Excited and curious, Kareen and I return to Ava Tapu beach. Will the frame still be there? I don’t really feel like digging it out of the sand again. I would be sad to have lost such a valuable piece of rust. Does that sound strange? One (wo)man’s trash is this rust dyer’s treasure… As we descend I am relieved to see the boomerang-like shape of the frame still stuck in Edna’s bow. The bark has dried and is stuck to the frame. Untying the knots in the builders line is a fiddly job.
I carefully peel the thin bark off the rusty metal. The coloring is so wonderful, ranging from yellow to rusty-brown with black stains where the frame has made contact with the soaked bark. The frame’s protruding screws have moulded the bark and embossed their shape into the material. Do I really want to beat it again?
I like the bizarre, flame-like shape the tapa has now. Held against the light we can appreciate how thin the bark is. It is firm and yet soft to the touch. What must it have been like to wear such bark as a garment?
Even the “dont-remove tape” has acquired new colours in all shades of the rainbow. The wash-away frame has become my favourite rusting tool. I wrap it with a new piece of cloth to have something to look forward to when I come back next time.
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.
Freshly 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.
I 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.
It 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…
We 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.
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?
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…