Tapa and rust (4)

Frozen banyan bast

I have taken a piece of banyan tapa out of the freezer to thaw. It was harvested and wrapped in ti leaves (Cordiline terminalis) when we did the tapa making workshop with the senior art students at Enuamanu School a year ago. Keeping some samples of bark was my ‘payment’ for filming the event. I have never frozen fresh bark and am all curious how the bark feels to the touch and how it will be to beat it.

Beaten banyan bastFreshly harvested bark is tough at first. I can see from the discolorations that it must be a piece that has been buried in the sea during last year’s experiments. I notice with the first beats that this bark is beautifully soft and requires much less strength to “crack open”, i.e. loosen the fibres. It means I got to be careful not to beat too hard so as not to produce holes right away. My intention is just to beat it a little bit and then take it down to Ava Tapu beach to affix it to a part of the Edna. Having this amazingly soft piece of banyan on my tutunga (wooden anvil) carries me away and I go on until it is nearly finished.

Beating folded banyan bastI try out a new technique of folding the bark length-wise so that I end up with beating a parcel of fibres. I would love to beat it thinner, but stop right here. I might moisten it again and beat it some more after it has been in contact with Edna.

Tapa project Enuamanu School 2013It amazes me to return the bark to this same beach under whose coral boulders it had been buried last year. Little idea did I have then of the journey this tapa would undertake. Bringing it back to the Edna now is only the beginning of a new phase…

Uncovered rusty frameWe have just uncovered the “wash-away frame”. It will be a wonderful piece of the Edna to do its magic with this tapa piece. I wrap my “don’t remove tape” around the frame as well to secure the tapa as best I can.

Tapa already black

Tapa-wrapped frame hung high

I can’t believe my eyes when the colouration is almost instant at the contact with the salt-water-soaked tapa. This time I place it high up on Edna’s bow, wedging it into a hole and hoping that the sea won’t steal it. Will it be there tomorrow? What will it look like then?

The wash-away frame

Rusty frame

In search for rusty bits and pieces that will help me dye fabrics, I wander into the bow of the Edna. She welcomes and rewards me instantly. I find this amazing frame with protruding screws on both sides that promise me regular rusty dots – my inner eye can just see them…

I drag the frame to the front where I have placed the collections of “fabrics of the day” and some lengths of builders line. There is better light here and some coral boulders that serve me as work tables and chairs. Soon the frame is safely wrapped with salt-water-soaked cotton fabric and bound tightly.

Wrapped frameThe sea has been calm. I decide to place the frame in front of Edna’s bow, high up on the beach in the sand in order to let the frame’s weight add some extra pressure to the fabric for better marking.

When I return the next day, I am shocked. According to my time calculations it should be low tide and the sea calm. Instead high waves are still breaking on the bottom of Ava Tapu beach and – my precious frame has disappeared! Disappointed I scan the beach area.

Buried fabricEventually I find a small cloth surface that protrudes through the pieces of coral and sand, buried between two heavy boulders right by the edge of the sea some ten meters or so away from where I had placed the wrapped frame. With a stick I try to dig it out but to no avail. I mark the area with my digging stick, just in case. I will have to return with a shovel. Normally I power-walk down to the beach which I will certainly not do with a shovel on my shoulder…!

Kareen, a new friend, arrives to stay with us for a week. I have seen on her blog that she is an excellent photographer. Kareen offers to help me with the digging so we take the car down to the beach.

Buried frameWhen I look for my mark it has – of course – disappeared. After some searching I glimpse a rusty fabric patch under a different boulder and the digging can begin in serious. Sand and water have sucked and pushed the wrapped frame deep under.

 


The two of us take turns in digging, scraping, pulling and photographing until we are finally rewarded with some movement. The frame’s sides have come unwrapped. Both have broken shorter.

Digging outThe fabric has acquired beautiful patterns of all shades from black to orange. The material seems intact with the exception of a few holes. Like sand-washed jeans, I think. If ever I want to ‘age’ fabric artificially, now I know what to do: bury it in the sand at Ava Tapu beach.

 
After some more digging we can grab at the fabric and pull, pull hard and – yay! Finally the sand releases the frame and its wrapping cloth.

Untying knotsUncovered fabric
I can’t wait to untie the knots to release the fabric. What a delight of colours!

Rusted wrapping clothIt is just the right light this late afternoon.

Washing out sandThe sand needs washing out.

Sun patterns on floating fabricThe sun paints patterns on the floating fabric.

Rust and reefIt is low tide, the sea and the sky are of a deep blue. Orange growth on the reef echoes the colours of Edna’s new cloth.

KareenRelaxing from the hard work we are happy about the result

Orange sunset All we want now is an orange sunset.

Tapa and Rust (3)

Banyan on rusty rod

A rainy day in between prevents me from returning after 24 hours and gives my experiment some more time to show results.

Wow! I have not expected such amazing confirmation of my theory that the reaction of tannin with the iron oxide, which is possibly contained in Banyan barkcloth, will produce black discolouration.

Spotted Banyan tapaNot only am I rewarded with deep black rust stains, even a pattern has formed where the strings have pressed the bark firmly against Edna’s magic rusty rod. This now makes me wonder what would happen, if I wound a freshly beaten strip around the magic rod? I still have some unbeaten bark in the freezer which I will use for that next experiment. How exciting! Watch this space…

Tapa and Rust (2)

Black stains on dyed tapa

The plain white tapa strip, which has been through previous water baths and perhaps even a bleach treatment, has shown me only orange rust stains. However, the two pre-dyed tapa strips reward me with a remarkable result when I return the next day.
Black and yellow stains on tapaMy theory was correct: the pre-dyed pieces of tapa show black stains after the chemical reaction between the tannin-rich plant dye and the iron oxide. I can’t figure out how the brass-coloured stains come about, but it’s the black I’m after at this stage. It makes me wonder what would happen, if I tied a piece of Banyan (Ficus prolixa, on Atiu called ava) around my magic rusty rod.

Banyan barkcloth in sunsetBeaten Banyan bark naturally turns a rich orange brown. Two fermented pieces have been joined together by beating. Perhaps this kind of tapa still contains enough tannin to react with the iron oxide?

Banyan and Paper Mulberry barkclothTogether with two square pieces of lace-like Paper Mulberry barkcloth, I have brought a sample from last year’s tapa making workshop at Enuamanu School. Now I have two questions: Will the joined seam stick together after soaking the bark in sea water? And will the contact with rust produce black stains? I will find out next time I visit the Edna at Ava Tapu Beach…

Tapa and Rust (1)

Strips of bark cloth

Now that I have a better idea which parts of the Edna will help me harvest successful rust prints, I feel brave enough to experiment with some samples of tapa (barkcloth). They are left-overs from previous projects. White cloth from Paper Mulberry bark (Broussonetia papyrifera, locally called aute) is precious for me, because it has been extinct on Atiu and I have only just recently planted three seedlings which I got from Rarotonga. They are not yet tall enough to use. My sample pieces have been produced in Samoa and Tonga.

Tapa and laceOne is a leftover from my Third Space installation. Parts of it are filled with machine-sewn lace.

Rust stainsA long white strip seems ideal to wind around my rusty rod.
Rusted tapa stripWhen I return the next day, I’m rewarded with lovely orange stains.
Rusty threadEven the Polyester thread in the lace has taken on colour.

The first two tapa strips seen in the image on top were used in a previous eco-dye experiment. They clearly show the resist marks and brown dye. I’ve been wondering what will happen to those pre-dyed strips which have not been rinsed after dyeing. Will they still contain the dye’s magic? Will the tannin in the eucalyptus dye react with the rust? My guess is that this should produce black stains. After I have taken off my nicely rusted white tapa strip, I apply the two dyed pieces to my rusty rod. Now I will have to be patient for a day or so…

Rust

Rusty Edna

By now I have discovered which rusty parts of the Edna give me no prints, some prints and really good prints. Rust results from exposure of iron or steel to oxygen (air) and moisture (water). The process can be intensified through contaminants such as salt. I found information on the Internet about the different kinds of rust. There are four easily distinguishable categories:

Red rustRed rust or hydrated oxide (Fe2O3•H2O) which results from constant exposure of iron to air, water and, in this case, salt.
Yellow rustYellow rust or iron oxide-hydroxide (FeO(OH)H2O) which can be found in areas that are constantly exposed to high moisture, like standing water.
Brown rustBrown rust or oxide (Fe2O3) which is a drier form of rust and most likely atmospheric, i.e. a reaction to humid air and contaminants such as salt.
Black rustBlack rust or iron (II) oxide (Fe3O4) which forms in a low-oxygen environment like under water.
Suspended cloth with rust chipsFor a good result of my dye experiments, the overall firm contact of cloth and oxidised metal is important. I learned by experiment that this excludes a large amount of rusty remains which cannot be properly wrapped either for their size or place, as e.g. on the bow of the vessel where attachment is a challenge if not impossible.

Beach dog

A little bay at the end of Ava Tapu beach where bits and pieces are stuck between blocks of coral has become my prefered ‘harvesting’ ground. My dogs enjoy our excursions there, because they like playing with the crabs that hide between the boulders.
This rusty rod is my absolute favourite rust supplier. It leaves wonderful traces on my pieces of cloth.Rusty stick

Dyes and Don’ts

Rust stains

Wrapped rib cageThe reef clings to some major parts of the Edna. With the rising and falling of the tides, the water covers and uncovers them. Sometimes it is just a caress, other times a rather passionate bashing. If I wrap my fabrics around those, will the dye result be different, better even than that from the beached parts?

At the far end of the beach’s reef there is what looks like part of a skeleton, an iron spine with ribs protruding on either side. Contained in it is a long chain. I assume it’s the anchor chain.  No longer able to hold on to the support of the deep-sea bed, its links broke when wind and water pushed the Edna onto the reef. The chain has mostly lost its flexibility and is rusted solid and attached to the rib-like cage. Two narrow pieces of cotton fabric may soak up some of the wet rust that colours the remnants in all shades of yellow, orange, brown, charcoal and black.

WinchWrapped winchWinch at sunsetCloser to the Edna’s bow lies a winch. I am dreaming of the cog’s imprints, lines and lines of rust on my fabric… When I return the next day, the sea is rough – there were earthquakes in Chile and Hawaii – and my wrapping cloth seems gone. But Moana Nui a Kiva, the Big Blue Ocean, has just been mocking me. When the waters calm, I find my fabric submerged in between seaweeds and still attached by its safety chord. Hopeful I re-attach it again.

While the rib cage – as I have dubbed it – has given my cloths a beautiful golden-yellow coat with some rusty marks (see above), my dreams of regular rusty lines from the cog have not come true. Just a few red stains show up and some black smear which reveals why the winch is black and its rust doesn’t dye: decades of keeping it greased. I should have thought of that from the start! I must go and find out more about rust…

I enjoy this dialogue with the sea, the Edna and her resting place, these lessons which I learn from observation and inference. They make me feel humble and open to new experiences. They give me answers and create new questions.