April 30, 2011
Thank you so much to everyone who made a pledge and now a donation–the campaign was successfully funded on Monday night! I could not have hoped for such a strong response–the support of my friends is really astounding! This weekend I’ll be purchasing the first 200-300 pounds of sugar and deliver it, along with the rest of my tools and supplies, to the residency on Monday morning. I cannot wait to get started on this new body of work and to get my studio at VCCA up and running. In the last two weeks since leaving Vermont, I have done some preliminary work, but much of my time has been consumed with job and sublet searching for my arrival in New York after the residency. In the end, I decided to get a lot of the NYC prep work done now so that I can set those concerns aside and concentrate on the artwork. There will still be a lot of following up with contacts and opportunities, and probably a visit to the city to confirm those, but hopefully it won’t consume my next five weeks.
These “growths” are a first set of sketches, working out some ideas for forms that I may want to work with moving forward. None of these represent a final armature–they are literally just preliminary sketches. Once I’m at VCCA, I’ll be able to focus on pushing these and finding what they’re really capable of.
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.
December 21, 2009
Posting all of this retrospectively is sort of sad and surreal. Without my VSC calendar of scheduled events in front of me, I have no idea what happened on which days and sometimes I can’t even recall the order of events. Time as we logically construct it had such little meaning there. I have no idea what day of the week anything was as the only day that mattered was Sunday when we had brunch and an early dinner… Time only mattered as time in studio, time with people, time eating and time sleeping. Scheduled events were announced every day, so you didn’t need to look at your calendar as long as you paid attention to announcements. These included 4 resident slide nights, 3 resident readings, 2 open studios, 2 visiting writer readings and 4 visiting artist slide shows. Most of these were followed up by intense happiness, pride to be surrounded by such a great crew of people and joy at all the amazing work everyone was doing. There were also plenty of off calendar events organized by residents themselves like art shows by Avantika, The Thing and Sweet Brown Baby Jesus, The Color Bar bar and dance club, scheduled dance parties in various studios, bonfires led by Harrison, NOOKS and CRANNIES art show and Critical Mass events by Tiffany and myself, etc. etc. Even the occasional impromptu performance, laughing yoga session, pick up soccer game, bingo game, would you rather session, or trip to the local bar, The Hub, were all great. Now it all seems to just be a whirlwind of busy, exhausted but wonderful happenings, of which I can’t really tell up from down (not that I need to). Keeping up with the blog would have been a great way to help sort it all out, but in the end, I guess I decided doing the thing and enjoying it in the moment was better than stopping to write about it, despite the struggle to remember it accurately later…
December 2, 2009
We have had some amazing presentations this week by painter and sculptor, Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe, plus great presentations from fellow residents last week. The first batch of fine artist slide shows occurred last Wednesday and they were great! It was so much fun to see peoples’ work, hear them speak, and start to figure out what everyone is into. I can’t wait to see the rest of the artists work! Then Sunday night was the first reading session for the writers and that was wonderful as well. Some really incredible work coming out of my colleagues, artists and writers both! I’m so excited for the writers to publish their novels, essays and poems so I can go out and buy them, read them at home, and share them with friends. I’m not even slightly exaggerating on this—the work is soooo good!
Tiffany and Avantika, two of this months most influential social lubricators. I don’t actually have a picture of Tiffany but she has been working in food recently so it seems fitting that I would have a studio next to her… I would say they did this on purpose but I had no idea I would end up working in candy when I mailed in my studio request form…
I have to say though, it’s also a little intimidating. I’ve realized that a lot, possibly even the majority, of the artists already have MFAs or are in grad school now and REALLY have their shit figured out. They know what their art is about, why they do it, what they are trying to explore, etc. etc. They have bodies of work, are investigating specific themes and know how to articulate what the work is all about. Also, everyone calls everything “the work“, not “my work“ or “your work“ but THE work. Is this something I need to get into the habit of doing? Regardless of “the work“, this place is full of incredibly talented, fun and open people. Somehow I’ve found that it’s incredibly easy to share, chat or just hang out with pretty much everyone here. What is in the air here that makes this work? Even though everyone is a crazy character in one way or another, it works amazingly well… And there’s so much creative energy floating around; even if you don’t see peoples’ work or their studios, you just know it’s happening…
March 4, 2009
So I’ve been trying to squeeze in some time to write my usual “things learned” entry before I forget everything related to the project, but it has been difficult! Between quitting the design job, trying to find new jobs, balancing time in studio with time tying up loose ends on Post-Processualism (I still want to collect and post a project budget for the whole thing)… well, there’s only so many hours in a day. And I’ve been working on normal “life” things that I’ve been ignoring like laundry, dishes, cat litter and general cleaning and organizing of my apartment, computer, files, projects, art pieces, contacts, seeing friends, donating hair, etc.
I finally sat down a couple nights ago and wrote out a few thoughts…
1. Birthing pains are horrific! The last few days getting this project out the door were some of the worst I’ve experienced. Maybe it was the toxic fumes, or causing brain damage to the cat, or the frustration of fragility, or the exhaustion of the physicality… or maybe it was because I wasn’t 100% sure of this project to begin with so when it got down to the wire, it was hard to maintain the energy and passion against the looming doubts and second guessing that was running rampant…
2. Projects of a certain scale attain a level of “being” beyond the usual sculptural object. They come into their own and no longer require your hand to continue. Sure, I made it, I birthed it, but it is also an autonomous child, free to move in directions I may or may not foresee. I felt like many aspects of Post-Processualism were completely out of my control, and while that’s a totally false statement in that there was only a little left to chance, relative to my usual control freak nature, this was difficult. Letting go was difficult. And yet once it is out of my hands (it was the same with Paper Jungle), it is somehow liberating–maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these types of projects? Some masochistic part of me likes being forced out of my comfort zone and allowing things to be subject to chance?
3. Be absolutely totally clear in your artist statement/proposal! Certain heart attacks and anguish can be avoided with a little extra caution in the beginning–even if it seems clear to you, it’s not always clear to others. BUT
4. Be open. Shit happens, things change, but that doesn’t mean for the worse. I was delightfully surprised to find that what I thought was catastrophe was actually opportunity in disguise, and a certain amount of forced self-reflection led to a (probably) stronger piece in the end.
5. It’s hard to work without space. I was blessed with Paper Jungle to have access to the PERFECT work space due to connections in school. And I’m blessed now to have access to materials and processes (like firing) that I wouldn’t normally, but damn is it hard to work without space. There’s only so much Matt, the cat, and my sanity can take when I try to complete a big project in my tiny apartment.
6. Storage! I haven’t learned anything yet other than the fact that I don’t have any. What do you do with large art pieces when you’re “done” with them? I’ll let you know when I figure it out… Right now it’s all in my car for lack of any other place to put it…
7. Self-promote, self-promote, self-promote. No one else will do it for you. And make your own postcards–come on RISD! What was with those over sized postcards?! You should know better! I couldn’t mail those anywhere for cheap!
8. Friends are the best. I mean, I already knew that, but it continues to be affirmed. Especially the ones that come to your show. Yes, that’s a guilt trip to everyone that missed it–you better come to the next one! If you’re across the country, or across the globe, then you’re excused, but if you’re right here in Boston or New England…
9. When in doubt, JUST DO IT. Following my intuition has never failed me. It’s only when I ignore it or second guess it that I find myself in trouble–artistically or otherwise.
10. Let things percolate. For me at least, I need as much time as possible to just think. And study. And write. And look at things. And research. And map. And diagram. And plan. And then think some more. The longer the simmer, the better. Let other ideas pop up and write them down before they float away, but always return to the original brew.
Also, I was trying to keep this to a nice succinct 10 item list, but I was thinking during my commute that when it comes to learning, a. I love it, and b. I do it with my hands. I seem to really enjoy throwing myself into completely unknown waters, floundering around for a while, and then magically surfacing with something that works. Learning by example or from books or even based on teachers doesn’t really do it for me–I have to dive in, experiment a lot, learn by doing and let happy accidents happen. If I followed well known examples, sure I would cut out a lot of extra work, but then where would the random mistakes that make a project sparkle happen? By throwing myself into things relatively unguided, I’ve become an expert large scale paper cutter, painfully thin porcelain slab roller, photocopy transferrer, sewer of teeth and crappy but functioning installer among many other things. Ask me to do any one of those things with a different material or structure, and I probably couldn’t do it immediately without more experimentation, but I know a LOT about how to do those specific things really well… I think for me at least, art-making has become an essential part of how I learn and that’s a big part of why it has become so important that I do it with as much regularity as possible.
July 13, 2007
So I know I initially promised lots of updates along the way as to how the installation was progressing and did not follow through. All I can say is sorry and I’ll try to catch up over the next month or so! It is now July so the project is completely finished. I tore down what was left of the piece on June 5th in about an hour. It was actually pretty satisfying to take apart the remainder, even though it only took an hour to tear apart what took countless hours to create. I suppose in the end it was OK simply because the entire project felt pretty successful. Things changed and evolved along the way and parts had to be left out or altered, but for the most part, it all worked out quite well and in accordance with the initial concept. So here are a few photos of what was left on the 5th and the de-installation process. I’ll go ahead and post these now so you can compare them to the opening photos and then I’ll write a couple new posts over the next month that fill in the 3 month gap inbetween. Enjoy!
Welcome to The End. This is what it looked like when I arrived on a very grey rainy Monday morning in June. Compare, if you will, to the same shot taken through the entry door labeled “Radeke Garden” the day I installed it. Quite different…
Looking thin as you look out into the sculpture garden, or up to the ceiling. Now the framing structure is very clear whereas upon initial installation it was fairly well hidden. Then the real fun began!
Next a view from above the ceiling grid I constructed. Now that the paper is mostly gone, you can actually see how it all fit together. We lowered each wood frame out of the aluminum grid, ripped the last of the paper off, took all the wood frames apart, removed the aluminum grid and we were done! That was how months of hard work ended!
March 28, 2007
Finally the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Photos of the actual piece and of the opening party/reception at the museum. I know these are a month late so I apologize but there’s lots of them! Consider this part 1 of the documentation of the piece and the party. This first set of photos was taken the moment I finished installing everything on February 22nd before anyone else had touched a single piece of paper or walked through the room. They were taken right around sunset so there’s beautiful cool light coming in from outside in contrast to the warm flourescents. There are more of these photos–I’m just showing a few to entice you into checking back later.
All of these are close ups taken during the actual opening by my lovely friend Ashley who came the furthest distance of all–all the way from North Carolina just to see my show and hang out for the weekend.
This first one is of the other Sitings piece, Christopher Robbins’ Plywood Tree, and the next is the line up the stairs of people waiting to enter my Paper Jungle. The rest are of people interacting with the space.
And of course all the fun photos of everyone hanging out in the main gallery, eating Kabob & Curry and listening to Agus’ Basement Blues (live rock band!) amidst the museum’s awesome collection of Modern Art. My favorite is the photo of the band in front of a Rothko with a sign above them questioning “What Happened to Art?”–it really doesn’t get much better than this… Thank you so much to everyone for coming out! Especially those of you who came from long distances including North Carolina, Virginia, New York and Boston. You guys are amazing.
There are many more photos of the opening and the disaster that was my piece afterwards! So keep checking back and perhaps next time I’ll actually organize them into a slideshow since I know clicking on each photo individually is a huge pain…