Friday, September 25, 2015

Whispered Fragments II: Emily Dickinson

On August 9th, I wrote a post about the beginning of the process of creating this installation for the Flying Horse Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit at the Pingree School in Hamilton, MA.  Here is the description from the catalog:

Whispered Fragments II contains lines from the poems of Emily Dickinson chosen for the beauty, freshness, and crystalline ambiguity of her language, lines to both say out loud and let echo silently in the mind. The presentation of the fragments of poems fluttering on the trees is inspired by a Japanese tradition of hanging slips of poetry from tree branches. 

On August 19th, with the help of my son (actually he did all the work of hanging and I directed), the 81 strips were hung from four crabapple trees. The installation was not successfully concluded until September 23. Except for the lettering, I have completely redone every step of the process twice and some five times. I hope that reading about it will not be as interminable as it felt to do it. 

I did the first Whispered Fragments for Maudslay Outdoor Sculpture in 2008 using lines from John Greenleaf Whittier and lettering with a sharpie marker on tyvek strips. This time I wanted the lettering and the presentation to be a little more formal. I wrote on paper so I could use pen and ink and then covered it with a clear mylar. I experimented with writing horizontally or vertically. The way the words had to be broken up to fit horizontally made a vertical representation a better choice. The words are actually more legible even if you do have to tilt your head. And once again, a thank you to Mike Gold for his workshop at Masscribes. My lettering continues to loosen and become more free thanks to him.

I did a binding of sorts on the top with wood and thread and attached it to a small ring which was then attached to the branch with a tie wrap. I did a test in my yard but it turned out the actual location was much windier. What worked fine at home did not work well there. 

My first problem was with the strength of the cord and the security of the knots. My first go round was with waxed linen thread. At least half broke off within a few days. Next I tried imitation sinew. It held but the knots came undone. While I was working on the next solution, I discovered another problem. The mylar covering was not protective enough and water was seeping in.

I only did two smart things in this whole process. One was to scan the lettering before putting the mylar on. The other to follow up on a chance encounter with Josh DeVries, a printer who owns The Scarlet Letter Press in Salem, MA while I was working on the piece at the school. He spoke of how much better the encapsulation would be if it were laminated. Ten minutes after he left (and fortunately gave me his card), I called him on his cell and he came back and we planned the job. I prepared the scanned lettering; he printed, cut, and laminated the strips. Here’s Josh trimming:

After I got the laminated strips, I started all over again with new wood. I cut it with the paper cutter, spray varnished the pieces,

attached the wood to both sides of the top of the strips with double-stick tape,

and marked and then drilled 3 holes in each.

For the binding I tried catfish line and new knot used by fisherman taught to me by Paul Lovasco.

Nice try, but they started coming down in short order. The knots quickly unknotted in the wind. And keep in mind that for every one of these steps we are talking 81 strips.

At long last (why didn't I think of this sooner? you may ask), I decided that string and knots were not working. I still had fishing gear on my mind and went to Surfland Bait & Tackle on Plum Island. They pondered my problem and came up with a great solution. It only took care of the center hole so I bound the edges at the other two holes with wire.

The installation is up. I visited it this morning and it looked beautiful in the early morning light. The opening reception is tomorrow, September 26 at 11 AM. The exhibition continues until November 22. 

I'm trying to determine the lesson here. I obviously should have given up on the knots sooner. I allowed myself to get completely stuck on one idea when I should have rethought the basic premise. I ended up in a battle with the elements. I should have acknowledged their power and adapted sooner. Next time, if there is one. 

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