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So I made a steamer...

The project of Connecting the Circle 2012 began with a grant from Mental Health and Wellbeing through Queensland Health. It challenged me to think of the Breath. I took ten students from Nambour High School to the Nambour Men’s Shed near the hospital, in search of a visual language suggesting breath and breathing. As we walked along the creek among native trees we talked about the trees and its leaves and the way they might have connection; so too the creek breathes as it provides oxygen for the fish and other aquatics.

“Getting out of school!” One student described the benefits of the project’s success and strength, so this became the title page of the video documentary we filmed from start to finish.

“Connecting the Circle 2012” started out as an investigation of breathing with the creation of a sculpture and has developed into a breathing sculpture. As in life, Connecting the Circle is Kinetic Art in action. By gaining knowledge through experiential learning we experienced failure and then began a refiguring; discovering through reinvention… encompassing the factors of risk and discovery.

Feeding the steamers fire requires constant attention and a maintaining of the temperature. With a self-manufactured wood-fired steam bender, students learn the craft of maintaining real temperature, ensuring the wood reaches the peak infusion of steam (the wood will only bend when it is ready). Time stands present. Like the act of casting metal, steam bending requires persistence for adjusting in the event of an imperfect bend. Preparation is important for the success of wood bending. Clamps at the ready, quick at the steam door not to release too much steam, the bending begins. The wood is drawn out from the chamber. The artist utilises the trade skills of plumbing, and metal smithing, carpentry and woodworking abilities, and forgetting not the Laws of Thermodynamics and the fundamentals of fire: oxygen, fuel and ignition.

“How many different ways can BREATH be described?” I asked the students. “What does it mean to speak of the language of visual art? And what is a visual language? Why does that conceptually suggest a space in which breath exists? What is the opposite or the duality of discourse? Death, constriction, impermeable light… these things we see with our perception of sight, calm, motionless and dark.”

The identification of the bronchioles set us in the direction of the human body and our lungs. Alveoli form the ends of the bronchials, where a gaseous exchange takes place through thin membranes. Oxygen is delivered into the blood and carbon dioxide flows out.

So the language about sculpture and its relevance to the topic ‘Breathe’ is discussed. The students worked on drawings and designs for what might be considered for the new creation, adding and subtracting timber as we worked at the Men’s Shed. The form of a hemisphere began to take shape. Is it a cup or a flower shape? Or is it a reference to the Gaia sphere: the planet? The materials speak with the language of breath. Small strips of wood form the latitudinal and longitudinal bracing, the steel support armatures make the foundation for stretching burlap hessian, with professional artist’s grade acrylic paint sealing the paper twine used to sew the skin around the spherical shape.

Just as the journey takes time to walk, so too does the space in which art occurs. With summer break upon us work entered a hiatus, and a time of reflection and review sees the work as it slumbers. The resumption of work starts again moving forward across a new threshold. A family crisis sent me back to America for the recovery of my father after an overdose on his medication and this made me realise the importance of mental health and the need for community support so far away from my current HOME. I am grateful for the support community brings in crisis times.

Time is relative for the research and development of our scientific space craft to take the human species to the outer reaches of the cosmos: it requires time to be assuredly crafted. The unpredictable journey often returns rewards far greater than expectations. So too taking risks, central to art creation, requires an acceptance of possible failure and a willingness to face crisis with endurance and resilience. To underscore the point I coined the phrase “react, judge and adjust”. These are flexible factors that make the carpenter a fixer, and a sculptor an artist. The process of building and sculpting requires a concept design, and a love for exploring materials and the voice they possess. Finding relationships and the compliments of texture and shape is essential for flexible advantage.

A drop of water in the ocean may not make a difference in one day. But what would happen if a multitude of drops―the actions of every man, woman and child―coalesced at the same moment? How much time do we have left? Is the promise of tomorrow enough to instil absolute trust in the declarations of the experts of today? Should we ever stop seeking or questioning?

Breath is important to ponder because of its metaphorical representation of the planet’s essential ecology. Ultimately the planet is a living, breathing organism. We saw as much in the very first image of the earth from outer space, beamed back to us long after the first moon landing. Photographed in colour, with its enormous water and cloud masses floating in the company of the galaxy, the image brought home the reality: We are fragile.

So I made a steamer…

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