The Graffiti bird wrap shirt

For some months I have been working on a new garment, which has actually been years in the making. Perhaps not quite finished to claim for #memademay, but happy to share anyway.

My fascination with the simple bird design started in 2015 when we were living in Nørrebro in Copenhagen. Walking the streets thin in all kinds of weather, I loved grafitti spotting. I liked themes that repeated themselves across the public spaces of the city, and in particular I noticed, photographed and wrote about birds in the graffiti cityscape.

Inspired by the clever, but unknown graffiti artists (Spyo? Bravo?) I designed a pattern with six bird drawings for the beautiful purple linen I bought from The Fabric Store in Brisbane in December. You may suggest that I appropriated the design, as some are direct copies of what I saw in Copenhagen and from Brisbane can enjoy via #thebirdsthebirds on Instagram. I would love to attribute the original creators if anyone can let me know who they are.

I developed a silk screen with the pattern design and started printing, screen after screen. Unfortunately, the print quality deteriorated as I went along and I had to acquire new emulsion and develop a new silk screen half way through the process. This left an uneven pattern with some birds very vague in their prints while others are showcasing sparkling yellow lines.

It was challenging to fit the pattern to the finished fabric, so the best of the birds would be put to best use in the final garment. With help – again – from my sewing fiend (and friend) of a neighbour, we modified the Simplicity pattern from a wrap dress to a wrap shirt, so I was sure there was enough fabric.

Modifying the pattern to fit me and the fabric was complex, but rewarding

Birgitte helped me aligning the organic pattern across the pieces so I could get the most out of my fabric in the cut.

Then off I went with my beginners sewing machine in the spot Mick has gracefully granted me in his studio. Sewing a button-up shirt with a wrap was challenging for a relative novice, and Youtube was definitely my virtual friend in explaining things like understitching (thank you Evelyn Wood!) and other unfamiliar terms the pattern threw up.

I thought I was going crazy when I got to the yoke. I simply could not get the logic straight, and I watched countless Youtube clips explaining the burrito method in so many ways that I went nearly cross-eyed. I basted and practiced pulling through the fabric unsuccessfully a few times before I finally got it. It is nothing short of miraculous, like so many other things with sewing.

I still need to hem the shirt, create the button holes and sew in buttons, but I am pretty pleased with the result already.

What have you been making in May?

Kraken

In Old Norse langauge, Kraki is a gigantic sea creature that is the nemesis of sailors. So large it was better not spoken about at all, Kraken is the definite form of krake, the word for something unhealthy or twisted.

When I was researching cultural significance of octopuses for this post, I was mystified by the Kraken meme that runs rampant on pro-Trump conspiracy theorists’ social media accounts, keen to see the consequences unfold when the election fraud is exposed.

I don’t think of octopuses as twisted or frightening, though I can imagine why Norse sailors in the North Atlantic found large specimens to be terrifying. Rather, octopuses are fabulous intelligent beings with memory systems and intergenerational learning.

I am not suggesting that Paul the Octopus was an animal oracle when he accurately predicted the result of the soccer World Cup 2010, but I think these magnificient creatures deserve our humility.

Not because some are so large they can pull down a Viking ship or because the small blue-ringed octopus is the most venemous thing of the ocean, but because they are creatures that have evolved to exist in an ecosystem that we humans tend to regard merely as resources to be mined for our benefit.

That is the humility I wanted to portray with ‘Kraken’ this week – not a giant man-eating octopus, but a creature living in equilibrium with its surroundings.

I printed this version on Japanese rice paper.

Weaving baskets

In 2017 I learnt the ancient art of weaving baskets from master weaver from Yarrabah, Philomena Yeatman. She had come to Brisbane with Yarrabah artist Elverina Johnston in association with State Library of Queensland’s showcase: Jabu Birriny, Land+Sea in kuril dhagun.

Like Philomena I am trying my hand at many artforms (though nowhere near as talented as she is). And like Philomena, since learning the skill, I have come back to weaving as a constant. I have woven heat savers, bread baskets, coasters, and shared with unsuspecting recipients. How many breadbaskets does one household need?

Philomena Yeatman describes how she was taught the skill of weaving from her grandmother and was required to collect the weaving materials, clean them and dry them. Unlike Philomena, recently I bought bunches of raffia on the internet. It comes coloured and an bulk to satisfy my urge to do something with my hands when I watch tv.

I finished this basket this week. And annoyed by all the thin trailings that come with commercial raffia, I started on a tiny basket. I reckon I need years more practice, but I enjoy the process, possibly more than the result. Which may be the case for all art.

Shapeshifting seal

I think of seals as the labradors of the seas, their face like butter would not melt in the mouth. Of course, unlike labradors, seals have no soft floppy ears; seal ears are seen merely as holes on the side of the head.

I wanted to portray the harbour seal, or spættet sæl. It is a northern hemisphere seal that lives in the waters of the arctic and in the northern pacific and atlantic oceans. They are quite common in Danish waters, though the only ones I have ever seen in the wild were well decomposed on the Danish beaches on Æbeltoft and Møn. They don’t much like humans, so in the densly populated country of mostly islands their style is somewhat cramped.

The harbour seal is solitary, though the males have been observed gathering and calling collectively to attract the females for breeding. The aquatic mammal hauls to shore to give birth to 16 kilos of well-developed pup, which are so cute that well-meaning campaigners nearly destroyed the traditional practice of seal hunting by the Inuits.

Norse and Celtic mythology suggest that seals are shapeshifters, called selkies. The Faroe Legend of Kópakonan suggests that once a year on the thirteenth day seals come ashore to shed their skin and emerge as humans. A farmer went to the beach to experience this transformation. When naked humans emerged from the seal skin, he stole the skin of a woman-seal. When the seals returned to their skin and slid back into the ocean, one seal-woman was unable to be reunited with her skin and had to stay on land. The farmer took her home and locked away the skin. For many years she lived as his wife, until one day he forgot his key and she got her seal skin back and finally returned to the sea.

I cannot help wondering if HC Andersen had this folk-tale in mind when he wrote The Little Mermaid, with her fish tail and ability to shift shape to a fully blown human. Except of course she could live as human by choice, not because some incel male was unable to woo a wife in a more romantic and less coersive way.

This time, I’ve used a new type of vinyl for the cut, and I have printed on a form of see-through rice paper. If my seal is a selkie, I hope humans have the grace to leave the skin so it can return to the sea.

Jumping dolphin

Dolphins are aquatic mammals and the name is thought to come from Greek for womb. They exist in every ocean and in my first language, Danish, local dolphins are sometimes called marsvin or pigs of the sea. They are intelligent and social creatures who learn, teach and cooperate.

To me, dolphins signal joy and play. I recall being delighted seeing them first in the waters off the northern beach of Moorgumpin (Moreton Island), chasing a school of fish that handily drove them to the spot we were fishing. I have enjoyed spotting them play in shallow waters on many beach walks in South East Queensland, most recently on the gorge walk on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). In Jandai, the traditional language spoken on Minjerribah and other the Moreton Bay Islands, dolphins are called buangan and is a sacred totem of the Quandamooka people.

Humpback dolphin in South Gorge, Minjerribah

A few years ago I fed dolphins at the old whaling station, Tangalooma, on Moorgumpin with my newphew. It was an exhilarating experience, though by then, dolphin feeding was tightly managed. Probably a good thing for the protection of both dolphins and humans, but it was too much of a tourism experience, rather than an encounter with a magnificent wild animal of the sea.

The lino cut is of a bottlenose dolphin jumping for joy. It may be seeking to impress me, or just be checking me out.

Good luck dragonfly

The first dragonfly I remember was one I caught in a butterfly net in primary school. We had been sent out with nets and jars to collect insects and I was roaming a vacant block with class mates when I struck gold.

In Danish the dragonfly is guldsmed or gold smith. This is a relatively new name for the graceful insect – European folklore has little positive to say about the dragonfly, giving it names that mean the devil’s horse or eye poker and scaring children with stories about dragonflies sewing people’s mouths shut with their needle looking body.

Back on that empty building block in the 80s I caught a massively big dragonfly in the net and nearly scared the pants off myself, perhaps because of those tales. Though I was proud as punch of my catch, my excitement faded quickly as my science teacher showed me how to drop cotton wool with chloroform into the jar and then pin the poor insect onto a polystyrene board. So much for powers to poke people’s eyes out, here’s a poker for you!

Fast forward to Australian experiences, where I spotted the beautiful red, blue and green dragonflies hanging around the billabongs and streams when we were camping or walking in the bush. I love them for their grace – and their moscito eradication abilities.

In Japan dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength and happiness. Inspired by my colleague, Krysi Egan, it is the grace and happiness I wanted to capture in my lino cut of the dragonfly buzzing around the lily pad pond. I hope it makes you happy, too.

Gentle giants of the sea

The sea and the sound of the waves rolling to the shore nourishes my soul. I love long walks on the shoreline, forever changing always new, reminding me of the finite nature of being and the infinite nature of time and space we exist in.

When I first spotted humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean, it was from the vantage point of Hells Kitchen in Noosa National Park years ago. They were swimming past in the distance, surfacing, diving, blowing and jumping their unfathomable large bodies out of the water on their way north to warmer breeding areas near the equator.

I have since experienced whales in playful banter in Moreton Bay, welcomed Yalingbila (Jandai language for whale) at the Quandamooka festival on Minjerribah, and signed petitions for the preservation of whales and stopping international whalers.

T-shirt design by Delvene Cockatoo-Collins for the Quandamooka Festival

Most recently, I learnt that the humpback whale is the Sacred Spiritual Totem of the Woppaburra First Nations People of the Keppel Islands off the central Queensland coast, and is named Mugga Mugga in Woppaburra language. The Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation ambition to install a tourism attraction with the bones of a previously beached whale on the top of Mulumba is contested, and a tent embassy campaigns against the development. I pay my respect to the Elders of both the Quandamooka and the Woppaburra peoples and hope this current conflict can be resolved amicably.

I wanted to document these magnificient creatures in my new way of expression – the linocut. I love the meditative carving away of linoleum, the rolling of paint to cover the lino, and the pressing of the lino onto paper to reveal the mirror positive image of the cut.

We can learn from these giant mammals: take time to play. So I let out my inner, child artist, learn new skills and discover new ways of expressing myself.

We have seen the images of turtles dying entangled in fishing debris or eating plastic bags floating like jellyfish. Recently in Queensland, baby turtles were found dead with bits of plastic in their stomachs. Our insatiable consumption of plastics is killing our oceans slowly. Plastics in our oceans is dangerous to turtles because it looks and smells like food to turtles.

Turtles are amazing creatures who deserve much better than this horrible fate human greed is serving them up. It is testament to how much humans love turtles that the World Science Festival 2021 turtle hatchery sessions were the first to sell out. Luckily you can catch the hatchery on live stream here from 24 to 28 March 2021.

I have learnt from His Excellency Chief Antonio Chevez, of the Mayan-Lenca people of El Salvadore, that in his culture, turtles and tortoises are the symbol of love and empathy. Turtles have no speech, because love cannot be reduced to words.

Turtles are soft and vulnerable on their underbelly, but are protected by the strong shell on their backs. If you look at the turtle shell, it has 13 segments, scutes, that are all differently shaped and fit together like a puzzle. They are made of keraten, just like your fingernail. Individually each scute would not be able to protect the turtle, but together they are strong.

This is not so different when we think about diverse humans in a team. If we each are on our own, pursuing our own goals, we will not achieve as much as we can if we take time to understand and know each other, our strengths and challenges. Together we are stronger, we can be more than the sum of our parts. Thanks to PeopleHQ and Shelley Wild for taking me on a journey to learn how to satisfy our brain’s need for interpersonal connection when leading teams.

With my lino cut turtle print I try to bring out my fascination with these amazing creatures and remind us all that as humans need the empathy of those around us to thrive.

Walking to the Edges

Sometimes, walking is the best way to get around. Yes it might be easier to jump in the car to get from A to B, but the rush deprives you from truly experiencing the environment around you in human speed. Walking is important to our physical and mental health – it is said that 30 minutes of walking each day keeps you healthy. The very act of putting one leg in front of the other can bring you to a mental place of peace, especially if you are able to practice mindfulness as you amble along.

Our family in Næstved had a plan for walking. Næstved, on the south coast of Sjælland, was established as a trade centre in 1140 and became an important religious centre when both the Franciscan, Dominican and Benedictine orders established monestaries and churches here in those early days of converting the Vikings to Christianity. For the rowdy Danes worshipping the White Christ was probably mostly an insurance policy, just another god among the many Asa gods in Norse mythology.

Our first walk was out to Karrebæksminde at the entry to Karrebæk Fjord, where the Grasshopper Bridge connects Sjælland to Enø. This small town was once an important harbour for Næstved, though since the canal was dug deep enough in the first half of the 20th century, this function is no longer relevent. Now residents of Karrebæksminde commute for work or sustain themselves through fishing or tourism. During summer the population grows significantly with holiday visitors. The walk from Næstved is about 12 km.

For the second walk, we drove to Store Heddinge to walk Trampestien on top of Stevns Klint, a 41 km long world-heritage listed formation that provides evidence of the largest incidence of mass extinction on earth about 67 million years ago. When the Chixulub meteorite hit earth offshore the Ycatan peninsula at the end of the Cretaceous Period, it generated an ash cloud and the sediment of the ash and the life that came after the event can be seen as seams in the chalk exposed by the Baltic Sea. The fossil record exposed is outstanding and the flint stone amply available has been crucial to the Northward migration of humans after the last ice age. Similarly, limestone became an important building material in the medival and Bishop Absalon build his fort where Copenhagen later grew up out of building blocks from Stevns Klint. Harvesting of limestone for building materials did not cease until the 1940s and the scars can still be seen, for example near Højerup Gamle Kirke.

Between 1250 and 1300 a church (Højerup) was built close to the sea high up on the Klint. But the sea encroaches on the land by about 15 cm per year in this spot and in 1928 the outermost part of the church tumbled into the sea. A new church has since been built in safe distance to the sea, and the old church has been secured and heritage listed.

Our walk along Trampestien was about 15 km and we caught the train from Rødvig back to Store Heddinge.

Would London by any other name be as … Londonish?

The London corner of the UK was dead set against Brexit. Grayson Perry’s Red Carpet kind of shows why – a corner of privilege set against the rest of the country. We saw his  exhibition The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery – his work is provoking, smart and highlighting the irony of white privilege championing art for human rights.

When I started learning English at school, one of the early texts we studied was Ralph McTell’s Streets of London. The story of inequlity in a wealthy country lit a fire that still burns bright. Why are some people so unbelievably wealthy, living in gilded  flats in Kensington, with a country estate for hunting and pleasure, expensive cars, and children bording at the most exclusive ‘public’ schools, when others cannot scrape together enough for a meal? Compared with the 1960s, London is possibly less occupied today, with lots of housing owned by foreigners who visit occassionally, while others cannot afford to live here and those who do live in more affordable social housing risk their lives.

Yet, for the visitor, London is just fabulous, With its glamour, culture, diversity, history, and dirt. I have loved London since the first time I came with my parents and my older brother for one hot summer in 1974. It was great cultural experience and my young imagination was captured by the history of the place: the castles, the stories of royal conquest and deceit, the megalomanic empire building. However, the holiday could also have been a premature end of this lifelong fascination: it was sheer luck that we went to see the Crown Jewells in the triple armoured basement of The Tower of London, rather than the weapons in the rather vulnerable White Tower, that day when the IRA popped a bomb into a cannon. When we came out into the sunshine police were everywhere, Bobbies with batons, guiding us to the exit. Damn, said my brother, he really wanted to see those weapons. We read all about it in the Extra, Extra newspaper that our uncle-second-removed, Brian, bought on the way back to Hammersmith.

This time we also caught a heatwave, 31 degrees and the English were nearly melting. Even as a Queenslander I have to admit it was hot, with the asphalt steaming, the bridges creaking and the hot air pushed in front of the trains in the tube only marginally hotter than the ambient temperature on the underground platform.  Our need for a cold drink was rewarded by a hand-pulled luke warm draft beer at The Dove. The pint was of course Fullers Pride of London, and we sat in the breeze on the back deck overlooking the Thames, watching the rowers launch their boats into its murky waters opposite. We reminded ourselves that the words to Rule Britannia were penned in this very pub, wondering how the Brits imagine their glorious future divorced from the Continent, and what this future will hold for London.

Enjoy this impression of London: