Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Artists in Conversation: Julie Merriman & Jessica Foley

At the end of June, I went to The Lexicon gallery (in DLR Co Co library) to see the latest work of Julie Merriman in her exhibition of drawings, Carriage Return. The exhibition consists of large works in the main area and smaller works in the smaller back room

.Merriman's drawing methods and materials are meticulous and unique: she utilises "found" things like pre-used typewriter ribbons, carbon paper, and outdated printing machines (she is the first Irish person I have met who knows what a Gestetner Machine is!).

The drawing above references the wind cowls that are part of the air venting structure that are synonymous with the architecture of The Lexicon complex. As well as seeing the exhibition, I was also attending the artist talk - Julie Merriman was in conversation with writer Jessica Foley, who had written a response to Merriman's work. The conversation offered great insight into the work of both artists, both of whom I have had the occasion to encounter before.

In 2016, I was taking a post-graduate course and Jessica Foley gave an experimental writing workshop one morning, and that afternoon gave a tour of Trinity College's CONNECT building where she is located as writer in residence. That same spring, Julie Merriman had an exhibition of drawings made while in residence at Dublin City Council. I also attended a talk that Merriman made at the time to discuss the residency and the work in the show, entitled Revisions.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dublin Pride and Canada Day

It was a busy weekend just past: Saturday June 30 being the day for the annual Dublin Pride Parade and Sunday July 1 being Canada Day (remembered by Canadians worldwide).

The theme for this year's Pride was "We Are Family" and it was the largest Pride parade in Dublin ever, with over 60,000 joyful people participating. The first Pride parade in Ireland was in 1983 with 200 people courageously marching - homosexuality was not decriminalised till 1993!

Along with a Pride flag, the Canadian flag is proudly hanging at Brown Thomas, which is owned by the Weston family (Canadian).

Pumpkin pie is a must for Canada Day, and I make them every year from the mush prepared from the previous Hallowe'en pumpkin (and frozen of course!).

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Vinyl "handbag" sketchbook

While I still have three more of my Mum's leather handbags that I want to turn into notebooks/sketchbooks, I turned to one of my own old bags to use for making for a sketchbook as a long overdue gift for a vegetarian artist friend. This was a good little bag that I received as a gift many years ago, but was out of circulation due to a broken strap. 

The first step was un-seaming the bag and taking measurements. The bag's flap with design patches was actually like a pocket so I kept it intact for possible further use.

I figured out the size for my signatures (folded paper groups) and measured the vinyl to size for a wrap-around cover. I had decided to go back to the very first bookbinding method that I learned - the Medieval tacket book - and slightly modify it to my needs. In the image below, lines marking the interior spine are visible with approximately 1/4 cm between each line.Two signatures will be bound in corresponding holes along each line.

Using graph paper I decided the distance between the binding holes. In the picture below the extra lines denote where the signature spines will be -- the meetings of perpendicular lines marking the locations of the binding holes. NB: it is important that the TOP and BOTTOM of the cover and signatures are obvious; I mark the interior spine (it won't be visible after binding) and always have a deckled edge at the top of my books. Likewise, the template should also be clearly marked.

Each signature is opened centrally to facilitate puncturing binding holes. Each signature for this sketchbook is ten folded pages, i.e., 20 pages. The pushpins need to poke completely through the ten pages, in the middle of the fold; the graph paper provides a template for where the holes will be.

A book cradle is ideal to facilitate the creation of binding holes; I have made a useful enough cradle from cardboard. It has gotten a bit wonky at this point, with much use, but I keep repairing it with duct tape and additional bits of cardboard in strategic places so it still serves its purpose!

Back to poking holes in the sigantures: the two white pushpins are stronger and easier to use than the round headed pins. However, I only have two of the white type so they are my main men for poking holes, and the round ones act as placeholders, keeping the signature aligned with the graph paper template. While working on the book, I thought of this step as the "dance of the pushpins": I kept having to move the pins around till all the holes were punctured.

Looking at the signatures not in the cradle, one can see the holes punctured in the signature spines. These are the binding holes. Note that there are seven holes in the paper signatures; five of these holes will be bound to the cover, but the top and bottom holes are for thread entry, exit, and signature binding -- they are not used to bind to the cover.

As with the paper, the cover needs to have holes punctured. Five holes per line are punctured, corresponding to the five binding holes in the signatures. I used an awl to make the holes, but as with leather, the vinyl wants to heal itself! Safety pins and earring wires are handy to give those pesky holes a nudge to stay open; these handy pin items need to be removed completely before beginning to bind.

 Start binding in reverse order. That is, the last signature (with end paper) is the first to be bound. It is probably the most tricky, so it's good to get it over with. Leave about 2 inches of thread at the entry hole, starting from the outside and threading into the centre of the signature. Threading through the second hole you bind the signature to the first hole in the cover and come back through the cover's second hole to the third signature hole. The thread then goes to the centre hole and it is here that a decision must be made: the thread has to go back through the same hole, so either another thread or a decorative bead or button is used in order to facilitate the bind (otherwise it would come undone). The following signatures do not have this dilemma as the binding thread loops through the previous binding thread (i.e., signatures 3, 5, 7, and 9. The second signature on each line (i.e., signatures 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) is not bound to the cover at the centre hole --  the hole is bypassed as one long thread to the next hole (lower or upper hole, depending on your sewing direction).

I am happy with the final book, I chose the teal embroidery thread (3 strand) to match the endpapers, which is paper giftwrap from Prague that I had been saving. I thought of using one of the ceramic buttons that I had made as a decorative, practical element in that first tricky signature binding, but I found the glass beads and thought them more appropriate and less likely to damage the threads with time.

As I am planning to mail this sketchbook to my friend, I was delighted that the "pocket" of the original purse flap is large enough to contain the sketchbook. Though it's a bit of tight squeeze, it will offer considerable protection in the post!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Jesse Jones at The Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Jesse Jones was the artist chosen to represent Ireland at last year's 57th Venice Biennale. As I had met Jesse briefly a few years ago, I was curious as to what she was going to exhibit, and then followed the presentation avidly through social media and the catalogue. So when I heard that the complete presentation of "Tremble Tremble" was going to be shown at The Projet Arts Cente in Dublin this summer I was completely excited and chomping at the bit for the opening day.

The exhibition opened nearly two weeks ago and I met an artist friend to attend.

We were both blown away! Although I had read the catalogue essays with interest, they could not prepare me for the exhibition. Essentially it was a multimedia performance, where the main performer, Olwen FouĂ©re,  was present on film via two huge, oblong video screens.

What a presence! I cannot describe this artwork adequately - it defies description. But the mythic exhibition continues in Dublin till July 18, and I am under the impression that it will tour to other venues around Ireland. Have a look at Project's website here for further information on the exhibition.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bray - summer

A few weeks ago I took this picture of Killiney Bay on my way home from Dublin. That is Bray Head jutting into the Irish Sea in the middle of the image. Bray nestles below and around the Head -- my home these past few decades. 

We have had an amazing summer, blue skies, lots of sun and warmth. It is a wonderful reminder of why I have been here for so long -- I love the place! Foxgloves are out and they are wild and extremely tall here in Ireland.

Bray is ideal: it is close to the countyside, the sea, and Dublin. Everything is at your doorstep. This cliff down to the sea is on the side of Bray Head.

One of my neighbours has a brilliant collection of irises growing in her side garden. I have to pass them walking towards the park on the way out of the estate.

Especially when on a mission to pick elderflowers on the edge of the park -- elderflowers bloom in June and make a fantastic cordial and wine.

The grass on the edge of the estate is full of tiny, pink-tipped daisies.

Looking through tree branches the sky is blue.

The sun is shining and the leaves are lush. Can it get any better than this?

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Summertime - music gigs!

I think it is common worldwide that musical people equate summer with gigs. Although bands play year-round, there is a proliferation of outdoor festival gigs in the summer, and there are also other annual music events that mark the beginning of summer.

Here in Ireland, where I live, the May bank holiday weekend (always including the first Monday of the month) is marked by the annual Bray Jazz Festival. It has been going strong for 19 years now, and though the Town Hall gigs are no longer free (as they were in the first few years), there is still the pub trail that sees a huge amount of free live music in bars all over the town. One of my locals, The Harbour Bar, was hosting several live gigs daily over the weekend and I saw that The Tommy Halferty Trio, who I had seen and heard and enjoyed a number of years ago, were scheduled to play the Sunday afternoon of the festival..

Halferty is a jazz guitarist extraordinaire and the first set included some great improv jazz from Halferty's latest album, Station Midi, as well as "standard" work by the likes of innovator Thelonius Monk. Since it was a gorgeous, summery weekend, I refused to stay in the cave of a pub (often in Ireland you could miss the summer by blinking) so I only stayed for the first set and gave up my prime seat at the bar to people arriving for the second set and the rest of the gigs taking place that day and night..

Some friends had invited us to spend the warm evening with dinner and drinks in their gorgeous garden that evening, so leaving the pub was not a hardship! By my good fortune, those same friends had a spare ticket to see The Rolling Stones in Croke Park a few weeks later. And summer persisted, so it was a completely unforgettable evening by those four legends. I definitely have to hand it to those wrinkly rockers for putting on an incredibly amazing show.

Last night the summer of gigs continued for me as I headed off to Malahide Castle in north Dublin to see LCD Soundsystem. The gig was fabulous, helped by the atypical continuation of summer weather - even James Murphy (LCD's front man) declared incredulously "this is the longest sunset I have ever seen!" We never saw the castle because the grounds are huge, and the gig was in an outdoor area. It is a good venue to see a band in fine weather, but boy what a trek from where I live!

My love of music has really worked out well this summer, winning tickets to the Bryan Ferry gig at Trinity College in July. And I was absolutely over the moon to win tickets this past weekend to see two more rock legends in the autumn when Van Morrison and Robert Plant (with the Sensational Space Shifters) play a double bill at the 3 Arena in Dublin. Wow! Many, many thanks to Radio Nova, the Dublin radio station that I listen to constantly.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Bassam Al-Sabah at The LAB

A few weeks ago, I made my way into Dublin's The LAB gallery in order to see an exhibition by Basam Al-Sabah, Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset. I first came across Al-Sabah when he was an art student at IADT a few years ago, and I was curious to find out how his work was developing.

I did a double-take at the entrance: in previous exhibitions at The LAB, the small square space gallery was used to exhibit a different artist than the main space, but here was an introduction to Al-Sabah's work. The colourful drapery beautifully printed with spaceships and rockets could have been from a child's bedroom (curtains or bedclothes).

In the corner of the space, there were roughly made, unglazed clay forms, which despite their organic shape seemed distinctly ominous and malevolent to me.

The main room displayed a number of individual works in a variety of media, but one could tell that a story was unfolding and further examination would be enlightening.

I am not sure whether it was from a direct conversation I had had with Bassam Al-Sabah or a written accompaniment to his work at some point, but I remember being struck by him recounting that he thought their had been musical drumming at night when he was a child in Iraq - only later understanding that this was the sound of his city being bombed. As one might expect, such a strong memory informs the Al-Sabah's work: innocence, loss, melancholy, a certain sadness and fear feature poignantly in images of family and the remnants of anime cartoons that Al-Sabah watched when he was a child.

While not hugely au fait with the world of anime myself, I could recognise a circling hero figure seeming very confused in a video tower piece.

This same hero figure was portrayed as broken on a nearby table, hero body parts intermingled with human body parts. The broken pieces for me displayed a shattered innocence, a child's identification with the hero, both fictional hero and human child reduced to "doll" parts.

Against the furthest wall, at mantle level, were several shelves containing images obviously painted from family photographs encased in resin, almost as an attempt to preserve the images. The simplicity of this group display was given a huge amount of power after watching the longer video behind the wall, in a separate room.

An almost architecturally sterile cgi video of a house walk-through with a difference. There were a few personal pointers within the rooms: a paper bag on the floor in the kitchen, a fridge magnet of a family photo, Persian designs on furniture upholstery. Ominously though, something was intruding from the outside world -- via radio and tv -- forms and shapes were enveloping the architecture. Most of the soundtrack to the video walk-through is droning and eerie, but then towards the end there is voice-over and subtitles translating the speech of Al-Sabah's Grandmother. Full of sorrow for her dispersed family, as her children and their families leave the dangers of Iraq for various countries, she burns all family photos. Home is no longer home.

Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset is a powerful exhibiton and I think personally momentous work for Bassam Al-Sabah that allows me to empathise with experiences so far removed from the safety of my own.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Summer - potato bake!

I got this delicious, nutritious and easy to make recipe a few weeks ago, after being introduced to it at a friends' summer party - already I have made it three times! Since it is definitely summer now, this is a wonderful companion to an al fresco meal; with roast chicken and salad were my introduction, but I have eaten it's on its own as a full meal.

The ingredients are simple: boiled potatoes (4-5 medium), 1 egg, 1/2 pint milk, grated cheese (at least a cup -- I love cheese so I didn't bother to measure!), ground pepper and nutmeg, some butter.

After greasing the dish with butter, slice and spread the boiled potatoes.

In a separate dish whisk an egg with the milk and add most of the cheese. Stir and then spoon over the potatoes.

Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese, pepper and nutmeg on top. Add a couple of knobs of butter before putting in the oven.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 180C for about half an hour. I cover for the first 20 mins and remove the tin foil for the last bit of baking in order to brown and crisp the cheese a bit. The first time I made this I added some chopped onion; it was tasty enough (I like onion) but not necessary as there is plenty of flavour in this dish. In fact, having made it twice without onion, I will stick with the original onion-less recipe that I was given. Happy summer!