Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Departures & Returns Deluxe 2

* This is part two of a multi-part essay about Sandra Brownlee's Deluxe Edition catalogue, Departures and Returns, and my experience with it. I've written the context in plain text and my experience in italics. You can read part one here.
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
A Departure...
As I wrote in the first post, Sandra Brownlee's Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition catalogue was an ambitious project where she, with a team of hired assistants, created 30 artist books containing 25 inclusions per edition. Each inclusion was selected with care. Above is a page of hemmed hemp mosquito netting fabric from Japan that was gifted to Sandra as a farewell gift from her friend Michelle Liao, owner of the Liao Collection Asian Antiques when she was leaving Philadelphia to move back to Nova Scotia. Sandra included a "page" of this fabric in each of the 30 Deluxe Editions to provide a tactile and visual experience as the viewer transitioned from one page to another. The textile veils the pages it rests against and reinforces the physical experience of moving through the book. The hemp mosquito netting reminds us of the Departures aspect of the catalogue's title.

Without the story behind the Japanese hemp mosquito netting, I dismissed the fabric as being ordinary burlap and wondered why Sandra would include something so mundane in such an extraordinary book. Once I learned its context, my perception, and therefore my experience shifted. When I realized that this was not some randomly chosen fabric, I gave it more time. I dug out my magnifying glass to see if the fabric was hemmed by hand or machine (hand, I think) and noted that under magnification the hemp has a subtle sheen. I realized that the textile was embedded with meaning beyond its function to veil the index page so as to build mystery and anticipation. The mosquito netting slows down the viewer and thus prolongs the experience of the Deluxe Edition. How? I see it and wonder about its significance, I touch it and encounter a contrasting tactile experience to smooth, firm pages. The netting feels fragile and I handle it gingerly. This fabric speaks of friendship, community, support, and departure. 
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
... & a Return.
Do you remember the page with the circle of pierced red dots? The act of drawing the raised brown dots within a circle (in the above image) exemplified a ritual that Sandra used to slow down and focus to prepare for work in the studio. The dots were drawn with soil from her Dartmouth garden mixed with PVA glue. It is a theme of reconnecting with home soil. The image following the soil dots is a page of heavy paper completely covered with the same soil and PVA concoction rubbed into it. For Sandra, this symbolized her return to her motherland and her new groundedness in her home and studio.

When I moved back to Ontario after only five years away (versus Sandra's twenty-six), I needed to garden with gusto and put down roots both in the garden and in the community. Studio work was punctuated with weeks of intense gardening each spring, summer, and fall. I needed to feel grounded and connected with people and place. Being a tactile-oriented person, I sense that Sandra "drew" and "painted" with her Dartmouth garden soil to fully experience her return to home ground and to integrate this into her studio practice. When I gently stroke the heavy pages, the soil dots feel like a Braille drawing and the fully painted page has a pleasing texture. Last summer I learned this technique during Sandra's Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop and painted a few pages in a new sketchbook with heavy pages. Writing this essay makes me want to try it again.  

To be continued...

1 comment:

Valerie Knapp said...

Wonderful that you were able to do a workshop with Sandra!