Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hedi Kyle and SF Center for the Book

The weekend workshop that Hedi Kyle was scheduled to teach at the San Francisco Center for the Book in April filled within an hour after it was posted to the website. There was a waiting list, but I was not on it. Having talked with Hedi Kyle in January at the College Book Art Association Conference, I was eager to talk with her again. Once her exhibit opened at SFCB and once the weekend began, however, I suspected I would not get a chance. Luckily, Julie Chen invited me to a little opening at Mills College where one of the book arts classes had curated a small show of a few innovative books that were invented or inspired by Hedi Kyle and others. Hedi would be there. And she was. 

So was Alastair Johnston, with whom she is speaking here.

And of course Julie Chen and Kathy Walkup.

And Sas Colby, who had had an exhibit with Betsy Davids and Jaime Robles at SFCB  a few months ago: Sisters of Invention. Other boldface names attending: Macy Chadwick and Dorothy Yule.

Sas invited Hedi and anyone else to come visit for the rest of the afternoon at her home and garden in Berkeley. It turned out to be just the three of us. We sat out on her deck and had tea/coffee and cookies and oranges. Her little dog Oscar flew through the air from floor to couch to floor to deck to lap. And I was so engaged I forgot to take any pictures whatsoever of that garden afternoon.

I visited Hedi's exhibition yesterday: The World of Hedi Kyle: Codex Curios and Bibli'Objets and took a few pictures to share.

I think of her title as the "Grandmother of Book Structures." Hedi is an artist and inventor. She dreams structures and forms. She seems to love materials and textures. In addition to books made with paper and ephemera, there is a whole case of work made with soap chips. Really, to study these images, you should get a copy of the catalogue from the Center. Hedi told me ahead of time that there were not many words in her catalogue because she just wanted to show the books. There is a brief introduction by Denise Carbone.

I loved this flag book made of mica. It appears so delicate, but because it is a mineral it has a strong material presence. According to the catalogue it is from an "Installation of appropriated cricket music on Mylar and Mica" (2007).

And why has no one else done this? These are "Cootie Towers" (2008). Graduated cootie catchers stacked up, made from "Japanese stencil facsimiles on UV Ultra paper." The patterning is wonderful and the tiny orange flag is an exquisite touch.

Part of the excitement of this exhibit lies in the three tables with "Touchable Books."

Hedi also makes collages with everyday materials.

I loved the use of the fishbone structure for "Morning with Spiders" (2009).

Another sculpture, which is in the catalogue, is a collection of graduated origami boxes that are attached to each other and displayed on their side. I posted instructions for these boxes in December, 2010 here. Hedi took them one step further by attaching them with the inner flaps of one box to the bottom of the next smaller one in "Nesting Boxes" (1993).

Nina at SFCB says the catalogues have been flying out the door. That students are lining up and waiting for the next shipment to arrive. It's not hard to see why. It feels like being close to the source.

If you are far away, you can still order catalogues from the Center on their website store.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

NYC, American Indian Art, and Teju Cole

Recent, intense work on projects has pushed out introspection in the past few weeks, but we were in Manhattan once again and took in many sights and experiences that warrant deeper thought and things to share. And just as once you look for something, there it is, I just finished Teju Cole's amazing reflection on life and New York City: Open City: A Novel. It won the 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award.

I was alerted to Teju Cole after someone read to me a comedic and pointed take on Ebola that he had written for The New Yorker, October 7, 2014. To me, the column shows an underlying interest in how we think, why we talk ourselves into things, and how absurd our rationalizations are. That was the kind of author I wanted to read. The book is not comedic, but it is beautifully written and with just those kinds of insights I had hoped for. The narrator walks all over Manhattan, meets people, has discussions and arguments, and tries to make sense of the world and his place in it. It touches on every subject, particularly every controversial and political subject you can imagine, but in a surprisingly gentle way.

Reading this on the heels of our own New York trip (we miraculously walked thirty miles in the few days we were there; that walking warranted the purchase of a new pair of shoes), it seemed time to do some connecting.

The National Museum of the American Indian is a branch of the Smithsonian. It is located in what used to be the Customs House in Battery Park. The building is high-ceilinged and majestic, as you might expect, but it houses American Indian art and objects from a variety of tribes, geographic areas, and cultures.

More startling, perhaps, is the realization, according to Cole's book, that the plaza, Bowling Green, was "used in the seventeenth century for the executions of paupers and slaves" (164), something you will not find in the Wikipedia entry.

A few highlights of the exhibition at the museum for me were from the contemporary collection, and they happened to be book and paper related. The weaving together of tradition and contemporary life, transforming that tradition, but keeping the essential emotional core, was what gave the work its weight. The technical skill and craft coupled with creativity gave the work its beauty.

Made of paper, graphite, and thread, this 2002 piece by Maria Hupfield (Anishinaabe, Wasauksing First Nation) is based on a traditional Anishinaabe woman's jingle dress. Each jingle features the name of an Indigenous writer. As the wall text notes it merges the oral, written and visual traditions. Usually, these cones are made of tin or other metal in order to jingle during a dance. Here, they are mute. But powerfully so.

Looking backwards, this Inka khipu (1425-1532) functioned as a ledger book. Its intricate knots, colors, and lengths stood as recording devices for inventories or accounts. One could think of it as a collection of series of numbers or as an early computer, the meaning lost to us, but we can still take pleasure in the tactile nature of the materials.

This takes us to ledger book drawings, roughly originating from 1860-1900 when the Plains Indians were forced off of their land into reservations. They used the paper traded, collected, or captured from the soldiers to draw and tell their stories, and they added new art materials to their practice. Some people might say that it made sense to use that paper then because it really was the paper of the time, but it has become part of the tradition to use the antique papers for contemporary work. The connection to one's ancestors is more prominent that way, additional meaning retained. The reminder to the past and to the history is embedded in the work.

Chris Pappan's (Osage/Kaw/Cheyenne River Lakota) artist statement says, "I intentionally distort portraits because people have a distorted idea of Native people." His style is his own, purposely not copying traditional ledger drawing styles in order to bring the work up to date and keep it fresh. Break from Tradition, 21st-Century Ledger Drawing No. 58, 2012.

Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala Lakota) includes contemporary objects, such as the cellphones in this image, according to the wall text, "to show how new technology is present in Native life and culture. The title is a play on the word for the number one, wánci (pronounced ONE-gee)." His flattened style is closer to traditional ledger book drawings, but his personal sense of humor transforms the work. 4G Better than One-G, 2012.

Seeing these reminded me of a book I own. At a 2014 memorial gathering for Yee Jan Bao, a colleague, his nephew told us to choose a book from Yee Jan's collection to take home with us. John Zurier and I both were intrigued with the same book, which he graciously let me have, "I think you want it more. You should have it." It was The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle. My first impression was that it was an authentic copy of an Indian work, but on further examination, I realized it was a contemporary children's book. It has all of the characteristics of a historical document with its rounded corners, yellowed paper, and flat-style drawings, but it was published originally in 1994, reprinted in 2007. The artist does not, as far as I can tell, have an Indian background. I was disappointed. But after our trip I went back to it. It is based on true events, and the artist worked from historical documents and drawings from the original time period, and consulted with a Lakota advisor. Although this one is fictional, the history is real and tells an important story. It may be the only accessible example and teaching method we have. As I think about this, I'm not so disappointed.

Part of the premise of Teju Cole's book Open City is that perceptions of ourselves and of others can change as we get more or different information. We can enjoy the journey through New York City with him, but reflect and re-weigh our thoughts and feelings as we go. There is a value in being open.

More information on Plains Ledger Art here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

HOUSEWORK installed at Albany Library, CA

Last Sunday at the Albany Library, I installed my houses and their books and objects, and the house-shaped books and books related to home that I've made over the years. I went right at opening: 1pm, because I knew it would take time to arrange. I had everything prepared, but still it took two hours to set up. The glass shelves are quite heavy and needed to be adjusted, and I had to be mindful of the lights, which are only at the top, and how they hit all the objects below. And I had to answer questions periodically by pointing the people in the direction of the reference librarian, who would tell them where a film was being held. One of the library aides told me, once we'd locked the case, that I should have stood my statement up. In fact, I would rather people looked at the work than read the statement, so its placement, at the bottom, is intentional.

 Six houses and the quilt on the left.

On the right (top to bottom—links to available web pages):
1. My House I Sweep Out; Noises in the House (rattles)
2. Tea print ("I have insomnia"); unfinished house; Rock Dove,  
3. Mollie & Ezra (sketches); Chalk Voices; House print; T-ravel: Home
4. unfinished Albany house; Crows at Home

General library information is here. The six houses and quilt will move to Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, CA for the Art of the Book exhibit in May.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Travel Journal & Accessories

Once again, I searched through the book models and previously made blank books hoping to find the proper journal to take with me to New York City. And, once again, none of them had the feel I wanted. Next, I opened the drawer of painted paper scraps and shuffled through the papers. Yes, indeed. I found one with the white-washed, graffiti, city look I was after. It was already painted on both sides, was a thick Stonehenge printmaking paper, so it would be perfect for the cover of a Crossed-Structure travel journal.

I added the title by painting acrylic paint through French stencils. And sewed down the woven straps with random lines. I got out my translucent pencil bag and selected brush markers, a gel pen, a Micron pen, a pencil, eraser, rounded-end scissors, and a glue stick to fit inside.

All set. I didn't end up doing much drawing this trip. I copied logos and the symbol for whatever train we took. Made a few origami envelope pockets to hold business cards. Highlights of the trip were a visit to The Cloisters in the rain, and to see the poet/visual artist Marcel Broodthaers exhibit at MoMA.

Next time I would add to the travel kit: photo corners and a length of self-adhesive linen tape.

By mistake, I had woven over the date I had stenciled on the back. But I liked it even better with the window torn out, and I would consider making this mistake intentionally next time.

More posts about Travel Journals, Crossed-Structure Binding, and Origami Envelope Pocket:
Travel Journals and Travel Writing
That Travel Journal Again
Lighter Travel, More Journal Options
Make No Mistakes
Found Paper Cover for Journal 
Origami Envelope Pocket

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Submitting Written Work: Mysteries & Strategies

It's the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, but people have been writing and celebrating poetry (and prose) for centuries. In this century, with the wide adoption of the internet, it seems that new literary magazines championing one form of writing or another are born daily. From an editor's point of view, they are easy to start, but harder to maintain, as proven by the number that disappear after a few years. Meanwhile, most writers want to be published. With the sheer number of publications available and calling for submissions, how do you know where to submit and what is the best way to approach the submission process?

A reader recently asked me, in regards to my post from 2014, "What Does It Mean When They Say 'Read the Magazine?'": 
"should one first write the piece and then look for an "ideal home: for it, or rather tailor the piece for a specific journal while trying to take into account many of the tips above?" 
My answer was that I thought it was a good exercise to find a magazine that really strikes you, touches something in you, and see what kind of piece you get by writing with its editor(s) as your audience. But you should still write in your style and deal with subjects that interest you. On the other hand, it is good to keep reading magazines to try to find the right home for pieces you have already written and the ones you want to write freely in the future. So, I recommend mixing it up. 

It may also be possible to tailor a piece you have written, but this will require time, and analysis, and lots and lots of reading. What is the overall tone of the magazine? Is everything in first person or from a distance? Are the subjects realistic or imaginative? Are the writers listening to the language and rhythm of the sentences? Does the magazine have works that are close to the edge? Safe? Flowery? Short or long? Introspective or active? Ironic, sarcastic, or gently humorous? The list continues.

An excellent way to figure out an editor's taste and the particular slant and hot buttons of a magazine, are to read Jim Harrington's blog: Six Questions For…You can tell from the answers if the editor will be welcoming to your work or if you should run away. Sometimes the editor sounds insightful and thoughtful, other times the editor sounds like a jerk. Most of the recent interviews are with new magazines, but you can scroll through the list to find older ones, then check and see if they still exist. Other people join Duotrope so they can use the database to search for likely candidates for their work. The lists are updated regularly.

Many people enjoy submitting work to magazines that require a prompt or theme. With a few exceptions, I'm not crazy about writing as an assignment. If I happen to have a piece on the theme, I might submit it. Recently, though, I found a couple magazines that have very specific requirements for what otherwise might be familiar subjects. For one, I wrote the piece specifically for the magazine; for the other, I knew I had a piece that sounded right, a piece I had been sending out for years. I took another look at it, revised it slightly, and then sent. Each of those two pieces was accepted. Something worked, in both cases. (If you are interested in reading them, they are listed in the sidebar, for March and April 2016.) If the prompt or magazine theme sparks something in you, go for it!

A few issues come up as you submit your work. Should you submit to a magazine again after your work has been declined? Yes. Should you submit ten more times? If you've had nine, or even six pieces declined for one magazine, this probably isn't the place for you right now. If you are a new or young writer, and absolutely adore this magazine, you might try again in a year or two. Should you send again right away? Only if the editor asks you to. Otherwise, give it a few months. Look over your writing again. Possibly revise or rewrite. Get some perspective. Read the next issue of the magazine. Do you like the work already published there? Find the interview with the editor. Still think this would be a good place for your writing? Try again. (Please notice I don't use the word "rejection." It has to do with an editor's personal taste and the tone and feel and subjects the editor envisions for the magazine.) Just keep writing.

How shall you choose among them? Are there tiers among the magazines? Yes. But it depends how you want to judge them. Will you get paid? Most of the time, the answer is no. Other questions to ask are: Has the magazine been in business very long? That would let you know if they have the time and some kind of financial backing figured out. How many issues have been published? What kind of experience does the editor have? Is it easier to get published in one or another? That's probably going to depend on how many submissions they get and how frequently they publish. Does this magazine originate in an academic institution? If so, students are reading your work. But the magazine may have been founded decades ago and is still running strong because they have a solid backing and good leadership. Is it nicely designed—do you like the aesthetics? Again, do you like the work you've read there? These questions lead to the next question from the same reader: quantity or quality?

"I have read here and elsewhere that some folks have 'published more than 100 stories.' While that is statistically impressive, I wonder what the goal is ultimately. Personally, I would prefer to have published 10 stories and have them appear in the Paris Review, the New Yorker, and so on."

First, I want to clarify something: someone with 200 publications is not a better writer than someone with 100 publications or 10 publications. I personally don't care, and as an editor, I'm only irritated when the writer includes the count in the bio. Why do they send to so many places? Some people may be out collecting magazines. Some people may only be able to write with the props that another acceptance gets. Others may have heard that to ultimately get a book published, one needs to have the stories/poems/works accepted and published and validated by a magazine first. But again, with all the new magazines flourishing, it is hard to know if that long list will help. That's where the renown of the longstanding magazines probably will. But the catch is that those mags, like the New Yorker, tend to only publish works by people who have already published books. Who knows if the mainstream magazines will be the right place for your work, anyway? If you think your piece is right, however, it's always good to try.

Web or print? I used to want only to be published in a print magazine. But the value of online publications is that you can send the link out and help spread the word yourself. The downside is that if these magazines are not in print as well, once they are gone, they are gone. One of my stories disappeared from the web because the magazine was discontinued.

Paying for submissions? For the most part, I don't believe in it. I think that people should not have to pay to have their work read. There are arguments on both sides for this (Brevity has a good article), but when I have broken my rule and paid $2 here or there, I haven't had any added luck. If the magazine pays, I don't think submitters should be the ones subsidizing the authors.

It may seem complicated, but ultimately, your strategy and your goals and desires are your own, and you must follow your passion and intuition. So, read the magazines. Read the guidelines. Do your research. Above all: write first, then edit.

Other related posts:
What It Means When an Editor Says, "Not a Fit"
What Does It Mean When They Say "Read the Magazine" 
Thinking About Submission Fees 
Dear Writer: Kinder, Gentler Rejections 
Writing Like Rocks, Writing Like Water 
Common Tropes to Avoid 
Formatting Magazine Submissions & Cover Letters 
Insecurity and the Third-Person Bio
Success=Self-Confidence + Humility