Pacific Islands

Category : art, book
Pacific Islands

As you read through Solastalgia, the narrative moves from idealistic projections onto islands, into the stories of particular, real islands, focused particularly on islands in the South Pacific, specifically Nauru and the Marshall Islands.

Nauru is a tiny bit of land, settled by Micronesians and Polynesians 3,000 years ago. It was once called Pleasant Island by the Europeans when their whaling ships stumbled onto it. Nauru was annexed by the Germans in the 19th century, who controlled it until after World War I, when it came under the control of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It became a fully independent nation in 1968.

Nauru is rich in phosphate, a natural fertilizer, which was strip-mined on the island throughout the twentieth century. Visitors to the island found as they approached from the sea, an idyllic line of palm trees lining a white sandy beach. In traveling to the interior of the island however, they found that the land had been stripped down to its coral bones. The center of the island was rendered uninhabitable and largely infertile, and most residents and businesses lived and worked on the coast. The phosphate was mined and shipped away by European companies to fertilize other peoples lands, and the money that the resource generated was badly invested, leaving the country short of options once the mining reserves began to be tapped out in the latter half of the century.

To earn income, Nauru briefly became a tax haven for those wanting to avoid paying taxes, and an illegal money laundering center for Russian gangsters. Eventually Nauru signed on to house refugees and migrants for the Australian government, who built an infamous prison camp on the island, referred to as “the Pacific Solution”. Briefly closed in 2008, it reopened in 2012 and continued to house asylum seekers and refugees from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, among others, who attempted to sail to Australia and were detained in squalid conditions. After numerous reports of human rights violations, riots, and hunger strikes, the camp housed 10 asylum seekers at the end of 2018, down from a high total of 1233. Nauruans have protested the closing of the camp, as the loss of the deal with Australia will represent a loss of a valuable source of income for a nation in desperate need of cash. The climate refugees of the future have been recruited to play warden for the political refugees of the present.

Nearby in the Marshall lslands, a large chain of volcanic islands with some of the lowest elevations in the south Pacific, the younger generation is preparing to leave their home.

The older generation on the islands have lived through the atomic bomb tests of the twentieth century. During the Cold War, the United States military detonated 67 nuclear bombs on or close to the nearby Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll. Tests were carried out here because American scientists judged that the islanders were “more like us than mice” and could therefore give them more useful data on the effects of fallout on a human population. Because of this complicated history, Marshall Islanders can live and work in the US and communities have grown in states like Arkansas and Oregon, in anticipation of a drowned future. Saltwater inundation is already beginning to kill plants and trees on the islands. The political leadership on the islands have lead the fight in international arenas on climate debt, the attempt to balance the scales by getting developed nations to compensate poorer ones who feel the effects of climate change first and more severely, while having fewer resources to adapt to new realities.

But the question remains for nations like the Marshall Islands and Nauru: how will they maintain a national identity once they are forced to leave their homes? Is it possible to maintain their sovereignty once their populations are in exile?


Atlantis

Category : art, book, inspiration

The first section of my new book is about the role that islands play in our collective imagination. One of the reasons I wanted to make a book about disappearing islands is the disconnect between the images we create and consume of islands, and the actual lives lived on islands. Our understanding of islands and of islanders is partly informed by all of the stories told about islands, most of which are examples of projected desire.

Atlantis is the classic disappearing island myth, and the descriptions of it demonstrate this. Plato was the originator of the Atlantis myth, writing about the fictional island within a larger allegory of nations, where it plays antagonist to Plato’s ideal state of Athens. He describes the people of Atlantis like so in his dialogue Critias:

They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.

In the end, Athens defeats Atlantis, the gods turn on the island, and it sinks into the Atlantic. But our impression of the place remains that of a lost paradise.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, scholars in Europe began to associate the myth of Atlantis with the New World, and writers begin to embellish on the story of Atlantis in far-fetched works of pseudo-history. The story of Atlantis became part of the popular imagination again because it fit into larger utopian and/or apocalyptic allegories about societies that scholars were interested in. But it was often presented as literally true, and there were competing theories for where Atlantis had actually been located. For Europeans, large areas of the world that no one had suspected were there had suddenly emerged, and if that were true, there may very well be a large lost island somewhere under the Atlantic.

Atlantis: The Antediluvian World is a book published in 1882 by Ignatius L. Donnelly, an American congressman, writer, and amateur scientist. In it, he argues that the fable Plato had spun was literally true and that Atlantis was destroyed during the same event that Noah experiences in the Great Flood of the Old Testament. In fact, all ancient civilizations were descended from this one lost island. The ideas that Donnelly explores in his book are the source of many of the funny ideas we have in our heads when we think about Atlantis today: a place full of advanced-for-its-time technology, the mythical lost birthplace of all civilizations, a place sacrificed in a struggle between good and evil. Atlantis is the stand-in for all lost utopias.

And islands in general are often conceptualized as utopias; the ideal place off the coast of nowhere. Utopia literally means nowhere; the word comes from the Greek “ou” meaning not and topos, meaning place. Not-places are made to be dreamt about from a distance, as in Thomas More’s book Utopia, about a fictional island society and its social customs. And More’s Utopia, like most European stories about islands, is an island in the New World, a place he can describe but not be a part of.

In practice, Europe colonized the islands of the New World, which means that island utopias are meant to be idealized, then conquered, then exploited, until they are no longer utopias. Colonialism and stories about island utopias go hand in hand.


Solastalgia

Category : art, book, inspiration, time

I finished printing a new book last month and am deep in the binding process. I thought I would write a few posts about the book and my research into disappearing islands.

Solastalgia is a word I came across in connection to climate change. It was originally coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to refer to the mental or existential distress caused by environmental change, originally in relation to places being decimated by the mining industry. The word is a portmanteau of solace and nostalgia, and is meant to reflect the anxiety produced when your sense of place is being violated, the sense that you’re losing your home while you are still at home.

I wanted this book to encompass a few different things, and one of them was the sense of loss experienced while the world changes around you. Climate change is both slow-moving, in terms of the timescale of politics, and fast, in terms of the pace of landscapes and how they shift and degrade. One of my goals was to talk about groups of people experiencing the immediate effects of climate change right now, in the present, and the willful denial of their experience by people in positions of power. I also wanted to make tangible visual art out of a process that is often described as invisible (though I don’t think it is.) Similarly, tiny islands described as “the middle of nowhere” are often invisible, inaccessible, distant places we project fantasies onto; I wanted to make a book about what it is like to live there, and be a person from “the middle of nowhere”, because nowhere is somewhere for some people, many of whom are in the midst of being displaced now.

The word nostalgia is a trigger for me; I think as a letterpress printer it gets thrown around a lot, as an assumption that anything made using obsolete technology is by definition nostalgic. I think that I disagree with that. There are certainly lots of examples of fuzzy-headed sentimental letterpress work around, I can’t argue with that. But I think it’s possible to use a technique and visual language based in history as a way to tell a story that is rooted in history. And I think that history done well is the opposite of nostalgia. History in this book takes the forms of an account of the colonization and exploitation of Nauru, a tiny island in Micronesia, and the nuclear test bombing of the Marshall Islands. Sea level rise for islanders is only the most recent change in a series of events in their landscape.

The sentimental aspect of nostalgia shows up in the first part of the book, an extended speculation on the various kinds of utopian fantasies people have about islands. Islands are where we go to transform ourselves, where we are free from the troubles of our everyday lives, where the idealized fantasy out there lives. I structured the book as a progression from fantasy to reality.

To be continued. There’s a great article here on solastalgia, if you’re interested.



The Liquid Fault Line

Category : book, pamphlets

It’s been quiet around here which means a lot of working has happened.

The summer informational pamphlet for 2018 is complete and is on its way to subscribers, friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances. The Liquid Fault Line addresses strategic retreat from the shoreline in an age of rising sea levels.

What are the costs? What if you don’t want to leave your home and community?

What are the various adaptation strategies and who benefits? What will happen if we don’t plan ahead?

 

Individual copies can be found here.

In related news, I’m also working on a new full-length artist book, title TBD, hopefully to be completed  in time for the next CODEX fair, in February of 2019. Here’s some in-progress photos:

It’s all about disappearing islands, both real and imagined. I’m hoping to have all the images and backgrounds printed before school starts up in the fall, with the text to be printed in Sept/October.

That leaves November for fall pamphleteering activities, December for mailing and binding and assorted catching up. Reasonable? Perhaps.

I think I’m excited about it for now, and have tried to structure the book so I won’t get too sick of it along the way. There’s enough improvisation in it to keep me interested; I don’t like projects which require all of the planning to happen in advance, I get bored in the middle of production when that happens.

Wish me luck.


Glasshouse is here.

Glasshouse is here.

The second project I spent most of the fall working on is a new book project: Glasshouse. It is a limited edition artist book that looks at the history of greenhouses, a technology made to cultivate foreign plants in a controlled environment, originally in service to empire. How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean?

I spent a lot of the spring taking photos of exotic plants in greenhouses and reading about botanical history. I learned a lot about why botanical gardens exist, which is something I don’t really think we think about when we enter one. Today, botanical gardens do a lot of important conservation science and research into how plants are used and have been used by various people throughout the world.

But when they began, it was a bit different. Botanical gardens were used as a research facility for European imperial governments. Their roots were in medieval medical gardens, where the students would learn about botanical remedies and their uses. As Europeans began sailing around the world, gathering plants and gold and various other things from other countries they suddenly realized existed, they brought seeds and seedlings of foreign plants back and tried to grow them in Europe. Elites had already developed the technology to build heated enclosures to grow oranges and citrus fruit trees from the Mediterranean; these buildings were used to house these new kinds of exotic plants, which often weren’t happy to be in the colder climate of Northern Europe.

As European nations competed for power and resources through exploitation of the rest of the world, one element they considered was, What kinds of plants are there out there and how can we use them? Colonialism and botanical gardens had a tight relationship that I don’t think that is obvious when you are casually walking through and enjoying a room of orchids. A glass room in London filled with tropical plants is sort of a perfect image of colonialism if you think about it.

I wanted the book to be like walking through a garden; visually engaging, with the text as a caption to the plants, but one that makes the narrative and the context of these plants clear.

 

There are some waxed pages in there for the transparency.

And the second section of the book is specifically focused on the specific kinds of plants that I’m talking about and how they were transformed into commodities.

I’m pretty happy with how it looks. I’m going to the 2017 Codex Book Fair in California next weekend, Feb 5-8. You can see the book in person there if you happen to be there, otherwise I’ll also be at the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair in NYC in March. So there’s that. Copies will be available in February; I’m furiously making boxes this week.


My arms are tired

Category : art, book
My arms are tired

Hi Mom,

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in several months. I know! For a variety of reasons, I had to print an entire book and a pamphlet in the space of three months. I know, that’s a lot! A mad dash for three. whole. months, with no time to breathe, or cook, or clean, or certainly blog. This is a photo of the last run I printed last night:

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I’ll post more soon about both editions. On to binding. See you at Christmas.


Glasshouse.

Glasshouse.

 

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This Friday is the opening of Made Here, Winter 2016 AIRs Artists at Gutenberg Arts, where I’ve been working since January. Work by Chris Bors, Joiri Minaya, Seung-Jong Lee, and myself will be in the gallery through May 1. (Come say hello!) 

 

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For the last three months, I’ve been concentrating on woodcuts for a new limited edition book on greenhouses, botanical history and the global reshuffling of tropical species.

 

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How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean? What did new plant species mean before the development of a pharmaceutical industry?

 

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And then what is the relationship between science and empire?

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I have a general idea of the structure of the story and how to house it. I have proofed the blocks I have already carved, and have a plan for what is to come. Guttenberg Arts was a great place to work; the residency provides a stipend, printmaking and ceramics facilities, exhibitions, visiting critics and lots of support. I’m hoping to edition the book this  summer and finish the edition this fall.

 

I’m going to try to give periodic updates on the book and its subjects, we’ll see how that goes. I’ve been neglecting this space lately. In the meantime, come to New Jersey on Friday and see the show. The reception is from 7 to 9 on Friday, April 8th at Guttenberg Arts, you can find directions here and here’s the Facebook event page.

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Also: coming up this weekend is also the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair; info on that is here. I’ll have some prints from the new project with me at my table at the fair, if you’d like a sneak preview.  It’s a busy week!


Onward.

Category : art, book

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It’s time to break out the hot pink ink, folks, in a vain attempt to keep warm, perhaps. I’m working out how to print something that looks like a greenhouse, something that looks like a staged version of tropicality. Or something along those lines.

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I’m also working on portraits of Joseph Banks this week, the renowned botanist and free love enthusiast. I discovered that not only did he come up with the idea of bringing cotton as a cash crop to the West Indies (to develop new markets to provide England with cotton for its textile mills), he also thought England should bring Chinese teas to India, so that the British would have a more affordable place to buy their favorite beverage. Never underestimate a botanist.

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Beginnings of a Book

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I found out this week what the beginnings of a pineapple look like:

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As I’ve been muddling forward trying to learn what the beginnings of a new book might look like. It’s all vague at this point; I’m trying to figure out what I want it to look like, and what kinds of things are going to be there.

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I’m not sure what to say about it all. It’s fun, messing around a bit with bits of paint and wood.

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NJ was frigid tonight, and I am happy to be back home with a warming cat. I’ve gotten to the good part in this book, (James Cook and Joseph Banks just got to Tahiti) and am looking forward to getting a copy of this one. Here’s to progress, and future endeavors.

If you are in Portland, you may want to stop by 23 Sandy Gallery during the month of February, where they are currently hosting Ink+Metal+Papera new exhibition organized by the CC Stern Type Foundry:

 Ink + Metal + Paper features recent letterpress work from a select international roster of renowned printers and includes books and broadsides showcasing the use of metal type, ornaments, and border elements in relief printing.

There’s lots of amazing letterpress work in the show, and I’m proud to have a pamphlet in there. And if you’re in LA this weekend for the LA Art Book Fair, check out the Floating Library, which is making a West Coast appearance in conjunction with the fair. There’s some pamphlets involved, I heard. You can learn more about Sarah Peters’s aquatic reading escapades here. 


Thinking warm thoughts

Category : art, book, inspiration

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So I’m about three weeks into a residency at Guttenberg Arts in New Jersey. It’s been fabulous so far. I’m hoping to flesh out a mockup for a new book to be produced this year, about greenhouses and botanical gardens.

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Why did Europeans sail around the globe picking up plants to bring back home? Bring artists on their boats with them to paint samples of plants? Build enormous iron and glass structures so one could grow a palm tree from a pacific island in the middle of England? Develop interconnected analog networks of naturalists and botanists, trading plants among themselves? All of this seems odd to me, but tied into the history of the field of natural history, and colonialism, and the spread of invasive species.

So I’ve been drawing some flowers:

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And some windows:

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It’s been great fun. I hope to have a plan for the edition at the end of the residency, and some blocks ready to go, paper and structure sorted out. Seems reasonable so far.

 


Whoops

Category : art, birds, book, pamphlets

Apologies for the shameful lack of blogging as of late. I’m finishing up various things, and starting various other things, and rushing around and such, as one does in fall. Having spent a sweltering summer without air conditioning I am really appreciating fall this year. Leaves! Sweaters! Squash-based dessert items!

SO, to sum up: this happened:

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Which is the summer Brain Washing From Phone Towers publication Milky Seas. All about the wonders of bioluminescent bacteria. 100 copies in silkscreen and letterpress went out recently, if you received a copy I hope you enjoyed it. They glow in the dark!

I learned to silkscreen this summer, which is still exciting and new. I’ve been doing so at the friendly and convenient Shoestring Press on Classon Ave in Crown Heights. They are lovely people. I have been messing around with various patterns and colors, trying to get a handle on what to do next :

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I am, miraculously, almost completely done with binding bird books. The deluxe editions of the Field Guide to Extinct Birds are now available:

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which include a set of hand colored additional bird prints for your enjoyment and informative benefit.

And finally, I am looking forward to starting the fall pamphlet this year. I can’t tell you what it’s about, but I can tell you that it involves FIRE.

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And that’s my whirlwind report from the last two months. I’ll make more of an effort to keep up in the future.

 


MIND BLOWN

Category : book, inspiration, type

Went to NYPL on Friday as a post-birthday treat with the glorious Roni Gross, Jessica Lagunas, and Asuka Ohsawa. We saw several great books, but the star of the day was undoubtedly Romano Hanni’s Typo Bilder Buch, which we were all immediately smitten with.

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You can see a video of the entire book (courtesy of Otis College) here:

 

Amazing, right?


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