The Shimmer Effect

November 29th, 2023

SAQA juror Pat Forster selected one of my works,“The Shimmer Effect”, for an online exhibition, Geometric Expressions, which opens on the SAQA website on January 3rd next. I’ll post that link here when it’s available.

I never show a completed work on my blog or website until it’s been exhibited, ie published somewhere, so for now here’s a close detail shot of the surface texture, along with my statement about it: “A square symbolises balance, solidity and stability.  Hand stitching over concentric squares in gentle neutral colours calmed my unease at current disorder and chaos in the world.  Metallic threads in my work signify value or importance, here referencing tradition and hope.

Close detail, “The Shimmer Effect, 2022. Each square is ~6cm.

I posted about it while making this quilt as it was such a long project. It’s about 1m square, with each concentric square unit being 6cm, with a total of 121 squares of fused nylon organza strips oversewn by hand in metallic thread. The fabric itself has a subtle glittery texture.

Rules Based Disorder

November 27th, 2023

As mentioned in a recent post, I’ve come up with this phrase, rules based disorder, expressing my concern at the current state of the world .

As expert commentators considered the impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on the stabiliry of Europe, we began to hear the phrase “rules based order”. That event certainly added further disruption to worldwide trade and distribution patterns of food, energy and other resources, still in recovery from disruptions due to the Covid pandemic. The recent Hamas invasion of Israel and the resulting retaliatory war has added a whole new layer of concern to that picture.

To me a stitch is a mark, a line. When I first began using this stitched square a couple of years ago, it was a response in fabric and stitch to the shapes and lines of Vera Molnar’s generative art, which I’d just discovered. I enjoyed placing those units in a variation of the traditional patchwork block, Nine Patch, stitching the same sets of lines around each square. I love referencing traditional patterns in my art, an enduring influence from the brief time I spent learning traditional American geometric patchwork and quilting. I love the regularity of those block units of assembled simple geometric shapes:

Detail, ” Nine Patch Variation” 2022.

Perhaps this prompted me to consider how I feel about all the ways in life that I value or work towards regular stability. I’m not obsessive about tidiness in our home, but do like to keep things in reasonable order. An over-full rubbish bin in the kitchen makes me dither, and until it’s emptied, I’m unable to focus on whatever meal or cake I’m there to cook.

I like to revisit Molnar’s art and just now found another article reminding me how closely I relate to her art and that of others of the generative movement. Vera Molnar’s algorithms have built into them a little piece of code that randomly introduces a slight variation aka disruption into the pattern the machine’s producing in paper, and it multiplies. I realised there’s a lot more variation in those repeat patterns than I originally understood.

A few weeks ago I stamped squares with fabric paint, which gave unevenly distributed colour and texture, but the stitching I added was regular but boring, prompting me to aim for a more organic, less rigid looking effect, even while using a grid layout.

When I finish stitching around all the squares, I believe there will be more to add between the squares. There are no pattern instructions here, just choices between options.
I’ll add more irregularity through stitching and maybe more paint splats. An un-ironed finish, with blood red stitching and rough edges are all under consideration.

What’s orderly can become disorderly, and the penny dropped that the phrase rules based disorder covers what I’m exploring in these square+stitch units.

A Small Gem Of A Museum

November 21st, 2023

We recently visited Montevideo’s National Museum of Natural History, one of the many museums here in Uruguay, all of them small by world standards. The nice thing about small museums is that you don’t need to make a full day of popping into one, and if there is an admission price, it’s not much. (and some are free) Having said that, I love natural history museums and found this one just too small, it left me wanting more, though what there was was very professionally organised and informative.

South America intrigued Charles Darwin who on his visits to this continent experienced and observed plant and animal life plus extinct forms of modern day plants and animals via fossils in the rock layers, all of which he diligently recorded, and which led over several years to him developing his Theory of Natural Selection. He travelled extensively around this continent including time spent in the Falkland Islands, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, The Galapagos Islands, Chile, along the way journeying into the Andes and more. We’re so fortunate to have great documentation of his travels and his experiences like his Voyage of The Beagle and the proceedings and journals of the major scientific associations to which he presented his work.

From Science News “Many of the species Darwin discovered in the fossils were previously unknown to science, including several giant ground sloths, compact car–sized relatives of armadillos called glyptodonts (SN Online: 2/22/16) and ancient kin of horses and elephants. Because many of those animals were apparently extinct — but just as apparently related to species still living in the region — Darwin concluded the fossils were strong evidence for the “transmutation,” or evolution, of species. This evidence was all the more convincing to him, Lister suggests, because he had unearthed the fossils himself. He saw firsthand the fossils’ geologic context, which enabled him to more easily infer how species had changed through time.”

Montevideo’s National Museum of Natural History has this beautiful Glyptodon fossil, complete with an amazing spike-ended tail looking for all the world like a lethal weapon of war, the mace. It was rather disappointing that this magnificent fossil sits in a cluttered space in front of some kind of storage instead of occupying an otherwise empty space without distractions so that it’s magnificence can be appreciated. Some similar fossils have been reported to be as large as cars but up to 8ft tall, and often likened to the VW Beetle. There are several similar fossils at Colonia, and a terrific one at MAPI the Museum of Pre-Columbian and Indigenous Art in the Ciudad Viejo, Montevideo.

The beautiful surface texture of the bony carapace. Each roughly hexagonal unit measures approximately 3cm-4cm across.

There was a variety of tail shapes and textures of the hard thick bony carapaces some of which have been assembled here

An interesting nearby area featured birds of Uruguay, their nests and eggs, with an accompanying chart identifying them all and their usual habitats. But I felt that missing from this display was a taxidermist treated model of each one, that might have tied all the species and their habitats together within the national territory of Uruguay.

The museum is housed in a historic building on a large block of land, and I hope there are some plans for expansion of this museum – as institutions of this kind have so much value for the nation and the education of its children.

My Favourite Stitched Square Motif, 3

November 15th, 2023

Square grids and squares themselves represent order and calm, predictability. So the disrupted pattern in each of these ~30cm grid studies reflects my concern at the current state of the world. Since the invasion of Ukraine 18 months ago, we’ve heard much about the “Rules Based Order” concept that motivated and underpinned the world’s recovery following World War II. I myself think the notion of ‘world peace’ is a bit of a myth, as realistically speaking, I doubt there’s ever been a time of absolute peace since the Dawn of Time.

Being a year 1 Baby Boomer, one of my earliest memories of events outside my own family is the morning in June 1952 when Mum announced that the king had died, and Princess Elizabeth had become Queen Elizabeth the second. (it would be a few years before I knew anything about the first) My next memory of a world shaking event was the The Suez Crisis of 1956. My home state of Tasmania has always been known as The Apple Isle, on account of the quantity of high quality apples produced there since first settlment in 1803. When I was a child, huge quantities of them were shipped to UK and Europe during the northern hemisphere off-season for locally grown fresh fruit. In 1956, in response to other events in the Middle East, the Egyptian government suddenly seized control of the Suez Canal. Many ships containing Tasmanian fruit were stuck in the canal for months while their precious cargos just rotted, resulting in a massive economic hit to the Tasmanian apple growing industry. Within a few years the government was paying orchardists to dig up their trees and and plant something else. Fruit is still grown there, and as cider has become more popular apples are still important, but that event forced the diversification of Tasmanian agricutlure, which, in retrospect was probably a good thing.

My childhood was regularly punctuated by other big news stories of regional spats, anti-colonial uprisings, wars and dangerous dictatorships athe MIddle East, Africa, SE Asia and Eastern Europe and South America, much of which was part of, or accompanied by, the long drawn out Cold War between the Communist East and The Capitalist West comprising Europe, N. America and their allies. I was 15 when that idealogical clash rose to that crisis known as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. I clearly remember our parents intently focusing on the scary evening news, and how some fellow students were crying in the playground when I arrived at school one morning. The whole world felt very dangerous for a while – just as it does now, sixty years later.

The working title for these initial studies is ‘rules based disorder’ …

There’s more to be done on each of these, and I’ll probably make more, as I love making fibreart with grid layouts, but today I just needed to post these ‘studies’ in progress, partly to help my mind consider how motifs in grids are linking up with my feelings about the current state of the world.

Some Things Change, Others No So Much

November 11th, 2023

While penning a newsletter this week for Ozquilt, an association for art quilt makers in the Australian-New Zealand corner of the world (of which I’ve been a member for ever) I looked back at some of my very earliest blog posts in 2005.

Today, the internet is littered with abandoned blogs, and yet some who began blogging then continue to write them even as their original angle or purpose might have shifted a bit, as mine has. My regular readers know that my blog has become more of an artist’s diary in content and less of a travelogue than when I began writing it. Of course, that could have something to do with travelling less, too 😉 In the last decade social media have multiplied and spread, so that today even Facebook and Instagram are showing signs of being past their peaks, and certainly blogs have lost some of the importance they had 15 years ago. Perhaps both writers and readers can’t be bothered to look past pictures and captions for a longer read.

While I still write and post on my blog, my overall online presence has changed a bit, too. I have been on Facebook for years, but only recently set up an artist page there in addition to my more general one. Last year I started posting on Instagram which is all about pictures and less about information in written form. It may be true, as younger people now say, that FB is more for older people. I haven’t yet taken to the colour-and-movement on Tik Tok, and if I ever do go there, the influencers will have probably all moved on… whatever. The thing with social media is that you can spend hours just looking, making videos and so on, but the posts are not necessarily coherent and sequential, and often not in the least bit informative. Being a natural teacher and lover of sharing information and opinions as I do, a blog format is perfect for me. Reading back over some of my earlier posts revealed that I could have written some of them just yesterday. I prefer to think that demonstrates consistent opinion-forming, not that I’m an old stuck-in-the-mud!

I recently had a conversation with a friend here about some of the most iconic Uruguayan artists, and of course the beloved Jose Gurvich came up. He was gifted in many media, including painting, ceramics, drawing and printmaking, and we’ve just made plans for next weekend to vist the Museo Gurvich, in the Old City, dedicated to his life’s work. On Friday May 13th 2005 I posted about this quilt, made shortly after seeing an important exhibition of Gurvich’s ceramics.

“Arbol de la Vida” 2005, ~130 x 100cm. Strongly influenced by a wonderful exhibition I had recently seen of the ceramic works of Jose Gurvich.

My work is almost never pictorial, and I haven’t made anything in that style since… but I made it for an invitation to exhibit in a display with a particular theme, which is something I almost never do now. Today, I follow my own themes or my vision, make the work and then select calls for entries that I think suit whatever I’m making or have already made.

Reading on through that 2005 post, in which I positively enthused about working late, or even frantically working through the night to meet some deadline or other showed that has really changed! I now have a fairly well developed sense of what I can achieve in a given time, and as I begin something, I self-impose a deadline to allow days or even weeks before any deadline. It might be aging, or perhaps a delayed onset of wisdom, but despite the many last minute triumphs including some notably glorious ones, I now hate the pressure of doing things in a rush at the last minute. I’ve always preferred working to larger sizes like 100cm+ that to many younger artquilt makers would seem impossibly large, but I love a large project and the challenges that presents, and to produce one takes time, without rushing against the clock.

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All images and text are © Alison Schwabe
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