Monday, May 21, 2018

There Goes the Neighborhood: new work

Every time I go visit my childhood home, and my parents who live in it, I notice what has changed. It's definitely not the same city I grew up in. It has become very gentrified, perhaps considered chic. The main avenue doesn't have the nursery or the gas station or a hardware store. The local movie theater plays oldies and has special events with celebrities. But perhaps even more striking is the way the neighborhood houses have changed, as if the neighborhood was seasonal. An original house is put up for sale. Sold. A chainlink fence encircles it like a hopeful necklace. The bulldozers tear it down. And a new McMansion pushes up out of the ground in its place. There is no city style book so the blocks become eccentric melanges of Spanish villas, palatial monuments, Modern Art, Modern Ugly, and So Forth. And I do not feel the same among them. I feel like a stranger.

This feeling is likely what Gertrude Stein meant when she revisited Oakland and wrote famously, "there is no there there" in her book Everybody's Autobiography. (She lived at "Thirteenth Avenue at Twenty-fifth street" in "the old Stratton house" in East Oakland.) The full quote in Chapter 4, America: "anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there." She writes at length about how people are not the same people they were when they were young, when they spent time in a place long ago. She does not like seeing people she hasn't seen in many years, either. Her work takes place in whatever present it is when she is writing.

My childhood window faced the street. I spent a lot of time staring out of it. The house across the street was remodeled over the years, a second story added. But the house diagonally across just went through the seasonal cycle. Last I saw, the chainlink fence was up, the house was down. I took pictures when I saw the house was for sale. And when I visited, took a few more.

I made some solar prints of the house in its seasons onto silk organza. I also used a photo I had taken of a stick house (like Eeyore's in Winnie-the-Pooh) that was created on the mud flats at Coyote Hills. Later, I designed a page full of "there" and solar printed it as well.

After playing with the self-stick stabilizer (see the post), I created some puzzle-like patches that would become the basis for an art quilt or curtain, I'm not sure which it is. But if you mix these two processes, beware: the Sulky Solvy chemical will interact with some of the colors of the SolarFast dye and change up the print when you dissolve the backing! This didn't happen with the Mokuba. For this, it was okay. I rolled with it.

Meanwhile, as I was interested in alternate ways of sewing, the Korean style wrapping cloth, bojagi caught my attention. I found a video (she calls it "Pojagi") and began to learn how to sew these "flat seams." Off I went. Lots of machine sewing. This second video was enlightening as well, gave me a better feeling for the wrapping cloths and how they are used. This section is meant to feel like the chainlink fence.

And now it is finished. I really miss hand sewing, though.

It took a while to find a place to photograph it.

I think I like it best with light behind it.

I've found a home for it in my office. For now.

There goes the neighborhood. There it is.

See a larger image on my website, here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Making Handmade Books in Translation

Geeking out on language today. A former student/colleague, book artist Casey Gardner just sent me a photo from the Pompidou Centre which started me off. Exciting to see my book on display down in front. Making Handmade Books was translated into French several years ago.

100 Modèles de Reliure Créative

It was translated into Spanish as well.
El Gran Libro de la Encuadernación

Finding the right title for these kind of instructional books has been more of a challenge than you might imagine. I always wanted something a little more poetic, but then no one would know what it was. So then I wanted something precise, so you would know exactly what you were getting.

It is interesting to see all of them together. Each one has a slightly different title and slightly different graphics. French translates as: 100 Creative Binding Models. I like looking at how the languages create meaning. Here, when translated back to English, the word Creative suggests art and/or craft; Binding refers to book; Models refers to examples and blank books, which is what they are. I think the cover they chose was one of the earlier versions.

In Spanish it is The Great Book of Binding: More than 100 Craft Bindings. Here, Great means large; Craft suggests making and art as well; and Binding is a catch-all term. The Spanish version stuck close to the original cover.

And in English to Making Handmade Books we add 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms. Each word is full of associations. Bindings suggests traditional; Structures suggests architectural; Forms suggests sculptural.

Well, no matter in what language you sew it, it still comes out a book.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Accidents and Reality

We talk about "happy accidents" sometimes in art. Something unplanned that might at first seem like a mistake. But after absorbing the experience and acclimating to it, we might see a new way, discover a new view, something we could not have imagined on our own. These often occur when we've planned something in our mind but find it doesn't work in the real world. Another scenario is we knock something over, sew something upside down, drop and break something. And then we either fix it, undo it, or run with it. 

I overheard a conversation about what appeared to be writing and the creative process the other day. The person said that his creative process was like you want to sky dive but have to build the airplane, then learn how to fly it. Then there's the moment when you just don't have the skills or capacity to do the next step and no one else you know does either. But (he continued the analogy) he said he builds the airplane, flies it and then when it's time to jump he builds the parachute on the way down. This did not sound like he would find a happy accident. I'm not sure this is a good analogy.

At the prodding of a friend, I hunted for and found a reference to "building a parachute on the way down." Reid Hoffman: "An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down." And someone's blog post, in which the person says this "myth" about building "the parachute on the way down" is "a complete lie."

There is a difference between the creative process and being an entrepreneur. There is a difference between taking risks for yourself and taking risks that involve others. Luckily, art is not usually a life or death situation; the stakes are much lower. Art, in most cases, gives you freedom and choices. You can choose to stop. You can destroy what you started. Or you can push through it. Part of what will enable you to push through it is if you know you have the option to stop or destroy it. If you give yourself that permission, it eliminates quite a bit of stress.

At present, I'm not skydiving and don't have either to look for a soft haystack in which to land or to prepare a will. And no people will be harmed in what I'm making. But I'm working on a project that involves a lot of machine sewing and silk organza, and I'm feeling out of my depth; the project has veered off my original track. My Plan B is that I tell myself I can put it all in a box if I want. But I'm still interested in it. I want to keep going. I'm letting all the accidents be part of the project, morphing from mistake to happy. I'm learning, which is partly why I continue. It's good to have a hard problem to tackle periodically; it's a wakeup call: pay attention, get better.

I keep reminding myself what I tell my students: aim for perfection, accept reality.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mirror Mirror: Two Black Cats Quilt

This was a present. I loved making it and thinking about the recipient and her two new young black cats. The photos she sent showed them as they were just getting to know each other. One had to be sequestered for a while, but now they get along. I used scraps of velvet, some family clothes (pant cuffs, denim), a worn linen table napkin, and made the solar prints with negatives of the cat photos. Quilted with sashiko thread, which is delightful to sew with. Ears and whiskers. I guess you could call them my grandcats. 

And on its arrival, inspected.