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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April, popping.

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Happily checking in: now there is radio silence because I’m busy with good things.

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A studio marathon is (finally) well underway. It is just…glorious, dancing with color in the beautifully increasing light. It’s so wonderful to have finally resolved a sticky color conundrum, and to finally see this series coming to life. Also, the process requires drying breaks which conveniently rest my back.

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That’s a little less necessary since two days ago. There was an unexpected and rather dramatic result from physical therapy, a deep pop pop pop, and my lower spine released or adjusted itself, significantly decreasing pain and increasing mobility. And, I’ve finally gotten approval for the therapists to also address the ongoing situation with my knees…comfortable walking is in my near future!

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That’s also allowed me to get out into the garden for short periods to start the early spring chores, including fencing out Chance of the giant shovel feet. His training goes very slowly, when it comes to the world outside our gates, but I love him anyways. He’s still a giant pup who ran amok in a neighbor’s plastic egg display, chasing a low-flying robin. I laughed, went back and redistributed eggs while the unscathed bird followed me, scolding.

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ALL my indoor milkweed has popped up!  That gives me hope for the big batches I seeded outdoors (and also a means to identify the seedlings when they appear later in the season; I’ve never cultivated milkweed before.)

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Out in the world, (S)Edition appeared on some of Saatchi Gallery’s social media. And here is a lovely interview, in which I answer Really Good Questions popped by WSW’s Lizz Thabet.

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February always is

With a pup it is constant; three steps ahead, two back, a slip sideways, a step ahead regained.  Chance learns more about “come” and learns “sit” in mere minutes, but backslides a bit on the daytime house-training, so we increase the outdoor visits accordingly.  Lupe has finally gotten him to begin learning dog-play language, something he missed out on by being quarantined, and it’s much fun to watch.  I’m so, so glad I scheduled this time at home for this phase, but am beginning to really miss the studio, too.

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In Devil Puppy mode.

However, quite a bit of related work is being done: yesterday I worked with a magazine editor, a museum curator, talked with prospective students, friends, a gallery director and a writer, received a teaching offer, and found that this nice article had recently been published, and also something I didn’t know: I am one of the featured artists in ZIA gallery’s wonderfully-named next show (To Summon Spring), and I began the web site work (so far behind it’s ridiculous).  All of which I can do on my lap while intermittently teaching and monitoring Chance, who, because he is so smart, can periodically transform into Devil Puppy. He even got above himself enough to challenge Lupe by trying to steal her Sacred Evening Biscuit. (Bad move, he quickly learned, or I fervently hope he learned).  Still, it’s February and even though we are rather busy, and outdoors with Chance almost hourly, and almost daily for snow shoveling and short pack-walks and Lupe’s adult-only walks, there’s no escaping that creeping, cabin-feverish, enough-of-winter-already feeling.

Unless you are heading to Australia. Or, if I lived closer, I’d go straight to this opening tomorrow evening.  Huge congrats to Velma and Aimee!

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The road to spring…

Hopping, happily

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Busy! Things are hopping here, but I have two bits of news:

I love being on islands and in the mountains, and summer 2013 will bring both.  In fact, I’ll be island-hopping, sort-of: in June, I’ll be traveling directly from the residency at Haystack on Deer Isle down to Martha’s Vineyard, where the wonderful Sandy Bernat of Seastone Papers has invited me to debut a brand new class I’ve been thinking of for awhile. I’m excited!

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It’s lovely to have a nice wee studio, even better when shared with friends who smile like Anita Garza.

Also, I’m honored to be the latest entry in Susan Mills’ excellent Bookbinding Now podcast series; Meredith R. Winer, the founder and director of the innovative Transit residency program visited to interview me a wee while ago; we had a fine time, which I hope resulted in something interesting. I can’t hear podcasts, but I’ve been told only good things about the series.  And of course I’m pleased to be joining Velma, Aimee, Peter and so many others.

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Some of Anita’s 90-minute abaca for her project, after 18 hours in the stack dryer.

And finally, I’m back in the studio, while Chicago struggles to bring forth spring.

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Doubly Honored

I’m going to be cutting my self-imposed six months at home short, but only by a few weeks, and for a very good reason: I’ll be attending the first Haystack summer residency. I’ve never been to Haystack, but had promised friend and mentor Marilyn Sward I would go there someday; this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a thorough introduction.  Not to mention the fact that it’s in Maine. On an island!

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The wonderful Nora Maynard has done an excellent interview with yours truly for the blog section of the literary magazine, Ploughshares.  She’s currently working on a series on book arts, and I loved her first entry, featuring a place (North Branch Projects) and person (Regin Igloria) I admire very much, so I am especially honored to be the second in the series. Just published this morning, the interview is already traveling around. Thank you, Nora, Ploughshares, Haystack!

Festivities

 

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Saturday, I zipped up to Ragdale just as the annual holiday party began, and snagged the last on-site parking space.  I didn’t have time to visit the original ear installation; since the party was overlapped by the opening at ZIA, I only had about 40 minutes.  On the drive up, I had resigned myself to foregoing a tarot reading this year, but as soon as she saw me, poet & reader Josie hauled me in to her reading room (and it was a good one).  Quick chats with many friends, then back in the car to ZIA.

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I arrived a wee bit late and missed one friend (who left a lovely note), but the first 30 minutes or so that I was in attendance were relatively quiet, with time for a few snaps (though I didn’t shoot the whole show by any means, and will return to document it).  I loved Anne Hughes’ installation!  The entire space looked wonderful, and I was particularly taken by her installation of Re:Morse, including the way it was lit, highlighting the translucency of the pieces.

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(I talked about that with another artist, how allowing someone else to interpret your work is a risk, but one that can teach you new things, give you fresh eyes. I would probably have gone vertical in this space, but this looks so good!) Only one work sold (well, as I was repeatedly told: so far), but it was a good one.  The rest of the evening was spent talking talking talking; a lively and interesting crowd passed through, and it was a great time. I liked meeting Jonathan Ricci, who is very funny, and several of the big group of friends and family who came in from New Jersey to support him.

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ZIA has also featured a nice interview with good questions by Shannon Gallagher (which took place last summer) on their blog.

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Sunday, I cooked our big old holiday dinner and we had our unique brand of 3-person celebration; Monday evening, after long talks, more celebration, leftovers and goodbyes, the Bro left for home. Yesterday, I finally got my hearing aids repaired and serviced; they’d been jury-rigged with duct tape since my visit to the Smiths ten days before. (Whew.)

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Tomorrow, the final show of the year opens at Aqua Art Miami; I’ll be at home, but Anne is there working hard. If you’re attending the monster Miami gathering of art fairs, please stop in to ZIA’s space!

Harvesting, still

I am in the middle of my first kozo harvest!  There’s been quite a learning curve, good to have happen this first year while the harvest is small. It started spontaneously yesterday, to keep me from worrying about the Bro, who did not arrive Tuesday, and virtually disappeared for two days (he was taken with a nasty cold / mild flu, knocked out in bed, a situation I understand all too well lately! He’s improved enough to get in touch last night and this morning and will arrive tonight).

I was a bit squeamish about cutting at first, but equally eager for the fiber.

Our long shears need sharpening; I’d have liked cleaner cuts. I couldn’t resist leaving one long thinnish young stem; if I regret it next season, I’ll let you know!

Separated into fat (above) and lean (below).

I am used to working with slim stems from milkweed and dogbane and the like.

I decided to steam indoors, since we can always use humidity even in the early winter, and my outdoor hotplate is good for cooking fiber but I wasn’t sure about steaming.  Our kitchen is mired in the previous owners’ admiration for the 70s, and we have a horrid old microwave holder / hood built in above the stove (with a nonfunctional ‘venting’ fan that, if it worked, would simply blow the smoke / steam out into the kitchen, not outdoors). In order to fit between the burner and the hood, I had to cut everything down to 17” (a little over 43 cm). Unbelievably, the entire tree fit into my large enamel stockpot. The steaming kozo smells like an odd herb tea; not unpleasant.

I steamed for several hours last night, but way, way, way too gently: the bark didn’t ‘shrink back’ and there was still fiber left on the test stems (I scraped it away and saved it); it’s also probable that too much steam escaped the foil / towel lid as well.

So, this morning, I devised another solution, and now have the flame higher with more water. We shall see!

In other worlds, Diane Whitehead, a current Detroit / former NY artist I truly, truly enjoyed meeting and hanging out with in Vermont (who really, really needs a web site: hint), sent a gorgeous harvest of 16 photos of the Gihon River ear in situ, taken after I left. The snow hit Johnson too!

These are two of my favorites (as is the first photo). Thank you, Diane!

Other bits of abundance are rolling in as well, including a .pdf copy of (and permission to post) Richard Minsky’s Book Art column titled Without Words, from the lovely editor of Fine Books & Collections, Rebecca Rego Barry.  I am truly honored by Richard’s introduction to the Q&A; you can read it here -click the first link – if you’d like. Thank you, Richard and Ms. Barry!

(Just checked the kozo: the new steaming arrangement is working much better: stay tuned! Hopefully, tonight this bin /bath will be full of stripped fiber.  Then the bark-scraping fun begins…)

While I was out #1: Cleveland, Smith Stories

Here’s the first half of things that happened while I was experiencing blogsilence.  A couple of them made me uncomfortable for awhile, and contributed to that silence.

Rust Belt Chic was published. It’s an anthology of works addressing the concept behind its title, which is articulated nicely here.  I haven’t read the entire book yet, I’m skipping around, but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve been acquainted with David C. Barnett (click ‘on-air personalities and scroll down) for many years, though we are not often in contact. Last summer, suddenly, he popped into my inbox to interview me by e-mail for a piece in the History section of Rust Belt Chic, about some early art activity I participated in, titled ‘Tales of the Regional Art Terrorists.’

Then, when I was in Cleveland a few weeks later, DCB visited the Smith’s living room, and recorded a very long, fun interview, portions of which were broadcast a couple of weeks ago.  The segment is available to listen to here, and runs from about 8:40 to 18:30 (of course, I can’t hear much).

The bridge pillar read “Birthplace of Various Industrial Byproducts”.

Just recently, Richard Minsky’s interview (that also included bits about my early life) along with some images of of my work, was published in the Autumn 2012 issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine, in Richard’s regular column. It’s titled Book Art: Without Words.  I haven’t seen it yet; I’ve asked Paul to forward the issue to me here at Ragdale when it arrives at the house.

Why was I uncomfortable about these things? It’s simply that I’ve never talked much publicly about my early life (the reasons for that might be the subject of a future blog).  Then, last summer, I decided those reasons were (there is no more appropriate word) hooey.

So, I mentioned the early (enormous) influence the Cleveland Public Library had on me (as both safe physical refuge and source of absorbing escape while I was a young, homeless runaway) to Richard during my lovely interview visit. He asked rather incisive follow-up questions. At one point, I did try to back away, but Richard said, “No, no, this is good.”  David already knew parts of my history and also asked direct questions. Except for that frisson of discomfort while talking with Richard, I was fine with answering all, but as the time neared for publication, I experienced some more oddness, and, well: my words shut down.

My good longtime friend Smith (also featured in the Rust Belt Chic article and radio segment, where he said Really Good Things about me) has never had any such qualms.  It’s something I’ve always admired him for.  Maybe that’s why the first descriptor that comes to my mind after having read his new book is ‘brave’.

I’m certain he doesn’t see it that way; he doesn’t hold back anything, ever, unless what he has to say might harm someone; he is an open book.  Stations of the Lost and Found, co-written with his lovely and talented wife, Lady K, is utterly, at times even painfully, honest. It’s all there: outrageous drug use, armed robbery, sex, adultery, his near-death by alcohol…and, perhaps glossed-over a tiny bit: redemption.  A Next Chapter needs to be written, definitely.

I liked this book, A Lot.  Much more than Kerouac, to which it has been compared. Yes, Smith is my friend; I’ve read earlier versions and have known some of the stories for years (and have lived through some as well, though I learned some new things, like about the LSD). This is the best telling ever, no question, and I think I would have liked it if I didn’t know him or the stories.  Smith’s own blurb about the book is much, much better than anything I can write; so please read it here.  He has led one strange life. The oddest thing about it, though, is that Smith is – and has always been – one of the most morally sound people I know.  And absolutely one of the funniest.  One story that didn’t make it to the book is something another friend told him years ago (the second thing that comes to my mind after ‘brave’): “Smith, if we just went by the facts, none of us would be here.”  Read this book; it’s truly true and stranger than fiction.

All this, and Lunch

Written June 30: I am at Women’s Studio Workshop (ahhh!), writing this to publish tomorrow while I wait to become sleepy, not just tired. I am staying in the Atwood House apartment, which is a great, comfortable space; its sole drawback is fluctuating wireless, currently at zero.

I will need one.

It was a not-unpleasant drive, split into two segments with a good solid night of luxurious relaxing and conversation at the House of Smith, between. We did have some nonsense, laughs, and tales, and good food, and we caught up on the things we don’t blog or send out on social media. We discussed the act of not publishing, too.

That was very, very good for me; long hours driving are also long quiet hours for thinking. Talking with friends, particularly those you have known forever, brings added, trusted perspectives to mull over.

Here are two of the many things I thought about for miles and miles today:

  1. On and off, for the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and re-re-editing a post that I haven’t published.  It has to do with once being told that I would ‘never eat lunch in this town again’ (though the actual words were: ‘I will destroy you’).  The post was sparked by spuriously twisted written ‘information’, showing me that that particular destructive effort is still ongoing. Yes, it disturbed me. Though I did eventually write a piece that was sufficiently vague yet still pointed, talking with both Smithfriends confirmed that the uneasy gut reaction that kept me from posting it was wise. Even before I reached the Catskills, I decided that addressing the issue at all would simply draw that sick, malicious energy back into my life. No. Enough.
  2. In Cleveland, I learned that my Morgan class is full, with a waiting list.  That makes it unanimous: I’m playing to SRO audiences in every class this summer! (Pats self on back). The number of grads from degree programs around the country is much higher than ever before, which pleases me to no end, because it continues a vital quality of exchange that I’ve been missing; and the dialogue is even richer than it was before, because the classes are also filled with teachers at all levels, and established artists as well, with fascinating, varied contributing perspectives. Excellent. And much, much better to think about.

As if to validate my decision, as soon as I arrived and hooked up to some live wireless, a link to this piece was in the mail.  Though I still think it makes me sound much cooler than I actually am, I cannot help but be delighted that the publication’s title is Quiet Lunch, and this is a tasty slice of it, the cherry on top of a Good Decision. (Thank you, QL!).

June 1st: And now: quiet time in the lovely cool studio, beating fiber and liesurely setting up for what I know will be a grand session (or rather the first of two grand sessions). And thinking about how sweet it is when the trip is a return one. Cleveland, WSW, the Morgan: all different types of homes for me. And thinking about making new homes, as well. And also, appropriately, eating lunch. Right now.

A few stories begun at Arrowmont. To be continued here…