Friday, 21 December 2012

Happy Holidays!

That's it for me for 2012 - I'm off to the beach!

It's been a big year of exhibitions, travels, trials  and exciting new developments. And of course a few things just for fun. Thanks for reading, looking and commenting throughout the year, and I'll see you back here in mid-January. I had so many stories to tell about the art and architecture I saw during my travels early this year that I still have more to say about that, and of course there will be more exhibitions, updates on the ongoing fight to save TAFE, new projects and other fun things coming up in 2013. So enjoy the Christmas break, and see you then!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Alhambra

A while back I wrote about the detailed geometric ornamentation of Mughal Musilim architecture I saw while travelling in India earlier this year. As part of that same trip I spent a short time in Spain, and had the chance to visit the imposing Alhambra.

The 10th century fortress occupies most of the hilltop overlooking the city of Granada. Built for the Muslim Nasrid dynasty, it continued to be used and maintained by the overtaking Catholics after the Reconquista (reconquest) in 1492. With the Alhambra as its defense base, Granada was the last of the southern Spanish cities to fall to the Catholics during the Reconquista. Later the palace and grounds fell into disrepair, but has since been restored, including the geometric gardens.

It was intriguing to see the striking similarities in the geometric and calligraphic forms of the architectural details and gardens of the Spanish and Indian styles, as well as the differing techniques used to realise the extensive ornamentation.

While there was some marble inlay, entire rooms were intricately carved in many-layered relief. 

Calligraphic borders delineate different sections of the walls, filling the space between the geometric and floral patterned reliefs.

The indoor and outdoor spaces merge in many-columned open spaces covered by Moorish style "stalactite vaulted" ceilings.

The "honeycomb" ceiling of the Hall of the Abencerrajes epitomises the Moorish style of stalactite vaulting. There are over 5000 honeycomb cells in the ceiling, each different.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Victorian Labor's Plan for Jobs and Growth (and TAFE)

Victorian Leader of the Opposition Daniel Andrews MP has released the Labor Party's plan to reinstate TAFE funding, should the Labor party win the next Victorian election.

The report entitled Victorian Labor's Plan for Jobs and Growth, states:
"The Baillieu Government’s funding cuts to TAFE are the most devastating in the history of Victoria. These shortsighted cuts are driving up fees, closing campuses and costing us some of our most experienced teachers. These cuts will drive young people away from regional communities in search of the skills they need for jobs and will cost Victorians for many years to come." 
According to the report, a future Victorian Labor Government will:

  • fund TAFEs to deliver their Community Service Obligations to ensure they can support the most disadvantaged to access training.  This will restore the ability of TAFEs to deliver vital training in their local communities and to provide proper student support services.
  • invest in TAFE infrastructure and ensure that such investment is focused on areas of training vital to strategically important industries where emerging skills shortages need to be addressed.
  • support the VET in Schools program that provides a vital link between general schooling and vocational education. 
  • introduce separate quality control requirements for government funded contracts by introducing rigorous entry requirements for RTOs [registered training organisations] seeking government-funded training. (See this post for more information on why stricter controls are needed for private RTOs.) 
  • properly fund more extensive and rigorous auditing of training providers, with an increase in on-site audits and a focus on outcomes. These requirements will include the capacity to close down unscrupulous operators. 
  • provide an automatic right to government-subsidised training for redundant workers to re-skill, regardless of prior qualifications.  

Although Labor doesn't plan to reinstate per-student-contact-hour funding cut from TAFE courses, the promise to bring back funding for TAFEs' community service obligations amounts to around $170 million, accounting for over half of the Ballieu government's $300 million in funding cuts.

The promise to introduce quality control requirements and ethical recruitment standards for private training providers begins to address the real cause of the Victorian government's skills spending blowout: namely, the 308% increase in enrolments within private RTOs receiving per-student government funding, including RTOs such as Crown Casino training their own employees and dodgy providers operating unethically by offering cash incentives to enrol or failing to provide training, as investigated on the 7:30 Report (8 & 9 August). This is in stark contrast to the 4% increase in TAFE enrolments over the same period. In short, the blowout in private providers, some of which are not providing legitimate skills training due to lack of regulation or lack of ethics, is causing government funding to be siphoned away from TAFEs, which did not experience the same growth and, as public providers, are subject to greater quality controls. 

Labor plans to use the funds derived from better quality controls for RTOs to fulfill the promise to reinstate funding for TAFEs to meet community service obligations.  The report states that any additional funding required will be the first priority on any projected budget surplus, following the provision of a minimum $100 million operating surplus.

The remaining deficit of $130 million is still a daunting figure, and with courses and campuses slated for closure well before the next election, TAFE still faces a long struggle. Nonetheless, Labor's promises are welcome and much-needed support, and demonstrate an understanding of the vital importance of skills training.

Read a summary or the full paper here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Urban Bush Carpenters

I recently did a workshop at CERES Environment Park & Community Gardens with the Urban Bush Carpenters, and learned to turn discarded shipping pallets into useful things - in this case, a custom-built table that serves as both cover for my shade-loving worms to help them make it through the heat of summer, and as a shelf for some of my tiny veggie garden, to give the plants access to more sunlight above the fenced-in canyon they live in.

The trestle-style legs of the table are made of timber salvaged from a heavy duty pallet, connected with two hinges on top of each, and a length of rope running through a hole in the bottom brace of each trestle to set the height. The tabletop is a long piece of particleboard from a discarded cupboard, a temporary measure until I find a more weather-resistant piece. (The Urban Bush Carpenters suggested looking for a discarded door.) This works perfectly for its intended use, and the best thing is that it can be easily disassembled and moved, if need be. If the hinges are unscrewed and the ropes removed from the trestles, the sturdy wooden legs can even be remade into something new again, like two fixed tables. In fact, these pieces are just like the legs of my handmade jeweller's bench made from collected discarded materials.

Now not only do I have a neat new table, but I'm hooked on urban bush carpentering! The UBC was formed by a group of volunteers who want to bring back basic carpentry skills and a DIY attitude that used to be commonplace, while making use of discarded materials that can be easily sourced from the urban landscape. The concept of bush carpentry draws on the history of the Australian pioneering spirit, using available materials and basic skills. It looks like in an urban context, there's just as much usable timber to be found right in our neighbourhoods.

Ever since the workshop, my eye has been drawn to the many, many, many pallets (and other scrap wood) put out with the rubbish all around us. There are some alarming statistics about pallets (compiled in the US) on the Green Building Elements website - for instance, two thirds of pallets are used only once before being thrown out! That seems like a shocking waste of resources, but it's good news for the urban bush carpenter, because you can make any number of things out of old pallets: plans for planter boxes and a wooden Esky (cooler) are available on the UBC website; several sites offer instructions for a pallet fence; the Micro Gardener shows how to make vertical gardens out of pallets; you can follow this tutorial for a pallet coffee table; and Tiny Pallet House even publishes free instructions for a pallet house. Now I have a new dream... a tiny pallet studio!

The most important thing to remember when working with discarded pallets is that some of them are treated for pests before being imported into the country. Pallets are marked on the side with the type of treatment:

  • HT: Heat Treated. These are natural wood treated only with heat, and are safe for all projects including gardens. 
  • MB: Chemically Treated. Wood from these pallets is not suitable for use in garden projects, because over time the chemicals leach out of the wood and into the soil and eventually the root systems of your garden. This wood can still be considered for other projects, like table legs for an outdoor table - the decision has to be made based on the project. 
  • Neither HT or MB: If the pallet is marked with neither of these codes, it is likely that it was made in Australia and so it hasn't been treated at all, since it hasn't traveled internationally. This wood is safe for any project, but be sure that you have a complete pallet (or at least the portion with the identification stamps) before you decide that your pallet is not treated. If you've found a pallet that's partially broken, you might have a chemically treated pallet that is missing the stamps. The pallets made in Australia will still have an identification stamp showing other information, just not the letters HT or MB. 

The Urban Bush Carpenters' workshops will start up again in early 2013 at CERES. It's only a $5 donation to join them (plus a bit extra if you use their materials and take your project home), and it will make you look at discarded timber (and your ability to do something worthwhile with it) in a whole new way.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Deck the Walls Exhibition Images & Online Shopping from Studio 20/17

Images of the festive installation of Deck the Walls are now up on Studio 20/17's blog!

You can also now purchase selected works from the gallery online! Some of the Deck the Walls works are available in Studio 20/17's new online shop, including my Stained Glass Window earrings (pictured above).

Monday, 10 December 2012

RMIT Master Class with Julie Blyfield

RMIT's Object Based Practice department will hold a master class with Julie Blyfield entitled Making It...Object Design for Jewellers over five days from Friday 8 February - Tuesday 12 February 2013.

"Julie Blyfield, well known contemporary jeweller and object maker, will guide participants in this Master Class towards developing an understanding of the object design process, from sketching and model making to translation into a three-dimensional object or series of objects. Participants will then explore and experiment with different media and methods of fabrication to produce one of their designs."

In conjunction with the master class, Gallery Funaki will show a new exhibition of Julie Blyfield's work, Second Nature, from 5 February - 2 March 2013. 

For more information on the master class and enrolments, visit the RMIT short course website. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

This Weekend in Brunswick

It's a big weekend for jewellery in Brunswick!

9Northcity4 is having an open studio day on Sunday 9 December from 11am - 3pm (61 Weston Street, Brunswick). It sounds like a fun-filled day, with a "sustainable sausage sizzle" (veggie kebabs and organic beef), jewellery making for kids, and a wide array of artist demonstrations: enamelling, patination, pouring ingots, sand casting, beading, glass bead making, glass etching and sublimation printing! Check the Northcity4 website for more information and demonstration times.

Just down the street in East Brunswick, Peaches & Keen (Lucy Hearn and Lily Daley) are artists in residence at Harvest Workroom this month, at 510-512 Lygon Street. Their Intergalactic Garden residency includes an exhibition, pop-up shop, and open studio Friday & Saturday 7-8 December and 14-15 December from 11am-5pm.

Peaches & Keen, Intergalactic Garden artist residency media image

A short walk to Sydney Road and you'll be at Mr Kitly (381 Sydney Road, upstairs), where the exhibition Planted opens tomorrow, Friday 7 December, from 6-8pm. Artists from a range of disciplines including painters, ceramicists, jewellers, garment makers, architects, sculptors and photographers turn their attention to a love of the botanical, each making an object with a function relating to plants.

Planted runs until 23 December.

Planted, Mr Kitly exhibition media

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Lark Books 500 Series Half Price Sale

A wide range of Lark Books are 50% off on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble until 11 December. The sale includes 500 Enameled Objects, which features my Madeleine teapot with integrated tea cosy and my Object Reminiscent of Things Past, No. 4 object with removable, wearable brooch.

Showcase 500 Rings is also on sale, which includes two of my objects with removable rings from the Mnemochronology series.

I was thrilled to be included in both of these publications, which were juried by two of my favourite American jewellery artists: enamelist Sarah Perkins and contemporary jeweller Bruce Metcalf. On the cover of 500 Enameled Objects is a work by another of my favourite American enamelists, Jessica Calderwood, whose poignant drawings in enamel explore the social tension around attitudes toward the body, combining the beautiful and the bizarre.

A complete list of Lark Books on sale can be found on the Lark Books website.

 You can also now get Australian Jewellery Topos: Talking About Place at Studio 20/17. If you're stopping in to see Deck the Walls this month, check it out!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Fresh 2012

Fresh!, Craft Victoria's annual exhibition of outstanding graduate work in Victoria, opens this Thursday 6 December from 6pm. Fresh! artists are selected by Craft Victoria representatives based on work presented in this year's graduate exhibitions.

Megan Mitchell, Gash, from Craft Victoria exhibition media

Congratulations to this year's Fresh! artists: Blake Barnes (RMIT), Katie Jayne Britchford (RMIT - gold & silversmithing), Hau Ong Ding (Monash - metals & jewellery), Karla Fletcher (VCA), Cassie Littlehand (RMIT), Lindy McSwan (RMIT - gold & silversmithing), Megan Mitchell (Monash), Olivia O'Donnell (VCA), Guy Pascoe (RMIT), Bin Dixon-Ward (RMIT - gold & silversmithing), and Brodie Vera Wood (VCA).

The exhibition will run from 7 - 23 December. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Musical Instruments at the Met: Part II - Woodwind, Brass & Percussion

After attending a recent sitar and tabla concert in Melbourne, I was reminded of the collection of unusual and expertly crafted musical instruments I saw earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here's Part II of my photographs of the collection of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. 

These pigeon whistles (below) are made of bamboo and gourd, and weigh only a few ounces. I was drawn in by their elegant, whimsical forms, but it's the use of this instrument that's truly fascinating. In China, they were attached to the tails of pigeons, and when the birds flew overhead, an eerie sound could be heard. The usage of these devices dates back to the southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1278 AD -  no pun intended). According to the museum information, the whistles were traditionally used on carrier pigeons to announce their arrival to the recipient. In trying to find out more about these objects, it seems that they are still used to some extent, although perhaps now it is purely for entertainment purposes. One of these tiny instruments can have up to 30 whistles, producing a drone of 30 different tones. Although most pigeon whistles are very small, and all must be lightweight, the whistle at the front of this display looked about 10cm in diameter, which seems very large for a pigeon to wear on its tail!

Below is the musette de cour, an early 18th century French instrument with similarities to bagpipes. It plays a three-tone drone and was used for playing folk music based on rustic dances.

The oddly-shaped instrument below is the Bohemian Bock, a 19th century Bohemian instrument. Made of goat skin and decorated with a carved wooden goat head, it was used to play dance music, along with a fiddle.

The taiko is a traditional Japanese drum still popular today, but this o-daiko (large taiko) is an unusually ornate decorative drum. Both the drum and its stand are entirely covered in cloisonne enameled metalwork. This exquisite piece was made to order for the Japanese government for the Vienna Exposition of 1873. The artist is not known, but is thought to possibly be Hodenji Hayashi. The cowhide skins of the drum are decorated with lacquer-work dragons. This drum was never sounded: it was intended as a symbol of peace, based on an ancient Japanese folktale about a drum placed at a village gate to sound an alarm in case of attack. As the years went by and the drum was never used, roosters and hens began to live on top of the drum, and a rooster atop a drum became a symbol of peace.

The gyo, below, is a Japanese instrument dating from 1889. The musician struck the head of the tiger three times and then rubbed a drumstick down the back of the wooden animal to create a purring effect. The scraping motion symbolised the end of a Confucian hymn. Confucianism was rare in Japan, and this instrument was more prominent in China, where Confucianism was widespread for 3000 years and the instrument was called yu, and in Korea, where it is still used in traditional rituals and called o. Traditionally the tiger would be painted white to represent the western region and autumn, and would be placed on the western end of a ceremonial hall.