Natasha Brandel is a multi-disciplinary artist and maker, exploring the form of the book, the power of story, our connection to the natural world, and everyday magic.
Flax: A collection of papers, artifacts, and fiber arts workings all made with Linum usitatissimum. The collection includes hand-spun thread, a woven piece in progress, an artist’s book, flax pods, linseed oil, ink left over from cooking flax, and finished linen fabric.
I know that flax is the first known fiber to have been turned into clothing, and we get everything from sustenance to varnishes from the stems and seeds of a single plant. Its very name-- usitatissimum-- means ‘the most useful.’
Linum usitatissimum is a small, reedy-looking annual plant, tall and thin, that produces pale blue flowers. When the flowers fade, they are replaced by seed pods about the size of my pinky nail, each containing four or five seeds. Given what each individual plant can give us, I am amazed at the fact that it provides so much for our lives-- we can either get a few small grams of fiber or the seeds, enough to make a tiny amount of oil or a small amount of food, but never both. To get the strongest fiber, you have to harvest the flax before the seeds are formed, so the strength is still in the growing stem. If you want the most nutritious and useful seeds, you have to wait until the stem is weakened and preparing to die. It takes many stems to create even a single handkerchief, and many months of ponderous labor.
I know that the best thread to use for bookbinding is linen thread, combining strength and durability. I know that much of our most durable fabric used to be made from linen. I know that papers in the Western world began as pulped linen rags. And I decided that flax itself-- small and strong and ephemeral-- deserved an expression of its essential nature to human civilization. It is more than just a substrate, a cover, a food source for us and our companions, a varnish. This plant has been our friend.
Little Islands: A collection of 50 hand-processed pigments, processed from stones found in the Midwest, specifically in Iowa or Michigan. They are housed in a box with a drawer below full of pigments-to-be.
The act of making earthen pigment is the act of making smaller and smaller pieces of stone, grinding and filtering until only the smallest and smoothest pieces are left. The original stone is lost. The essence of the stone remains, but that tells you nothing of the shape of it, the feeling of holding it in your hand, how light or how heavy it may have been. It tells you only that this stone had a color, and sometimes that the stone was magnetic. Bringing the pigment into the lab will tell you more about the chemical composition of the stone, maybe even where it was first found, but it will not tell you how it glimmered in the light, or how well the stone fit into the palm of the one who found it. It will not tell you whether it was ripped from the earth or picked up from the side of a river, though it will probably be able to tell you if it was created in a lab. It will not tell you if it was sought and collected with respect.
Elements: Five quarter-leather-bound books, four of which have been exposed to a classical element: air, water, earth, or fire. An installation piece.
This piece began as an investigation of preservation and archaeology with holy/sacred elements. One of the things I find interesting about relics is the strong presence of incorruptibility. Juxtaposing that with the idea of sacrifices that were meant to be buried, drowned, or burned, I came up with these books as a method of exploring the different attitudes toward powerful objects. Each of these five books was the same before I subjected them to a classical element.
Offerings: A book mostly of my own making, chronicling the things I am grateful for.
Artist-made paper, thread, and pigments, with mostly artist-processed natural dyes and graphite. Sewn on alum taw with Pergamena deerskin parchment covers. Each of these pages was a meditation on the things this world has given me to be thankful for. Binding this book was a welcome relief during our current lockdown and an excellent reminder of the good things still left to us.
Wunderkammer: A chest and a set of display-drawers and trays, collecting items of magic, science, curiosity, and religion.
This installation is meant to showcase the physicality of magic and discovery, and to juxtapose faith in science, magic, and religion. It was meant to be a shifting installation, with moving pieces and shifting elements in the cases each day.
We are limited creatures living in an uncertain world. Of course we seek certainty, knowledge, understanding. We want to know that our needs will be met and that things will be okay in the end. Objects can give us some of that certainty. While things may change on a molecular level or with time, generally things are both outside of our consciousness and not expected to change drastically without a rational cause.
Tools: A collection of various magical, bookbinding, and other hand tools, either handmade or restored vintage tools.
Includes several of my grandfather’s old tools, a restored fountain pen, bone folders and needles, drop spindles, bowls, bamboo hera, paring knives, brushes, wands, brass finishing tools, and a hand-forged athame. (My thanks to @easternroadsidecreations for the help with the athame and @bhbeidler for the brass finishing tools workshop