beginning

This is how it always starts: heavier vertical wires taped to the form. Multiple layers of tape, because the wire does not want to stay put.

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Then I go around the hips and attach a lighter-weight wire to each vertical wire. This part drives me crazy. Wires everywhere, trying to poke me in the eyes, making a little shivery sound as they brush against each other.

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Here’s a close-up of one of the little wires wrapped around one of the bigger ones:

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Fussy and barely manageable, like a newborn baby. It takes me a while to get into a groove.

 

 

plaster surgery

Lately I’ve started casting torsos to make a series of sculptures about women’s bodies and the things that happen in and around them. This is gonna keep me busy for the next couple of years, I think.

Just before my last open studio, I sent a message to my mailing list saying that I was looking for more models. I got a whole bunch of replies. Some were just a little curious. Others were very keen to get started As Soon As Possible. I am so grateful to all of these ladies for their courage, their questions, their patience, their doubts, and their straight-up panic attacks.

I’ve not had a single casting session yet that has gone smoothly, and that’s okay. I’m learning so much!

This week, for instance, I was halfway through plastering someone’s back when she told me she needed to leave in an hour. I set a timer, and I was not even halfway done with her front when it went off (half an hour later).  D’oh! I stopped adding new plaster, and got out a hair dryer to make sure what I’d already done was as dry as possible before I tried to take it off her.

While she got dressed, I propped up the two halves with bubble wrap so that they wouldn’t collapse.  I wasn’t too worried about the back. I’d done that first, and it was nice and thick. The front was thin, though, and stopped just above her belly button.

I worried about it all through the next day while I rested my knees. I hurt them a few months ago, dancing with abandon, and now they complain about things like standing for ninety minutes.

Today I went back to the studio and was relieved to find the two halves dry and holding their shapes nicely. They went back together easily too. She wore a bra during the casting, and the straps made it easy to line up the shoulders:

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Today was all about matching up the edges, attaching the two halves, and reinforcing some of the edges. Next time, I’ll have to start extrapolating her lower belly from the parts I’ve already got. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to do it. Probably it’ll involve more bubble wrap, and maybe polyester stuffing and an old t-shirt.

It doesn’t have to look exactly like her. It just needs to look plausibly human. I’m pretty sure I’m up to the challenge.

the thing with feathers

I think we had been working together for about six months, and I had mostly been feeling better. But suddenly it was fall, and I was feeling apocalyptically bad. I couldn’t stop crying.

“This is what healing looks like,” said E, very gently.

I kept crying. A great sodden pile of tissues filled up the wastebasket between us. At some point I noticed that she was smiling. “Why?” I asked. “Why are you smiling like that, when I’m so miserable?”

“My heart is singing,” she said. She was looking at me like I was a very new baby who had just done something totally amazing, like maybe unleashed a tiny little belch.

I cried all the way home. When I got home, I got in the shower to avoid having to explain to Dave why I was crying. I couldn’t explain it. It just kept happening. So I cried and cried and cried in the shower. I wondered how I was ever going to be able to stop. And then I remembered E telling me that her heart was singing.

“Would it sound like a robin?” a voice in my head wondered. I was so surprised by the thought, which didn’t even seem to be mine, that I stopped crying. And I started thinking about my next sculpture.

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I always knew that someday I would make one with a bird inside it. I didn’t know until that moment that the bird would be E’s heart.

Before I placed it in its cage, I took it to her office to show it to her. She held it and fussed over it for a long time. It was her turn to cry, and my turn to grin until my face almost fell off.

Everything she said about it was something I might have said about her. It might have been the best moment I’ll ever have as an artist.

the light inside the dark

More moths. Not every day, but at least once a week. I’ve taken to leaving the light on in this lady 24/7, because the moths like the dark.

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t photographed her with the light on since last year’s great moth-proofing effort. So there she is: several layers of acrylic fabric stiffener over felted wool, over doilies crocheted from fingering-weight yarn, over rusty wire, with an 11-watt compact fluorescent lightbulb hanging in the middle. More than the sum of her parts (as we all are).

I just finished reading The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant, and I’m feeling inarticulate. I had to take a break from the group I was reading it with. They weren’t having any of the seventeen conversations I wanted to have, and I felt unable to start the conversations myself.

Maybe I already said a lot of what I could say about that book anyway, before I even read it, with this sculpture.

Maybe words are overrated.

Recently I seem to have become the kind of person who’ll dance in public, and not necessarily in a polite and sedate way. “With some people, you can tell they’re holding back,” someone said to me last night, after the music had stopped and we were getting ready to go home. “But not you.” Old Me would have been deeply embarrassed. New Me shrugs and says maybe I’m old enough to start experiencing the Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.

Tarrant says:

We need the patience to bless even our weakness, this odd weakness that seems to come not when we are helpless, as it does in the darkest night, but when we are full of strength and rising.

Last time I saw E, I cried for half an hour before I was able to say anything. She said she respected my bravery. “You’re the only person in the world who ever says anything like that to me,” I complained. “What the fuck is wrong with you? What are we turning me into? How am I supposed to be in the world like this?”

“I love you too,” she said. I hated her so much in that moment.

I am a hot mess, but not so most people would notice. I put on my boots and drive my car to the supermarket or the bank or the hardware store. I stand up straight and I smile, and it’s not an act because I really do feel pretty good a lot of the time.

And I also feel shitty and toxic, and I wish I could explain how it’s possible for the two states – light and dark – to exist at the same time and in such close proximity, and not cause some sort of explosion.

I feel like I outgrew the loneliness I was born with, and traded it in for a bigger loneliness. I’m constantly tripping over its hem and discovering odd things in its pockets: a blue bug, a red car, a long-forgotten granola bar, the sound your mother made when your head popped out of her.