whistling-trie

Performance notes: Enlist a partner or more to improvise on a slide whistle or whistle with his/her lips while you read this poem, titled “The Whistler”:

The Whistler

whistling

whistling,

The Whistler

whistles

Whistle.

whistling,

whistling

whistling,

The Whistler

The Whistler’s whistle,

whistles

The Whistler

the whistling

whistling to,

whistling,

The Whistler

whistling

The Whistler

whistled,

whistle.

whistled

whistle

Whistle

whistle

whistling

whistler.

The Whistler

The Whistler

whistles

whistles

The Whistler.

The Whistler

The Whistler’s

the Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

the whistling

The Whistler

The Whistler

a whistler.

whistling.

The Whistler’s

whistling

The Whistler

whistle

The Whistler

whistling

whistling

The Whistler’s

whistling

whistling

The Whistler

whistled

The Whistler

whistling

The Whistler

whistling

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

The Whistler

whistling

whistling

The Whistler’s

The Whistler

whistling

whistler.

The Whistler’s

whistles

whistling

The Whistler

whistle:

whistling,

whistling

whistling

whistle

The Whistler’s

The Whistler

The Whistler whistles.

The Whistler’s

The Whistler

The Whistler

whistling

The Whistler

whistle

whistle

Excerpted from a feature story about The Whistler by Eric Severn,

found at the Portland Phoenix online website. The original story was posted March 2, 2016, and I listed these excerpts on June 10, 2017

– C. Mehrl Bennett

T-shirt image view

(Above photo is just a thumbnail back view of shirt – click on the link below to the Zazzle site to see larger image and single image on the front of the shirt!) The designs on this black vispo T-shirt are collaborations by Musicmaster and John M. Bennett, done by passing the image/words back and forth via snail mail – so you can call that process MAIL ART.

Source: https://www.zazzle.com/visual_poetry_t_shirt-235436213133576984?CMPN=emc_en-us_ProductCreationForStore_Html&rf=238047724479247556&lang=en

Also, if you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about MAIL ART, let Musicmaster (aka Thomas M. Cassidy of Minneapolis, MN) fill you in during this video interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOewE81L85w

Sound poetry and asemic writing come together for me whenever this question is posed, “How can an asemic poem be performed?” I think it only takes a simple leap of faith to be able to read an asemic poem like a music score, and to improvise with the score using asemic sounds. I will begin with two examples to demonstrate how both bubble up from the same well, though these images appear totally different at first glance. The first is the score for a sound poem that I based on a found asemic score, and the second is a black and white typographical visual poem that evolved from a list of smoothie ingredients. In 2009, I took a photo of parallel linear shadows on a wall and messed with the digital file using image software. When I was playing around with the digital file, a combination of Photoshop Elements commands amplified wider and narrower sections in the linear shadows and a saturation of the colors brought out blue areas in the lines. I recognized a sound poem in the results; Wider darker sections equaled louder sound and narrower sections equaled quieter, softer sounds, and blue in the lines call for the ringing of wind chimes or bells. Two vertical shadow lines were scored for quick event performances where they intersected with parallel lines. The image is divided into 10 1/2 measures: each line is performed simultaneously by one voice for each line, two extras to perform the ‘incidents’, and one person to count steadily to 11 to help the performers keep time with the score. Here is the resulting score:Composition for 9 Voices with 2 Incidental Sections

Scanning printed text while moving the paper during the scan produces asemic text when the original text can’t be read for its original intended meaning. Also using computer software, I did some layering and fine tuning until I felt satisfied with this asemic poem:milk-seeds-March-16-2017-cmb

The element of chance is very important in both of the above projects. The first project involves natural light and photo technology. A performance of the score involves multiple people making asemic sounds of their own choosing. The second is a form of copy art that involves chance elements of movement and time. There is also a common element of glitch art with the use of computer technology. The results stimulate thinking the same way that reading music scores or text do, but with the use of a broad artistic palette with an inter-media approach: music, literature, poetry, performance art, the plastic arts (including photography and calligraphy), conceptual art, etc.

Asemic writing is a form of visual poetry in that it is a confluence of writing/reading and it often involves the above mentioned inter-media approaches. There is self-consciously produced asemic writing and there is the serendipity of ‘found’ asemic writing that can be documented in human environments. Human documentation of that which is perceived as asemic writing happens in both urban and in natural environments, such as ant trails on a log, swirling water, the spreading angles of ice on a window, etc. Composition for Nine Voices (the first example in this essay) was ‘found’ in light and shadows on a bathroom wall. The second black and white example involved text that was a recognized language which was then deconstructed in such a way as to make it unreadable as a traditional text.

The artist, writer, or performer might wrinkle a text on paper into a ball and then attempt to read it, or tear it into pieces and reassemble it by chance. Both those techniques have been used to create a kind of “dada” poetry, but true asemic meaning would result not only in scrambled phrases or sentences, but in unrecognizable words. I think the definition of “asemic” must remain fluid, however. Here is a statement about that term written by my spouse, who is also a poet/artist: “Everything is asemic to some degree in that everything is not fully understandable, except perhaps in the multiple, mostly unconscious, regions of the mind. Thus, nothing is truly asemic; everything has meaning,” John M. Bennett, March 2017. John was practicing a form of asemic handwriting in the late 1970’s, which he called “spirit writing”. An example of JMB 1977 spirit writing on graph paper, rubber stamped at the top with “MEAT RECEIVING”, appears in one of Tim Gaze’s first issues of asemic magazine (which Gaze started in 1998). You can see the ambiguity of John’s statement in that “everything is asemic” and “everything has meaning”. There is a kind of “zen attitude” in contradictions, and to be fluid in your thoughts is to be living in the fluxus moment.

German fluxus artist, Brandstifter, in collaboration with artist, Ann Eaty, asked us to collaborate with them on a project. We recorded our separately improvised vocalization of syllables and sounds found in the scattered letters of alphabet soup pasta. They included the audio in their March 2017 NYC gallery antipodes presentation, paired with two scanned images of the scattered pasta which appears to come out of a each of their scanned heads . A year or two previous to Brandstifter’s project, John and I had recorded video of a similarly improvised asemic performance. Improvising, we vocalized asemic and sometimes recognizable words from each other’s scrambling of letters, resulting in a the video “Gaez and Vexr”, found at my YouTube site: https://youtu.be/rql_IQvpf5Q

Music can inspire a kind of lyrical singing of nonsense syllables like what is called “scat” in jazz singing. This kind of improvisational thinking is a high art form of asemic language, and is one of the inspirations for asemic verbalizing I’ve done in performance venues. That, along with a performance I saw by Lori Anderson decades ago, and YouTube videos or SoundCloud audios of people performing Ursonate, a sound poem by Kurt Schwitters. Jaap Blonk, Christian Bök, and Olchar Lindsann are artists who have successfully undertaken a performance of Ursonate. Schwitters was one of the early dadaists, though he termed his activities as “MERZ”. Hugo Ball also wrote and performed sound poetry and, along with his partner Emmy Hennings, started Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916 – the very first Dada performance venue. Hugo Ball’s sound poem, KARAWANE, is iconic! The poem image below shows a playful visual presentation where the author uses multiple fonts, some italicized and some bolded, and the straight forward phonetically spelled words are ripe for performance. Ubuweb site has audio files of six of Hugo Ball’s sound poem being performed: http://www.ubu.com/sound/ball.htmlkurt schwitters_karawane

“Zaum” was coined by Russian futurist Velimar Khlebnikov (b.1885 d.1922) and poet/theorist Alexei Kruchonykh for a kind of suprarational, transcendental, phonetic, poetic language of the future. Paul Schmidt, an English translator of that Russian genre coined the term “beyonsense” in relation to Zaum because of the emotions and abstract meanings he felt were more forcefully conveyed without the intervention of common sense. Igor Satanovsky (b.1969, Kiev, Ukraine) is a bilingual Russian-American poet/translator/visual artist who moved to the United States in 1989 (per press release by Koja Press, 2006). On a Facebook page created by Satanovsky to commemorate “Zaum Day” [January 7th, 2017], he posted two interesting Zaum poems. “Sec” by Daniel Harms (Daniil Kharms), a Russian poet who was publishing in the 1920’s, and “KIKAKOKU!” by Paul Scheerbart, a German poet who published this early phonetic poem in 1897 in his book called: I love you! A railroad novel with 66 interludes. New Edition: Pub: Affholderbach & straw man, 1988, p. 278. Here is an excellent recorded performance of KIKAKOKU! on You Tube by the Uruguayan poet, musician, and performance artist, Juan Angel Italiano in collaboration with Luis Bravo, poet/teacher extraordinaire. https://youtu.be/QgMGYXyRVTw
Italiano has made videos and audio recordings of lots of sound poetry performances by Luis Bravo, John and myself, and others.

Many Pentacostal and other charismatic churchs strive to inspire their members to “speak in tongues” when they are baptized, a form of asemic language known as “glossolalia” or “Ecstatic language”, which is also embraced by charismatic movements in Protestant and Catholic churches. There is ancient evidence of this phenomenon in early pagan temples and Ancient Byblos (1100BC). Here is a quote from Dr. John R. Rice’s book, The Charismatic Movement, pp. 136-139: “Some Christians talk in tongues. So do some Mormons, some devil-possessed spiritists, (and) heathen witch doctors in Africa and Asia. Ages ago many heathen religions talked in tongues. It is not of itself necessarily of God.” There are preachers who claim to interpret glossolalia as if it were the word of God; however, I think asemic writers see glossolalia as a mimicking of language, a symbolic façade, and a tool to “free up” the areas of the human brain that process language.

The asemic approach to invented language and/or calligraphic gestural abstraction is an unrestrictive and is very open process. We must not forget that as humans we start out linguistically by voicing baby talk, which is a beautiful naive form of asemic language. A young child’s art has an innocence and free spirit that is often lost later on in middle school, when a tightness forms around attempts at artful representation of images. Preconceptions about the object being drawn and about what encompasses good art or poetry can get in the way of actually ‘seeing’ what is there and rendering it. The same thing can be said about the academic approach to language and literature, and more currently, the effect of ‘workshop poetry’ on writer’s sensibilities. On a more populous level, many people in the USA have come to accept clichés and greeting card verse as good poetry. I believe our exposure to good contemporary poetry at a young age in school is limited. Compared to the USA, many other countries have a greater appreciation of poetry and value their contemporary poets.

We, as artists, must be open to the creation end of literature and poetry and search for meaning without the hindrance of preconceptions. Meaning is found in the act of creation, interaction with nature and the media chosen to convey our thoughts, and in intuitive thought processing. Often the art is in the doing as much as in the artifact that remains. The asemic approach encourages new ways of reading and thinking and reaches across language barriers. Being open to interpretation and change is in the reading as well as in the writing. Any meaning the reader construes is a correct translation. Asemic meaning or non-meaning is not a static thing, but a meaning in flux.

There are public places in urban settings where event notices or advertisements are posted and then torn down with bits that remain in layers upon layers, often resulting in a colorful patina of collaged text. This is “found” asemic writing, but the collage technique is also a very deliberate human initiated process in asemic writing and art. The collage technique began with artists like Hannah Höch and others in the Dada movement that took hold around the end of WWI in Europe. The absurdity of the chaotic realities of damaged human lives that came about as a result of the war was greater than any absurdity an artist or writer could imagine. The new media of photography brought reality and current events into the tool box of artists. The act of creating a composition with typography and photographic images was a way of trying to create order out of chaos. Urban graffiti is a similar response to absurdities of real life. Amid those urban ‘found collages’ of pasted leaflets, we also find spray painted graffiti. Graffiti ‘tags’ and stylized calligraphy may appear as asemic to the average onlooker, though it usually has a specific meaning to the artist/author and maybe their immediate circle of peers.

The creation of glyphs and symbols, new words and poetic sounds, often might start out in a vacuum and will then begin to gain meaning within a cultural milieu. Or it might only be known to one living person who dies with that knowledge, perhaps leaving behind an artifact of that language. That artifact will be perceived as asemic by the rest of humanity, though anthropologists may attempt to decipher the meaning, for example that of ancient Mayan glyphs. It is a very human and natural instinct in all of us to be attracted to glyphs, symbols, new words, interesting typography, and sounds because of a basic need to read or interpret signs in the world around us, and to use these as tools to communicate with others.

Citing the NY Ctr for Book Arts website http://centerforbookarts.org/making-sense-of-asemic-writing/, wikipedia states that “The history of today’s asemic movement stems from two Chinese calligraphers: “Crazy” Zhang Xu, a Tang Dynasty (circa 800 CE) calligrapher who was famous for creating wild illegible calligraphy, and the younger “drunk” monk Huaisu who also excelled at illegible cursive calligraphy”.

A Japanese calligrapher, Shiryu Morita (b.1912) sought “a common universal language that was centered on spontaneous gestural abstraction.” In his work he wanted to “reconceptualize calligraphy as a contemporary artistic medium while seeking to rise above the barriers between cultures so as to generate a new international art.” Source: http://www3.carleton.ca/resoundingspirit/morita.html

In America in the 1950’s with the rise of modern abstract expressionism and its male icons, we had something akin to asemic writing in the paintings of Jackson Pollock (though he never acknowledged any connection with writing in his work), Cy Twombly Jr., and Brion Gysin (who, aside from his asemic paintings, literally inspired William Burroughs with his experimentation with the cut-up technique). Today, asemic calligraphic writing appears in art museums globally, including beautiful examples from Islamic artists.

In this digital, post-modern age [computers and fast paced work environments and expanding online social networking], asemic writing is more accepted, recognized, and appreciated on a global scale. It can be created via interdisciplinary genres of writing and other art forms such as the visual arts; including digital art and contemporary forms of drawing, typography, and photography, video, sound, and performance arts. “Intermedia” is a term used for these interdisciplinary arts practices that have developed between separate genres, and was an important concept promoted by Fluxus artist, Dick Higgins. In the past few decades many art departments in universities have begun to offer degrees in intermedia.

In November 2008, visual poetry finally received some attention from Poetry Magazine, which was founded by Harriet Monroe in Chicago, 1912, and today is one of the leading monthly poetry journals in the English-speaking world. This attention came in the form of an article by Geof Huth which offers comments on a portfolio of twelve works by thirteen visual poets. With his selections, free wheeling asemic poetry is given as much credence as more tradition concrete visual poetry. It is to Huth’s credit that he puts forth both visual poetry as a whole, but also the asemic markings in the portfolio, as poetry. Take a look: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/detail/69141
Asemic poetry is harder for the academics to accept than visual poetry with recognizable words, and there is a faction of visual poets who see it as part of the plastic arts rather than a form of visual poetry. Yet, no matter how asemic writing is categorized, there can be no denying that it has garnered attention in the past couple decades. Many examples are published in the 2010 anthology edited by Nico Vassilakis and Crag Hill called “The Last Vispo”… website here: http://www.thelastvispo.com/

One of the first people to curate an exhibit of asemic poetry was Tim Gaze, an Australian poet who has written about asemic poetry and was one of the first of our contemporary circle to be interviewed about asemic writing. Jim Leftwich (Roanoke, VA) was working around the same time as Gaze in asemics,and Michael Jacobson of Minneapolis MN discovered Tim Gaze’s asemic magazine in 2005, and drew parallels with the novella he was working on “The Giant’s Fence.” http://www.commonlinejournal.com/2008/12/interview-tim-gaze.html is a link to an interview with Tim Gaze who hosts a website at http://www.asemic.net ; also see http://www.asymptotejournal.com/visual/michael-jacobson-on-asemic-writing/ for an interview with Michael Jacobson, who administers a blog and a Facebook page by the same name called “The New Post-Literate”. Luna Bisonte Prods publishes works by experimental writers and poets, and recently published three volumes by Jim Leftwich titled “rascible & kempt: meditations and explorations in and around the poem”. Find descriptions and previews of all three “rascible & kempt” volumes at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/lunabisonteprods These volumes have examples of Jim’s asemic poetry as well as interesting discussions about the current milieu of experimental writers and their work. Current terminology he uses for what he sees as today’s experimental writing: “quasi-calligraphic drawing”, “writing-against-itself”, and “polysemic writing”.

The final image I present here is an example of a straight forward back & forth asemic writing I did through snail mail during mailart exchanges with Forrest Richey, aka Ficus strangulensis. The calligraphic practice sheet was set up by me and mailed to ficus, and also other mailart contacts. The first line on this card was his and we alternated until the card was full.  asemic writing 003

The entries made from a continuous line are a form of automatic writing, or ‘spirit’ writing. The surrealists, inspired by Freud and the unconscious mind, were doing something similar called surrealist automotism. When I was an MCAD art school student in the early 1970’s, I filled an entire sketchbook with the sort of doodling you see on the last line. I’ve also seen that kind of continuous line patterning piped onto the surface of our wedding cake by an Amish baker and cake decorator, so I know it’s nothing new. But I enjoyed a meditative state of mind as I was doing it. I never titled the drawings, instead I just documented my start and stop times. Another artist, Billy Bob Beamer from Roanoke VA, has a similar kind of ‘in the zone’ automotism approach with what he calls his ‘word dust’ pencil drawings. See this weblink for more on BBB: http://www.outsiderart.info/beamer.htm

 

C. Mehrl Bennett, Columbus OH, USA
Artist, poet, mailartist, writer, audio experimenter, associate editor of Luna Bisonte Prods
March 2017

Mail Art Calls

Posted: January 29, 2017 in mailart, Mailart Call

 

Go to this source at Lynn Radford’s blog for detailed information about Sinclair Scripta’s 2017 FemailXX project, and pARTicipate PLEASE, ThnX!:

Monday Morning Mail Art Call: FeMail-XX Project

Also, during the month of FEBRUARY, when the nation celebrates Presidents Day, you can call on the current electoral college president to RESIGN by mailing one postcard everyday the post office is open. On one side write RESIGN and address the other side to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20500 – Attn: current electoral college president

Mine are all ready to go!

resign-feb-2016-to-white-house

These “tricks” are from a worksheet written by John M. Bennett, handed out during national poetry month (April 2016), for the occasion of a workshop we were invited to give to members of the Ohio Poetry Association:

SOME OF JOHN M. BENNETT”S POETRY TRICKS
Rewrite a poem backwards
This can be done in several ways. Rearrange the poems with the words in
backward order or rearrange the lines in reverse order, for example. Or, for a
special treat, spell each word backward, drawkcab, while leaving the words
themselves in the same order, or rearrange them in reverse order, etc.
Start a poem in the middle
This can be done by rearranging an existing poem by rewriting it starting
from a point in the middle. When you reach the middle of the rewritten
poem, add the title (perhaps in bold), and continue with the “first” part of the
poem. With a little practice, you can write a poem from scratch in this way.
Constantly repeat a word or a phrase
This can create some great rhythmic effects. Don’t worry too much about
proper syntax. You can emphasize the repeated elements with italics, upper
case, etc.
Mix tenses
This can multiply the apparent number of voices and perspectives in a
poem, and have other effects. In general, you can mix syntactical and
grammatical structures to create multiple layers of meaning and resonance.
Misspell words
Use popular misspellings to create multiple voices or perspectives. You can
also create your own misspellings for expressive or performative effects.
Cut-ups and tear-ups
The numbers of ways to do this are only limited by your imagination. By
disassembling and reassembling existing texts you will discover new meanings
and resonances you might not have thought of. With some practice, you will
come to be able to write in this manner skipping the step of cutting or tearing
up. You will have found a whole new dimension of language in which to
express yourself. It is especially thrilling to cut up your own texts in these ways.
Mix languages
If you have any level of knowledge of a foreign language or languages, use
them freely in what you write. If you know no other language than your own,
learn a new one. It is amazing what this does for your ability to express
yourself in general, and to understand how language can work.
Transduction
This is a kind of fake translating, in which you “translate” a text from one
language to another without regard to what a bilingual dictionary might suggest.
It is not necessary to know the language you are transducing from. One way to
do this is called “homophonic translation” in which you use words in your
language that merely “sound like” the words in the original. You can also
transduce by opening your mind to the resonant associations a word in a
source language suggest to you. It is also fun to transduce within a language: ie,
transduce an English text into a new English text.
Create a new form
All poetry has some kind of form, even so-called “free verse”. The
possibilities of creating new forms are infinite. Try writing a “formless” poem,
and then using the result as a form: that is, write more poems in the same
form. You can also modify existing forms: how about a 15-line sonnet in
which the central line is a title? You can imagine forms using any of the
techniques in this list. You can thunk of a form before you write anything, and
then see how it works. Or you can let a form evolve out of something
“formless” that you write.
Asemics
Written language that cannot be “read” because it has no apparent words or
letters in it, but looks like it does. Fake writing, if you will. This is often done
with handwriting, but can also be done typographically. It can be used as a
score for Dada-like sound-poetry performance.
March 2016 – John M. Bennett

More info about John M. Bennett from the back cover of his latest publication, THE WORLD OF BURNING:

John M. Bennett’s poetry encapsulates the chaos characterizing our experience of and in this world, giving it a form and presence in words, phonemes, languages, and metaphor so compact and multi-meaningful, so ambiguous, that his poems glitter in their condensed expressive emotionality. The result is a universe that is gritty, carnal, and at the same time metaphysical and sublime, resonating in multiple worlds, cultures, times, and consciousnesses. Bennett does not “write poetry”, but uses poetry as a means of understanding and creating what cannot be understood and what cannot exist, but does very much exist in these pages. In the over 50 years of his writing, he has published more than 400 books and chapbooks, each quite different, yet distinctly Bennett, and has developed a startling variety of innovative techniques and approaches. His Select Poems appeared in 2016.

Photo of JMB taken in Japan ca. 1949 by Katherine G. Bennett or John W. Bennett

Photo of JMB taken in Japan ca. 1949 by Katherine G. Bennett or John W. Bennett

Sign for Nopalry

Sign for organically certified Nopalry

Incubator for impregnated cochinilla insects

Edgar Jahir Trujillo describes process of raising and harvesting cochinilla insects

Edgar Jahir Trujillo describes process of raising and harvesting cochinilla insects

edgar-jahir-trujillo-cochinilla-painting-using-dried-nepal-paddle-on-wing-sections-2016

Edgar experiments with cochinilla color variations

Edgar experiments with cochinilla color variations

A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield, Harper Perennial, 2006, was recommended to me after one of our Aldus Society events by paper marbling and calligraphy artist/instructor, Ann Alaia Woods, when I told her about our upcoming visit to Oaxaca MX with the Archeological Conservancy group. The historical research and global perspective of this book illustrates the importance of a red dye [cochinilla granules] developed from a nopal cacti parasite in Oaxaca Mexico, which first came to Europe’s attention by way of the Spanish conquistadors. “Cochinilla” is the Spanish version of the word, and the oft used anglicized version is “cochineal”.  At one time cochineal granules were the least expensive per kilo, and were a more concentrated and color fast dye compared to other European red dyes on the market, so demand for it quickly made it as valuable as gold or silver. Weavers created gorgeous red robes and clothing which the rich and powerful class paid top dollar for. Later on, when synthetic dyes were invented, the competition was too great for the cochineal market to survive, and production in Oaxaca all but disappeared. [In regard to synthetic dyes, Ann recommends a book by Simon Garfield, MAUVE, How one man invented a color that changed the world. The Norton paperback edition came out in 2002. It is about the English scientist, William Perkin, and what developed from an accidental discovery he made when he was only eighteen.]

Today, a special nopalry (an organically certified cacti farm) exists in the state of Oaxaca as a way to bring back the important history of cochinilla in Oaxaca. It also provides many local crafts people with an organic natural source for red dye and other colors that can be obtained with additives. It was a pleasant surprise when a visit to the del Río Dueῆas nopalry was added to our tour group itinerary at the last minute! I even had my book with me to read during the trip, as I was only half finished with A Perfect Red.  A small museum was the beginning of our tour, followed by the nopal paddle green house, and then the studio where artist interns experiment with the dye in their artworks. Our guide was artist and architect, Edgar Jahir Trujillo, and he sold his cochinilla painting of a winged insect to a member of our group. The painting technique he used involved dried nopal paddles, dipped in the red dye, to impress texture onto the wings of a male cochinilla insect.

What follows is a narrative I wrote up from some notes taken during the nopalry tour, where we were able to learn firsthand about this natural dye that was originally produced only in the Oaxaca valley. Also included are my notes about a visit to a famous Oaxacan weaving workshop and a handmade paper co-op, both of which use and appreciate natural and locally produced dyes.

The nopal cacti grown at the nopalry has no needles, and only paddles from the highest quality plants are used in the greenhouse where the cochineal insect is nurtured. These parasitic insects are protected from too much sun, while micro predators are controlled as well as possible, and the cacti are protected from breezes that might blow the tiny insects away. The fertilized eggs of the female insect take 90 days to mature, then the insects on the nopal paddle are carefully removed with a fine bristled brush into a bowl (about 3 grams of insects per paddle). The fat, impregnated females that are best for breeding are separated out by a sieve and put into a woven palm mat tube (approx. 3″ long). Both ends of the tube are blocked with netting to protect the cochineal from predators like spiders. The tube nest is hooked onto a fresh nopal paddle which is control dated with an innoculation date. This date tells the greenhouse workers when the 3 month hatchling development period is up, and when to empty the females from the nest. A small orifice in the mat tube allows male and female baby bugs come out and populate the nopal paddle like the parasites that they are. Each female insect builds a white webbing around itself on the cacti, which helps protect it as it doesn’t move around and has no wings. (An aside: Zapotec mythology about the protective white webbing was that “The Cloud people surrounded blood from the gods with white fuzz.”) The males are tiny white flies with a life span of only three to five days. The male’s probiscus breaks off after coming out of the mother, so it can’t even eat! It’s only goal is to fly around and mate with females within its very short life span.

After 15 days of incubation in the palm mat tubes, the females are removed and added to other insects brushed from the nopal paddles that were not used for breeding. Together, they are set out to dehydrate and die in the sun, or they could also be dried in an oven. The nopal paddle (only used once) is fed to animals or composted. 140,000 of the dried insects equal one kilo of cochinilla. If you squish a cochinilla insect in your palm, its blood reacts with elements in the skin which affects the color. 30% of the cochinilla powder is pure coloring agent (pure pigment) that will last forever, and will not react to the PH of different surfaces. The carminic acid in the insect protects it from viruses, but is also the most important element used for dye. To get the carminic acid from the powder made from the dried insects, water plus alum are added to make a liquid, the liquid is boiled, then it is put through filters. Two chemical additives that achieve color variations are: Citric acid from limes for less scarlet, more pink, and bicarbonate of soda for mauve (dark purple).

Artist interns working at the nopalry are encouraged to experiment with the cochinilla granules in their art works. A few products like lipstick, dyed T-shirts, and books about the history of cochinilla are sold in a small gift shop. Note: Ignacio del Río Duῆas, the author of Grana Fina Cochinilla (published by the State of Oaxaca), is one of the main shakers and movers to revive the chocinilla industry in Oaxaca, and his book was available in the gift shop. Edgar told us that until the nopalry gets more investors they can’t create huge batches of products to sell. Money would be used for merchandizing efforts needed to move products quickly, but for now the dye is sold to local artists and craftspeople. Edgar pointed out to us that artificial dyes can be health hazards, though I’ve also read that there are some individuals who have bad allergic reactions to cochinilla. Another side note: Cochinilla is too organic for tattoo inks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On another day, 0ur group was graciously welcomed into the workshop of Isaac Vásquez Garcia and son, Jeronimo, who are Zapotec weavers from the weaving town of Teotitlán del Valle. They and other family members spin and dye their own wool, using it to weave beautiful rugs on big looms. These rugs sell well to tourists in their shop called “The Bug in the Rug”. When dying wool yarn with cochinilla (the bug!), alum and acacia fruits and freshly squeezed lime juice are added to fix, to darken or lighten or intensify the colors. They also use Tehuantepec indigo, dyes derived from lichens, the acacia tree, and other natural sources. Many of the original natural materials and the resulting dyes were displayed and demonstrated to our group by Mr. Vásquez Garcia. The book, A Perfect Red, especially mentions Isaac Vásquez Garcia as having “helped to breathe new life into Oaxaca’s age-old textile arts, allowing them to pass to a new generation.” And…”when the craft of natural dyeing had almost vanished from Oaxaca, a few artisans like Isaac Vásquez… sought to revive the old techniques. Coloring wool with cochineal…”

One day we visited a paper making co-op with a separate workshop for silkscreen printing, a gallery, and a gift shop. El Taller Arte Papel Oaxaca was begun in 1998 in San Agustín Etla, Oaxaca. Francisco Benjamín López Toledo is a famous Mexican artist who helped establish this paper making co-op and he commissions their paper to use in his art practice. Toledo helped get them a grant to create paper from only renewable sources and materials. It took 8 years of learning and organizing to establish the co-op. Today, artists come from China, Finland, Arab countries, and Japan to give paper workshops. They grow and use natural fibers from the Kapok tree (the green variety, as the black kapok tree is more rare) which is also known as the sacred Ceiba tree (Tree of Life). Also used are the natural fibers of Chichicastle, agave, Majahua, white cotton, Coyuche cotton, and lion’s paw.

fibers-for-papermaking-JMB-photo.jpg

Fibers used for papermaking (Photo credit: John M. Bennett)

These fibers are first boiled with bicarbonate of soda. Mechanized Hollander beaters are used to further break down the fibrous pulp. Lots of water is used for soaking the fibers and water also helps with the swishing of the pulp when it is screened. One of the co-op’s goals is to leave a low footprint, so used water is filtered and strained and treated so it’s fit to consume, then gets delivered to Oaxaca City by tank transport. In addition to only using natural fibers, they don’t use catalyzer agents. Their paper screening technique involves swishing liquid pulp from side to side and then up and down in order to cross stitch the fibers, thereby evening out and strengthening the paper. This workshop has their own watermark embedded in the boxed screen which leaves its mark in either bas or high relief; its design is a heart with a swimmer approaching. After swishing in the screen, the water is pressed out with big sheets of felt (using synthetic/industrial felt as it’s easier to peel off, doesn’t decompose as fast, and gets reused). Then the pressed pulp sheet is turned out onto a zinc tin sheet to dry. The tin sheets are cut from recycled materials like construction siding. Before the paper dries they can press decorative indentations into it, or add decorative leaves or shiny mica bits. In the same work room, hanging to dry, were molded paper portraits of historical Zapotec leaders we’d seen at one of the archeological sites with our tour group.

Tree bark may take up to 5 years to decompose before it’s ready to use, so this paper is pricey. Today’s cost is 300 or 400 pesos for a 2’x3′ sheet of handmade paper, though the strength of the US dollar made it very affordable for us to buy. There is a kind of Japanese seed that is made into gel that uses less fiber and makes a thinner, yet very strong paper. They can’t get it directly from Japan because of customs limits but a seller in Santa Ana (CA) makes it available to them in powder form. That lighter weight paper is the kind I bought from their shop, which I rolled up to pack in my suitcase. Other items in their shop included paper kites and blank paper journals silk screened with designs made by Francisco Toledo, and also jewelry made from rolled paper beads. See photos of their paper making process at: http://www.mexicoartshow.com/artepapel.html

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Remnants from one of my Fluxfest Chicago event scores (Fluxfest Chicago is an annual event organized by Keith Buchholz)- rearranged in various compositions on one of the glass block lights in the floor of the Rotunda Room at the Chicago Cultural Center, Friday May 27, 2016.

The original performance score happened in a gallery on Staten Island NY many years ago. I wore a fabric belt – same material as my shirt – took it off and swirled it into a spiral on the floor – then cut it up with grid-like cross cuts and offered the pieces to the audience. This was during NYC Fluxfest (2011), organized by Keith Buchholz, with additional Staten Island events organized by Mary Campbell and Viv Dey Dada.

At the Chicago Cultural Center event, I wore a long black scarf with gold metallic dots on it around my waste over a black T-shirt. Again, I swirled the material into a spiral then cut it up, but this time I wanted to incorporate the glass block floor light instead of sharing with the audience. I made one arrangement and called it the end of the event, and then a break was called. While everyone else went to an adjoining room, I took the opportunity to rearrange pieces into various compositions, documenting with a photo each time.