the talk is typed

Thank you to all who were able to make it out to the artist’s talk at Gage in connection with Kaleidoscope! I had a lot to think about, so I wrote out what I wanted to cover. Still working on getting all the new images corrected and uploaded to my site, but in the meantime, here are the thoughts I wrote down in connection with the exhibition:

Well, first, here’s something I really wanted to say that I missed saying in the flush and fluster of the moment:

Thank you Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs for your significant help in encouraging two parents of young children to make art in a time when jobs are strange and scarce. The CityArtists grant has directly and profoundly affected our ability to pursue the work we love this year. And thank you Gage Academy, curator Lauren Klenow, and fellow exhibitors Chauney Peck and Matt Sellars. It’s been a pleasure to work with you all.”

Ok. Here, now, with hyperlinks to boot:

“When I was in high school, the U.S. declared war on Iraq—Operation Desert Storm. At the same time, I was having some of my own social emotional conflicts. One evening, my mom found me crying, and I tried to explain how the combination of war being declared and the frustration of my life circumstances had me feeling overwhelmed. She suggested that it really wasn’t the war I was upset about—imagining that I was projecting my high school emotions onto too large a stage. But, even though she is both logical and wise, I disagreed then, in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on, and now, because I still experience this sort of scale shift of concern. My concern about the plastic gyre in the middle of the ocean overlays my concern for my oldest son starting kindergarten. International conflicts between factions and religious devotees translate into my own tense experience of navigating between fiercely held beliefs about the nature of the universe.

Jen Graves recently wrote about a piece of mine called “She Works Hard for the Money,” a drawing in which I was trying to personify Architecture. I am fascinated by the idealistic glory of the philosophy of architecture, especially when it is brought into real space and has to sustain itself against the degrading process of time and use. The most fancy buildings still leak and peel. People still have to deposit their raw sewage inside them, and weather delivers continual erosion to their shells. But this was Graves’ interpretation:

A tornado of shapes and hair—one of Bent’s more abstract works—might refer to the artist herself. It’s called She Works Hard for the Money. In addition to making her own work, Bent writes a blog about her dreams and influences and observations […], she teaches at Seattle Pacific University, she does illustration for Asthmatic Kitty Records, and she and her husband, artist Zack Bent, have three young sons. Overwhelm is a regular state for her. No wonder everything she makes is like a growth that’s gone a little too far and now wonders, both nervously and excitedly, what’s next.

And of course the piece is also about me. In fact, no matter what external circumstances guide my work, I have to admit that it springs from a sort of fanciful version of autobiography. Drawing is a way I filter both the intimate and the universal.

In this body of work, I consciously let the personally intimate and the geologically massive collide, working from the idea of critical mass. Phrases that guided my choices were clichés like “the weight of the world,” “tipping point,” and “losing it.” I thought about closed systems expressing their limits by explosions or expulsions… escape valves for built-up tension. I also consciously let large ideas and small ideas mix… using cues for the environmental crisis, but also my psychological state as a mother of three young children. I thought of collapse as a terrifying thing, but also thought a lot about the ecstatic nature of other expulsions—birth, for example. Mountains became sentient characters, heaving their masses into sighs and tears.

What I didn’t consciously do was invite the idea of a holy mountain into the work. Breughel’s “Tower of Babel” has always been a deeply compelling image for me. The mass of building-becoming-mountain is both frightening and inviting—like a dream that is on the edge of nightmare but still exciting. As a crossover between geology and architecture, it looms in the back of my mind when I draw any mountain hybrid. It also has an interesting connection to other “holy mountains.” The extreme of mountain scale in comparison to human size has always located them inside a metaphor of divine otherness.

“Views of Mt. Fuji”—a project taken on by famed Japanese printmakers Hokusai and Hiroshige, among others, show this grand volcanic mountain in relationship to many other scenes. The mountain presides over a variety of human efforts and dealings. If you’re interested, look up the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter that gives Mt. Fuji its special significance… but the story, which starts with a tiny girl born from a glowing bamboo shoot, ends with a thwarted love affair, earthling to moon girl. The moon goddess deposits an immortality elixir before she leaves, but the tortured lover takes it to the place closest to heaven (Fuji) and burns it. In past times, Fuji was more active—streams of smoke would leak from her top—and it was said that the elixir was still burning—a picture of both fervent desire to commune with the Moongirl and frustration at the inability to do so—not unlike Babel, which reaches stridently upward, but is broken by a divine language scrambling which leaves it impotent. Of course, living in Seattle under the watch of Mt. Rainier has also played into my imagination. And, in its way, it stands for my own persistent hunger to connect with something bigger than me, though there is an inherent frustration in this desire as well.

The site-specific work in this show is a continuation of subtle architectural interventions like “Wounded Wall” and “Weeping Pipe.” With these new pieces, I moved away from traditional drawing techniques and thought of ways that a room might express nervousness or embarrassment in a more corporeal sense. An art-showing space is a place where expectation and fear meet… where hope and self-consciousness and posturing and revelation and even boredom can take place at one time. So I gave the hallway (the “breezeway,” as Lauren Klenow pointed out) chills, complete with hairs raised on end (thanks to my sister Teal, who helped install these!) The blushing pedestal is just feeling old fashioned and out of place.

{images of the installed pieces forthcoming}

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tonight, tonight, tonight

Tonight is the opening and artist’s talk for Chauney Peck, Matt Sellars and me at Gage Academy. The event is from 6-8pm, with the talk at 7. Hope to see some of you there!

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tarkovsky + plato

As I study for an upcoming animation class, I’ve been fascinated by the history of human ideas about vision and light. Especially interesting is the common connection between images “inside our eyes” and those in dreams. Contemporary science doesn’t seem to make a link between these things at all– relegating them neatly into the categories of optics and psychology.

Plato:

Str. We know that we and all the other animals, and fire, and water, and their kindred elements, out of which natural elements are formed, are one and all the very offspring and creations of God, do we not?

Theaet. Yes.

Str. And corresponding to each and all of these there are images, not the things themselves, which are also made by superhuman skill.

T. What are they?

Str. The appearances in dreams, and those that arise by day and are said to be spontaneous—a shadow when a dark object interrupts the firelight, or when twofold light, from the objects themselves and from outside, meets on smooth and bright surfaces and causes upon our senses an effect the reverse of our ordinary sight, thus producing an image.

T. Yes, these are two works of divine creation, the thing itself and the corresponding image in each case.

Str. And how about our own art? Shall we not say that we make a house by the art of building, and by the art of painting make another house, a sort of man-made dream produced for those who are awake?

T. Certainly.

Str. And in the same way, we say, all the other works of our creative activity also are twofold and go in pairs—the thing itself, produced by the art that created real things, and the image, produced by the image-making art.

[excerpted from Plato’s Sophist]

Andrei Tarkovsky stills… from Stalker and Mirror:

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Tarkovsky:

“What matters to me is that the feeling excited by my films should be universal. An artistic image is capable of arousing identical feelings in viewers, while the thoughts that come later may be very different. If you start to search for a meaning during the film you will miss everything that happens. The ideal viewer is someone who watches a film like a traveler watching the country he is passing through: because the effect of an artistic image is an extra-mental type of communication. There are some artists who attach symbolic meaning to their images, but that is not possible for me. Zen poets have a good way of dealing with this: they work to eliminate any possibility of interpretation, an in the process a parallel arises between the real world and what the artist creates in his work.

“What then is the purpose of this activity? It seems to me that the purpose of art is to prepare the human soul for the perception of good. The soul opens up under the influence of an artistic image, and it is for this reason that we say it helps us to communicate—but it is communication in the highest sense of the word. I could not imagine a work of art that would prompt a person to do something bad…Perhaps you have noticed that the more pointless people’s tears during a film, the more profound the reason for these tears. I am not talking about sentimentality, but about how art can reach to the depths of the human soul and leave man defenseless against good.”

(“Against Interpretation: An Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky “, Framework, no. 14, 1981, Reprinted in Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, ed. John Gianvito, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, p.68-69)

remodel as a prequel, as a sequel, as a snapshot

I was like an angel in the architecture, hovering above this scene and snapping photos as the Lincoln Log cabin in Zack’s Fort Branch show was methodically and enthusiastically disassembled, discussed, and remade by Zack and the two boys. It is now a shelter which contains a tupperware container of “trail mix” (peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips), a Nalgene bottle of water, a wool blanket (Solly’s idea– so that it would be soft) and a Foxfire book. The first two were practical elements– sustenance during the building process– modern survival whether trapped in a gallery or at a state park campsite. The book is a classic and potent collection of earth-survival knowledge gathered from the Appalachian mountains in the 1960s.

As I hung back, trying to be unseen by any onlookers outside the windows, and trying my darndest not to be the Mom, interjecting my approval or “helpful ideas,” I had time to really contemplate the process that Zack has crafted with these play-work scenarios. I listened to him struggle to give the boys agency and authorship, so that they could actually be the architects of this new construction. But he also had to lend his wisdom and knowledge of structure and function and design. It’s very important to us that these projects be fun and non-taxing on the kids, and so he also had to be a cheerleader… explaining the possibilities, shifting approach several times. The photo above shows a brainstorming session, where they were invited to draw pictures (a favorite past-time) and make plans (also a big part of their natural play). By the end, there were definitely times when Sol (3 going on 4) was lolling on his back and singing nonsense, but Ez (5) was largely captivated for the two hour session. In a further expression of our family’s reality, my Mom meanwhile circled Capitol Hill with our youngest in a stroller, stopping at coffee shops for snacks and Cal Anderson park for playground distraction.

I was proud. And also really tired from the strain of the endurance of perching in a barn owl spot and silently documenting a process with which I was intellectually and emotionally entangled. Because it really was and is a microcosm of our experiences as parents. What does freedom look like, and where does guidance start and stop? And an endless host of related questions… about work and play and learning and individuality and teamwork and collaboration, etcetera…

If you want to stop by and see the finished product, the show is up until September 18th (extended past original dates) at Vermillion.

upcoming/coming up

Hey! Things are brewing over here. I’m very honored to have been grouped with Chauney Peck

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and Matt Sellars

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in a show at Steele Gallery (Gage Academy) which starts September 17th, with an opening and artist’s talk on the 24th (7pm). Both artists are object makers, but have also been known to document and create experience, which intrigues me deeply.

My own work will include both drawings on paper and some more site specific installed pieces. I’ll update my website and post new images when they’re ready to rock.

{Also, I’m getting ready to send my oldest son to the wide world of kindergarten… advice on the new emotional landscape?}

the starns still starning

Somehow I missed this news… the Starn Twins, whose work I admired especially in undergrad, when it was mostly photography-based, are now constructing masses of bamboo that either move in reconfigured arches over time or, in the case shown at this link, tower above New York City with rock climbers suspended inside. I’m not sure exactly what I think of these pieces, but I always admire artists who expand out of what they’re most famous for into new territory. And I love watching them talk about their work in a prototypical twin fashion, finishing one another’s sentences without wincing.