Venetian blind book. Monoprint, screenprint and collage. Closed: H107 x W233 x D25 mm; Open: H1000 mm. Unique.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Look at the circular and triangular pieces making up the clasp for this work Legacy (2018) by Diane Harries. Don’t they appear to be made of marble or some other polished stone? They actually come from coconut husk, shaped, polished and dyed. The only indigenous plant from the palm family in New Zealand is the nīkau, and the coconut trees present on one of its islands were likely planted. “Some say that when Māori came to New Zealand, they looked in vain for a familiar tree and seeing the nīkau, compared it to the coconut tree of their Pacific homeland. One translation of ‘nīkau’ is ‘without nuts’, in remembrance of the coconut.”
The choice of material — this crafted seed — strikes a subtle note in a work inspired by Harries’ experience with the Gordon Park Scenic Reserve, a protected lowland forest once common to the Manawatu/Whanganui region of New Zealand. An expanse of land preserved by what threatened it in the first place.
As the thread unwinds from around the circular piece of seed pod and the triangular piece is laid aside, the subtle notes grow. The fashioned clasp is the same sort used to hold up or let fall a venetian blind. But here the clasp works in reverse from that for a venetian blind: the winding holds the book closed, the unwinding opens it. The thread winds around and through what appears at first to be an accordion book, but with the first turned page or panel, it is clear that this is venetian blind structure. A structure that modulates the movement of light and air. Our artifice can be deployed “to open or close” nature.
A collage of hand-printed images (monoprint and screenprint) sound the more obvious note that this work addresses our impact on nature. Images of leaves and a wire fence strung along posts. Alternating panels of living and dead trees — a healthy and exotic bunya pine and the native, dead kahikatea (white pine).
As the panels extend fully, other material and images come into play. Staves of musical notation appear — here on a panel with the living, there on a panel with the dead. Just as fickle as a pretty human artifact that in one context winds to close and in another winds to open.
Images of wandering thread contrast with the straight lines of real thread connecting the panels. Scraps of tarlatan with its loose weave constrast with densely woven rectangles of thread.
Did the venetian blind structure and seed-based material choose the images, or did the images choose the structure and material?The choice of material and structure can play an obvious or subtle role — or both, or none at all — in a work. When material, form, technique and metaphor play together like this, the work becomes art.
The botanical history of Gordon Park Scenic Reserve provides a window on the social changes that have marked the region. European settlers cleared most of the native bush for farmland, but this tiny patch of swamp forest three kilometres east of Whanganui was saved by an enlightened landowner. Today as conservationists, we mourn the loss of native species everywhere.
The plants there today tell these stories of loss and invasion. Drainage of the area for pastureland has put native kahikatea (white pine) trees at risk during drought and some have died. Their bleached skeletons stand sentinel to this historically neglected status. Paradoxically, the exotic bunya pine (Australian native) nearby, is valued as a marker of the original homestead (now removed), and is officially recorded as Protected Tree #96. The stories are enmeshed in our history and changing values, indicated by the woven fabric in the book.
However, regardless of their social meaning, there is splendour in both of these trees, and the music is a whimsical appreciation of beauty in the face of mankind’s fickle imprints upon the earth.
Chinnery, Colin. “The Chinese pothi (fanjia zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 30 October 2021. The venetian blind book structure derives from one of the earliest known methods of binding: the Indo-Chinese pothi or palm-leaf sutra.
Department of Conservation, New Zealand Government. Manawatu/Whanganui. Site last revised: N.D. Accessed 30 October 2021