Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Special Book Art Collections to Share

I can't share my book art with you if it is hidden away in my studio, so I've handpicked and sorted some of it into selected collections and released it to the winds of my Etsy store, nevermindtheart. Each limited collection contains a couple books and a couple cards or small prints and will only be available for a set time. Maybe something here you like? A mere 125.00 for each collection. More images and info at the links.

















Happy Summer!





Monday, July 16, 2018

Cecilia Vicuña at BAM

I was excited that Cecilia Vicuña would be present at the Berkeley Art Museum for two events in July in conjunction with her exhibition, which also has a catalogue: Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen. Born in Chile, the artist, writer and activist was expelled and exiled in the 1970s during the political conflict, and has lived in London and Colombia, and in New York since 1980. Before the exhibition opened, she gave a poetry reading and book signing; a few days later, she gave what was billed as a "participatory performance." I went to both events, saw the show, and bought her newest book, published by Kelsey Street Press, New and Selected Poems of Cecilia Vicuña. All of these experiences woven together present both a beautiful and curious picture.

Vicuña began making little sculptures, precarios, she calls them, in 1966 as she collected feathers, shells, sticks, bones, and trash that washed up on shore on the Chilean coast, and has continued making them to this day. In the white box that is the gallery, 110 of these were presented: some on the walls, many on a large, low platform. So small, these natural and human-made materials were poems in whispered conversation. It was an interesting choice to make the viewers either tilt their heads back to look up (for many on the wall), or crouch to peer down. The floor platform is so large you can only see the pieces in the center from a distance.





I found my imagination sparked when I looked at one at a time and took in their shadows as well.


On the wall:



Usually, in a space with multiple, similar works, or works with a shared "vocabulary" as my art historian friend calls it, you would feel a cumulative effect, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But that is not what happens here. Each piece is so small and delicate that if you focus carefully you can picture her at her desk arranging and tying the fragments. Each piece held her careful attention and demands ours. Each piece was made at a different time, and the time spanned fifty years. Having them all on the floor together overwhelmed me, and diminished the effect. Both my friend and I felt they would be better up higher, each on a separate pedestal, where you could get your face in it, walk around it, make yourself tiny and imagine yourself in it. Vicuña said that she wanted space for the viewer in each piece, but we weren't really able to enter that space in this format. Like trying to have a meaningful conversation at a party rather than one-on-one in a café.

There was a short poem on the wall in each room, just a glimpse. After having heard her read, I missed her large presence here. At the reading she had chanted, sang, read, whispered, growled, and smiled and told stories. We had to lean in to listen and sit back to absorb. I had hoped for the same experience in the gallery. Perhaps a recording of her chanting, the volume low, would have amplified the love she had for each tiny object. There are videos elsewhere, but we did not know to go see them.

Being close to the floor suggests bending down to pick up the materials, which is part of her process. Still, I began to want a meandering path, a river, or a shoreline, particularly since water is important to her work. Sounds of water, bowls of it, a fountain, even a stone river would have helped to make it a whole environment. As arranged, my friend felt it was more like a display of macquettes, models, and sketches rather than fully fledged sculptures. Many labyrinths I've visited, such as at the Albany Bulb or up at Sibley Volcanic Preserve in the Oakland hills, have little offerings like these placed in their centers.

Most delightful was a little precario we found hiding in the hall.



So, it seemed, in this space you could only experience the work at its edges.

The artist's books, on the other hand, were displayed more intimately and worked beautifully even though they had to be protected in a vitrine. We could get close to them. They were minimalistic, elegant, showed attention to the line, the thread running through, some with mixed materials. They were mostly quite spare and conceptual. Like the precarios, they were very sensitively put together. The wall text notes the connection of the poetry line and the thread line, between text and textile.  Here, the text and form and materials merged and sang. I've always loved Vicuña's word playfulness and exploration of language, which you can also find in her 1992 book, Unravelling Words and the Weaving of Water. I've taught from that book for years. 


I've tried to match up the wall text to the images.

Libro Acantilado (Cliff Book), 1981-82
Plaster, metal screen, stone, wood, feather

Libro de Errores (Book of Errors) c. 1984
Typing correction strips, thin wood cards, string

bottom: The Sixth Extinction (La Sexta Extinción), c. 1998
Hand-written text on glassine paper, snail shells, black thread

El Album de Papá (My Dad's Album), 2016
Emptied picture album from the 1930s, feathers

Word and Thread (Palabra e Hilo), 1996
Text printed on paper, cardboard, string, edition of 300, Morning Star Publications, Scotland


Beforehand (Antemano), 2011
ink-jet printed, hand-written visual poem, paper, string, pencil

La Realidad es una linea (Reality Is a Line), 1994
Handwritten text on paper, thread, Edition of 500, Belgium

At the Q and A afterwards, Vicuña told us that as a child she was always touching things, and her mother said, "Darling, you don't have eyes in your fingers." But with the precarios and the books you can feel that she does.

In the next galleries, two monumental pieces hang in two connected spaces. One is a raft that holds suspended precarios. The accompanying poem has the phrase: "pitch, a fertile / rite / a little / broken pitch / er ". Her wordplay is in action: pitch can be part of music, part of a jug, how something tilts, and tar coating a boat. The wall text says this one was created with objects found on the  "ever-diminishing Louisiana coast" in reference to climate change and  the "dematerialization" of "1960s Conceptualism." Perhaps we need to continuing bringing this forward to note the conceptualism of today and the emphatic wave of theory and concept over craft and making. With this piece I see more of her exploration of the intersection/confrontation of human-made objects with natural materials, the effects of humans on nature. I think I would have liked to focus more on the raft itself.



The second is a piece that fills the room: cascades of black, gray, red, orange and brown wool. The wall text says it is felt, but it looks more like roving, or only partially felted. Perhaps due to scale, color, and materiality, this work has the most intense presence and impact. This is the somber, resonant party, and we feel invited in; we can both speak in hushed tones and hear.




This wool appeared in the performance as well. Concentric circles on the concrete floor. The spectators on the wood steps of the amphitheater. Cecilia below. 




Walking in slowly. With several young people, her assistants. Wool is pulled off and cradled. Gesturing for members of the audience to take the wool and do the same. Then long pieces unwound and arranged through the crowd. She asks us to put up our arms and wave them. "Raising the children!" she says. She said she was thinking of the children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border. Mural on the wall is by artist and designer from South Africa, Karabo Poppy Moletsane.



I'm not a fan of participatory performance, I feel uneasy about being asked or persuaded to move around in someone else's art. But it was pretty gentle, and others around me felt moved. (I found the reading more compelling, perhaps because of the focus on her and the intimacy of just listening to her voice.) This performance, similar to one in 2015, is also documented in the newest book. 

After the performance, Cecilia told us her mother once said, "Thank God you are tiny because you are so powerful." The smallest things, like a stone in your shoe, she said, can be the most powerful. My friend wrote:
 "the test of this type of art…is not if the audience/participants are made to "feel good" (catharsis is part of the oldest Western tradition), but what are they going to DO? What action will they take as a result of their engagement with the issue of "the children"?
Through her questioning of political systems and traditional methods, I would agree that Cecilia Vicuña and her art are meant to inspire a "call to action," to use a phrase from Patti Smith.  I keep turning over the experiences, wondering at and inquiring of the stone, wondering what I and the audience will do in response.

The exhibition is at BAM until October 14, 2018.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Crows and Cons: New Quilt

It began with a discussion. We soon found out we had differing opinions. Some of our arguments were based in fact, others were based on personal preference. I'm not sure we ever agreed on anything. But the egg began to incubate.

I like crows, and I've taken photos of many crows over the years, so I knew I would have imagery. I examined the pictures, looking for striking, high-contrast images, which is lucky since crows present such a perfect silhouette. At the same time, watching two neighborhood crows, I noticed one had a bent feather, which made the pair easy to spot. I called them Bent Feather (BF) and Bent Feather's Friend (BFF). They had favorite perches in a tall tree, on a certain telephone wire, and near the corner neighbor's birdfeeder. When  I gardened in the early morning, they would peck the ground and even come closer to see what I was doing, see if I had unearthed their breakfast. Eventually, I stopped seeing them regularly.

Then there were five crows, or six. One might have been offspring from a previous year. Three were definitely juveniles, noisy, wanting to be fed by the parents. They would flap their wings and make a racket, opening their mouths, sitting close to a parent, who would usually find something to give them. The juveniles are slightly smaller and their feathers are shiny blue-black, without the dust and fade of years in the sun.



I included some photos of BF and BFF in the quilt. The babies came after I had pieced it. Solar printing, letterpress from wood type, and faded jeans all come together. Embroidered crow footprints and solar prints from fallen feathers round it out.

Here it is: Crows and Cons. Both itself (about crows) and a metaphor for any argument or discussion or debate you might have.


(the crow in this detail is actually from a screenshot from the osprey cam at sfbayospreys.orgthe rest are photos from photos I took.)




(full image of the quilt is also on the website here)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Form and Fusion

Taking a step backward, putting aside message and meaning, the art "only you can make," I find moments where examining formal artistic concerns is refreshing and interesting. Perhaps this is the left brain side of artmaking. By formal concerns I mean color, shape, line, where the eye travels, background and foreground, and sensitivity to materials. These are a heck of a lot more objective, and maybe that is why they are taught in an academic environment; you can list them with checkboxes and grade them more easily. That said, line, color, materials, and shape are also easy to work with as you have no message other than making something pleasing and, dare I say, even beautiful. At a certain point you can intuit how to put the work together. This intuition happens after much play and practice, exploring and learning from the world.

Arranging colored blocks. Scribbling with colored crayons on paper. These are things we do naturally as children (assuming we have access to blocks, crayons, and paper). We don't think too hard about it. We experiment with the tools and explore. In daily life it's about choosing clothes or arranging our meals on a plate. We get ideas from the world around us, and that world, thanks to the internet, is enormous.

This experimentation doesn't just apply to the visual arts. In the 1980s, I had a professor who said that World Music or World Beat would become the music of the world. Musicians were traveling, exchanging music from their cultures. In the SF Bay area we had groups like Mapenzi, Zulu Spear, and the Looters. Western musician Paul Simon included South African music on his album, Graceland and brought mainstream U.S. attention to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. David Byrne integrated African music into the Talking Heads' album, Remain in Light;  and in 2018, for a wonderful switchback, Beninese, African-born musician Angélique Kidjo made a fantastic cover album of it. Music back then felt like it was reaching out to be global, rather than regional or national. This exchange added complexity to ways of making music, listening, hearing, seeing. 

But "World Music" became a marketing term, a catch-all for anything non-Western, which infuriated David Byrne (see his article here and another interesting article documenting the history here), and sadly changed the designation of all-inclusive to us/them or anything non-western. Thirty years later there is the concern about cultural appropriation in all forms of art. (Well, there has always been concern about this, but it is more in the foreground today.)

We use spices from around the world in our food. Our clothes are manufactured internationally. Free trade opens doors and opportunities. Yet, these items are not considered appropriated, perhaps because they are made for trade. The objection to appropriation comes when it is close to a particular religion, a lifestyle, a custom or, more importantly I think, an area that has intense emotional or spiritual significance. It can also be a source of tension when the borrower has absolutely no idea of the history of an object, or uses a language in a work "for texture" without knowing what it means. I remember in the 1980s when milagros, Mexican religious folk charms, were made into earrings and sold in Berkeley. They looked neat. I stopped wearing mine fairly soon after I learned what they were.

Which brings us back to art. When is it appropriate to use something from another culture, not your own, in your art? I'm interested in the Gond people of India (previous blog post here), and the patterning used in the art. I might use the idea of the patterning, but create my own patterns, not use one from another artist. I'm interested in the Japanese sewing patterns of sashiko (blog post here), and do use the patterns, made freely available in textiles books, in my work. I'm attracted to Brazilian woodblock carving of cordel and made a set of books that nodded to it (blog post here). The context and interpretation, I think, is important.

Which, like the labyrinth we're in, has us double back to form. It may be that appropriating, borrowing, using the form, scaffolding, structure, colors, the formal issues, can work. But only then if the artist integrates her own voice, transforms the form.

A friend of mine is very interested in Indian culture, has been to India many times. She also likes Korean bojagi, traditional wrapping cloth, which is like a little quilt. For a birthday gift, I went to Ahlishan, an Indian fabric store, and bought several remnants, with the intention of making a patchwork bojagi (jogak bo) out of them.

I did not have a message or meaning in mind, I simply wanted to play with the form, with colors and shapes and continue practicing the flat seams the form employs. Eventually, I added some of the dyed silk organza I used in my quilt/curtain, There Goes the Neighborhood. Typically, the bojagi are 35 cm square, about 13.75 inches, and wrapping things, according to wikipedia, is considered good luck and shows respect for the object and the recipient. (You can see a couple at the Asian Art Museum website.) I sewed a sleeve on the back of this one for the curtain option, and it  is a little larger, at eighteen inches, a fusion of form and Korean, Indian, and North American cultures. Good luck is a universal wish. I hope it works.


on the table

in the window


Monday, July 2, 2018

Art and Empathy

I think about art. A lot. Maybe too much. I think about my process and the results; I think about what I view in studios, classrooms, galleries, museums, websites and what I read. From the inside, as a maker, I question what I make and why. I look for sense in my choices of materials and medium, and I constantly look for meaning in what I do. Looking outward, as a viewer, I additionally wonder at what moves me, experience the awe or irritation or any number of emotions stirred up by the work, and analyze its success or failure to touch me. I also consider if this is something only this particular artist could make. Could it be replicated and sold in a big box store? and if so, how would my experience of it change? It's complicated.

Sometimes, it seems I'm running around the bases over and over as I think about these things, the game unchanged, a minor leaguer. But recently, I read an article in the New York Times from Saturday, June 30, 2018 that opened onto a new field. In his Op-Ed, "The Cultural Vacuum in the White House," Dave Eggers wrote that this particular presidency, like authoritarian regimes, ignores art and artists almost completely or is defensive or goes on the attack. What particularly struck me was this, "But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else's eyes and know their strivings and struggles." 

Wow. Empathy has been on my mind. The lack of it these days. Rethinking empathy takes me back to two earlier posts,  "What about Untitled" and "The Mirror Business." In those posts I wrote about the artists who say, "I want the viewer to see whatever they like in it." Having room for the viewer in the work is good. But now this sounds to be encouraging the viewer to make the artwork all about them, the viewer. It is not asking the viewer to imagine something outside of themself. It's promoting a kind of narcissism.

In the past, when I've asked an artist friend about her work, perhaps a particular work I've puzzled over and tried to feel or understand, my mind will suddenly clear when she reveals her process and tells the story of how she came to make it. Hearing the story of how she thinks and responds to the world, to her materials, to the creative process puts me in her shoes, allows me to see the world from her perspective. I may not agree, but I appreciate the mind-expanding possibilities, the possibility that I could see something new from a fresh perspective. Putting oneself in another's place does that. And it could help this mind-blowing, mean-spirited, empathy-free, us/them world we are in today.

This important change-up of view, this move to a different ballpark, to a different game, court, or field, is another reason a certain artwork should be something only a certain artist can make. Empathy cannot be forced or found in a cookie-cutter image made by machine. We cannot identify with the factory-made object. It needs to emerge from a distinctly particular, human point of view. We need to understand that placed in another body, another time, another place, another mindset, we could have made it. And whether we are or are not makers, we are visitors, guests of another world. And therein lies respect as well.

Art is not just about the message. It is not only about the meaning or feeling or mood. It is also about getting outside of yourself and your own game and respectfully touching base with someone, somewhere else.



*
I've read two books in the past year that have helped me understand the baffling situation in the United States. Although the titles suggest polarization, they are not meant to demean anyone; they are meant to help each side learn about the other. The first was The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling. The second was The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics by Mark Lilla. The books are short, but strong, about 140 pages each.



Friday, June 29, 2018

Birds and Blocks

It's summer. I'm watching the Ospreys on the sfbayospreys.org web camera again. This year I tuned in early enough to see the eggs being laid (end of March) and the chicks hatching out (early May). Well, I didn't get to see the actual hatching myself, but I watched the video after I missed it. I like watching the birds' behavior, how the parents teach the young to eat and then to fly and then, off camera, how to fish for themselves. This year, the resident birds Rosie and Richmond had three eggs and three chicks, who are now old enough to fledge. They have been practicing "getting air" by flapping mightily and sometimes catching the wind that is ever present down at Point Potrero in Richmond, CA. They were banded a week ago so they can be studied, and the bands may even help save their lives or get them cared for in the future. It won't be long before they can really fly.

It was inevitable that I would make more work about them. Over the next couple of months I will be carving a three-foot square piece of linoleum for SF Center for the Book's Roadworks event, a street fair where Chad Johnson, the studio manager, will expertly ink it up, place the paper over it, and an actual steamroller will drive over it and print it (you can see past events here). My drawing, based on Richmond the Osprey on a nest of books, was accepted for this fundraiser, Sunday, September 23, 2018.

Meanwhile, it seemed like a good idea to upgrade my relief carving tools. I didn't want to make a major investment, but sometimes the little Speedball tools get rather dull. I think I found a compromise with these Power Grip Carving Tools, Seven Piece Set from Japan.

With the small u-gouge, you can comfortably hold it like a pencil and get good control over your line.

With the larger, flatter U, you can rest the base in your palm for more pressure. I can clear out larger areas faster and better with this one.

These fit my small hands very well, and they are a pleasure to use. I did a trial run and made a print, "The Osprey Chicks Are Looking Up." I'll post it to my website and to nevermindtheart on Etsy soon. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Golden Gate Audubon Society, which runs the cam. Watching the cam brings joy to many people around the world. Several (that I know of) who are somewhat housebound. The Live Chat community even has local meet-ups, and many people have made new friends.


Now, on to the gigantic one! 

Still, I watch. In addition to the sticks and branches, the birds, primarily Richmond, bring in plastic and trash. We can really see the human impact on them, and we hope there isn't any baling twine, fishing line, or netting lying around or washing up onshore. There has been a plastic bag flapping around in the nest, and one of the chicks got her leg caught in the ribbon that was attached to it. It is disconcerting. And these are just the birds we can see.

Everything we do has the potential to radiate outward. Our daily choices both determine our world and have the power and ability to carve out the kind of world we want to live in.

(photo of Richmond by Alisa at the nest)


(photos and post from last year here.)