From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘art

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

I’ve lost my dear friend and collaborator

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Dan at my wedding

taken by John Adams at my wedding in 2007

Today I am reeling from a terrible loss.  My friend and collaborator, Dan Garcia was one of those lost on the Conception diving boat this labor day weekend.  He and his partner Yulia were among my nearest and dearest friends for the past twenty years.

Since this is my art blog I will tell you especially about Dan, my most frequent and closest collaborator.  Dan documented and helped with so much of my work over the years.  He was incredible to brainstorm anything with, but his specialties were photography and tech. In particular he collaborated with me on Cultural Fabric Breathes Still and Access by working with me to design the tech aspects, and building the code and hardware to make the artworks happen. There are other people I have collaborated on tech with, but he and I made fireworks when we worked.

He was himself a talented photographer and light sculpture artist- making the movement and shifting of LED lighting look more organic and natural than anything I’ve seen.  He created an open source LED lighting platform (FAST LED) that anyone can use- from Disney and Cirque du Soleil , Artists, Burning Man projects, to everyday hobbyists.

He was so passionate about art, especially interactive art.  So passionate about supporting art and making it happen.  He worked on various Burning Man projects including Syzygryd, which was an interactive sound, light and fire piece he did with Ardent Artists (formerly Interpretive Arson and Ardent Heavy Industries). He was just that person always looking to see how he could help, and his enthusiasm and smile were infectious.  For his professional career, he was a masterful programmer and code ninja, and he worked with my husband, following him to two different companies so they could work together.  The two of them were also a fantastic team.

For the last two years he was recovering from the loss of another dear friend, and had only just been starting to do art again beginning with Access a few months ago.  Last weekend I was over for dinner and he showed me the first art piece he had made on his own since her death.  He told me working with me helped him break through to making art again.   It’s hard to imagine never working together again.

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. He and Yulia were the sort of people who touch and light up so many lives, who welcomed and supported such a large community.  We are all absolutely shattered by this.

Another reminder to appreciate the people you love, not put off brilliant ideas for building things together for some future date, and to make time for those extra moments with them.

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Syzygryd (taken by me in 2010)

Written by Mary Corey March

September 5, 2019 at 12:03 am

Installing at MOT (Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo)

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The unsung heroes of the art world include museum installation staff. They are often accomplished artists in their own right, and with large projects like these, they are indispensable.  MOT‘s team was fantastic.  We had a few hiccups (one of which was that humidity in Japan caused my print to wrinkle), but they are saving the day and making my work look its best.

I cannot tell you how great it is to have such careful, dedicated, clever folks to entrust my work to.

Throughout everything the exhibition curator Kasumi and another curator,  Uta (who is assisting me with translation and helping me personally) have been amazing in helping me create my vision in their space.  The museum space itself is amazing.  I only wish I’d had more lead time to do even more (especially with all that vertical space!!!)  I can’t wait to see everything after participation!

On a more personal note, one of the many new medications for CFS/ME that I am using is helping tremendously with my energy levels and recovery rates.  This meant I was able to do this install so much more easily and made this trip so much better.

 

 

 

Nearly ready to fly!

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Paper for Identity Tapestry Companion Wall (Tokyo)This most recent stretch has been all about finishing up Identity Tapestry and Messages from Tokyo for the show at MOT (the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo).

It’s also been absolutely fascinating working with Kasumi Yamaki, the curator at MOT to edit my statements to make them Tokyo-specific, and to be sure the nuances make it across in translation.  There are so many things unique and important to Japan and Japanese that don’t translate easily into English.  My favorite is “air”.  “Reading air” is interpreting the unspoken desires or rules or dislikes of a person or workplace or situation.  “Breaking air” is chasing to go against that (say if work officially ends at 5, but the “air” expectation is that you stay until 8, but you chose to go home at 5).

Then there are things that don’t translate into Japanese, like “faith”.  The concepts of belief and trust, yes, but “faith” is trust or faith without proof.  It doesn’t have to be religious.  You can have faith in a stranger’s good behavior (while you have trust based on experience in the behavior of a friend).  There is no Japanese equivalent, so if I want to include it we have to come up with a phrase that describes it.

My studio assistants have been fantastic: winding yarn, being my hands while I direct dyeing paper and yarn, ironing the paper and sewing thread through it, assembling the posts, filling in the laser-etching in black…  they really have been great.  

basket

Some things I still need to do all by myself. The most obvious thing this time was sculpting the basket.  In previous pieces this has been made of heat-moldable plastic.  This time though, the yarn will be in a nest/cradle on the floor and it is made of chiffon sculpted with draping fluid.  I love how this came out, and it looks great with light behind it, which makes me want to experiment with this material more.

I even managed to figure out how to take everything in our allotted checked and carry-on baggage: 300ish rocks wound in yarn, 1200 pieces of paper, 240 posts, 240 statements, (221 to be used, plus extras), maps measuring 5 feet by 9 feet and the same dimensions for hardware cloth, ph neutral glue (huge container), acrylic bonding solution, tools, paint, draping fluid and extra fabric, and that huge fabric basket.  The maps are in a protected tube with the hardware cloth wrapped around it secured in a ski bag!  It worked!

My last task is making the paper guide for where the statements are placed while my assistants finish taking stickers off the laser-etched statements and fill in the text with black.  Nearly there!

So excited to get to Japan and install these next week!

My kitty has been “helping” all along.

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Written by Mary Corey March

July 14, 2019 at 3:15 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.

Identity Tapestry at the Marjorie Barrick Museum

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Beautifulsm

I am pleased to announce that The Marjorie Barrick Museum in Las Vegas has commissioned Identity Tapestry #12 as part of a community initiative in Healing Through Art in the wake of the shooting there.  It will be on display in the West Gallery from February 2 – May 12, 2018. From there it becomes part of the permanent collection. 

I will also be speaking in an artist panel on “Art with Social Purpose” hosted by Nevada Humanities on May 4th, 7PM at The Writers Block in downtown Las Vegas.

I have been happy to prove to myself, with this third installation in a museum since I became so ill with CFS/ME that I am now in a specialized wheelchair outside the house, that I can still work productively as an artist.  This has been thanks to the support of friends, family and assistants.

Almost ten years ago now my process and my work went through a serious change with pregnancy and the birth of my daughter.  There were “limitations” that made me use different materials and ways of working, and they prompted the shift to Particaptory Installation.   That work has lifted my art and my career as an artist.

This is another shift, and it is already teaching me a lot that I can put into my work and practice.  I fully expect it will continue to lift my work.

New Experiences, New Material

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Family at Disney

This photo represents one of the first bright spots in my new life as a disabled person (with ME/CFS). Last weekend was the first time in nearly five months I’ve been really able to move around outside the house, thanks to finally getting a power chair that supports my neck and torso.  We went to Disneyland for my daughter’s birthday wish, and we did it to the nines.

I’ve been working on the next two installations (for the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles), with the assistance of friends. I know I will need to hire assistants for new projects, but I’m still feeling freshly vulnerable in this state and I need to adjust.  Also, while I love inviting strangers into certain phases of my process,  I’m very picky about who I let into other parts of my process. Thankfully I have amazing people around me.

With my current condition, half the people get better within two years, and most of the rest never do.  I made the mistake of waiting a year for my back to get better nine years ago, and until my muscles stopped working (and compressing my spinal nerve), it never did.  I am thankful to be out of that level of constant pain, though I know I would trade back the pain for mobility in a heartbeat.

So… I am not wasting time now.  My art is moving on, and I have a fire under me to make new work about this experience.  I am very aware that disabled or not, I am very fortunate.  I have good insurance, my husband’s job supports us, freeing me to do my art without the constraints of whether it will sell or needing another job to support it. We have enough money that my condition is not bankrupting us and I was able to buy the expensive chair that allows me to.  I have supportive friends, an education, the tools to self-advocate, and so much more.  But this has thrown into relief how if this is so hard for me, how much harder it must be for most people.

After my recent experience of traveling with a wheelchair, the systemic lack of consideration and ability to do simple things like take a cab with any reliability, get on a plane you were assured you could take your chair on, or arrive with that all-important chair in one piece have given me fire to push for awareness.

I knew I had been thinking about a piece on Access for a while, but I didn’t realize it had been this long!  June 2013!  Usually with something that scale and cost it really helps me to know it will have a space to show first, but I don’t care anymore.  I will build it, and I will find it places to show.  As soon as the next two installations are wrapped, this is my next project.   I have been thinking about it on and off this whole time, and developing it, but now I have new first hand experience of being confined to home and wheelchair to add.

All that said, this new piece isn’t only about disabled access, it’s about all kinds of invisible access- financial, educational, social, racial, cultural, linguistic, etc.  It is about making people aware of what they can do without even having to think about it, and where others are barring and struggling to get in.

 

Written by Mary Corey March

September 29, 2017 at 10:13 am

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.

At College of the Redwoods

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img_1958Today Between the Lines (experience exchange) went up with the help of the head of the Black Student Union and the Professor heading the Book of the Year project. There are always hiccups, but now it looks exactly as it did in my mind and even though the official opening isn’t until Thursday it already had some participation.Some of the students who will get to participate are taking correspondence courses from prison, and I’m so glad I was able to get something of the piece to them, because having a place for their stories to be told is important.

My interview for the local NPR member station is here.  It doesn’t have the image and specific link yet, but it is the Feb, 21 one.

The piece works much like Scales did. Participants write a response to a writing prompt on a hand-painted paper and exchange it for someone else’s.  Then they read that person’s response and tie it to the frame which they feel it belongs most to (Repression, Expression, Privilege, Opportunity, Love, Hate (fear), Resistance, Compliance, Accepted, Suspected, Hardness, and Openness).  Being asked to place it not only gets them to read someone else’s experience, but it also gets them to think about it in the context of the themes in the book.

I wrestled a lot with the themes and questions.  I had to tailor the themes and questions for people who might not have read the book yet (half the students read it in the second semester), and also to make it approachable.  So much of what is wrong with the world that we need to change is things we cannot bring ourselves to engage with.  My job is to engage people, so I find myself walking the line of bringing up difficult issues in such a way that people can approach at their own speed, even in a way that seems fun and colorful.

I’ll show more about this new work later when I have more pictures of participation, but tonight I’m thinking about the screening of 13th at the college and the thoughtful, powerful discussion moderated by the Black Student Union afterwards.  The students I have met here have been wonderful and I am honored to be here.