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

Knee Deep in Rainbows

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I’ve been busy.

Finished Access Box (one of 60+)
Finished correct size (not yet glued down)

 

Internals for the Access reader box
Internals for the Access card reader box

Access is nearly ready for action, thanks to the programing and hardware design of my friend and collaborator Daniel Garcia and the help of my three lovely studio assistants who have been sanding away at the 60+ boxes I printed on the 3D printer.

Access will have its first run of interaction at Intel’s conference in Portland, Oregon this May, where I will also be presenting a talk on intersections and empathy.

The piece involves a series of statements about Access with “Yes” and “No” buttons with card readers to log responses.  The statements cover all kinds of access based on education, physicality, finances, background, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, culture, social elements, etc. Like Identity Tapestry, specific statements are selected and phrased to focus on the _intersections_ so that one statement may cover different kinds of people’s specific access challenges.

Each visitor will have an access card (image below) to use in including their own access story into the piece. I made these softer and more tactile with an eye to giving them the approachability, uniqueness and comfort people find in my yarn to set against the more impersonal electronic devices.  The color of the card will determine the color shown in the data visualizations for the piece.  They go from statement to statement, scan their card, and then select “Yes” or “No” for each of the sixty statements.

Cards for the Access piece

In this first iteration,  the data visualizations will be on large monitors on either side of the piece, but future iterations will likely use project mapping or combinations of screens and projection mapping.  I have the advantage of knowing the specific group for this particular piece in advance and knowing everyone should have no trouble accessing the piece.  In future more public interactions though, the goal is to make the piece accessible to participants who do not speak English, or who are blind or wheelchair bound.  The fonts were already selected based on being better for those with dyslexia.

In the meantime I am working on a very special (and HUGE) version of Identity Tapestry which will include maps for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT). The show (Wandering, Mapping) will open on August 4th and run until October 20th, 2019. The piece will also feature a companion wall of responses on local, Tokyo paper I have hand-dyed alongside the yarn.

My studio helpers have been my hands through much of the dyeing process, and all of the measuring and winding and they’ve been wonderful.  I am looking forward to seeing everything up and installed!

 

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.

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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Thoughts on Performance Art- my Ritual Space approach

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img_0414-2So I have a lot of thoughts on performance art.  Many of them come down to the idea that when you push it to the extremes (which is one of art’s natural habitats) it becomes about enacting extremes on the body.  Extreme pain (so many), extreme pleasure (Seed Bed comes to mind), sex, nudity, privation, stillness, repetitive motion… so many extremes of what the body is and what it can take.  An extension of that is the extremes of emotional exposure as seen in and through the body.  There are many interesting, important approaches to this, but I feel like it is ground well covered, and not what I’m interested in for my own work.

My work isn’t about me or my body or extremes, it’s about creating a platform, structure, even a ritual space for others to engage with ideas I present: with each other, with themselves, and now, possibly with me.

Ritual space is something I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. It was central to my studies in my first undergrad in History of Religions. I took a wonderful anthropology-based (Turner-centric) course on Ritual, but I saw ritual in everything from folk tales to architecture and football games. Ritual space is throughout our secular and personal lives- the ritual space of a hot bath with candles, a classroom, a bar, a gallery or a public library. These spaces have forms, rules, and roles which set them apart from other spheres and spaces in our lives and they create feelings and thoughts unique to those spaces. In these spaces we are ourselves, and yet ourselves in a specific role or character to fit the space, observing certain rituals of that space (a 3rd grade teacher will be themselves at both a bar and their classroom, but different selves).

In #DadaTarot I am creating a ritual space for the action to happen in. That action requires a mediator with a certain level of otherness and authority. A slight change of clothing and demeanor is enough to create this. I am still very much being myself, but I have given myself certain rules (some of which I specifically gave myself permission to break).   The rules, the clothing, demeanor and the simple object of a table give me the structure of a ritual space for the piece to work in.  Given the nature of Dada I didn’t even allow myself anything fancy for the table- it is a ready-made cocktail table and the covering was the first plain black piece of fabric on the top of my fabric pile, not sewn or tidied in any way.

For this piece, the Role of Barker/carnival worker has to be there to set the interaction apart from other gallery interaction, but also to get the participants to enter in a questioning way. These roles are known for being untrustworthy.  I want people to come to this project with skepticism. For this piece I would absolutely not dress in any kind of clothing associated with actual fortune-tellers with very good reason: my role does not actually involve doing the fortune-telling. That I leave to the participants. The barker’s role is to bring bystanders into the action and tell them what the rules of the game are, which is what I do.

Me in the role as artist would to explain the piece and how it fits into my work. In the case of me performing in this piece (as opposed to someone else performing the piece while I stand next to it as Artist) I mostly steer clear of this. If they press, I mostly answer as Barker, not artist as to the nature of the piece.  That said, I am remaining myself.  This performance allows for expressing what I want to say, holding back, and then allowing myself to be pressed for an opinion, even as I say I should not really be giving it… which is what good Barkers do too.

I suspect more of my work is heading in this direction. Most of the participatory works need some kind of “baby sitter” during interactions to explain the interactive process to people and to keep people (especially drunk people) from breaking them or walking away with parts of the art.  Mostly the ritual space of Gallery with the role of Gallery assistants covers this. Now that I am looking this aspect of my work in the face and acknowledging that what I am creating with my installations is ritual space (inside the ritual space of gallery/museum/etc.), it logically follows to incorporate ritual roles for certain works.

*note:  I am fully aware that not all performance art involves extremes, and there is a lot of performance art out there (physically extreme and not) which I admire.  A lot of it is politically extreme and I applaud that too.  This studio blog post is about my own artistic path.

 

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.