Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Physical

It's been balmy and rainy for what feels like two weeks. Yesterday was very windy.

I've got three 5-gal buckets in my studio now. Two of them have ~2 gallons of liquid and walnut chunks. The third has a one and a half gallons of the boiled liquid with some gum arabic and denatured alcohol added. I'd hoped the alcohol would help limit the mold to form, but it's fertile stuff, that walnut juice. I plan to strain the batch thoroughly and seal it up well. Possibly in small bottles. Maybe can it in mason jars.

straining the ink from katie on Vimeo.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What I Learned on My Seminar Vacation

Graduate school is a luxury. We have the luxury of time, studio space, and a community of peers. That said, it involves a lot of work. As with most work in the modern world, it requires diligence, patience, food, water, sleep, caffeine, and social delicacy.

Here are some of my life lessons from this semester. The music is from the album Appalachian Waltz (Edgar Meyers, Mark O'Connor, and YoYo-Ma).

How I Spent My Seminar Vacation from katie on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

plodding towards ink

Pouring off the walnut water from katie on Vimeo.

Anyone can look up walnut ink recipes online, gather walnuts, let them sit, soak them, boil them, and so on. Most people won't. My labor is not unique or special, but it is steady and patient. So much has to do with being steadfast and patient. Good work is not inherently glamorous or rewarding. I will repeat this to myself whenever I lust after rockstardom and recognition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Joy of Monotony

Hulling Walnuts from katie on Vimeo.

I am impatient and manic; vulgar and overly chatty; exuberant and precocious. There's not a lot of quality stillness or silence in my life. In light of all this, it is profoundly helpful for me to have monotonous jobs where I can zone out and repeat an action or motion to distraction. Jobs where the stillness can come and settle. I exclude from this category any repetitive action on a computer. While data entry and code tweaking can be satisfying, I need more of the mind-body actions to get the good silence and stillness. The above video is one step towards making walnut ink. The hulls (and not the nut) are the parts that stain: here I am removing the hulls and discarding the nuts. Working with plants is slowly changing my concept of time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the great stumbling

I began a recent project, a series of costumes, crying in the bathroom after a rigorous critique for which I was not prepared. At the time my failure seemed much bigger and meaner than I know it to be now. Today, with all the wisdom and clarity of hindsight, I can identify that moment as a turning point, an excellent catalyst, and a good lesson in the importance of presentation, especially to strangers.

My failure was born out of two rookie mistakes (which I will no doubt recreate before my art life is over):
  1. Putting up very new, unfinished, and mentally unprocessed work for an important critique with strangers

  2. Not setting the direction of the conversation, but rather limply waiting for them to tell me what they saw
Writing that now, it seems minor and easily remedied. At the time I described the experience as “being torn a new one.” Once I finished massaging my bruised ego, I was able to answer some of the questions that had stumped me. Why was I interested in imagining post-apocalyptic culture? Why garments? What was the desired outcome?

I think post-apocalyptic fantasies are a roundabout way of ignoring or riffing on what I consider to be colossal problems of culture. What is the desired outcome? To change people's behavior. Why garments? I believe costume gives us permission to behave differently.

The costumes began their lives as thumbnails, from which I worked steadily with little iteration or consideration of better forms. In some cases (i.e. the mourning sleeves or the despair blanket shown at left), the image was so loose and non-specific that I was able to work towards the essence of the image. These were, I believe, the more successful objects. The cases in which I focused more on making the specific thumbnail into a costume (i.e. the eating and feeding duet and the seed collecting costume) were les eloquent and required more explanation. As I worked on the costumes, I spent little time designing their contexts or their afterlives. These are the very things that matter so much.

This time around I hope to work more towards the essence of things in hopes that the end form (a book, a show, a website, a farm?) will speak well on its own. I hope to remain open to failure and multiple iterations. I’ve watched a bright class of sophomore graphic designers work this semester and we share a common impulse of not wanting to commit fully to an idea until we know it’s the right one. It doesn’t work that way. You have to commit fully to an idea—even one that will fail to deliver—in order to arrive fully at the next step. And then you must take that step.

In my graduate review this fall we talked about applied and non-applied research. Tony Brock expanded the topic to include experiential research, which I take to be a sublime crossing over of disciplines and methods. Dancing about population control, running data animations to compliment short stories, bringing in the spiritual to look at the molecular, and so on. That’s just the thing. I see in my current topic (mapping local fruit and nut trees) the potential to develop entire systems. In order to do that I need to consider the topic and ideas from multiple vantage points and frames of reference. How do botanists consider these plants? What historical significance do they have? Where do they fit in various chemical cycles? I also worry that I will become enamored of the labyrinth-like process of research and fail to recognize when it is time to put down the book and make something.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the endless no-trace


No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
Dōgen (trans. Kazuaki Tanahashi)

This is why it would be better
to spend the morning drawing circles,
the afternoon,
burning them.
To thickly butter bread slices,
to give nothing of the self
but flesh.

Joanna Cantor

I thought of this poem, by Joanna Cantor, while hanging persimmons to dry in my studio. Each one is suspended from conduit with a piece of thread looped and knotted around its stem. As is often the case, I wanted to finish quickly. Some work-- like drawing, like printmaking, like befriending stoic people-- does not come quickly. It is helpful to find yourself in such slow work.

Part of the appeal of working with fruits, wildcrafting, etc. is that it demands time. There is not much to be done to shortcut the time it takes for a plant to grow, ripen, and yield seeds. Now to take that crux and bring it to the precious printed object.

Fruits and Labor

persimmons from katie on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We Need Each Other

Becca Stevens is an Episcopal priest in Nashville, TN. In 2000 she was awarded Nashvillian of the Year by the Nashville Scene, for her work with Magdalene, a ministry serving "women with a criminal history of drug abuse and prostitution." Stevens spoke at a ceremony in honor of this award and she began by saying, "I love that God made us to need each other."

I don't remember much else of Stevens talk. I imagine it was gracious and passionate. What I took away from it was the zen sound bite: We need each other.

I come back to this phrase time and again. We also need food, water, shelter, sleep, etc., but the body shuts down if we withhold those things from ourselves. There is a similar shutting down when we try to go it alone and to take on the world by ourselves, but it's not as easily recognized.

I want this to be a tenet of my art practice. I would also like to see it embodied in my work, but I think it more important (now) to bear it in mind as I research and make decisions towards finished work.

So what does it mean that we need each other? Beyond our atavistic need to band together for hunting and gathering, how do humans need each other? What do we do with that need? How is it expressed in our actions, culture, and work? Do online communities speak to this need? Do universities and schools consider it? How can we cultivate a literal and poetic sense of needing each other?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Phillip Moffitt came to speak at UT recently. He was a chief executive and editor-in-chief at Esquire magazine. He was, I hear, tremendously successful at both jobs. And then he walked away from it all. Not knowing the specifics, I assume that now he's a happier man.

He's written a book...on which he spoke at UT. I didn't get to hear him speak, but I've heard bits and pieces of his talk. The thing that's sticking with me is his advice to have a stillness practice as well as a movement practice.

I don't have an active movement practice, but I am often moved to dance. The genesis for my most recent (costume) project was an impulse towards and vision of a specific gesture. You can see it pictured above. Initially, I imagined it as part of a Mourning Dance. Once I'd made the sleeves, the context of the dance/gesture opened up. I put them on to dispel giddy mania as well as to fling away my poisonous and petty thoughts.

They provided ritual and created a liminal moment around my movement practice. I wish for them tonight to clear my head and get my heart pounding. Dance and creative movement provides a release different than that of running or exercising-to-exercise. (Not that I do those things either...)

Update: I would like to note, to myself and the vast anonymous internet, that I blogged about needing a movement practice rather than...moving around and beginning that practice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

who shares wins

who shares wins, originally uploaded by kt.ries.

It is fall now. Everything is shedding and blazing and dropping leaves. Last night was cold and today smelled like snow. I've been collecting small quantities of fruit in our neighborhood. Tons of walnuts too.

This image comes out of the spirit of that abundance. We art-grad-students are gearing up for the Great Day of Reckoning (i.e. Graduate Review). I'm trying to drop my antagonism-towards-authority and recognize this opportunity for what it is: a chance to talk with several smart and engaged artists and designers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

SUPERFEX: I was paid to go there

superflex, originally uploaded by kt.ries.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Process is the Thing, yes?

ripping out the basting from katie on Vimeo.

Getting Up

This here bloggery is for the (excessive?) documentation of a recent costume project . If you would like to rent any of the costumes, please email Oh boy.