Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on travel

Spent some time this morning reflecting on when I was an Artist-in-Residence in Costa Rica. The image above is a plate I made there, that I brought back to the US with me to print. The colony I was at did not have a press, so I had a hand-printing setup for some of my work, however, some of the collographs I made I realized needed the intense pressure that only a press can apply.

The print is called Los Amantes, Spanish for The Lovers. It's based on a pair of trees on the border of the property where I was staying, that had grown together over a fence of barbed wire. I have a feeling in reality the wire was woven through the narrow opening between the trees, but the imagery made me think of faery tales in which two lovers, who cannot be together for some reason, are transformed at the end of the tale into trees, or stars, or some other form that allows them to be united. 

I realize now what I was doing was mythologizing the landscape. Which is something I rather enjoy doing, and find that it influences my studio practice quite a bit. Stories of place inform site-specific artwork, which is something I am very interested in. As I pursued this string of thought, it provides understanding of the importance of location for indigenous people - it is not only where their ancestors have lived, the landscape encompasses their metaphysic.

If you think about it, it's why religions such as Christianity, which are not site-specific, have been able to spread. Yes, they have a connection to physical places like Jerusalem, but I have a feeling a majority of people who call themselves Christians will never visit. And some of the settings, such as the Garden of Eden, have disputed physical locations, and are really considered more intangible places. But if your stories are connected to place, and you believe as the Ohlone that Mount Diablo was the point of creation, it's more than just a mountain to you.

As a newcomer to California, I wish I knew more of these stories of place. I'm slowly working on it with the help of my local library, however, it's much easier to find information about post-conquest California, and all of the accounts I have found are interpretations by early Californios and colonists. These stories are important to me because they open my eyes to the historic long arc of the land, beyond the colonial visions of Wild West, Gold Rush, Bear Republic, and so on. By living here, I share location with that history, and I can feel its presence, but must self-educate to understand. Knowledge of such history influences me as an artist, and hopefully I can give such history the respect it deserves.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upcoming installation at the Napa Valley Museum

A barely discernible lighting test for my upcoming installation at the Napa Valley Museum for the exhibition Discrepancy.  See the suggestion of a shadow on the wall that Robert is facing? More to come...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bookworks at the San Francisco Public Library

Some images of my work in the Pacific Center for Book Arts exhibition in the Skylight Gallery of the San Francisco Public Library. As much as I'm tired of exhibitions of artist books given names like "Bookworks," I'm honored to be in the company of many amazing artists.

The piece I entered was one of my most recently finished artist books, Kasha Katuwe. I'm slowly developing a body of work exploring the intersection of papermaking, book craft and architecture, embroidery, and landscape.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Watermark Experiments!

Some of my current experiments with watermarks and invasive plant species. Above, a freshly pulled wet sheet - a base of unbleached abaca with a top sheet of Andean pampas grass. Below, a detail of a wet watermark. For a larger view, click on the images.

Below, the pressed wet sheets being loaded into the drying box.
Above, not the best photo, but a dried sheet with its watermark! And a detail of the watermark itself below. In this series, the watermarked images are of extinct California animals, birds, and fish (more images to come soon!), in paper made from invasive California plants. I see these papers as beyond substrate, instead, they are embodying content. Or more correctly, embodying history - an abbreviated environmental history of the impact of globalization on California.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sexuality and Ownership in Art and on the Street

I dug back into my 'ole digital archives today to find these images. They're from a body of work I did years ago, that I thought of under the unsubtle title as the Egg series. They're from my early twenties, when I was exploring the multiplicity of emotions and ideas that come from being a sexual being. For some reason during that period of my life, eggs, with their hard shell and chaotic fluid inside, seemed to embody all the confusion and emotion I was experiencing.

As a woman, my sexuality and safety have always been linked. Rebecca Solnit said it best when she said that in order to be safe, women have to choose to limit their freedoms - what to wear, where to go, with whom, and when, and so forth. But lately I've been thinking about how sexuality and issues of power and powerlessness are also linked. This has come about from many discussions in the media currently, from the New York Post's headline that blamed Dominique Strauss-Kahn's victim for her rape, to Philaelphia's Dan Rottenberg in the Broad Street Review's article "Male Sex Abuse and Female Naviete," which he blames the way women such as Lara Logan dress for their rapes, to Jezebel's discussion of catcalls, to organizations like Hollaback and Slutwalk, to my own current experiences with street harassment.

The image above is a print I did called Armless, based on the faery tale of "The Armless Maiden." It wasn't part of the Egg series, but it was related in concept.I was thinking about my own powerlessness as a woman, and how sometimes my own sexuality could feel like a threat. I realize now I was blaming myself for not feeling safe in my own skin when on the street.

Part of me has been thinking about how so many efforts lately to end street harassment are reactionary, and wonders if is there a proactive solution? I also can't help wondering - who teaches men to catcall and bother strange women they don't know? Is that what the boys learned in fourth grade when we had to watch the video about our periods? Do fathers sit down with sons and have this discussion?

I'm currently teaching in a juvenile hall, with youth who are segregated by gender. For the boys, at least, it has created what feels like a hypersexualized environment, where I'm asked every week I go there about my personal relationships, and despite dressing rather conservatively, still find some youth not-so-subtly checking out my ass. I think at times it's meant as a compliment, other times because they haven't had the experience of relating to women in any other way. I should note here that I don't know if gender desegregation is the answer, and that it might also put some incarcerated young women at risk.

But I'm also starting to wonder how much of it is about power. By ogling me and other women, by making comments, how much is about asserting power over women, particular women who are perceived as sexually attractive. I'm proud of discussions lately about how women who own their sexuality, those who dress provocatively because it makes them feel good about themselves, rather than to attract a man. As I struggle with owning my own sexual identity, and every catcall chips away at my fragile ownership. It's a threat because its about claiming me, claiming women, still as property.