art, yoga, connection to life

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My first hint that plants could be used as dyestuff can be traced back to growing up with family Easter traditions.  Following my mother’s Polish roots, each year we would prepare a basket filled with babka, a little glass filled with butter, another with horseradish, kiełbasa and of course decorated, coloured eggs.  We’d sit around the kitchen table with the hot wax of a burning candle, improvised drawing tools crafted from bobby pins to create motifs and bowls of coloured liquids made from onion skins and beet juice.

dyes
easter eggseggs 2016On Easter Sunday, the Easter bunny always visited our house, leaving a trail of eggs leading to the kitchen where we’d find a gift.  I remember following that trail one year to find a cheerful clear dome shaped umbrella printed with an encircling row of yellow tulips and a hooked yellow handle.  It became my prized umbrella that still brings a smile to my mind when I think of it.

Easter was always a joyous time.  It was the end of lent and as kids that meant chocolate and cakes.  After our morning breakfast feast of goods from the blessed basket, on warm years, we would spend the afternoon sitting around the garden by the cherry trees and spring bulbs, soaking up the first rays of the spring sun.

Sisters and cousins have since moved to different countries and provinces but when we get a chance we still gather around these traditions together or in our own ways.

My newest “tulip” print is an homage to those memories.  The coloured eggs, spring flowers in the garden, my sweet tulip umbrella and joyful times with family.

tulip printtulip print on silk

I still love decorating and colouring eggs.  I’ve expanded on my techniques and usually draw with a thin paint brush dipped in hot beeswax then dye the eggs with a variety of things.

Here are a few suggestion of things you can cook up for lovely colours:

for purple/blues
blueberries, then squeeze out the juice
purple cabbage
berry berry tea

for pink
beet juice

for yellows
turmeric
onion skins
tea

Nuances can be achieved by dipping the eggs in the different bowls of colour. Sometimes I’ll dye an egg first then apply the wax, dye it again, then apply another design, dye the egg again … it’s like batik on an egg.

Babka,  a heartwarming sweetbread is an Easter staple always found on our table.  This year, since I’ll be at One of a Kind over the holidays, my mom baked some to give me in advance and my aunt shared my babcia’s recipe to bake for celebrations yet to come.

babka

STEP ONE

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups warm milk
1 heaping tablespoon yeast

Mix ingredients together and let stand about 3 hours in a warm place until yeast beings to activate and dough gets bubbly.

STEP TWO

Beat together 4 egg yolks and 1 white
Add 2/3 cup of sugar and beat again until sugar is dissolved
Add ½ cup of milk.  Add a teaspoon of lemon or orange rind and 1 teaspoon salt

Add above mixture to dough.  Add enough flour to give the dough substance and is thick enough to knead.  When you are kneading, if you find the dough still too loose and sticky, add more flour

STEP THREE

Knead for about 3-5 minutes.  Add about 3 big tablespoons of melted butter and ¾ cup of white or sultana raisins.  Knead until the dough comes free from your hands.  Let dough sit covered in a warm place until it doubles in bulk.  Roll the dough onto a floured board.  Divide into greased pans.  (should make 2 large or 3 smaller loaves).  Again let sit in a warm place until the dough rises above the top of the pan.  Brush the top with slightly beaten egg white to give the top a shine.  Bake at 350 degrees about half an hour or until the top is brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when you tap on the top.

Note:  To speed up the rising time, eliminate Step One, mix all the ingredients together from Step One and Step Two and continue with Step Three. The bread may be a little more dense but should be fine.

For days when the mundane seems less than memorable, remember, the mundane is really where the amazing gift of being begins …
This inspiring amazingness manifesto comes from London, UK, based photographer, environmentalist and urban explorer Anna Hillman.
http://amazingness.com/blog/

AMAZINGNESS MANIFESTO

1. Our planet is AMAZING.

2. Humans are as much a part of nature as are plants, animals, rivers, rocks and soils – we are all part of the same biological, chemical and physical systems, cycles and processes as each other.

3. Wherever we are, however built-up an area is, there is always sky above us, small plants growing atop walls and tiny animals going about their daily lives.

4. A weed is just another name for a brave and slightly naughty plant.

5. Even something as simple as looking up at the sky, can lift our spirits and make us glad   to be alive.

6. Amazingness is for discovering, enjoying and sharing.

7. Every day the sky is different, plants grow, shadows appear and disappear, rain drops splash, puddles dry up, leaves tumble in the wind, colours change with the changing light…there is always something new to enjoy.

8. Connecting with nature everyday increases human psychological well-being, and consequently the well-being of communities and of the planet.

9. Amazingness is for everyone.

It is the season when we look to the trees for budding encouragement of spring.

I welcome the miracle of a lush greening transformation as much as I welcome the skeletal baring of form over the winter.

Trees are presence, witnesses and geographic markers.  They are complex symbiotic ecosystems that support life including fungi, insects and birds.  Trees bathe us in phytoncides, which are basically essential oil compounds, with antimicrobial properties that offer numerous health benefits.  Research in shinrin-yoku or forest bathing has shown that a walk in a forest regulates stress and metabolic hormones and supports our vitality as we are literally being swabbed by these phytoncides.  I learned much of this from an interesting program on CBC Ideas called “The Witness Trees”.  It brought forward a question; how can we bring community managed forests closer to our daily urban experiences, rather than commuting for hours to walk in nature?

An inspiring example in Toronto of community, culture and nature is the Evergreen Brickworks. You can walk along the now naturalized brickworks quarry, discover many of their exciting projects and wander into the ravines that connect with Toronto neighbourhoods.

Always curious about these sorts of explorations, this past fall I found myself at a number of art installations that invited questions about our relationship with the nature.

In a dimly lit room, the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, it appeared as though a long, gnarled, fallen tree lay on the floor.  Its size and stillness were startling.  Immediately compelling, its surprising material quality sustained my curiosity.

cripplewood

I slowly became aware that the tree was created with wax, epoxy, paint, cord and fabric.  The branch junctures wrapped with cloth, like bandaged branches, began to look like broken bones and oozing, fleshy wounds.  It felt painful and visceral.  There was a strong sense, for me, of the intimate connection between bones of the body, our flesh and what composes all life forms. This work by Berlinde De Bruyckere in collaboration with acclaimed writer J.M.Coetzee titled,  Kreupelhout – Cripplewood, transformed a familiar image, a fallen tree, through its surprising materials and composition into a renewed physical, emotional and cognitive experience and what seemed to me expressive of a distressing call to heal the earth.  cripplewood 3

The artists, in this work, also referenced the martyred Saint Sebastian, associated with  Venice, who was often depicted tied to a tree with arrow wounds in his flesh.  Referencing Saint Sebastian, as patron saint and protector of the plague, might there also be a symbolic appeal for protection from contemporary afflictions? (A contemporary affliction I often think about and a worry about, coined by Richard Louv, is the “nature deficit disorder”)

Walking further along Biennale, the Finnish artist, Antti Laitinen, reconstructed 5 felled nordic birch trees in the Giardini.  This strikes me as a curious play of context and an interesting layering of form as the city of Venice itself was built upon a marshy lagoon with pillars of trees as its foundation.

birch - Antti Laitinen

 

I read recently in “The Global Forest”, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger that trees communicate through infrasound in low frequency sound waves.  Each tree is unique in its sound due to the configuration of its trunk, bark and leaves.  Aspects of Terike Haapoja’s installation in the Nordic Pavillion amplified opportunities to listen to tree frequencies and see our breath affect the decomposition of leaves.  By way of a coupling of art and science, she invited us to investigate and question cycles of life and entropy as well as our presence as a participant within the ecosystem.

A couple of months later, I saw another fallen tree.  This one, a bronze cast by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone, was laying about in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris as part of FIAC, hors les murs.

Penone’s work are meditations on nature. For a number of years his carved works, “The Hidden Life Within” graced the Gallery Italia at Toronto’s AGO.  Notably, in his striking “Cedro di Versailles”, he carved a young tree from the centre of its older self, thus revealing the process of time, growth, memory.   Here at the Tuileries, his work mingled with nature constructed.   Chairs lined up along the garden path position nature as a green stage with the hulking, uprooted cast tree as a central character to contemplate.

penone  Somewhere between captivating and menacing, Éva Jospin’s h 3 x w 7 metre forest installation at Galerie des Gobelins, had an intensity that both invited the mind into its dreamscape while it also offered no point of entry for its prohibitive density.

Eva Jospin - forest

 

It was created with common cardboard which was decisively cut, carved and layered.  For me there is a kind of thrill when materials are related to their subject.  Here a paper product reconstructed a forest.

eva jospin 2

The piece explores cultural representations of nature, use of materials and the mythology of the forest including our stories, projections, fears.  I was drawn into stillness trying to decipher all it conjured.

Seeing these works reminded me that art is powerful and has a meaningful voice to raise questions, to entrance, to stir, and to bring us back to awareness of our participation in the ecosystem.

My own work in France led me to draw representations of the virginia creeper vine with plant based inks including pomegranate skins, indigo and madder root.  It was moving to draw the subject of nature with the “juices” of nature itself.  The vines became like arteries and alveoli.

Everything is connected.

beginning again again

beginning again again