From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘process’ Category

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.

Stepping Back (in)

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mirrorI’ve been away from being public about my art for a little while now.  I’ve only applied to a single program, I’ve written no blog posts, showed no work and even turned down a few shows.  I needed a break where I could think my thoughts without offering them to the world.

Years ago I might have pushed on, and possibly had a breakdown.  I’ve learned better.  During the course of my recently completed MFA program six people I love died.  Three of my four grandparents, one of whom was like a second mother to me.  Two mentors.  One friend and fellow artist to suicide.
Just on their own MFA programs are difficult, intense cauldrons of emotion and ego and challenge and intensity of ideas and beliefs.  They are the crucibles that forge us… those of us who don’t crack.  The ones that did crack were measured in the bulging mailboxes and empty studio spaces at the end of each year, and there were more than a few.  We put ourselves on the line, our ideas, our thoughts, our work, and those of us who are willing, our loves and lives and beliefs too.  Of course, the current fashion is cynicism and snarkyness (which doesn’t call on people to put themselves out so far) but for me being on the line it is what makes the art have a soul,  and while Soul doesn’t matter to some, and there is some good purely intellectual/aesthetic art, it matters very much to me.
After the thesis show I had immediate offers for shows and commissions- wonderful opportunities,  but not the breath of air I needed.  For a full year after it I was busy, during which there was another death, the final grandparent. They all lived full lives, all died over 94, but the loss is ours and never easy.  The situation of being in constant physical pain was one factor I had throughout all three years, as was being the main caretaker of my young daughter during a period where my husband was so busy he rarely even got weekends off.  There were other significant pressures I won’t list.  It was a hard three years.  It was also intensely productive and important.

At the same time I was incredibly fortunate.  I didn’t have to pull my hair out over money.  I had love and good friends and whether I wanted a break or not I those commissions and shows just dropped into my lap- nearly every vacation during the MFA program as well as after it.  I didn’t have to look for a single show after I graduated- I didn’t have time for any more, but when I saw the pause in the stream, I took the break instead of hunting for the next one.  I shut down the blog and set out to take care of everything in my life that had been held together with sealing wax for three years. I did things for the fun of them, I saw the people I love, I experienced new things and got new ideas.
Like many artists, I have depression.  I have anxiety and panic attacks.  It is almost a cliche that artists are tortured souls and some of us think we can’t work without that (I disagree, but it is different).  Chronic pain adds its own layer to one’s process.  Most people looking at me would have no idea about the first two and many would never know about the pain either.  There were many classes and critiques where I was clenching my fists not to scream from the physical pain in my back and concentrating hard on keeping a normal face.  I have many strategies for dealing with it all.  I kept on, put one foot in front of the other, did all the things I needed to do and held everything together and met every deadline, did my best work… and when I had an opening I did the sane thing I would not have done 10 years ago, and rested.

 

You see two other people died during that time, acquaintances, but each with a compelling message.  One was another suicide from depression- someone who worked himself into the ground and didn’t acknowledge the care he needed to take of himself, he pushed himself too far.  The other was a car crash, a terrible random thing that could take any of us at any moment.  When I resurfaced those deaths reminded me again not to take a moment for granted, and not to put taking care of myself last.  I even discovered something to help my back and for the first time in seven years I’m having multiple days without serious pain.  I’m breathing again.

 

So here I am, back at work.  My mind has been plotting new art, my hands have been busy, sketches and ideas form.  It’s time to step back in to show my work and share my thoughts again.    I leave you with this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius and depression.

 

***Addition:  Wonderfully, when I moved on to check my email I found an invitation to include a specific piece in an exciting museum show in another country waiting in my inbox.  A well-timed confirmation to stepping back in indeed.

Hidden Processes

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display sketchMy sketches are always like this- rough, scribbly, and somehow they work the best for me- loose enough for me to imagine different details.  But until the other  even the loosest sketch of the physical part of my Endangered Languages piece weren’t jelling enough for any sketch to make me happy.

I had been hitting a major wall with the work and it was keeping me up at night for weeks as I tossed image after image and idea after idea in my head.  Two days ago I had a great conversation with a friend that helped me break through.  He has helped me document my work in video and photography but more importantly he is always  a great person to brainstorm with (there are two pieces we’ve thought out together that I think need to be made as collaborative works).

The thing is the process is so often in the mind.  I visualize and discard so much before I start making these days.  Now without having physically built anything, I suddenly have a pretty clear picture of the finished piece.  Now that it’s there I can sketch and mock up and I can start building like a maniac.  I’m going to build a mock-up for size and relationship to the body before I build the main object.  I want to get the height and tilt angle that way.  It should recall natural history museum displays… but with some unexpected twists in action.

Another thing hidden (besides things in my brain) is the thoughts and concepts behind the work.  You will notice I don’t tend to explain my concepts here.  I have them, usually intensely thought out (what some people would consider over-thought out), but I want the concept to be experienced and seen and heard, not just explained before people see the actual work.  I want them to walk up and discover it, not come in with a thesis on it.  There is also a sort of delicacy in certain stages of creation, where if you explain too much (especially to the wrong people at the wrong time) it leeches the life out of it in your mind, or it kills your drive to make it.

At the same time, I love revealing the physical process.  I like to show the beauty and madness of the actual objects-in-progress and the physical experience of making the thing rather than explain everything up front.

You’ll notice the Academy of Sciences sticker in my sketchbook.  I went with my daughter after school to get a look at the display cases, both old and new.  When I go into a museums or place with the intent to take notes I always put the ticket or sticker or write the place at the top.  Sometimes the page is otherwise blank.

 

Written by Mary Corey March

November 22, 2014 at 12:59 am

“I am. And You?” (Transparency and Primary Text)

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The space and the work were so wonderful together.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to create this new installation for this space.  “I am. And you?” was also a perfect theme for my work generally, so it was a good fit all around.  They have asked if I would keep up the new work “Transparency” for the next show as well (centered around building community and communication), so there will be more chances for the general public (aside from hundreds of theater-goes) to see it.

I always love seeing people interact with my work and discovering what happens when the work comes together with a space and a unique group of people.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

Installing for “I am. And you?

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IMG_5621Did I mention the space is absolutely amazing?  When I saw that piece of set (a huge factory wall which can be back-lit through the windows), the height of the ceilings, the space generally I knew I had to do a piece in that space.

So over the last couple days we put up Primary Text and my new work Transparency, created especially for the space and the “I am.  And you?” show at Zspace.  Primary Text is hung in this image (left), but not yet anchored.  I’m excited to see that one in action Participation-wise.

Yesterday I finished creating a warp for Transparency (the up and down part of a weaving on the loom) over 15 feet long.  It’s right in front of the windows, and the material you will be weaving into it is the colored gels theaters use over lights.  You can just see the 3 cables I used to hang it.

Each person will answer a question and write it on the gels and weave it into the warp.  They can also respond to someone else’s answer as if that person asked “and you?”. The physical result should be a kid of stained-glass window lit from behind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ideas and experiences of introversion and extroversion, backstage/onstage/audience, the parts of ourselves we show differently in different company.  Filtered selves, not fake, but you don’t let the same parts of yourself through to your coworkers as you do to your lover or your child or vice versa.  One odd discovery is how many theatre performers are actually introverts offstage.  Given the environment of the theatre and the way lights and windows an that set-piece were working I had to explore transparency and filters while using the visual materials of the theatre-space (sand-bags, lighting gels, a “set” of flat black).  I’m excited to see how it all comes out when it’s been interacted with!

Please join us Monday night from 6-10 at ZSpace in San Francisco.

Directions

Written by Mary Corey March

July 4, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Gala Night

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The Gala fundraiser opening for SFAI’s graduate thesis show. 

last participantThis photo is right when things were closing down.  I liked the stillness and being  able to clearly see all three pieces without the crowd.  It was a really great night.  I love  seeing people interact with the work!

My work for this show included Identity Tapestry (iteration#9)Write Me for Art/Do you read me? (Disintermediation), and Write Me for Art/ Do you read me? (digital mediation)

I poked my head out a little, but I haven’t seen the whole show yet.  I’m looking forward to a quiet viewing tomorrow.

Because I can, and Open Studios

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Setting up a test version of “Write Me For Art”. Really, this was the perfect height for setting up on stilts, which is way easier and faster. Sadly I’ll be hanging much higher at the Mint in a few weeks.

Tomorrow I’ll be at Open Studios at SFAI’s graduate center.

There will be the usual nibbles and drinks, but in my case there will be an interactive sound piece “Pulse”, created from the stories of San Franciscans.  What story will your pulse tell?

Also I will be working on a new Participatory piece, so if you choose you can become a part of it!

Graduate Open Studios
Saturday, April 19, 2014 – 12:00pm5:00pm
Third Street Graduate Center
2565 Third Street (between 22nd and 23rd)
San Francisco, CA
We are on the second floor.  Every Orange door is SFAI.  I’m in C7 (C -bay is just right of the lounge, 7 is the back right-hand studio). I find it easiest to take the entrance on 22nd St.
I hope to see you there!
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If you want to see the finished “Write me for Art” you’ll just have to come to the show next month at the Mint.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 19, 2014 at 11:12 am