Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Seaweed Collecting

After having read so much about 19th century seaweed collecting, and examining the two seaweed books first hand, I thought it was about time I started my own seaweed collection, just so I could experience working with the material itself and also the technique of seaweed pressing. This may be easy if you live by the sea, but in Canberra it's at least a couple of hours journey to a beach! Luckily I was given several bags of seaweed from two different locations by friends and family who spent a weekend at the north and south coasts respectively, and who took time out to gather a variety seaweeds that had been washed up by the tide.  Each state has rules regarding the quantity of seaweed that can be collected off its beaches, so it is advisable to check these limitations before you start collecting.
There are a variety of instructions available on how to press seaweed over the internet but basically the seaweed is 'floated' onto a sheet of watercolour, or other heavy gsm paper, and then further arranged using a paintbrush and tweezers. This is important for seaweeds that have feathery fronds, so that they do not clump together when pressed.
Seaweed floated onto paper before arranging.
Sometimes it is necessary to trim the seaweed so that the fronds at the back do not create too much bulk for pressing. This could lead to uneven drying of the specimen and possible mould if not pressed properly.

A few of the seaweeds found on MacMasters beach, NSW

It is important to ensure that the papers separating the pressed seaweeds are changed regularly and that the stacks are aired to avoid drying issues.

As mentioned in earlier posts, some seaweeds will adhere directly to the paper under pressure, however others will dry and come away from the mount.  In this case it is usual to use herbarium mounting tape to ensure that the specimen remains fast.  Specimens were also stitched to the mounting papers with a fine linen thread in past herbarium samples.

I expected the process of sorting through a few bags of seaweeds to take me an hour or so, but to my surprise the more I looked, the more varieties of seaweed I found.  I think I ended up pressing over 40 specimens that day, no two of which looked the same. The challenge would be to now identify them, and I guess this puts me firmly in the same category as those anonymous 19th century women strolling along the beach, observing and collecting then becoming entranced with the beauty to be found washed up with the tide, and wanting to find out more about them.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Chromophilia @ Timeless Textiles

Detail of 'Threads of Life' Julie Ryder
My solo exhibition 'Chromophilia' opens at the Timeless Textiles Gallery in Newcastle East

14 September - 9 October on Thursday night 6-8pm

Timeless Textiles 
90 Hunter Street

Gallery Hours
Wed - Sat 10 -4pm
Sun 10-2pm

The word chromophilia means an abnormal love of colour, deriving from the Greek chromo (colour) and phileo (to love), and is described as the property possessed by most cells of staining readily with appropriate dyes.

I first became interested in chromophilia when I was researching the use of Scanning Electron micrographs (SEM’s) in my Master’s work at ANU in 2003. With a past history of working in laboratories, I was scanning fragments of my dyed fabrics at very high magnification with the SEM.  However, the SEM uses electrons, not light, to build up an image on the computer, so I had to learn how to use digital software to add the colour back in.  This opened up a whole area of research into what colour was and how it was perceived – how were colours changed when they were placed together in various combinations? How were colours changed when they were seen from various distances? In what way are colours dependent on the size of the coloured surface?

In order to translate these concepts into textiles, I needed to explore a new technique of printing with dye called ‘chemical resist’.  This technique works on the principle that if you print two different classes of dye onto the same fabric, one will repel the other so that full colour designs can be printed, without the tedious and sometimes impossible method of colour separation that is used in screen-printing.  By mastering this technique I could then fully explore the questions I posed by working with complimentary contrasts without the fear of my colours turning ‘muddy’. Most of us know that if we put complimentary contrasting colours together (for example red +green; blue+ orange or yellow + purple) you will get hues of brown, grey or black. With this new technique I could print these colours together and still retain their integrity.

The fabrics I have printed for ‘Chromophilia’ are the results of my research.  Images and shapes are derived from observations of cells and bacteria under the microscope, and then juxtaposition of scale and motif are played out in the pairs of narrow fabric lengths. The larger, more complex cloths use a variety of these marks and motifs, building up heavily coloured and patterned textiles.  I liken this process to that of DNA transference in living things – some motifs and colours appear dominant, whilst others are recessive.  The combinations of colours in different proportions impart tension within the artwork, which can then be further enhanced or denied by the form it inhabits. I have further exploited these concepts by embellishing textiles with stitch and buttons, bound by embroidery hoops as a framing device to infer the process of looking through a microscope and observing form, scale and repetition.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Access Visit to the NMA

Access visit to the NMA at Mitchell. Myself, Dr Christine Cargill (ANBG)
Tania Riviere and Catriona Donnelly from the NMA.
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA
 On Monday, Catriona and I had organised an access visit to the NMA repository in Mitchell to view the two Seaweed collections I have been blogging (and raving about) since I started my residency here at the NMA in July. I invited Dr Christine Cargill, Curator of Cryptogams at the ANBG and my long time scientific collaborator,  to also come and view the albums so that she could give us her professional opinion on the cryptogams that had been collected in both albums.  These included ferns and mosses collected in both Tasmania in 1836 (Port Arthur Seaweed Collection) and Drouin and Ferntree Gully in 1882 (Port Phillip Seaweed collection).

Because of the extreme fragility of the two albums - both in terms of plant matter and the paper of the books - we could only view the albums under the supervision of Tania Riviere, Conservator with the NMA. Each book was housed within its own custom made cardboard box, and then placed within an archival box for storage.  When they were bought out for viewing they were placed on a large, bean-bag type of pillow that supported the spine of each book as Tania turned the pages for us with gloved hands. The bags were moved and repositioned as the weight of the book changed during the viewing.

Christine was able to get quite close to the pages of cryptogams and identified that amongst them were some examples of hornworts, liverworts and lichens as well as mosses, ferns and lycopods.

Christine getting up close and personal with her eye-piece
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

Christine finds a hornwort hiding amongst the mosses....
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

It was such an interesting and informative visit, because each of us had our own inputs and insights into various aspects of the collection. Tanya made some very interesting observations about the condition of the Port Phillip album, how it had been repaired as well as  other modifications that had been made to it throughout its lifetime. I had been studying both albums for weeks via their high res images on the NMA database and I had already documented the contents of each page, so I knew what I wanted to look at and investigate further once I had access to the real albums. It was also the first time that Catriona had viewed the books first-hand and we were both surprised at the physical dimensions of each book.  For some reason, I expected the Port Arthur album to be small, when in reality it was about scrapbook or ledger size. The Port Phillip album was much thicker than I imagined and the discrepancies between the elaborately tooled front-cover and the back cover remain a mystery to be investigated. 

Despite the level of detail you can observe from hi-res images, what struck me is that it is the power of the actual object, its physical presence, its colouring, the mustiness of the pages and the beauty and intricacy of the actual plants, their forms, colours and shapes,  that impacted on me the most. It was really a privilege to see these objects and the visit has only made me even more enamoured and determined to find out everything I can about them, and similar botanical collections of the 19th century.

And finally.....at last!! I have had two donations of buckets of seaweed from the north and south coast with which I can start playing! I have been hanging out to get my hands on various types of seaweeds to start exploring the materiality of them, to draw them and to preserve them just like the many women of the 1800's before me.

This week my solo exhibition, 'Chromophilia' opens at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle, so my next post will be from there.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A fond farewell

The past couple of weeks since my last post has seen me continuing to research the Seaweed albums at the NMA, tracking down signatures and handwriting to establish a line of provenance for one of them. My interest in these albums was inspired by the contagious enthusiasm of Senior Curator and Head of PATE, Dr Kirsten Wehner. It was a chance meeting with Kirsten nearly two years ago that started the ball rolling for my residency with PATE at the NMA.

So it was with great sadness that this week the Museum said a teary farewell to Kirsten, who is off overseas to start a Masters in London. I was proud that the PATE staff chose one of my artworks as a farewell gift for Kirsten, and the following day the team and I went on a group outing over lunch to see my glass work in the Hindmarsh Prize at the Canberra Glassworks, then on to my studio so they could see what I get up to behind those huge closed doors at the bottom of the dusty shed on a secluded horse agistment!
Catriona, Jen, Kirsten and Martha viewing my work

Farewell Kirsten, thanks so much for the opportunity to work with you briefly on my project. I'll keep you updated with photos of the work as it unfolds. Safe journey and happy studying.