Eggs Benedict

To begin this I should start with a confession:

I believe in sex.  It is an integral part of being human.  Healthy sex makes for strong communities and happy people.  Love in all of its colors, partners and kinky curiosities is to be enjoyed by those who are in it.  Understanding the self and expressing personal identity are interwoven in our sexual experiences.  As it is our bodies that create each successive generation, healthy sexual choices are at the root of creating a healthy nation.

THE WHY:

I was eating a bowl of cereal when a radio news story perked my interest.  It was March of 2009.  A translator relayed this quote from Pope Benedict during his recent trip to Africa:

“I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is.  If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.  The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spirtual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practice self-denial, to be alongside the suffering.”

Wait, did the Pope just say that prophylactics will increase the AIDS epidemic in Africa and offer self-denial as the remedy?

Why yes, he did.

A few days later the Lancet called upon the Pope to retract his comments, saying that anything less would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates fighting to contain the disease.  No retraction was given.

In 2010 the Pope engaged the condom debate again, this time stating that encouraging condom use amongst prostitutes, with the intention of reducing the risk of HIV infection, may be an indication that the prostitute is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity.

Now the Pope was conflating being a prostitute who practices safe sex with encouraging a moral deficit.  Had he any compassion for their position in life; their poverty, their plight?

Apparently not.

Over the next few years Benedict’s fervent embrace of a more “traditional” Catholic doctrine continued to make me wonder what time-machine he had fallen out of. Homosexuality as a moral disease…  Same sex-marriage as a threat to world peace… Gender as clearly definable…  Each time a new message from the Pope hit the airwaves I became frustratingly perplexed.  I felt I had to do something.

Eggs Benedict exists because I believe it is my responsibility as an able bodied person living in our current cultural climate to incite further discussion about the direction our leaders point us in.  As an artist, my thoughts manifest in my artwork best.  It’s a pretty simple relationship.  During the production of this piece I made many intentional choices; from selecting a cheerful moment from the Pope’s earlier years to reproduce, to going with a festive color palette, to putting great care into the making of the portrait to ensure that both the subject matter and the materials were on some level being celebrated in the midst of the questions that their combination raises.  I made these choices because it is important to me that this piece opens more doors than it closes, by remaining both glorious and irreverent at the same time, if that’s possible. Like other portraits I have made, I see Eggs Benedict conceptually existing in a grey space between the black/white nature of political statements- creating room for a nuanced experience that has an added degree of complexity.

 THE HOW:

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In May of 2009 I made a donation to a health advocacy group in exchange for 6,000 condoms.  The piece was intended to be quite a bit smaller than it is now, as I had chosen a 1/4″ mesh to weave the condoms through.  The focus of the image was limited mainly to the Pope’s face.  It was while creating the tonal range by inter-stuffing the condoms that I ran into my first hurdle.  The small grid wouldn’t allow for the thickness of 3-4 condoms that some of the tones required.  I needed to scale up.

I also began to notice that the latex was breaking down, and that several of the first condoms woven in the grid were beginning to become ashy, losing their vibrancy.  I was presented with the second hurdle; learning more about latex degradation.  In order to do that I needed to spend some time experimenting with different preservation techniques and essentially put constructing the piece on the back burner.

Over the next year and a half I laid condoms in window sills, on top of book shelves under fluorescent and incandescent lights, dipped them in castor oil, Astroglide, sprayed them with WD-40 and Armorall, as well as dusted them with talc.  The results were pretty clear.   First and most importantly, the condoms needed to be non-lubricated in order to inter-stuff  them in an expedient fashion. Secondly, condoms treated with spermicidal lubricant, Armorall, WD-40, and castor oil crumbled or became more prone to snapping within 12-18 months. Talc, though effective in sealing the latex dulled the colors. Sunlight, fluorescents and heat also were a detriment to the material.

These findings led me back to the design board, this time drawing up an airtight case with plexiglass sides on the front and back that I could then flood with argon gas.  Filing it with a silicone based lubricant was also a preservation option I played with (and the idea of putting a bubbler in could be fun) but the cost and weight of the piece would increase greatly.  Gas being more cost effective and less gimmicky won.

I also decided to include more of the Pope’s body in the image, including the gesture of his hands and more papal garb.  The stitching surface had trippled by 2012, which brought me to the third hurdle: Finding more condoms.

By the fall of 2012 I had relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin over 1,000 miles from my first condom connection in Memphis, Tennessee.  My second search began similarly to how I had conducted it before.  I began by calling and visiting AIDS testing centers and calling health advocacy groups in search of a helpful person who might be interested trading donations for condoms.

Trying to create a connection this way was tenuous to say the least.  First off, the organizations that supply testing and sexual health information have been under fire for a number of years, and more recently following several conservative referendums are walking both political and financial tight ropes.  The last thing I wanted to do was in anyway jeopardize the crucial services they provide by involving them in a project that could potentially be politically inflammatory.  I found myself skirting the exact content of the piece until the last minute with the first two organizations I spoke with, as if the don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule might make it easier for both of us.  I felt like I was seeking contraband, goofy as it may sound.  My request for 14,000 condoms in specific color quantities inevitably brought the conversation around to the goals of the project.  Thankfully it was embraced by each person I spoke with.

While waiting to hear back from a these contacts I was encouraged to try and secure the condoms by creating my own account with a national sexual education group.  As luck would have it, my new job teaching at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design had the added benefit of affiliating me with a 501c3 non-profit institution… and apparently that’s all it takes.

In mid-November 2012 the cases of condoms arrived.  I began unwrapping, unrolling, stuffing, configuring and stitching the portrait.  During those months I sat on the couch at night, exacto blade within reach, methodically slicing open hundreds of foil wrappers, pulling out their contents, unrolling them and then bagging each color group.  (New fact to wow your friends at the next cocktail party: You can fit 500 unrolled condoms in a gallon bag; just give yourself 4 hours to do so.)  For those of you who are curious as to how long this has taken, I began to time myself during the middle of the project to see exactly how long each row took to decipher color, inter-stuff condoms, triple fold (yes, all of the condoms are folded) and stitch through the mesh.  The answer: 1 hour and 20 minutes per horizontal line.  As there are 101 horizontal rows, the stitching the portrait took roughly 135 hours.  Unwrapping, unrolling and bagging took nearly the same amount of time.

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I finished stitching the week Pope Benedict retired.

THE PIECE:

The images that follow are of the completed stitch-work for Eggs Benedict.  I am currently building the frame that will hold the stitch-work as well as a plexiglass aquarium that will encase the both the frame and the stitching.  More images will be posted when it’s ready!

Eggs Benedict

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Dimensions: The stitching area measures 41″x 51″x 5″.  The frame and case will increase the size to 48″x 72″x 12″.  When seen in person the case will be attached to a short weighted pedestal that will ensure the piece doesn’t tip over.  The stitch-work contains approximately 17,000 non-lubricated condoms.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS:

I’d love to hear what you think.  Please feel free to send any questions or comments my way and I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.  Thank you!  More updates to follow soon.

To visit the online auction of Eggs Benedict click on this link: eggsbenedictproject.com

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New Adventures

PUBLIC ART

The rebuilding of the downtown Madison Public Library is well underway.  Since early spring Mifflin Street has been narrowed to a one-way trickle of car traffic, and the average passerby has witnessed a monolithic example of early-60’s architecture being whittled away to it’s bare bones.

The grand opening of the new space is slated for September 2013.

Thanks to the efforts of the Madison Public Library Foundation (and Trent Miller– my friend and hero) funds were raised this fall to purchase one of my bookend pieces as well as one of Heath Matysek-Snyder‘s stacked wood pieces for the library’s permanent collection. Both will be on view in the new library with new pieces by fellow UW-Madison affiliated artists Tom Loeser, Derrick Buisch, Hongtao Zhou, and Sofia Arnold as well as works by an handful of selected nationally and internationally based artists.

In October, Trent and I narrowed down the location for both the bookend piece and Daily Exchange (which the library acquired following Bookless in January).  We found a great spot for the bookends in the “reading room” on the third floor, next to a bank of windows.  The piece will be visible from the street on Mifflin and Fairchild, and be on the same floor as the new library art gallery. (Yes, the library has a gallery that will show rotating exhibitions!)  Daily Exchange is going to be located on the second floor in the center of the main room, protected from sunlight to maintain the integrity of the plastics and heat sensitive paper it contains.

In early November I met with the city architect, Bryan Cooper, to iron out a few logistical issues related to installing the bookend piece in a public space.  The gridded bookend stacks weigh close to 1,000 pounds in total and hang in close proximity to each other requiring a reinforced wall to support it.  We also had to figure out how to make the piece function within the space while adhering to the American Disabilities Act, which requires that the piece must be suspended no more than 27″ from the floor or it will require additional architectural elements, like a fixed pedestal or base.  The result is that the bookend piece will be a bit taller and skinnier than I had originally thought.  After visiting the site and seeing the space I have begun to think this all might serendipitously be for the better.

Here are a few images of the new library and my recent tour, beginning with an architectural sketch of the new building:

This is what it looks like now, beginning with the third floor:

The third floor facing Fairchild St. from Mifflin St.  The capitol building is one block up. (Photo credit: Toby Kaufman-Bueler)

The third floor, across from the Overture Center for the Arts with Bryan Cooper. (Photo credit: Toby Kaufman-Bueler)

Imagine a wall of windows here, facing the Overture.  Below the 2″x 4″ bracing there is a stairwell leading to the second floor.

The bookend piece will be at the top of the staircase on this wall.   (Photo credit: Toby Kaufman-Bueler)

This is a shot from the second floor of the bottom of the stairwell.  Trent and I are checking out what the view will be of the bookends from below. (Photo credit: Toby Kaufman-Bueler)

On the second floor they removed the drop ceiling, exposing the honeycombed cement structure underneath.  This will be painted and remain visible in the new building.

The windows on the second floor have quadrupled in size.  I swear, every third word on the tour was “glass.”  This library will have lots of natural light.

This is a view of the first floor, which used to be the stacks- a place that was off limits to the general public. This corner is where the new children’s section is going to be located.  The purplish light against the far wall is coming through a hole they cut in the ceiling.  Yep, more windows!

If you’d like to check out more inprogress images of the library’s construction, here’s Link to construction photos on Madison Public Library’s flickr page.

Here are a few architectural drawings of the new building to help with picturing what it will look like:

This is a sketch of the windows that will be facing Fairchild St.  Note the ceiling windows in the children’s area.  The bookend piece will be on the Third Floor, on the same level as the Meeting Room.

They are working on a green roof, which will be accessible from the third floor.  There is talk of having rotating outdoor exhibitions in the garden, so stay tuned.

This is what it will look like from the Overture Center on Mifflin Street.

Here’s the architectural sketch from Fairchild Street.

This is an image of the “reading room” on the 3rd floor.   The bookend piece will be hanging on the tall narrow wall directly behind the blonde guy.

This is a sketch the architects and I put together mapping out the rough dimensions of the bookend piece on the wall in the “reading room.”  The configuration will pretty much fit the dimensions within the horizontal stripes (imagine 200 stacks of bookends gridded into a rectangle in their place).

Arch at Bookless in January, 2012

The opportunity to display the bookends on a tall, thin wall required me to reconfigure the piece over the past month.  What was formerly titled Archwill not an be an arch at all.  This challenge was bizarre at first.  Shifting the shape from a smooth slope, which has always reminded me of the houses on the hilltops in the Bay Area to something so formally simple was initially worrisome.  I feared an essential element of the piece would be lost.  However after visiting the construction site I’ve left convinced that this new shape is going to work.  No, it won’t be the same, but when I visualize approaching the piece while ascending the stairs from the second floor, watching it take shape from below- or imagine how it’s height along the 16′ wall will accentuate the new vaulted ceilings, I am excited for it.  This incarnation of the bookends is more reflective of the building structures that surround capitol square, which works with the site.

As mentioned in the paragraphs leading up to this, finding the right place and configuration has been months in the making- and there are many more to follow before these pieces will be seen by the public.  I am truly thankful for the people involved in this undertaking that believe in the importance of maintaining artistic integrity in the midst of managing the logistics of creating a conducive space for public life.  I’m looking forward to what’s next.

 

Teacher Lady in Plateland

, For the past two months I have been teaching in the sculpture department at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.  My class is based in the foundry with an emphasis in bronze and aluminum casting.   The course curriculum I’ve put together this semester is as conceptually focused as it it materially based- and because of that the students have been producing work that is mixed-media as well as performative, in tandem with their existing interests and bodies of work.

It might be surprising to imagine me running around with a crucible of molten metal and team of students, but I actually have a history with the stuff.  Bronze casting was my very favorite thing to do in my first incarnation as an undergraduate student.  I first started taking my degree seriously when pouring bronze, and even after I left school and moved to the Bay Area, all of the great ideas I would draw out (between waitressing and rock climbing excursions) would inevitably find their way back to bronze.

Before the pour, NMHU 2007

During that break in school I didn’t have access to a metal studio, so I adapted the mold making skills I’d picked up in the foundry to my environment (often times it was a shared apartment kitchen or balcony).  First I learned about alginate and plaster, then vinyls and rubbers.  Moving ahead several years, and most recently I’ve been slip-casting porcelain- yet another mold dependent process.  The ironic thing now is, sometimes the mold is my favorite part of the piece.  Yet another lesson in learning to love what you first resist.

All that said, it has been awhile since I have been in the foundry environment.  Its so much less macho than I remember.  The environment at MIAD is without bravado, there is way less risky behavior and lots of question asking.  The metal pours are yelling free.  Rather, as a class we choreograph the pour a few times in the class before the scheduled date and then once on the day of.  This creates an environment where the students call out to each other during the process.  Though I helped direct my class through a few moments in out last aluminum pour, I left strongly convinced they will in a short time be capable of doing it without me.

So this semester my class is working on issues of multiplicity, fixing and mending as well as the phantasmagoric in their projects.  Every project begins with a reading… yes, reading, which leads to lots of drawing and THEN we make stuff.  Mold-making skills are a must in the class, and so we’ve spent afternoons imagining the space around objects, visualizing draft while getting coated in plaster, alginate, caulking and now silicone. Like many things, thinking in invisible separable-part space that surrounds all objects does become easier (and even strangely addictive for some).

This job, the foundry and many of the metal techniques I have been teaching are all thanks to Jill Sebastian.  Jill, while also tackling numerous public art projects here and beyond, is the head of the Sculpture department at MIAD.  She offered me the opportunity to teach earlier this summer, which I happily accepted.  Since starting the job I’ve had to pinch myself several times for being so fortunate.  I survived grad school and now have a great mentor and 10 bright students.  I couldn’t be happier.

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With limited time in the studio I have turned to altering a collection of commemorative plates I’ve amassed over the past two years.  I began collecting plates during a period when I was looking to develop a rapid way to move through ideas.  As many of the ways I make art are process laden and time consuming, the plates have provided a great place where I can loosen up and try things out.

My plate altering process require shelf paper, sharp exacto blades and a sandblaster.  Depending on the image I either remove existing details from the found images or I’ll erase silhouettes of objects that were never there.

Here are some recent pieces:

Three Season Home

Three Season Home (detail Spring)

In 3 Season Home I’ve erased “for sale” signs into the yards of a Currier & Ives collection that celebrates American homes through the seasons.  I see this act as an intervention that points to a changing ways we envision the permanence of house and home.

To see more detailed images from this series please visit my website.

On Thursday, October 11th I drove down to Memphis for the opening of my most recent show at the Wrong Again Gallery run by Greely Myatt.  The exhibition is called, Behind Closed Doors: An Evening of Rockwellian Taboo.  It runs from Saturday, October 13th thru Halloween.

Behind Closed Doors at the Wrong Again Gallery (gallery is closed)

Behind Closed Doors at the Wrong Again Gallery (gallery is open)

Detail shot.

Detail of Grandpa’s Candlestick

Exhibition statement:

I removed the figures on this series of plates to bring a renewed focus to the content of the imagery on them, specifically the relationship between adult and child. This intervention highlights the expressions on the adults faces in Rockwell’s work, drawing attention to a cultural shift in normative displays of parental behavior over the past 60 years.

I see the erasure as an agent that directly challenges the age old adage of “being seen and not heard,” a practice that leaves little room for any agency at all. The white silhouettes combined with the remaining imagery for me, reveal uncannily dark narrative undertones, which I believe are representative of Rockwell’s personal struggles with family, intimacy and isolation.

At Your Service

After a year of proposals, fundraising, working with artists, writers, photographers and publishers- Amelia Toelke and I opened At Your Service at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin.  The show ran from July 2nd thru September 16th, exhibiting plate based works by Gesine Hackenberg, Molly Hatch, Garth Johnson, Sue Johnson, Amelia and myself.  We produced a catalogue for the show that featured writings by Lisa Gralnick and Garth Johnson with photography by Jim Escalante.

It was an incredible experience, unlike any project I’ve been involved in.

Here are a few gallery photos of the installation of the show taken by Sarah Jane Ripp.  (Click here to see more from the catalogue, learn more about the artists, or the reception.)

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At Your Service exhibition statement:

Our lives circle the plate. Like clockwork we turn to them when we are hungry, enjoying the way they complement our food with their color, patterning and design.  They facilitate everyday utopian moments, quieting the labors of production that build each meal.  While food is one of the first descriptions one will give of their culture, it is the plate that holds it all.

It seems strange then that the common plate is rarely examined for its broader social and cultural significance. While it is true that they provide a utilitarian support for the food we eat, adorn walls as decoration and commemorate events and places, they also behave as sites for cultural reflection.

The impetus for At Your Service began with Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke’s  desire to exhibit with artists who had inspired them. During the first two years of their friendship Johnson and  Toelke independently began using the plate in their artwork. Their shared interest in these objects led to conversations that ranged from the utilitarian to the decorative, from issues of the domestic to innovations in design. Through their research and conversations they learned of a small group of working artists who were similarly using the plate as a site for cultural intervention and formal exploration.

Johnson and Toelke brought together the artists and writers in At Your Service in an effort to  facilitate broader discussions of what the plate can mean.  The inherent tropes of kitsch, commemoration, decoration, adornment, preciousness and historical virtue are both celebrated and made suspect by the works on display.

“Our hope is that the wide scope of work in this exhibition provides an experience that encourages viewers to incorporate their own stories and experiences. Though the exhibition focuses on the plate, it ultimately fosters a dialogue about the inherent qualities of everyday objects and the impact they have on our daily lives.” –Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke

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Now that the exhibition at the Overture has ended, Amelia and I are focusing our energies on securing future exhibitions for At Your Service for 2014.  Our hope is that we will be able to include a few more artists, as to broaden the dialogue of this show.  Wish us luck!

For more information on the the show please visit:

www.atyourserviceexhibition.wordpress.com

Moving on up.

In May I had my final exhibition in the MFA program at UW-Madison.

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Exhibition/Artist Statement:

My work over the past year engages the space between places–specifically the experience of the transient, the displaced and the uprooted.  Each piece in this exhibition frames a portrait of separation in which place and belonging mix with apparitions of desire.  My affinity with material transformation during this period has focused on issues of fragility and fortification, recasting objects associated with house and home as symbolic agents of crisis.

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Towards the end of the exhibition I met with my committee and completed my oral defense.  In comparison with my MA/MFA qualifiers, which happened the year before, the experience was surprisingly simple.  I think what best explains the difference between the meetings is this: at my MA/MFA qualifiers I thought I knew why I made the work, where as at my MFA defense I had spent a year rooting down and researching for the exhibition. The process helped me understand beyond any doubt or concern, how the pieces worked within the show.  In the year between my MA and my MFA I learned a great deal about the value of speaking from a position of personal truth, and I believe understanding this greatly effected what I gained from the experience of final defense.

I am ever thankful for the experience I had in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and would like to take a moment to thank the people who helped me through this process:

Many thanks to Aris Georgiades and Gail Simpson for bringing me into the Sculpture Department, to Laurie Beth Clark for being my advocate at every turn and bringing me such a wealth of knowledge in your classes, to Stephen Hilyard for challenging me to make smarter work and showing me that and artist’s strength can also be their weakness, to Tom Jones for your ear and your eyes, to Paul Sacaridiz for welcoming me into the Ceramics Department in my final year and trusting that I could take on a new beast so late in the game, to Sarah FitzSimons for mentoring me through my first semester teaching Sculpture and of course to Michael Jay McClure hiring me as an Art History TA, a job that has made me sound all the more clever ever since. Beyond this I would like to extend a broad thanks to all of the faculty I worked with and to the visiting artists who shared their time with me over the past three years.  I hope our paths continue to cross.  Many thanks to my close friends for your camaraderie and critique.  I wouldn’t have survived without you.  And lastly, a huge thank you to my family for their incredible support.  We did it!

Adventure and the Given

Part 1:  Bookless

When I left off on my last entry I had just proposed two installations for the upcoming demolition exhibition at Madison’s downtown public library.  I was excited.  I had relatively low expectations but strangely high hopes and that combination felt freeing.  It had been years since I had worked in an completely open space- one that requires a guerrilla approach and a DIY MacGyverism in which the greatest drawback to a project hinges on your ability to repurpose what’s there- and I was only too happy to begin.

Woven into the prospect of being able to build anything was a small group of librarians (Trent Miller, Michael Spelman and Jesse Vieau) and a maintenance crew (Mark, Mervyn, Chuck and Dave) who worked tirelessly with the artists in bringing their vision to the library.  Though much of the credit that encompassed the event focused on the artists or the library as a larger entity, these people were involved in everything that took place before, during and after the show.  Logistical projects like orchestrating large scale auctions to securing materials for artists from said auction… Researching blue prints to okay which walls could be dug into by burrowing artists and which were to be saved, etcetera, etcetera- were fielded by this group (and beyond, I’m sure).

In 10 days I put together two installations and hung a piece that I hadn’t shown before.  The library became a laboratory for sketching out ideas and exploring audience.

Passenger, located in the back corner of the basement was the first I set to task on building. I wanted to go high and big.  Using the floor plan of the geodesic dome I lived in when I was a kid I laid out a circle with moving boxes measuring 15′ in diameter.  Then I began to stack.

The basement corner before I got started.

Trial run of mapping out floor plan.

Wet set conduit for stacking reinforcement.

The reinforced stack.

After setting this up I worked on building a fort in the center of the circle.  My original concept for this piece was to incorporate the duality of forts -as temporary shelter and as spaces of childhood play- within the context of moving.  Unfortunately, after two days of building trial forts I came to understand that I didn’t have the sensibilities needed to express what I was thinking.  What I was able to build was aesthetically too haphazard to fit the rhythm of the box structure or referentially too literal. I realized I needed to spend a good chunk of time involved in some serious structural play before I was going to be able to physically articulate what was needed in the way of expressive forts.  So I decided to try out another concoction.

I brought in one of the slip-cast porcelain blankets I had in the ceramics studio, wrapped it in another moving blanket and set the lights.  As I walked around Passenger I saw that it functioned as a portrait, much like Caregiver and Placeholder I made this fall.  The porcelain blanket was surrounded, yet alone- amongst similar objects but definitively foreign through it’s material transformation.  I see the blanket as holding a phantom presence, like a memory of protection resting in frozen stasis; fragile and of a specific dimensional recollection.

This is the way the piece was displayed in the show.

Passenger from above.

From the side.

Detail of the blankets and box.

I found this configuration both exciting and problematic.  While I enjoyed the clean lines of the stacked box structure made, the sense of enclosure I felt while inside, the glow of the blanket and the preciousness implied by both the wrapping of the porcelain and the punctuated lighting… the arrangement of the main elements resisted crossing into the emotionally evocative space I was aiming for.

Passenger gave me a number of insights into how I want to handle both the boxes and the blankets in my upcoming MFA exhibition. Here’s a quick sketch of one possibility I saw while deinstalling:

What I like about this arrangement is that the hierarchy between the box stack and the blankets has been disolved.  The elements feel integrated.  The lack of monumentality makes the piece more emotionally approachable, the terms of how to understand it negotiable.

I also have new plans for the box stack.  They are a bit smaller and involve a miniature community…  More to come soon.

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On the first floor of the exhibition I hung Daily Exchange- a piece built out of my parking passes from my first year at UW-Madison, baseball card protectors, quilting needles, fuel line earring backs and steel.  It is six feet in diameter and one inch wide.

Daily Exchange

Upclose.

From the side.

Showing how back lighting activates the layers of the piece.

Initially I was saving my parking passes for tax purposes, but as they began to stack up their potential grew.  They became the perfect material to illustrate my new favorite architectural conundrum.  During my first year in Madison I had become somewhat obsessed with the state capitol building.  I had never lived near a neoclassical domed capitol before.  My morning commute involved circling it’s base before parking at the Overture Center ramp.  Seeing the capitol not only aligned my directional compass, it symbolically re-inscribed a surreal sense of progress I was experiencing.  It all was a bit much, so I began to tease it out.

The piece started with the simple activity of tracing the silhouette of the capitol on each card by hand.  Then I cut each one out with an exacto separating the skyline from the building.  Next was coming up with a contraption that would poke holes in the corners of the baseball card protectors so they could be uniformly registered.  After running all of the protectors through the contraption below I began to assemble it.

The card protector poking machine.

The front and back of the piece were woven together by layering card protectors in a pattern over quilting needles.  In order to secure a uniform gap between the cards  I strung a half inch of fuel line on each needle before weaving the back part of the piece together.  Finally I finished the the piece by capping each needle with a clear earring back (visible in the image of the back seen above).

The frame was cut to dimension by Wiedenbeck Steel and then tack welded together.  Daily Exchange was labor intensive, but provided some really enjoyable moments of problem solving.  This piece was one of the most fun puzzles I’ve ever put together.

It’s reception at Bookless was incredible.  I was so happy to see this piece find a home and audience. The city bought Daily Exchange to add to their permanent art collection for the new library after the exhibition.  It will be on view following the opening of the renovated library building in 2013.  (Many, many thanks again to Trent for helping this happen.)

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As it turned out, the first project I began for Bookless was the last to be finished.  Initially I was going to install all of the bookends I had collected off the library shelves into this little cubical… However, in the midst of the auction/book shelf removal week it found a home and disappeared.  Yep- window, walls and all- it was gone.

Trent generously gave me the conference room on the second floor where he had been stashing some pretty amazing odds and ends for a library oddity installation. After helping him shuffle his treasure trove to another location the room was ready to go.  I had two days to imagine and complete the bookend installations before the show opened.  When I finished, the room contained three bookend sculptures, a photographic series and a wildly rigged gang of clamp lights and electrical cords across the cieling.

The great thing about working with a short deadline was how much the work began to resemble play. I set to task weaving, stacking and hanging, focusing more on formal  issues than anything else. The building parameters for the bookend pieces were simple: I worked with with only like-sized bookends in each piece.  The smaller bookends (measuring 5″x 5″x 5″) were arranged on the wall in stacks composing Arch. The larger bookends (measuring  12″x 8″x 8″) were woven together to create the repeated curved forms and large capped endings of Bridge. And finally, the square magazine holders were stacked together on the floor to cover a tricky electrical outlet.

Here are a couple of images of what the space looked like when I was finished.

Installation view of northwest corner.

And the southeast corner.

This is how the photos were installed.

Below is one of the images.

Blue Corridor, 6″x 8″, digital color photograph, 2012

While I stacked and unstacked, built and wove I took in the timely fashion and beauty of the bookends.  Their purpose had been utilitarian, but without the books they pointed clearly to the past 50 years of popular trends in color and shape.  The bookends were so poignant on their own I felt my greatest challenge while I worked was to not get in their way.

Arch began as an formal exploration of the curved shape punched into each bookend.   As it came together it’s meaning expanded for me to include ideas about urban communities, education and physical transformation.

Arch

Side detail.

Detail from side of bookends hanging on nails.

Bridge was built on top of a marble topped heating vent.  Serendipitously the opening in the vent was the exact dimension of the larger sized bookend tongues.  After figuring this out I began assembling the quarter circle segments on the floor.  Constructing Bridge began by stacking all of the black bookends together and then propping the curved forms they made against the ends of the window sill.  To make the quarter circles stand all I had to do was hook the tongue of the leading bookend in the group into the vent.  Super simple and fun to do.

Complete view at night.

Detail of right end.

Close up.

Bridge during the day.

Bookless brought me so many answers.  Being submerged in a huge public audience, engaging in a creative community I hadn’t met yet in Madison, experimenting with my work openly… This exhibition got everything I had for three weeks and has given back so much more in the month that has followed.  Beyond raising an awesome amount of money for the  public libraries in Madison, I believe Bookless made clear to everyone involved how much energy there is in this community for dynamic events supporting a greater good.

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Part 2:  The MFA exhibition grows ever closer

Update: The last big slush mold is cast!  This mold was a fun experiment in how many ways and in varying levels of difficulty one can rig a set up to cast a part.

Step 1: Casting the top with an overbuilt yet totally bleed proof jig.

Step 2: Flipping the object and setting up for the 2nd and 3rd parts of the mold (the skinny sides)

Step 3 & 4: Casting the long sides with straps and clay, then clamping up to cast the bottom of the box.

Unfortunately the schlack I used to create a barrier so the cardboard wouldn’t absorb moisture from the plaster stuck to much of the interior of the box mold.  I coated it so thoroughly with oil soap that I am truly at a loss as to what transpired or what I did to upset the mold gods.  At this point I think it can only be salvaged for wax casting, which I’m hoping will bring some sort of magical solution of it’s own…

On a happier note:

The slip test proved successful.  Here is a bunny/puppy creature cast from a production mold fired to Cone 10.  Pretty.

With 55 gallons of beautiful white slip at my finger tips, much of the past two months has been filled with casting, casting and more casting.  At this point I have roughly 15 gallons left and am focused on getting the numbers of the various cast objects to where they need to be for the show.

For Rent sign casting

Ridge detail.

The two large sides of this 9-part mold that are pretty awesome on their own.

Production shot- Molds drying out following a full day of casting.

The For Rent mold strapped up post repair…  Frosting is the thin mold-maker’s lament!

I have given myself until the end of next week to finish the bulk of casting.  After that I have a week of trimming, drying and firing.  By mid-March I will be back in the sculpture department building out rough a few trial pieces and test presentation methods for the  porcelain pieces as well as a few other ideas I’ve been cultivating in my sketchbook. I feel truly thankful for the period I’ve spent embedded in the ceramics department. Not only have I become a much more competent mold maker and slip mixer, doing so much of it has helped me regain my hunger to put process aside and work directly for a while.

I think this moment may be the teetering on what some call balance…

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Part 3:  Rolling all of the numbers on the odometer

The question I get most right now is, “What are your plans after you’re done with school?”

If only I had a concrete answer… It is bizarre to not know what you will be doing in six months.  Part of me feels pressured to have a good answer.  A good answer would  include a job, a big bright city, a steady line of upcoming exhibitions and residencies in the cue.  Yet a good answer can be hard to find when you’ve decided not to moonlight as your own career manager during your last semester of school.  For me the show comes first.  Not knowing what’s next right now is manageable because focusing solely on my MFA exhibition feels right.

After all, there is something quite amazing about balancing fear and hope on the precipice of a major moment in your life.

Present Place

Part 1:  Soil Collection is Complete

I returned home from the final leg of travel needed for my thesis research at the end of last month.  This time I went to California and documented my remaining twelve houses with a camera as well as a spade and several quart sized yogurt containers (for soil samples).  After getting back to Wisconsin I met with faculty for my end of semester critiques and then, out of nowhere, built a new piece.

Before I get into what transpired to make this new work happen I want to introduce the most asked questions I’ve had to field during this portion of my research.  They are:  “Did you remember anything when you were on the property?” and, “Did you feel haunted?”

My answer to this is both Yes and No.  Yes, in relation to witnessing a type of kinesthetic memory and No in respect to experiencing emotional/psychological remembrances on site.  Above all I was able to recall floor plans.  I could remember how to maneuver through hallways, sensations of unlocking the front door, walking pathways in backyards or in a few cases moving firewood to the stove.  My memories then were corporeal; systems of mapping and touch intertwined.

I believe my interactions and perhaps emotional objectivity with memory have been greatly informed by the analytical questions I’ve been asking.  They’ve included:  What is home?  How does site inform identity?  Are memories futile in relation to the lived reality of place?  If not, what is their relationship to site?  And finally, to what extent does the past exist?

My answers to these questions, if anything have grown longer- and for the sake of my readership I will not indulge in trying to answer them in full.  Instead I will redirect attentions to next segment of this entry, which has to do with soil.  Specifically why I am collecting it, what it means and how I’m beginning to place it in my new work…

Part 2:  Placeholder

On the plane ride home, after crisscrossing the U.S. on a hunt for homeland I was still at a loss for what the dirt (now in my checked luggage) meant.  I knew how I felt about it- the dirt was mine, something I could feel in my bones, that containers I already had in my studio created a presence much like that of another body…peculiar, really.  For the summer I truly enjoyed being in the space of wonderment with the material but after completing the collection I felt a strong need to evoke the uncanny space I felt with it in a way that was less personally specific.

The week I returned home I was reminded that the sculpture department was slotted for a show the next week.  So I did what I am learning to do: I put down my head and built.

Three days later I had Placeholder, a 4’x 4’x 4′ picket fence filled with several tons of earth.

The piece itself is simple, and in that way I believe it is generous.  For me it points to soil as the site upon which activities of the domestic take place.  True, there maybe several floors and layers of linoleum, wood and cement between us and the ground, but it is the land itself that we purchase, rent or lease.  This piece to me, points to the overlooked as well as the desired.  The title opens to suggestions to the devices in which we frame out chapters in our lives- In this instance through location, but I feel it then begins to work more broadly, addressing notions of lifetime, home and self.

*What these images do not convey is how this mass of earth behaves in relation to the body.  It carries scent as well as a physical weight that only works on site.


Part 3:  Bookends for the Bookless-

This brings me to my latest semi-instant project taking place in the Madison Public Library…

The downtown branch located a block from the state capitol is being gutted for renovation.  Trent Miller, local artist and library enthusiast along with the help of a few other fine folks have gotten the city to  host a large scale art exhibition (40 or so artists) before the build in.  Over the past two weeks he has hosted numerous site visits, one of which I was on.  This is what some of what I saw:

The basement.

Floors of empty shelves.

Circuit boards.

And a rainbow of bookends.

Both the basement and the bookends sparked my interest, so I went back with a couple proposals and spent a day collecting all of the bookends from the four-story building.  Here are some of the preliminary shots I have of the bookends that I will be spicing up with a better camera soon:

So far I have proposed two pieces for the show.  One involves building a large scale installation in the basement out of moving boxes.  The other centers around the bookends.  I am seeing the bookend project as taking two forms: as sculpture and as a photographic series.

It’s a one night event opening January 28th so it’s going to be a wild ride!

Finale:  Practice Revisited-

Making Placeholder and now being involved in Bookless (the library exhibition) have further reinforced my feelings about how essential having a rapid/loose/unpredictable way of working fits with my more methodical and belabored need to make.  I believe intuition plays an important role in both, and their opposing relationship to time investment is helping to keep my value system (often tied to slavish hours) in check.  My hope of creating a practice that is sustainable, active, invested and open appears to be happening.  And for that, in this time, I feel truly thankful.