Tapa experiments in Tarascon

tapa experiments

article about tapa on AtiuIn September of 2017 the amazing book TAPA was launched in Paris. I was privileged to be one of the book’s many authors, and asked to write about the bark cloth on my former home island of Atiu (left). I was also invited to exhibit some of my works for the occasion (below a detail of my tapa-lace panel with Marquesan dance costumes in the background).

A. Eimke, lace panel, detailDuring the exhibition I met French artist and art restorer Marion Dumaine. Marion exhibited lengths of Tongan tapa beautifully decorated with natural pigments and gold leaf. Being both interested in barkcloth, the idea arose to meet in August 2018 and hold an experimental workshop. My German girlfriend Christel Weingart, felt artist, painter and published author, who had used barkcloth in a sculptural way many years ago, would also join us. Raymond and Colette Cristini offered us free of charge their lovely summer house in Tarascon sur Ariège (France) for our experiments. Summer house in TarasconOur first interest was to check if there were any suitable plants growing in Europe whose inner bark could be successfully beaten into usable sheets. Marion’s cousin had had to cut down a fig tree, ficus carica, one of the many fig species and thus distantly related to the plant family from which tapa is being made in the South Pacific islands and other areas. They had kept some branches for us to explore.

Christel WeingartWe boiled these in water for three hours (left: Christel checking on the branches) and spent an entire day shaving off the outer bark. The bast could be removed and smelled, felt and looked just like that of the Banyan roots I had worked with in the Cook Islands. We fermented it for a day, as I had done on Atiu, to make beating of the rather coarse bark easier.

Tangled fig fibres
However when beating it, it did not stay in one piece, but dissolved into bundles of tangled fibres. So we learned our first lesson: not all fig bast is suitable for tapa making.

 

 

 

Philodendron rootsScraping Philodendron roots

 

 

 

 

Marion brought some Philodendron roots from her giant plant at home to try out. It was a fiddly enterprise to shave off the outer bark. The best way of removing the inner wooden core was to just beat the root flat. When fresh, it had beautiful rusty and pink colours, however these dried into beige and brown once dry.

Pink and orange Philodendron rootCyan-dyed tapa stripsI took some blueprinted tapa with me which I wanted to felt into a freshly beaten length of tapa. Colette, our hostess, had brought us bundles of dried Broussonetia papyrifera (Paper Mulberry) bark from her home island of Futuna. We were grateful that Michel Charleux, the editor of the TAPA book, let us have the Marquesan-style anvil which had served for tapa demonstrations during the Paris book launch exhibition. Once the bast was beaten thin, I removed some slivers from the cyan-dyed tapa pieces and beat them into the white tapa. It worked wonderfully.

Hibiscus petalsHibiscus petals felted

 

 

Encouraged by Marion’s experiments with the Philodendron roots, I decided to experiment with mauve coloured Rose of Sharon petals. The delicate upper parts were easy to felt into the bast, the thicker maroon centers not so well. However in the end, most of the petals had merged with the bark.

Tapa with Rose of Sharon petals

Lacy tapaWe decided to beat all strips of bark which we had already soaked in water. Both Marion and I were interested in achieving a lacy effect (left) for use in future artworks .

Meanwhile Christel had been using pieces of tapa to fashion some delightful three dimensional artifacts. I had seen Christel’s tapa bowls when I first met her in 2003 and had been keen to learn from her how to make them.

tapa bowl in progresstapa bowl with fig fibres

 

 

 

 

 

Over a ceramic bowl, with the help of cling film, water and cellulose glue she formed delicate vessels (left), decorated with spirals and some of the fig bast fibres from our previous experiment (right). They were especially impressive when seen in their delicate beauty against the light and blue sky of Tarascon’s summer.Christel Weingart, tapa bowlThis was my chance and now I knew what I wanted to do with the cyan-dyed tapa pieces.

leftoversAndrea - first bowl

 

 

 

 

The blue and white patterns reminded of Delftware. After the first bowl I became more adventurous. I discovered that the pieces were double-layered and that using both layers made the bowl too opaque for what I wanted to achieve. I also used the inner, plain layer and adorned it with the remnants of the previous bowl. Blue bowl - work in progress Blue bowl - dry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, back in Terrassa, the three bowls I made in this enjoyable experimental workshop adorn my book shelf. They may become part of an exhibition I am hoping to have some day… Andrea Eimke - three tapa vessels

 

 

 

 

 

Cyanotypie – a workshop

Paulo Cacais at Tigomigo Gallery

In June 2018 I enrolled in a workshop at Terrassa’s wonderful art gallery Tigomigo. Its owner Paulo Cacais introduced us to the secrets of cyanotypie.

Cyanotypie is a photographic process that results in cyan or Prussian blue prints. It was invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel. British botanist Anna Atkins used it immediately in a series of botanical books published in 1843. She can thus be considered the first (female) photographer. Blueprints were widely used for many decades in architectural offices until alternative methods were invented in 1942 . Artists still use it today.
Blueprint works of R. Eretz and L. Elkivity

During my visit to Tel Aviv at the end of 2017, I was fortunate to meet the artists Rachel Eretz and Lucy Elkivity in their studio and admire their co-operative blueprint works (left). The technique resembles the sun-dyed pareu we used to make in the Cook Islands. I became curious to find out if I could use this method on tapa.

I took some pieces of Tongan tapa with me to the workshop. In his dark room, Paulo showed us how to dissolve small amounts of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate in warm distilled water and apply the greenish solution with a brush to the surface of our substrates. The prepared pieces were then left in a dark place to dry.

Circles and gauze
My first idea with embroidery frames and gauze fabric did not give good results, since it had to be kept inside so the wind would not blow it away and could thus only be developed through the window.

weeds as print material

On a supporting frame, under glass plates held in place with clips I could then arrange my printing material on the dried substrates. I opted for plant material which I found outside the gallery.

 

 

Paulo had the great idea to scan my hand, print it out on transparent paper and use it as a “negative” that the sun could develop. It is amazing how quickly the colour of the chemicals turns from a light green to a greyish blue right and beyond.
hand print - undevelopedhand print developing

 

 

 

 

If left in the sun long enough, one achieves a beautiful dark Prussian blue, while the parts that the sun can’t access remain white (or the colour of the substrate).

hand print - developed

To dry the developed “photographs”, the wet pieces were just stuck to the large window of the gallery. I was so pleased with the outcome that I could not help but take a selfie…
Andrea and one of the blue prints

Un pas més – Another Step…

Between art works

…is the motto of the exhibition. And surely, for me this much appreciated challenge has been a step forward.

Going back to the beginning: newspaper as material. Cool!. How could I use it? It was clear that it would have to be “my way”, i.e. sewn lace. However paper is fragile. What to do about it?

text printed on fabricI could print a newspaper extract onto fabric (left).I wanted it to be a meaningful text, though. Where would I find one in such a short time? And then, what to do with that text? Hmmm, somehow that wasn’t convincing.

newspaper scraps
The technical question was, how to stabilise paper? With iron-on interfacing (above).

lace of newspaper scraps
Yes, this did work, however, where was the message? I could look for meaningful words. Which language should I use? German – my native language, English – a language I sometimes find easier to work in (!), Castellano – the country’s language, or Catalán – the regional language I am only just beginning to learn and love?

No! All the languages I speak, I decided. Then I went in search of international newspapers.
various newspapers
words, collageMany interesting articles later I had a good collection of words I could use. I arranged them so they’d transcend the confines of the frame (left). The words could  be sewn (right)…

alternatives - sewn wordHowever,  that turned out to be too labour-intensive for the short time period, so this will become a separate project to be continued…

beads to attach the laceIn the end I found words that satisfied me and joined them with machine-sewn lace. I didn’t much like the frame and thought that the natural wood colour made it stand out too much. White paint was the answer. For weeks my workroom smelled of paint! However, it did the trick. I drilled holes in the frame to attach the lace with beads (right).

Between Wor(l)dsAnd, voilà, the work was finished. The title came easily: Between Wor(l)ds – my favourite space to be.

My work can be seen during the four days of the Festa Major (city festival) de Matadepera at the Casal de Cultura (culture centre) – between other interesting works of local artists who have also submitted to the challgenge of frame and newspaper. We have all done “un pas més” – another step.

Back on Track

During the time of transition from one side of the world to the other, from island to city life, from wife to widow, from full-time work to (semi-)retirement, I managed to create a wonderful circle of choice family members and friends in my new Spanish home town and nearby. To all these amazing people I owe my sanity.

new work roomNearly two years had to pass before I was able to start creating again. I have adjusted to my much smaller workroom (above) and won new artist friends.

words, collageThese encouraged me to join an art group in a neighbouring town, the Matadepera Col•lectiu d’Art, and participate in their art exhibition. All participants had to use a frame sponsored by the city council of Matadepera and newspaper in our works (left).

I’ve always wanted to work with text.  This was a much welcome challenge. It finally broke my artist block.

Tomorrow will be the inauguration of our exhibition. I’m so excited! I will keep you posted…

pin board

Dust to Dust…

Dried bouqued 35 year later

… Ashes to Ashes

Almost a year has passed since my last post on 9th February 2015. It has been a pivotal year in my life. Quite unexpectedly, in March my husband Juergen began his final journey to the other side of the world and eventually of life. For me, too, this meant leaving for good my beloved home island of Atiu. Circumstances forced us to forsake most of what had formed our daily life and identity for 31 years. In May, all arrangements were finished and I could follow Juergen to Germany to attend to his needs. In early July, I lost my loving partner of 35 happy years, Juergen Manske-Eimke.

Our wedding day

Witnesses signature

just a shadow remains

Many friends in all corners of the world supported us during this arduous journey. I have no words to express my gratitude. The love of my Spanish “family”, whom I have known since childhood days, has kept me strong and positive. With their help I found a new abode in their delightful home town close to Barcelona in Spain, where I have now been living since August 2015.

 

Tapa and Fermentation

tapa with arrow watermark

Making Tapa Eastern Pacific Style

Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck) writes in Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands that the tapa makers of the time (1944) wrapped the pre-beaten bark in banana leaves and left it to ret for three days. Today’s tapa makers on Atiu usually beat the bark right away. When making a larger piece such as a garment, several strips are joined together with glue. In times past, retting, a water-aided fermentation process, loosened the fibres and enabled the tapa makers to join the pieces together by a kind of felting (beating). Following a correspondence with Hawaiian kapa maker Dennis Kana’e Keawe, at the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio, at the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio we conducted a number of experiments in 1988/89 to try this method. He joined us in beating the prepared bark. In 2013, I agreed with the art teacher at Enuamanu School to repeat the experiment.

Atiu does not have running streams and water shortage is often a problem. However there is one particular beach, Avatapu, the beach on which the Edna was stranded, that Atiu women use to ret lemon hibiscus bark for making dancing costumes. That’s where, in 1989, we soaked our shaved bundles of banyan roots instead of heating them to enable us to get the bark off the wooden core. This process both softens and loosens the bark and preserves it at the same time. In 20213, the art students came up with an ingenious way of insuring that the bundles would stay together, by plaiting a coconut frond around the bundle.

bundles of banyan rootsHeavy boulders of coral have been thrown up on the beach’s edge at Avatapu. These serve as weight to keep the bundles submerged in the water and in place when the sometimes rough sea tries to steal them away. The beach is right next to our harbour and the cargo boat that brings cargo from Rarotonga to the sister islands had arrived that day.

burying tapa at AvatapuI am not sure whether it was light or salt water – or the absence thereof – that caused the basket’s pattern to be imprinted on some of the outer roots’ bark. Worth conducting more experiments to find out how I can achieve that purposely, I guess, but not right now. The bark we have removed gets rolled up in leaves and is left to ferment.

patterns on soaked banyanFermenting their paper mulberry bark is a distinctive feature of Hawaiian kapa (their word for barkcloth). During the Tahiti Tapa Festival in 2014, Honolulu tapa expert Moana Eisele and her assistant, Kamalu du Preez, demonstrated to us their innovative method. Fermented wauke (Hawaiian for Broussonetia papyrifera or paper mulberry) becomes very delicate to work with. Especially when you plan to make a wider sheet, moving it forward on the kua (Hawaiian for wooden anvil) can be quite a challenge. Moana therefore beats her kapa on a large sheet of plastic.

rolling-out kapa

beating kapa This serves to hold it when folding it over to felt together the fibres…

folding …and if she wants to keep an unfinished piece for another beating session the next day, it is ideal for storage, prevents the bast from drying out and might even keep it fermenting.

storing kapaHawaiians have patterned i‘e kuku (tapa beaters) with which they can ‘imprint’ a watermark into the moist bark that has been finished beeting into a fine sheet. Our Hawaiian friend Kana’e gave us a beautiful i’e which he had carved himself when he visited the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio in 1989. I love working with it, because it is well-balanced and wonderful to handle.

Hawaiian kapa beaterI used it to experiment with a small piece of mati (ficus tinctoria, dye fig). I had also put some triangular pieces of cardboard between the tutunga (wooden anvil) and the bark to try out some different ways of watermarking. As we can see here, it worked.

watermarks

Edna’s own sails

Edna all rigged up

While conducting my experiments, I have also been researching the Edna’s background. I want to know more about her history, however there is not much that can be found on the Internet.

The Edna’s last captain, the late Nancy Griffith, lived in Hawaii. My artist friend Judith Kunzlé lived on Rarotonga when the Edna sailed Cook Islands waters and  knew Nancy. Judith recently moved to Hawaii. Today she sent me a copy of Nancy’s stunning photograph of the Edna in full sail. Isn’t she beautiful?

If any of you, readers of my blog, has any information or photographs on MS Edna and her history, I’d much appreciate to hear from you.