From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

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Studio in the Time of Covid

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Moroccan Desert from Mary March on Vimeo.

Creatives with materials have a bit of an edge in this isolation situation- while we may miss some things we bring our own world with us.  Also, my CFS/ME disability has taught me to appreciate the little things like my life depends on it, and this has served me well in these strange times.  In a way I am treasuring this time of focus.

While my house/studio is under construction (delayed now of course) I have been using the garage in our temporary house, not to mention exploding my Identity Tapestry yarn and other things around the house as usual.  I’m lucky the space works for me.  I am also profoundly lucky in my husband and kiddo.  We’ve all done very well together the past six weeks, despite being under the strictest possible isolation since I’m immune compromised.

garage studioI’ve been busy delving into the new series of encaustic paintings using dynamically programmed LEDs in collaboration with programmer Mark Kreigsman. The first piece was “Beneath these waves lies light”.  The second in the series (shown) is based on the Moroccan desert, and ones based on light through leaves and the northern lights are in in the final stage of programming. Thankfully I got materials for another six after that before the stores closed down.

These are especially interesting and challenging.  Rather than just the surface of the paint, or even light bouncing through layers of paint, now I have to get each stroke right from the base upwards.  The light coming through the piece shows every mark.  Also, different pigments filter light different ways, perhaps reflecting yellow but filtering orange, so in low light it looks orange and in bright light yellow. I have scraped off and repainted the last three two/three times each as I work through the unique properties of each set of pigments and work for just the right texture. Another step is finding the correct colors of light to program by their RGB numbers and seeing how they play through the paint, trying and tweaking, shifting combinations.  I paint in different lighting conditions over the first pass of basic light programming I can do myself, while tuning both the paint and light colors.  Then I work with Mark to get much more sophisticated layers of motion and mapping correct for the feel and goal of the painting.

These are incredibly engaging and fascinating for me despite their seeming simplicity and I haven’t seen anyone else do anything like them.  One thing though, they are very tricky to faithfully photograph or video and look significantly better in person.

In the meantime we’ve been locked down like everyone.   I was working on a new Identity Tapestry installation as well until that show got postponed.  I do what I can with the remaining energy I have to make masks which the lovely folks at Dames Do Care (ladies on motorcycles) deliver to places that need them.  Now with the 3D printer free of Identity Tapestry stuff  I can put the it to use on other PPE, which is gratifying.  We use our skills to do what we can in these strange and disturbing times.

Shows everywhere are understandably being canceled and postponed.  My upcoming installation at the Palo Alto Art Center is being postponed for a new show at a later date, with the June show canceled.  Another event out of state with an installation piece has been canceled, and there were two larger profile shows that were meant to be in China this fall, but are also likely to be canceled or postponed.  I absolutely don’t begrudge this and want people to stay safe and healthy.  I just hope our wonderful art institutions weather this storm with all the support we can give them.

 

 

Written by Mary Corey March

April 23, 2020 at 1:36 am

Transitions- continuing my art through illness

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empty studio

The corner of my empty studio

Since becoming sick with ME/CFS, I have had a lot to contend with and it has changed my practice.  I have limited energy, and I have to spend it wisely.  I have only minutes at a time of standing, walking, holding my head upright, etc. before I need to take a rest.  Then again, my practice changed a great deal when I became pregnant, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my art (I did the first Identity Tapestry while pregnant and it brought me into Installation).  The main effect is that I have to pace myself, and think through everything many times before I make the effort of _making_.  I suspect it will generate more thoughtful new work. I also have new reserves of patience, and new understanding to feed my empathy.

Right before I got sick I had come to an inflection point in my work where I knew I would have to start hiring assistants to complete large projects, but I was dragging my feet.  For those not familiar with how art at a certain scale of production goes, this is pretty normal and has a long history reaching back to the studios of the famous Renaissance painters and before.  Even without being sick, I needed to accept that I now needed assistants.

For the three shows I did in the first year of my illness, I relied on the help of an awesome network of friends and my husband (who even learned how to dye wool!) to help me do my work.  They were my hands. They got me through the installations at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and at the Marjory Barrack Museum.  Initially it was hard to conceive of hiring strangers to come into my home in the vulnerable state I was in, given that I had already resisted it before. I wasn’t ready then.

At the same time I became sick, we realized we had to do major repairs to the foundation of our house, and it became a huge remodel complete with moving out.  After I did the museum shows that year, I buckled down to the task of packing and purging the house… again with the help of my amazing friends.  My outside studio space was unreachable for me (and not wheelchair accessible even if I had the energy to work after driving there and parking) and essentially became expensive storage while I hoped I got better.  I turned down some shows and applied to nothing while I used all my energy to move house.

Today I am a little better overall.  The house is moved into a temporary space, and I finally let go of my studio of 14 years.  The new studio and shop space I will have in our house will be an absolute dream though, and I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I have use of our temporary garage and have set up the studio there, complete with a chair that supports my neck and torso so I can sit up longer.

Now that I have the moving hurdle done, I am back to exciting new projects!  This spring I will be doing a new participatory installation that I have been thinking about since 2014 and am super excited about: Access.  There is also another installation in another country coming up in the summer which I can’t wait to do.  Details will follow when everything is confirmed, dried and dusted.

In the meantime, it’s time to take the leap and hire some assistants.  Whatever my condition, my work will continue.

Natural Dyeing for Sukkah Project

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I’ve been invited to inhabit the Sukkah at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco) on October 8th for one day of the holiday of Sukkot.  They invited six artists to each take a day to create an open studio or installation project inside the frame of the Sukkah.  I decided to take the opportunity to do a new Participatory Installation piece within that frame entitled Refuge of Leaves.

Process

These are photos of the dyeing process for this new project.  These are the first three batches, using pomegranate dye, rhubarb dye and artichoke dye.  Each dye changes depending on if I scour the paper first, or if I add a mordant, or if I add iron.  I did every combination on four kinds of paper to get a wider variety.

As I’m going, I allow the paper to show some marks- wrinkles, the mark of the iron, irregularities, etc.  Showing their history, that they have been through something, a difficult process that may even damage them seemed like a perfect parallel to individuals seeking refuge, to people who had a story to tell.

About the Piece

Traditionally a Sukkah is a symbolic ritual space of refuge in the wilderness created for the holiday of Sukkot in the Jewish faith and tradition. “Refuge of Leaves” creates a Sukkah as a space for reflection where people from many backgrounds can reflect on and share their personal experiences of refuge from “wildernesses”, whether physical or metaphorical. As a Sukkah it symbolizes a liminal space of safety within the wilderness between worlds.

I followed traditional aspects of the Sukkah in using natural plant-based materials in the form of a variety of papers from different places and times, including papyrus as well as paper that could be put through a modern printer.  These are for participants to write responses to their choice of prompts on the subject of refuge.  I am hand-dyeing the papers with natural dyes to mimic the color range of plants one might build a traditional sukkah from. The dyeing processes also makes each piece of paper individual in color and texture, just like the people writing their responses.

The word “leaves” in the title functions in a number of ways.  The individual leaves of paper in a larger book, the plant leaves that form a traditional Sukkah, and the nature of a this kind of refuge as a temporary shelter (not a home) that eventually requires one to leave.  The structure is very literally a refuge made of leaves that each participant leaves behind.

As part of this project I will be there from 10AM until 4PM to discuss my work and facilitate the process.  Please join me.

in-process on “Between the Lines (Experience Exchange)”

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sprectrum-side These are the first set of “pages” for participants in Between the Lines (Experience Exchange) to write on.  The materials are translucent acrylics on vellum with bookbinding thread sewn into the tops to tie them into the structure.

The piece was commissioned by the College of the Redwoods for their annual Book of the Year celebration.  This year’s book is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The structure of the piece is a large sculpture created a s a physical framing of some of the book’s core concepts  (I saw them, but also based  on interviews with the author, reviews, and discussions with other people).  The questions also derive from the book, and will ask participants to respond with their own related experiences.

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Dyeing wrap up

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Just some images of my yarn as I dye it and arrange it to see how my color balance for iteration #10 of Identity Tapestry for the Identity show at Vögele Cultural Center is going.

I’m nearly there!  I just need some more blues in the medium darkness range of all hues.  Here you can see on the white plastic sheeting some of the yarn I am dyeing over to create all the richness and depth of color in the yarn for the piece.

I am contemplating using a different size of plaque for the statements because of the nature of German (more text needs more space).  This would bring the format closer to “hello my name is” labels, which I like, but I need to be sure I can find the right sized stickers for the look I want.  I could physically do the text without stickers, but the label/name tag/address reference label stickers give is important to me for this piece.  I may end up ordering metric ones.

Identity Tapestry to show in Switzerland

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vkz_ueber20unsFrom the first iterations of Identity Tapestry I’ve been wanting to create it both in a museum space and in another language.  I’m pleased to announce that this May I’ll be doing both!  Identity Tapestry will be up as part of the upcoming show “Identity” for four months starting this May at the Vögele Cultural Center in Pfäffikon (just outside Zurich).

I will be flying out for the install and I’m incredibly excited.  Any iteration demands a look at which statements to include or leave or if new ones ought to be added, especially in a new area or situation. In this case the language use should be especially interesting because there are essentially two languages at work there: High German and Swiss German.  One is the official language which is used for nearly all text, the other is the language of intimate conversations and the inside of one’s own head.  Apparently it is only recently that the Swiss-German language has appeared in text, and then mostly in text messages, and only to very intimate friends.  How I approach these languages and navigate translations will add new levels of complexity to the piece.  Thankfully the curatorial staff is wonderful and I have a local Zurich-raised person who is willing to consult with me on language as well.

The Crucible of Deadlines and Constraints

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hand on fireMy problem as an artist has never been lack of ideas or even crafting skills.  The real skill is deciding what is most important and when, what not to do, what to sacrifice, what to put the most time and effort into.  Drawing itself is an act of selection- what line to place, what line to ignore, what line to emphasize, tweak, or ghost.

So right now I have a good problem for an artist- two shows at the same time.  One I committed to months ago, but without a specific piece.  Since I knew I could have more space for that show I prepared to spread out and create a larger installed environment.  Then I was invited to be in a show in a museum just outside Zurich, Switzerland.  They wanted a specific piece, and it is one I have to be there to put together.  And they open two days apart.

Now that the Switzerland one is confirmed I’m turning back to the first one.  Suddenly I have more constraints.  Something that can run itself.  Something smaller and easy to install.  Still something interactive.  In the case of this show, something both contemporary and Dada. I was intimately familiar with Dada before I left high school and I loved it then, but two more advanced art degrees have actually put me at more of a distance.  So I dove back to the source.  I re-read the manifestos, looked back at the beginnings and what motivated them.  Suddenly an entire new interactive, small, easy to set up artwork burst out of my head.  And it will work.  And it comes right out of the unconscious pool of all the ideas I am constantly exploring. Better still, because the process of Dada involves some randomness, it will be fun and surprising to make.  I’m excited.

When I have enough time and resources to do whatever I want without a burning idea starting in my mind and a place to put the result I do very little that gets finished.  Give me a place, a time, and a single constraint or direction and suddenly my mind is on fire and my hands itching to create.