From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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.


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.

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.

Whirlwind of Art NYC: Grid/Weave/Tangle

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Last week I flew out to NYC for some Art saturation.  Museums, Galleries, the Whitney Biennial, a show, studio visits… it was wonderful.  There will be a post about all that, but I thought I’d share the work that really connected to my current exploration of weave and grid and tangle.

I happened to see Jasper John’s “Regrets” series at MOMA and noticed a lot of fabric and weave in his prints!  It was interesting to me that though I knew him as a painter since high school, I’d never really seen any of his print work (one of those some-media-privileged-over-others things?).  He also directly incorporated cloth and weave into his in 0-9 series on display there. Last week I was just working out how I would incorporate the weave into my first copper plate and here was a famous artist doing just that.  Serendipitously later that day I saw another Jasper Johns piece at Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea related to the 0-9 prints at MOMA which was done as a bronze sculpture … again with the weave.

The following slide show is made up of the work around NYC, old and new that fed  into the shapes and thoughts around grid/weave/tangle that I’ve been exploring.


Written by Mary Corey March

March 29, 2014 at 1:00 am


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photo(7)So tonight I passed out more envelopes for “Write me for Art” backstage at the Opera- to all sorts of people from the top of the production down- makeup dept, dressers, chorus and others who will remain unsung as it were.  I’m very pleased with this project so far.  I’m getting new mail coming in every day from all over the country and outside it!

I’m enjoying the exchange with people when they see me working on the project (as at the Opera) and ask me about it.  I then get to explain and hear their reactions and give them an envelop.  I like having people actually see the care that I put into each person’s words as I embroider them so that they know how their words will be treated.

I made sure to pass some out at the airports in Chicago and New York, on the planes, in the shops…  I pass them to waitresses and cab drivers, on buses…  wherever I can to as many different kinds of people as I can.  So far I’m personally passed them out in Vermont, New York (twice), Chicago, New Hampshire, Boston, and SF.  Friends have taken them to Chicago, Iowa and Maine.  I’ve even gotten one or two in strange envelopes from out of the country which may have begun here online.

I do not want to comment on the sorts of responses I’ve gotten and how they relate to the project, but believe me, I’m thinking about it plenty.

Tonight I also started blocking out the files for the machine-embroidered versions of each response.  As I get more responses I’m starting to get images of how I want to put them together as an installation.

PS: If you were wondering how or why I was backstage at the Opera it’s because I’m on stilts in the SF Opera’s production of Mephistopheles.   I’m a supernumerary , which is the Opera way of saying “extra”, but we get called “supers”, which I love.  I did it because I can and because these are the things that feed my art- a life rich with varied experience.  In this case I think this particular stilting experience may have spawned a new participatory piece- I’m still thinking it through.

*If you want to be included in “Write me for Art” follow the link.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

Identity Tapestry at SVC

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All in all that was a pretty wonderful experience.  The college was so glad to have Identity Tapestry there and so welcoming to me.   I had the help of a whole team of students to help me install, as well as staff.  Both were wonderful.  It is a great thing to be invited somewhere, to be welcomed into a community and have your work celebrated and made part of that community.

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This will be the first start-to-finish commissioned permanent installation I’ve made.  “Dream Blanket” did get purchased for Sage Colleges and there is another piece in limbo as to whether it stays where it was done, but this one was made to be part of this community and it feels great.

The results were so different from previous iterations!  I expected things like “I love being in nature” being very full in this group- they are in Vermont after all,  but other things were surprising.  I’m attributing the large number of people who have seen someone dying to the nursing program, but I don’ think that’s the whole picture and it was wrenching to see.

There was a lot more strength of love in this one- “I have loved deeply” was mobbed and there was at least one iteration where it was much more empty.  There was also a sense of perseverance that came out to me, of growing beyond the past perhaps that reached across many statements.  A love of learning and a quest for personal betterment was all over the piece.  It came out in people being ashamed of their pasts, but proud in the moment, of many of the “I try” statements being so full, and many of the jaded ones being more empty.  An openness, eagerness… but also a pretty seasoned group.  I’m pleased to see the community expressed in the piece.

During both my artist’s talk and the Opening I was taken by the change that came over people.  While there were many people already excited about Identity Tapestry, there were a number of people who might have been reluctantly brought over by a spouse or teacher or friend and I got to watch those faces open up and take on interest and eagerness.

In some ways I think I’m still a teacher at heart- witnessing those “aha moments” are what we live for.   As an artist it’s that “aha moment” plus that moment of reaching someone- of seeing the artwork get right through their walls and connect with something more tender, of making them examine their thoughts and feelings, definitions and assumptions, to feel something intense and unexpected.  That’s what it’s all about.

IMG_3233 I had many excellent conversations with a whole range of people; students, faculty, staff, visitors and board members.  I already have new feedback and ideas for the projects I’m working on, and one conversation resurrected hopes of doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now- an interactive home installation that takes place over years.

Other possibilities are opening up.  More and more I think that soon I’ll be able to create in some large and spectacular spaces.  There are so many projects sketched in my mind waiting for the right situation and location to flesh them out and give them life.


* If you haven’t seen the piece, this video from previous iterations gives a better sense of the interaction,  motion and growth.


Written by Mary Corey March

September 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Self Location

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I just realized that I hadn’t put up the finished piece “Self Location (Aurora Hunt)” that I finished this spring.  Since I’m currently working on a new embroidered text piece it made sense to put it up.


Mixed Media: Embroidery on computer-printed linen and silk organsa, map pins. 5’x 5′

This gives an idea of the composition as a whole.  Here are a few detail shots as well.

topleft detailThis one gives you a peek at the inclusion of online elements.  I find that even when using computers less and being somewhat more “off the grid” and working by hand computers and the internet seem to maintain a background presence at all times now.  They are a huge part of how we locate ourselves in the world both physically and socially.

The transparent layer is a traditional road-map and the top layer of my own experiences is in hand embroidery.  Below you can get an idea of the effect that emotion can have on even the same person’s hand-writing (mine in this case).

kiruna detailEach postcard-sized print was a location we stopped at.  These two were a strong contrast in experiences and the contrast comes out in the writing.

This is part of what I’m exploring in this new participatory piece using embroidered text- what handwriting tells us which digital print does not.  What becomes more person and meaningful when it is done by hand.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 30, 2013 at 12:11 am

many little envelopes

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envelopesI’ve been working on my new project, working title “Write me for art” which will probably  not be the name of the actual piece, but it is what I’m asking people to do.  If you want to be part of it, see the instructions here.

I’ve been hunting responses from strangers.  So far I’ve posted a call here, but more importantly I’ve wandered around a little- I’ve passed out the instructions with a stamped and addressed envelope to a person on the street, a group of elderly friends on the bus, a cab driver, a parent at a kid’s birthday, a nurse, a wine-tasting bartender in Napa, a couple at an art opening (not in the gallery, but on their way out).  All different ages, different walks of life.  And I asked each of them them to try and find a person or two to do it and add to their envelope before they sent it to me- the more different from each other the better.  I intend to bring a big stack to my upcoming NYC/Boston/ New Hampshire trip to distribute at will.

I’m curious what will happen.  How many will I get and what will they be like?  I’m expecting at least a hundred, possibly hundreds over the next few months.  It’s the sort of thing that will spread over time.  I’m giving myself until the end of the calender year to collect responses and hand embroider them- then I’ll see where I want to take the piece from that point.  There’s other components to the complete piece, but I’ll leave you there for now.  Some of it I’m waiting to decide until I see how the process unfolds and the ideas it gives me.  And  yes I do realize the time commitment.  Yes, I’m that kind of crazy,  This is not news for my practice.  I love challenges.

In the meantime I’m working on what looks like a commissioned permanent Installation (details still in negotiation process) and continuing work on the Access piece (which also involves talking to strangers).

I love working this way.  I meet so many different kinds of people.

Written by Mary Corey March

July 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

Nonsense Text

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backsMy work has increasing amounts of text in it.

These are the backs of the embroidered “postcard” parts of the piece that came out of my Aurora-hunting trip to Norway and Sweden.  Something about the cadence of writing, the gesture without the meaning is very attractive to me.  There are a number of artists working in imaginary text in this way.  I recently saw Gu Wenda’s united nations — babel of the millennium at SF MOMA that really struck me and stayed with me.  I saw another piece by an Asian artist- I think Korean, but I’m not sure that consisted of a room full of open texts which were in a generically Asian-looking text that was also nonsense characters.  I need to track that artist and his work down!  *

For some reason as soon as I start to get interested in text I became interested in text failing to reveal the sort of meaning we expect from text and retaining only the visual language of gesture.

*later note, thanks to Melinda I have the name I was searching for- Xu Bing and the piece is “Tianshu” (book from the sky)

Written by Mary Corey March

April 17, 2013 at 11:30 am

freeing up the brain

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IMG_5629Even before joining the MFA program, just as an artist paying attention to the art world I felt certain kinds of pressures on my work.  In art school the current canon is all the more palpable.  My generation of artists (if they are to be considered proper Contemporary Artists) have the pressure to figure out their conceptual framework and justify their concept, use of materials, etc. before they even touch any material.  It’s stifling.  Sometimes the process informs the work through the material or the unconscious.  This pressure to think through everything and justify everything stifles certain essential parts of the artistic process.

The project I took with me to Norway and Sweden this trip was an effort to shake some of this off.  It was an impulse project.  I started not knowing what I would do more than a few steps ahead and deliberately not trying to figure that out too hard.

It’s still unfolding, and it is a relief to have something unscripted, though deadlines are putting more pressure on me to resolve it quickly now that I’m back.  Maybe that’s all it is for, maybe it turns into something I’m really happy with- we shall see.  It looks like it will be the first project that involves sound for me.

Travel generally helps to shake out the rigid bit’s of one’s thinking a bit.  I didn’t get in as much drawing as I would like, but I did get in a lot of walking and looking and just the movement of travel- planes, trains, buses… even reindeer.   My brain feels flexible and open again where it had felt a bit squeezed a couple weeks ago.

On another note, I did see auroras on my aurora-hunting journey.  A series of pale green and lavender ones, and one huge serpent of a thing arcing across the entire sky- pulsing and blazing.  It was incredible.  Riding back down from the sky station to the lights of the nature center below in the silence while pale auroras bloomed overhead was somehow even more precious.  Silence that huge is a beautiful thing.


Written by Mary Corey March

March 29, 2013 at 9:27 am

Setting out for the Arctic Circle

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IMG_4750I am so pleased with how the prints came out!  I have been dying to try the fancy fabric printer at SFAI since I first saw it on the tour.  So exciting.  For this new project I’ve printed on Belgian linen and organza (both pre-treated for printing).   It nearly looked like the fabric wouldn’t arrive in time to print, but though it came down to the wire it all worked out.  Amazingly the tests I did weren’t even needed- it came out exactly as I hoped it would!  There’s a first time for everything- even printing on machines.

I took 5 minutes the other day and made myself a rough little fabric embroidery floss roll that fits in my pack and I’m ready to go!

I love working while in motion, especially detailed things like this.  So yes, there will be embroidery, layers of printed fabric… and I’m thinking about other elements too… like sound.  The piece will be an installation of many smaller parts gathered around the primary map.  One thing I’m enjoying – I don’t know what will happen to the piece on the journey.  It will be a surprise, coming out of the travel.  We’ll see.  Pleased and ready to go to the Arctic Circle!


Written by Mary Corey March

March 14, 2013 at 10:48 am