Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sneak Peek: Installation at SOMArts

I need to write a post concluding my experiences at Jentel, but the day after I arrived at home I had to install my piece for the exhibition Get Lucky, the Culture of Chance, at SOMArts. Just jumped back into my life, and I haven't had a chance to process my final Jentel days or photograph the work yet. I will soon.

This are some images during installation of my piece there, before lighting was adjusted. The show is responding to ideas of chance, particularly in reference to John Cage. Responding to Cage, I made a series of edible fiber papers. Despite being a native of Los Angeles, when Cage worked with Beverly Plummer to make his papers, they used fibers from the East Coast. I wanted to explore my new West Coast home. Above is a panel made from ice plant. Interestingly, ice plant, when cooked in soda ash, turns a rich purple. I suspect it would make a lovely dye, which I will have to investigate further.

Below, from left to right, zucchini, corn, mint, iceplant, sunchoke, artichoke, fennel.

Other than artichoke, I'd never worked with any of these fibers before. This experience has introduced me to many possibilities in the landscape of my new home. As for chance, it's made me consider the idea of greater chance in regards to weather, and harvests, and how that influences what grows and what survives.

The opening reception for Get Lucky is on Friday, January 6, from 6-9 PM, and the show will be up till January 26. SOMArts is located at 934 Brannon Street in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: The Petrified Forest and Reaction

As our days at Jentel are nearing an end, we residents took a spontaneous trip to the Dry Creek Petrified Forest. It's one of numerous petrified forests in the state, but the only one I've gotten a chance to see. It's the remains of swamp trees - the high desert of Wyoming used to be a swamp - and before that, it was under a very large sea. In some ways, as you look across the undulating landscape, you can imagine it.

Most of the forest is underground and un-excavated, and what viewers see are the remains of stumps. Only one large piece of a megasequoia has been unearthed.

I kept thinking about these petrified trees as artifacts of time. Dan at one point joked that petrified trees don't burn, to which Jennifer countered that the exception to that was coal, reminding me of my own artist book on the subject. 

After our visit to Devils Tower, I had been thinking about how, after the exposure to its grandeur (not to mention its cinematic history), I personally, couldn't make work about it. Most of my work involves constructing narratives that are implied onto the landscape, and I just didn't feel right doing that to such a sacred site to so many indigenous people. And it doesn't feel respectful to use their narratives (not really my style anyway, I'd prefer to have total authorship). Besides, anything I'd do would end up being seen as some Close Encounters reference anyway.

But I was drawn to these petrified trees. Jentel has some ornamental petrified wood chunks in the driveway.

I'm not sure where they're from, though I'm certain it's somewhere in Wyoming. Once we were home, I grabbed some of my paper and a box of oil pastels left by a previous artist (thank you whoever!) and went down and made some rubbings of their surfaces.

The paper I selected was some I'd actually had leftover from grad school, when I was still figuring out how to make quality watermarks. These are watermarked with the image of tree, tests for The Ghost Trees that I was never completely satisfied with.

I'm not sure how much of the watermark you can see above - that's the best I could do for backlighting currently. As I was making them, I couldn't help think of Melanie's projects, and hope that this isn't stepping on her toes. I'm not sure what I think of them right now, but I like the idea of the tree hidden in the stone, and interacting with transformed trees. As I was making them, I mentioned to Jennifer that I had to make these here, as I didn't access to large chunks of petrified wood back home, and then I remembered the Sonoma Petrified Forest. Have to make it up there soon. So maybe these are proofs, tests, or maybe they are complete. I have to think about it.

I'm really going to miss my fellow residents. As I write this, my studio door is open, and so is Dan's and I can hear him singing "Your Body is A Wonderland." Earlier he and Jennifer were singing along to Johnny Cash for their karaoke debut this weekend. When we all first got here, our studio doors were shut, we were even not sure about the rules of knocking and interrupting each other. Much has changed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Work in Progress

I've begun my last week at Jentel, and I'm busily working to try and finish things I've started. As I was working, I couldn't help but think how interesting the image above is - it's a shot of the corner of my desk, but it really captures the tools I use - woodcarving tools, thread, electrical cords...all mixed up together. Below, the blocks from this print triptych have been reduced to print another layer of sky.

Below, the beginnings of another triptych. It's got more to come, but I really love the abstraction it creates just as it is.  They remind me of the some pieces I saw by Nadia Myre with Marie a year or so ago at the Museum of the American Indian. I remember something in her statement, about how when a land is special or sacred to you, the horizon line becomes more meaningful than just a marker for where the sky meets the ground, it's a demarcation for where your home is, where your beliefs are, where the entire story of your being and your community is based.

I'm really enjoying working this way - my little sheets of paper aren't long enough to capture the panorama of this landscape, but I also love how working this way is opening me up to some new directions. 

I've spent some time these past two days thinking about this article in the New York Times. On one hand, as an artist working in a craft tradition it's exciting to read of recognition of artists working in similar veins, ideas, and traditions. On the other, I have a lot of problems with it. First of all, the bias is towards Europe, particularly Paris, and as Jennifer pointed out, is completely ignorant of the fact DIY working methods have been thriving here in the States since the 90ies. She added that it makes no mention of its historic ties to the feminist movement, or Riot Grrls, (I would also add Asian traditions like mingei) and while touching on how artist often turn to these working methods as a refusal to participate in consumer-driven mass produced art, adds a simpering mention of how its "cheapter too!"

It is also ignorant of how craft practices have a long tradition of serving as forms of protest and activism, treating it more like some sort of fashion trend.

Beyond these ideas, it does not touch on the philosophy and reasoning that drives artists to a craft-based working methodology. As a hero of mine has said, Paulus Berensohn, has said, working with craft materials, materials made directly from nature, means that its final product directly invokes its origins in the natural world. Though it does mention how Jeanne Briand uses her breath to make her blown glass, it avoids further discussion of how craft processes involve the human body. Most craft techniques evoke the human hand.  Judith Schaechter has commented that this is why craft programs are often being cut or reduced, as this tendency also reminds viewers of the inherent messiness of the body.

I would suggest that artists are drawn to working in craft traditions because they are drawn to using their hands and bodies. Working by hand creates an intimacy with materials, a use of the hands/body as a tool, a relationship with the entire experience that is making. Between this intimacy, relationship to the body, and an affinity with the natural world in my materials, there is a world of craft philosophy that demonstrates that artists who choose to work in craft traditions are doing so with a deep convictions.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Devils Tower

Yesterday, we Jentel residents decided to take a road trip to Devils Tower. It's a two-hour drive from here, perfect for a day trip. As we were leaving, the sun was shining, rays catching the ice that had covered the trees, blinding us with a glittering display.
Devils Tower really is a surreal formation. As shown above, it rises out of nowhere. Jentel, I believe, has a higher elevation, so we passed from its blue-gray landscape into one of straw colored grass and rock formations thickly striated with red.

We arrived at the base, ate a chilly picnic lunch, and started walking the trail that circles the base of the Tower. As we walked, I realized we were going counter-clockwise from east to west, a circumnabulation much like a walking mediation. A repeated theme to our conversations was comparing the Tower to a human body part: a toe, a penis, a nipple (those last two were Dan). Despite our humor at this, I couldn't help but think that that such discussions were reflective of how we could see ourselves in this formation. Maybe it's just some form of egotistical humancentrification, but maybe it was also a reflection of how humans can see reflections in nature, and the potential therein.

The picture above doesn't communicate how many colors were in the rock, yellows, oranges, greens, pinks, all completely unexpected. As we navigated the trail, we came first to its sunny side, which offered a vista through the remains of a previous forest fire.

Proceeding, we made our way to the shady, cooler side of the Tower, where winter seemed much more evident. If this was a walking meditation, I thought, then we had descended from sun/life to a contemplation of winter/death/slumber.

We emerged back at the beginning of the circular trail. I had been continuing my thoughts on finding healing in the landscape, and even noticed a quote in the visitors' center about how certain Native Americans find renewal and rehabilitation in the Black Hills, just east of the Tower. (The Tower is also a sacred site to many of the original inhabitants of this area, and as we walked we saw the remains of offerings tied to trees).

Our good weather ran out as we neared home; we were hit with fog and snow but managed to make it back to Jentel safely. All my thoughts on healing fled that evening as I called Robert and found out he had a pretty painful day, returning me to worry, shame and confusion, and all my conflictions about being here in Wyoming. There is little over a week till I return, and whatever that might bring.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: By Hand

I've been steadily working on a print that is going to take the form of a triptych - three blocks printed on three separate pieces of paper, one continuous image. Below, Blanche calendars the paper.

Each block has selective inking, so that in one round of printing I am printing two colors. The image is inspired by the wintery landscape and its colors here - a minimal palette, only shades of gray, blue, black.

The block will be reduced for another layer of color. Below are the results of the first round of printing. The paper is a handmade rag paper (made from the leftover pulp from this piece). Normally, (white) paper is the negative space, the empty space of an image. Here I hoped the light blue of the fibers would activate the positive space of the image.

I printed it with a wooden spoon. Originally, I started to print them on Blanche, but she seemed inclined to rip the linoleum, and after all the carving I decided spoon prints were the way to go.

While I was spooning the backs of the prints, I found myself thinking of how this piece is the result of my hands in so many ways. With the exception of using Blanche to calendar the paper,  I made the paper by hand from rags I cut up, by hand. I carved the blocks by hand. I inked them by hand. And I printed them with nothing more than a wooden spoon and the pressure applied by my arms, wrists, and hands. I even tried the old trick of rubbing the spoon on my cheek to get a small amount of oil to make rubbing smoother, but everything is so very dry here that I don't think my cheek could contribute.

Hand-printing on your own handmade paper is a rather intimate experience. Don't get me wrong, I love a press. But while hand printing I'm able to feel how the paper becomes burnished, the punch of the relief into the fibers, the suction of the ink, the entire romance of the process. I feel like this piece will have a dual narrative, that which is presented in the image (more on that to come!), and that of its creation with my hands, here in a Wyoming winter.

 As I was working on the center print, we were hit with another snowstorm. The image above is looking from the residence to the studio buildings - the writers are the log cabin on the right, we visual artists are working in the one on the left. 

In other news - today I learned that Book Bombs is part of the exhibition For Decoration and Agitation, An Exhibition of Stencil and Pochoir Books and Art, curated by our kickass friend Jared Ash, at the Newark Public Library! East Coast friends, I hope some of you get a chance to check it out.