We’ve been here two weeks so far, our second journey into Iceland. Only two weeks left and it doesn’t feel like enough. A week of museums and swimming and soaking and meeting people in Reykjavik, and now a week in a long blizzard in Siglufjordur. Anxious to get outside I made some photographs with some wings that have been in process for quite sometime. Seagull feathers collected in 1999 in Seattle and dyed and made into a sculpture…the sculpture existed for awhile and then I decided to take it apart…and carry it to Iceland…logical. Working on some things during the storm, we’ll see what happens as we move on tomorrow. The blizzard felt like I was in a fog loosing my direction here…but I did need to work on things. I just feel a little wilted if I can’t get outside everyday here and walk around. One evening I when out in the blowing snow and made a snow dome or caldron as we called it. We filled it with fire the next night and filmed it. I don’t know what it’s for or why, but that’s what I do here…I just follow a long with impulses, use whatever I can find.
I haven’t been really connected to the verbal side of my brain, as I edit and sort through ALL the Iceland-made photographs, working on bringing a group to completion. It feels like an exercise of keeping the past in the present, but in many ways the calm I felt in Iceland seems to slip away from me with all the day-to-day needs that distract me. Why haven’t I written more? I think a way to pull back my ‘Iceland calm’ into my day-to-day is to carve out a dedicated daily time to write….where do I squeeze that in?….My brain feels stretched in opposite directions, with eyes-wide looking examining and eyes-inside writing. But like the entire project, I’ll just keep looking for balance, and just keep going to find it.
but anyhow….thinking and working and planning towards the future, too. In a crazy leap and many small/big things lining up perfectly, we (paul, mandy, hazel) have bought tickets to return to Iceland in January, when plane tickets are $200. To make work in the dark, the snow, to freeze crocheted fiber to create structure, to climb on huge ice chunks, to take pictures by fire and Auroras….I am making work for my future too…glacial ice-colored huge thick knits. Flamingo feathered wings.
Here is a peak at upcoming finished work….I feel a sense of calm in moving pixels and seeing something permanent emerge from a hour of frantic play between Paul and I at Djúpalónssandur, in what seems like long ago but also right with me.
Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible? Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly there’s nothing left outside us to see? What, if not transformation, is your deepest purpose? (Rainer Maria Rilke)
My heart open cracks….Pain, I guess, is what it takes to find a new way. No wonder so many of us choose to turn to stone.
I am still stuck in a deep hole, but my work, even if playing with the petals from today’s flowers and tomorrow’s stones, and bits and pieces around the studio, and the backyard’s sun, it is still the way I build the ladder out of the hole. Even if I cannot see the light at the top. My persistence, even if blind….I cannot stop it. And it will get me somewhere, some location I don’t yet see. These petals, from Paul’s poppies, will rot, but today I saw every surface and treated them with care. This light was mine, and something was completed.
Tomorrow, Friday 8/19, from 4pm – 5:30 pm, please join me at The Project Room for a chat (with treats) with multi-media, movement and dance artist Keely Isaak Meehan, founding artistic director of Manifold Motion. We’ll be talking about her work, including watching some of her favorite films of her performances, as well as talking about her work as a Certified Movement Analyst.
I asked Keely to come in and talk with me for a few reasons, first and foremost as part of my artist interview series for Solstenen project, talking with people I want to learn something from. And with Keely there are definitely several things I want to pick her brain about!
I met Keely in 2008 while I was working on the film/live performance The Silvering Path, with Haruko Nishimura and Ian Lucero. Haruko had invited DAE supporters to a series of crochet parties we held to generate some of the raw material for my Slug Princess wearable, and Keely was one of those people who returned again and again.
It wasn’t until the performance that I really realized she too was a performer and spearheaded Manifold Motion, when she and her husband media artist Mike McCracken began telling me about a massive production in the works all about a forest of fabric. Having just made a forest of fabric, I was intrigued!
A few months later, Keely and I began this very funny meet-up of each hunting for yarn colors at thrift-stores for our respective projects and trading with each other what we had found, a bit like addicts of some sort. And then many months later, seeing “Wool Gatherer”, I was, yes, drawn into the environment they had created, but was more drawn in by the precise yet fluid movements of Keely’s choreography. I’ve always wanted to know more about her, and also how she manages to wrangle all that is involved in running her own performance company. I have always been impressed with the scope and professionalism of MM, and their very well thought out fund-raising efforts and showcases, so their performers can eat.
Then an email from Keely in 2010 opened up something else. She was enthusiastically letting everyone know she was now Certified Movement Analyst in Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals.
“I have found the past two years of study to be hugely transformative. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me, and gained clarity, precision, and ease in my movement and communication. In my final research and presentation I focused primarily on applying LMA/BF to neuromuscular re-patterning for integrated, functional movement.”
As an artist, with the intensely labor intensive work that I do, I am always wrestling with pain, and knowingly perform damaging repetitive movements to get the massive installations done. Sometimes it feels like a war between my own stamina and the images my mind comes up with. I try my best to remember my body in the process of making, but when push comes to shove for a deadline, I will work through deep pain. I know it isn’t good, and somewhere somehow, I will need to (or be forced to) find balance. I have deep relationships with chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga and any number of patches and ointments, but what it comes down to is, what I do is punishing my body. Keely spoke with such enthusiasm about her new work, I was so curious about what she had to offer, particularly in terms of seeking a balance, and because I am not at all familiar with Laban.
“I bring together my training in movement analysis with my background in dance and other somatic movement practices to identify, understand, and help re-pattern tension holding and movement habits. “
“…we will find ways to more balanced cycles between Stability/Mobility, Exertion/Recuperation, Inner/Outer, and Function/Expression.”
But time and life have sped by and we have not yet explored anything together.
With my new work I am beginning with Solstenen project, my body and my relationship to physical and psychosomatic gravity are at the center of it, as well as ‘punishing/penance’ as themes. It seems time to seek out new and other ways of examining my body, and come to terms with the idea of creation and punishment I seem to hold in my bones. So it is time for me to discover some ideas about Keely’s skills as a performer, maker and movement analysis. Please join us for an informal conversation, if you are curious too. I’m so looking forward to learning things I don’t even know I don’t know….. I hope this can begin to help me unpack some of my deeply felt identification with A.S. Byatt’s character in the story “A Stone Woman”.
Writer/Artist/Adventurer Tessa Hulls will be painting in The Project Room for the next few days preparing for an upcoming show of her highly detailed gouache paintings inspired, in part, by her travels. If you have stopped in to TRP the last week, you might have seen her hard at work. Her show opens on August 5th at Evo’s Timesinfinity Gallery, at 122 Northwest 36th Street, Seattle from 6-9pm, so she will be working extra hard, because she is also preparing to head off to Antarctica to work in a research station kitchen. The ‘Adventurer’ title is no joke.
Tessa will also be a part of a round-table discussion I will be hosting very soon here at TPR about “Artists That Interview”, on August
8th at 4:30pm 7th at 1pm, along with Sharon Arnold, Saskia Delores, Joey Veltkamp and Amanda Manitach. Since I’m incorporating the interview format into my Solstenen project learning process, I want to pick these brains, and just hear about what brought them to incorporating interviewing into their art practice. Though I don’t have a broad understanding of this, it seems to me just one more example of creative people filling a void in the Seattle art/creative world that needed filling. We’ll find out more…
I met Tessa when she approached me about an interview for Redefine Magazine surrounding my recent show at Roq La Rue Gallery, ‘Honey and Lightening’. When she came to my studio, I was really almost taken aback at how much she had researched my work, and her attention to detail, and willingness to draw out some difficult things to articulate. Her article brings to the surface small details that are significant to me, but quite subtle and usually overlooked. It was a marked difference from some of the off-the cuff writing I have seen about myself in the press over the years in Seattle. I know that is a particular approach, to not research the artist, but the inaccuracies have been bizarre to read! So I want to know why and how she does this, and maintains her connection to her own work and a connection to a wandering life as a compulsive traveler. Each of the other artist/interviewers on the panel have a very different approach to the process of digging deeper into an artist’s work and process, so I am looking forward to stretching my own abilities as I begin to use this tool to learn about why others make what they do.
The Project Room and the Solstenen project opened last Thursday July 14th with a crush of warm feelings from supporters and people excited about the new energetic art space on Capital Hill. I saw many people I’ve met through my crochet parties from the past few years, many artist friends and art supporters, and some people just curious about the lively activity going on inside!
Thank you to everyone who stopped by, and for some really generous donations of new materials to work with (some very special handmade garments/linens I’m looking forward to dyeing and deconstructing and reconstructing!)
One thing I hadn’t realized until people started coming in and I was setting them in motion crocheting; usually at crochet parties I am a lot farther along in a project and I have an agenda/need (“need more thick ropes, need round parts, need ruffles”). This crochet party was essentially the very first stitch of this new work, literally. I was shrugging my shoulders, ‘the concepts are developing, so please just enjoy crocheting’, was about all I could say. Take pleasure in the materials, think of it as doodling or drawing, just play. Usually this messing around for me is done alone, in private. The first shrug of my shoulders, I felt a bit vulnerable, ‘shouldn’t I know?!’. No. It all starts this way, all generative work, not knowing. Especially with this work, I want to fend off the external and internal impetuous to ‘know’ everything, especially with the environmental installation component of the project to take place in Iceland. I want to respond intuitively to a place I find; yes, with thread and ropes of time spent where I came from, like the baggage we literally and figuratively drag everywhere. But still to push and push to stay in the moment of the environment.
So thank you everyone for just diving in; it seemed people were excited to just be with the process and be with each other.
There is a subtext to many of my discussions about this project of mine, about blending daily life, family and a passion for ideas and making. I really feel quite privileged to get to watch Jess Van Nostrand kick ass at this delicate dance we do to carve out a place where we can do what we need to do feed our work.
Much gratitude! And please join me again on Tuesday July 19th, 3:30-7:30pm, as we do it all again!
Solstenen is a year-long project chronicling the process of learning about, and the making of, a new body of creative work. It will render visible the meandering exploratory process involved in creating fully-realized artworks that is often unseen, but a fertile ground that must be turned. For my artistic practice, that fertile ground is ‘learning, sharing, influence and confluence’. An overlapping strata of concepts layering and growing together like a kombucha mother, I need this to make my work and to direct my life. As an avid autodidact I am always seeking new paths for my work to take me on, more through lived experiences than theory, propelled forward by sparks of serendipitous connections and chance meetings that send me in an alluvial fan of directions rather than a rigid single line.
The word ‘Solstenen’ (sun stone) is the fabled Viking Compass from the Hrafns sagas, believed to be a mineral that was used as a navigational compass; probably the mineral cordierite (iolite), by polarizing skylight, it was used to locate the hidden sun, and might be one component of the masterful Viking navigation. It seemed only fitting to take on this word to name this journey-based project, one where I know my direction but don’t know the conceptual terrain I will cover to get there. While the traditional compass, interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field is fascinating enough, a compass that relies on a stone and the incredible observational powers of a sailor just thrills me!
I have been carrying with me for a while, like a stone in my pocket I sometimes touch, my reaction to an A.S. Byatt short story “A Stone Woman”, that I read in 2005. It’s a story of a woman numbed with grief and apathy, then finding herself more alive as her physical body becomes a part of the natural landscape. It’s so much more than that. But at the time, still a very new mother, I identified with the numbness and a heavy rigidity in my body. It’s something I’ll need to unpack over the course of exploring/building this work…why I identified so precisely with this metamorphosis our quiet hero Ines was going through. I have also always felt magnetically pulled to stories and fables of people pulled into the mysteries of nature, never to return (the call of the White Stag in SBMWP).
Far from knowing exactly why and how I’ll be doing things, thinking about things and making things, I am here at the vulnerable beginning of not knowing, but pointed in a direction. There will be many starts and stops, concepts and ideas discarded or cultivated till they flourish. That’s what I’m here to explore in this process project.
Byatt’s fairy tale-like story tells of a middle-aged woman who, grieving the death of her mother, finds herself having emergency surgery from a life-threatening mysterious stomach ailment. Numbed by grief and physical pain, seeing her small world in shades of grey and dust, she is intrigued to discover the hardness at her healing incision is actually veins of red stone spreading around her body, and sprouts of green minerals at her armpits. Resigned to death by petrifaction, as the multi-colored, brilliant and evolving minerals overtake her flesh, she meets and reveals her metamorphosis to an Icelandic stone carver. He takes her on a pilgrimage to Iceland — a geologically capricious land where stones are alive and with legends of humans becoming stone trolls – to find a place of belonging, dissolving into the vibrant life-force of an ever-changing landscape of magma, weather and time.
In my mind, my strong reaction to Byatt’s story has always been entangled with my feelings about the symbol of the Albatross seabird as a weighty penance for violence against nature from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and also the central act of labor in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, eternally rolling the stone back up the hill (the last week of finishing an installation brings me there).
So with an amalgamation of literary influences, I plan to explore themes of weight, physical burden and labor as external symbols of internal self-transformation, the act of creating and becoming of a broader identity beyond the personal, metamorphosing into the environmental. I’ll also engage in a closer reading of all of these works, and the works they take me to – I haven’t read Ancient Mariner since high school but the image seems to haunt my work (especially during the awkward agony of sewing the skin around my giant Pelican), and though I love the Greek myth, I ditched Camus’ Sisyphus in college in favor of reading Walker Percy in the sunshine. It’s time to revisit.
Along with me on this journey is my husband, artist Paul Margolis, who will travel with me to Iceland (along with our son) in 2012. But before that, I will begin by making us clothes. I will be making mantles of stones for Paul and me to wear, created by crocheting nets of fabric and by spinning Icelandic wool around stones collected from my environment, and minerals based on the encyclopedic taxonomy of minerals described by Byatt from Ines’ transformation, weaving these stones together into a massive garment to be worn and woven into my hair and his beard. This will accompany a kind of ‘hair-shirt’ Albatross gown made from thousands of handmade feathers of countless variety of found and dyed gray fabrics; a gown large enough that it could, say, even accommodate a large boulder in the sleeve.
Reflection and refraction of natural imagery, revealing hidden patterns, is a critical theme in my work, and will continue with the making of mirrored wearable sculptural elements that will be worn with the stone and feathered clothes to created kaleidoscopic reflections in performative photographic and video work. This desire to continue probing refraction and reflection comes out of my 2011 installation The Honey Moon Chamber, where a massive jewelry box of mirrors around a golden erupting chandelier seemed to reveal an endless hidden world I wanted to blend into (and seemed to already…there were so many of me already behind the glass).
A Physical journey as well:
Reading the Byatt story compels me to travel to Iceland, to see if I can know what part of her description is idealized, or even if that’s possible. I also long, long, long to work quietly and steadily in one place in a landscape, until I notice the subtle daily changes, like I did creating my environmental installation Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009.
So in Summer/Fall 2012, we’ll be journeying to a series of rural residencies during 5-weeks in Iceland with my husband, Paul, where we’ll use the massive garments to immerse ourselves in the radically dramatic landscape, explore our themes, creating works of eco-installation, performance, photography and video. And to just be, to see what happens, discard what doesn’t work and allow discovery.
Laboring together in the landscape– performing Sisyphean extreme exertion – we’ll un-pack notions about our life’s work together; the metaphor of the heavy body pulled to earth is one avenue to examine the progression of creating a life, then losing it as the body ages. As collaborators on building a life together, the natural and desired end is that we would experience together the inevitable passage of our bodies back to earth.
We will all three, as a family of artists, be working on developing performance-based videos, photography and environmental interventions/installations, together and intuitively. This project is about putting myself as an artist in a radically different place than my comfort zones, using my own body and our private family culture as medium, blending our roles as artists, parents and partners. I’ll also, along with Paul, work together to develop our abilities at creating experimental movement scores and how to capture them on video, and develop new media work. Neither of us are dancers or really performers, but locating our bodies at the center of this work, we are attempting to confront, repair and heal rifts in our lives that have both made our artistic life together possible and also strained it to near-breaking.
Our work will also be to learn about Icelandic mythology, clay and pottery, Icelandic wool and fiber arts, and how this history of traditional arts funnels into Icelandic contemporary art practices. My work as a multi-media artist has always been informed by deep haptic pull towards traditional crafts arts, particularly fibers and traditional costume. With the Icelandic sheep that grows a fiber like nowhere else on Earth, and a culture that respects the hand-arts of women to the point where they put it on their money, I have to explore this. I’ll be engaging with contemporary and traditional makers in Iceland as part of a series of interviews I’ll be doing for this blog, which will begin first at home with artists I admire and want to learn from.
The beginning and end of this project takes place a Seattle’s, The Project Room. I initiated the Solstenen project with a 7-week open-studio residency from July 14 – September 1, 2011.
I began the first stitch of this project at TPR, inviting community participation through hands-on workshops – namely the crochet parties that have been part of my process for the last few years, open studio hours, and other happenings – including interactive activities with guest artists during August 2011.
As part of The Project Room Question, Why Do We Make Things?, this two-part program bookends this question as its first and final presentation.
The Guest Artists and You:
The Project Room will be asking Why Do We Make Things? in a variety of ways over the course of 2011/2012. For my part, I feel asking this question by myself for 7 weeks– just in the space sewing/researching/crocheting — really makes no sense; I need the “we”. In August, look out for a variety of activities involving artists whose brains I want to pick, get advice from and explore things that are new to me. And come learn from me; the most simplest thing in the world is a crocheted chain, but like most simple things, it can fractal out and in beyond imagining. I’ll show you!