Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Impractical Labor Studio Tour

ILSSA - Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts - I have written about it here before.  It is a community of people who make art using impractical methods just because we want to - our motto is As long as it takes!

I love ILSSA and its mission so it is extra fabulous that they invited me to participate in their new blog, Markdown.  They are doing a series of interviews/studio tours with members.  Here is a link to mine.  I hope you will take a look and then check out the other ones too.  People are doing amazing things!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Happy Fellow

On New Year's Day, I came home from the Rohatsu sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery feeling quite beautifully exhausted.  We need a new word to describe that feeling, which is being physically tired but with a relaxed, yet sharp, mind.  The next day, I allowed myself to disperse that feeling just a bit by looking at my Facebook page.  A friend had posted a notice about an artist residency in Ithaca, NY.  Maybe it was because the place is called The Saltonstall Foundation, a name that to me says "Boston" not "Ithaca" (Saltonstall is a big name in Boston, with family ties there that go back to the 1600s.  Massachusetts Governor, Leverett Saltonstall's wife, Alice, once famously said, about California, "It sounds lovely but who wants to live 3000 miles from the ocean?").  Naturally my curiosity was peaked.  Then there was just a general feeling that I had been having that I have spent a lot of time lately developing my Zen practice and my yoga practice and my art practice has been riding along in the backseat - enjoying the ride! - but coasting a bit.  So, add to that mixture the special energy that one only gets following Rohatsu and I found myself sending in an impromptu application, because the deadline was January 2nd - no time to over-think this one.

There are times when I have posted grant applications when I just know that it will be a winner.  And there are times when I am fairly certain that I have just done a very important exercise in figuring out something about my work and myself but no money or opportunity will be immediately forthcoming.  That second one is most of the time - there is just a little (or sometimes big) feeling of disconnect inside of me that lets me know that this idea or project or time just isn't quite ready yet.  But on January 2, 2015, everything felt connected.  It's not the kind of thing that one can force to make happen.  But, you can improve the chances by creating the right environment and fixing mistakes from past experiences and by trying again and again.  It's kind of like grant samādhi - when you are in it, you are in it, but if you think you are in it, you are not in it.

A few weeks ago, when the name Saltonstall popped up on my cellphone, I knew exactly why I was getting the call.  I do not say this arrogantly!  I have a mountain of rejections behind me and, no doubt, in front of me too.  No, it was just that I knew that the time was right, the place was right, the name was right, and I was right!  I am very pleased to say that I was selected to be one of the 2015 Fellows at The Saltonstall Foundation, which means I will be working in residence there from mid-May to mid-June.  Here is the list of all the artists and writers who have been selected.

I am very excited about the opportunity that this residency presents.  I have been trying to not plan what I will work on up there but a couple of ideas are loosely floating around in my head.  It is such a privilege to have the time and space to work on them.  Thank you to The Saltonstall Foundation and to Connie Saltonstall who was, yes, born in Boston but moved to Ithaca and who made it her dying wish to support other artists in this way.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Out in the World

Yes, the snow banks in Gillams may still be 12' tall and rising (another blizzard happening right now even as I type these words), but there are other things happening in that part of the world too.  For example, in October, when the snow will have melted and mostly likely before any new snow will be falling, there will be a ginormous fibre arts conference held in Gros Morne, a national park and World Heritage Site.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the face of this great Earth and a fantastic location for this conference.

I have the privilege of leading a three-day workshop as part of the event.  I encourage you to click over here and take a look.  The whole conference looks amazing but, of course, my workshop sounds the most fascinating and wonderful.  You should sign up immediately!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

On Wednesday, I broke up with my Ashtanga teachers.  Like most break ups, this one has been in the works for a while.  As a friend once said (about her own break-up with her partner of many years), "That boat had sunk a long time ago".

I know some people like to cut and run at the first sign of unpleasantness but that is the opposite of me. I hang in there through thick and thin - a quality that is shared by most Ashtangi's, I imagine.  I mean, if you are put off by a bit of adversity, you will not keep going with the practice.  It is a very challenging practice and we tend to pride ourselves on being able to work with what is hard about it.  I mean, that IS the practice in a lot of ways.

I train in a tradition that is related to but quite different from Ashtanga and it has been a juggling act to find ways of making it all fit together.   There are times when everything seems to make perfect sense and there have been times when I wonder that I think I am getting at, dabbling in this and that, especially if by "dabbling" you mean six years of Ashtanga practice, 500+ hrs of Desikachar teacher training, a year of yoga therapy training and, hey, why not add in ten years of Zen practice.  Honey, I am exhausted just writing all that out, so imagine what it is like to keep all those strands together together.  

You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. Luckily I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber. 

Lost my train of thought there...

I am not 100% sold on Ashtanga as a complete system.  It has some serious flaws, actually.  For a good, long while, I was in sync with my teachers as they began to work through those flaws.  They started modifying postures to suit people's individual needs.  They stopped giving extreme adjustments and encouraged us to scale back and really focus on the basics.  Glory days.  At a certain point, however, my teachers began to move towards a solely physical practice - more like being personal trainers.  And that's cool.  But I actually like all that other stuff in yoga, all that mind/body/spirit stuff.  I really believe it.

When I started to ask some questions about the direction we were headed, they replied, "well, everything you do can be yoga."  Yes…but.  But, we train in a very specific way for part of everyday so that everything we do can be yoga.  It won't happen otherwise.  Yes,  you can do squats and work with weights with the mind of yoga, just like you can eat or do laundry or sit on the toilet with a mind of yoga.  But there is a difference between practice and training: I train so I can practice better.

So, the paths that crossed over six years ago uncrossed on Wednesday.  It is a sad thing but part of me already feels a lightness, a happiness to see what will happen next.  There is more to learn.  There is always more to learn.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The After-Party

If, before the exhibition opens, I am full of doubt and wondering why in the world I do this thing that puts my heart and soul out there for all to see and stomp on…

…then, after the exhibition opens, I am full of amazement at just how timid I was and wondering why in the world I didn't stick my neck out more.

Life is short, you fool!  Go for it!

Thursday, March 12, 2015


To Stand in the Center and See All Around is up!  It opened on a cold but lovely evening with a good turn-out.  It is the secret terror of the solo exhibitioner - will anyone come?  There are no other artists to create a buffer crowd.  I had visions of me and the chips and dips mournfully downing the Trader Joe's wine until total despair won out.  But no, people came and even seemed to have fun.

The lighting has been a big question for me.  My wish is that it would vary from complete darkness to enough light to see that the environment is a total fabrication held together with wire.  My skills as a lighting designer are not up for this task so I went with the darker of the two options.  Then I changed my mind and went with the lighter of the two options.  Today, I went back to the darker option.

The thing about the darker option is that one can not see the knit piece at all.  It is just a looming wall of blackness that counters the mirrored walls.  In a way, that is totally fine but it is giving up something.  Likewise, being able to see it better and experience it more directly has plusses but you lose the mysteriousness of the blackness, pulsing with light through the bladders that occasionally matches up with the rhythms of the sound piece.

It's a toss up.

The good news is that I will get to present this piece again in late August up in Cape Breton as part of an exhibition that I am co-organizing at the Inverness Cultural Centre.  One comment that has come up from several people is that they wish there were more rooms to explore.  I have to agree.  There is something about it that calls out for variations on a theme.  I guess my days (and nights) of spinning black Shetland are not over yet.

Friday, March 06, 2015

TSITCASAA (Plan B) - Opens Tonight!

The installation of To Stand in the Center and See All Around (TSITCASAA) has been going really well.  Head Installer at StudioLove aka Finnian has a genuine talent for seeing how things should be put together.  As we looked at the space and laid out the materials, he came up with an idea that saved hours and hours of work.  Yup, raised that boy right, I did!

But no installation goes smoothly the whole way through - I think it is some law of physics or something - and TSITCASAA is no exception.  Yesterday, as the Head Installer and I struggled to put up the lights and the bladders as the ceiling of the space that I have created, it became clear that it was not going to work.  It became clear when the whole thing fell to the ground just as we were about to congratulate ourselves on overcoming gravity through a combination of nails and packing tape.  The thing lay on the ground in a pile and I looked at Finn and said, "I think it is time for Plan B."  He said, "Do you have a Plan B?"

The answer was no but I quickly invented one.  To be honest, it is these moments where art happens for me.  The vision of What It Should Look Like has been shattered, or in this case, collapsed in a pile and I have minutes to come up with something else that will be as good or better than what I had planned.  It is a very alive moment.

As it turned out, Plan B is a good thing.  The lighting, which was not working for me as a ceiling piece is now a floor piece (see, physics again - don't fight gravity!) and it is doing exactly what I had hoped.  The bladders, which would have been a funky ceiling are also now on the floor and they make better sense there.  I am really liking it.

My handspun, hand knit piece that was the start of this whole thing is just one element of many.  It is doing what I want it to do but it isn't really the main focal point.  As I look back at what I had wished for when I looked at those Richard Serra drawings - that they weren't so reflective of the light from the oil stick - I see that my knit piece has succeeded.  It is like a black hole, absorbing all the light and creating an infinite space.  Does it matter that I spun the wool, or even if it is wool at all?  I honestly don't know.   If you only look at the end results, then I really don't know.  Maybe some other material would have the same effect.  But it does matter to me because it is what I needed to do in order to get from my starting place in the Metropolitan Museum in 2011 to bkbx gallery in 2015.  When looked at from that perspective, then I think you can safely say that the answer is yes.

(Pictures are coming!)