Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is the Meaning of This?

 It has been a busy time around here.  April month was jam packed with activity.  I felt like one of those incredibly boring New Yorkers who start every conversation with "I have been soooo busy..."  Snore.  So, my apologies to all who had to endure such dull company.  Things are lightening up now, although the departure date for Newfoundland is swiftly approaching and that brings its own scheduling.  It will be manageable, however.

To celebrate gettin' 'er done, Lucy and I attended an art making workshop at Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn with Jody Hojin Kimmel Osho.  Hojin is a ceramic artist as well as a monastic and she regularly leads art retreats up at Zen Mountain Monastery.  She was at the Temple for part of the past week and led this workshop yesterday.  The theme was "What is the meaning of this?" and she continually asked us to set aside our assumptions and ideas and to "not know", just experience and work directly.

I have known Hojin for several years now and we have a nice kinship in our both being artists.  For some reason, however, I never even considered that I should take one of her workshops.  I mean, I am already an artist, right?  Well, duh!  What better reason to take the workshop!  I was pretty happy that Lucy decided to come as well.

I am sharing some of my drawings not because I think they are brilliant artwork.  In fact, it was a lovely relief to not feel any compulsion to make anything "worthwhile".  I just made marks and enjoyed myself immensely.  These were simple exercises that anyone can do.  Please try them at home!

We got started with some movement and then making marks based on the direct experience of the sounds we could hear.  Then we explored taste.  Have you ever tried to draw taste?  Try it!

This was carob.


Then we worked with light, drawing lemons.  I hadn't drawn like this in years!  It was so fun!

After our lunch break, we did some "juicing" as Hojin calls it.  We made marks using flower petals, spices, coffee grounds and whatever else came to hand.

Then, using the juicing technique and other materials, we made a piece that was a direct expression of love (whatever that meant to us).  The purple comes from some petunia petals I found on the street outside the Temple.

It was a wonderful day of just making marks and enjoying being with the other participants, soaking up Hojin's down-to-earth wisdom and great sense of humour.  The perfect antidote to the crazy month of April.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Motivation: Two Types of Yarn

Every two weeks, I participate in an online "Professional Development Group" discussion with other yoga teachers from the Desikachar tradition.  There are not so many of us and the style and substance of yoga that we teach isn't what most people think of when (or if) they think about yoga.  So, we gather together, online, under the guidance of Chase Bossart, who founded The Yoga Healing Foundation in San Francisco, CA.  We talk about teaching strategies, marketing strategies and how to integrate Patanjali's Yoga Sutra into our teaching.  Usually there are about 8-12 people participating and the discussions are always extremely interesting and very helpful, especially for a newbie like myself.  It is quite a remarkable thing to have access to the collective wisdom of this group.  

I really look forward to each meeting, although when we move up to Newfoundland soon it is going to be even more of a stretch to be awake and alert during the discussions.  They begin at 5:30 Pacific Standard Time and run for an hour and a half.  Currently, that means 8:30 − 10 p.m. EST, which is manageable although since I get up at 4 am on Thursdays, I can be a little bleary-eyed by the end.  But come Newfoundland Standard discussion won't start until 10 p.m.!  We'll see how coherent I am then.

But why even mention this?  Well, for one, if you teach in the Desikachar tradition and want to participate (and I highly recommend that you do!), please join us.  Click on Chase's name above and send him an email.

And second, because the meetings are done via webcam, we can see each other but we can't see all of each other - just head and shoulders.  For me, these meetings have also become my best time to get some spinning done.  And no one is the wiser!  

Here is what I made last Thursday evening:

I had already started one bobbin of single ply and I managed to finish the second bobbin and ply them, all during the meeting.  I have really considered whether or not I am not listening as well as I might be if I were not spinning and I decided the answer that I am probably listening better.  Or so I want to believe.  In any case, it is a bulky two-ply in BFL/silk and it sure is pretty.

And what of this?  This is what resulted from my having a gift certificate to Purl SoHo that was burning a hole in my pocket.  I have had almost for a year and after dithering about which and for what, I decided on some of Brooklyn Tweed's Loft - enough to make this sweater (Ravelry link).  I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by Jared Flood, the founder and head designer at Brooklyn Tweed a while back.  He is very articulate about why he has created this yarn and his motivations are all excellent.  I joyfully hand over my cash money (and gift certificates) to support what he is doing.  This is my first time using the yarn and I am looking forward to working with it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Did They Think That Because It Was Free, There Was Nothing Left To Lose?

The Board of Trustees at The Cooper Union announced yesterday that they will begin charging tuition for the first time in over 100 years.

The rumours had started a couple of years ago that this might happen and the reasons why reveal some of the worst of human nature - greed and arrogance are at the top of the list.  And like so many other stories, the big wigs who made the poor, misguided decisions will pass along the consequences to those who least are able to pay.

A very good piece about why this is such a sad thing is here.  ETA:  Here is a very good history of the school, how it came to be tuition-free and how it got into its current financial mess.

I have heard people tell me to quit my belly aching and get real - everyone else who went to college had to pay tuition.  But, like the author describes in the linked post, I was able to take lousy, low paying (but flexible) jobs that allowed me to continue to make my artwork instead of needing to make money at all costs because I had huge student loans to pay off.  This is no small thing!  In fact, my student loans were paid off two years after leaving Cooper from my savings as a waitress and a worker in a group home in Rhode Island.  This should not be taken lightly!  When I look at where many of my fellow classmates from Cooper are at this point in our lives, it is shocking how many of us are still making art so many years later.  We have defied the odds.  Big time.

So maybe there was something to the tuition-free idea that goes beyond simply having a nice go of it as an undergrad.  And here I have to note that I still had to pay NYC rent as a student, along with food, materials, etc..  My family had no means to support me and I was as poor as I ever was during those years - buying orange juice was a rare luxury.  I even received some financial aid from Cooper during those years, remarkable as that might sound.

It is a sad day, not just for Cooper and its community.  Not just for the city, whose texture has changed so much that being a young artist here is nearly impossible, but for our society as a whole.  Tuition-free meant many things...only some of them were related to money.  We are all losing something here and we have no idea just how much.

Battle Ground at The Old Stone House

Tomorrow evening is the opening reception for Battle Ground (Revolution IV) at The Old Stone House in Brooklyn.  The reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

From their website:

Battle Ground explores the pathos of the Battle of Brooklyn, stimulating collective memory, evoking parallels between past and present, and focusing on the complexity, moral ambiguity, and devastation of this important Revolutionary confrontation.   The word “revolution” circles around us, forming the early consciousness of our country.  History, also cyclical, repeats itself, and when it is forgotten, it haunts us, lying dormant in our collective memories.  In 1776 one such haunting event unfolded across a wide swath of what is now Brooklyn.  The battle, which is often forgotten,  was, in the words of Walt Whitman, a “resolute defeat.”

The battle-haunting still rages around Proteus Gowanus and the Old Stone House.   The fields and marshes of 1776 are now a post-industrial urban landscape, and the Gowanus Canal is a hotly contested Federal Superfund and development site.
Featuring Artists:  Paul Benney, Diane Bertolo, Sasha Chavchavadze, Robyn Love, Eva Melasa, Duke Riley and Lance Rutledge.
Battle Ground will be on view at The Old Stone House until June 24th.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transcending Potash

The cockcade making continues apace.  I am getting a little weary of making cockcades.

There, I said it.

I have one more installation of them this week and then I can temporarily retire as the busiest cockcade maker in Queens.  I don't actually know if that statement is true but I am going to stake my claim, consequences be damned.

This Thursday is the opening event at The Old Stone House for Battle Pass:  Revolution IV.

More on that later.

Today I have been doing some serious brainstorming about an upcoming project that will happen in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in early July.  The AKA Gallery invited me to be one of three featured artists as part of their Street Meat Festival, which will celebrate public and street art (July 5 − 7).  They invited me several months ago, pending funding.  Recently, the funding came through and now they need my project description.

I have been letting the idea of a project for Saskatoon simmer in my head for these many months.  I have a lot of faith in the simmering process.  I don't really look the idea in the eye but just keep it lightly in my brain and sooner or later something boils up to the top.  Sorry if this bursts your bubble about the creative process but that is how I do it.  It does take a good dosage of faith because it involves a large amount of doing nothing active towards realizing the project.  Deadlines can mess with the process but I have had a surprising amount of success with just simmering.

For this one, however, the clock started ticking a bit loudly in my ear and still no project idea came forward.  I decided a more pro-active stance might be necessary.  This being a site-specific piece, I thought it might be good to learn more about the site.  I have been to Saskatoon and I loved it.  I loved Saskatchewan in general, but I needed some more information than just a general warm feeling towards the place.  So, like a good 21st Century artist, I looked on wikipedia.  Wikipedia provided me with some facts - some words - that I threw into my simmering pot of ideas.  One was that Saskatoon was founded as a "dry" community in prairies in 1882 by the Toronto-based Temperance Colonization Society.  Another was potash.

Oh yes, my dears.  It is all coming together now.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DIY Cockcades

Yes, I have a bicycle in my living room.  I know it will miraculously find a place to reside at some point.  If I just click my heels together three times and say "there's no place like home..." all will be put to rights.  Meanwhile, a small assembly line was created in the shadow of the cycle.

I had managed to put together two Be A Rebel or Just Look Like One/DIY Cockcade Kits for the opening of Battle Ground last Saturday at Proteus Gowanus.  I still had four more to make up before I could cross that item off my To Do list.  

The kits are for sale in the PG gift shop.  And what do you get for the money?

Everything!  Well, everything you need to make a cockcade:  ribbon, pins, an already-threaded needle (worth the price alone!), a center piece on which you can write your own rebellious message, a felt backing and instructions.

All kept neat and tidy in a lovely paper mache box.

Available through June 30th.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Battle Ground at Proteus Gowanus

Should you find yourself in Brooklyn over the next several months, I hope you will stop by Proteus Gowanus, the unique artist space at Union and Nevins Streets, just spitting distance from the Gowanus Canal.  Their year-long exhibition theme is Battle and the current incarnation of that theme is called Battle Ground.

Bettle Ground features work by Paul Benney, Peter Bonner, Sasha Chavchavadze, Eymund Diegel, Robert Gould, Katarina Jerinic, Andrew Keating, Christina Kelly, V. Komar & A. Melamid, Angela Kramer, Robyn Love, Eva Melas, Duke Riley, and Robert Sullivan.

I have two pieces in the exhibition.  One is Give Me Your Hand Old Revolutionary, pictured below.  It takes its name from the first line of Walt Whitman's poem about the Battle of Brooklyn titled Centenarian's Story.  Each letter is spelled out with a black cockade.  Black cockcades were one of the (few) ways that the Rebel soldiers could be identified.

The other piece consists of six DIY Cockcade Kits, which are for sale in the gift shop.  Everything you need to create your own rebellious cockcade!  

One thing that I love about Proteus Gowanus is that it was born out of a belief that artists can and should be supportive of each other, not just exist in this bizarre world of competition that the prevailing art market seems to encourage.  It is a very practical response to the question of how do we really make this art making thing work?  At the same time, it is idealistic because of the exact same reason.  I love that there is room for my DIY kits and for the more conceptual work.

All the artists in the exhibition have a lot to offer.  Here is a piece by Eva Melas, who collects discarded coffee cups off the street and refashions them into art (click on the photo to see the text better).

Battle Ground will be on view until June 30th.  Stop by and see it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Process Not Product

Here is the physical manifestation of Saturday night:  approx. 150 yds of very soft Merino in a thick single ply.

The biggest challenge in getting the bike/spinning wheel combination to work was to make it so that a person could pedal at a normal rate without making the bobbin spin too fast.  The bike guys kept saying, "we need to gear it down!"  We (they) spent hours thinking up ways of doing that but it always ended with the need for something to be made that was impossible given the timeframe (48 hours) and the budget ($0).  Finally, one guy grabbed a dremel tool and engraved a groove in the hub of the rear wheel very carefully while someone else pedaled.  Then, he filed it in a similar way.  And voila!  A beautiful, elegant, simple solution.  We put the drive band into the groove of the wheel and connected it to my wheel and there are basically a 1:1 spin ratio.  In fact, you actually had to pedal fast to make it work.  I wouldn't use SpinCycle for any of the shorter staple fibres - the speed is too slow (just in case you were thinking of creating your own - stick with the long staple fibres, like Merino).  A technical point, but important nonetheless.

People have been asking what I plan to do with the yarn.  I think my answer is nothing.  I will label it and begin an archive of skeins produced in this most wonderful manner.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

SpinCycle - The First Installment

You know when 1 + 1 = 10000?  Well, that is what it was like at the World Premiere (that is a joke, btw) of SpinCycle.

All throughout the creation of this project, I have been waiting for it to fall apart or otherwise self-destruct.  None of it made sense - why was I making spinning more complicated?  What was the point of the bicycle?  And how in the world did it actually manage to pull together?  Yet, somehow, someway, the thing came together and I was giving it the test drive on Friday afternoon.

Can all my projects have a rehearsal?
Come Saturday evening, people began gathering even before the appointed hour.  We had two tables of yarn - generously donated by Lion Brand Yarns (can we just take a moment and appreciate their support for artists.  I mean, I know they get publicity and all, but I am not the only artist that they have helped out with yarn donations.  They deserve our appreciation - thank you Lion Brand Yarns!).  We set out the yarn and the instructions for finger knitting.  

If you finger knit it, they will come.  Within minutes we had a crowd - old, young, men, women, all shapes, sizes and colours.  By the middle of the evening, hundreds of people had given it a try and many of them had settled themselves down on a chair or the floor and were deep into it.  It was a sight to behold.  In fact, here!  Behold it!

This was taken before the evening officially began, so it was when the crowd was still small.  One extra cool thing was when one person who had just learned began to teach those around them.  I had recruited two volunteers to teach - the brave Shannon Hayes and Miranda Norris.  I barely saw them all evening since they were three- and four-deep in the crowd.  Shannon had volunteered to teach and then, about three days later, emailed me to tell me that she actually didn't know how to finger knit.  Never let a lack of skill get in your way, I always say.  She did wonderfully and, in fact, was still helping people well after I had already packed up my contraption.

Speaking of which, the contraption worked.  It worked beautifully.  People pedaled the bicycle and it turned the bobbin and I drafted some white merino and, yes, we had yarn.  But there was more to it than that.  As people signed up to pedal, I greeted them and invited them to help me spin and to tell me a story.  I had prepared some prompt cards, so people were not put on the spot to create something out of whole cloth.  Then they began to pedal and we looked at each other in a mirror I had propped up on the floor.  I could see their face and they could see mine but we couldn't see our own.  Among the surrounding chaos of finger knitting and people walking by, our sharing the story via the mirror became an intimate space.  We were the only two who could hear what was being said - and people told some incredible stories.  It was beautiful.

At the end, I again shook the person's hand and thanked them for spinning yarn with me and sharing their story.

This was my first time making a performance with such a ritualized beginning and ending.  Usually I let things take their natural course without any interference.  This time, it felt like the interaction needed more of a structure.  Ultimately, it felt like each encounter was complete.  This project will be re-created at an upcoming one-person exhibition at Northern University (in South Dakota) next spring.  I am excited to see how it unfolds in another context.

I did ask a friend to video tape some of it and I will post it here when I do some editing.

Many thanks to The Brooklyn Museum, especially Lauren Zelaya, for inviting me to participate and working with me on this piece.  Also, again to Lion Brand Yarns for their donation of yarn, and to Todd Cowdery and Shawn O'Hagan for excellent ideas that helped to shape the piece, and to Bob Lanaghan, who came through with extra Majacraft drive bands at the last moment (just in case mine broke).  Thank you all!  

And thank you to all who came and pedaled with me and shared your amazing stories.  It was a wonderful night!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Different Kind of Charm

Lucy used to keep a blog written under a false name for the doll who supposedly wrote it i.e. the name of the person writing the blog was not even the name of the doll.  In fact, the name was female and the doll was male.  Or as male as one could make out from a velour shape filled with rice and stuffing.  I loved that blog and she even started having a following of people who had no actual relationship to her.  She coulda been an internet phenomenon.  But she was, you know, eleven.

Now she has started a new blog:  Lucy's Museum.

It isn't the same innocent charm of Sodia Pop, but it is most definitely charming.  Check it out.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

What is an Island Without the Sea?

I am yours as the summer air at evening is
Possessed by the scent of linden blossoms,

As the snowcap gleams with light
Lent it by the brimming moon.

Without you I'd be an unleafed tree
Blasted in a bleakness with no Spring.

Your love is the weather of my being.
What is an island without the sea?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A Little Yarn Music

That is approx. 632 yds of lace weight Shetland that you are looking at.  When I tell you that it looks even better in person, please believe me.

Colours by Widdershins.  It is available in my etsy shop.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Just As They Should Be

Because clearly the correct thing to do before a Big Project debut is to go away and sit in silence for a week.  So I did.

In fairness, I planned the week in silence before the opportunity for the Big Project arrived in my inbox.  While it may seem to some that I am always running off to sit still (no names will be mentioned cough, cough finnandlucy cough, cough), in fact, I barely do more than the minimum expected from formal students in the MRO.  In any case, the week had been put on the calendar and planned for all around, so I did it.

The morning before I left, I needed to deliver a critical piece of the bike/spinning wheel puzzle to Rommel (please, pronounced romMEL, not ROMmel - he is not a German general).  When we first met and I explained the project to him in a way that was, no doubt, circuitous and slightly rushed and breathless, he just looked at me and calmly said, "Don't worry.  I fix things.  It's what I do."

He was so calm and so certain and steady, that I didn't worry.  Rommel will make this happen.  It's what he does.  My own idea of how it would happen was quickly nixed due to the fact that I actually understand bicycle mechanics not at all.  Cycling tenderfoot!  My gratitude to Rommel and his ability to fix things was deep and sincere.

Rommel also very calmly told me that the date of my project (April 6th from  7 − 9 p.m, btw) was the due date for his first child.  So happy!  So calm!  I offered my hearty congratulations and felt certain that Rommel would weather new fatherhood just as steady and grounded as anyone ever did.  However, in my own rushed and breathless way, a wee bairn of a thought entered my head (a thought that Lucy later told me I was a selfish jerk for having, which is true but I did have it) that my project could be slightly derailed by the early arrival of said first baby.  Yeah, I know.  It was the height of self-centeredness to even draw any line between my piddling project and the arrival of anyone's first child, let alone the personification of gentle sweetness himself (Rommel).

As I was saying, three paragraphs before (see? I am a bit circuitous in my storytelling), Rommel and I made an appointment for me to deliver this critical piece of the bike/spinning wheel puzzle on Monday morning before I headed upstate for the Monastery.  I was there at the appointed hour, but no Rommel. Up until this very moment, everything had been falling into place with this project and I had been pinching myself that it was going so well.  And then, no Rommel.

I had a sneaking suspicion of what was going on.  Babies, even first babies, have been known to arrive a little early.  They care not for project deadlines and anyone who thinks that they might is a selfish jerk, like Lucy said.  Actually, not a selfish jerk (Lucy was specifically referring to me, not making a blanket statement).  People who think that babies will respect deadlines are simply deluded and quickly find a way of giving up making and keeping deadlines or they live a very frustrated life.

So, after making some last minute arrangements (thank you, Dan), the piece was delivered while I sat in silence upstate, the baby was born, the project continues in some way, shape or fashion, Rommel is a dad, I will be at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday, and things are (as they always were) just as they should be.