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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Extending

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Not much to say, except: things are moving along so beautifully out there in the beloved Meadow Studio, the knee still has its quirks but is better, and: I am staying at Ragdale for another three weeks, through December 11. Yes!

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That was written last Thursday; I meant to post it Friday evening. Then, at dinner: the news of Paris and then the disturbing realization of the lack of coverage on the similar killings in Beirut. And then of course, the ridiculous anti-immigrant, pro-gun backlash, some from people I expected it from, some from others who deeply disappointed me.

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I kept away from the social media screen as best I could, took refuge in the studio, worked well with swirling, streaming thoughts that offered no resolution coursing through my head. I thought of how I don’t really like us as a species. We are far, far from being the superior organisms on the planet that we believe ourselves to be. I thought about how many times I have been certain that we are on the brink of self-immolation in the 60+ years I have been alive. I thought about a great artists’ book I saw once, listing all the wars for each year in recorded in human history, and the terribly tiny amount of time when there weren’t any. I thought about how climate change, which contributed to the Syrian crisis, might actually, finally do it, allow us the annihilation we appear to crave. I thought about nature, going on about its business in spite of us, going through its cycles, its seasons of regeneration, fruition and decay that comprise its language. Plant researchers have revealed that not only do trees communicate with each other, they offer warnings freely to their species, regardless of type; a pine will help an oak. I thought about how I did my ‘duty’ to humans and allowed a young dog to be destroyed because he feared us, and in fearing us, was judged to be a threat. Was he not correct in his fear? I thought of so many things.

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I made and installed new ears, thinking about them listening for just the slightest bit of sense from our species, for the recognition that we are not apart from the planet nor each other. On most of the projects I have going, I’m working with both raw and refined fiber in renewed, beautifully crude ways, taking it down to its essence. A tangled, complicated web, appearing so fragile, so ephemeral, yet tough and resilient in nature, because of its interlocking, its involvement: each strand dependent on the others.

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That was written on Monday. And now, we’ve had the readings and the open studios and a “supper club” dinner with several interesting architects, and a fun group thrift store visit. People are beginning to trickle away as of tonight and early tomorrow. This was a lovely good solid group of women here. I’m looking forward to the next group too, even knowing that I’ll need to confront my deafness yet again as I (slowly) get to know them. I’ll go home this weekend, to exchange comfort with my small pack, to refresh.

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I’ll be out in the world Saturday, when ZIA Gallery’s annual group show opens. It’s supposed to snow. I’m spending Thanksgiving here. On December 4, The Return of the Exquisite Corpse – the last exhibition of the year and for awhile – opens at Printworks in Chicago; and on December 6, I will be in residence for Ragdale’s holiday party, when some of the world comes here.

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Bliss

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Calligraphy is everywhere on the prairie and in the woods.

I’m home; got in Friday during the late afternoon, very tired; unloaded the car yesterday, am not yet unpacked. The final 10 days of the residency were absolute bliss; I pleaded a bit and was temporarily excused from all but the most urgent outside admin till this week. And so I was able to let myself surrender fully into the flow. Not only was I able to I get to that place that seemed so far away during the first bit of the first residency, I went way, way, way beyond it.

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There was a second piece that insisted on being made. The final Saturday morning, I brought food for lunch and dinner out to the studio in the morning and then spent eleven straight hours of what can only be called perfection, quietly bursting through any last shred of trepidation to a complete understanding of all the work, where it is headed, and most importantly, what it means to me and why.

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The overbeaten milkweed was terrible to cast with, at least with the sheet formation method I had to use (it did, however, make lovely sheets; I air-dried several to use, and restraint-dried some in the wee press.) But, oh, the beautiful pale glowing color!  Moon-like. I’m not giving up yet, but further experimentation was best left for the home studio.

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The final week wasn’t without a few physical struggles in the making, but it was still wonderful, purposefully moving forward, happily solving those problems, fully engaged.

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It was a time like the beginning of my work with paper, in this same geographical location in the old Meadow Studio: like music. What the current Meadow Studio gives me, among many other gifts, is the ability to spread out, switch processes, work on several things simultaneously, and to see all the work in relation to itself, the space, the prairie, and: my worldview. I repeat: bliss.

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(Final tally: just under six weeks in residence, not counting time spent at home, seven new works, counting the ear installation. Only two are ‘finished’ – one of those gets a wee bit more tweaking then heads out into the world in ten days – but I know exactly where each piece is going!)

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This Single Species (working title) is by no means finished, and will probably never be seen again this way, but I had to see them together on a wall for myself. They will not be for sale for a long while, if ever; they’re going to be tweaked, then move around.

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The Flow

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December! Things are moving along wonderfully and peacefully in the studio.  I met most of the new group on Monday (one person arrived Sunday night – an artist I went to school with! – and the final two arrived yesterday). All interesting folks, and of course everyone is happy. I went home again, after Wednesday night’s dinner for Thanksgiving, and cooked us a lovely, stress-free holiday dinner: we had things to celebrate! Now I stay put till the residency ends.

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Before I left, I added some color to another piece, and resolved and built a rather complicated odd armature, which is kind of funny because the shape is quite simple. Needing to extract it after casting made it complex. The piece has been asking to be built. I came back Friday at noon and made a fat post of heavy sheets for it.  Saturday was beautifully warm, so there was a long, muddy but lovely prairie walk, then a late night casting and embellishing the piece: so far, so good. There are two more points at which it could fall apart, but that’s how I roll. (Then again, if it all works, the armature is adaptable and re-usable; a series could happen.)

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Now that most of the leaves are gone, you can see the ears from the studio door.

I came back to the Barnhouse wireless near midnight to discover that ZIA sold a significant piece from the group show, as well as a few small studies. Excellent! Sunday, it was misty, drizzly and wet. I did the extensive prep – building a single-use armature – for another floor-cast piece. Yesterday was another late night, casting it in one go. This rather dull list-blog is meant to say that I am in heaven, with only a tiny bit of admin (due this week) to interrupt this beautiful, peaceful flow.  (Today, the sun is out: hello, prairie).

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My world. And a summer-worthy sunset.  Ahhh.

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Progressing

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Beautiful but quite cold; January temps.

I was lax with the camera last week; it was a time of being too personally engaged to think of framing it through a lens.  On Monday and Tuesday, I got out the dyes and finished a piece, while taking others further. I’m pleased with what’s been happening. Wednesday, I met the very lovely man who funded the Prairie fellowship. We had a fine visit (with Linda-prepared lunch!) for a couple of hours.  Thursday, I held an open studio, and all the residents who remained at that point came out, in spite of cold bitter winds; it was warm and fun inside. Friday, we all left, and I came home to a happy pack (and the literally termed ‘excellent’ conclusion to the situation we’ve been dealing with for most of this year: hooray!)

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As yet untitled above, in progress below, along with much more. 

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Saturday evening I attended one of the nicest opening receptions in a long time, the annual end-of-the-year group exhibition at ZIA. What made it special was the fact that though I was engaged in conversations from the time I walked in to the time I left, they were with no more than three people at a time, and I could actually participate in some meaningful (and fun) dialogue. Sunday, I had a sweet restorative quiet rainy day just being with my pack.

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He’s calmer when I come and go, but while I’m home, he wants to be aware of my every move. 

But I’ve saved the absolute best for last: yesterday I drove up in the snow that’s now blanketing everything and I’m back at Ragdale for another three weeks!

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Been waiting for this.

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Big bluestem after wind and snow.

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And still.

here now

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There was another prairie burn; same quadrant as last year, and another in the woods. This time, I didn’t need to wait for smoke; I saw the vehicles and knew what must be happening.  Jane Fulton Alt was there, and it was lovely to talk with her and also to watch her work.  And to watch it all begin.

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It’s been a struggle, but eventually I got there: losing track of time in the studio, diving through that portal. There was imagery that just wouldn’t leave me, resulting in an experiment that might not have worked, but those?  Those are what excite me, involve me, take me to that place.  And it worked, so I made another, and will make at least one more. Ahh. So now, I’ve no words for the best of reasons.

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I rushed to get these ready and installed on the last warm day; still waiting to get a shot in the snow (it disappears quickly.) I wanted one on the fallen section of tree, but could not get the ladder safely positioned; too many huge fallen branches all tangled together.

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A few days ago, I went home again overnight, to switch out supplies, see my pack and luckily was able to catch a haircut on the way back; chopped it short (winter artificial heat and too much hair: no fun.) This week I will meet with my fellowship’s benefactor, which I’m looking forward to. I’m also contemplating the possibility of extending my stay. Oh, and there is snow, just enough to make the path back from the studio more visible to my tiny flashlight; the late nights have begun (it’s also dark by dinnertime.)

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This imagery is still insistent. I am not resisting. This was a test piece that made me very happy.

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In progress, above and below…

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prairie day

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The Meadow milkweed harvest at Ragdale. I always, always think I am too early, just after the equinox / Mabon. I also always take a first look round the meadow and think, “Oh!  There isn’t much this year.” Yet I am always right on time, and there is always a good-sized harvest.

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Fall has barely begun, just an inkling.  The work was hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun, as I crawled into dense foliage, with thorns or pesky burrs.  Yet for someone who lives contained by buildings, fences, concrete, alleys, it was glorious.  Just to BE, out where the only visible boundaries are trees and the big bluestem hides nearby buildings, just me and prairie, sky, birds and critters.

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And the Meadow Studio.  No one is in residence just now, so I went and peered in the windows, said hello, and made a fervent wish that our situation will allow me to be there later this fall. I’m scheduled for late October through November. I sat in the shade and trimmed my stems, then walked a circuit round the meadow, tossing the seedpods back in for next year. It’s a rich, vital wheel on which to turn.

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I love this year’s version of the Ragdale Ring. Love it.

There was even more reward:

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I couldn’t yet get near it without, say, a machete, but:

the Ragdale ear is still here!

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It’s lasted eleven months and it looks solid, and is most wonderfully, subtly warped. The dye has faded but is still there, and some seems to have moved through the piece. I’ve been making more plans for this site this year, regardless of whatever might have remained. This is better than I hoped (and I owe a lot of that to other harvests). I already value this place so much for the enormous gift of allowing me to interact with a landscape over time; that has now gone to a whole new level. I’m feeling a bit like one of those seedpods.

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(Thank you, Ragdale and Lake Forest Open Lands).