The time has come to put together the latest suitcase project.
It starts with a found readymade cardboard suitcase, probably from late 1950-60s. I had a great time in the workshop, using a jigsaw to cut out three profiles of landscape, out of 4mm clear perspex (plexiglass).
These three profiles represent firstly the lower foothills of Funchal, in Madeira, at the front, secondly the steep mountains and deep ravines, and thirdly the high plateaus of the interior. The perspex retains its protective film until the very last moment, hence looking white in preparation photos.
With some assistance from the technician, I made a wooden stand to hold up the perspex sheets. Its made of a piece of MDF with thin strips of ply added on top to create the grooves to insert the perspex.
I wanted 5/8″ between the sheets to allow room to read some of the text and for light to play between them.
The grooves had to be 6mm to allow enough space to cover/bind the wooden stand in leather later. Hence they are not standing as upright as they will later.
Then came the insertion of the sky photo with the concrete poem I wrote called ‘What am I?’ ( I will post the texts separately).
I took a photo of sky in Madeira, that I took last summer, and using Photoshop, added the text, floating in and out of the clouds. I used the colours of the clouds and surrounding blue sky to colour the text.
The whole poem is made up of many questions, that refer to my identity, that question who I am and where I’m from. The poem sets the scene with the piece within the case signifying partial answers to these questions. But the intention is that the whole piece leaves the viewer with far more questions than answers.
I had to leave the image in the case lid for several days so that the photo paper could settle and take shape. It is technically thicker than ideal to paste into the lid shape.
I would have preferred an endpaper type thickness but it would not have given me the high sheen that photo paper provides.
The curves of the suitcase also proved far more difficult to manage than I expected. They, alongside the flimsy construction gave me quite a headache during the assembly process.
I then moved onto the interior of the case. I had already decided that I liked the blackboard effect to signify the deep, dark Atlantic Ocean, that surrounds the island of Madeira.
I was still worrying about how to add the slate that I liked to the scene, it came much later in the process.
I used black gouache in the case, I love the velvety blackness of the paint and how it sucks in all the light nearby.
Returning to the wooden stand, I decided to consolidate it before binding it in leather. I lined it in Kraft paper to even out the texture, hold it firm, pad out some of the space in the grooves and make an even surface to adhere the leather too. It was very satisfying getting back to more traditional bookbinding techniques and materials. I was extremely pleased with the result. (But somehow forgot to photograph it, Damn!)
I then used the suede side of some dark racing green skiver leather that I’ve had knocking about the workshop for years. The leather has been dyed with a mixture of green and black so it is very dark, but I preferred the raw underside where the green and black is less even, more blotchy. I felt it was a perfect way to represent the land and tie in with the black ‘sea’ inside the case, as well as the printed coloured pieces of perspex I had experimented with earlier in the project.
The above image shows that I wrapped a single piece of leather around the whole thing, leaving one side longer so that it could dissappear beneath the slate ‘waves/shoreline’.
The text, some seen on above image, took several days to perfect. My original idea had been to handwrite the text and screen print it onto the perspex. I had also considered getting it laser etched. Both time and financial resources meant I had to think of other ways of adding text, using only my resources at home, namely an A4 printer.
The text used is called ‘My History’ and it is the history of the island as known by me, picked up from a variety of sources, not all reliable and many very biased, full of opinion, researched throughout my life as well as recently for this project.
I had to consider various ways of applying the text at home. One of my student colleagues suggested decals and so off I went to pursue this idea. I firstly explored the water decal, familiar to us all as the water applied tattoo transfer from childhood. If its good enough for Grayson Perry I thought, it might just do the trick for me.
I printed the text in black and originally played with a mixture of fonts, ascenders and descenders. It was quite pleasing but didn’t work so well when transferred to the perspex. The text had to be cut out very close or a slightly milky haze was visible around the text. This would be prohibitively time consuming and would be much more difficult to align across the width of the perspex. I also thought the black text looked a bit obvious and perhaps a little cheap. It wasn’t quite the look I was after. I decided that I wanted the text to emulate and signify the historic heyday of Madeira, the 18-19th centuries when its wine was most well travelled and appreciated over and above most others. I wanted the text to suggest the brown oak gall ink that we all recognise as the neat standard handwriting of the day, very italic, slanting, loopy text with a flourish.
Wet decals weren’t the answer. I switched to using static window cling which I could also print at home A4 and proved easier to print off larger areas. The A4 format was slightly limiting though as I had to arrange text into columns, to suggest a densely packed 18th century newspaper. I removed paragraph formatting to preserve space and cost much like the papers did at that time. Each row had to be lined up in each column to allow the eye to travel across and make the piece cohesive.
Returning to the idea of slate, I found it difficult to acquire the correct size of slate to cover the whole bottom of the case. I acquired several old roof tiles, they were correct width but too short at the ends. I still very much wanted the slate to signify the colours of the deep ocean. However I had to amend my plan. I broke the edges off of the roof tiles and created the thinner sliver, shown in the photos above. This represents the waves hitting the shoreline but can also look like the grey, black stony shore.
The paper boats were folded out of double sided printed images of maps and documents concerning the island of Madeira and its neighbouring islands. I also used a very fine brown ink pen to handwrite my poem ‘The Land -À Terra’. I wrote 1-2 stanzas on each boat, once folded. I used the most common childhood type boat style as it is the most similar to the old fashioned fishing vessels used on Madeira and which to this day bring in fresh fish to the islands markets. The sepia and washed out colours of the boats suggest the colours in Andrew Pickens prints, one of which sits on my mantlepiece and which inspired this whole piece of work. I feel pleased with what I have achieved and the skills I have acquired during this project and look forward to developing the theme even further in my final project, which results in an exhibition this summer 2015.