Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making an entrance

A query about a garden gate for one of my neighbours prompted yesterday's complaint about what is available as ethically sourced timbers in Australia. It also prompted me to pick through the design books last night, and to drive home from the now daily trip to the Husqvarna dealership on a very roundabout route. Looking for gates.

Gates rarely stand alone, but usually act as an opening in a fence. Bleeding obvious perhaps but gates can function as a sublimely beautiful object that is not only aesthetically pleasing but sweetness itself in its functionality. A well made and balanced hardwood gate swinging easily on its' hinges is one of life's moments of 'ohhhhhh'. A rickety concoction of wire and sticks can keep the chooks out of the vegie patch with its jaunty air of make-do. Opening and stepping through a gate into a garden marks entry, invite, expectation. They keep in, as much as keep out.

What my first field trip of gate hunting revealed is how homogeneous the selection is; how dull they often are; how badly made they usually are; and how radiata pine has come to rule. I'll leave aside the just plain hideous of colourbond or faux metal period fencing. Nothing says ugly quite like a brick veneer with a Sahara-like expanse of clipped lawn behind a 'no maintenance' modern metal fence. I'm afraid I can't quite come at the ease of care trumps aesthetics routine of so many of my fellow countrypersons. Being easy to look after does not excuse the ugly.

But there is a certain logic in rejecting wooden gates and fences if all you can find is made of bits of radiata pine roughly screwed together or worse yet, nail gunned. Whether it is CCA treated or not, its' longevity can be measured as likely to be less than two decades, unless you meticulously paint it thoroughly and lovingly. Or live in a dry desiccating climate. Hardwood structures can last for over a century if rotted posts are attended to (interestingly abandoned houses start to rapidly decay once the roof has begun to leak and water is entering the structure - as long as the roof remains tight, the house will stand - centuries old wooden barns in Europe are testimony to this)

The photos included here are mostly hardwood, although the rather lovely gate from the Old Bakery at Berrima is I suspect, western red cedar with a beautifully weathered oil based paint. What also applies to some of these gates is that as dilapidated as they may be, they all still function. Probably with a certain amount of cursing and grumbling, but beauty always has a price.

This double gate which graces the side entrance of the Old Bakery has had a rather unlovely treated pine log placed in the middle of the driveway at its juncture. Presumably to stop all those ramraiders desperate for another carload of country style clutter from within the gallery, but nevertheless, it is beautifully scaled and built gate and fences.

Some of the construction details are clearer in the photo above. And this is one of the appealing traits of objects such as gates, wooden boats, musical instruments and in my universe, furniture - the process of making and the engineered response to use are plainly in view - form follows function perhaps but never at the expense of the nature of the material or the aesthetic needs of the user. To the left of the image you can see the lap dovetail joint that's been used at the end of the top rail. As the weight of the gate is levered out along the horizontal cross pieces, this joint is more than able to bear the load without distorting or easing, whilst at the same time, quite quick to cut and fit.

The fence above is still intact - a day's work of replacing the posts would give this section of the fence another decade at least. Note also the benefit of using oil based paints on weather exposed timber - as well as having faded to something lime washed in character, the paint has acted as an effective wood preservative.

What also is extremely important when building gates and fences is to keep as much of the structure away from the ground as possible. Keep your palings or infill up off the dirt and it will greatly slow rot. Cut a drip line in the underneath of your rails or angle the bottom of each rail so that moisture runs away from the palings and posts. Despite the ponderosa attempt with the hardwood arch, the Cecile Brunner rose and the lichen wreathed gate mark the age of the gate.

As you can see in the photo above, the whole of the right end rail is missing - sitting in the dirt, it probably had rotted out. This gate would see out another 25 years at the least if that end rail is replaced with a hardwood piece, and the soil dug away to give it clearance. Cutting the rose back a touch would also help; plants increase the humidity of the immediate environment, and a dense thicket of climbing rose is not ideal.

What this gate and the one above show is how much span you can ask hardwood in small dimension to cover. Though the gate has dropped, its more a matter of straightening the plates or rods on the hinges; the hardwood structure is still stiff. As much as I love the ubiquitous rusty farm gate of Australian agricultural habit, a hardwood gate can last as long if a bit of basic maintenance is occasionally done.

And finally this style of gate is very common on drives and paddocks around the district. Mortises, lap joints, lap dovetails are very rare, but this construction technique can be found in hardwood, radiata and occasionally Western Red Cedar. Bolted together, it gets around the problems of glue failure, using a framing process for making a stiff gate capable of spanning a 2 metre reach if necessary. Gates are a wee statement of intent; the sudden appearance of a brick and metal gate ensemble with a large Euro-referencing name plate, solar panel charger and remote opening says 'Country Estate' in no uncertain terms. Must be simply frightful when you've left the remote back on the granite kitchen bench top in Mosman.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Where does your timber come from?

Using wood as the primary material for making demands a number of considered processes when selecting and buying one's timber. Firstly, where is it from? Secondly, how is it harvested? Thirdly, who profits from the harvesting? And lastly, who or what may be harmed in any part of the process?

Organisations such as Rainforest Alliance, FSC and numerous others have developed grading and certification systems - not all are as thorough or quite what they appear, but given the appalling practices in rainforest timber provision, no-one should buy and use any rainforest timbers without being very very sure that it is certified appropriately. Habitat loss, the murder of local Indigenous peoples, and support of regimes and elites such as Indonesia's military by Thai timber interests demand something more than a shrug and another 'oh well'.

Many FSC certified programs involve local landowners and workers processing the trees at least into roughly milled section for export, and often some tertiary utilisation as well. Peter Mussett's ongoing involvement with PNG and Solomon Island community based forestry leads to carefully stacked piles of kwila, New Guinea rosewood and walnut sitting in a yard and very very large shed in Welby, NSW - timber that has been sustainably harvested with minimal habitat disturbance, as well as ensuring that maximum economic benefit goes back to the community. The Woodage also stocks nothofagus from New Zealand produced by a FSC certified operation - a far more commercial enterprise than most of the PNG providers but evidence that sustainable timber harvesting + beneficial local economic outcomes = profitable timber businesses. A lesson Gunns seem to be realising if only to take advantage of the marketing opportunities.

Most FSC certified plantations or forests in the developed first nations are still usually harvested with high levels of mechanisation. But occasionally you come across someone such as the Streamline Timberworks in Floyd County, Virginia. As we begin to slowly come to terms with peak oil (even if the governmental response is still nothing more than hopeless) there are even more reasons for considering how we harvest timber than minimising habitat damage.

Where I live has what is probably the greenest timber mill on the eastern half of Australia. Situated on the edge of a large State forest, it processes radiata pine for the building industry, using timber from Wingello, Penrose, Belangelo and Meryla plantations. What can't be broken down into lumber either goes to the Visy Paper & Pulp Mill at Tumut or ends on garden beds as pine chips. The mill produces no waste, no water waste, has lowered its carbon footprint by modifying its drying processes and utilises only radiata from plantations.

The mill is owned a private family company - the plantations that is relies upon are State Forestry controlled. As NSW heads towards a change of governments in March 2011, the future of publicly owned forests is of concern as the more than likely O'Farrell government does have a conservative agenda of privatisation. Calls to the current shadow minister of Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, National Party member for Burrinjuck has seen assurances that an O'Farrell government has no plans to sell off the State Forests, at this stage. What Labor may be planning is anyone's guess - effectively there's no one answering the phones and it's proved a little difficult to get anyone at the Minister's office to answer questions concerning State Forests policies. As the State government of whatever persuasion is closer to broke than they're happy to admit, watch this space for sudden changes due to inclement financial conditions.

Moving on from the political shenanigans, the process of harvesting in State Forests whilst regulated by legislation is not policed as it ought to be (see for example investigations earlier this year concerning North Coast forests - the South Coast has also seen similar issues) and there are significant scientific questions about the harvesting processes currently employed. In single species plantations of exotics such as radiata pine, the protection of habitat is not critical, but harvesting methods can and do have significant impact in terms of soil erosion, spoilage of water courses, spreading of weed species. Whilst I think you'd have Buckleys getting anyone in Forestry to seriously consider using work horses in plantations, it should be investigated as a way of moving to true sustainable selective logging practices in native forests.

Plantation management poses some particular problems - as the State Forests are pretty much all operated as monocultural clear fell operations, the medium and long term problems are buried in the blizzard of so-called efficiencies of high rotation/ high output. In the Southern Highlands, the State Forests represent significant barriers to endemic species in terms of migration as they offer little in the way of migration belts or corridors. But its also what we're not growing that frustrates me. Joseph Maiden as director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney did extensive work concerning mixed species plantations of native species at the end of the nineteenth century; including techniques for successfully cultivating red cedar which is usually attacked by the cedar tip moth. Maiden identified co-dependent species which not only protected the cedars, but could in turn be harvested and processed as well. Unhappily I say, State Forests NSW does not and has not put anything like the effort and funds into native species utilisation as it has done supporting radiata utilisation. Hence I can go to The Woodage and buy absolutely beautiful FSC certified Shining Gum which comes from.... Chile. What is coming onto the market from Australia is woodchip quality.

It is not heart warming that a country lucky enough to have endemic in its forests some of the finest cabinet timbers in the world, some of the structurally toughest building timbers has chosen to pursue a policy of radiata pine as the end all and be all of non-pulp timber production in planations. It is well and truly time for us to be debating what our State Forests should be growing, and how.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Making modern by hand

I wondered in an earlier post about the problem of, at times, too much visual stimulation in our contemporary environments. We swim through text based seas, dodging the flotsam of innumerable journals, magazines, books, brochures, catalogs, cards, folders, all the time battered by the winds of the virtual www.

Increasingly it seems that more and more information is being cut loose from its context, a habit so much contemporary art has made into its own defining characteristic. When this befalls an object it can be revelatory or at times puzzling or worse yet, demeaning. Many of the archetypes of modern design and furniture were originally very site specific. Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Chair or Eileen Gray's Adjustable Table for example. What they became, how they are understood when they are now reproduced endlessly for an insatiable design market is doubtlessly worth the flowerings of a thousand theses. But it is also more than useful to see them in an altogether specific environment - the home of its original designer/maker.

Rizzoli has recently published Leslie Wilkinson's Handcrafted Modern: At home with mid-century designers. The title is fine; the subtitle somewhat mawkish in its post-Oprahian claims to intimacy which I suspect was derived from the marketing department at Rizzoli, and not the editorial. Suffice to say, pictures are worth the usual currency allowing us to voyeuristically survey the intimacy of a designer's own domestic space, and the occasional workshop.

Russel Wright, George Nakashima, Jens Risom, Harry Bertoia, Vladamir Kagan, Charles and Ray Eames, JB Blunk, Eva Zeisel, Walter Gropius, Irving Harper, Albert Frey, John Kapel, Wharton Esherick...

Some of these designer/makers' personal interiors have been widely available in other publications or docos - the Eames iconography supports something close to its own publishing industry ( the pinnacle of which remains Pat Kirkham's Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the twentieth century) and Nakashima and Esherick are well known in woodworking circles as key to moving making on from tissue box covers and, admittedly, beautifully crafted reproductions to the dawning of the studio furniture movement in the US.

As anyone who makes objects as resolutely anthropomorphic as domestic furniture well knows, placement makes or breaks a piece. Something that may work on a plinth in a white exhibiting space can look out of scale and ridiculous in a domestic setting - much of what graces the pages of interior magazines are unfortunate examples of this strange cargo cult. Something that sits quietly and thoughtfully, that seduces the viewer and user, may appear thin and anaemic in A Gallery or upon the pages of Wallpaper. Scale and context are everything and Williamson's project does something vitally important - it restores the humour, the tension and the wit to many iconic pieces that have become mere pastiches of their original intent.

These images are from Lesley's Williamson's own blog.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Peter Tully

In the latest issue of CA News, this piece of Peter Tully's popped up toward the end of the newsletter. From 1980, the piece is entitled 'Australia Belt' coming at the end of about ten years or so of work in which Tully had worked with Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson producing sardonic takes of Australiana, gloriously embracing kitsch, punk, queer and the venal vernacular.

But Peter is perhaps best known for his Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras costumes of the early 1980s onward, a couple of which the Powerhouse Museum has amongst its Mardi Gras ephemera. He managed, well he set up the Mardi Gras workshops from 1983 til 1986.

This was taken by William Yang at the 1981 Mardi Grass. It had progressed from a running battle with police in its first year but had not yet evolved into the community celebration it was to become. As Yang remarked, Peter Tully's costume was "by far the most spectacular costume". Homosexuality between consenting males was still illegal in NSW at the time.

The following year and Peter brought along his entourage...

William Yang, 1982

But the most remarkable of all would have to be the 1990 costume - I can only locate the catalog image from the Powerhouse Museum but it has the benefit of being a high quality image plus a zoom facility.

Two years later, Tully was dead, one of the millions of people to die of an AIDS related illness since the beginning of the pandemic in the late 1970s. Four years before, Eric Michaels had also died prematurely from the same disease. Michaels, the New York Jewish gay urban cowboy anthro who had spent years out with the Warlpiri at Yuendumu who had begun to write a cultural anthropology every bit as audacious and exciting as Tully's design work.

The loss of so many has been beautifully memorialised in William Yang's work but for me it is always summed up when at a fiftieth birthday party for a friend, Grand Fag Hag that she was, who expecting the rooms to be bursting with beautiful young things, cried out,
"But where is everyone?"
A voice from across the room laconically answered, "They're all dead darling."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Riversdale, Shoalhaven River

The Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Art Centre is sited on the property Riversdale on the Shoalhaven River, downstream from Bundanon. It was built between 1996 and 1999, to a design by Glenn Murcutt. The property was bequeathed to the Australian nation by the Boyds for the development of an educational centre which is now focused around Murcutt's award winning building.

Murcutt has focused throughout his career on domestic architecture. Riversdale may represent his most significant public building but he has dealt with detail and scale with the same grace and intellectual curiosity that informs his domestic work. At no point do the volumes of the internal spaces overwhelm the human scale, instead providing a foil, a platform from which to view the dynamic landscape the building sits within.

Viewed externally, the building sits in an extraordinary moment of balance across the topography - neither pushing back into the contours, nor ignorant of the fall of the slopes. As with other Murcutt buildings, the built form has been pulled taunt - the connections between the building's parts as fragile and transparent as they are resilient and implicitly understood.

As you can see from some of the photos, Murcutt's considered use of natural light is present in this building and environs - mass and form seem to change and morph as the light shifts throughout the day. The landscape swells and broods and retreats as it rises and falls out of shadow and density, always bound by the light and mood of the skyscape as you look out from the building. A painterly response as any architect can ask of a building.

Glenn Murcutt: Thinking Drawing/Working Drawing
Glenn Murcutt: University of Washington Master Studios and Lectures 2009

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When Design Gets Serious

Hunting for something, I came across Highlands By Design. I'm still not quite sure what to make of this wee site. Its not as if they're not real or serious or just a virtual figment - they do make serious websites, including a local business directory. Not the usual haunt of a small Postmodern Dance Studio and Marxist Web Development company.

Perhaps I should send them a Satre Celebrity Brooch.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Holding a sense of place

Tayenebe is an important exhibition that has just finished at the NMA and will be moving onto the Queensland Museum. It documents the rebuiling of basketmaking skills among Tasmanian Aboriginal women over the last decade or so. Thirty seven women were involved in a series of workshops throughout the state, and more than twenty of those women have pieces in this small but exquisite show.

With funding from the NMA and the Tasmanian Art Gallery & Museum, it is dedicated to the memory of Aunty Muriel Maynard who had long been involved in basketmaking and other Indigenous making skills as documented in Crossing the Strait, edited by Kathryn Wells to accompany an exhibition in Wollongong in 2003.

The Tayenebe project has seen skills learnt and handed on, knowledge of country and its plant resources and the revitalisation of the particular Tasmanian weaving style. The baskets themselves talk to their sense of place, their evocation of where they were made, where the plants grew and were harvested, and why they were made. These simple, often small objects are more than eloquent reminders that the Tasmanian Aborigines have against extraordinary odds, maintained self, place and culture.

Dulcie Greeno
Lackerrernunne, 2008
larapuna (Eddystone Point)
white flag iris (Diplarrena moraea)
400x230 mm

waranta palawa, milaythina nika

Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Anniversary

Gazelle table, Judy Kensley McKie - Mahogany, paint, glass, 34"H x 60"W x 18" D

Pritam & Eames Gallery in East Hampton, New York is perhaps the best known commercial gallery focusing on studio furniture in the US today. Since 1981, the gallery has shown just about all of the major makers in the States.

Over June, the gallery held an Anniversary show which included Judy Kensley McKie, Wendy Maruyama and Rich Tannen. Bear with the rather odd layout of the Pritam website - for whatever reason they seem very reluctant to use Flash to display the images...

They will also be holding a show, Seating, from August 6 which should also be very interesting....
"Eggo" Wall vessel, Don Miller - Bleached white oak, 31"H x 18"W x 7.5"D

Monday, July 19, 2010

Melbourne's Design:Made:Trade

The Design Files reports on last weekend's Design:Made:Trade show at the Exhibition buildings in Nicholson Street, Carlton.

Finders Keepers are running much smaller but not dissimiliar market type events regularly in Sydney, including being part of the WinterLand Festival at the Carriageworks in Redfern markets each Thursday to Saturday.

If you've had the chance to wander up Gertrude Street in Fitzroy and meander back to Carlton via Johnston Street, Brunswick Street or Smith Street of late, you will have noticed the astonishing number of shopfronts selling the designed and the made. Some big name, but much of it local startups, and much of it much closer in aesthetic and nature to the crafted object captured in Handmade Nation.

These are the objects made to be worn, used, bought, traded, swapped, cherished, worn out and bought again. These are the lived in objects of craft. They do not aspire to being exhibited, to play the role of sonorously semiotic serious, but with humour, care and a light touch are found at markets, small shopfronts, festivals and online. They are not burdened by a sense of themselves as art but crafted design. They are about small scale micro making businesses. Often they are also about careful consideration of sources of materials, environmentally friendly making practices, making things that until you handle them, you did not realise that you had a need for such a thing.

One of the problems when making furniture or interior objects is the investment in time and materials implicitly tied to the object. A small hall table may have a minimum of $300 worth of timber and/or substrate plus veneer. It may take ten hours to make - during which lights are burning, machines running, workshop rent accumulating - it is difficult to sanely make furniture in your lounge room or kitchen - all of which means that that little table already owes the maker a minimum of $800 before it goes to market. Someone browsing at the next Finders Keepers market will perhaps happily spend $80 on a felt laptop case, but baulk at $800 for a table. Designers such as Indeco have developed a pitch perfect range of kitchen and dining wear that straddles the small object with a big design idea paradigm beautifully. It is an intriguing problem to develop furniture that is able to do the same.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peter Dormer is dead but

long live Peter Dormer.

In 1994 Dormer published The Art of the Maker. It was derived from his PhD research at RCA. It is idiosyncratic, at times rhetorical, and brilliant. In many ways, it was a rallying call already a decade too late as craft makers flocked to the promised lands of Art. Writing in a Britain coquettishly engaging with New Europe, yet sagging under the strain of years of conservative rule, Dormer was not calling for a nostalgic return to evening carving classes and embroidered footstools, but insisting that the devaluing of craft skill in the plastic arts was Not a Terribly Good Idea.

Re-reading it at the moment, I was more than a bit shocked to discover that it is currently out of press and worse still, this small paperback is now selling for upward of $130 secondhand online. Thames and Hudson, you need to re-release this book. Particularly given the attention Richard Sennett has received for his publication The Craftsman (oh look it's gender specific - gosh) which I read, frowning. Lent to a friend who also frowned, and after a couple of glasses of a suitably emboldening NZ sauv blanc, we decided that a. Sennett had not actually MADE anything in his life, and b. the jacket design on the Penguin paperback was rather good. (Glenn Adamson was even less impressed as per his review in Design and Culture - I don't think he even liked the jacket)

But this quick post has been prompted by hunting for something on the Object website, and becoming as I often am, just a little irritated by its unnecessarily clever website which is rather fiddly to navigate. And whilst being irritated by the homepage, suddenly noting that while the website title is showing on my Firefox tab as Australian Centre for Craft and Design, the word craft was noticeably missing, missing until I had done the fiddly navigating thing down to the entry on Craft + Design Enquiry, quickly abbreviated to CDE.

The practice that dare not speak its name?

Are we so brand obsessed, so convinced that audiences, the public, people out there can't make a distinction between the craft of crocheted toilet roll covers (which in the right creative hands...) and the craft of Oliver Smith? If words may indeed break our bones, then all the more reason why we all need to carry a copy of Dormer's The Art of the Maker to bat them away.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Working in 3D, visual input is more a process of winnowing than lack of stimulus. We live in cultures saturated in the visual; static or otherwise. Built environments from the remarkable ugliness of Parramatta Road to the bucolic beauty of Central Tilba. Architecture imposes its influence both in the solidity of its external form, but also within the internal spaces it defines. Coming across an image of Elizabeth Bay House, I wondered about the subtle influence that such places impose upon one's aesthetic.

Now surrounded by a high density urban enclave, Elizabeth Bay House was built for the Scottish administrator Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary of the colony of New South Wales. Something of a folly to high Victorian obsessions of caste, learning and compulsive collecting, its history includes neglect and decline, the loss of its original 28 hectare curtilage, and division into sixteen flats during World War II.

As a young child, I visited the house as an old friend of my mother's had the upstairs Eastern flat. Aunt Mickey would position an overstuffed chair at one of the windows, and I would spend hours happily watching the buzz and hurry of a working port from the heads back up the harbour. I also remember the joinery - vast cedar skirting boards and door architraves laughingly enormous in comparison to the mean painted 1960s joinery of home. But what I remember with all of a child's awe is the staircase.

Flats had been created by erecting fibro walls, like so many film sets, but the sheer scale and form of the stairwell could not be subsumed. It creaked, it was somewhat worse for wear but it was an extraordinary march up and up and up to Aunt Mickey's flat for a small child sliding her hand on the handrail, grasping her mother's hand in the other.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Earlier this year, I received an invitation for a group show. The overarching concept embodied in the show's title, A Container of Memories, is as open as it is frustrating. Sometimes the most open of briefs are the most difficult.

Apart from the issue of memory, who had been invited to exhibit and why formed part of the intellectual process that might go into the design of the piece. What I knew as the Canberra School of Art in the late 90s (now known as SOA, ANU) had evolved from the courageous notion of a national craft school, based on the atelier system, launched in the early 1980s. An antipodean Bauhaus. The founder of the Woodworkshop, George Ingham, stood down as head of workshop in 1999, to be replaced by Rodney Hayward in 2000. The show was to involve students and visiting artists who had been part of the workshop over the last ten years, but also to perhaps remark upon the aesthetic memory any maker carries after going through a course.

Because my two undergrad years at CSA were those of George leaving and then a temporary head of workshop, the aesthetic baggage I might carry is more of the English modernism that Ingham exemplified than the European sensibilities of the Krenovian tradition that Hayward has brought to the workshop. This is partly due to aesthetic preferences I'd already formed and partly about disposition - I am really more of a tinkerer; hence describing myself as an object maker - it hides a multitude of sins. Curious as to how to solve the problem in the simplest way possible. At times blind to the potential promise of decoration; unmoved by the gaudy qualities of timber. A mechanic's daughter. Rodney's legacy is for me most profoundly centred on his nuanced holistic philosophy of making not just as process but its unique intellectual space, combining head, heart and hand.

So - quite how do you respond to a brief called A Container of Memories?

Last year, the SOA Gallery hosted a retrospective of Ingham's work. And as always Ingham's miraculous virtuosity as a technician sang from the pieces and remains on display in the accompanying book. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the design gods, the sheer achieve of the thing can on occasion render a coldness to some of Ingham's pieces. A Brunellian mechanical clarity that fires one's inner engineer but doesn't quite warm the cockles of your heart. Discussing the show afterward, what I thought really interesting were the number of women who focused on two small cabinets Ingham made in 1990. A metre high by 150mm wide and deep, they were six sectioned cabinets with doors and a back panel each decorated in leather and a narrative line of decoration. Wall mounted, they sat at average eye level so the top of each was about 1800mm from the ground (I stand to be corrected on that figure). I do think George was a very gendered maker, particularly when his work is viewed against the work of his partner, Pru Shaw - but I suspect that was very conscious on Ingham's part. For whatever reasons, those two cabinets were seen as approachable and defined as such in ways that other pieces were not.

A couple of months before my daughter's tenth birthday in April, madam was in full flight about her plans to be an inventor. At ten, she still has a child's form - curiously rectilinear; three sectioned; legs, torso then head. A scale of about 2:3, the top of her head comfortable for resting one's crossed arms on; a large marionette. In full flight, her hands and feet were cutting a dancer's lines through the air, whilst her torso stayed centred and still. In that moment her form, its scale, reminded me of Ingham's two cabinets. But it also raised the issue of memory.

One of the enormous privileges of parenting is having the chance to play Jane Goodall to a gathering of children, to do fieldwork in their natural environments. And the surprising issues and thoughts that are so often raised either by their questions or observing their patterns and actions. Memory is particularly interesting, as the clarity children have about events that adults don't even note, the intense seizing onto some memory as validation of definition of self is no less certain than an adult's. Memory is the only means by which we can truly define the individual self - without our own and the interlocking memories of those around us in our social webs, we are no longer who we may believe ourselves to be. The insistence on memory as validation is just as intense with a four year old child as it is for a eight nine year woman struggling to retain her recall. But memory is not truth, nor concrete, nor permanent. Neurologically, it is a marvel of electro-chemical engineering balancing evolutionary pressures but truth as we might like to define it, has little use to a highly evolved primate as a principle of memory. How the neurons of memory are laid down, under what conditions, and the frequency and how with which it is recalled, profoundly affect each memory. The rise of numeracy and literacy within human cultures is a culturally evolved response to the limitations of human biological memory.
In that moment of my daughter reminding me of a cabinet, lay both the certainty that she wont remember that conversation - it being just a transient moment in the flow of a household - but equally that I will remember, that it will become one of my strongest memories of her as a child as her boundless enthusiasm, potential and embodiment of potential memories (the future is, after all, a memory yet to happen) were encapsulated in the moment of her twirling hands and feet and stilled torso.

So I have a basic form at this point, referencing Ingham's cabinets but I'd like to introduce an element of movement to suggest Mim's physicality as well as scaling and situating the piece in relationship to her ten year old size. Movement also adds a discourse about the cabinet as holder of aide de memoire - in most domestic settings, things, bits, pieces, objects, are grouped on display - in cabinets, on mantelpieces, bookshelves; artfully or otherwise. Things kept, held, are to whatever degree precious - placed objects in a cabinet are more precious yet, an exclamation point of notice. However, usually a display is static, and in Japanese aesthetics, an object worthy of display must be viewed only from a single perspective - honored by the right aspect. The static siting of an object is central to Ingham's two cabinets, the preciousness highlighted by the doors securing the space. Asking someone to place their preciousnesses in something that swings and spins will mean that the object will be viewed from perspectives not at all expected, and is also something of a headfuck - movement threatens the equilibrium of an object. The possibility of one's sixteenth century Korean tea bowl tumbling onto the floor and breaking is not a comfortable prospect for most people.

Initially I'd machined up some boards of blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon - the remainder of a flitch I had bought in about 1992 and carted around since. On dry fit, the grain and tonality were awful - my fine sentimental mutterings about the tree's demise on a roadside in northern NSW after a bout of careless Council spraying were not going to make it work. Urban salvaged oak I'd bought 12 or so years ago from Richard Parsons in North Richmond offered hope, but the boards were extremely deformed and twisted. An oak grown somewhere on the Cumberland Plain near Penrith promised interesting grain but equally promised all the appalling habits of evil bastard wood. The memory of its past life resides in the cambium, years of little rain in tightly lain down cell lines, the patterns of medullary rays opening up in the wet years. It machined up much better than I had expected, but to use 120mm long mitres on 9mm stock means the joints are not at all load bearing. This also meant I had to figure how to hang the cabinet without any of the joinery being weight bearing.

Physics also insisted that for the cabinet to hang true, there had to be some manner of adjustment. As the back is also solid timber, if the cabinet is set to hang when empty absolutely vertical front to back, it will tip forward with any objects in it. Using 1.2mm steel wire captured in automotive electrical grommets wedged onto the 4.76mm steel rod allows for line lengths to be finely adjusted and to hold when the cabinet is fully weighted. As the rods can also be shifted sideways, balance points can be found across the vertical from side to side if necessary. It's pretty simple, but it requires a degree of finesse, an engagement by its user to its built requirements, to remember why the adjustments may need to be made, to develop a routine of tweaking to ensure it sits true, shelf gaps are even, lines run parallel or at even angles. A memory of engagement.

Finally, the cabinet also contains the memory of movement. As it swings and spins, it is responding to the touch of a viewer, a gust of wind, the curiosity of a child, a bump from a dog or passing vacuum cleaner. It is made for a domestic space, and as such will hopefully respond to the ebbs and flows of movement and being. In its name, Swing, what it will do is given but it also ties back to the moment with my daughter. For most of us, a common metaphor of childhood would be those hours spent on a swing - exhilarated, thrilled, terrified, expectant, exultant, comforted, held. Swing offers to hold the things that perhaps matter, the aide de memoire of precious.

A Container of Memories - SOA Gallery, ANU, Canberra
July 8 -31, 2010

Cross-posted at Slow Making