Friday, August 26, 2016

End and Begin Again

Feels like I just arrived but, in fact, it is almost time to leave.  

My love affair with Newfoundland has had some rocky moments (is that why they call it The Rock?).

14 years and counting.
 I think of my time here in three parts: creating The House Museum, running The House Museum and recovering from The House Museum.  I think it is fair to say that I almost stopped loving Newfoundland because of THM.  It was so intense to live inside an art project - with two children! - and to deliberately immerse myself in the community in a way that was forced rather than developed organically.  I don't regret doing the project or how it played out.  On the contrary, I think it was very important for me as an artist and for the place where it happened.  But there was a price.  Or several.  
Eleanor the Cat's gift.
 One price, among the many, was that I stopped knowing why I came here, which is kind of funny since the whole theme of THM was "why are you here?".  By the end of it, I had no idea.  The project ended and I was a little embittered about some of the reception it received.  My friend Colette died and with her went our shared dream of a growing artist community on the North Shore.  I am not really a "vacation home" kind of person and it takes two and a half freaking days to get here.  So...why?

At Brake's Cove on a gusty day.

But then, this summer, I felt it again.  This place is the place I was meant to live in.  It is in my bones and every cell in my body.  The weather, the landscape, the people.  Mine.  I don't want to leave.  I have that feeling like I am being torn from my mother's breast.

Aaron's Arm hiking trail, Burgeo.

Mad new skillz.
You don't mess around when you feel that way.  You listen and follow.

Listen and follow.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Impossible Mountain

She is saying something
and it is very powerful
but it is not in any language
that you or I can understand.
And if we could understand
we might go crazy.

She is talking about every single thing that has ever happened.

It is so impossible to hear
that you have to be
an impossible mountain
bursting from an impossible ocean
to hear it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Material as Reliquary

Detail from Mother/Daughter, 2016.  Embroidery thread and hair on cotton, 14" x 18"

From a recent application:

My artwork is about experience, both public and private, for both myself and the viewer/participant.  Obviously there is my own experience of making the work, which is sometimes at the center of the piece, such as in some of my laborious, handmade works where part of the premise of the piece is its very handmade-ness, the process of making, the meaning of time versus labor, and the appearance of the artist’s hand in the work.  Sometimes I begin with that and then offer it outward by inviting the viewer to become a participant in the labor, to devote some of their own time to the project, to include their hand in the final piece.  And sometimes I step back once the piece has begun and almost obliterate my own presence so that the project can be carried along by experiences of others.  I become a catalyst between the idea and the viewer – the spark that sets the experience in motion but then gets dissolved in the process.
 What this looks like (because I am, after all, a visual artist) varies.  It has looked like a mile-long, handknit road stripe laid on a street in Dallas, TX.  It has looked like a house museum for tourists and locals to interact on the western coast of Newfoundland.  It has been hand-dyed, handspun yarn knit into hats by people of all ages and backgrounds, shared among each other and with homeless women and children in the Bronx.  It has looked like over five kilometers of handknitting installed by a highway in South Korea.  It has looked like a fun house created in a university gallery in South Dakota.
 More recently, I have been experimenting with subtler ways of presenting this idea of how we record our experiences for ourselves and each other.  Most of my work over the past 15 years has been increasingly outward-looking even, as I mentioned, to the point where the artwork is entirely dependent on the participation of the audience and my presence is no longer necessary or visible.  Now I am curious if a similar result can be created via more inward-looking means.
 As I have been stitching down locks and strands of hair that once belonged to Lucy (when she was about eight I think), I have been thinking about how the materials themselves can be the container for the experience.  Lucy's hair is an expression of her life as an eight year old - what she ate, how she slept and played and felt - it's all in there.  To me, it feels sacred to work with such materials: material as reliquary.

Monday, August 08, 2016


Sir TKV Desikachar passed away yesterday after a long illness.  He was the teacher of my teachers and it is testament to the strength of his teaching that I feel like I knew him too.  Their stories about "Sir," as his students called him, reveal him to be a humble, deeply knowledgable and realized human being.  This morning, I am thinking about how they described him teaching to an almost empty room at at Yoga Journal conference sometime in the 90s.  It made me catch my breath - here, a genuine acharya, offering his profound teaching and everyone was flocking to whomever was the latest superstar at that moment.  Still, as they describe it, he taught his class wholeheartedly.  Perhaps as a good follow-up to that story, my teacher Chase likes to remind us that Mr. Ds definition of avidya (which often is translated as incorrect knowledge or delusion) was "I know."

Chase also said that one of Sir's favorite chants was in English, done to the same svara or melody as "śanti, śanti, śantih."  He would chant, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."  To me, this sums up his wisdom.  One might be tempted to think that it was simple, indeed so simple as to be easily dismissed.  But don't be fooled!  Don't be fooled.

Mr. D....Sir.....

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Surprise, But Not Too Much

Been reading a book titled, A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek this summer.  His beautiful question is, quite simply, what is beauty?  Or perhaps, is the universe inherently beautiful? A Nobel-prize winner in quantum physics, he has been studying the relationship between mathematical ideas and the universe for decades and his scientific work has led him to this question.

When I heard a conversation with him on the radio one day, I had one of those moments when I thought that scientists were finally catching up with what people knew back in the day of the Buddha.  We already know this stuff - it is written out quite plainly!  But, you know, western scientists need to figure it out for themselves.  In any case, to me, it all seems right at the intersection of art and yoga: perception and understanding the true nature of reality.  And, it is expressed in every major work of art ever made, across genres and disciplines.  How fascinating to delve deeper into the why and the how of it from another perspective.

One of the things he states early on is (to paraphrase) that mistakes are our best teachers.  Our human eyes and brains are always looking for symmetry and have developed patterns based on seeing relationships between things, remembering them, and expecting them to appear again.  When they do, the met expectation brings a sense of pleasure.  When they do not, we wonder why and inquire - thus expanding our understanding of things.  Unless things are so unexpected that we can not make any sense of them, in which case we just see them as "noise".  As Wilczek says, we like surprise but not too much.

He is quick to point out that what is too much surprise to us, as humans, might be just lovely to another species, which means our universe is more like a multiverse.

See?  It's all quite beautiful!

Monday, August 01, 2016

One Thing Leads to Another

Before I left New York, my Zen teacher casually suggested (is it ever casual?) that I start a sitting group here in Newfoundland.  As I began to make inquiries about potential spaces to do such a thing, I found myself agreeing (eagerly, mind you) to substitute teach yoga classes for a woman who teaches in Corner Brook.  If I picked up her classes, then I could use the studio for free for the sitting group.  Deal!  Of course what I didn't realize is that she teaches a hellava lot of classes each week!  Meanwhile, I had already inquired with another woman who owns the other yoga studio in Corner Brook (yes, there are two now!) and she happily gave over her classes so she could go on vacation.  Perhaps I should have noticed this trend?  In any case, this is how I found myself teaching eleven classes last week and ten this week.  As much as I truly love teaching and especially here where people seem more open to trying new things, I have learned that ten classes/week is too many for me.  A friend in LA teaches more than double that - sometimes seven in a day!  He also drives a there you go.

Anyhoo, in between the inhales and exhales, I posted some pictures of my handspun yarn on Facebook and, as a result, received a very large order from a new yarn store opening in Santa Cruz, CA.  The yarn pictured above is but a fraction of what needs to be made.  I am working away on it in the evenings mostly.  I am making a variety of plys and colors to see what the market will bear.  I also convinced her to take a couple of carded batts and handpainted rovings to see if the spinners of Santa Cruz are interested.  Testing the waters, you might say.  

Somehow I am working more here in Gillams than in NYC.  Go figure.