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!

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Week 47 of 48

December 27, 2010

One week left in 2010 and then it’s on to 2011! Dura Mater is finished and photographed, my new website is live, and graduate applications are coming to a close in the next couple weeks. Onward and upward! So this week, I’ll just provide a link to the new website, with the new work, for the new year. Enjoy!

new website! for the new year!

Week 45 of 48

December 13, 2010

One more week of residents on campus, then two weeks of break before the next session comes and 2011 begins. Part of me wishes I was staying for more of the break so I could enjoy resident free studio time, but I also can’t wait to get out of here for my longest break from this place yet…

The suit of armor is almost done after working way too hard on it the last couple weeks. It won’t be totally finished until the weekend, but here is a shot when it was about half completed… I actually like it more with some parts missing so I may play around with which parts to include and which to leave out.

I also had an incredible studio visit with Ed Smith this weekend. He yelled at me for thinking I’m not ready to show and adamantly insisted that I show the piece in the city as soon as possible. Like. Now. It reminded me of my first ever studio visit with Sheila Pepe a year ago, which really confirmed my decision to pursue fine art as a career. Ed was my last studio visit of the year and a great way to end 2010. So, once I have some good photos of the armor and grad apps and the website are done, I can focus my admin work on submitting it to as many places in the city as possible until someone agrees to show it. Although the rock candy is stronger than most of my work to date, it still has a limited lifespan and I can’t imagine it lasting more than a couple years. All the more reason to show it within the next year if I’m going to show it at all…

half the plates assembled and ready to go...

plates for more layers to the skirt

figuring out skirt layers

miscellaneous detritus that I can never bring myself to throw away...

Week 39 of 48

November 1, 2010

I finally gave in and set up a proper poor man’s photo studio in an empty studio across the hall. It’s far from perfect, but after several rounds of experimenting with both the lighting and my camera’s settings, I managed a few rounds of decent photos. I’m also in a building where it’s impossible to have total control of the lighting so despite taking all the flourescent tubes out of the ceiling lights, there is still some bleed from other studios’ lighting. At the very least, I learned a lot more about how to use my camera, so that was exciting. I’m also in phase 1 of the website refresh so all the new photos will show up there whenever I launch the updated site. Here are some of the better rejects from the photo shoot:

my scraped together photo studio...

A close up of the first piece of armor

funky wave of crystals

one of the first experimental pieces

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.

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:

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