Before and Again.

I’m working on / dealing with a variety of things, and don’t have much to say, so today’s Blahg features visual and verbal recaps.  The visuals show the general layout of the Sensing Language show at St. Ambrose University, shot by Jay Strickland; the accompanying class photos are by Heather Lovewell, Catich Gallery curator extraordinaire. The verbal portion is my answer to one question from a recent interview by Barbara Landes, who is currently doing graduate work at the University of Iowa Center for the Book ; her (excellent) questions are part of a research project. (I’ve answered this question for articles before, but briefly; Barbara kindly gave me permission to publish my expanded, unedited responses). Thanks to all today’s contributors!

Your work changed dramatically when you moved from manipulating books to using handmade paper to create your work. Why do you think this happened?

“I can tell you how it happened: first, my work was already changing before its medium changed, moving away from overt social or political themes and pointed commentary. It was becoming quieter, more contemplative, and I was beginning to compare and contrast human conditions with seasonal cycles in nature. (Why that happened, I’m not completely sure.  Perhaps it was maturity or simply an urge to go deeper, or a burgeoning dissatisfaction with sociopolitical critique).

With that change already beginning, I became interested in working with paper at just about the same time I learned that I would eventually become deaf.  Kozo, the fiber I experimented with first, was simply so eloquent on its own that adding words seemed to cheapen it, to detract from it and lessen its impact.  As I began to experiment with other fibers and to discover the unique properties in each, I made a conscious decision to stay away from conventional language: if I was going to be deaf, and not have access to spoken words, I wasn’t going to use conventional language in my work, either; I wanted my work to reflect my experience.

Usually when I say that, someone will respond: “But…you could still read, couldn’t you?”  Yes, but that’s not the point; our extensive use of non-conventional communication is.  At the same time I learned I was becoming deaf, I also learned that my body or brain had taught me to expertly read lips, without any conscious knowledge on my part. I had simply believed that I was hearing. When the audiologist told me I had been reading lips for years, I still didn’t quite accept it. How could I be doing something so complex without being aware of it?  Then she held a card in front of her face and spoke…and I couldn’t understand a single thing she said. The phenomenon, this completely pivotal, enormous but unconscious adjustment, just astounded me.  Then, not too long afterward, I won the all-college Excellence in Teaching award for full-time faculty where I taught, and was invited to a two-year fellowship addressing the scholarship of teaching and learning, aligned with the Carnegie Foundation.  During the fellowship sessions, we investigated Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (here’s a good brief summary), which thoroughly echoed my own experiences and solidified my desire to make work that focused on and utilized our sensory intelligences; i.e., the alternative ways we ‘read’.

So, while the appearance and materiality of the work changed, and the utilization of conventional language changed, I am still ultimately investigating (and toying with) the act of reading.”

(Speaking of teaching, this appeared in my Google alerts this morning, from a class at the University of Baltimore. I applaud the use of a class blog. I tried something similar twice using an allegedly interactive early learning system; but my efforts apparently were too early in the online age).

(a long) Study in Contrast

I have always assumed that at some point (always in the future), life will naturally become an affair of relatively even rhythm; still with its high points and lows, to be sure, but evenly paced.  This week blew that illusion completely away, yet again.

Late Friday came the news that a loved one needed to have rather major (though scarily, outpatient) surgery ASAP, probably Tuesday, and in the meantime was to be physically restricted, and afterwards, extremely so. I was due at St. Ambrose University on Thursday for a mini-residency that had been locked in place since last spring; my week had been steadily planned around the prep for that. My loved one insisted that I should still “Go! Go and do a damned good job!”

So, Saturday was spent rather frantically lining up support people and systems for my absence, and figuring in when and how the prep could be accomplished during the next few uncertain days, while constantly battling both worry and guilt. Sunday, I shopped for and cooked a large batch of food to be frozen and easily reheated in the microwave, and that evening, searched, found and pulled a couple hundred images for two slideshows from the horribly jumbled recovered files on my external hard drive. Monday I rifled through my fiber inventory and found suitable things that could be recycled or re-hydrated for the St. Ambrose class, leaving only one 2-pound batch that needed to be prepped from half-stuff, chopped it all up and put it to soak, made an inventory list and began packing equipment, and did several loads of laundry. Tuesday, up at 4:30 am, to the hospital by 6. I took the laptop and rebuilt the first slideshow during the surgery, and after the 12-hour hospital stay, set up the house for the reality of the restricted recovery. Wednesday, I beat the first batch of pulp, went for a long but encouraging follow-up doctor’s visit (huge sigh of relief), did a last-minute grocery and home supply run, recycled and/or re-hydrated three more batches of fiber in the beater, drained it all enough to fit into five buckets, finished packing the equipment, got three hours’ sleep, and it was Thursday.

I packed clothes and media, loaded the car with those plus vats, moulds and deckles, pulp, pellons, felts and vac press, drove to Iowa, unloaded, planned the next morning’s studio setup (the room was being used for a class that evening), did a student critique session, drove to the hotel, had a 20 minute power nap, drove back to the school and did the first slide talk to a surprisingly full house, grabbed a takeout sandwich on the way back to the hotel, checked in with my loved one (who was as well as could be expected), finished rebuilding the second slideshow and got to sleep at midnight.  Friday: overslept 30 minutes, hurriedly showered, packed for a long day and got to the school at 8 am, where a small team of us speedily set up a temporary paper studio in the print shop (and I had breakfast on the run) in an hour, made five types of paper with a full, enthusiastic class of beginners, cleaned up and disassembled the studio with the students and team, went to lunch with faculty, did individual student critique sessions, changed clothes, gave a second well-attended slideshow talk, talked with tons of people all through the show reception, then went to a lovely dinner with our small, good group until about 10pm, then drove back to the hotel, checked in with my loved one and got an entire…eight…hours…sleep. Yesterday: up, breakfast with taxidermy, back to the school to load my now-dried-out equipment (I left the pulp for further paper pursuits), drove back to Chicago and my loved one who is doing well, unloaded the car…and then, a total crash on my part.

I knew I would have a great time at St. Ambrose; I’d be working with Professor Joseph, who I’ve known and liked a long while, and I very much enjoy Catich gallery curator and director Heather; we hit it off well even via e-mail, and in person we work together in a fun, compatible, quite productive way.  And, in all honesty and with no false modesty, I have come to expect a ‘good’ reaction to my work, wherever it goes.

But this experience went way above and beyond ‘good’. The work is interacting with the school and larger community in an interdisciplinary manner that is sort of an ideal for me; the best response personally possible.  I’m going to forget a lot, but during the whirlwind, I spoke with professors from the English, Chemistry and Ecology departments who had brought or were bringing their classes to the exhibition for very different reasons (I will soon be reading English essays about individual works, and the ecology students will be thoroughly instructed on the sustainability of hand papermaking by their professor, who asked great questions and took notes). I met several lovely librarians, very nice folks from the Figge Art Museum, a great papermaker and several other area artists, including graduate students from the new MFA program in Iowa City, and had a further bonus when a book artist /educator friend surprised and delighted me by making a long trek just to come to the reception. The overall response was such that I got to feel like a rock star for a wee bit…except for my worries about things at home.

I suppose the lesson learned and the thing to be grateful for is that I can, at my advanced age, still pull off this kind of sleep-deprived, pulled-in-two-directions, high-speed high wire act, even though I really, really, really would rather not have it happen that way. The show reception and residency were excellent experiences; it would have been lovely to have had time to savor them. And yet, I would much rather have been able to have been wholly here and supportive throughout my loved one’s entire ordeal. Why that never seems to be how it happens – or, indeed, what I can do to make that coveted, evenly paced, wholly elusive future happen –  is still a complete mystery to me.

Paper and Paper: Gallery window above, some of the class paper drying below.

(I had no time to shoot any pictures but the last one – taken yesterday morning after loading up the car – but here are some from the show; thank you, blogger).

Keep Calm and Carrion

January 2012 is indeed proving to be ‘interesting’ with rather huge unexpected, un-ignorable events dropping in our already busy laps at this house this week, affecting us next week and a bit beyond.  The hardest part was admitting that I simply had to drop one postponed project and continue to postpone another, but the people involved seemed to take it well; at least easier than I did.  I’m trying to see it as an opportunity to practice acceptance of my limitations. It’s almost working. Almost.

Reports from Iowa about the response to the show are wonderful, which helps.  I return to the school (and hilarious taxidermy-infused hotel) early Thursday for an intense residency after a highly charged, insanely busy early week.

I admit I’m harboring hopes for a quiet February, with time to rebuild my broken web site and to finally address other behind-the-scenes tasks.  You know: winter.

I am not in Iowa again…

…but I was, and had a fine time, and will return again in ten days. If you are in Iowa, I will be giving two public presentations at St. Ambrose University in the Galvin Fine Arts building.  One is geared for artists, on Thursday evening, January 26,  from 6 -7pm, when I’ll talk techniques, about how some of the works in the show were made, with documentation, props and images; the second is the visiting artist’s talk on Friday, January 27 at 4 pm, followed by the show’s reception from 5-7.

The installation went very well; it’s a sweet gallery with some interesting features and the director is excellent; we worked together easily and most enjoyably.  I love the shows when I can be there for the installation, particularly with (S)Edition. This is the largest gathering of copies since the entire edition was installed at the Morgan: 81 of 99. I had much fun toying with the flow of the show, good visits with Professor Joseph, and a nice talkative dinner out with our small group.

I stayed (and will stay again) in a monstrously huge, labyrinthine and hilarious hotel with an interior over-the-top lavish-ly modeled after a German castle; words just fail me.  Breakfast is served in a cavernous two-storied dining hall with towering chandeliers, its upper walls adorned with taxidermy.  On Sunday, throughout the meal,  there was a man playing a grand piano I hadn’t even noticed the day before; it’s that cluttered. Surreal, but highly amusing: definitely not a generic Whatever Inn. I call it Schloss Iowa.

Now, for the next ten days, a plethora of projects. Here’s something unusual that showed up in google alerts while I was gone.  I don’t know this person, but rather like what she did, even if she didn’t.  I do applaud (and encourage) anyone who chooses to step out of their personal boundaries to learn what there is to learn from the attempt.