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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, May 10-17 2021

Creating stitching works, Journal writing masterclass with Patrick Martin, Reading Ngā Uruora - The Groves of Life by Geoff Park.


I'm still moving large swaths of thread from one side of the paper to the next! The indigo thread I am now using is thicker and more coiled than the other threads I've used and it just loves to tangle. These knots are almost impossible to untangle so I am giving up and letting the knots become part of the work. You can't fight the process!

Also I was surprised by the pattern that has emerged - it is quite different from any of the others so far. I've realised this is because I have made a mistake with one of the grids by making one a prime number and the other even. Hmm...process

As I was stitching away last week, an item on TV announced new findings by scientists and their efforts to alert world governments and humanity to the impending degradation of the Earth's atmosphere. I've described this in week 8 or 9 blog, but basically by using a new model based on historical climate data, the scientific community can more accurately project the Earth's temperature until 2100. They found that we will cross the threshold for dangerous warming (+1.5 C) between 2027 and 2042.

This is truly alarming. How will the world respond to these scientific predictions? Will governments ignore the scientific community's pleas for urgent action just as they did their warnings of a global pandemic? As I stitch the artwork it is becoming apparent to me that it is an artwork about changes to Earth's unstable atmosphere brought about by humanity's global economies that are reliant on the burning of fossil fuels.

The complex patterns and dynamics of earth's atmosphere are going to change dramatically. I can feel this in the non-periodic patterns I am stitching - the fabric of our atmosphere, held together by the merest of threads is going to change.

Like the ancient Celtic spiral patterns that describe the motion of energies, these lines speak of the motion of revolution and change.

If there was ever a need for a narrative in my art practice, this is it.


Issues of style and subjectivity: On autobiographical writings with Martin Patrick.

A really helpful discussion exploring the strengths and issues of autobiographical writing. Martin discussed multiple voices, techniques to develop different writing styles, playing with space/time continuum and enriching the writing with the flavours of space, place and time.

1-3 questions/observations specifically relating to the texts

  1. How useful is objectivity to autobiographical writings given the inherently personal, subjective nature of this style?

  2. Eve Babitz’s writing captures the warmth of her relationships with her characters and the vibrancy of her hometown – how does she do this?

  3. The pen is mightier than the sword - Anaīs Nin seems to use her pen to poke a lot of people who she blames for her lack of success – does this make good reading?

Write a 250-500 word response to any of the texts (singly or in combination).

Eve Babitz, Eve’s Hollywood (NY: New York Review Book, 2015, orig. pub. 1974) pp. 1-18

Babitz’s 1974

Eve’s Hollywood is an autobiographical memoir that has been described as “a legendary love letter to Los Angeles by the city's most charming daughter” (Goodness).

Determined to present her childhood town of Los Angeles in the 1970s as more than just a dry dull desert wasteland, Babitz brings to life the engaging, creative characters she meets, the fertileness of the land and her free loving, adventurous lifestyle. You sense it is a place and time she loves.

The first chapter is written through the eyes of a teenager. The accounts are fresh, honest, beautifully descriptive, and fast flowing. This makes for an enjoyable read and mirrors the vitality and creative spirit of the young Hollywood that Babitz is born into.

As far as autobiographies go, Babitz’s unique upbringing offers rich material to write about. Her father is a violinist writing movie scores for Fox, her mother an artist, and their friends the whose-who of Hollywood. Yet Babitz’s treatment of these characters and their stories is thoughtfully and warmly narrated with a sharp humour.

When it comes to her own personal stories, which are quite extraordinary, she is surprisingly candid. I learn she has played chess with a fully clothed Duchamp whilst nude (not sure who won), enjoyed partying hard with the rock and roll crowd of the 60s and 70s, had many love trysts and developed a serious drug and alcohol problem (she stopped using in 1981).

When asked later in life if any of her lovers ever complain about being portrayed in her work, Babitz replied “Not to me; maybe they complained to others. Some complained that they weren’t included. ​Paul Ruscha was probably the person I featured the most, and he always knew what I was going to say. My sister [Mirandi] occasionally got really mad at me over things I wrote about her” (Los Angeles Magazine).

This left me wondering how complex the life of an autobiographical writer must be: the temptation of becoming a larger-than-life character and how to balance fame with friendship and loyalty? These personal stories of Babitz seemed to hold a sense of sadness and tragedy that were anything but charming.



This book, written with such tenderness and knowing, describes the history of Aotearoa's fertile river flats so desired by English settlers. Geoff Park's knowledge as an ecologist and his dedication to finding the truth in historical events that led to the desecration of these precious ecologies, and the marginalisation of Maori, is captivating. Not since reading The Snow Goose as a child have I been so moved by a book. Geoff's writing style is descriptive and inclusive to the point where I find myself kayaking down a river and sitting in a grove for two hours enjoying the silence together. At times I find it difficult to read more than a chapter at a time as it is almost too painful to digest the ravages and cruelty of colonisation on the land and those who have been its guardians for over 800 years.

This is one of the most moving passages in the book -

"Looking at Tauwhare is like encountering the last kākāpō. Imagine the New Zealand when every estuary had towering trees like this, when they were flush with birds, the morning air shrieking with them. Eagles, the white of their underplummage reflecting off the water, launching themselves from their roosts in the clumps of epiphytes high in the kahikatea down to the river surface, talons tearing mullet from the shallows, then flapping with slow, terrific strokes across to the lower trees on the river cliffs. And after the moon of the equinox, the air awash with the sounds of the pulsing wings of geese on the move, beating over the pelicans, ducks and waders, and the rails in the reed beds.

The relentless overwhelming of a natural landscape cannot be reversed. New Zealand has kept few places where intimate human connection with nature is as palpable as here. Their preciousness extends beyond the survival of wild species and ecosystems - it touches the survival of our own sense of the life of the world.

Certain landscapes demand an emotional response, a deeper, even moral reaction to the land. Therein lies the spirit of place. Suspended still in its ancient protection, remote now from the imperial quests that removed anything like it elsewhere, Tauwhare is a last chance to acknowledge that the brief human time in these islands has included a greater sense of nature than is common today.

Only in places that have this effect do you realise what Henry Thoreau really meant when he said that the preservation of the world lay in wilderness. Why his friend Ralph Waldo considered nature a temple. Places like Tauwhare challenge the secularity of modern conservation, its denigration of people and its preoccupation with species as entities in themselves. The riverbend is no outdoor primeval museum piece; no place for tracks and boardwalks. It is a place to respect by keeping your distance."

Park, Geoff. Ngā Uruora =: The Groves of Life : Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape. Wellington, N.Z: Victoria University Press, 1995. Print. pp 160-161


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