There's a new magazine, espopus, that breaks the mold for what a magazine could and should be. "Esopus is a twice-yearly arts magazine featuring fresh, unmediated perspectives on the contemporary cultural landscape from artists, writers, filmmakers, playwrights, photographers, architects, designers, musicians, and other creative professionals. It includes long-form artists’ projects, critical writing, fiction, interviews, and, in each issue, a CD of specially commissioned music."
The New York Times has an article describing the vision behind Esopus It's this vision that makes the magazine worth contemplation. One man decided to create a magazine that did not fit neatly into the established boundaries of what a magazine could be. "I'm really frustrated with the level of mediation that seems to shroud all artistic activity," he said, dipping a French fry into some mayo. "Popular music now ends up contextualized by car and sneaker commercials. The mixing and melding of advertising in magazines is pretty disturbing as well. I wanted to create some unfiltered space." (NYTimes) The current issue includes a popup house sculpture, several posters and a CD, along with articles ranging from fairy tales to artworks created with photochromatic ink.
The name? "The Esopus Foundation takes its name and example from the Esopus Creek, located in New York's Catskill mountains. It begins as a small stream and meanders north, then southeast, then northeast until it empties into the Hudson River. In the 19th century it was a powerful force that carved canyons along its course, but in the 1930's its current was intersected by the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, which stores much of New York City's water supply. The part of the stream that runs below this filtering system is often brackish and slow-moving; but but above the reservoir, the Esopus is still vibrant: a pure dynamic space in which diverse elements flow and meld together."
From what I could tell, there is no fiber art in this journal. What there is though is a profound lesson in pushing the boundaries and making the impossible happen, if you have the vision.
Apologizing for the relative silence lately in Layers of Meaning: for about a month now, I have been frantically working on a manuscript for an online course. The course covers everything from UNIX to databases. I have found it almost impossible to switch my brain off one track and onto the other. But!! I am done - back to art and fiber and the stuff that makes life fun!
One of the bright spots of this busy period has been the arrival of my preview copy of Selvedge magazine. Selvedge is a gorgeous new journal from England that focuses on the art of textiles. There are no "how-to" articles - or even why to articles. The articles instead tend to be fairly cerebral and are reviews of art and or arts theory.
It's hard to find much online besides Selvedge's one page home page. The best part of this page is "To receive your FREE SAMPLE issue of selvedge, please click here" Fooling around in Google led me to a back door for Selvedge. The Selvedge philosophy seems a bit thin, but I did identify with their target audience: "Artists of International Stature and Innovative Newcomers" The sample articles online, unfortunately, are just brief summaries. I cannot guess what the "stockists" are (vendors?). That page looks like a lovely travel brochure.
A page for authors aspiring to be published in Selvedge possibly reveals the most about the future of Selvedge: "Selvedge is an independent, 100-page full colour magazine published six times a year. The magazine is image led and has an uncompromising design.
Directed towards an international audience, Selvedge covers fine textiles in every context with illustrated features on fine art, fashion, interiors, ethnographic textiles, important collections, travel and shopping. The latest book reviews, exhibitions and comprehensive listings feature in every issue. The magazine provides a wide-ranging, unbiased and critical overview of the textile world....
Decisions relating to commissioning are based primarily on the quality of the images submitted. Selvedge is an image-led magazine and no writing however good can justify inclusion unless accompanied by extremely high quality images. "
Hmm - an arts magazine based on images. Sounds good. I truly would send my $75.00 to subscribe, if only I were that artist of international stature or a woman of independent means. MEanwhile, I'll just relish the sample issue.
Jenny Balfour-Paul has written two books on indigo blue, dying and the dyer's history. Unlike, mauve, indigo is an ancient and natural dye. A book review by The British-Yemeni Society describes the traditional method of getting blue-jean blue:
"The natural indigo dye vat was, in fact, somewhat obnoxious, containing as it did a fermentation of indigo plants tempered by alkaline additions such as urine, camel dung, dogs’ turds and dates, coated with scum and set as often as not in a dark, airless room where the dyer sat and stirred for days on end." (ick!)
In spite of this, Balfour-Paul fell in love with indigo and it's possibilities. Bluenote website presents a photo documentary of her explorations in indigo. There are also some fascinating photos of the dying process: "When the fabric strips are lifted from the vat of greeny-brown liquid, they change colour to blue as they come in contact with the air." In the photo, you can see the chemical reaction creeping up the strips of fabric. "Indigo is insoluble, it's the oxygen that causes the chemical reaction that turns the items blue as you pull them out of the liquid."
She also discusses woad, the older English blue dye, which was supplanted by indigo. "Woad was grown widely in Europe in the Middle Ages until the arrival of tropical indigo in the 17th century - woad merchants were wealthy men as woad was needed not only for the familiar blue, but also for green, purple and black in combination with other natural dyes."
Uses for indigo? In an interview Balfour-Paul answers the most unusual use that she's come across for indigo: "Probably for dyeing the hair, eyebrows and beard in China and the Middle East - hence the legend of Bluebeard". As far as fiber art, Isabella Whitworth's web site features indigo dyeing and shibori inspired by a lecture on indigo given by Jenny Balfour-Paul at the Crafts Council in London.
The future for indigo blue looks good with new research supporting the natural indigo process: "SPINDIGO aims to enable growers to supply natural indigo with a purity greater than 90% to a significant proportion of the European market. Three species of indigo producing crops are currently being grown in Finland, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain to demonstrate their potential as commercial crops throughout Europe. Each crop is being assessed for its suitability to the different climatic conditions met across Europe."
I didn't read the book - just the cliff-notes version of it, a beautifully illustrated article by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company). The book discusses how the first synthetic dye was invented, using quotes from the inventor: "I was endeavouring to convert an artificial base into the natural alkaloid quinine but my experiment, instead of yielding the colourless quinine, gave a reddish powder. With a desire to understand this particular result, a different base of more simple construction was selected, viz. aniline, and in this case obtained a perfectly black product. This was purified and dried and when digested with spirits of wine gave the mauve dye."
But possibly more interesting is the discussion of the state of the textile dyers' art back then: "The most common animal dye was cochineal, a crimson colour which came from cactus eating insects. 17,000 were needed to produce one single ounce of dye."
Then there was the difficulty in changing the habits of dyers: "Initially dyers didn't want to know at all. They felt they'd been dyeing the clothes in a particular way for hundreds and hundreds of years and they didn't want to get involved in any form of new or technical process. But he had a great time and he, in fact, almost went bankrupt." The invention of synthetic dye was saved when Queen Victoria wore mauve to her daughter’s wedding.
Early dyes often caused the wearer to break out in horrible rashes because of the impurities. The environment suffered - the standard joke being rivers that changed colors daily depending on the dye being manufactured. The article argues that we are not so far gone from that time and place: "And the way things are going, with the sort of problems associated (with the industry), there is a danger that dye will stop being made eventually and that will mean that the population will be running round in unbleached fabrics because you won’t be able to colour anything. The dye manufacturers have transferred their businesses out of Germany and Switzerland to Asia to Third World countries."
American Scientist has a shorter Mauve article online (with few illustrations) that relates invention of alizarin crimson. ABC mentions the synthetic creation of magenta, fuchisa, olive, primrose, violet. It's difficult to imagine how fiber art will respond if the predictions come true and we were to lose out synthetic color.
Hannah Hinchman is the author of several books on visual journaling, two of which are significant to me: A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place, and A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal. For years I have read and re-read both of these books. Growing up, I spent every summer in the back roads of Montana, so Hinchman's drawings crystalize those magical memories of my childhood: lying in tall grass, watching bees slowly explore each flower. Hinchman is a master at illustration. She doesn't just replicate the look of what she see, but she captures and conveys its essence. Her drawings have a naturalist's notation of the strict reality of the situation, but her pen strokes capture the moment's glory of being alive.
Both books are full with hints and points of inspiration on how to become a better journal keeper, as well as how to learn and grow from what you record. Lately I have been struggling with the balance in fiber art with "cuteness". "Cute" is an all-too-easy path to follow, if you are working with fabric and thread. I find myself returning to A Trail Through Leaves, Chapter Four: The Power of the Ordinary. "The trail of words and pictures that I'm leaving is more complete than most people's, but its still a trail of tips and icebergs, little slices of light and color that are all that I can capture of the big masses moving underneath. But threading through, in fact, floating on top of all this matter like sea ducks among the icebergs, are moments of the ordinary-made-extraordinary by the simple act of choosing and isolating them"
images: from A Trail Through Leaves by Hannah Hinchman.