Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh the Wind

I think this video is funny.
It has been windy this winter.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Synergy of the Studio

When I was an undergrad, I spent much of my free time in a craft studio in the basement of the student center. There they offered quarter-credit classes in weaving, ceramics, metals, book arts, and assorted other areas. It was a primary part of my time there and I loved both the people and the space. My mentor there, Jeanne Steiner, recently wrote to solicit student comments about how the Arts and Crafts department served us during our time there. The paragraph below is from my response to her. I'm speaking about that studio, but I think the sentiment holds up across similar spaces.
There is a beautiful synergy that can happen when people are working together and building community. We observe those who are more technically skilled. We compare tools and materials. We meet those whom, in our ordinary lives, we would never see. We enter into a space that is Other, in which we are permitted to set down classes, work, finances, and relationships in order to make. Where else might we learn to seek this stillness-of-focus and community? Some people find it in sports, and many Colorado College students seem to look for it in the mountains, but that's not for everyone. I needed this department every single year of my college experience. Each year it provided for me a different kind of support and opportunity. Now I hope to share my experience and technical know-how with my students, to help them find the profound balance of craft in the storm of the instant and shallow.
Per usual, I talk a better talk than I walk. How can I teach anyone about carving out stillness-of-focus through craft when I struggle to do that for myself? By blogging about it, natch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fat of the Land

Below is a google map documenting edible perennials in Knoxville. Perennials are plants that return year after year, as opposed to annuals like vegetables, which must be replanted each season. Most of the plants marked here are trees: black walnuts, pears, apple, and a couple peach tress. What great abundance! I'm looking forward to the spring when I can identify fruit trees by their blossoming. If you know of any edible or medicinal perennials in your area, please let me know and I'll add them to the map.

View Larger Map

Saturday, January 17, 2009

We Make Ready

Six students from the UGA in Athens came to visit us in Knoxville this weekend. Each artist provided several sheets of paper in addition to their screens, linoleum blocks, zinc and copper plates, and assorted ephemera. We'll have a show at Gallery 1010 (113 S. Gay St.) this coming Friday from 6-9. Stop by and witness the power of collaborative work.

Collaborative work always sounds good on paper, but the reality of working with others is the same in art as it is in most other industries: it requires that we shift our focus outward from ourselves. Printmaking is blessed by its inherent sociability. In addition to the communal nature of a print shop, the multiple image or object carries with it an historical intention to be distributed, viewed, and experienced on a scale larger than its maker's self.

We don't often talk in critique about an art object's future context. The immediate context is Art School. If we look beyond that, we assume our fine art prints will hang on the wall in a gallery, museum, or private collection. This is a generalization: there are many print artists considering space in their installations and doing beautiful work. I especially like the city-scape of the art-school educated street artist Swoon and the sculptural organic forms of my UTK peer, Crystal Wagner (image at right).

If you really want to take it to the streets, to have your voice heard by the largest possible majority, you've got more efficient technology than hand printing. The internet will broadcast images and ideas on a scale previously unimaginable. The humble photocopy might lose a little texture in translation, but how discerning is your audience, anyway? Why do we choose to use lithography and intaglio to make multiples? What ways of knowing are inherent to printing and what can other disciplines (artistic and otherwise) learn from them?

I want to keep working collaboratively. First to keep myself mentally out in the world more and secondly, to expand the realms in which print contributes to our understanding of Art, the World, How to Be a Good Person, etc. Maybe next time we can assemble a team of students from botany, architecture, philosophy, and art and work charette-style towards a yet-imagined product. This is a good beginning.

Lastly, in the spirit of having and broadcasting vision, here are many of the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Increase My Bewilderment

I got The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life, by Fanny Howe at the UT library yesterday. I'll admit that I grabbed it for the title and cover layout, but there is sublime serendipity in the library. She writes about her life with bi-racial children in Boston, the creative process as it touches the mystical (in writing specifically), and her return to Catholicism.

In the first chapter she quotes a Muslim prayer that says, "Lord, increase my bewilderment." Let me wander and not know and not judge. Let me suffer and hurt. Let me emerge loving and whole.

Similarly, Eric Lee's drawings (which are now hanging at the Birdhouse) sit in the mystic middle where you are neither comforted nor aggravated, and you will emerge better, but not in the way you'd imagine. You're drawn in by the familiar: attractive fashion figures lounging in typical fashion-photography slouches. Their posturing and expressions are interrupted by Lee's deft x-acto skills and draftsmanship. The precision of his line work is reminiscent of architectural renderings and large scale Sol LeWitt drawings. A family advertising Dillard's Easter sale (or whatever) becomes a cluster of shamans and lunatics. This subversion is only level two of the drawings. Level three is the smallest stuff: orbs, astral splotches, and textured patterns that reveal the obsessive attention of their maker.

I think Eric sold/gave away at least two of his drawings: female couples laughing like drunk bridesmaids and holding a severed head like a cute clutch. I wish I'd gotten one. If you're in Knoxville in the next month, you should make a point of seeing this work before it comes down. The next music show at the Birdhouse are Ghost to Falco and Eshka Paper (Jan. 14th, 10 pm), Three Man Band with The Alcohol Stunt Band (Jan. 16th, 9 pm), and Fugue State (formerly Gresham Greene and Sapient Blaine (Jan. 23, 9 pm).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

we are legion (+ value)

The oxidizing walnuts I left out in open buckets are overtaken by an aqua-colored powdery mold. While moving them outside and trying not to inhale, I remembered the phrase, "We are legion." In the Christian Bible (the books of Mark and Luke, specifically) Jesus encounters a man possessed by demons. Jesus speaks to the demons, because he is Jesus and compassionate, and asks them to identify themselves. "We are Legion. We are many," the demons say. Jesus, again compassionate even to demons, does not destroy the demons, but transfers them to a herd of pigs. The pigs throw themselves into the sea.

Mold spores are many on the walnuts, and I lack the messianic compassion to cast them elsewhere. I imagine the thousands of spores sailing into my lungs, beating up my aveoli,and singing "We are legion." This is to say that dealing with several pounds of moldy walnuts was frustrating and possibly toxic. Is this why my lymph nodes are swollen? Bah. I thought this experience was going to be all zen and creative.

I drew a bit with the ink as it stands now. The color is weaker than I'd hoped, which is a little disappointing. I'll continue to reduce the liquid. An added bonus: the simmering dye bath reeks of weird burning. Samantha described the smell as "rotten barbeque". Between the mold (= demons), the smell, and the sallow brown color the shine is wearing off this project. And that's a good thing, because it prompted this line of questioning.

Am I doing this so you can compete in the ink market? So I can bottle and market my product? Why am I doing this? It stinks, literally. And it's anachronistically slow and weird. I think I'm doing this because I wanted to add value with my hand labor. Through the force of my labor and elbow grease, I will process raw material into more valuable product. That idea is a throw-back, but it's not entirely nostalgic. It's part of how our markets work: value-added products. Corn is more valuable as cereal than it is as unprocessed corn. These walnuts are now walnuts + value: their product can make marks or stain things. I like to think I am now Katie + value: a degree more patient and wiser about dealing with things that rot.

Does labor equal value? That's traditionally why we value labor, right? It increases the worth of the thing labored upon. I claim to value certain labor for its meditative qualities, but judge the success of this project by the quantitative (and olfactory) qualities of the product. Ya basta.