Monday, May 21, 2012

Growing Flax

I'm growing flax! Above, you can see what it looked like just as it was sprouting.

Actually, I grew some last year, which "pond"-retted in a plastic bucket over the California "winter" (no snow-retting here) but due to other deadlines and responsibilities, I've yet to make paper from it.

Denise had originally inspired me to grow flax after giving me some that she grew. So now I'm onto a second round that I'm hoping to harvest in June/July, and then maybe get a second harvest out of 2012.

So now I'm trying to figure out what to do with it, and getting over the voice in my head that says I grew it from seed! It has to be special! I'm also at a learning stage on how to process it - I didn't have a clue of how to tell when the flax was done retting. I just sort of guessed when most of the green plant matter seemed to be gone, leaving what appeared to me inner bast fiber.

Additionally, I'm not sure if any breaking, scutching, or heckling is needed. I remember seeing a video of Helmut Becker processing his flax which included a some heckling, but I can't seem to find a copy. Menawhile, in this video, I was reassured to see Howie Clark cooking up stems that look very similar to mine.

After John's talk at CBAA, I came across this - and found the idea of a fibershed (like a watershed, but with fiber) very appealing. Not just from a localvore/sustainability perspective - I'll never forget my time at Moore, and some of the Asian students who came to study in the Fashion and now-defunct Textile programs, who had mad sewing skills, because they began learning in sweatshops when they were children.

So...growing flax. The questions that come to mind, other than being environmentally conscious, why do this? As an artist, what does it mean to me?

I'm growing flax partially because, well, I can in my current situation. As a papermaker, I felt I should give it a shot. But also because I see it as a form of Land Art, that can be transformed into a more portable form. It's grown out of the soil where I live, where I also grow some plants I eat. It ties me more closely as an artist to the soil and the sun and weather of my locality.

As a form of Land Art, I see it turning around the question of the carbon cost of making (pieces like this one are visually beautiful to me, but talk about carbon footprint!) Instead, it could be asked of this piece (when finished), how much carbon did it absorb?

I'm not sure how to calculate that. Though I'll note that according to Growing Flax, Production Management and Diagnostic Guide, from the Flax Council of Canada, it states that flax is carbon neutral in regards to burning - it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide that it absorbed while it was growing, and that same amount of carbon dioxide will be re-absorbed in the next harvest.

To me, growing the fiber will be part of the final making of the piece, though I shy away from it in a way because it seems to cast me as the Human Lording Over the Earth. I'd rather think that I collaborated with the earth to make the piece, by clearing some soil and planting seeds. Which I guess also means I collaborated with the sun and rain, though most of the "rain" came out of my hose since we received so very little this year. I also recycled some papermaking graywater into the garden, creating a sort of mobius strip of making and growing.

I'm currently reading A Sand County Almanac, and thinking of making my own record of a year and my observations. Those ideas may play into whatever these fibers become.

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