Friday, January 10, 2020


The interest in the connections between plants and people, referred to in my previous post of seven years ago (!),  culminated in an exhibition in 2018, Big Botany: Conversations with the Plant World, that I am very proud of.  Since that post I have also retired from my wonderful position at the Spencer Museum of Art and now I can talk openly about prints, even the ones I make myself!

Over Thirty years ago, I started a woodcut project inspired by the beautiful fifteenth-century blockbooks known as Biblia Pauperum (Bible of the Poor, a misnomer). These make use of a pictorial scheme that frames narrative images and text in a meaningful relationship, specifically, they comprise a typology that aligns New Testament themes with Old Testament prefigurations. I have seen a number of these rare books in person and their hand-made qualities sing through the deep embossing of the vigorously carved wooden blocks they were printed from. The hand-made paper and inks, which range from sepia to dark brown add to this tactile aesthetic.

I have always found the visual strategy of blockbooks (also "block books"), in which image and text are printed from one block of wood, to be very satisfying, so I had the idea of making an abcedarium (also "abecedarium," an endangered word, alas) for my daughters in a similar format, but not as a blockbook since each page would utilize multiple blocks. My plan was to make an ABC book of edible plants and hand tools, which I thought would provide useful information about important, disappearing knowledge; and this was before the internet had its way with knowledge! My daughters were three, one, and minus five years old at the time so I figured I had time to accomplish this.

My approach was to use one block for the framing motif, an architectural format (recalling the ancient Art of Memory, which also appeared as a blockbook, Ars Memorandi, but that is another story ... ) with windows framing the upper and lower case letters, images of the  appropriate tool and plant, and their names. Each of these was carved on its own block and inserted into the framing block for printing. So, this amounted to six blocks carved for each letter of the alphabet, set into a seventh, the framing block. Not too surprisingly, I was later to publish an article on historical aspects of this this printing strategy, “Modular Prints – A Special Case of the Assembled Woodcut in the 15th- and 16th- Centuries,” in Grand Scale: Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 2008: 87-98.


A few years after beginning this project I had only gotten up to the letter “F,” my daughters, now three in number, were growing up, and time for this project was getting harder and harder to find, so the project lay fallow for thirty years until last year when grandchildren inspired me to take it up again. 


Somewhere between 1988 and 2019 the main block (a pine plank) warped and I unthinkingly glued it down onto a piece of plywood to keep it flat. In so doing I created more problems for myself, but more on that later. At this writing I am finishing the letter “Q” and I’m sure that the project will find some kind of conclusion in the course of 2020, though I doubt it will be as originally conceived.


Saturday, November 16, 2013


Last week a group of us from the Spencer Museum of Art were in New York City for Print Week (the photographer, me, is not pictured). 



We had our own trajectories, this is part of mine.



In addition to the IFPDA print fair, I spent time in Chelsea, touching base at Printed Matter, Eyebeam, and several galleries.



I was happy to see that Bitforms included a bicycle in Michel de Broin's installation - it is a bicycle with an exhaust pipe that burps out smoke and comments on the irony of smoking while bicycling (vintage Tour de France videos come to mind).


At the Museum of Art and Design I enjoyed Out of Hand - Materializing the Postdigital with two old friends, one of whom, appropriately it seems, I had not met in person before. A vendor display included a functional 3-D print of Theo Jansen’s walking kinetic sculptures



Two of us had a high altitude meeting with a colleague known for his provocative publications to discuss our Art*Research*Collaboration initiative.



In addition to visits to the New Museum and other well-known art venues I noticed several smaller galleries.



There was time to consider the history of collecting…



and I was able to extend my research into the fascinating story of people and and their connections to plants.


blackwork engraving

subway, Astor Place

bloempjes

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking out the Window at Kansas and Colorado


This is a cross-posting to a set of images I placed on Flickr today - and linked via Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/steve_goddard/sets/72157627340492428/
[clickable version was not working on blogger]

On July 29, 2011, we drove 626 miles [1005 Kilometers] from our home in Lawrence, Kansas to Estes Park, Colorado. This set is a selection from the 450 photographs I made from the back seat of the car. This started as a test of a new telephoto lens, but very soon it became clear that what I could see from the road was intimately connected to many current concerns and themes, including:

Agribusiness
Cattle and Meat Industries
The Family Farm
Transportation
Advertising
Car Culture
Oil
Natural Gas
Wind
Water
Irrigation
Fundamentalism
Wastelands

Thanks to Larry Stark for inspiration: http://www.larrystark.com/

The photographs have been reduced by about 1/3 of their original size. All were shot through tinted glass at 75 mph so I share them for their content, not their quality.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Otherworldly


When asked, “how was the trip?” I have been answering, “great!” but it has been difficult to go beyond that because it was not so much a trip as a re-alignment of assumptions. I realized this on my first morning at CICRA while getting dressed, at the moment of loading up my pockets. Wallet? No need. Keys? Nope. Passport? Won’t need that either. Money? No. Cell phone? Definitely not.

The movie that came up the most frequently in our conversations was not Fitzcarraldo, but Alien. This was not only because of our close looking at insects, but also because it is an immersive movie that puts you in another world – a planet named Thedus.

The piece of literature that came to my mind the most often was Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story, The Long Rain, which I read in my teens nearly 45 years ago but which I remember vividly. The story takes place on Venus and it begins:

"The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men's hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped."

There is an orchid, a variety of Catesetum, in a small container attached to one of the supports for the entry to the dining hall at CICRA. 











 


I cultivate three varieties of Catasetum at home. When I explain my enthusiasm for orchids, and this genera in particular, I always say, “I like the ones that look like they come from mars – not the ones you can get in the grocery store.” One of my Catasetums has just bloomed, and while here in Lawrence Kansas it looks like it came from Mars, it is at home in the Neotropics.







 





So, when asked about our time in the rainforest, I say it was great, and then I look for language, metaphores and experiences drawn from otherworldly precedents, like Alien, The Long Rain, and plants from mars.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Peru Day Twenty - Heading Home [Arriving on Day Twenty-One ??]

On our twentieth day, and our third day waiting to get on a plane home in the wake of the electronic snafu that has crippled our airline carrier, I thought it would be a good moment to post some images of our time together in Peru - What a super-popped group of individuals we assembled from across the University of Kansas! Thanks Bethany, Caroline, Dan, Jeff, Joe, Kelsey, Reed, Riley, Thomas, and Tom; and thanks to our Peruvian colleagues who played such a critical role in the success of this unforgettable trip!








 


Friday, June 17, 2011

Peru Day Seventeen - Looking Forward & Looking Back

So far the creative components of our trip have included assigned readings, blogging, and some "looking exercizes" involving drawing (thanks to Bethany for offering some practical pointers), watercolor, relief printing, and "sun printing" (a blueprint or cyanotype process -- for a mid-19th-century example see the cyanotype by Anna Atkins in the Spencer Museum of Art, 1997.0033).

 

 
Our daily fieldwork and ongoing exposure to new aspects of the rainforest has been all-consuming and often exhausting; therefore we agreed that our primary task while in Peru is to absorb all that we can. The bulk of our individual creative work, and our group project involving K.U. museums, will take form during the summer school session,  upon our return home, so stay tuned for future posts. Some of the potential individual creative projects that we have discussed include a series of short stories, a sculptural rendering of the base of a Cecropia tree, a group of detailed watercolors, and a children's book that would be an ecology primer for use in Peru and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the process of sifting through our hundreds of photographs, notes, and drawings is already serving as a catalyst for this next stage of creative work.


On this, our last day in Peru, I will sign off for now, in deep gratitude for being able to participate in this venture, with a photograph of the rainforest taken from the 60 meter observation tower that overlooks the CICRA/Los Amigos field station (you will have to imagine the sounds of the birds and primates who live in and around the forest canopy).

Peru Day Sixteen -- Gold Mining


Looking back over the past two weeks there are several topics that our group has discussed often but that we have not shared in our blog. One of these concerns our awareness of a bristling tension between ecologists, loggers and gold miners -- all of whom have strong opinions about the natural resources of the Madre de Dios region. This became very clear on our trip up the Rio Madre de Dios toward CICRA when a gold miner mooned us. 

We picked up our boat at Laberinto, a gold mining boom-town, and all along the Rio Madre de Dios one can see the blue tarp and bamboo lean-tos where miners have set up temporary camp while they sift the river silt in hope of finding a way out of poverty.



Since we are guests in Peru we do not presume to enter into the complex political debates that churn around its remarkable rain forests, but it is clear that extensive gold mining is severely polluting the Peru’s rivers with mercury (up to 40,000 tons per year as estimated in 2009, according to the BBC, in turn quoting Peru's environmental ministry).




We did not hear chainsaws from our camp or from our extensive hikes but we have it on good authority that loggers are active not far from CICRA. This was driven home when Thomas and I took a longer-than-usual hike one day and stumbled upon a large tree cut 3/4 the way through but left standing.