Oh Big Apple

December 5, 2011

Does anyone even call it that anymore? In any case, I have officially lived in the big city for 6 months, and what a big city it is! There is certainly a huge adjustment period–especially after living in the middle of nowhere in Northern Vermont–and I would say that adjustment period doesn’t even really start until you’ve been here for 4 or 5 months. The first 4 months you’re in pure survival mode–scraping by on as little as possible, building up a routine and a familiarity with your new environment, learning the absolute basics of how to get by. It’s not until you’re a little more settled, a little less panic stricken by the whole thing, that the reality of what you’ve just done begins to set in. By the 6 month mark, you’re either completely burned out by the rat race that is life in the city, or you’re settled and comfortable enough to let those thoughts of doubt seep in. In either case, its time for those age old questions about what you’re doing here, and why, and to what end? Is this really what you wanted? Is it what you thought it would be? How long will you actually last here?

At least, that’s been my experience, and I hear similar reports from others. And I’ve heard that this is the formative point in your New York City experience. If you react to the 6 month mark positively, you’ll probably stick around for a while and things will get better or maybe even really great. If you react apathetically, you’ll probably try it out a little longer, stick around for a year or two, enjoy bits and pieces, really not enjoy others, but you’ll eventually move on to other, greener pastures. And if you react negatively at the 6 month mark, you’re probably doomed to hate the city forever. Even if you stick it out for a while and try to make it work, you’ll eventually walk away happy to be rid of it and not interested in ever going back except as a visitor, and even that might be pushing it.

This is where I’m at. The 6 month mark, wondering what I’ve done, how I’ll survive here, and whether I’ll find a way to be happy or if I’m going to come away hating it. I’ll get back to you on this.

In any case, I’ve been thinking recently about this blog and where it should be headed, now that life is so different… Not having written since October 1 is evidence of this… So far, I’ve kept it based entirely on my own artwork and process, and that form of documentation is still important to me, but my daily art experience is so much more than that now. Living in Vermont, and even Boston, my own art-making was all there was to report on, but here in the city, I encounter horrible and incredible art every day through my job as a sculpture conservator and in the city itself in the parks and streets, at galleries and museums, through articles and blogs, and in the studios of friends and colleagues. My personal art world has exploded exponentially, and if this blog is true to my art and its making, it has to reflect this incredible expansion as well. How this will manifest itself, I’m not entirely sure of yet, but by 2012, I expect some changes will be happening on here. Whether that will mean adding all these new aspects of my art world to this blog, or expanding to a new blog focused on all the stuff I see in my day to day routine, and still keeping this one primarily focused on the studio, I’m not sure yet… I’ll get back to you on this.

In any case, stay tuned for post holiday changes, and I hope you all have a great holiday season! See you in 2012…

This show was the first time I wrote my own press release and sent it out to every local contact I could think of/find. And who knew that sometimes people actually pay attention to them! I did it mostly as a formality, and maybe as practice, but didn’t expect it to actually lead to anything. For the most part, I don’t think people have actually gotten up to go see the show themselves, but they’ve at least posted the information in their papers and on their websites, or called me for a quick little write-up. And at the very least, it got Anahi Costa, of ArtseenVT to come check it out and write up a review. Not to mention it was great to finally meet her after working with her on Studio Center advertising… Science is Fiction is up for 2 1/2 more weeks so there’s still time, but I wanted to go ahead and share some of the fun publicity I’ve received so far.

Vermont Art Zine, online VT arts magazine–published back when I first sent out the press release

Seven Days, Vermont’s free newspaper–just published yesterday

ArtseenVT, online arts magazine–published this morning

I also got a great write-up in the RISD Alum magazine (pg. 13 and pg. 26 & 27) that happened to coincide with the launch of their new website, so the article ended up on the front page of the alumni section of the new site in addition to in print in the magazine! Had nothing to do with the press releases–just lucky timing.

And I’ve been trying to find some time to write a “Things Learned” entry after the Brooklyn Art Fair fiasco (before I forget everything!), but just to give you a sense of it, I found this article today, which is pretty accurate to my experience. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it was a catastrophe.

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.

Teeth Recognition

October 27, 2009

Can you recognize teeth?  Do you recognize your own?

This is the first series of photos taken for the Teeth Stories portion of the show.  More on this later…

Teeth Stories

April 2, 2009

I was going to write about casting next (as that’s the most logical step after a mold-making entry), but then it occured to me that I never documented my glaze tests, which are pretty significant, or that maybe I should do a step-by-step entry on mold-making to really show what’s involved/how to do it, and now I’ve launched TeethStories so I feel the need to write about that… sigh… so much to do, so little time.  Teeth Stories it is…

X-rays of my teeth, snagged from my last visit with the dentist.  They told me I need a porcelain crown...

X-rays of my teeth, snagged from my last visit with the dentist. They told me I need a porcelain crown...

Working on this project in a communal studio means I get a lot of people asking questions.  Are you the one making all those teeth?  Is that a tooth!?  Why teeth?  What’s the association?  I always explain in as minimal a way as I can manage–mumbling something about dreams and teeth–and I almost always get a response that involves the telling of a teeth story.  Sometimes lengthy, sometimes brief, but for whatever reason, people can’t help but start relating their own teeth experiences.  Well, I guess that’s not entirely true.  There are those who hear the teeth/dreamcatcher thing and sort of cringe and want nothing to do with it.  But at this point, I take that as a sign of being reminded of a tooth story they’d rather not think about.  In any event, I’ve been sort of astounded by the number of teeth stories that are being relayed to me.  Sometimes it’s a very personal story, sometimes it’s their friends’ story, or a “I know someone who…” kind of story.  Either way, they’ve been incredibly fascinating.  I’m finding that teeth have a very humanizing quality about them.  Everyone has them and everyone has had to grapple with them in some way.  The trauma of losing your teeth as a child seems to stick with people in a subconscious psychological way, and if that doesn’t do it, the trauma of going to the dentist does.  But not all the stories are of the traumatic type.  Some are actually quite beautiful; stories of joy, trust and pleasure are also very common.  Teeth seem to have a hold on everyone’s psyche in one way or another, and in speaking with some of the other “studio youngsters” (the younger members of the studio who are out of school, but not at the “practicing professional” level yet), it became apparent that these stories needed to be documented in some way.

Thus, Teeth Stories is born.  Teeth Stories is about people relating to one another through this commonality we all share, teeth.  By submitting a tooth story, people have the opportunity to participate in a bit of modern day storytelling and sharing.  Because teeth seem to hold a very visceral place in everyones’ minds, I think teeth stories could be incredibly cathartic.  Both the act of creating a submission and reading those of others might be a small step in understanding some of the anxieties we seem to share about teeth.  I hope the response to the online version of Teeth Stories is as strong as the response I’ve received in the studio in person.  I’ve been harboring some dreams of publishing Teeth Stories as a physical book, but I might be getting a bit ahead of myself.  For now, I’m just hoping a lot of responses will pour in.  So if you have a tooth story, share it!  E-mail your story to teethstories@gmail.com and encourage friends, family or co-workers to send their stories in as well.  Maybe through teeth stories we can all understand each other a little better…!

New Statement

December 22, 2008

I forgot!  I meant to post my New Title and Artist Statement last week and kept forgetting about it! 

After speaking with Dan about all the revisions to the installation of my piece (just to dash everyone’s hopes right from the start–I’m not hanging ANYTHING from the ceiling anymore…), I felt the need to re-write my artist’s statement.  I did this for two reasons.  Initially, I wrote it as a proposal just to get into the show, not thinking it would be shared beyond that context (on the form, there was no space for a “proposal” so the only place I could enter it was under “artists statement”).  Apparently some sort of book will be published including all the pieces in the show (hopefully sans photography because the photo I submitted is terrible and not descriptive of the piece itself at all) plus basic information about each artist.  I guess this includes the artist statement we each submitted and seeing as my piece has changed pretty drastically from my original vision (and it was not written as an “artists statement” to begin with), it just doesn’t fit anymore.  Not to mention the fact that I really don’t need my BS proposal writing published for all to see…  So I re-wrote it!  In a brief and even more BS-ish format.  At the recommendation of my favorite contemporary poet, I tried out the renga form, which is an ancient Japanese cooperative form, the first stanza of which eventually became the much shorter haiku.  I liked this idea for a couple of reasons: first, I felt like it allowed me to remain sufficiently vague and abstract, the complete opposite of writing the proposal, second, I liked the concept of it being cooperative.  While I didn’t write it with another person as the form requires, I did steal words and phrases out of my conversation with Dan, so in some ways it was a cooperative poem written with him, he just doesn’t know it yet.  And whether he (or I) likes it, he has had a pretty huge influence on how the piece will show so it seems appropriate.  Other than that, the form is utterly unrelated to the piece itself.  Let’s be honest, it saved me a lot of time…

Also a bit about the title;  Post-Processualism.  Actually, I don’t really feel like explaining it–google or wiki it if you want to know more!  It is an archaeological theory related to post-modernism.  Look it up on your own to find out why it is (or isn’t) appropriate in this context.

Resurrection!

November 20, 2008

So, a little over a year since my last post, I think I am resurrecting this blog!  Initially I began this little bit of self-indulgent internet-ness in order to track the progress of what eventually became the Paper Jungle, an art installation at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (they recently changed their name).  From start to finish, the whole process took nearly a year of brainstorming, writing, interviewing, preparing, creating, building, installing, opening, showing, closing, and de-installing.  This week, I just found out I have been given the opportunity to do it all again!  I spent a good portion of October researching, brainstorming and writing a new proposal for an installation at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA.  The primary motivator was a RISD Alum show to be held there in January, but the more I got into the research of the site, the more I realized I HAD to do an installation there whether or not it was a part of the RISD show.  Before submitting the proposal, I convinced myself that regardless of the RISD curators (Dina Deitsch and Steve Whitten), I would approach the Arsenal on my own if necessary to convince them to let me do the piece on site.  The proposal was due on Halloween so after using Cafe to submit all the materials, I headed out to celebrate Halloween in a My Little Pony costume.

According to Cafe, entrants would be notified two weeks later on November 14th.  All day Friday I anxiously awaited the e-mail–I wanted this project soooo bad!!  Nothing came… and still nothing… maybe they would send something by midnight?  Saturday morning came and went.  By then I assumed that they only contacted those who DID get in, and I must not have since there was still no word.  After spending the whole weekend justifying why I didn’t get in and what my proposal was missing, I called RISD just to confirm that all e-mails had already been sent.  To my surprise, nothing had been sent yet!  The curator had requsted an extra weekend to make final decisions so e-mails would be sent on Tuesday instead.  Lo and behold, I got into the show.

So now begins the process of preparing, creating, building, etc. all over again!  I will again try to write a new post every now and then as the piece progresses, both for those who are afar and interested in keeping track, and as a part of my own process of keeping track of how things evolve and change over time.  To begin with, attached is my Proposal.

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