Lucinda Tanner: Valued At Zero

Lucinda Tanner explores her new exhibition at Queenscliff Gallery.

18 May 2022
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A

From top:

Valued at Zero; Revivify, 2022, 112 x 76 cm, woodcut, marbling on Somerset 300gsm, unique state. $AUD 2000

Valued at Zero; Reimagine, 2022, 112 x 76 cm, woodcut, marbling on Somerset 300gsm, unique state. $AUD 2000

Valued At Zero

 It’s devastating to learn that what you know to be the real wealth of the planet – not only all that unpaid care work but also the living biosphere – is defined as unproductive and valued at zero.

(Jane Gleeson-White)

 An evening walk as the days begin to get longer. The ground is sodden after a big fall of snow and then a number of days of rain. The brook that runs down the valley is rushing and full. The water rushing past willows and hawthorn and all the other species that make up the hedgerow lining the brook, all bare of leaves until spring. The meadow is a big soggy expanse, the water mixing with the horse manure that the farmer has been dumping on the fields amongst the corn stubble over the winter. After arriving at the frog ponds I take the path around to the left. Here the path leaves the valley and enters the forest. There is an excellent corner for gathering wild garlic when it shoots up in the spring.

Survival establishes the fundamental context of caring. As a species, we have no choice about engaging in caring activities.

On the most general level, we suggest that caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible.  That world includes our bodies, our selves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.

(Fisher and Tronto)

 There’s a weak sun that feels delicious after so many grey days. It changes everything. An afternoon walk up the right-hand hill of the valley past the goats. It’s steep climb up alongside the meadow then into the forest. Fallen trees that came down with the ‘heavy snow incident’ are still being cleared. Now that the snow is all melted away you can see the extent of the damage. So many trees are uprooted and lying on the forest floor or leaning against other trees. Large branches have cracked off apple and cherry trees in the meadows. There has been a strange light all day. A golden glow from a flat sky. Now while we are walking the air is hazy. The effect is caused by Sahara dust. Later after it has rained a little I can see the dust on the skylight in the bathroom. No forest animals seen. Back in the village we see the first snowdrops coming up in gardens.

 We all travel on roads, but what is the infrastructure that has kept us alive and together through this pandemic? It is the human and social infrastructure of the care economy, one that is powered by women who are often underpaid, if they’re paid at all. This care economy has accomplished extraordinary things, and we need to start valuing, maintaining and investing in it with the same energy and focus as we would any arterial road. Truly, these workforces are the arteries of our nation, our regions, our cities, our suburbs, our communities, our families. We just don’t give it the equivalent value we should…

(Sam Moysten)

Late afternoon, up the valley past the frog ponds then around to the left at the second turning. This goes higher up the hill and makes for a longer route. I risk the extra time even though I am under time restraint to get back to the village before six to collect the Leberwurst from the local farmer. He produces these sausages in the traditional way a few times each winter. On the day of making you must pick them up between either 9-11am or 5-6pm. It just happens that he lives directly over the road from me. So I have to get back to collect my sausages but have gone up to the left where the path goes past quite a good blackberry patch. In autumn, if you are patient enough, you can gather a couple of cups of small wild blackberries. There were many kites and buzzards circling as I walked up the valley. For some reason they are out in large numbers, whistling and calling. Smaller birds are hopping between the bare branches beside the still rushing brook. It is quite windy which makes me a little nervous as many trees have fallen down under the weight of the recent snow and I am worried that the wind might bring down an already damaged branch or tree.

Trees live amid an orchestra of organisms. Whispering, gossiping, eavesdropping, all working together in symphonic harmony. Recent research shows that trees are in constant communication with one another through an underground biological neural network made of mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi grow on the tips of the tree roots, and provide them with nutrients and water in exchange for photosynthetic energy. These fungi link the trees – whether of the same or different species – in a vast mycelial lattice. Resources are traded back and forth through the fungal connections, a movable feast that keeps the community thriving. Some of the transmitted compounds act as stress or defence signals, serving to bolster immunity against invading pests, with other warning signals also floating from tree to tree through the air.

(Suzanne Simard)

This Sunday afternoon walk is quite the passeggiata. I can see quite a few people in the distance heading along different paths. Before even reaching the frog ponds I have stopped to chat with two different people. One of them points out to me how the hazelnut bush has separate male and female flowers. The male flowers are the dangling catkins and the female flower a tiny little magenta flower that I had never noticed before. The pollen of the catkins is the first thing the bees come to gather after their winter quiet. I also learn that it is in the next two weeks that the frogs are expected to come to lay their eggs in the ponds. I hope I see some. Last spring, during the lockdown, observing the eggs hatch into tadpoles and then grow into frogs was a great excitement. I walk past the frog ponds and then take the second turn on the right. I like this route as you follow the valley as it deepens and then end up high above the brook. No wild animals seen.

TO DO LIST:

– fetch energy reserves from leaves and get them back into trunk and roots

– break down chlorophyll (component parts)

(N.B. send it back out to the new leaves next spring; keep a track of time)

– grow layer of cells to close off connection between leaves and branches

– sort waste to go out with discarded leaves

– drop leaves (quickly, at the first hint of frost)

– breathe

– digest

– supply sugar to fungal allies

– grow a bit

(N.B. apportion energy carefully)

 

Up the left hand side of the valley for a rambling wander that eventually leads to an open area in the forest where there is a fireplace and picnic table. It’s called Banntag Platz and once a year (in non-Covid times) the whole village gathers for a party after walking the borders of the village.

 Followed later in the evening by a Frog Pond Classic. Mike and I agree to go together to check if the frogs had come yet to lay their eggs. They are expected any week now. We see two squashed frogs on the path and a small cluster of eggs in one pond but it seems that the majority of the frogs have not yet arrived. We see the first Bärlauch (wild garlic) of the season coming up.

On a warm spring day I have come into the forest with a mobile set of printer’s tools. Working directly into the linoleum, cutting without sketching, I carve the forms of Beech nut pods. The linoleum is deliciously warm from the sun, perfect for cutting. I add a Beech nut and then Beech seedlings – the extremely tender new leaf shoots are wilting quickly in the direct sun. Tissue-thin new leaves. I kneel with the lino plate on my knee, knife in hand, amongst the undergrowth. An uncontrolled way of cutting. Peering up into the canopy, I sketch out the new leaves on a Beech branch with jagged lines, noting how the leaves cascade down.

 Started as a Frog Pond classic but it feels so nice to be out wandering in the forest this morning that we extend and extend, winding our way up and over to the other side of the valley. We are reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories at the moment. Although Miss Marple has lived her whole life in the one small village, her insights on human nature are astute. She claims that human nature is the same everywhere, be it small village or large worldly city.

It was the leaves of the Beech that spoke to me. Standing near the trunk and looking up, fractal arrangements of leaves repeat in overlapping layers high up into the canopy. Furthermore, each leaf is decorated with distinct rows of ridging either side of the midrib which cast the light into clear bands. Repeated arrangements and markings at play, a visual feast for a mind attracted to pattern.

After trialling a number of ways to express this patterning, I carved a spray of leaves at a scale of 1:1 into a sheet of plywood. I then cut a second plate with the spray mirrored. I wanted the possibility to print them over one another to replicate the layering of the branches.

It is a morning walk as we woke up feeling still very full, and decide some movement is needed. The evening before we had prepared a Greek feast to enjoy while watching Zorba the Greek. The food was fantastic and ‘the full catastrophe’ was declared the favourite line in the film. The air is clear and bright but the sunshine is confusing because at the same time it is snowing very lightly. I catch a flake on my hand to prove it is indeed tiny snow flakes and not pollen or something like that. Icicles hang off the grass stalks that dip into the brook. We are excited to see a little black salamander crossing the path. He has paused mid-step. When we use a forked stick to remove him out of danger’s way he remains stiff and frozen and we begin to wonder if he is in fact dead. Did he die mid-step, caught out by the unexpected freezing temperatures overnight? Or is he petrified with fear? After one of his legs gives a small wave we announce him living and leave him to his fate in the grass beside the path. Leaves budding are very apparent in the hedgerows along the brook but the forest generally is yet to appear green. We comment on a particular red berry that had survived the whole winter and remains bright and plentiful on one type of shrub. No one wants these berries; not the birds, not the humans, not the deer. Untouchable, what is their purpose? A quick check of the frog ponds reveals no new frogs eggs since our last visit. There is way less spawn than last year. The question being: is more coming? Are the frogs and toads yet to make an appearance or is this it? I intended to gather some wild garlic on this walk but in the end have forgotten to bring a little bag with me and decide to wait until next time to do this. I wondered the evening before how a tsaziki made with wild garlic might taste. Very nice I am sure. Normally I make a pesto but this year will have a little experiment with a wild garlic tsaziki.

It was important to me that the printed leaves and the marbled pattern were not simply printed over the top of one another but interwoven, integrated. To achieve this I needed a mask to prevent the marbled ink from covering the leaves and instead surround them. My first experimentations were with some commercial friskets and fluids. These were not successful as they pulled up the paper when being removed. I then thought wax might be a possible solution as per the batik method of resist dying cloth. The temperature of the wax was important as it determined how effectively it would penetrate the paper and thus how effective the masking would be. This proved hard to control. I liked how the wax rendered the paper translucent but over all, the process of removing the wax after the marbling by ironing it out and the difficulty of maintaining the correct temperature of the wax made the process too complicated. Then, when researching Turkish methods of paper marbling, I came across a reference to the use of a Gum Arabic mask being used.

I am at the studio in the morning working on a new print. While there I receive a text from Mike, who has made a walk to the Frog Ponds, excitedly announcing the arrival of the frogs. From one day to the next they have arrived and in large numbers. It is quite an event. When I get home I ask him to join me to go and see the frogs for myself. We stand a long time at the pond observing the frogs. Various other people arrive. A gathering of people around a gathering of frogs. The frogs are quite large, a little smaller than fist size. They are pairing up to mate, with the males attaching themselves to the females’ backs. There is an icy wind and by now the ponds are in the shade so after a while we become very cold. Wild garlic, now green and lush on the forest floor.

Inexperienced in marbling paper, I went through a lot of trial and error to achieve the outcome I had envisaged. Two critical formulas to master were the consistency of the water-based bath thickened with wallpaper paste, and how much to thin the oil-based printing inks with turpentine. Most of this trialling could be done in small samples, but scaling up to the large format presented other issues to resolve. I set up my work station in the barn, where I fortunately had a lot of space. Tables for dry papers, a large, shallow trough set on trestle legs for the water-based bath, and a water-resistant worktop for the paper to be laid on after being removed from the inked surface of the water bath. It was still winter and the barn is more or less open to the elements. I worked in cap and jacket. At the end of these long days of marbling I was cold through and exhausted.

Through the meadow up the hill. All through the lower growth there are signs of new life. The small native plum blossoms are budding and many plants have leaf buds forming on the tips of branches. Only a few frogs remain at the pond.

These prints are multi-process works that express the ‘full catastrophe’ – not as the burden implied in the Zorba film, but as an affirmation of life and the ‘unexpected collaborations and combinations in which we require each other.’

(Donna Haraway)

We agree over Easter breakfast in the garden to go and see how many eggs the frogs have laid. The new spawn is of two sorts – balls and strings. The eggs in balls belong to a frog, and the eggs in string formations to a toad, apparently. As I have been told by a woman who has brought an Amphibians of Switzerland flipbook with her to the ponds. No frogs or toads to be seen. They have returned to the forest to sit under rocks, or whatever it is they do.

 While the forest canopy is not yet green the undergrowth is full of activity: purple violets, wild strawberry blossoms, young nettles and masses of wild garlic. I prepare a sensational wild garlic Chicken Kiev during the week, a little experimentation I am very pleased with.

Wild Garlic Chicken Kiev: a dish for Spring

(as thought up while walking in the forest)

INGREDIENTS

Wild garlic – a couple of good handfuls of new leaves gathered from the forest

2 tbsp butter

salt

black pepper

an egg, beaten

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs, in a shallow dish

4 chicken breasts

METHOD

Rinse the wild garlic then dry in a salad spinner or tea towel.

Puree the leaves to a paste with a hand-held blender or simply cut very finely.

Mash the paste through the butter, season with salt & pepper.

Slice a cavity in the chicken pieces & stuff it with the butter mix.

Dip the chicken into the egg and then press into the bread crumbs until covered all over.

Place the crumbed chicken pieces on an oven tray.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in an oven set to 180 degrees C.

 

References

Care as Social Organisation: Creating, Maintaining and dissolving significant relations, Tatjana Thelen, in Anthropological Theory 15 (4), 2015, p.497-515

Toward a Feminist Theory of Caring, Berenice Fisher and Joan Tronto, 1990 in Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives, Emily K. Abel and Margaret K. Nelson, 1990, State University of New York Press, p.36-54

Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and what women are worth, Marilyn Waring, 1988, Harper & Row

Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, María Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017, University of Minnesota Press

Sam Mostyn AO’s Address to the National Press Club of Australia, 24 November 2021; https://cew.org.au/sam-mostyn-aos-address-to-the-national-press-club-of-australia/

Staying with the Trouble; Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Donna Haraway, 2016, Duke University Press

Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene, Donna Haraway, September 2016;

https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/

The big idea: can forests teach us to live better?; Community, family, connection … how trees could be the model for a new way of being, Suzanne Simard, The Guardian, Mon 21 Mar 2022; https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/mar/21/the-big-idea-can-forests-teach-us-to-live-better-trees-model-suzanne-simard

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Peter Wohlleben, 2016, Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Institute

What Really Counts? How the Patriarchy of Economics Finally Tore Me Apart, Jane Gleeson-White, The Guardian, 1 August 2021; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/aug/01/what-really-counts-how-the-patriarchy-of-economics-finally-tore-me-apart

Works from this series can be viewed at:

Queenscliff Gallery

May 26 – Jun 20, 2022

81 Hesse Street Queenscliff 3225 Victoria

www.qgallery.com.au

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