Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3 Chords & the Truth

Just a quick reminder that this show opens tomorrow night at 6pm, and we're featuring the super local band Dr Stovepipe!

I've made a number of works using sheet music, and I'm really happy with them. Yesterday and today have been spent installing and helping the marvellous Narelle make a very cool zine-like catalogue.

Come and see!

[I had a fun but manic weekend, and this weekend, wot with the Folk Festival and having to write a paper for Mackay's conference, and then next week, wot with going to Mackay, means that I'm not going to be able to to justice to the fun things I want to tell you... sorry. I'll try to fill the gaps once I'm sitting quietly in my hotel room in Mackay...]

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I've been sitting here at work feeling fuzzy and waiting for things to happen: students to arrive, films to arrive to make into plates, meetings to get under way. In the meantime, I've been looking at stuff on the internet, and today's theme seems to be drawings. Here's a selection of things that delighted me (click the images to take you to their source). Many thanks to the various bloggers who featured them first...

Lady Thornthrop is terribly concerned about the plight of poor children

The fish in the water will swim through your head

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Things I keep forgetting to post

I'm in a weirdly busy zone, not helped by the fact that I'm feeling fuzzy and early-coldish. So I keep forgetting to mention stuff that I really should mention.

Like: you may or may not have read about the Shopping Sherpa's amazing cargo cult arrival of an amazing amount of art supplies and books on the theme of art and design. I also was a beneficiary of that largesse, as there was a box amongst it with my name on it, as the secret donor is someone that I've connected with at some point (the mystery of all this is delightful). The box was full of yummies like a few Keith Smith manuals, and lots of handy book and journal instruction volumes. There were a few doubles with the books I've already got, so I gave them back to the SS to distribute (or keep in her new amazing library), but suddenly I have a really good shelf in my studio on books on books! So THANK YOU, secret person! I hope you are getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about being so generous.

Like: Shopping Sherpa also decided that I was the right person to share a free ticket to MicMacs at Dendy. In return I bought her some sushi and taught her how to play the Alphabet Waiting Game, which she played very enthusiastically, to my amusement. In the Alphabet Waiting Game, you try to piece together the alphabet from the text in the ads before the movie starts. It's harder than it sounds, especially if there are no ads by jewellers halfway through. In our version, signs and labels in the background of the ads are fair game, but others may disagree.

MicMacs is fantastic, but NOT FOR KIDS, even if it looks fun and quirky on the ads. It should be ok for young teens, but be aware that the first ten minutes are quite confronting, involving graphic death and shooting scenes. There's also some sexy stuff, but the violence is more shocking... and it's meant to be. This is a movie about arms traders, and it is deeply satisfying in the way it moves through periods of utter farce into a message that is real and deep.

Like: Edible Books Day is upcoming! 1 April is the actual day, but my book class at the art school are going to try to have a tea party next monday during class. I have to think of something fun but quick to do, because I'm driving to Sydney for the day on Sunday to attend the 70th birthday of my mother-in-law...

Like: I got Tim T's new zine! it's about a pornographic octopus, and it's hilarious. I'm not sure how or where he's distributing them -- probably Sticky? -- but if you want one, and you should, contact him at timhtrain - at -

That should do, for now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I don't know if anyone's noticed, but I've been steadily rebuilding my website, and I've even added a new Duckshop...

I've had a really busy weekend. Friday I drove up to Sydney to deliver some works to a group show I'm in soon. Here's the invite:

Paper Works

Just in case you can't see the image, let me tell you the deets:

Brenda May Gallery: Paper Works
23 March to 11 April 2010
2 Danks St, Waterloo, Sydney
Opening: 4 to 6pm, Sat 27 March

I'm very excited, I'm in exalted company, and I'm showing two pieces from my solo show in Canberra last year.

Unfortunately, I can't make the opening, because I'm going to a wedding at the National Gallery of Australia that promises to be posh and lush and unforgiveable to miss. But, if you're in Sydney, I hope you can pop your head into either the opening or the actual show in normal gallery hours.

I spent all day in Studio Duck today printing. Printing, printing, printing. Mostly printing bookplates for my mother-in-law as a present for her impending 70th birthday party, and then printing splash posters for another upcoming group exhibition I'm in...

3 Chords

3 Chords

This is the invitation I designed for the gallery after I printed the first proof of the wood type. I've been printing more of the text onto sheet music and newsprint to plaster through Canberra and the National Folk Festival, since we've timed the exhibition to coincide with the Festival.

Do come to this opening, if you're in Canberra (6pm Wed 31st March). We've got Dr Stovepipe playing, and they're a most excellent outfit.

Yawn... bedtime.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


For a few years now I've been buying a fabulous zine called Ker-bloom!, printed using handset letterpress. It's the only one in the world, and once I discovered it, I resolved to stay true to it forever. I bought up back issues, and I'm only missing about ten copies out of about 85 (my copies are at the studio, I can't check right now) and I hope to plug those gaps one day to have a complete set.

Ker-bloom! is produced by an amazing young woman called Artnoose (she has a real name, of course, but that's her business) who lives an amazing anarco-communal life, originally in California but now in Pittsburgh.

Her zine provides tantalising glimpses into her outer and inner life; the second-last copy was emotionally heart-wrenching, and I wept as I read it, and I have to admit that my hands were shaking slightly as I opened the most recent one, eager to know how she was coping. This latest one was awesome and inspiring, as she recounted the recent move of her heavy letterpress equipment from a nearby building into the basement of her house with the help of a lot of her community. I read about the moment when her press rolled down the stairs towards her and didn't squish her like a bug, and realised that I'd been holding my breath for slightly too long.

Pittsburgh is one of the American cities hit hard by the GFC (global financial crisis). There are houses throughout the city that have been abandoned. Some have been reclaimed by the city, others are just abandoned, and are ripe for squatters and can be bought extremely cheaply.

I'm telling you this because Artnoose and her friends bought one of these houses and spent a lot of time and energy fixing it up. They have strong beliefs about community and ways to revitalise the community and make it equitable and sustainable.

Artnoose now wants to buy another house just down the road and fix it up to be a studio that can be used not only for production but to teach others the site-specific skills of letterpress. She has set up a website to try and raise the money. I'll share her words with you:

As you probably know, I moved to Pittsburgh in 2007 with the express purpose of buying a house for building a dream printshop. My life meandered a bit, and I ended up living at a writers' collective in the verdant neighborhood of Upper Lawrenceville. This was one of the most fortuitous things that could have happened, and I'm now ready to buy a house near this one so that I can set up the printing wing to this writing house.

In addition to being home to a lot of great people, Pittsburgh also has many abandoned houses, several of which are in my immediate neighborhood. Some are owned by the city, and some are owned by unknown persons. I'm in the process of trying to acquire an abandoned house, and I'm utilizing a diversity of fundraising tactics: bake sales, benefit shows, tattoo parties, letterpress lessons, you name it.

One thing that I'm trying is this website called in which you put forth a project and try to get people to pledge money. If you reach your fundraising goal (mine is $4000, the cost of a house three blocks away from me) then you get the money and can start your project. If you don't, then no one gets charged, and you don't get the money. I created a kickstarter page with the help of a filmmaker friend and an illustrator friend (both of whom are named Dan). Check it out. It's an admittedly adorable video. Please consider donating something in exchange for fabulous prizes, and please forward this information to friends and relatives, especially those who might have even a passing interest in letterpress.

If you're still wondering why I deserve a house in which to build a dream printshop, think about all the not-for-profit things that I help create for the people around me even without a dream shop: hat bands, house bands, benefit brunches, reading groups, prisoner support events, all-ages zine readings, countless free tattoos and business cards, cupcakes and root beer floats at the drop of a hat, huge breakfasts for touring bands that happen to stay at my house, and dinner for anyone who happens to drop by while I'm cooking.

I don't do these things because I expect something in return; I do them because I sincerely believe that the world could use some more awesome things. With this printshop, I'll be able to do all the things I mentioned above plus more: workshops, letterpress classes, printing residencies, and small-operation publishing. Combined with the literary power of the writers' collective, this is going to be no small thing.

Thanks everyone. Let's do some really great things this year. If you're in Pittsburgh, come by and say hello.

I'm in. Are you?

Just in case you missed that link: here it is again. Do watch the video. It's cute, and there are big drifts of exotic snow!

Friday, March 12, 2010

long fur

My goodness, I'm ever so grateful to The Paper Chipmunk for introducing this wonderful, seductive timewaster to my life. I think.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rant du Jour

Cruising down the list of today's typically-splendid Breakfast Politics, my eye was caught by an article about Alexander McQueen's 'last hurrah', covered by the New York Times.

I find fashion mildly amusing at the best of times, akin to the amusement given by the daily soap-opera parade of celebrities and the dumb things my cats do.

But I'm heartily sick of the myth that fashion designers, especially male ones, are motivated by their 'love of women', this quote from the article being a great example:

In this collection Alexander — Lee — McQueen showed his sensitivity to history, his powers of research, his imagination, his technical skills and his love of women, often misinterpreted or misunderstood, but here evident in every fold and feather.


If fashion designers truly 'loved women', they would spend more of their time thinking about how to design clothes (and shoes) that are

[a] comfortable yet stylish
[b] available to all dress sizes
[c] easy to look after

Since none of the above are true for any of the clothes I see on any catwalks -- or shop racks -- I must deduce that most of the designers are motivated by:

[a] the money
[b] some stupid we're cool and you're not game that still exists in offices & schools worldwide
[c] the money

I have no idea why shops still support stupid designers, and maintain the pretense that most women are size 8-10; I get extremely cranky at sale time, because all of the 'normal' sizes sell out two weeks after the 'fashions' are put on the racks each season, and everything left over is always either dumb-looking or way too small for anyone except pre-pubescent girls or those who skip lunch/dinner/every meal.

I have to stop before my blood pressure makes my ears pop off. Maybe I just need some lunch...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

snorts du jour

Snaps to The Dangerous Kettle, who put me on to My First Dictionary and all its hilarity.

If you want a link that is just as hilarious, and even darker, try craigslaugh. But don't go there if you have a weak stomach...

Monday, March 08, 2010

the book, is thinking about it

Yes, me again. While I'm dismantling my last computer (waiting for things to copy/trash), I'm gathering my thoughts over the next few weeks for the talk I'm giving about 'The Limits of the Book' in Mackay at Focus on Books V. Bear with me: I've had the pancakes, so I'm not too tired yet, but the braincells are still a bit shattered by my early morning.

Humorous Pictures

Ostensibly my paper starts as a run-down of the BSANZ conference I attended last year in Brisbane by the same name. I thought it would be useful to report that the scholars and the book artists are debating the same issues: what is a book, does it have limits, what is the future of the book, and does taking it online change everything?

At the Mackay conference, there is a space at the end of the conference where people get to stand up and do a little update about what they've been up to or what's been happening around the traps. Last conference I did one of those, and I sort of expected to be in the same timeslot, not being a major player (or so I thought) and not having a very big topic, just a conference report-back kinda-thing.

But OMFCC,* they've given me a 45-minute slot right smack in the centre of proceedings. I figure this gives me a chance to bang on a bit about books and what I think about them.

But first I have to really crystallise what I do think. Because I change my mind, quite a lot. In a nutshell, I think that books will survive anything the internet can throw at them. I think that books are physical objects that can't be taken on-line because then they become text. I think there is a substantial difference between books and information, which is what the internet presents to us. And I think that there are booky things on the internet, but we should all start working out new names for them, to be imaginative about new terms for new things. I like the way Kindle doesn't pretend to be anything but a Kindle. If it's a successful enough product, all e-readers will be called Kindles whether their genuine brand-names like it or not, and that's the way new names generate.

I was just reading an article from The Times Online about the (yawn) Death of Books, and pondering my favourite thought, which is: when peak oil runs out, if we haven't got our shit together with alternative energies, the internet really will be only for those who Have. If books are dead, and information is only accessible online, then we really will have Haves and Have-nots, everywhere. This is my post-apocalyptic extension of 'how does the information contained in books survive the constant shifting of software that leaves much behind and only translates what is deemed relevant?'. As someone who has worked in desktop publishing pretty much from the moment it went onto computers (I just felt a grey hair go PING), I have witnessed many incarnations of books fall by the wayside, trapped on disks, drives, sticks, all holding files that are now impenetrable. One particular project I'm still involved with (on a very sideline level) has spent the last 20 years (PING) trying to perfect a way to strip down their carefully researched and formatted scholarly editions into some holy grail of simple code that can coast along the surface of a very rough software (and hardware) ocean. I don't know how successful they've been, but it's been a long journey in a very leaky boat.

I do think about this stuff a lot; I have a recurrent daydream/nightmare (depending how busy I am) where the internet crashes and people come knocking at my studio door wanting me to handset and print the newspaper for them (PING).

I'm a big believer of books as physical objects: I have a very broad concept of what can be a book, from sculptural objects to conceptual ideas of bookiness... I can see that the computer can conceptually 'be' a book, but I'm starting to be a firm believer in the internet being a provider of information rather than a holder of books.

I also think, and I'm hoping this will go down well at a conference of artist's book makers, that we are really well placed in time to be working with books. Now that books have pretty much ceased to be the dominant provider of information and moved into a more specialised sector of the market (I really doubt that pulp novels will ever stop being made, unless people come up with a e-reader that can cope with steam and sand), there is no better time to be pushing it as a symbol, even a relic, of a time that people are or will be highly nostalgic about. Making beautiful books -- or making undervalued books valuable again by altering or reworking them -- will ensure that the physicality of books survives and is nurtured.

Any thoughts? Remember that this is me thinking aloud and completely unstructured; I'm very happy to be slapped down on any points or pulled up to the mark regarding generalisations or research. Any pointers as to places I should be looking at will be appreciated and fully acknowledged in my paper.

*Ceiling Cat being the main deity in this household, with a small subsection being a Jedi follower. I was once married to someone from the Bureau of Stats. I take the Census seriously.


going bananas

good morning.

It's Monday. In Canberra, it's a public holiday. Here's testament to the weirdness that is Canberra. The powers that be decided that every second Monday of March should be a holiday, to celebrate our great city (whose official anniversary is 12 March). And so it is.

But... the actual Canberra Day celebrations (street stuff, concerts, fireworks, etc) are held on the weekend after the long weekend (as in next weekend), because whenever Canberrans get a long weekend, they piss off down to the coast and no-one comes to the celebrations. So essentially there are two weekends of fun to celebrate one day for a city that no-one besides those who live here actually likes. Sigh.

I'm sitting in the loungeroom in my jim-jams with my laptop on my -- gasp -- lap, watching the sun come up through the window. It's up now, I assume, because I can actually see the outline of Mr Pooter on the other couch. An hour and a half ago, when I sat here, I couldn't see anything but the keyboard and a faint grey glow out of the window. There's no actual sun -- it's raining really hard outside, but the light has increased, so therefore it must be day.

I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed for an hour trying to slow my brain down by listening to the rain, but it kept whizzing merrily along with all sorts of things: the fact that I missed my nana's birthday yesterday, what I was going to say in my talk at Mackay next month, how I was going to move the cabinets of type I bought from Braidwood to here, is my neck pain caused by too much work or have I actually got disc damage (I had x-rays last week)... you know the whizziness I mean.

I'm waiting for the boys to wake up -- we'd all agreed to sleep in today -- so that I can make banana pancakes for us. This is something Best Beloved discovered at a street stall in India and has become a firm family favourite. You make nice thick pancake mix -- more like flapjack mix, I guess (I make them with self-raising flour, yogurt and 2 eggs) -- and start to cook them as usual. While the first side is frying, you scatter thin slices of ripe banana on to the raw side (they sink into the batter slightly), and then turn the pancake over. As the second side cooks, the slices of banana caramelise. Serve with plain yogurt, or cream if you're that way inclined. Or even icecream. Come on boys, WAKE UP.

Today is going to be the final day of clearing out my study, I hope. I did the big clean-up weeks ago, but today is taking apart the furniture & putting it on the front verandah (under cover, under wraps -- darn rain), ready to sell or give away. And de-fleaing the cats. The poor buggers are as itchy as anything.

It's not all excitement and drama around here. I spent the weekend in the studio, binding books and making new pieces for a show I'm in through Easter called 'Three Chords & the Truth: Art Inspired by Music' (timed to be in conjunction with the National Folk Festival). One of the pieces was a collage made from bits of sticky-taped pages from an old hymn book I'd found at Lifeline. The tape had turned a golden translucent amber colour over time, and made the bits of page translucent too. I made the collage look like a church, and it looks quite lovely, I hope. I also made a Michael Jackson bangle out of sheet music for 'Thriller' that I'm calling 'Secret Thrill'. Sorry, my digicam is stuffed, and I forgot to use my iPhone to take shots, so I'll have to show you when the exhibition opens in April.

Damn. Mr Pooter just knocked over a whole stack of CDs in a gentle attempt to persuade me to let. him. out. I guess that woke up BB at least. On with the show...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

tummy wobbles

A friend sent me this wonderful link called Unhappy Hipsters. It keeps me snorting, daily.

The hill had the perfect incline for rolling. And the trampoline was wildly exciting, at first. But crushing peanuts into the deck brought the grown-ups running, and was therefore deemed the most fun of all.

I've just had a lot of time with Bumblebee. He has an unfortunate history of becoming sick just before a major Fun Thing and thus missing out on it (we all remember the Queen tribute concert, with hideously expensive tickets bought months in advance, when we bravely tried to rally & attend, but he ended up sobbing in my arms at what the noise and the bright lights were doing to his head, even though they were playing his favorite song really well...).

He had a touch of the tummy wobbles just before camp last week, and we all took it very seriously, because we all really, really wanted him to go to camp -- B because it was CAMP, us because camp is a great place to make friends -- so we dosed him up on garlicky chicken soup, made him go to bed early, etc etc.

He made it to camp, and had a fabulous time, of course, and came back tall and happy and glowing, and reported that five kids had developed gastro-like illness and had to be driven home. The healthy, happy glow lasted until monday arvo, when he started womiting, and thus he's been ill for the last two days.

The first day, Tuesday, I dragged him along to Studio Duck so that I could hang out with Natalie, my resident student printer. As Nat printed her fabulous Super Mario prints and I constructed a box for my Mackay Libris entry, Bumblebee flopped on his beanbag playing gameboy and doing sudoku puzzles. When we were home he flopped on the couch to watch the Stah Waz Clone Waz dvds that he got from a fellow Canberra Stah Waz Collectors Group member.

Yesterday, when I realised we had to stay home if we were to defeat the tummy wobbles, I decided to make the day memorable for him. Instead of letting him have the usual flopping and playing kinda day, I marched into his bedroom and gave him all four books from Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen manga series about surviving Hiroshima. "Don't get up until you've read all of these," I said.

And he didn't. I brought him drinks and dry biscuits, made him soup which he ate with his head in the books, and then waited for his reaction, which came in the afternoon. In the meantime I worked on the computer, catching up on lots of small things I'd been meaning to do for ages.

He came in, not quite sobbing, but teary at the ending. No spoilers here, you'll have to find out for yourself if you can; Nakazawa is very clever in the way he's structured the story. The grand scale of the tragedy is brought down to a very personal level that forces you to engage emotionally. Bumblebee is a classic modern kid, hardened in the face of visual constructions of violence (is that the right way to phrase it? I mean movie & book violence as opposed to real encountered violence, which shocks the hell out of him), so the bomb dropping & drawn images of people suffering didn't engage him as much as individual characters from the story suffering.

He's now very interested in Hiroshima and we had a great talk about reasons why it happened and why the Americans thought it needed to happen. The more we talk about history, the more he digs it. I hope that has a lasting effect! Or at least a lingering half-life...

POSTSCRIPT: I just thought I'd respond to SCB's comment about my motherhood skillz out here, up front. I like to blog these nice parenting moments because they remind me that I can be a good parent when I'm not feeling like one. Last night I caught some of At the Movies and Margaret mentioned a character who was a 'good but slightly flaky' mother. 'That's me!' I thought with a flash. I didn't tell you, did I, the whole story about Bumblebee's latest vaccination?

There were two vaccinations on offer: Hep B and Chickenpox. I ticked both on the form, thinking to myself that B had had such a slight case of C'pox -- one spot -- that he might need a needle anyway.

The night before he was due to have the vaccinations, I stumbled across -- this was during my big cleanup -- an old diary stuck in the back of the filing cabinet. I took it back to the studio, wanting to put it together with all my other (scatty) diaries, and before putting it in the box, threw it open at a random page.

That random page recounted the day before my birthday in the year 2001, when Bumblebee (at the age of 4) had a really bad, crusty, oozing case of chickenpox. I'd planned a party, but only the stronghearted came, and towards the end of the (early) evening Bumblebee, who loves a party, was telling everyone to 'GO HOME, GO. HOOOOOME.' because all he wanted was less noise and more mum. We didn't get a lot of sleep that night, poor wee little man.

How could I forget something like that? The 'one spot' thing was actually ME, as recounted many, many times by my long-suffering mother, who had to nurse my poor crusty, oozing brother at the same time.

Luckily I could ring the school, and send a note to the administering nurse, and save B the extra needle. He was ever so grateful, and I felt like a more than slightly flaky mother.

And, for the record, I used to read What Katy Did in bed when I was sick too. And What Katy Did Next. Sometimes I still do.