Kiss the Earth (with your feet)

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Kiss the Earth (with your feet) – installation view- Caring for Country exhibition, Beaudesert, Queensland

In the midst of setting up my new home studio after the flood, I was honoured to take part in the Caring for Country exhibition at Beaudesert in Queensland. Fortunately all the paper created during my university honours project last year was safe and sound in paper draws at home. So I was able to instal a series of banana paper paths upon which people could mindfully, slowly walk and experience  the idea of treading the earth lightly.

All the artists who participated in this exhibition responded similarly to the Caring for Country theme. Through a variety of different mediums, from video installation to sculptural works; all stressed the same idea of slowing down, listening to the earth, appreciating its beauty and being mindful of our responsibility to the earth and to each other.

This is the artist statement for my artwork in the Caring for Country exhibition which is exhibiting from 16 June – 30 August 2017.

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

A young Shaolin monk learns the precepts of Buddhist teachings and is told by his Master “When you can walk the rice paper without tearing it, then your steps will not be heard.” [1] To tread lightly on this earth has become the mantra of the ecological movement, and is embedded in the teachings of indigenous communities around the world.

To care for country, we must practice to tread lightly, to pay attention to our interactions with the environment. As a paper artist I am inspired to use the fragility and strength of handmade paper as a metaphor for resilience and a hopeful future.

These paper paths invite you to experience an intimate connection to country, by ‘kissing’ the earth with your feet. The paper is handmade from banana plant fibre which has the appearance of translucent fragility yet is quite strong and like the earth responds to our touch.

Some of these papers have been printed with an image derived from the banana plant leaf, fused with indigo dye along the stem line. These blue lines represent the sounds made by water dripping as the paper is made.

Baskets of pebbles and leaves have been collected from the Scenic Rim area, from riverbeds and local indigenous trees. Together the paper paths, the river stones and leaves represent the earth and its elements. Through this act of walking and placing a pebble or leaf at the end of each path, the theme of ‘caring for country’ is experienced through the senses. These gifts of and for the earth are placed to create a circle of connection, a mandala for contemplation.

[1] From the telemovie Kung Fu by Ed Spielman (1972)

http://www.kungfu-guide.com/pilot.html

 

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Folds in the fabric of time & space

Preserved memories
Preserved Memories. 2017. Flood water in sealed preserving jars.

There are some moments in time you would like to hold onto forever, to bookmark them in your memory so that it is easy to return to them for comfort or clarity. There are others you would happily fold over, like little ripples in the fabric of time and space. One of these is March 30, 2017.

Only two weeks after I wrote my last blog post, Cyclone Debbie swept through Queensland and northern NSW wreaking chaos, death and destruction. My little studio in South Murwillumbah was inundated with muddy flood water, the place turned upside down. Miraculously my paper making equipment survived; buckets floating out the back door to be located several days later in trees, my paper drying screens, mud caked but still useable, the Hollander beater’s mechanical engine needing repair but now operational again.

These past two months have flown by in a turmoil of cleaning, grief and cleansing. New beginnings will take shape, new work will emerge from the floodwaters. Unbelievably my banana paper survived, muddy but unbowed. Thank-fully all my finished paper artworks were safe and dry at home but works in progress, banana pulp and other art materials and equipment were lost.

Time has expanded to fill the space of creativity as I responded to the event by joining with another artist to curate a community art exhibition Posts from the Big Flood. Now that too has been dismantled, and like the flood itself is just a memory.

Time is not linear, it expands and contracts, becomes a wave we ride through space. In 2016 scientists discovered ripples in the space/time continuum which fulfilled Einstein’s prediction that gravitational waves warp space and time. These folds in the universe help explain the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a wrinkle or fold.

Which brings me back to Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time and the notion of time travel, or Tessering. This is now the title of the artist book I had started working on before the flood and have finally finished. Filled with screen printed banana paper it is folded into a multilayered response to time. Pages, like time and memory, are dogeared, folded and turned over, unfolded they become hyperlinks into new narratives, a way to leap into other dimensional thinking. When I unfold and turn the pages I am reminded that memories, like time, can be folded away, returned to another day and that art can help us jump dimensions.

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Tessering (detail) Artist Book 2017

 

 

 

Interstices

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Diagram of a tesseract

This week I have returned to my favourite topic of research – the interstice between art and science. This small space or interstice is a mysterious overlap, a Venn diagram where two parts overlap, collide, create a new entity.

Once again I have returned to the book which most influenced me as a nine year old  – Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. In it the children need to travel through time and space to find their missing scientist father who has been experimenting with ‘tessering’ a fifth dimensional method of time travel. The title of the book refers to the Einstein’s space-time continuem, the ripple or wrinkle in time which makes time travel accessible and instantaneous.

These ideas will inform the creation of my next artist book, folding the pages to create multiple narratives which demonstrate that the shortest distance between two or more concepts is a ripple, a wrinkle, a fold in space and time.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Meg sighed. ‘Just explain it to me.’

‘Okay,’ Charles said. ‘What is the first dimension?’

‘Well – a line: –‘

‘Okay. And the second dimension?’

‘Well, you’d square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension.’

‘And the third?’

‘Well, you’d square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn’t be flat any more. It would have a bottom and sides, and a top.’

“And the fourth?’

‘Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time.’

‘That’s right,’ Charles said. ‘Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension you’d square the fourth, wouldn’t you?’

‘I guess so.’

‘Well the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without ever having to go the long way round. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.’

For a brief, illuminating second meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. ‘I see!’ she cried. ‘I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!’

Text sourced from Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Puffin, 1995 p 76-77.

 

Soundscapes

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morning birdsong

After a hiatus of several months, I am back in the studio starting my next project. This extended pause has given me time to regroup, take on some small projects for exhibitions and begin to garden again.

The delight of listening to birdsong in the garden never leaves me. Nor do I take it for granted, knowing that my brief times living in the city were devoid of this signature soundscape. When we lived in country Victoria the dawn chorus of birdsong in spring was a reminder of the changing seasons; birdsong waking the earth from its slumber, bulbs  bursting into flower, eggs hatching.

In Secrets of the Soil, philosopher Rudolf Steiner writes that birdsong has a powerful effect on plants flowering and fruiting. Similarly, birdsong has inspired poets, scientists philosophers and musicians through the ages. It is one of the most studied soundscapes, inspiring French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen to create a suite of bird song inspired pieces including Réveil des oiseaux, (Awakening of the birds) in 1953 for piano and orchestra.

The language and songs of birds were originally a footnote to my research on sound and light waves. However in 2016, I embarked on my honours research project focused on recording the sounds of making paper and reinterpreting these images as songlines and fractal mandalas. Birdsong featured as small nodes on the sound line as I rested my paper outside to dry. It sparked a renewed interest in creating a body of work responding to an immersion in birdsong. In the musical mythology of Persian culture, bird song was considered a form of zikr or remembrance of God, praising creation.

Sonograms of the musical notation of bird song feature in the work of John Wolseley. As I embark upon my new body of work I continue to be inspired by birdsong.  How it will be visually translated is my research challenge.

Caesura

 

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Split  2011 ~ Photograph by Heather Matthew

Artist/composer John Cage talks about the “caesura”, the pauses which are important in both music and poetry.[1] Caesuras or caesurae are from the Latin for “cutting”,  indicating a break in a verse where one phrase ends and the following phrase begins. This rhythmical pause is often in the middle of a poetic line creating dramatic tension and/or additional ways to access meaning. I see it as a site of emptiness and possibility, the yogic pauses at the end of each outgoing and incoming breaths.

For the past month of December, I have been visiting this state of pause. Allowing emptiness to fill me without fear. I know that next year I will begin new and exciting work, following on from the insights I have gleaned from undertaking my Bachelor of Visual Arts Honours project. Already I have new ideas fermenting, ones which involve further study of cymatics, fractal images and portals. Sound, vibration and silence.

John Cage was most famous for his work 4’33”[2], a musical score the title of which indicates the length of silence in minutes and seconds. Cage believed that silence was a way in which people could enter “audibility”, the “undiscovered field which lies outside the direction of our attention”.[3]

There are many fields of audibility, vibrations which are heard or unheard yet sensed. Environmental sounds, domestic and external. The resonant echo of a feeling or thought somehow sensed, an animal or primal audibility we call a ‘sixth sense’.

This moment of cutting, this caesura, is where I listen to my inner sounds of silence and enjoy the emptiness. It is where I tune in to all my senses with confidence, knowing that I will return to this blog in 2017 ready to share afresh my adventures in art.

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[1] Musicage: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music., ed. Joan Retallack. (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), 154.

[2] John Cage, “4’33”,” (1952).

[3] Musicage: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music., xxviii.

Week 40: the last post

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The Poetry of Water (detail) Heather Matthew 2016

Many artists feels that their art is like a child, conceived, nurtured then born through hard labour. From gestation to birth is anywhere between 37 to 40 weeks. It seems fitting, that at week 37 my exhibition was installed and now at 40 weeks it is packed up, the sold artworks delivered and the birth is over. The baby is out and ready to breathe on her own.

Several of my artworks will be hung in new homes, and will need to hold enough of their own resonance to speak with their own voices. The rest will perhaps be available for other exhibitions or be reconfigured into new objects d’art.

In their book Art & Fear: observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking, authors David Bayles & Ted Orland make the point that survival as an artist means “finding an environment where art is valued and art making encouraged”.[1] For many people this is a university environment which can be both stimulating and encouraging. But there does come a time when you, like your artworks, need to stand alone to breathe. The hard part is to find those environments where the breathing is easy so that you have space and oxygen in which to create anew.

Often after university or art college, artists establish group studios or join an artist run initiative so that there are venues in which to exhibit and/or collaborate on new projects. When I first moved to northern NSW I joined a printmaking cooperative which gave me access to equipment and helped forge long lasting friendships with many of its arts members. Now at the end of my university project, I am thinking about ways to stay motivated and connected.

Artists need other artists for support and stimulation. Little clusters of like minded people to gather regularly to talk about work in progress, inspiring exhibitions to visit and new opportunities. Like playgroup mums, we need to get together to allow our art babies to have space to play and interconnect.

Author Julia Cameron talks about the same thing at the finish of her book The Artist’s Way.[2] Forming artist’s way “clusters” helps people stay connected and creates a community of creativity in which successes (and failures) can be celebrated. It is a blueprint for connectivity and one I hope will guide me as I embark on the next stage of my journey. Wish me luck.

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[1] David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (Santa Cruz, CA: The Image Continuum, 1993), 46.

[2] Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (New York: Jeremy P Tarcher / Penguin, 1997).

Week 39: the end, waiting

mandalaStone image, Mexico (photo: Heather Matthew 2011)

“in every beginning

there is the end, waiting”

~ Excerpt from the poem the end, waiting by  Heather Matthew, 2003

In every project the end waits with certainty. Yet in every ending are the seeds of new ideas, the development of concepts circled around time and again, repeating patterns of thoughts which won’t go away.

This week I have been reading about crop circles, vibrational fields of force formed by a combination of electromagnetic waves and sound vibrations.  These scientific precepts have been the basis for two of my most significant arts research projects. For my final Bachelor of Visual Arts project in 2012, I investigated Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism which proved that electricity and magnetism were both waves which together formed electromagnetic fields of force. Four years later I undertook my Honours research investigation into the vibrational patterns of sound in water to create images of chaotic nature fractals.

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Integral & Differential – (detail) screenprint. Heather Matthew 2012

Rereading my visual arts diaries from the past six years, I can see my interest in sacred geometry. My travels have instinctively led me to sacred sites all over the world, where humans have constructed pyramids, mosques, churches and temples in an attempt to heighten and intensify the earth’s vibrational energy force. The spirals and mandala images reflect our need to encode information in buildings and images to remind us of our cosmic connection.

My art has always been about interconnection; between people, nature and the cosmic realm. I am drawn to the intersection of science and metaphysics, for as humankind’s thinking develops and awakens, what was once considered ‘magic’ is now everyday science  eg.  electricity, television and the internet. My art attempts to capture something of the magic of science, the unknown we can glimpse but not yet understand with our thinking.

Art touches the heart on an intuitive level which can  bypass thinking. It can provide a first point of connection, something which moves us but we don’t know why. As artists we strive for connection, between ourselves and our work, between our work and our concepts and if we’re lucky and all the stars align, we make connection with our audience, which in turn propels us to make more work. It may be different, but it comes from the seeds of the previous work we have done, each building upon the foundations already laid. In the end, the beginning, waiting.