Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time and concentration in Melbourne

Phew, it took me three full days to start feeling 'normal' again after my Melbourne trip. So tired! And a weird fuzziness like I'd had a migraine, without the migraine. Maybe I do have something lurking in my system, or maybe I'm getting old and just pushed myself too hard after the gastro. Either way, ageing sucks, doesn't it?

Anyway, I spent those three days submerged in Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King (not finished that one yet). AWESOME! Hipsters with magic using heavy and playful references to Narnia, Potter, Earthsea, LOTR, and other fantasy novels. Fabulous way to flop around.

So: Melbourne. I'm off the tram (obviously), had a lovely time. I always wish I could split myself into parts when I'm travelling on public transport in Melbourne, so that I could jump off at different spots and do all the things I see, and then meet up that evening and compare notes. It didn't help that it was Moomba weekend, lots going on between Carlton and St Kilda on that particular trip.

Adventure and Art was a fantastic afternoon, organised by the Baillieu Library's Susan Millard and her team. The exhibition lingers until May, so do go and have a look if you're hanging around the Uni of Melbourne. You won't see any of my work in the exhibition; in fact the only woman in the show is (rightfully, if there had to only be one) Carolyn Fraser of Idlewild Press. A shame, but there you go. As compensation, I suspect, I was given a whole half an hour to talk about myself, how I got into printing, and how the fine press book fits into all of my other activities, such as teaching book arts, etc.

I managed to fill the time easily, talking about my Summer School class and the various reasons why people, in my experience, want to play with letterpress these days. I also talked about my journey into printing, which gave me the chance to sing the praises of Alec Bolton (Brindabella Press) and Petr Herel (Graphic Investigations Workshop, Canberra School of Art) and talk about the way one was a fine printer who focused on Australian art & writing and the other was an artist who taught fine printing in his curriculum. Alec, unfortunately, is dead, but Petr is very much alive and was in the audience and was very happy to be remembered.

As far as the last bit goes, I unpacked the 'etc' a bit and bluntly stated that for most people (including me for the last few years) the fine press book doesn't fit into their activities, because fine printing in book form takes time and concentration, which is a luxury in a working life, and this is why I've been printing broadsides and making less intense books. While I was saying these things, though, I walked them through the pages of the one fine press book I've made that I really, really love (because it was totally mine to design and produce, without outside pressures): Transmigration.

It seemed to go down well. Peter Vangioni from the Kowhai Press in Christchurch was the only other speaker with 30 minutes up his sleeve, and he said wonderful things and tragic things about being a printer, and being a printer and gallery curator in an earthquake zone.

There was also a panel made up of Carolyn Fraser, Andrew Schuller and Alan Loney. I'd been to visit Carolyn and her studio that morning, and we'd had a fantastic catch-up, talking about life, the universe and letterpress. When she stood up and gave her ten minute's worth of opinion, it was sharp and pointy and dense with things that I hope the audience took away to mull over and digest, including the notion that Melbourne needs a public access printing space, based on the model of the NY Centre for the book. Not like the Melbourne Museum of Printing, where the facilities are barely held together with string and chewing gum, but a solid, well-organised, supported space where people can do courses to gain competency and then can use the space on a time-share basis to produce their own work. Come to think of it, we have a role model in Australia already : Megalo, here in Canberra. So let's get that thought in action: Melbourne Centre for Printing & the Book (or something like). Pity the Wheeler Centre missed the ball in that respect.

Andrew, an ex-Oxford University Press man, discussed the blurred margins of fine press printing: that it's hard to distinguish is something is finely printed as a fine press book or as an artist's book, but it's easy to tell when something isn't. And perhaps that's the only distinction that should be made? Why do we need lines drawn in sand? The artists in the room nodded.

Alan is the curator of the show, a master printer in his own right, and one who is unashamed of drawing those lines, even though many of his own poems have been finely printed as artists' books by other people. He spoke eloquently about his passion for the craft and his hopes for its future.

Afterwards there was time to look at the books, complete with nibbles and drinks before the next batch of words, speeches by Andrew and Alan again (but not repetitive, which was lovely). I got the chance to talk to many, many people about many, many things, and I'm sure a lot of it will return to me in time.

After that those who spoke or organised had dinner together at University House in an amazing room:

Surrounded by faces like these in the wall panels:

Aren't they beautiful? Apparently some man skinned his room in Paris & brought it all over to Australia, where it now resides in this room. Amazing. I should be able give you more details, we were all talking about it, but by that part of the day I wasn't really able to hold any more information. I do know that Peter V and I were sitting with our backs to a Breughel painting, which blew him away. He kept turning around and exclaiming. I was watching the faces, there were a lot of them.

Other things I did during my stay: I spent just under 3 hours with the work of William Kentridge, which was stupendous. I was there on the first morning of the exhibition, so I was maybe the 50th person in? I know that I was never in any room with more than 4 people, and most-times I was by myself in a space, and I know that will never happen again in the run of the exhibition.

I also, on the way to the airport on Saturday, spent time in the State Library's new show, Love & Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, an exhibition of Persian illuminated books and Persian-influenced books sourced from the Bodleian Library and the SLV. It is stunning, absolutely sumptuous.

So now it's (slowly) back to the grind, getting Material World together and making some books. Time and concentration, that's what it's all about.


The Elephant's Child said...

It sounds as if in addition to that time and concentration you need to be a bit kind to yourself.
My eyes were rolling back in my head just reading about your Melbourne sojourn. For a not quite well person it must have taken a lot out of you.

Ampersand Duck said...

I know, I'm starting to come to that realisation myself. Thanks for the hugs. I've always aspired to going slow, now I think I should take it seriously.