradoxically agents for new life and new beginnings. They break down the carbon of trees and dead grass and leaves, animal excrement to make it available for new life. They work in partnership with other life forms, balancing populations, slurping up toxins, acting as a go between for neighbouring life forms, and also signal, to those who are attentive, changes in the state of the planet. Their mycelium are an endless trail of tiny white fibres hidden out of sight and act as electrical and nutritional networks for the plant world-the literal world wide web.

When we are always looking into the distance for the next new thing, the next thing to fill our insatiable desire for novelty, we fail to notice the wonder and novelty at our feet. We are constantly encouraged to embrace progress and technology and to keep marching forward leaving the past behind. The past contains old knowledge and old skills and in an interconnected world we must not forget that everything is connected through time and space. The beginnings of our universe are visible every night for us to see. Lichens and fungi originally converted the star material into a habitable place for us to live and still continue to convert our detritus. 
 There is an elegant classification system for all these life forms thanks to the early science of botanists and biologists. Seeing this structure briefly unfolded last weekend was a magical experience a bit like first learning to read. Each little structural element from gills (or none) to stipe(stem) and spore shape and colour has a hash tag just like Instagram. The hash tags need to be collected and compiled from all around Australia so that we have an inventory of just what is here. Fungi Map is working with professionals and citizen scientists to accumulate this knowledge. After all we may have the cure for cancer under our noses or new drugs to combat medically resistant viruses.

Meanwhile I have been exploring hash tags on my new Instagram (Cranky Ceramics) and hammering them for all they are worth.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

From the Sea to Harvard

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it's always ourselves we find in the sea

It's well known that the Aussie culture is based around sun and sand. We live on an island, gigantic as it is but isolated from the rest of the world. We spend much of our time standing on our shores looking outward for signs of life. It has some bearing on our way of thinking. Sadly in recent years as we have become more self satisfied we gaze outward with fixed stares looking for those who might  come and steal our luck from us and cruelly turn away those who have no other refuge.

I have heard simple analysis of American politics that describes the land locked states as Republican and hell bent on preserving the American way of life and the coastal outward looking states as Democratic, more forward thinking and malleable of thought.

Whatever the final analysis, the magnetic draw to the liminality of the shoreline always throws me into deep thought. I am lucky to have frequent access to a place which has me looking at my city from the other side of the bay. 
Distance is very good for the creative process and for problem solving. It diffuses anxiety and creates a telescopic world view . The fresh air is always welcome but the wider view of a tiny vulnerable city under a gigantic and moving sky full of smog, and sometimes tumultuous weather conditions engenders a fondness for the little city on the horizon.

And in the vastness between I always hope to glimpse a sign of life like a leaping pod of dolphins to assure me that the sea is ok. I go to the water’s edge to read the signs like some shaman reading chicken entrails. In the case of our little coast line this liminal corridor is only 4-10 metres wide depending on the tides. It is bordered by a thin line of scrubby vegetation and some seasonal marshy wetlands. A strange scrap of space to become so attached to but without fail it draws me in every time.

The human eye is magnetically attracted to signs of other human life. On a beach of pebbles and crushed shells tumbled with seaweed a man made straight edge immediately stands out as alien. Fragments of ceramics from a time in the misty distance wash up, waiting to be collected and their stories to be divined.  

.  Broken glass is softened and blurred to romantic fragments . These are the treasures I don’t mind finding. They have possibility for a new life, made new and interesting by the sea and full of history. Old bones are exciting to find and wonder about.

 I really must brush up on my anatomy because I could be romanticising about an ancient whale or dolphin death, when in fact I should be calling police to analyse criminal evidence! So many stories write themselves for the briefest time. 

Seasonal changes can be read in the detritus that washes ashore. The empty Port Jackson shark eggs wash up around April. Strange sculptural spirals that harden irreversibly like dried kelp and when first held conjure up torturous images of birth until you understand the marvel of the original soft spiral. I picked one up some months ago thinking it was out of season and quite heavy. It gave a wobble in my hand and I realised it still held a live youngster that I could rescue by returning it to the water.
The moon snails come out around full moon to lay their giant jelly sausage  egg sacs on the beach to then be washed out with the next tide a mystery that baffled me all my childhood.

 The sea grasses used to be habitat for millions of sea urchins but dredging of the shoreline by commercial fishermen has removed most of the sea grass and the remaining urchins are quickly demolishing what remains of the grass. That beautiful crystal clear water we are so attracted to is a dying coastline. Sand and more sand with nothing to give shelter to small fish and crustaceans which in turn become food for bigger sealife.
One of my sea inspired tea strainers amidst the remaining fragments of sea grass and dead urchin shells.

The pelicans which were so numerous several years ago have mostly moved on to better feeding grounds and only 5 or 6 regularly scavenge this part of the coast. Seagulls are better fed up in the town and around the pier so are not in obvious hordes. Migratory birds arrive in scanty little groups of fewer than a dozen and I know I am looking at remnants of the natural history of the area which saddens and frightens me.
My mussel spoons. Photo credit Screaming Pixels

I love this liminal edge. It is where I wait for the sea to reveal itself to me. Unlike my partner who loves to sail and my son who is an underwater photographer I have feet of clay and am clearly a landlubber. The sea’s influence makes it way into much of my work as a sort of alter ego of my city work and garden inspired work. As I sit here typing, one of my sea inspired pieces is making its way across the world to Harvard University in Boston Massachussets for an exhibition called Object Spoon (organised by Vipoo Srivilasa) at Ceramic Top 40 in the new ceramics department to be shown 17 May to 27 May before heading back to Canberra for the Ceramics Trienniale.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Drawing No Conclusions

Recently I sold one of my watercolours at the Warranwood Art Show. I had a ceramic piece in the exhibition as well but Avis Gardner had a much more intriguing little treasure and deservedly scooped the ceramic award.
I love drawing and painting and years ago went through a crisis of confidence when I decided no one was buying 2d art so I stopped doing it. I felt that ceramics were more useful and functional and of course there would be a market for them. There is somewhere.

But I miss drawing and painting and it is a heck of a lot easier to store. I received a book on egg tempera many decades ago and fell in love with the images but felt the discipline of it was too daunting for a flibbertigibbet like me. Recently I came across a beautiful blog  by an egg tempera painter who also loves his garden and the food he can produce from it. I still felt overwhelmed reading through the instructions on egg tempera but there was one brief mention about milk tempera.

 I didn’t wait to find details but raced off to play in the studio and experiment.

 I think what appeals to me about it was that there was nothing to lose. I always feel a greater sense of achievement in producing something from nothing by just adding effort. Like the production of this grass basket from a grass that grows at my back door and delightfully sheds shafts with seed heads in autumn.

  A tablespoon or two full of milk and a sprinkle of 3 different food dyes will last for hours and every layer is exciting to develop. So this week I have had fun and feel inspired to keep going and experimenting.

The first experiment was just on good quality recycled printer paper and was just to see if it was possible to do. The paper warped and bubbled but a lovely sheen built up very quickly. The milk dries quickly between layers and subsequent layers can be built up without disturbing the underlying layers too much.

 Milk has fat in it which combines with the pigment to form a suspension. It also has casein in it which is an early ingredient in plastics. We have all seen milk drips spilt on tabletops dry to a sheen. What you end up with is a sort of primitive acrylic watercolour surface.

 With egg tempera it is important to have a stable surface on which to paint so wood panels have traditionally been used and gessoed with a toothy surface for the paint  to hold onto. Gesso is a mixture of whiting and a binder. Traditionally rabbit glue was used but that all started sounded complicated until I read that you could use gelatin as the binder. Gelatine, milk, whiting, pigments (especially earth) were all within my spheres of knowledge and interest. I haven’t got to the stage of gesso but that is on the agenda. I have made one experiment with clay and milk and will be on the lookout for different coloured soils to use as pigments from now on.

I have also done a preliminary test on some bisqued work to see if it has a similar effect to terra sigillata, something that I have done for some time now with my work. Terra sigillata is an application of the finest particles of clay which are applied in several thin layers. The tiny particles fill in the minute pits on the clay surface and develop a refractive sheen. I will try this on an unfired piece(greenware) and see if it is effective.

I have been happy with just experimenting on thicker quality cartridge to prevent the warping problem but will progress to gesso on Masonite for a more formal painting when I understand more of the qualities of the paint.

There is a dreamy 60s picture book texture to the images.

And my paintings are tiny. I found some old A7 sample paper pads that I bought in an art shop a few years ago and since I no longer remember the price of the bundle they have lost their overwhelming preciousness which always daunts me in experimenting.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Anachronism and Something New




noun: anachronism; plural noun: anachronisms

1.   1.

a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.


            marimba, pilates, lost trades, playgrounds

Last weekend in Kyneton  (Victoria) was the  Lost Trades Fair. I wasn’t able to go so I checked the programme online and found there  were delightful old crafts like coopering (making barrels) chairmaking, leadlighting, blacksmithing and hedgelaying. I didn't see pottery listed and  thankfully there is still interest in this craft but if we don’t move forward with the other aspects of ceramics i.e the business end we may well become an anachronism just at a time when the planet needs old fashioned alternatives to so many economic rationalisms.

During the week I listened to a great RN program about children being rescued from an educational blackhole by a creative music program using marimbas.
The improvement in overall school performance was put down to the fact that the marimba programme involved whole body involvement in its performance and learning, from the making of the instrument as a group, to physically playing while standing and moving and echoing patterns produced visually as well as auditorily. This meant that children could experience the brain rewiring of music without needing to be able to read music first and the fidgety, kinetic learners could be imprinted with the patterns through their bodies, priming their brains for other pattern learning like decoding print.
You can watch a marimba being played here.
When we learn a physical skill our brains remember a muscle choreography and practice remapping it in our brains overnight. I remember this well from childhood, going through the motions of learning one type of high jump (the straddle) to  (scissors) to Fosbury Flop approaching the jump from another angle in a new style but also gaining insights into burgeoning philosophy as my world view literally changed.
 When I learned computing ,my thoughts flashed before me like computer files, as I settled down to sleep and I could see gardening files come into focus with embroidery techniques combined overlaid with watercolour techniques. My whole framework for thinking had done a physical shift as my brain applied what it knew to what this new world order looked like. When I took up Auslan ( Australian sign language), my other language learning accelerated because I now had a physical way of learning and filing languages -in my muscles.
 This blog has changed my way of operating in the world and in my head as I physically engage with the keyboard and I often find myself tapping out thoughts in my head .
Our bodies are not just vehicles for our brains as Ken Robinson describes here but discreet extensions of our brains and each appendage feeds our brain information to locate ourselves within the soup of our environment. If every thought connection in our brain develops synapses then every sensory experience of our world creates a sort of synaptic connection to the universe making us more securely engaged and aware. Limit the experiences and you risk the individual feeling vulnerable and hanging by a thread. Physicality matters!

The discussion about the marimba program follows closely on the heels of a research project in which children were observed in two different playground situations, one where they had standardised safe playground and sports equipment and the other, regular household items such as brooms, buckets and crates. The second group were found to be more creative, more physically active and more socially engaged than the first as they found new and interesting ways to engage with the equipment rather than the prescribed notions of standardised equipment. Everything old becomes new again. So it is important to keep in touch with those old skills and old ways of doing things. Re engage with some of the physical things you did in your childhood and wake up some of those synapses!  

I began pilates the other day to address some of my spinal issues and had to balance on half foam cylinders, something I was excellent at in my youth. It is partly what prompted this post and brought back memories. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see older people balancing on raised curbings around service stations as they try to physically rebalance their lives. Some of our politicians could do with a bit of physical alignment.
Ancient Mayan art of Pilates  gives you rock hard muscles

Autumn is here and acorns are hanging on the oak tree in the park. Sadly most lower limbs have been removed from the trees to prevent children climbing and hurting themselves. I am anxious to get out and moving around in the cooler mornings but have been applying myself to new skills ofsetting up an etsy shop. It is still crawling days but I would appreciate any advice you have so I can unstick myself from this computer.

No doubt my mind will reframe the world again. I can feel it happening already as I try to apply my own practices of reduce, reuse, recycle, to the practical aspects of packaging and presentation. The initial purchase of a giant roll of bubble wrap had me in a spin trying to work out ways I could offset this hideous purchase.
The bubblewrap made a temporary desk. Printed stock list on a spread sheet streamlined the task a bit.

Every plastic container that comes into my home is now going to have at least one more use. Bubble wrap will still be employed but our office shreddings will now be part of the bubble wrap replacement in nice little recycled paper pillows. 

I have raided a few stores that sell imported Asian products and garnered some little packaging boxes that were being scrapped so my  packaging efforts are coming along. Negotiating the marketing network may take time but I am on my way.

Please take a look at my shop and share it with anyone you know. If you have success stories with etsy that you can share I am a willing student.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Mrs Teapot and International Womens Day

This week I attended a memorial service for an old family friend. It was well attended and full of joy and praise for a woman who had connected with hundreds of lives over an 80 year lifetime. Her last years were difficult as are the last years of many older people, but she had put enough scores on the board in her previous years to more than compensate. She was the ultimate multi tasker, mad as a hatter, trying to improve the world according to her laws of justice based on fighting for the underdog and fearless in her opposition to exploitation whenever she saw it.
In my mind she has been Mrs Teapot for many years, because hospitality and connection to people came ahead of business always. Hospitality included carrying a tray of china for a tea party down through ti tree scrub and across 4 lanes of highway to the beach complete with tablecloth or doilies for her guests who visited in the summertime. If it took 2 or 3 trips to get everything down to the beach, she just did it, scones, butter, cream, milk and sugar and cordial for the children and all with joyful satisfaction in being able to provide the best hospitality. Her endless energy just kept everybody else around her moving too.
She made no differentiation between animals and humans and chatted to them all, and when her cat Lindy died at 23 years of age she felt it was important to notify all those who had ever known Lindy so that they could share their grieving. A cat living with an outgoing person like her could meet a lot of people in 23 years!
Her life was as an educator, and she was of the old school variety which found strength and something positive and interesting in every human to build upon. She worked and raised 4 young men who have gone on to lead competent and fulfilling lives and did it all without the benefits of government handouts and without compromising family life.
I’ve been a bit stuck lately, feeling a bit like a congested whirlpool outside the mainstream, in a world that is streaming past at a great and unconscious rate. My world has been revolving around political agitation and every day there is more to depress and alarm me about our current situation.
I went to the bakery the other day and was deeply impressed with the cheerfulness of the girl who served me. On asking her about her upbeat state she told me that serving was her job and she would make the most of it because no one cares if you have a bad day but you can spread happiness by being cheerful. Well Mrs Teapot would have agreed with her about spreading happiness and doing what you can with what you’ve got but if you can’t care about someone when they are down, especially all the ones who need our help then no amount of fairy dust is going to stop those bad things happening.

 Mrs Teapot was a doer and a fighter who listened and then tried to put people in connection with their own points of strength. That a woman of 80, who has been out of circulation with ill health for 5 years, can still fill a church upon her death is a testament to the strength of human connection and service of others. In this week of International Women’s Day we recognise the grass roots work of ordinary women doing and doing. Hers was a lifetime of teaching , by examples of common sense  kindness and fairness and recognising the hope in everyone she met. She was a roll up your sleeves person and just do what you can with love, sandwiches and endless cups of tea and washing up with others or alone. Blessed are the weird and energetic and God bless Marjie. It’s been an honour to be connected to your story. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

A New Year and Reincarnation

I made a painting nearly 40 years ago in response to a family death. It seemed disrespectful and maudlin to some people at the time and because it was rejected I tucked it away along with some other odd little things I had worked on. It was recently seen and admired through the  new young eyes of someone I respect, not for her art reviewing skills (because I don’t know her very well yet), but because she embraces an attitude to life that I was trying to communicate at the time.  She is interested in taking care of the earth and planning spaces that help populations to live lightly on this planet so that there is enough for everyone. That’s what my painting was about too. I call it Reincarnation.


 With a planet reaching 7 billion people some time in the next 50 years, that many headstones alone will choke the land of livable space, let alone arable land. Apparently there is only 7-10% of good arable land on the whole planet. We either need to increase our stocks of good arable land by better land treatment or we need to prevent good land from being locked up forever. We need creative thinking fast to cope with such a crisis, but people are so afraid to discuss this subject. Think about 7 billion headstones along with all the graves of all the people who have come before us and all the people who are to come after us. Grave sites are the stupidest most narcissistic inventions made by man.
 A military graveyard

A house may seem like an indulgence, or even a car, or other possessions but they can be used and reused long after we are gone. But a grave site? A patch of real estate that robs future generations for hundreds of years(sometimes thousands) of earth to grow and live on. And don't get me started on archaeologists who dig up old burial sites and then that land is tied up too.
We live in a digital age with amazing technology but bury our dead with the arrogance of Roman emperors. Our world is crying out for regeneration, and chemical free food and water with land enough for all the inhabitants not just humans but we keep locking up precious land with concrete beds for the dead, where no water can move through the soil and release our earth given goodness back for future generations.
There has been some forward thinking, in maybe 50 years but it is not the norm, and we still make concrete and stone memorials and mausoleums many times the volume of the body enclosed. In cultures where land has been vital to existence, different sustainable burial forms have evolved, which also reflect their spirituality. Maybe in this new age where science and the environment are becoming the new religion and or spirituality we may see sustainable death practices which are honourable and allow for continuing prosperity of people into the future.  Cremation is space saving but uses fossil fuels to reach high temperatures equivalent to a bisque firing, with nothing but ash as a product.  Instead of the endless debate about when does life begin, let us turn the discussion to when does dead mean gone and re contributing?
What does all this have to do with clay and ceramics you say? In my daily work with clay, I experience a form of meditation that  goes deeply into the atomic level of the clay. I cannot help but think of aeons of time and life bound up in the material in my hands. Does the porcelain I use contain atomic matter from a courtesan or cockroach in an ancient Chinese or Japanese palace? Do the ground up materials that make my glazes contain atomic material made from prehistoric insects, plants and unicellular creatures? When I reclaim clay from failed designs or just throwing practice is there thought energy encapsulated in my clay?
When learning to wedge clay ( a physically demanding process to remove air pockets and align the clay particles before throwing) we were taught to treat it as a meditation and put our intentions into it. That simply means to rehearse the throwing process in your mind stepping through the choreography of throwing the piece you intend to make. Sometimes when approaching a sculpture however I have been astounded by the way the process has turned out. The clay has other intentions and even though I have begun to build a loosely formed idea, once I am totally in right brain mode (the Zone) I am no longer in charge of the process. I fantasise that I am being channelled by some other force.
This sculpture surprised me as much as anyone else because I feel I had little part in it. My intention was weak- I sort of planned to make a chimpanzee but another boat emerged and before long there were cormorants roosted all over it. It does come from my life and experience but the clay extracted it from me in a stream of consciousness process that I felt very loosely attached to.

Before we choke our earth let us use our brilliant human imaginations to step outside the box (or casket) and think of respectable life giving ways to cast off our mortal coils. Let us develop a new language for burial, like planting. Consider the traditional burial method based on the concept of sleep. I prefer to sleep in foetal position.  I also tend to clutch things so for my  last sleep I could think of nothing better than clutching a new plant and nurturing it with my body and to be the start of something new and beautiful like a forest that will house birds insects and animals and one day provide timber for housing and then room for a new human plant to grow. All my details could be kept recorded digitally on a QR code for anyone desperate enough to know of me, like the proximity readers at MONA and could be followed digitally in a walk through the forest, and like Facebook my other relatives could be linked in ever increasing circles so that a history could be quickly surveyed. There would be no hierarchy or religious separation, just a chronological separation beginning in the middle of the forest and spiralling out in Fibonacci series as is natural to many plants. 

 In my new life I could be tall and thin and silent .