Two Crazy Weeks

March 15, 2011

I’ve been wanting to write all week and not been able to squeeze in a spare moment to get anything together! The past couple weeks have been completely out of control, between remaking panels from sweet senescence, installing in Brooklyn, flying to Chicago and back, deinstalling in Dumbo, and then installing my Science is Fiction here in Vermont, I have had no time for sleep, much less writing. All I can say is I am so happy to finally have some breathing room. Without getting into all the gory details, everything in Brooklyn was basically a disaster, everything in Chicago was great, and everything in Vermont was stressful and painful but with an end result I think I am happy with. Later in the week I will write a thorough Things Learned entry about my experience in Brooklyn to flesh out more of why things went so badly and how to avoid a repeat in the future. Just to give you some insight into what the last couple of weeks was like, here was my schedule, but first, a few quick shots of the show:

An overview panoramic of the show

half with video projection

View from the specimen table

View from Dura Mater

Sugar bag installation and year old hard candy pieces

Feb 26 & 27: re making sweet senescence panels in 36 consecutive hours (with a 2 hr. nap)
Feb 28: work in office, build frames to transport panels
Mar 1: work in office, pack tools for install, package small samples to take on plane to Chicago
Mar 2: load friends car at crack of dawn, load into rental car in Burlington, drive direct to Dumbo, install panels, eat first meal of day around 9pm
Mar 3: visit Scope Art Fair and other galleries in the city, return to Brooklyn for opening night party but end up missing the event
Mar 4: visit Pool Art Fair, head to La Guardia for flight to Chicago
Mar 5: spend day at SAIC in Fiber and Material Studies department interviews, hang out with grad students and friends
Mar 6: fly back to NYC early, make way back to Brooklyn to pack rental and head to Dumbo for deinstall in pouring rain, eat first meal of day around 10pm, consider driving back to Vermont overnight but don’t because of blizzard
Mar 7: wake up sick but still leave at crack of dawn to drive back to Vermont, hit blizzard despite trying to miss it, collapse at Studio Center, amazed to have survived the drive
Mar 8: return rental car early in Burlington, work in office, begin gathering work for solo show and moving from studio to gallery
Mar 9: work in office, leave early to continue moving work from studio to gallery, install show for next 24 hrs with 2 hr. nap
Mar 10: work in office, so sick not sure will make it to opening that night, leave early to finish show install, attend opening in high spirits, crash early
Mar 11: work in office, then let the relaxing begin!

Because of the incredibly tight schedule, I didn’t get to resolve all the pieces that I wanted to include in the show, so I am still hoping to wrap up a couple more objects to add. Then it will be time to concentrate on purging, packing and preparing for both my move and the residency in Virginia. I am happy to report that time is flying by!

NYC Continued…

February 23, 2011

I officially committed last night to being a part of the inaugural Verge Art Fair in DUMBO during Armory Arts Week! I submitted some work to their Open Call and they have asked me to reproduce some version of Sweet Senescence for the 4 day show in Brooklyn. It’s going to be a bit insane to re-make some of the panels (I’m thinking 4?), get new hardware for the incredibly tall 14′ concrete ceilings, transport it 6 hrs. from Johnson, VT to Brooklyn (remember? I don’t have a car…) and install/de-install. But I guess I’ve decided it will be a great experience, and now that it’s for real, I’m getting pretty excited about it! I’m still holding onto a tiny bit of hope that a friend might be able to drive me down to the city, but most likely I’ll have to rent a car one-way to drive the work down since it isn’t very shippable. Then I’ll have to convince friends in the city (who don’t have regular 9-5 jobs!) to come help with the install–and bring a ladder with them?–and somehow return the car at the same time? Who knows… but I’ll figure something out! Wish I had money to pay for all of these things….

Anyways! Wish me luck! And I’ll keep you posted as I frantically re-make Sweet Senescence in a week and plan for it’s second viewing… And if you’re in NYC, stop by the show! It will be at 20 Jay St. on the third floor, open Thurs-Sun, noon -10pm.

Inaugural Brooklyn Art Fair

Week 29 of 48

August 25, 2010

This week I would like to share a bit of writing by a July resident writer who had a great response to the show. Karen McPherson, a professor of French and Francophone Studies and the director of the Graduate Program in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Oregon, specializes in Francophone literature, feminist theory and gender studies, and postcolonial literature. She is the author of Incriminations: Guilty WomenTelling Stories (1994) and Archaeologies of an Uncertain Future: Recent Generations of Canadian Women Writing (2006). Karen is also a poet and has published poems in a number of journals, including Poetry Motel, Fireweed and Descant, and in the 2006 Lane Literary Guild chapbook Dona Nobis Pacem. At the recommendation of visiting artist, Roberto Juarez, I asked her to write a response to the show and this was the wonderful piece she sent me last week. Thank you so much Karen! It is beautiful…

Sweet Senescence, by Melissa Armstrong

Red Mill Gallery, Vermont Studio Center

July 14-26, 2010

Over eleven days this show was for me the living, beating heart of the VSC campus. I would stop in on my way to meals or to my studio in order to spend a few minutes in that still and vibrant space. Time was suspended there but humming with life. It reminded me of what it’s like to pause in the middle of a busy day to sit on a bench in a garden or to step out of the bustle of a foreign city into the dim and quiet interior of a cathedral.  This was the most organic and dynamic art exhibit I have ever witnessed—a feast for all the senses. The room was filled with light and color and heat, a faint sweet scent (real or imagined?), the buzz of insects, the whir of the fan. Five to eight large plexiglass panels (fewer at the beginning and more added over the course of the show) were suspended from the ceiling above metal troughs set to catch the drips from the translucent sugar syrups that coated the panels’ surfaces. Swirls and smears and layers and globs of hardened colored syrup glistened and beaded up as they began to melt in the heat and move with glacial slowness across the surfaces of the panes. These abstract paintings were frames in a slow motion film capturing second by second the material’s response to the changes in the environment–light and dark, heating and cooling, breeze and stillness. Each time I visited, the gallery was familiar and yet entirely different. The panels responded to the movement of sunlight across the floor. By day, the sheets clearly had substance. Watching the solid becoming molten liquid, I felt a pleasure similar to that I have felt watching glassblowing or steel smelting. At night, the gallery was lit up and from the road outside it looked like a rose window suspended in the dark. The entire gallery became a vessel of light.

At certain times of day the gallery was almost heartbreakingly peaceful. What is it about light through glass that moves us? On hot afternoons the shifting and dripping could be more dramatic. Yet these changes were always balanced against the photographic impression of each caught instant, grabbing your eyes’ attention the way a thing of beauty and light always does. Looking into these panels was like looking at a flower or a leaf: it was the containment of light. It was watching stillness and movement together the way you gaze into a flowing river and see both the river in one place and the water moving through.

The autumnal colors of the syrups added a sweet and somber feeling to the show. Golds and rusty reds, greens and browns– these were the colors of antique glass, of jewels, of amber.  And, just as in amber, gnats and moths and flies became stuck and preserved in these panels. These little daily deaths added to the idea of senescence, the way this vibrant world was cycling toward stillness and eventual death as the panes cleared off (though I shared the sentiments of a visitor to the gallery who remarked that she hoped this moth-catching was not part of the original intention of the piece).  The insects added something slightly dark to this exhibit, even an ethical dimension. Against the long, slow life cycle of the panels, an insect’s life and death were swift and dramatic. One day as I watched a moth approaching a sticky panel I had the impulse to try to save her from her fate but even as the thought crossed my consciousness I saw her land and grow instantly still—stuck in the sugar syrup. I found my somewhat dispassionate fascination in watching this disturbing.

On my favorite day in the gallery I discovered a half dozen tiny parallel threads descending unbroken all the way from the bottom of one of the panels into the catching tray. They looked like piano wires.  At that moment, just as the piece held both stasis and movement it also held, for me, both sound and silence. (So it felt absolutely right that a piano accompaniment was added to the time lapse video that capped the performance on the last day of the exhibit).

Melissa’s title for her show —Sweet Senescence –was perfect.  The sweetness was not only that of melted sugar and colored light, but also of the slow transformations that offered at every stage something newly beautiful to accompany the loss of what had passed and vanished. Senescence is such a pretty word for aging. It contains the echo of the word “essence”–so central to what this show is about—the essence of the thing, its substance, its permanence and impermanence. The panels, each at a different stage in its lifespan—the oldest ones almost transparent while the newest were still thick with substance—seemed to be asking: what is the body? what is the spirit?  The time lapse film projected on the last evening of the show was delightful. It was fascinating to watch huge globs falling into the trays, knowing how much slower that movement really had been. But the true time lapse was the eleven days we got to live with this piece. How we shared the rhythm of each panel’s life and how imperceptible and yet enormous the changes were. How sweet and sad and human and wonderful that senescence.

Week 27 of 48

August 9, 2010

This week I am still trying to wrap things up from Sweet Senescence. The panels and catch basins are in the process of being cleaned, all the melted candy is being stored for future use and I gutted and scrubbed the studio clean in order to get a fresh start with some other ideas. There is still video to be viewed, compiled and edited, but I seem to be saving that for a rainy day. For now, I am concentrating on establishing a new routine for the next project and trying to determine exactly what steps are necessary in order to keep moving forward. For now, here are some images after the show came down.

the time-lapse projected in the gallery at night so those inside and outside could view it

a couple of writers watching the video

the panels spread out in an empty studio to continue to drip themselves clean

basins spread out to drip themselves clean

filling up buckets and jars with melted candy goo for future use

Another batch of residents come and gone. Sweet Senescence has also come and gone as well as half of my time here in Vermont. With the conclusion of the show, I’ve spent a lot of time viewing and editing all the various forms of documentation, cleaning and re-organizing studio and thinking about what’s next—both here in the studio and once I leave VSC in December. I am planning on having another show in November and then December will just be packing up and preparing for the move to New York. But all of that is still several months away (though I can not believe it is already August!!) so for now, more images from the show and eventually I will put together some of the video footage as well.

the sign, after a week, was reduced to a puddle

the 2nd to last day of the show... not much left except the new panel on the far right

a detail, half way through the show

the same detail at the end of the show

another detail

moth, caught in the amber

Week 25 of 48

July 27, 2010

Half way point!!! I missed last weeks entry with the craziness of the show, but it was the exact half way point of my time here on staff at VSC. The choice to have the show half way through the year was certainly intentional and will hopefully provide the momentum and motivation to finish out the year as strong as possible. In any case, the show has been really great for more reasons than I can count. It was a bit sad to take it down, despite it being the right time, and yesterday I projected the time-lapse of the entire piece in the gallery for everyone to share in as well. So without further ado, more images and video!

an individual sheet, at the end of the first day

all the sheets were poured differently in order to learn the most about how the layers move

Another panoramic, half way through the show

a detail

And lastly, the time-lapse video:

Week 23 of 48

July 16, 2010

Writing a little late this week because of the show opening Wednesday night but finally found some time to sort through the hundreds of photos I took on day 1. Images from the actual opening are up on my facebook page. For now, here are a few from before the show actually opened as well as a few from the next day to show the quick melting progess. More will come next week as things continue to change! There should also be a video or two and some time-lapse once the show is complete…

close up of the title before it started melting

not fabulous panoramic of the entire piece

one side

a single sheet, melting in the heat

the title the next day... totally illegible

view from outside, at night, the next evening

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