Southern Cross University, NSW, Australia
February 28th- March 16th 2006
Moving on from the Focus on Artists' Books 3 conference at Artspace Mackay, Queensland, I spent just over two weeks as artist in residence, at the Visual Arts Department of Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales. This residency was supported by: the host venue SCU, Artspace Mackay in conjunction with Focus on Artists' Books 3, the Commonwealth Regional Arts Fund, the Australia Council for the Arts and local sponsors.
My residency was to make an artist's book Against Nature, an apology for the parasitic fungus affecting rye crops in the Salem area, which was partly responsible for the hysterical actions of the Salem Witch Trials. When ingested, ergot-poisoning symptoms include hallucinations, convulsions and sensations of burning. In the Salem area, rye was grown for local supplies of flour for bread making.
The accusers' symptoms are now thought to have been the result of ergot infection rather than witchcraft. In the 1940's Albert Hofmann's study of ergot led to the creation of lysergic acid diethylamide - LSD. The names listed in the book, are of those accused and hanged for witchcraft in Salem Village, except Giles Corey who was pressed to death when he refused to stand trial. A commemorative area now stands in Salem for those who were killed.
I spent my time at Lismore working on this book, meeting with staff and students and working in the studios with Tim Mosely, the expert papermaker and book artist. The campus is set in the grounds of a tropical park full of palm trees and plants which are also specially grown for papermaking, there are also the occasional koala bears and water dragons wandering around the campus. Many of the staff and students make books using handmade papers from natural materials. Staff also collaborate as a team on artists' books, through their Codex Events where they work together to produce artworks in a book format. Artists' books produced by staff and ex-students at Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW include: 1,833 km fence - Australia 1907, a collaborative production made at Codex Event 2. The book was specially made for the 4th International Artist's Book Triennial, in Vilnius 2006, which has the exhibition theme of Rabbit and House. The house shaped slipcover reveals 3 inserts (warrens), each unfolding into the shape of a house. The book instances the damage done by the millions of rabbits which roam Australia. Each of the houses was made using their trademark speciality of handmade paper, which has been pulp-printed so that the colour text and images lay within the black background, interspersed with pieces of maps. The paper is then screenprinted with overlays, sewn and folded into shape. When I left Lismore, the staff kindly gave me a copy of one of these works, London Tank: a collaborative artist's book by: Darren Bryant, Jan Davis, Libby Elton, Claudie Frock, Sarah Jones, Tim Mosely and Scott Trevelyan. Made in 2006, this unique book incorporates pulp-printing and screenprint on handmade papers.
Tim has developed papermaking with many natural fibres including old clothes for a variety of colours and weights, from transparent to sculptural papers. The department is well known for its' work in this area and for a particular specialism of pulp-printing, where images and text are printed as pulp straight into damp paper, which dries as a seamlessly combined sheet.
My plans for making my intended book quickly altered when I was shown examples of this way of working, and Tim very kindly took me through the whole process to make the paper sheets incorporating the text and images for Against Nature. The dense black paper was the result of chopping up old, black, cotton clothes and pulping them with a mixture of (6-month fermented) hibiscus fibres.
After pulping, we made the sheets of paper by hand, which were pressed and then rolled onto the studio walls ready for the pulp-printing transfer. The pale grey pulp was forced through a screenprint mesh directly onto the black paper. This was then left to dry overnight, before carefully peeling off the next day. I tried to document as much of the process of making the book with this process, in the photo gallery here.
I had a wonderful time during the residency and would like to extend many thanks to all the staff and students who helped make this such an enjoyable time; Jan Davis for supervising my residency, Tim Mosely for showing me the paper-pulp printing and for all the time he spent taking me through the whole process; from the trip to the charity shop to buy the right cotton clothes - right through to the finished piece, and Darren for helping roll out the papers onto the wall. My thanks also to the students: Lina and Rebekah for helping with the papermaking, and for some expert photography when I had my hands in the water tank or on the wall, and Kim and Ny for screen exposures and an extra pair of hands when needed. Thanks also to all the Visual Arts staff for making me feel so welcome, and to Fiona and Wendy for organising a great night out in Byron Bay.
www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/studios/print/index.html SCU Visual Arts department for more info on their extensive book and papermaking projects.
www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/research/paper/index.html for info on the papermaking research at SCU
www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/staff/davis/ for Jan's work
www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/staff/mosely/ for Tim's work
www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/staff/bryant/ for Darren's work
You can also see some examples of the students' work at : www.scu.edu.au/schools/arts/visarts/virtualGALLERY/index.html
Click the link to read more about the Focus on Artists' Books 3: Artspace Mackay, Queensland, Australia (24-26/2/06)