Thursday, 29 November 2007

environment, heritage and the arts

I do not think the measure of a civilisation is
how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people
have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.

Sun Bear
, Chippewa, USA

This is one of those profound but obvious statements that I was glad to stumble across again recently (in the Survival International catalogue). It sums up well the awareness that grew on me when travelling in Australia in the late 1980s. Today I'm so happy to read that Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil) has become Australia's new Environment Minister. More than that his ministry covers Environment, Heritage and the Arts. These three aspects of life are so interlinked in traditional ways of thinking that I am smilingly thrilled for that nation's First Peoples, I hope it works out for them. Also I have real hope for the future if this cultural attitude leads Australia to become once more a (the?) leading player for the environment and our planetary future (I think back to Bob Hawke's signing of the Antarctic World Park Treaty, two full years before campaigning even began in Britain).

Yet here in England, Environment comes under the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, signifying environment as a place outside of urban and suburban contexts; while Culture (which I think is meant as a catchall for Heritage and Arts) is lumped into a Culture, Media and Sports grouping. Within the DCMS, Culture is joined up with creative industries and tourism.

Culture to me means the way of life of a group of people, even a nation - and not a packagable, brandable, competitive, marketable commodity. The arts are not an industry, surely? They are about our soul, our situation and our sagacity. Aren't they?

What hope is there for our nation, for our children, for our planetary survival no less - if at ministerial level the majority of our citizens are disconnected from the environment?

Australia, show us the way...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

turn UP the heat?

I checked out my annual electric and water use a few days ago, seeing as both bills had arrived. On electric I'm up marginally since early July, but am still down about 1000 kwh from the year ending June 2006. Frustratingly my water use has remained about the same as the year ending June 2006 (when I wasn't trying), but has been twenty litres lower at 93 litres/day in between. So it can be improved! I think the increase is mainly due to all the water used dip-dyeing earlier in the year.

Over the last month I've been running tests to check out Procion MX's washfastness, or rather the washfastness according to the way I work. I'd been disconcerted to find loose dye on an old but well-fixed batik, and then on other pieces, both Mekong batiks in the waiting and decade old rejects that have lived most of their life in a drawer. Luckily (phew!)... it seems the loose dye is no more than remnant excess dye not washed out during or after boiling out wax. The fixed colour is unaffected. I have always rinsed pieces in cold water after boiling, assuming that as the water was clear it would be enough – but no, it seems a further rinse in hot with Ecover will loosen a little more.

Why hot water will remove unfixed dye straightaway but not cold prompted me to look more into the role of temperature in Procion dyeing. Oh boy. Bang go my carbon reduction credentials.

1 Optimum ambient room temperature for Procion MX dyeing: 20-30 deg C, upper end preferable (various sources).

The winter temperature of my studio and house is, on average, 17-19 C (I don't believe in walking around in t-shirt and bare feet during winter). It may be warmer during summer though. I have always been conscious of ambient temperature for waxing – if I'm wearing more than a t-shirt and a sweatshirt then the room isn't warm enough. But over 20 C? I've been turning the heating up gradually... 4 days later it's just reached 20 C (yeah yeah OK, the outdoor ambient temperature is cooling, it's called November).

2 "Optimum reaction temperatures for Procion MX dyes are between... 35 to 41 C (except for turquoise, which prefers up to... 55 C)" (source: Paula Burch's site)

Oh what? I've no idea what these temperatures mean – in human terms. Hand-hot? Luke-warm? I need to get a thermometer and start measuring, obviously. And then, how would I keep my little jars and mixed-up pots of dye warm in my 20-30 C (upper-end preferable) studio? On top of the storage heater? on a hot plate? sitting in an electric cookpan filled with water maintained at ideal ambient temp?

3 Turquoise (cyan) works at a different temperature to the other colours (source: again).

This gives a potential explanation why the cyan on recent test pieces was lighter than expected, and why sometimes cyan can tint the whole cotton during boiling out.

Pondering all this the other day, I realised that Procions are not really suitable for the existing British climate – ironically they could become so with climate warming.

Leaving that aside for a moment, what effect would dye temperatures of 35 - 55 C have on wax? Wax melting points range between 50 and 60 C, slightly higher when resin is added (source: "Batik" by S Soetopo, publ 1983 Indira Bagian Akademi & Sastra). It doesn't bode well for turquoise/cyan, never mind the other colours. Does that also mean most natural dyes are not suitable for batik because of the temperature conflict? At least woad and indigo are OK...

Have I just discovered why batik never was a traditional art form in these isles, despite being practised widely across the world? Does this lack of tradition relate to its low key presence in Britain these days?

Anyway, I need to get on and do some tests... for which I need, firstly, a thermometer. And what's more, no ordinary jam thermometer - starting at 40 C is no good!