Since each of us was several, there was quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as fartherest away. (Deleuze & Guattari, in the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, 3)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

By Coincidence

I find myself collecting all those small fragments left over from a quilt, fragments too precious to throw into the bin beneath my work table. The pile grows steadily until it starts to encroach into my working space, then a pile of plant-dyed wools gets mixed with the fragments and, here before me, by pure coincidence and little else, I have the making of a quilt--my 'parallel journeys' quilt, named in honour of an emerging and unexpected (coincidental?) collaboration. I choose my words with care. Already 'pure' unsettles me, questions arise in my writing mind ('honour' seems appropriate it's how I feel, honoured that such actions, those of collaboration seem to be emerging of their own volition into the light).

'Pure' is by definition: unmixed, unadulterated but 'coincidence' (occurring or being together) blends those that occur or be together, creating other meaning, symbols or memories. As a noun it lacks the dynamic self which lies within it, while 'coincide' in its verb form appeals to me more--by introducing both time and space into the equation (huh I seem to be arguing my scientific self here, losing the spontaneity of a coincidence, that leap of thought to somewhere until then unknown).

I had set out to make a list of coincidences but instead I find it is coincidence itself which appears to be a dynamic of this project. I have Francis Ponge and Ruth to thank for this insight. A book of Ponge's selected poems sits next to me as I write and I had lifted it absent-mindedly (my mind coincidentally elsewhere concerning itself with Nick's un-wellness and need for chicken soup) and read it before I started to type out this erstwhile list.

Water's restlessness: sensitive to the slightest change of slope. Jumping downstairs both feet at a time. Playful, childishly obedient, coming right back when you call it by shifting the incline to this side (FP, Selected Poems, p59).

And a poem by Mark Tredinnick included in this year's "Best Australian Poems": for I am also marked by the moon, my vision occluded.

On Coincidence

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why Smoke?

No, I'm not advocating the benefits of taking up smoking but I did come across an interesting article in a rercent issue of 'Cosmos' magazine (#29) entitled, Why Schizophrenics Smoke (p16).

Statistics suggest over three times as many people suffering from schizophrenia smoke when compared to the population as a whole (the short article quotes work done by psychiatrist Ruth Barr at Queen's University Belfast, so I suspect the numbers are based on the UK population). It had been thought that the benenfits of nicotine were assosicated with overcoming the symptoms of smoking/nicotine withdrawal (I take this to be studies using nicotine patches to help smokers quit). Whereas this study investigated the link between the high incidence of smoking and the effect of nicotine on the symptoms of the illness and suggests it helps attention span, memory and reduces impulsive behaviour. So it may go at least part of the way to explain why so many people who suffer from schizophrenia smoke (...and help their family more understanding of their smoking...well perhaps!).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Postcard from MAD

This posting is the sort of postcard you carry home with you and send to a friend once you've returned--it doesn't have the authenticity of one sent from the distant destination, and so may elicit a certain disappointment in the receiver but it's a message from afar nonetheless:
We visited the new Museum of Art and Design on Columbus Circle, New York on October 13. The museum is so new it felt as if they were still unpacking the collection but check out the building (I'll put the website at the foot of this posting)--it's impressive and what is more, it's dimensions are people-friendly! We started at the second floor and walked up to the fifth or sixth (I think you're meant to take the lift to the top floor and walk down, never mind). Here are some of the things I saw and wanted to tell you about:
City Slicker (1987) by Susan Shie, I've seen her work in photographs but never before in the real , it's even crazier, 3-dimensional--pockets, cloth animals and figures attached to the surface of the quilt! I liked the idea of pockets on a quilt most of all. When I turned around from gazing at Susan's quilt, a small textile object in a case caught my eye: Tennessee Valley Authority Applique Quilt Man with Crane (1934) by Ruth Clement Bond, you can see it on the MAD website (search 'collection') I couldn't help make the connection with Kara Walker's work 70 years later! Finally (I must be running out of room if this is a postcard) Grandmother's Treasures (2008) by Vika Mitrichenka (I think this may be also known as "Tea set "Victoria: no. 12 in the collection): apparently Vika made this work in memory of her grandmother who always repaired broken china (as mine did) but as her eyesight failed she mixed and mismatched the fragments, I really like this work it appeals to my sense of the quirky. See you soon, Love from me xx

Image: New York reflected (taken by me while walking around Manhattan)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Uncanny

When I first thought about doing this project, a major attraction was the possibility of exploring other ways of looking and writing about quilts (Freud and his theories were the focus of my master's thesis). From a position of ignorance I thought Deleuze and Guattari would represent a new starting point for my ongoing work. I already knew Felix Guattari was a psychoanalyst so why was I surprised to find that no, this was not to be a new starting point but more of the next marker along the way!

But I have entitled this post, 'The Uncanny' (a reference of course to Freud's essay on the subject) so I will now explain why:

Tidying the kitchen table yesterday I came across my recent copy of 'gleebooks gleaner' which I had already read but hadn't noticed the small ad in the bottom left hand corner of the back page for a workshop to be held at the NSW Writers' Centre on December 13th: Prof Robin Hemley of Iowa University is to spend a day 'Exploring Creative Non-Fiction', the very thing that drives me forward...and I know about the Iowa Writing Program (it's famous!).

So I rang this morning just before 9am. Yes, there are still places but another person (Julie) will phone me back, the workshop is for experienced, published writers working on a creative non-fiction project and will I qualify?
(Please, please yes!).

So what is uncanny about this, you ask?

The NSW Writers' Centre is located in the grounds of Callan Park, now Sydney College of the Arts. It is 'Garryowen' the very house John Ryan Brenan, my great great great grand father built in 1839!

I grew up thinking it was family mythology that we once owned a grand house on the banks of the Parramatta River (by this I mean wishful, fanciful, after all my grandmother also thought I should marry Prince Charles...), a family story which also claimed the house and grounds were lost in a card game by 'wicked Uncle Joe' (John Ryan's third son, born 1824).

All this was changed when Em started telling me about her final year architecture project, 'Reconfiguring the Wall'. I had laughed telling her my grandmother had believed the family had one owned the property and when I mentioned the family name, Em had replied yes--her research in the Mitchell Library confirmed the family story!

What is more, it is the subject of one of the quilts this project is all about and the connections are now only in the distant past but reach forward into the present, dance around us, encircle us. It may be chance, it may be fate but they are indisputable and unbreakable.

Phone call: I'm in to the masterclass!!

Notes: Sigmund Freud's essay is to be found in volume 14: Art and Literature of the Penguin Freud Library1985, p335-376
An image of the house can be found on the NSW Wriers' Centre website
The image at the beginning of this post is another taken during the process of rebinding Meadow's book

Sunday, November 8, 2009


A month or so ago a friend asked me if I would re-bind a favourite book of nursery rhymes which had belonged to her son, now father of a daughter, her grand-daughter. The book duly arrived and I spent the next month fearful my inexperience in the art of re-binding books would damage what was obviously a book of great personal value. Yet the book itself was in need of repair: it lacked a spine and the covers were falling off. So I went ahead, first dismantling the book then repairing the individual pages and stitching them back together using teal-coloured linen bookbinding thread (why use cream thread when it is a children's book and the teal seemed to match the illustrations!). When I reassembled the pages and found I had reversed pages 21 and 22, I vacillated over whether to correct my mistake (which would mean re-cutting and turning the pages potentially damaging them further) but ended up leaving them as they were (reassured by an email leaving the decision up to me). I made the casing out of green buckram book-cloth--similar to the original--and finally a dust cover.

The whole process was a joyful one, the book is full of full of rhymes, some I remember from my childhood and some I don't, and the illustrations by Helen Oxenbury are quirky.

Why am I including it here--well, it started me thinking what connects/binds us?
Friendship, time and place, interests, personal story/the stories we tell and, in terms of this project: institutions (asylum/prison/notions of home) the edge of a quilt is bound, so are we.
Details of the book: "Cake and Custard" Children's rhymes chosen by Brain Alderson and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, published by Heinemann: London, 1974
Images: Top right: book re-bound, top left: dismantling the book