Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Elevator Statement

I 'm getting a bit tired of elevator statements. Admitting this could get me in deep doo-doo at work, because we are all about distilling things into short, pithy statements, imagining we are racing up 30 floors in a small shaft with a valuable partner who wants to know what in the world we do.

But it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am not one for soundbites. (heads are nodding). Its not that I just have a hard time editing myself...its more that I like conversations that go back and forth. But then I also was one that enjoyed the long volley in volley ball game rather than the spike and the most rewarding tennis games were always the ones where my partner and I managed to keep returning the ball. So I have always preferred the "back and forth" more than the need for the slam dunk win.

I have a Twitter account but, much to the chagrin of my twittering friends, I rarely post. I just find it hard to think in 140 characters or less.

Now being professionally in the business of exploring new media and spending parts of every day exploring the social media net and participating in the virtual "public square," admitting this will probably not help my career. And I'm not suggesting anyone stop twittering. In fact I admire people who can get it all said in a sentence.

One person I deeply respect because of her brevity is Jenny there is someone who has made an art of the soundbite...literally. She is the queen "woman of a few words." When I found her on twitter I immediately followed. What a perfect medium for her! All the sudden Twitter made sense to me...I was somewhat disappointed to find out that someone was impersonating her and she had no such twitter account. Jenny! Why aren't you there yourself, sister....???

I personally don't think I'm totally alone on this need for more than 140 characters...which is why I think so many love blogging. Here's our chance to say our say and use as many words as it takes to say it. Of course I'm sure the longer the post the fewer people read it.

I recently wrote an article for on online magazine that got linked to someone's blog and then "read" by a friend I ran into in the real world. My friend made a point of saying she had seen the article and seemed very interested in it. I took this as an invitation to chat a little about the subject of the article only to find out she hadn't really read it ... it looked long, so it sat in her pile of things to read...but hey, it looked interesting. Well, I guess that's the risk of "having your say"....just because you say it doesn't mean anyone really is reading it....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tearing Up Books

"For their current exhibition, the ArtsTribe
artists engaged in the ultimate in bad-kid behavior: tearing pages out of books...." is the beginning of Lindsay Christians' review of our show in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal.

It's of course a fun, tongue-in-cheek way to begin her article on our work but the show did create a bit of a buzz about the destruction of books. The first comment in our comment book, the first day was a critique on our destruction of books in order to make art. Later commentators in the book actually responded to that comment in our defense. It also came up in our artist talk as a question...

I had a hint of things to come when sharing with the artsTribe group early on, that I intended to take some pages out of the Bible and reassemble them with wax. Now, I was just thinking about the concept of our show which is "books" and the theme of the Wisconsin Book Fest that we opened in which was "beliefs." For me, since I have a relationship to the Bible as I sort out my own personal seemed appropriate to me. My concern was more on how to say something personal and honest around this bigger-than-life book of the ages.

The rest of the tribe looked at me and kind of gasped..."are you kidding? You can't tear up the Bible." It was not, I'm sure, the holy wrath of God anyone was concerned about as much as the reality of the now-iconic controversy of Serrano's "Piss Christ" coming to haunt us. And the fact that there was a guy in Florida who was currently threatening to burn the Koran and raising national ire added to the mix. Our simple little book show all the sudden was getting risky.

Of course that was before Tom decided to burn his favorite books and put them in jars and Jayne was only beginning to think of shredding a book and dunking it in water. Yes, definitely bad-child behaviour. We then proceeded to cut up dictionaries and just about any other book we could the end, no one took much aim at my seven little Bible pages outside of seeing it as an interesting sculptural book-thing.

My piece was first titled "Through a Glass Dimly" and was going off the scripture in 1st Corinthians, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully..." I thought that embraced the mystery I find as I come to the Bible in as honest a way as I could think. For me its an awesome and terrible revelation of God and humanity while at the same time it is a deep and profoundly beautiful mystery.

So the wax, with its translucent film, hiding and revealing at the same time, became a metaphor of my own journey with this book. Some images and marks come out but only as nuances and hints, feelings and guttural experiences.

I later changed the name of the piece to "Faint Glimpses" because I did another book made of glass in the same show and it seemed confusing to call the decidedly not-glass piece, glass, when it was sitting right next to an actual glass piece.

The glass book called "Fleeting Memories" actually ended up relating to "Faint Glimpses," although I didn't make the connection until they were both done and in the gallery. "Fleeting Memories" is a book made up of seven thin sheets of glass that I dipped in wax. So they also have this translucent feel to them. I then wrote a journal entry on each waxed glass plate with a stylus–my private, stupid, profound rants on different days as I was making the book. I pushed paint into the etched words so, at one point, the words were quite legible. I then attacked each page with a heat gun. The color and the wax began to flow–the words coming apart, re-forming, dripping down and fading. To me, the vulnerability of the words was key. Where once they seemed so clear and organized, they reveal themselves finally in this fused state of ambiguity. It seemed like an appropriate way to describe the fragility of my own life-story. Not in a negative, falling-apart way but in this poetic dance-through-time sort of way that reveals the things you think are so understandable and solid one day can be so fluid and fleeting the next.

So as the book of my life, written in my own words, moves in and out of focus, so too, the ancient "book of life" has its own mysterious translucency to me. I realized, as I looked at these two pieces, that I'm vague in my understanding about alot things these days. And its funny, but that has brought a new type of clarity to my thinking.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fast Forward

So...clearly I didn't blog as much as I promised during my July adventure in Vancouver. To my credit though I did create a whole new blog while there called Nihonga Notes where I put up videos and notes on the process all through the class so the students and others could have something to refer to outside the class. So if you want to understand more about the actual process of painting with mineral pigments, take a look. forward to the "now" in my life. We just took down the "Suspended Belief" installation that was up for just the four days of the Wisconsin Book Festival around the Overture Center for Performing Arts rotunda. The "we" would be artsTRIBE is a group of artists and friends I have hung out and exhibited with for the past five or so years.

We waxed and hung over 1000 pages from an old Oxford illustrated dictionary, turning them into these velvety translucent sheets. The theme of the book fest was "beliefs." As we talked, the dictionary seemed to be the one book that honored all beliefs with a kind of equality. Its also a book where we don't generally question its truth. Its the "verifyer" of our facts, you go to the dictionary when you want the final say on a spelling or a definition or usage question. So its the one book we all agree to believe. Its kind of strange to think about.

It was exciting to see the piece go up. We weren't sure if these cream-colored pages would be able to establish their own presence. But we were really happy with it when up. I loved how the pages gently fluttered and twisted. We hung them from very thin threads and the pages were light to begin with, so, with the movement of people and normal airflow, they moved and had this subtle kinetic thing happening.

It caused a bit of a buzz. We got quite a few positive comments. Thousands of people saw it during the four days it was up as the Overture Center was the hub of activity for not only the Wisconsin Book Fest but also for a Jazz Festival celebrating jazz legend Mary Lou Williams and also the exhibition space of over 140 area artists who were opening their studios up for the weekend during the Madison Area Open Studios event.