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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Memento

The only way you’ll take it with you.

I started March with a bout of intense internal wrestling; wrote of it till it boiled down to something succinct, then decided it’s best kept to myself. But during the thick of it, I finally visited this great show. My reaction was not at all a feeling of morbidity; instead, I left with a much, much lighter step than when I entered.

In the sad areas of the world driven by greed, injustice is as inevitable as death. It’s important to look it squarely in its face, then choose to turn back to life.

Quintessence

Google alerts brought this in a couple days ago, by someone I don’t know. I thought, “aww, that’s sweet (thank you)”  – and then I laughed out loud. The author inadvertently and succinctly exposes the heart of certain matters and attitudes I’ve struggled mightily to understand. Yes, sweet.

Policy

I am feeling quiet and private after a rich holiday weekend.  The time didn’t go quite according to my very loose plan: I’m much further ahead on some tasks than I had anticipated, and still sluggishly behind on others.

So here is some very good and impressive news from out there. Granted, it seems slow, but bravo to Denmark for taking the official lead.  On a tiny scale, I was pleased to be termed an activist, as well, though activism through art seems to be an even slower, oblique process, one in which artists are largely preaching to the choir. Hermine Ford articulates my stance almost exactly, much better than I can myself, in this essay:

“Artists are not obligated to play a public political role, or express politics in their work though they may, and often do. However, as private citizens they have the same responsibilities as do all citizens of a democracy. I am a very political person, but I don’t make political art. However, one can make the case that all art is political on some level. The best art comes from a place of deep freedom, freedom and the empowerment to explore oneself, and through that to find commonality as well as difference. One could say that in itself is a political act. I do not experience a conflict between public and private concerns. The work I do as an artist provides the opportunity to make those concerns one and the same. I make work for myself and for others. If, through my work I provide a life raft for myself, I also provide a life raft for a few others. The individual’s responsibility, both in the public realm and in our own work, is to stay clean, “speak truth to power,” keep all dictators, including dictators of taste, the market, the academy, at bay.”

Several Highs (and one big fat red low)

I’ll get the big fat low out of the way first: yesterday I woke up, went to the election results page for the Senate and then the House…and Illinois was red. Red! There was some small consolation when breaking the maps down to county level: I live in a tiny – but heavily populated – island of blue.  But I basically lost the entire day in a miserable funk that alarmed Paul a bit.

Since I can’t do one. damn. thing. about it except to continue to work for change, on to those lovely high points:

It’s been MJC Interview Week.  Not only did Deborah Kogan’s article come out in Ampersand, Steve Miller released his podcast interview (part of his series on Book Artists and Poets, which everyone says is excellent, but which I cannot hear) on Halloween (that delights me). And today, this incisive article by Stephanie Cristello came out in Chicago Art Magazine. (Links to all here).

It’s fun and odd to have these all appear at once, since the timespan of my involvement goes from eleven months to a few weeks ago.  It’s been surprising and enormously gratifying to have people actually ask me to share my perspective after a long period of experiencing quite the opposite…and this ain’t the end of it, either. I thank everyone involved, very much.

Linda Cunningham, aka my ‘mystery guest’ of a few blahgs ago, is on her way back home after a residency at Ragdale.  It was great to spend a day with her before she moved up to Lake Forest, and to see her several times during her stay, while I documented and de-installed my House, Dreaming piece.  I was gobsmacked (as she would put it) when she gave me this incredible piece of hers, a Shetland-style shawl titled Craobh/Tuinn (Tree/Wave). I can’t decide whether to hang it or to wear it…mostly, I’ve been petting it. It’s sooo soft and gorgeous. Thank you (& safe journey)!

Last but definitely not least: a big shout-out and congrats to Velma Bolyard, whose show opens tomorrow night in Potsdam, NY.  I wish I could be there!  And also to Pamela Paulsrud and the project she started years ago with Marilyn Sward, Treewhispers.  Pam recently went up to install at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where they shot this video … And also kudos and congrats to Susan Page Tillett who’s just written a new book about the Ragdale House, The Ragdale House Speaks, with photographs by Sarah Hadley; I really like this description of it.

Interruption w/ Unavoidably Obtuse Rant

Ye gods, I have been entirely distraught all evening.  I finished all my casting late last night, slept way too late, and today I wanted to begin the color.  I got the studio partly reconfigured, and then the very world I most need to ignore blew in, in the form of a couple of e-mails, and crashed right down on my head. I’m writing this appeal, and then I hope, in the morning, to get back to the great place I was in…

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A friend wrote on her blog today of thinking, “How did I get here?” during a recent event. I feel her, because I’ve thought that for a whole lot of the past two years.  I just began to believe it was now finally over, and I could return to who I actually am: this gardening, sort-of quiet, admittedly odd, kind of friendly, hopefully often funny, obsessively working visual artist who would rather be in the studio or out under the sky than anywhere else.  Instead, I seem to have become a symbol, or a repository for the vindication of some collective feelings about a situation I obviously (pretty damned obviously, I should think) had no control over.  I can’t blog about it directly, but I’ve just been accused of complicity in – no, actually, of masterminding – the ‘subversion’ of an ongoing event that I wasn’t even aware of until a few days ago. I do NOT need this.

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Right now, some well-meaning people are trying, I think, to make a statement by campaigning on my behalf during this rather silly event.  Yesterday, when I thought this was nothing more than a weird little sideshow in my life, yes, I even posted a totally goofy Facebook message urging support for me. (This is something anyone and everyone else on the planet is encouraged to do in the context of this event, so I saw no harm in it).  But: I have just gotten a scathing message from someone I have never met, accusing me, in no uncertain terms, of maneuvering the entire event towards what are perceived as my own devious personal ends, described as my desire to ‘stick it to’ people.

cannot take this kind of shite anymore, folks.

How did I get here?

Granted, I am outspoken, and granted, I will fight, do fight, and most assuredly have fought (way too long) for what I believe in. And yes, granted, I am relieved that at least I seem to be symbolizing something good.  Even more than granted, I am very, very glad to know that I am liked so well, and I thank everyone (however much of a paradox thanks may seem to be in this context) for your well-intended support.  But, dear people, please: I would really, really, really rather not become the Poster Child For What Was. Truly. I’m so tired of exactly this kind of misinterpreted crap.

I lost something I once cared deeply about, but I did not lose myself, nor my art. I need to move on, and up, and away.  This silliness, though I am certain it sprang from the best, absolutely positive intentions, has just sucked me straight back into an atmosphere that was entirely toxic to me, right at the time when I am finally able to breathe some lovely clean fresh air again.

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If you really want to support ME, the person, the artist (and of course I hope you do), then, hey: come out to my shows, or if you’re curating one, think of me, or if you’ve got money, buy some work, or if you teach, invite me to your class, or drop me a line when you’ve got a show or a performance going on, or invite me to your next party, or if you’ve read a book or see a great show or a residency or a grant you think I’d like, let me know, or let’s get together for lunch or coffee or wine or to look at art… or you can always (always!) bring me sushi or ginger or dark chocolate or a dram of good whiskey (might as well push it while I’m at it) – or even just shoot me an e-mail or FB message or Blahg comment now and again…but please: just let the part of all this that involved me go. I’m trying very hard to do just that, and I need your help.

Thank you. End of rant. Everything ends eventually, good things and bad.

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Anticlimax

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Here’s how the political maneuvering (that began at least two, maybe three years ago, cranked into high gear last year, and went into overdrive this year)  played out: yesterday, I Got Fired.

It was, strangely, both unsurprising yet still unbelievable.

I’ve never, ever been Fired before, from anything for any reason, except for a brief blip in my early 20s, when I was fired  (after a shouting match) from a screen printing company and re-hired (with an apology) three days later.  I have Quit (many times), and I have Not Been Hired, but this is new.  So now, while still moving full-tilt towards my great summer, I need to find out how one applies for unemployment, how long the health insurance will or won’t last,  and the like.

The oddest and most surprising thing about it is that I woke (after pleasant, scented dreams of Eilean Leodhais) incredibly feeling a wee bit sorry for those who fired me. And yesterday, on my way out the door, I actually said to the fire-er, “Well, good luck to you, then.”  (She replied, “Bring back the computer.”)

Already, I’m getting tons of support (thank you!) and I’m feeling fine: much, much lighter, and very glad the whole absurd, unnecessary, grueling scenario is finally over.  In the end, in a manner of speaking, it all boils down to just a wee bit of a bitch, or a tiny prick, or an insignificant little Jab…or maybe all three.

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A gift from one of my first great teachers, long ago, who got fired during a political takeover.  That entire school closed down,  shortly thereafter. “Graduation Ceremony, Lecture #?”  by Reed Alan Thomason, 1976 

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Relativity

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I spent Saturday indoors doing the final show jurying with my two male colleagues at the other end of the e-mail. It was difficult, many tough choices to make, but we did finally put together a very strong show. Sunday, I spent indoors writing my statement (which I sent in on time but still think could have been better), filling out various paperwork, updating my bio, and working on other written deadline stuff. That two days of unrelenting computer-based work happened while I looked out longingly at glorious sun, beautiful balmy weather.  Today, I have only a bit left to do before finally embarking on my spring break….and it’s gray and raining.

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I worked on the intermediate stages of the jurying while in Farmville, too, borrowing Kerri’s office while she was out at meetings, appointments and teaching classes I wasn’t a guest in.  We both worked pretty hard; the great pleasure was that when we were together, we got to talk and talk and talk, and that was much fun, easygoing like in the past, automatically doing the paper studio tasks, helping each other without needing to ask or explain what was needed.  It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that rhythm, and I realize how very much I’ve missed it. We ended up going for dinner rather late each day, so it wasn’t until after the last class and packing up and before my flight that we got out into the town; we had a late and very pleasant lunch with one of Kerri’s colleagues, Kelly, and then had a couple of hours to kill before the drive to Richmond.

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Kerri wanted to show me a ‘rug store’; she said that the place’s combined holdings were the size of three football fields put together.  I was not particularly interested, but agreed to go. I was glad I did.  She wasn’t exaggerating; it was gigantic room after gigantic room, all full of intricate ‘Oriental’ carpets of every size, color combination and design you could possibly imagine, thousands in each room.  It was amazing to ponder how all these things ended up in a small town smack in the middle of Virginia.

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Many, if not most of them were from Afghanistan.  After searching through several enormous spaces, we came upon a small pile of the rugs Kerri wanted to show me. I knew, of course, somewhere back in my art-history-course-saturated brain that weavers have been weaving records of combat since weaving began, but these took my breath away.  Tanks, rocket launchers, grenades, helicopters, woven in terrible, resonant beauty, together with some humor and enormous pathos:

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I looked them up; apparently these images started appearing in exports from Afghanistan shortly after the Soviets invaded, in 1979. 

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If I could have found a small one, I’d have bought it in a second, my personal uncertain future notwithstanding. It would have been a constant reminder of how comparatively comfortable my experience of uncertainty actually is.

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From www.warrug.com:

“For thousands of years, the woman of nomadic tribes in what is now Afghanistan and its environs have been weaving rugs by hand.  These traditional pieces of folk art have long depicted the same deeply rooted motifs and patterns, with occasional images derived from the artist’s everyday experiences. However, about 25 years ago, all that suddenly changed. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion into Afghanistan, rug dealers began seeing drastic alterations in the content of Afghani rugs. Tanks replaced flowers, rocket launchers replaced vases and airplanes replaced abstract borders!”

“After the Soviet departure from Afghanistan the new ruling power instituted the strict Muslim Sharia law which governs the religious, political, social, domestic and private life. This law stripped many Afghani women of basic rights including banning them from talking to men outside of their family, walking outside alone, or working. Women were also made to abide by the practice of purdah which is the seclusion of women from public observation by having them wear concealing clothing from head to toe, like a burka, and by the use of high walls, curtains and screens erected within the home. This separates the women from learning about the outside world in order to make them ignorant of the practicalities of life and deprives the woman of economic independence by not allowing them to work outside the home. In order to keep females submissive, women know only what their fathers, husbands, and sons want them to know. The women who practice purdah have no voice or free will. For women who break the fatwas, or edicts, associated with Sharia law, including purdah, there are dire consequences including harsh beatings or even death. Additionally, since Sharia law dictates that it is taboo to represent animate subjects in art; weavers were no longer allowed to portray images of birds, animals or people.”

“Thus as the artists iconography changed so did their outlets for expressing it. Those living outside of the war-torn Afghanistan can’t comprehend the reality of living in a world where the images depicted through the rugs are a part of everyday life. To the women of Afghanistan the rugs have become a way to make their voices heard and to communicate to the rest of the world what they live with everyday.”

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Mass Aspiration

onwardI got sucked into the telly on a grand scale during Obama’s inauguration yesterday.  (I can say ‘telly’ because I watched the BBC’s coverage). The last time this sort of almost-involuntary viewing trance happened for me was on 9/11.  I now realize I was terrified that something horrible would happen.

When I was sixteen, I fell asleep at night in a car my boyfriend was driving, and woke covered in blood, with a broken jaw, my lower teeth piercing completely through the skin well below my shredded lower lip.  He’d dozed off and hit a freeway bridge abutment. I still have scars. For years and years afterward, if I was in a moving vehicle at night, I could not sleep, no matter how tired I was.  I had to stare at the road, pulling the car forward with my eyes and will.

That’s similar to how it was for me yesterday; on one level, I was enjoying it all very much, but on another, I had to watch so that I could will nothing bad to happen.  My heart rate went up and my breath was shortened for the entire time Michelle and Barack Obama were out of the limousine, walking openly on Pennsylvania Avenue in the procession to the White House.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief when they got back in the car.

I am wondering if other Americans my age felt the same; I suspect so.  Maybe I do relate to my entire generation, in this way, at least.  I was twelve when JFK was shot (America’s first mass media disaster event), followed, momentarily it seemed, by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.  It seems that we, or at least I, almost expect that anything or anyone representing hope, enlightenment and progress for the country will be brought to a swift and ugly end. This is incredibly sad. One of my largest desires is that this is a chapter in our mindset that will be brought to a close during this administration, that we can, indeed move forward, become a better, humanitarian nation.

That said, those very strong feelings coexisted with immense hope and pride as I took it all in, particularly Obama’s speech.

A few details I liked:

  • Malia Obama taking photos with her digital camera.
  • Aretha Franklin’s hat.  She’s The Queen; she deserves a crown.
  • The end of the final benediction. “when brown can stick around, etc.”
  • Watching that helicopter actually, finally take Bush away.
  • Seeing a large organized contingent with professionally printed ARREST BUSH signs in the crowds along Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • The BBC’s captioning errors, particularly “shat own” for “shadow”.
  • Mention of celebrations around the world, particularly in Moneygall, Ireland, which claims Obama’s great-great-great grandfather.  (This video is hilariously silly)