Friday, September 10, 2010


Over the past few weeks, I have been preparing an application to the Guggenheim Foundation. It is due mid-month this month. I have applied before and not been successful and even now, as I attempt to write up some kind of narrative about what I want to do, a part of me whispers in my ear "You'll never get this, why are you working so seriously on it? Why are you working on it like you will get it? Disappointment ahead! Beware!"

There's a winning strategy if I ever heard one.

No, I keep reminding myself, you have to act like you are going to get it, feel it 100% while you are writing it. Then, when you post it, or in this case, hit "send", let it go. Plus, disappointment and me, we are hardly strangers when it comes to grant applications. Good, familiar friends more likely.

This application has been a tough one because I am trying to find my footing as I step forward from Knitting Sprawl. All that travel and conversation - what has it added up to? Does it all add up? I have been thinking about how, in nearly every painting I made when I was still painting, there was usually one gesture with the brush that unified the whole piece. If/when that didn't happen, then the piece was never quite resolved. Even now, as my work is multi-media, there is still some unifying gesture that secures the connections between ideas and physical presence, whether it is an object or an event of some kind. Knitting Sprawl has resisted that moment, that gesture. I organized that project to be sprawling, to mimic in its structure the subject that it explored, so it should come as no surprise when it defies all attempts to be summarized or unified. Yet, I want that brush stroke, that little dab of red that Corot used so successfully to make his paintings sing. Sorry friend, says Knitting Sprawl, you took on an entire country and there isn't a dab of red big enough to hold this one together.

So I am letting it be. Instead I am taking up something that was rather peripheral to the project but has been becoming front and center in my life - the question of gifts and of giving freely. One conclusion I did reach through Knitting Sprawl was that my feeling of centerlessness in the suburbs was not correct. In talking to people who lived there and all over, I learned that they had ways of finding their centers - they created them one way or another. I discovered that the thing that really felt alarming and ultimately soul-deadening about the suburbs was that the visual, physical and, in some ways, psychic center is always a shopping center. Huge, sprawling shopping areas with massive, dangerous parking lots, sometimes several of these lining the main artery.

So that's where I need to work.

I have been very inspired by the work of Zoë Sheehan Saldaña. One of her projects, titled Shopdropping, involves her purchasing something at Walmart, reproducing it exactly at home by hand, putting the tags on the new, handmade item and secretly bringing it back to Walmart. She puts it on the shelf or rack to potentially be bought by a Walmart customer who is unsuspecting that it was lovingly made by hand.

Among the many things I admire about that project is that she so successfully subverts everything about Walmart. Just one person doing something this so simple, really. It is a very beautiful, poetic project. It is the gift that she gives to her reproduction objects that turns everything on its head. Walmart is nothing in the face of a gift taking place on its premises.

So that's where I am beginning with my application.

In the meantime, it has been a gift giving season of another kind around here. Birthdays galore!

We celebrated two birthdays last weekend. Lucy did her origami magic with napkins to make a table setting worthy of Lucy G. Allen (famed author of Table Service, 1923. Little Brown & Co., Boston, MA.)

And I made a flourless chocolate cake that has become this wheat-free household's favourite.

My gift to you is to share the recipe. So simple and so good.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" spring form pan.

Put 16 oz. of bittersweet chocolate and 1 stick of butter in a double boiler and heat until melted. Mix well and add 3/4 cup sugar.

While the chocolate and butter are melting, separate 9 eggs. Stir the yolks together and add a small bit to the melted chocolate, mix in to be sure they don't cook, then add the rest of the yolks.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add to the chocolate mixture - first 1/3, folding in gently. Once that is well in, add the rest, folding gently. Don't stir! Once everything is combined, pour batter into the spring form pan and bake until firm, even in the center. For me, this is usually about 35-40 minutes but keep an eye on it starting around 30 minutes.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then release the form. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve with whipped cream if you haven't already given yourself a heart attack.



Jan Morrison said...

Hi Robyn,
Having read your post, I think I'll read it again just to make sure. I'm pretty sure, mind you, but I want to be more than pretty - I want to be right on the button! So wait a sec while I read it afresh.
OK - I might have got it wrong and not even close but for a moment there I thought I saw your daub of red. I think the unifying gesture of your knitting sprawl was exactly that so-called peripheral thing - the lack of centre in suburbia - the LONGING for centre -so well described in Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al.That means, of course, that you looking for connection found longing for connection in its place but well...
You've inspired me to look back at all your posts during the sprawl.
keep on keeping on.

Robyn said...

Hi Jan,

Thank you for that comment. You make a very interesting point....have to think about it....if the longing is there, then my original question of why do people choose to live there (in suburbia) remains unanswered. Or do some people not experience any need for a center? Or are their self-created centers (based on personal needs/desires rather than communal ones) enough?

Ugh - this project!!