From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘art philosophy’ Category

Circling Access

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I’ve been taking a little break from studio work or in-depth art studies to handle other life things and refill myself.

I need to do other things, talk to friends and strangers, read non-art books as well as art books, see shows and museums, but mostly just think and absorb and wrestle with ideas.  I think that when artists just focus on art and other artists the work is liable to eat itself (or other people’s work) or become a form of collective masturbation.  For me, art should be connected to the greater world and to people who are not art-immersed as well as to art and the art world.

So I pause long enough to still my mind, and now it is rested enough to wrestle with ideas that will feed art.

I am circling questions for a new interactive art project.  Thoughts of social access keep dropping in.  Trying to think of issues I want to address, things I want to put people in contact with.  I like a balance of the challenging and beautiful – they should go together.  I don’t like hitting people over the head with the difficult things or just pleasing them.  With interactive work especially I like drawing them in and calling on their memories and experiences, framing things in new ways.  I think it has to be challenging at points not because you need an art degree to understand it, but because it makes you think about your world and your relationship to it.

This conversation between Judith Butler and  Sunaura Taylor from Examined Life (Astra Taylor) struck a chord that I want to work with:

It needs to percolate though.  I once coached a person who was sightless from birth on the trampoline.  He was amazing and it was one of my best experiences as a teacher.  There are issues of access in gender,  identity as perceived by others (perceived race, religion, culture, sexual identity, sexual orientation, etc.), identity (cultural and religious heritage and practice, nationality(s), sexual orientation, gender association, economic situation,  education, occupation, pastimes, loves, hates, lived experiences….).

There’s just so much… but I’m thinking of exploring the idea of ACCESS.  Maybe it’s just contact?  What’s “normal” for you?  What you feel in in your reach?   I appreciate random ramblings on the subject.

Once I know what ideas I want to work with the form will come.

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later… Just saw this: http://www.upworthy.com/their-parents-employers-and-boyfriends-dont-know-that-theyre-about-to-unmask-themselves?c=ufb1  Different kinds of access and obstruction.  citizenship.  Other stories, videos of children separated from their parents for years when their parents are deported, meeting through a fence.  Gay couples, even married ones seperated by the lack of a green card, or seperated by lack of hospital access… more circling access.

Written by Mary Corey March

June 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

Underpinnings

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My next project is a 5′ x 3′ binary weaving with a warp in LED-lit optical fiber/paper-silk and cotton  and a black silk ribbon weft.

threadcount sortedOften to make something (particularly sculpture) you need to build something else to create the finished object: a mold, an armature, scaffolding, a pattern, a digital file, etc.

For my next new piece, it’s a frame loom.  And to make this loom with a 16 per inch thread count I need to drill 8 holes every inch for 5 feet and put nails in each hole.  Double that (top and bottom).  Then double it again, because my warp (the vertical bit you weave through) is made of both natural fibers and optical fiber.  To separate the optical fiber and give it space apart from the other fibers to put it together heat-shrink couplings (to attach them to the lights) I need a few inches distance… so another row of nails.  It comes to a little over 2600 holes and nails.  Why drill?  Well, as you can see in the test loom (left), when you don’t drill, the wood splits, and the loom breaks.

The image to the left is the finalized thread-count and materials composition after some tests.  I will use the black and white squares to create an image, just like in the  previous (smaller!) Binary Drawing turned-weaving.

IMG_4055Right now I’m nearly halfway there with drilling (you can see some corrected mistakes on the left row), but a few more holes to go on this board.  I have to space out the drilling to avoid RSI in my hand and arm.

I’m getting a shocked reaction from a lot of people in the program about how much work I put into my art.  They are used to conceptual artists using lots of ready-mades (they buy it in a store or find it in an alley).  Ready-mades are fine if that’s part of your actual concept, but I have to say it seems lazy if it’s not.  If your idea has value, you should make sure the thing is exactly what it should be.  If I don’t know how to make something when I have an idea, I learn.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 4, 2013 at 3:40 am

a point of consideration

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The end of the semester was a whirlwind.  Somehow I convinced myself that after weeks of academic madness and performing all day on the weekends (dance is my current hobby that keeps my body from falling apart so I can keep doing art) that I would be in shape to just keep going over the break.  Then holidays and family… you know how it is.

Now I’m back with three weeks of break left and I’m back at work on a new large-scale piece  …and now a new twist is added.

basket frontI’ve been invited to do a new version of Identity Tapestry in LA for an art/film festival event at a University.  They are even covering my costs.  …but it happens during the first week of the new semester, I’m in San Francisco and I’ve had very little lead time.   On principle I would love to do it.

I love the piece, it is different every time and I love seeing people engage with it, love getting it out there.  For me there is no upper limit to the number of iterations I will do.  Even were the size, labels and positioning of the labels the same, each iteration is generated by the time, place and people who interact with it and each is unique.

Still… I am faced with a new question, one I’ve been thinking of since the third iteration of this piece.  Can I build most of it and then prepare installation instructions to have someone else install it?  Is this a work I can hand off the final installation of?

As it turns out, physically I can.  I prefer to do it onsite, responding directly to the space, etc. but when it gets down to it, if I have measurements and a drawing or image of the space I can do it.  I can sculpt and dye all the parts and then create a template for the installer to use for screwing in the posts and for which labels go where.  It’s possible, but it’s very strange to have this gap between me and my baby.  Perhaps it’s growing up.

I have thought through this for years now, knowing it would get to this point, wondering how I would handle it, asking myself the hard questions of exactly what needs my touch and attention to still be my piece and what can be under my direction.   It’s something that historically artists have wrestled with for centuries, and one that contemporary artists work with today- the role of assistants and now curators and installers in art.

In this case it’s still fairly simple- everything with my touch on it- the sculpted element of the basket in particular must be done by me.  I must also decide the relationships of the statements.  The one that’s harder is the dyeing.  Right now I wouldn’t let go of it, but I cannot say that if I were doing ten times the amount of artwork and had the budget for it that I wouldn’t train someone else to do the colors the way I would and then pick them from a pile of colors that person dyed.  I’m not there yet, but who knows?  I’ve articulated some of the hand-made vs/ assistant-made in The Roles of the Artist.

I expected this moment to happen, and I’ve been thinking about it with this piece more and more.  I’ve had many people want me to make “kits” of the piece, but I haven’t yet thought of a way to do that that wouldn’t feel wrong.  I’m working on a digital piece based off of Identity Tapestry that would also be interactive… but that’s a whole other thing.  This is me at the point where I can’t actually keep up with or attend the installation of work that I want to see out there in the world.  I won’t compromise my own vision of the piece.  For me, it’s about deciding where that line is.

Written by Mary Corey March

January 2, 2013 at 9:12 am

Identity Tapestry at BWAC

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This past week I was in New York setting up Identity Tapestry for the BWAC’s Wide Open2 show (juror Nathan Trotman, curator at the Guggenheim, NYC).

The show went well and once again it was wonderful to watch people interacting with the piece.  Many people mentioned that they found it challenging, that it asked them difficult questions or made them look harder at themselves than they were used to.  I’m glad.  It was a large part of the point.

Nathan Trotman awarded Identity Tapestry “Best Installation” for the show.  He also commented on the narrative nature of the piece. Stepping back for a moment it is obvious to me as another quality that is entering my work more and more.  My upcoming installation at the Textile Arts Center definitely has a narrative quality, as does a collaborative photo-weaving on the drawing board.

The response that I got a lot of this time besides praise was “that was hard” and “this made me look harder at myself than I usually do and I’m not sure I like all I see”.   I’m glad.  This is what art is for, or part of it.  TO hold up a mirror that makes people see themselves and each other in a new way, to create a transformative experience… this is what I do my work for.

I was also struck by the New-Yorkness of the emerging layout.  Culture and family seemed much more important than race to most people, while in San Francisco it was nearly equal (though that could have been the demographic of those attending the gallery).  The really New York thing I saw was the focus on intelligence, education and reading.  It seems tied into the city’s identity, while more whimsical statements “I love costumes” “I like to pretend” “I am silly” were mobbed in SF and sparce in New York.  It is a local cultural identity thing.  SF is actually slightly more educated (more higher degrees per person) than New York, the most educated city in the country… but it is certainly also more whimsical, and the highly intelligent and well educated perople there (“geeks”) are more likely to play with legos or juggle than attend cocktail parties, so maybe it’s not a such a surprise.

This piece is new and different each time I do it, a bit on my end, but always on the part of participants.  I love watching it.

I will be putting up a short video montage and images of this iteration on my website soon.  Previous iterations can be seen here.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 16, 2011 at 10:29 am

Posted in art, art philosophy, shows

A new revolution in Art: part one, breaking the cannon… again

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This essay got far too long to put in a single post, so I’ll be breaking it into a few parts.  I am also in the process of getting through a booklist on a certain part of art history (the New York School) that is shedding a lot of light on the subject and my ideas are expanding too fast to keep both current and coherant- so I will settle for large less precise chunks spaced a bit apart.

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Revolutionary artistic movements now accepted as influential and important are generally dismissed in their time, and nearly always in infancy… mostly because they are re-writing the criteria for what art is.

A revolutionary movement is one that changes the rules.  In the last century accepted Art has expanded to include objects of mainstream manufacturing origins, junkyard-employee selected crushed cars, dead bodies, women clothed in raw meat, naked people standing in gallery doorways, a branch found in nature, a man in a cage with a coyote and even MANY different variations on actual feces either on its own (one piece had it canned) or applied to paintings (elephant dung).   Most of these mentioned have graced the Guggenheim and MOMA in NYC.  I’d say that the idea of What Art Is has been pushed as far as it will go without actually physcially attacking the viewer (and I may just be missing some here).  Famous artists have often put themselves in danger as an integral part of the piece.  Where now?

"The face and voice of the citizens of Black Rock City" HeadSpace is an interactive audiovisual installation which comes to life at dusk. A video projector, camera and microphone booth stationed 20' away from this giant head project the image of the participant's face and voice onto it. This live projected image appears to be three-dimensional from all angles around the sculpture, and the 10' tall projected "face" seems to float in space above the playa. All who wish to have their dreams, confessions, announcements, stories, jokes, poetry, performance, or songs heard are welcome." (text from BM website) Photo taken by Mary March, 2005

Right now any media is fair game, and any subject, but there are still rules.  Fifty years ago tossing out technique and conventional composition in favor of process, concept or emotional content was still up for debate.  Now it is part of the cannon of accepted Art.  A piece can stand on concept alone, or even (less often lately) on craft and composition alone.  It can stand on technique together with composition and/or process and various other combinations, but validity nearly always demands the artist place the piece within an art-historical context.  Right now awareness of and deliberate relation to art history is essential to an artist’s credibility, which seems to be  increasingly only accepted in the form of an MFA.  The institution again.  But I think the rules are changing again.

I have been wondering for years what would come next- but really everything I could imagine was a return to something in the past- in particular I expected a return to high technical craft and representationalism coming together with the conceptual and the abstract.  Endless variations within the current cannon  in subject matter and aesthetics (a lot of it with that technique/concept fusion) created plenty of new art and argueably new movements and schools  but the cannon remained.   Now after at least 6 years of being in the middle of the new art revolution I only just recognized this week that it is indeed a revolution: finally something that has the potential to change the rules again. I just didn’t notice it because I didn’t think of it as Art-art until I started studying what I consider the last major revolution in more depth… no doubt because I was educated within the current institution.

Now I see a growing movement that is making new rules which do not demand any of the standards that are still left.  Technique, concept, art history awareness, focus on process, conscious composition… it’s all being tossed… and yet I see some incredible art coming out of it.  I think some of the best of it retains an element or two of the remaining cannon- but some of it really doesn’t and still works.  The artists are also increasingly passing on control to participants and collaborators… and a large proportion of them come from outside art educational backgrounds.

What I am observing now is an international movement of art projects that could only be described as “outsider” art by the art world… and yet they are not only gaining entry into the art world, but transforming it. Moreover I’m not convinced this movement could grow up properly (or more to the point improperly) inside the art-educated art community because the art institutions are passing on their Traditions, their cannon (as is their role), much of it a good 50 years or more old.  Most of my professors in art school gave us what I now recognize to be a very 40’s-60’s view of art and the artist.  Contemporary artists are rewarded within the current system for fitting their work into that cannon… but the system may be shifting again.

The changes in the rules (or a lack of regard for them)  is coming mostly from outside of the educated art circles, but there is some cross-pollination and participation by what you could call art-educated artists.  I see the kind of communities springing up around these things that I don’t see in the academic art community now, but which perhaps echoes famous transformative artistic communities in other times and places.  I see what I can only interpret as a revolution in art that seems as-yet unacknowledged, even by many of the people within it.

I will now use dirty words that will make many Art-art people smirk and roll eyes.  Burning Man.  If you haven’t been, whatever you think about it is probably wrong.  There is just no description.  But I can tell you this, my first time there changed my views about art forever, and it represents or even leads a large part of this new movement.  In fact, it may be the only community doing these things that has any consciousness of being a movement, despite the fact that the people creating the art often don’t even identity themselves as artists (though they will tell you that what they are making is art).

I attended my first burn fully familiar with installation and interactive art such as it was in the museum setting.  I was already leaning that direction… but what I saw there blew my mind.  More dirty words in Art circles.  It wasn’t that the art was good in the currently accepted Art-art ways.  But it had other things that impressed and set it apart:  Scale, use of serious Engineering and Technology, huge Collaborative Groups creating projects together, a sense of freedom or Whimsy, and most of all, Interactivity.   This is the heart of the new movement I see in art, and it is slowly moving outside of the desert and into public spaces and even museums and galleries.

It took a year or so for what I saw at Burning an to sink in to my art process.  I arrived there with a new sense of the importance of the viewer- that work is only complete in that interaction with the viewer, but I came away considering how much more complete that engagement can be when the viewer becomes a participant. A few years later I look back and see that the bulk of my work since then (and the best of it) is interactive or collaborative or both.  This is a movement that is not only transforming engineers, programmers and random people  into artists, but transforming art-educated artists who come in contact with it.  It is causing them to drop the egocentric view of the artist and reach outward- not just to their environment, to history or current events, but to other people (in particular to non-Art people), here and now.  That may be the most revolutionary thing about it.

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The next post will focus in depth on the work coming out of Burning Man and Maker communities that create together, often in huge warehouses.  If it doesn’t end up as long as it looks, I will also go into examples of this type of art entering into public spaces, museums and galleries… but that will probably be post 3.

Written by Mary Corey March

August 13, 2010 at 2:49 am

Chance and Excellence

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Inspector (first stage from chance)

So Wednesday night I learned that not getting my piece into last week’s firing was actually a blessing in disguise.  The temperature regulator on the kiln broke, and so what was supposed to be 500 degrees became over 1200.  Oops.  I never did like electric kilns.  I like to see the cones.  Everything in there died, including the flower pots used to hold the glass that flows into the molds.

An element of chance indeed.

I have what many people would consider diametrically opposed methods of being.  Anyone who knows me outside of any work I do knows me as a bit forgetful, messy, whimsical, bizarre, playful… while people who know me from any work I do or classes I take (same thing really) will tell you that I’m a perfectionist, always planning, exacting to a degree, always double-checking, assessing, always on time, etc.   Except when I’m experimenting… and then the feathers (or wax or dye) tend to fly and one had best stand back.

On the one hand I want things to work the best way possible.  I want to know how everything works and make it work better.  I want to do the best job I can… and I take it all VERY seriously.  Doing anything by halves?  Forget it.   …and so generally most people look at me like I’m insane when I describe an idea I haven’t yet done or they are watching a piece in progress.  In the case of some pieces, if they are looking at a finished work and they understand what went into it, doubly so.  “Do you torture yourself on purpose?”  I feel that one must always pursue excellence as much as possible.  People of similar mind seem to be the only ones who don’t look at me like I’m mad.

At the same time, I’m a believer in riding chaos, and that one must let go of the work as one is working.  Holding on too tight to work either stunts it or kills it.  As precise as one can be nothing is certain and the flexibility to allow the unexpected creates space for new things.  There are things one can learn from chance that one can learn no other way.   Letting go, getting messy, throwing things at the wall to see if they stick.  How else to expand oneself but to explore the unknown?  If the entirety of one’s work and process is too safe, too understood I feel that it dies.

I best love work that is a response to something outside myself- it becomes an exploration of understanding.  I best love processes that I am discovering as I go.  I love the challenge in not knowing what is coming next and knowing that I will have to deal with changes.  I do love visceral work, but it almost feels too easy no matter how lovely the result- like singing or improvisational dancing  (most of the Sculpted Canvas series are very much that).  I could do many such pieces in the time it takes me to do one of the other sort of piece… but I somehow I am most caught by the work that really pushes me.

At the same time, I do tons of tests in discovering a new process, try to think of how things can go wrong, and overbuild on the careful side.  In the case of the face that is now in the kiln (and may never come out of alive) I did a backup mold weeks ago (not a complete copy, but a good start) because my ceramics experience taught me just how fickle kilns can be.  Experimentation is perhaps the line between chance and excellence.  In experimentation we are exploring the unknown, but also cataloging what we learn in order to pursue new levels of excellence (as well as all kinds of other new things).

Again- I best like the combination.  The Scales piece included over a thousand small, fast paintings as part of a larger, more methodical work.  The Identity Tapestry involved experimenting with color- dying several hundred different colors of yarn and learning as I went how to produce specific color variations.  Both pieces also involved the viewers as participants in creating the work; which took whatever order I have laid out and submitted it to the changes of the audience.  It is amazing to watch your artwork finished by hundreds of people.  The entirety of the Exquisite Corps Project was a study in chance, response and interaction.  And since Dada “Starting From Chance” is nearly an official process… one I make a point to do when I feel too methodical.

As always, I believe in a fine line between seeming contradictions- tightrope-walking a paradoxical line between methodical order, experimentation and chance.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 10, 2010 at 1:23 am

Art and art-activities

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There are so many occasions where art skills, hobbies obsessions, craftiness come into everyday life in a non Art capital A-Art way.  And I like them there.  I find that filling my life with rich imagery and creating beautiful and interesting things, attending events rich with costumes, and creative ambiance is something that feeds my art as well as being entertaining.

In general I believe that that which enriches one’s life enriches what one creates.

At the same time, when time is at a premium (and when is it not?) I have to distinguish and maintain a balance.  This year (with the addition of a toddler) I didn’t throw a Ukranian egg-dying party and we stuck to a short spree of drug-store solid colors.  Something has to give.

The hobbies can’t take over all my Art time.  …but I know they feed it.  Eventually a hobby blossoms and becomes part of my artistic vocabulary (as sewing recently has).  Experiences bring something back that must be used for Art.  The sense of fun and flexibility that so many people have in less serious/studious art circles is something I need constant reminding of.  So a balance of play keeps the art from being work, and keeps it vital.

So since it’s the season for thinking about rejuvenation, I will think about that- taking some time with the recreational arsty things that keep things colorful.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 5, 2010 at 4:21 am