Thursday, December 8, 2016

Encounters


A detail from the crocheted afghan my mom made me for my 50th birthday.

I'm in a haze of post-residency spaciness. That state when you carry the goodness of connection and reflection into your daily life once you return home. Trying to hold on to it and embrace it for the long term.

My first week back from an almost 7-week absence, I'm spending most of my time tying up loose ends, picking up artwork and reconnecting with my colleagues.

Yesterday I found myself at Haymarket Station sitting next to an elderly woman crocheting an extremely large and colorful afghan, and in this post-residency state of mind, I decided to strike up a conversation.

It was delightful. She was very animated and I learned that a friend taught her to crochet at 16. She is left handed and has a unique technique. This orange, green and white granny square afghan is for her grandson's girlfriend. She's already made two for the girlfriend's unborn baby, so this one is to keep the mother warm when in hospital. She has 11 grandchildren who all live nearby except for one who lives in Washington state. The granddaughter from the west coast was home recently to visit the grandmother's sister who was ill with cancer. The sister just passed unexpectedly early according to her prognosis. 

I offered condolences and shared my mother's experience with cancer, her 6.5 year battle that involved more than her share of suffering, hoping that this would provide comfort for her sudden loss.

All this time talking she never looked up from her work, except once to abruptly interupt herself and tell me she loves my hair.

The train arrived, she hugged her mass of color and stood up. While waiting for the doors to open she wished me a happy holiday and asked for my name. Then I asked for hers, Anita.

My mom has 11 grandchildren, her name was Anita, and she loved to crochet. She often would tell me how much she loved my hair, especially since I take after her.

I know I'm in a jet lag induced haze, but this encounter has been haunting me since. Whether spectral or real, I treasure this connection made with my mom who I sorely miss.

Anita wearing one of her 'handmades'.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bamboo Sprouting



I sit here each day in the company of bamboo plants edging my porch. They look primordial and talk to me as beings with humanlike gestures and individual personalities.

It’s a grass, a flowering perennial evergreen. It is sustainable, rapidly self propagates and renewable. It is naturally antibacterial, efficiently converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, is naturally thermally regulated and stronger than steel by weight.

It’s long life makes it a Chinese symbol of uprightness. In India it is a symbol of friendship. Several Asian cultures believe that humanity emerged from a bamboo stem – both man and woman from a single split branch.

In Vietnam, it is a symbol of the soul representing ideas of hardworking, optimism, unity and adaptability. The Vietnamese have a proverb ‘When bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear’. Meaning that they will never be annihilated because if a previous generation dies, children will take their place.

For me that proverb could also be about growth and maturity, the painful process of acknowledging ugly truths and working with them. To be upright in spite of the elements that suggest otherwise. I’ve spent this residency alone with the inspirational words of so many that I’ve had the gift of time to read, and alone with my personal vulnerabilities and alone from the chaos that is happening at home.


To grow into one's own doesn't happen overnight. In spite of how we value spontaneous epiphanies, these awakenings are dormant under the surface waiting for the crack in the foundation to let the light in (thank you Leonard Cohen). Cracks that usually happen during tumult and strife, and according to Buddhist thought, require attention rather than avoidance to dissipate their hold on us.

I'm halfway around the world to find space and time to reflect on all of this. Then there was the election. The results brought many of us out of our complacency to face the reality of what the other half of our country believes, and it’s chilling. This is a good time to look to bamboo for inspiration. To help us remember to stand upright, be strong, go forward and sprout blossoms.

This sculpture, in progress, is inspired by a young bamboo shoot from my grove. 
The fabric is cut from women’s blouses from the market, the stitching is meditative, 
the stuffed form is an abstraction of bamboo posturing as a human. Rebecca Solnit, in her book 
Hope in the Dark, talks about change. How it seems like it’s spontaneous 
but the roots already exist underground and that when these transformations 
happen it's rarely remembered. To continue the metaphor, my seeds were planted 
before I arrived and now they may finally be finding their way to daylight 
in spite of all the shadows. We’ll see. 



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Alone Together


My residence at Compeung is down the street from Compeung Lake. There’s a narrow road along the banks of the river where I ride my scooter into the village. Tucked into the woods along the way you pass shrines, a thai massage parlor, a noodle maker and this wonderful thatched roof patio where, depending on the day, a smiley gentleman sews grass roofs or weaves baskets. My host told me that this maker welcomes visitors and so I set out to see what he is up to.

Unable to speak Thai or in this case the local Lanna dialect, I used my weaving loom to introduce myself. He was curious for a moment, tossed me some bamboo shavings, and then got back to work. I sat for a couple of hours weaving and watching his steps and it felt curiously safe and familiar.
He was making reeds for baskets from a large bamboo stalk. Tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, he’ll be gathering grasses so that the next day he can sew some grass roofs. I’m hoping to catch him when he’s sewing so that I can learn. I’ve seen him working from the road… it will be great to get up close.

Simple tools and materials used to take a green bamboo stalk and convert it into the pliable flat reeds used to make baskets. He starts with on knife to shave away the green skin of the bamboo. A second knife shave off rough joins in the bamboo to make it smooth... plus as a splitting tool to break up the strips of bamboo lengthwise. Back to the first knife to continue shaving the outer edge and to shave away the soft pith from the inside.  All performed with a belied simplicity and ease.
This is the closest thing to authentic making that I’m experiencing.  All other opportunities involve staged showrooms and tour buses. In the mountain villages, the reality of daily life forces most people out into the fields or to the city for work… only the physically disabled or elderly stay home to look after children and work on folk handiwork for the markets.

Enterprising mobile shops travel from market to market depending on the day of the week. This was at Saturday market in Doi Saket village. Notice the black and white mourning bunting on the office building in the back.

The notion of maker communities is a romantic one that I have the privilege of living and believing in as a westerner. It is not so romantic here, most people do it out of necessity to eat and put a roof over their head and most are working alone.

An artisan giving demonstrations at a local umbrella factory. A commercially contrived experience but one where local artisans have the opportunity to sell their wares.
A week before I arrived the beloved king of 70 years passed away. Chiang Mai is cloaked in white and black and according to locals the news is all about ‘the black and white’ too. There is a serious political undercurrent among people who feel uneasy about their future as a democracy.  It is unlawful to speak about the royalty or the government with punishment of arrest thus inhibiting individuals from talking to each other and organizing for fear of reprisals.
 
A small shrine on the banks of Compeung Lake. The king is said to have visited here once thus deeming it a place of stature and respect. 
Brings to mind Ann Hamilton’s interview with Krista Tippet where she opens with the question “Where is it that we can gather and kind of be alone together?” She says there is so much Us and Them and we need to think about how we can all exist in the same space.

Noodles made daily and hung to dry. 
The street food is handmade and crafted in home kitchens and then brought to market. Here you can see eggs that have been emptied, fried with herbs and then placed back inside the shells and skewered before roasting on an open grill. Sticky rice is a big part of the diet at every meal and can be found wrapped in banana leaves, right next to the roasting bananas and typical Chiang Mai style sausage.
Today, I’ll continue with my naïve pursuits of connection. I’m looking for makers in the broad sense. Makers of community here at Compeung, makers of artisan food in the market and makers of roofs ­– to sit in the company of each other, alone in our foreignness, but together in our shared place and time.
  
Ong's mom with another resident Alex who is here with his girlfriend Manon from San Francisco. Ong and his family are the makers of this sanctuary. The meal times are communal, spiritual places with homemade thai dishes three times a day. The mutual love and respect among family and friends is genuine and deep.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Touchstones


My first days here at Compeung were spent reading, listening to podcasts, sleeping and eating home cooked thai food. A wonderful respite after an exhausting journey.


For one of my first adventures I found my way to the Warorot Market in Chiang Mai. I kept seeing these enormous spools of white cotton thread. It seemed they had a function more than as white string because they were always situated next to other ceremonial items like candles and lanterns. Compelled, I bought some and brought it back to Compeung where I learned from Ong that it is called Sai Sin and is used in Buddhist ceremonies, weddings and funerals as a conduit for connection.


At larger ceremonies there is often one big ball of string which is first tied around a Buddha image before being passed along to the monks in attendance. From there, the thread is passed along to everybody else in attendance. With each individual holding their hands in a wai, the thread is looped around each person. The thread may be strung around a person’s fingers or it can be looped around their head. The important thing is that the thread links everybody to the monks and the Buddha image. The chanting of the monks and the associated merit is then symbolically passed along the thread reaching all of the people in the congregation. 

Click here to read more about Sai Sin.

Later that day I was listening to an interview with Ann Hamilton conducted by OnBeing’s Krista Tippett. She mentions the importance of cultivating a space that allows you to dwell in the ‘not knowing’. How ‘a thread has to come out and it comes out at its own pace’, and ‘how we need to trust the thing we cannot name’. All of this is uncannily relevant for me given that I’m currently very far away at a residency with the sole purpose of providing time, space and experiences to enrich my next steps.

Her interview got me thinking about my own sculptures and how they show the presence of the human hand but through embroidery and other process oriented needlearts techniques. Hamilton inspires me to push this idea of 'embodied knowledge' and create entities that express human touch as simple abstractions that communicate through the material of the human body.


This brings me to what I started playing with at Compeung today.  I’m finding rocks on the grounds around my house and removing them carefully so as to not disrupt their spaces within the soil and fauna (a heroic act in the land of scorpions and centipedes). I then wrap each of them with the white string I brought home from the market. 

Symbolically, Sai Sin thread adds merit, protection and strength as it motions in a continuous circle. Personally, wrapping becomes performance, a meditative ritualistic act that 'takes information at the pace of the body while moving in space'.




When complete, I return them to their original location and in the exact footprint from where they were found. Each day I’ll add a few more. I consider these to be blessings and have been calling them my Touchstones. They’ll remain installed after I leave, the string will fade away naturally just like with the Buddhist ceremonies.






Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Over 65,000 Steps... and then some

Large mural in Lower East Side. An arresting, lifelike image that captures the energy of the area.
It's tough to detect the real people from the illustrated versions.

I had the unexpected good fortune to spend a few days in New York. With so much to see it's always a challenge to choose but given that the gallery scene is quiet in August I decided to focus on Museums.

I found myself showing up to exhibits about human impulses with expressions of intense passion, articulate renditions, materiality and an over the top obsessiveness. Works that talk about mortality, identity, alienation, transformation, and sense of place. I was heartened by the authenticity of expression and the unabashed emergence of each artist's true self.

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett /
Once Something Has Lived It Can Never Really Die

Two exhibits held at the American Folk Art Museum, each based on the art of Alabama outsider artist, Ronald Lockett. Lockett's work is strongly linked to his experiences living in the American South addressing subjects of racial, economic, and political unrest. He had an intense impulse to create, and without funds for materials, he would use what he found in his environment like wood, rusted metal, chainlink fence etc. 

 Compelling assemblages from metal, grates and leftover paint. Lockett produced over
350 artworks in ten years. He died young of pneumonia as a complication of AIDS.
Above: April Nineteenth (the number). Below: Timothy.

I was particularly moved by the video of Lockett speaking about his work
as 'the one reliable force that keeps him grounded in life'. He also talked about his
determination to be an artist against the influences of his family and society.
The video does a great job of showing the intensity of his passion and his strong empathy
for all living beings. 

A complementary exhibit includes artists whose works, like Lockett, reflect on the themes of
mortality and vulnerabiltiy. One of my favorites was Sandra Sheehy. Sheehy's Untitled 2015 (above)
is one of her intricate sculptures that fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. They're made of feathers,
glass bulbs, beads, laces and yarn and feel like ritual or sacrificial objects.

The Keepers


An exhibition at the New Museum that is dedicated to the act of preserving objects and to the passions that inspire this undertaking.

"The real point of collecting, though, may lie beyond practicality, or desire, or accident. 
People surround themselves with things to compensate for perceived deprivation past, and as a hedge against fear of future want. They encase themselves in environments that will magnify their view of themselves in the world or protectively narrow it, and, either way, keep thoughts of dissolution at bay."   -Holland Cotter, New York Times


One of the most compelling collections was one that we weren't allowed to photograph. It was a heart wrenching series of simple drawings depicting the events within Auschwitz in approximately 1943. They were documentary in style and sketched with simple materials due to lack of access. Found in a bottle outside the gas chamber, it is surmised that the artist hid it there on his way to extermination, determined to have the horrific accounts of inside the camp be documented. 

The Teddy Bear Project by Ydessa Hendeles is composed of over 3000 family album photographs
of people posing with teddy bears as well as many antique teddy bears under glass.
The artist establishes the teddy bear as a metaphor for comfort and points
out the relationship of humans with their transitional objects of affection. 

Denteduras by Arthur Bispo do Rosario, a Brazilian artist who was spent five decades
in an asylum after reporting that he'd been visited by Christ and some angels.
He used unraveled clothes, rubbish and found objects to create tapestries,
ships and other offerings in preparation of judgement day.

The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1916-1996) Insurance Clerk from Vienna, 1993-2008.
An installation of tabletop-scale models of imaginary Swiss buildings that were rescued from
the trash pile of a junk shop. They're made of everyday materials like cardboard,
matchboxes and magazines by an insurance clerk from Vienna names Peter Fritz (1916-1992).
Nothing else is known other than they don't seem to represent any existing buildings
and are assumed to be constructed from his imagination.


Transitional Object (Psychobarn)

The juxtaposition of a piece of Americana architecture against the Manhattan skyline is very striking and makes the point about the human impulse to cling to certain fixed relationships with their objects of affection. The exposed scaffolding in the back, a reference to the stage set of the movie Psycho, was a disappointment. I'm not sure why, maybe it shattered my fantasy of what I thought I was looking at, and maybe that's the point.

This year's installation on the rooftop deck of the MET. A large-scale sculpture
by Cornelia Parker inspired by painting of Edward Hopper,
the classic red barn and the mansion from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.


Divine Pleasures: Painting from India's Rajput Courts

According to the catalog "...the works on view are meant to move the soul and delight the eye",
and that's exactly what they do.

This show was an unexpected treat. I spent hours with magnifying glass in hand absorbing all the lush surfaces, exquisite detail and vibrant colors. They are sensuous in material and narrative. The devotion and warmth energizes the spirit. I found them to be very moving and couldn't help but to return several times during my visit to take it all in.  

"'The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove' is among the most famous painting from this series. The elegantly embracing forms of the Divine Couple glow against a dark background, filled with mystery and promise..."
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper


Manus x Machina

As unlikely as it may seem, this show about high fashion slides perfectly in the line-up of everything else I saw this weekend. As a presentation about the reconciliation of the handmade and the machine-made, the material-based refined artisanry of haute couture serves as a perfect complement to the rawness of found object art,.

"...Typically, the hand has been identified with exclusivity and individuality as well as with elitism and the cult of personality. Similarly, the machine has been understood to signify not only progress and democracy but also dehumanization and homogenization... the show's intention is to liberate the handmade and the machine-made from their usual confines... releasing them from the exigencies of the fashion system into the hands of fashion designers for whom they serve as expressions of creative impulses."

"Flying Saucer" dress, spring/summer 1994.
An inventive design capturing the energy and character of sophisticated pleating techniques. 

Issey Miyake for Miyake Design Studio.  Courtesy of The Miyake Issey Foundation
Photo: Nicholas Alan Cope


Uniformity

An exhibit at The Museum at FIT explores the history behind a variety of uniforms while considering social roles and influences on high fashion.

"There is an inherent dichotomy in uniform design - between powerlessness and authority, and between the group and the individual..."


Pennsylvania Railroad trainman uniform hat, circa 1943.
The style with a flat, columnar shape and short brim is base on a military 'kepi' hat
and gives the wearer an air of authority. Plus, it always helps to identify yourself!



After clocking in over 65,000 steps, I collapsed on the train home and listened to a couple of podcasts one of which was Design Matters with Debbie Millman talking to Alison Bechdel. Beckdel, author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother is someone I've come to admire these past few months. She is fearless in sharing her vulnerabilities and profound epiphanies.  This interview is about how her identifying herself as a lesbian when she was young led her into a career as a cartoonist and renegade individualist.

"I became an outlaw at a young age which gave me the creative freedom to do whatever I want..."

She talks about how her work is her life. Visually her books have a belied simplicity due to their graphic nature but once inside the narrative, you witness her intelligence, compassion and search for truth.  It is honest, erudite, well informed and real. I admire her ability to get to the nut of the matter. It's much more difficult than it seems.

Design Matters, Debbie Millman talks with Alison Bechdel





This brings me to the other reason why I was in New York. I needed to secure my visa for an extended stay in the Kingdom of Thailand.  This October to November I'll be attending a residency at ComPeung in a rural village of Northern Thailand just outside of Chiang Mai

 It is both exciting and terrifying to plant yourself halfway around the world but it is this experience of feeling 'outside' that stimulates the artistic process. I'm attracted to ComPeung because of their mission and feel honored to be invited.
  
'Encouraging artists to explore and discover - not only new ideas, techniques, and networks, but also themselves as human beings through the process of creative activities and everyday living - the exchange of ideas and experiments on the interdependence between art, artists and society.'

My plan is to interact with Thai maker communities, to spend time with myself, and to connect with others with heart & hands in the hopes of finding a shared authentic voice.



Ganesh, the Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles.
Photographed by me this weekend at the MET 


Sunday, July 31, 2016

New FiberLAB Schedule!!



Solar dyeing with Coreopsis, Marigold and Zinnia from my garden!

We have had several inquiries about our plans for FiberLAB this Fall... so I'm excited to announce the new schedule.

Also, I’m offering a series of drop-in ‘Labs in the weeks leading up to the next session. These will be singular meetings where we can catch up, review where we are with out lofty summer objectives :), and work on the progress of your projects. You can sign up for one or all three depending on your needs and schedule!

In addition to our usual attention to project development... Week #1 - August 16 - will have materials for shibori wrapping... Week #2 - August 30 -  will have some depots brewing... (Aug. 23 has been cancelled due to a schedule conflict)

Summer reverie is a necessary process for me to develop ideas and gain traction for the rest of the year. This summer has been fruitful with all sorts of weaving and dyeing experiments. Can't wait to share it all with you.

Here’s the info:

FiberLAB Fall Session:

Weston-  
Thursdays, Sept. 8, 22  Oct. 6
10:30 am - 1:30 pm
First Congregational Church, Weston MA
280.00

Somerville-
Saturdays, Sept. 10, 24  Oct. 8
10 am - 1 pm
Miller Street Studios, Somerville MA
280.00

FiberLAB Drop-Ins (minimum 3 / maximum 8)
Tuesdays, Aug. 16 and 30 (Aug. 23 has been cancelled due to a schedule conflict)
11 am - 2 pm
Note Change in Time

Miller Street Studios, Somerville MA
100.00/day or 280.00 for all three

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Preserving Place

One of my experiments from my time spent at Craftwork Somerville this past weekend. Amy Stein's workshop Backyard Bundles provided me with yet another approach for us to capture and record nature.  These flowers are dyed in relief on paper that bathed in an onion dyebath.

This August FiberLAB will be holding a retreat in Gloucester called Stitching Nature. We will be working in the airy and spacious Lanesville Community Center with access to hiking trails at Dogtown Commons and close proximity to the ocean.

Each morning there will be demonstrations on various techniques for surface design, innovative approaches to traditional needlework techniques, printing, dyeing and material exploration. The goal is to experiment and open our minds to new approaches that we can add to our toolbox for future projects.

Ecodyeing is a philosophy that embraces ecologically sustainable plant-dye methods that use renewable resources and do the least possible harm to the environment. For me, an added bonus is that one connects to where they happen to be in a particular moment in time. Like capturing sunshine in a jar.

 

The afternoons will be independent study with guidance and coaching. One may choose to play with  many different studies, or to work on a singular project. It is an open curriculum with much depth for people who are curious and love to explore.

On day one, after our morning demos, we will hike the woods collecting windfall, and anything else we discover, to cook in our dyepots over the course of the week. Each evening will be an opportunity to walk the woods and the beaches to continue our collecting. Nature will be our muse and the studio will be our laboratory.

Hapazome print of an iris petal on muslin created by Amy.

Using Nature as our inspiration for color, design, form and concept, we will create using both manufactured and found materials from our environment. Fibers, rusty bits, plant matter, printmaking, ecodyeing, felting, wrapping, crocheting, wire, embroidery.... so many possibilities... there's something for everyone to sink their teeth into. And summer in Gloucester will be rich in material for us to work with!



We will take time out of our routine to discover our place, ourselves and establish new directions for our work.


Please contact me if you need assistance with housing or any other questions about the curriculum. 
And check back often for more images!