the talk is typed

30Sep10

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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One Response to “the talk is typed”

  1. Oooooo, I love it! Straight from the horse’s mouth! Nothing is more interesting to me than hearing the process, the information, the environment and circumstances in which something is created. Thanks for laying yourself bare, so to speak 🙂


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