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.
Not 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…
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.
My 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.
Beaten 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?
Together 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…
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.
One is a leftover from my Third Space installation. Parts of it are filled with machine-sewn lace.
A long white strip seems ideal to wind around my rusty rod.
When I return the next day, I’m rewarded with lovely orange stains.
Even 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…
The 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.
Closer 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.
Well-washed recycled cotton fabric, soaked in sea water, is my first experimental material.
I wrap pieces around rusty areas on Edna’s bow. To include a connection between place, Ava Tapu, and material, I add some plant material growing here, such as Casuarina needles and the nicely-shaped leaves of a weed that looks similar to dandelions. These are wrapped up in the wet fabric and the ‘sausage’ wound around the rusty metal.
When I return the next day to check, nothing much has happened. Ironically, the best rust stain (left) has appeared on the banner (above) that I have attached to alert possible viewers to the purpose of these wrappings. I pour sea water over the wrapped areas and cover them with cling film to keep the moisture in while the sunshine heats the wrapping. These are left for a couple of days. Once I can see the first rust stains, I unwind the fabrics and take the bundles home with the plant material still inside.
Atiu women use Ava Tapu beach to prepare kiriau, Lemon Hibiscus (Au – Hibiscus tiliacea) bark fibres for their dancing skirts. Long stems of young Au trees are shaved; the wooden cores with the inner bark still attached are then bundled and submerged in the sea. Heavy coral rocks serve as a weight to keep them there for a week so that the fibres can ret. Retting is a microbial process that aids in separating the bast fibers from the wooden core by breaking the chemical bonds that hold the stem together. If the sea has not stolen the bundles, the loosened bark is bleached a beautiful white. Women take the fibres home and usually leave the sticks on the beach. They have been useful for many of my projects…
At home, pre-soaked Eucalyptus bark has given me a reddish brown dye. Together with some rust flakes collected from Edna and a dash of vinegar that I add to the dye pot, I hope it will result in a black ink.
I wind the rust-treated fabric-leaf bundle around a lemon hibiscus stick and simmer it in that concoction for an hour. As expected, the bundle has turned black (or charcoal rather…) due to chemical reaction of tannic acid in the Eucalyptus dye with the iron oxide.
I know that opening the bundle the next day is early, as the plants have not had much chance to deposit their colour magic on to the fabrics. But with this first bundle I can’t wait. The result is promising. The casuarina needles have printed visible traces, the dandelion has left a resist print.
Now I know what I will and won’t use again.