Finally forward, into February

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I’m glad to see the end of the second half of January. For me, a large part of it has passed in a literal haze due to more medical, um, stuff. The drug I finally was able to tolerate towards the end of 2015 did what it was supposed to do, but then brought about a problem as troubling as the one it prevented. So I’ve been back on the not-so-merry-go-round, testing new big pharm concoctions, experiencing a slew of old and new side effects. This makes me cranky (and dizzy and lethargic and adds a few scary things, too.) Primary care guy says, “there are hundreds of meds to treat this, we’ll find one!” Right. Each trial is time that I’ll never get back.

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So it’s been difficult to make commitments. There are two lovely projects on hold, waiting for evidence that I’ll be able to handle them (I want to.) Somewhere in there, I turned down an exhibition and agreed to two; neither involve creating new things beyond the tweaking that hasn’t yet happened on my Ragdale work, unless I want to add new work and can. That is also sad (though the old works still continue to bounce around here and there; thanks.) The recent bloglessness is another side effect.

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This one broke, the other is intact. Amazingly, there were no small bits of disconnected fiber.

Today, I am apparently, hopefully, acclimated enough to feel relatively normal. I even managed to finish carefully removing the invisible-when-wet milkweed fiber (that I had poured seven weeks ago on my last evening at Ragdale) from its fine mesh backing. It’s a delicate process I’d begun before all this started. I am still loving the gorgeous crude tangle of fibers.

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Something tells me this year’s harvests will be interesting.

Vivi continues to be a wee bright spot. We’ve been to puppy school twice now; Paul’s been the driver (and takes over if I get wobbly.) She’s the youngest beastie in the class and she’s doing well. She still makes me laugh daily, and both she and Lupe are sweet and warm and snuggly when I’m woozy; so is Paul. The past weeks have mostly been no fun, but my lovely warm pack has my back.

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First class (entirely.)

Teaching, or rather being a thesis consultant at home, went very, very well. Working one-on-one as a thesis advisor was my absolute favourite part of the years of grad school teaching, and it was wonderful to experience a brief version of that once again.

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We worked from Thursday morning till mid-day Monday. It couldn’t have happened without Paul’s help as pup-sitter, and the extended-weekend time frame worked for him as well. My ‘advisee’ was able to complete eight test objects and to make five reusable armatures, as well as to gather notes and ideas for more series she’s working on, and ways to further her sculptural ideas beyond thesis. We mostly used the basement paper studio, though on fiber-beating day she spent time in the quieter, warmer, more comfortable second-floor studio, making armatures. We wrapped it all up with a Q & A session on Monday.

The main reason this worked so very well was the excellent caliber of this particular person: mature, focused, inventive and motivated. She  embraced the experimental nature of the processes and was looking for exactly what I could help with in a short, intensive time period: a springboard towards her own further investigations. Moreover, her aesthetic was one I was able to entirely relate to, and she had the astuteness to contact me initially, hammer the parameters out with me, and to find funding for the whole thing. On top of it all, she took Vivi’s daily intense interest in her shoelaces in, um, stride. I wasn’t joking when I told her she would be a hard act to follow for future private study candidates.

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Now, as I segue back into my free year (or two), there’s more to think about. Will I do a similar private tutorial again? If so, I’d want to do so during the summer, when cooking and larger sheet formation can happen outdoors.  I’d also need to set up a firm selection / vetting process.

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In the meantime, I took no photos (it was a private tutorial), so you have to make do with Vivi, who’s busily doing what puppies do: getting bigger. We begin puppy school in ten days.

Here we go: 2016

Happy 2016!

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I’ll soon be beginning the year by trying something new that is also an old, familiar and favourite way of working. I’m teaching privately, here at home, doing a tutorial / advising intensive with a sharp thesis candidate from an excellent MFA program located in another state. We shaped this by e-mail, she applied for and received funding for it, visited me at Ragdale, and we’ve kept in touch. She’ll stay nearby and work in my tiny studios all day and some evenings.

I won’t violate privacy by writing about it any more than I would write about about a thesis advisee or class if I were in an academic situation. What I will (likely) make note of is the new, experimental component: how teaching works in my small, quirky studios, and how well it interfaces with our daily lives. I’ve been spending my non-puppy time clearing space, more diligently than I would do just for myself. That feels absolutely great, and I’m truly looking forward to this. We begin in a few days.

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The rest of 2016 will also be unprecedented: my hiatus. There will be no workshop / class teaching, no applications, one residency, and a very (very) scaled-back exhibition schedule. If I travel (I have no current plans to) it will be for myself. I have written a ‘base list’ of things I want to address. These are not ‘new year’s resolutions’ nor is the list (at all) deadline or production-driven; it’s more about broader concepts I feel I need to tackle at this point in my life. While I’m not going to publish the list, I’m sure I’ll be writing about it, item by item, as the hiatus progresses. (Once again, what I am aiming for does not coincide with much of what artists are taught to do, nor how they’re taught to think about their careers.) I do have some broad end goals, and am already seriously thinking of extending the term to two years. We shall see, and that is also a phrase that sums things up.

As the year closed out, (S)Edition made a ‘best of 2015” list at My Modern Met. I’m quite honored. (Ironically, though, it is a work that was completed in 2009 -2010, which touches on one of the items on my list; time for looking at that later.)

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Whatever else 2016 brings, it will also be the Year of Raising Ms. Vivi, which continues to be a joy. She slows me down, warms my lap (and heart), makes me laugh out loud every day, and I’m fascinated by watching her perceptions and personality grow. I wish for you all something or someone who brings those delicious factors into your life.

Good, and recently quiet.

I’m hoping your holidays were grand, and continue to be so this Friday. I’m popping in to wish you peace, health, warmth and above all, joy on into 2016.

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Joy for us at the moment often has to do with Vivi, of course. She’s still happily surprising us. She is a natural out on leash; I think it’s going to be easy to train her. On the 20th, we tried our first pack walk which went wonderfully well in and of itself. There was an exciting bonus for Vivi: she also (simultaneously) met two puppy-wise big dogs: a calm husky-collie-shepherd mix and a giant gentle Great Dane, plus their human, dog-loving owners and their two pre-teen daughters. She loved up all the humans, played with the dogs, ran with the kids, who took her leash and about 3,000 phone snaps in turn. (I forgot my camera and phone.)

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Growing, coat changing.

The next day, our family celebration took place in a suburb about 50 miles west of here. We were lucky in that everyone was able to fly, drive and converge on the same day; it’s the first time we’ve all been together in awhile, and it was very fine, warm and much fun. Lupe stayed home (her preference, as revealed by previous visits.) Vivi, however, was in heaven, literally bouncing off seven superbly dog-savvy humans and two large young adult lab mixes for the entire day, with only a very brief nap in her little portable pen while we humans ate. She was a total party girl, so wound up. She showed me how jazzed she was by tearing around me in wide, full-speed, deliriously happy circles each time I took her out into the big fenced backyard. That evening, before we were out of the driveway, she was just as wholeheartedly asleep in my lap, and stayed that way all the way home and the rest of the evening, only waking to perform her outdoor duties. She was even a bit subdued the next day, the solstice. (I did take my camera to the gathering, but was too busy to use it.)

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In the no-snow winter city, especially at night, she is camouflaged.

We had a quiet lovely solstice, Wednesday I did all the mad holiday dinner shopping, and then we settled into our quiet home pack celebration: pie (a galette) was made Thursday, a fine, easy-cooking delicious dinner happened on Christmas day, and we had some special dog treats, pack walks, pup play, and even bits of sun. Boxing day was dreary and rainy outdoors, but cozy and fun and relaxing inside, eating leftovers, watching Vivi hilariously attempt to herd multiple tennis balls. It’s her favorite indoor game. I hope your days were just as lovely.

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We are outside 8-10 times a day. She goes up nicely but cannot yet be coaxed to try to descend on her own, so she gets carried down. I’m so glad the steps are now sturdy ones, if ugly.

The minimal work we’ve done mostly involved keeping the kitchen running well, and I chose to almost finish the upstairs unpacking and studio rearranging, in short comfortable increments at my leisure. There are surfaces visible again, and soon some of the new artwork will be out to look at, think about and in some cases, tweak. I took one final holiday day today. Tomorrow, back to work for the short interregnum week, preparing for an interesting January, and the new ground of the year beyond.

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Someone in the neighborhood has a light-up holiday peacock. I like this.

Little old Vivi

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(You knew it wouldn’t be long before the blahg turned to Puppy, right? I’ve been with her for six whole days now. We are in that nice peaceful pre-holiday lull, and I’ve been unpacking, cleaning, hanging lights, and making puppy-proof spaces in the house, beginning with my office.)

Little Miz Vivi is sweet and saucy and a plump, lighning-fast, tumbling tornado by (short-duration) turn. Her virtuoso skill at this stage of life is napping, which she does with total abandon, particularly in her preferred spot: a human lap. (This is very fine for the human, too.) She’s a good bit of work, like any baby of any species, but utterly delightful. During the decision-to-adopt process, I did stop (for a second) to wonder whether we were moving too fast, adopting so soon again, but I’m already very glad we did. This wee pup has moved us solidly back into the 32,000 year-old* human-canine communication continuum.

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I think I needed to dive back into that familiar and treasured stream quickly, perhaps simply to realize it was still there. Within a day or two of living with Vivi, Paul said, “She’s showing us just how truly broken Chance was.” I agree; in fact, I admit to shedding another few tears for him, for the terror that shaped so much of his life (and ours) that no amount of love nor effort could cure. Viv is completely innocent, free of that. Of course, part of Chance’s troubles came about simply because he didn’t have the kind of early puppyhood that Vivi is having now (and had since shortly after her birth, being raised with her litter in a home in foster care.) We’re making sure she continues to be socialized, gets out into different situations; she’s met all the neighbors, has been to the vet and the pet store, and people have come (and more are coming) to the house to meet her. She and Lupe will travel out to the family holiday celebration with us (4 dogs, 2 cats, at least 6 humans.) She’s at her most impressionable period for the next several weeks. Even so, it’s clear that her instincts are solidly tuned to the ancient language.

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For instance, when Vivi is afraid, like when Rocky (a huge young mastiff who lives two doors down) barks his deep bark, unseen behind the neighborhood trees, she runs straight to one of us and sits with her back to our legs. She is saying, precisely, “You have my back.” In Chance’s puppy class, we were encouraged to teach our pups to do that very thing, to come to know that place as their safe spot, especially when we introduced them to new things. Vivi goes there instinctively. Chance never, ever did, and he never really had a concept of safety. He only had slightly reassuring places, and he still had fear-frenzy times in each of them. There are many, many more examples we see daily.

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She tears around hilariously, but ‘checks in’ frequently.

I’ve begun clicking with Vivi, casually starting ‘school’ and she gets it, beautifully. But we are also – with house training and a few other things – simply using positive-reinforcement voice cues and she understands those too.

Though I’ve lived with a few decidedly strange dogs in the past, I had never consulted a trainer until Chance. Vivi will go to puppy school, and it’s nice to know that we have backup if some odd quirk surfaces, but I somehow don’t think we’re going to need it. Vivi has the ancient bond in her veins, and so do we. When she sees people, outdoors, in an office, or coming through our door, her tail wags instantly: “Hello! It’s me!”

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*”An analysis of the (genetic) samples indicated that the grey wolves split from…dogs approximately 32,000 years ago. But then the researchers went further—they also looked at the genes responsible for such things as digestion and metabolism and even neurological processes. They then compared the dog genes to the same types of genes in humans. In so doing, they found similarities that suggest humans and dogs have evolved some of the same traits over the same time period—hinting at a possible communal relationship. And that, the researchers say, suggests that dogs might have been domesticated as far back as 32,000 years ago.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-dogs-domesticated-earlier-thought.html#jCp

Afterglow and on

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A sneeze after the lovely holiday party.

I came home Thursday, a day early.

The second session at Ragdale passed in a good whirly concentration of work. Performance / dance artists Julia Antonick and Jonathan Meyer, with sound artist Joe St. Charles, form a group called Khecari. They held an open evening rehearsal of a durational work that moved between both Friends’ studios. We were free to walk in and out as we chose. I went in with an open mind and was surprised to see that over an hour had passed when I left. It was a wonderful, unusual, intimate experience. It was great to talk with them afterwards, too, trading the perceptions. The readings were conducted the way I like them best; two nights in the Ragdale House, with the readers’ chair, drinks, popcorn, a fire. There was much good work, and I had captioning for all, with two appreciated twists. Doro Boehme shared a laptop that was cued to this page, so not only did I have her words, but her collaborator’s images trickling down the page. Karen Villeda read a powerful piece in her native Spanish, the way she writes, while Eddie worked the projector to show an English translation. This worked for me exactly the way having the printed captions in English does; I can hear the rhythm of the reader’s voice, the projection of emotion and attitude and emphasis, while the text translates the word-sounds I cannot distinguish. I liked that everyone got to experience that, besides being transported by the piece itself.

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Wednesday afternoon, Ragdale’s great new resident liason Eddie Morfin brought some paintings and images relating to his graphic-novel-in-progress out to the Meadow and we had a steady stream of visitors, residents, staff, and a couple friends, for a couple of hours, and some good talk of our own afterward.

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After everyone had left and the daylight made its early winter close into night, I cleared the floor and made one last thing to work with at home. I mixed all the rest of the cleaned milkweed with a saved bucket of water from my last vat of pure milkweed sheets. The vat-water contained all the tiny fine leftover fibers and a still-useful dollop of my dwindling supply of pmp formation aid; I added more. Wet cleaned milkweed is virtually invisible on the black. I slowly poured it out on the privacy-screen-turned-support, trying to see the swirls of longer fibers, glimpse the texture of the finer pulp to make connected patterns. Next day, I just rolled it up still attached to the netting. When it’s removed, I’ll have a combination of banner-ish, wispy, hol-ey, long pieces and tufts of random fiber, both of which are fantastically strong. I really liked working with the poured pulp on this piece:

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The title is ‘Critical Distance.’ In this work, the poured sheets also got some minimal joomchi treatment; I loved what happened, how quickly the milkweed tightened and toughened further. The lovely Jane Fulton Alt kindly came out and shot it for me at a slightly earlier stage. I made some small additions, and it will get some further tweaking. So will this:

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Its title is The Trouble With That Theory, Volume II: Stinkhorn.

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This one needs only a little tiny bit of tweaking on the base. The working title is Fleuron (autumn). I am liking working this way also. It’s white mulberry from my yard.

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There are two more ears, made the same way as the new additions to the Ragdale installation.  It’s quite different than the last several constructions, though outwardly they remain the same. With these, I’ve attempted to build in a deterioration sequence. I’m thinking that the outer covering will eventually begin to peel and then fall away, revealing the strong but delicate-looking inner structure, similar to Fleuron’s but denser, tougher. At least one is headed for our scrubby, single backyard evergreen tree, so that I can observe its aging, take it further next time.

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There are other bits that came home as well, including a lovely pile of small white milkweed sheets. As always, the thinking that went on was just as or more important than the results, and the friends made and new work experienced in progress while yours is also percolating, and being cared for so warmly during the process. Ragdale is the touchstone place, where everything is easy, warm and familiar so that we can traverse vastly different spaces each time we are there. I’m honored to be a part of this short tribute to Alice’s enormous legacy.

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Now all the moving in of stuff has been done, though not the moving it back into place. I’ve had two days of Lupe walks, Paul talks, making food again, and a series of daily & nightly nap laps interspersed with a lot of trips outdoors, a whole lot of high-speed running around, and a great deal of fun playing with, “This toy! No that toy! Oh, this one!” as Vivi begins to find her fit into the pack.

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Small, growing sparks

Sorry for the radio silence here; it’s been an intense two weeks.

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I went home between sessions, but unexpectedly missed the ZIA Gallery opening. We had a record snowfall for a first snow, about a foot where we live, much more in the western suburbs, much less just a few neighborhoods to the east. But out running errands the afternoon of the opening, a van spun out in front of me and just missed hitting me; I said aloud, “OK, that’s enough.” and stayed home. I did get this little grouping, collectively titled ‘Liminal (Phase Two)’ to the gallery and got to see most of the show a few days before. These were all done at Ragdale while I still had to prop up my knee and limit movement.

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The return to Ragdale for the second session was beautiful with all the snow; it melted a couple of days later. I had completed a piece that I just didn’t like much before the final  days of the previous session. But, I  really liked parts of it; as a combined whole, they just weren’t speaking to me, not even in the way I had originally envisioned the piece doing. I gutted it the first week, struggling, trying different things. Then came all the shootings and all the vitriol on social media; I kept my exposure limited, but still tried to keep informed about what was actually happening, and to read any good suggestions for solutions, while keeping to the studio. The piece began to take on some of my angst and some of my emotion over the uselessness, and I let it; that was the spark the work needed, not to look away from those things, but to allow them to speak. It’s become a small installation. A couple more works are in various stages; my goal is to complete them all before I leave, to take home finished work. Somewhere in there it snowed again and melted again.

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I worked long, long hours, especially last weekend, because I knew I would miss a good bit or all of this one; I went home Friday and just arrived back here a few hours ago. Tomorrow is the big Ragdale holiday party, and afterwards, we grow from a small group of residents to a full house for the final week.

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This was my ‘torso’ for Printwors’ Return of the Exquisite corpse, done before I left for Peters valley last summer. Milkweed on the brain even then…

Friday was the opening of this show at Printworks, with its attendant sadness. I had planned (since last spring!) to go, but had an important appointment beforehand. The timing of that was pushed back, the process took quite awhile, so I also (sadly) missed that opening. But I will make a visit after the residency, and also attend the memorial. Sid was a very nice person.

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Just waking from a nap. She has a pale blue swirl in each eye…

But the reason I missed the reception was compelling: meet Miz Vivi! She is eight weeks old, an Aussie mix, adopted from the same shelter as Chance, but she’s only spent three days there; she was born and raised in foster care. We decided to adopt her while I was home between sessions; we fell for her, hard, even though the timing was not ideal. Paul volunteered to be a single-pup-caregiver during this week to make it happen.  No, she is not a ‘replacement for Chance.’ That is utterly impossible. But she is her own spark, and will grow to become the cure for the dog-shaped rent in the fabric of our lives. And she is so sweet! When the shelter aide brought her to me, sitting on the floor of an enclosure, she came into my lap with tail wagging madly, crawled up immediately to lick my face, and fell asleep in my lap on the drive home. I’ve just spent a delicious, joyful, and funny 24 hours with the whole new pack, and for once, it was a wee bit difficult to leave to come here.

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