From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘art process

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.

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.

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.

Still Collecting words for Endangered Languages artwork. Participate!

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I am still collecting languages for my Endangered Languages Project!

What it involves:  if you speak an endangered language or dialect (list here) I would want to speak with you for 15-30 minutes over the phone, skype, google hangouts or facetime.  You would not need to turn on the video part if it is over the computer. Basically I would just record audio of the following:

-a word or phrase that you feel doesn’t quite translate and which may say something about the culture

-your translation of that word or phrase

-a personal thought or story about it.

Other information I’d collect is where you grew up and where you live now, and what sort of fabric you would suggest goes with the language.  For example: the Irish speaker suggested a brown tweed, the Lowland Scots suggested a Douglas Tartan wool, and the Estonian speaker suggested a natural linen embroidered in a traditional pattern (which I am embroidering).  Otherwise no information about you (name, etc.) would be included unless you would like me to include your name in a “thanks to” list.

I am making a sort of cabinet where the fabrics will be displayed.  When a person approaches, one of the languages will start to play and the corresponding fabric with move with air as if the breath of the speaker is moving it.  It will mimic a Natural History display in certain ways… except with an emphasis on these things still being very much alive.

If you would like to participate, please email me at contact@marymarch.com

This piece is part of a an art exhibition on Endangered Languages curated by Hanna Regev at Root Division in San Francisco which is potentially traveling afterwards.  Previous post here.

Written by Mary Corey March

December 2, 2014 at 2:05 am

Endangered Languages Piece- participate!

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capture of UNESCO's interactive map of endangered languages from http://www.unesco.org/culture/languages-atlas/en/atlasmap.html

capture of UNESCO’s interactive map of endangered languages from http://www.unesco.org/culture/languages-atlas/en/atlasmap.html

I am gathering endangered words for an artwork and I need speakers of endangered languages to participate in my project.

I have been invited to be part of an exhibition on Endangered Languages curated by Hanna Regev which will begin at Root Division in San Francisco.

I need to collect audio samples of certain words in endangered languages for the piece I will include in the show.  There is a physical element to the work, but the text and the sound of each language are essential to it.

I am looking for words that say something that isn’t easily translatable into more commonly spoken languages, possibly words that hints at the culture. For example: “tattybogle” is a lovely Scotts word (a language on the endangered list) but it directly translates into the English “scarecrow” so I would not count it. The word “tingo” (Pascuense , Easter Island) is better. On Altalang.com it is translated as “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”  This is a word which gives you a window into a culture that would produce such a word and takes a clever sentence to translate into a more  commonly spoken language.

What I need for my work is words like that from Endangered languages, spoken and explained on audio by speakers of those languages. Amazingly I’m already finding a fair few… on the internet. Mostly at this point it is friends of friends, but I hope to expand. If you speak an endangered language and would like to be part of the piece, please contact me at contact@marymarch.com with the subject heading “endangered languages”.

One component of the show is the effect of technology on languages.  Are dominant Languages like English, Mandarin and Spanish just taking over because of media and the internet or does the internet create opportunities to connect and encourage speakers of endangered languages? My thought is probably both, but I am finding that the internet is fantastic for connecting with people who speak endangered languages- something that may itself become part of the piece.

UPDATE (12/1):  I am still collecting Audio samples through the end of November. Please contact me if you can contribute. You may remain anonymous in the public project information if you like.  It’s basically a 15-30min Skype, Google Hangouts or Facetime call (which you can turn the video part of off) where I record the word or phrase, your translation and a personal thought or story about them. 

INFORMATION

To see if a language you speak is on the endangered list see Wikipedia’s Lists of Endangered Languages by area.

The United Nations has an interactive map of endangered languages here.

Another great interactive map is here on the Endangered Languages Project site.

For more information on me and my work as an artist, see my website at www.marymarch.com (I suggest the installation and “About the Artist sections in this case).

Filling Out

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spectrum5

The hard part with this kind of thing is knowing when to stop.  At this point I’m happy with the materials.  I could keep going forever, but right now there is enough material to fill the space I am using twice.   The idea is to provide the variety and let the participants determine the color balance of the piece in their selections.  This does make me think I want to do some themed work with dyes that do focus on a specific color range, but the project hasn’t presented itself yet.

The rest of the parts for the installation are coming along… but this is the fun part.

*note* There are more blues in the final set than are showing- arrangement of the curve was a little off so they are hiding under each other while the greens/teals are spread thin… but I am prioritizing making the piece over documenting the process perfectly.

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Spectrum

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silk spectrumHere’s a peek into my dyeing  in progress for the Living Guestbook installation.

When I’m dyeing for an installation I find it helpful to lay out the spectrum of color as I go.  In cases like this one where I want a fairly balanced spectrum this is especially helpful.  So far this is the spectrum the dyeing I’ve done yields.  Looking at this the holes become more obvious.  Also, different from dyeing for Identity Tapestry is that need to keep the spectrum lighter and not go too far into darks or the writing won’t show as well.

eggsThis prompted a return to the fabric store for a few lighter bases to start from. They really look easter-egg to me all together like this, but I’m using them for their potential for over-dyeing and the way they fit into the whole.

Yes, I could do everything starting at a base of white, but I find over-dyeing yields much richer colors.  Also in the case of many of these fabrics, the weave already had two different colors (the warp might be blue and the weft gold, giving it a color-change look).Tthat’s something I can’t do dyeing over plain white fabric, but if I over-dye it, changes in both colors come through.  That again adds a layer of depth to the colors I’m working with. I can also always go back and over-dye again as many times as I like, giving me even more layers of color coming through, especially when I use techniques that dye unevenly.

You can really see the depth in the colors when you look closely at a given strip of fabric.

***Update*** spectrum after today’s work:

spectrum2Still a bit to go, but loving it so far.

Written by Mary Corey March

September 25, 2014 at 11:56 pm