lumpy crossing

Over the winter, I finally made another sculpture.  I call her “lumpy crossing.”  She’s full of spray foam insulation, which I added during a severe cold snap that left people nervously watching the gauges on their propane and oil tanks.  Adding the foam was a very slow process: if you add it all at once, it blorps out all over the floor.

The name comes from a story about the name of a place in the Northern of Ireland, Corrymeela:

Corrymeela is often translated from the original Irish as “Hill of Harmony” or “Hill of Sweetness.”  But there is another and more probable translation.  The name comes from a neighbouring townland, Corrymellagh, in the parish of Culfeightrin.  Culfeightrin means in Irish “The Corner of the Stranger.”  Corrymellagh means “The Lumpy Crossing Place.”

Perhaps the latter etymology is more apt for us: a place where differing groups, strangers to each other, are offered the opportunity to cross over into another space.  And the crossing is “lumpy,” not easy, full of pitfalls.

What can I say about this last year?  Not much.  Except, maybe, that it has been a lumpy crossing.

i know what i know

I finished a new sculpture this week, which prompted a little existential crisis about the whole body of work.

My therapist said that whatever this new piece represents is so painful that my brain is trying to protect me from it by telling me that there is nothing worth doing. It’s unusual for her to make that sort of pronouncement. Usually she’s more given to soothing noises and difficult questions. Usually I’m not having an existential crisis about my work. Maybe she’s right.

The next morning, I read this little snippet of wisdom in an article that my sister-in-law (who is also an artist – Hi Linda!) posted on Facebook:

“In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. Art is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.”

– Teresita Fernández

Staring and relishing the ridiculousness and mystery has always been part of my process. I like to practice yoga in the front room of the studio, where all the girls are hanging. It’s especially important when I’ve just finished one. So I went back to the studio and unrolled my yoga mat.

Here is what the new girl (on the left) looks like when I’m lying on the floor:

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I was going to call her “second brain,” but she insists that her name is “i know what i know.” When I’m feeling really sour, I think of her as “don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

The crisis seems to be over for now, and I probably won’t take all the sculptures down and flatten them before my next open studio (6 February 2015). The idea of flattening them still appeals to some parts of me, but maybe I’ll save it for when I’m older and maybe I’ll make it into a party and ask people to help me.

butterfly soup

I’ve been working on this for the better part of a year, and I think I’m finally finished.  It took me more than a week just to get her hung properly.  She insisted that she wanted to be in the corner of the studio.  It wasn’t until I photographed her that I understood why.  I think it’s fitting that something called “butterfly soup” should have ghostly wings:

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Here she is with the light turned off:

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Someone asked how much she weighs.  The answer is: not very much, she’s mostly air.  She may, in fact, weigh less than the chain she’s hanging from.  I’d be surprised if the chain and the sculpture together added up to even 10 pounds.

You can see her in person next Friday, August 1st, at my next open studio.

 

how bees work

Here’s another view of the latest one:

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It’s called “how bees work.”  I think I might have mentioned that it surprised me.  I didn’t see it coming.  It was a little like being carjacked.

Anyway, it demanded that I use this antique eggbeater, which was left behind in one of the failed restaurants in the Copeland Block.  The eggbeater reminded me of a dream I had a long time ago.  In the dream I saw a swarm of bees with transparent abdomens, and inside their abdomens were tiny eggbeaters.  “Can I have a stinger?” the force behind the sculpture asked.  How could I say no?

I’m never sure how much to say about what a particular sculpture represents to me.  I know that people are often curious.  I also know that I don’t want to deprive them of the opportunity to make their own meaning of it.  I heard a story about this piece resonating with someone while it was at the photographer’s studio in a way that I never would have imagined because it’s so far from my own experience.  I’d really love for people to weigh in on this issue if they have opinions.

This piece is an ending of sorts.  I’m not sure exactly how to explain it.  It’s like an exclamation point on the end of a sentence.  Someone who saw it when it was freshly finished said that they had a sense of a soap bubble stretching and stretching and finally breaking apart into two separate bubbles.

I’m a long way from being done with wire sculptures about living in a female body, and I suppose I could get carjacked again by another piece of my past, but the ideas in my queue are all based on a plaster cast of my own 45-year-old torso.  The work I’m planning now is about the present, about being middle-aged.  It feels incredibly vulnerable to be putting my own shape on display like that.  It feels vulnerable to even talk about it.  It also feels necessary.

 

sneak peek

I managed to finish a sculpture this week, in spite of the weather (I am so ready for this winter to be over).

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The idea came to me about a month ago, during an extra-long drive home.  It grabbed me by the hair and demanded that I order a new mannequin.  Then it took me to an antique store to shop for kitchen tools.  It demanded an eggbeater.  It rummaged through my studio and claimed an old wishbone and a little Russian doll.

I started working as soon as the mannequin arrived.  And now I am finished.

I have a queue of ideas that stretches back 10 years.  It’s unheard-of for me to have a new idea and start working on it immediately and complete the piece within a month.  I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  My head is still spinning.

More pictures later, when I’ve had some time to live with it.

epic tedium

I’m still working on covering my most recent sculpture in felt. My work always involves tedium, but this project really takes the cake. If I look at more than a few square centimeters at a time, I despair of ever finishing.

Today I curled up on the sofa in my studio for a nap, and dreamed that I was small enough to be sleeping inside the sculpture. When I woke up, I took this photo so that you could see what the inside looks like (in one of the more finished areas). In my dream, it was pretty cozy.

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When I get too tired of working on the sculpture, and my neck is sore and I’ve stabbed my fingers one too many times with the felting needles, I get up and work on this canvas:

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It’s taking a long time too, but at least I only have to go over the surface once. Also, I have never managed to stab myself with a Sharpie.

progress

Here’s the latest piece, hanging with two of her sisters. The one on the left was made with a mannequin, padded out with plastic bags and duct tape. The one on the right was made with a duct tape dress form that got covered in several layers of plaster. The one in the middle is the most recent, made with a plaster cast of my torso.

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Before she’s finished, I will have gone over every square centimeter of her dozens of times with my handy 3-needle felting tool. I probably will have stabbed my fingers dozens of times too. She’ll end up completely covered in felt, like this thing:

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I think I will have to start a new wire frame soon, to give me a break from all that felting.

the origin of the world

I finished it this spring, but it has taken me until now to take it out and get it photographed. I needed to live with it for a while. I have been more unhappy with this piece than with any of the other Basket Cases, probably because my experience of it is so different from other people’s reactions to it.

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Recently I read an article called “Art and the Dread of Experience.” It was written by a psychotherapist. An artist friend of mine complained that the article focused too much on product instead of process. “You can tell he’s not an artist,” she said. But a lot of artists focus excessively on product too.

What I liked about the article was the idea of a work of art as a container for for emotional experiences, especially the kind of extreme emotional experiences that people tend to dread. That is exactly what the Basket Cases are, and it tickles me that they are literally vessels. The studio itself, because of the work I do there, has ended up being a container for those experiences too. My artistic process is also a sort of container.

So anyway, this latest piece is a container for my gnarliest feelings about motherhood in general, about my own mother, and about the kind of mother I might have been if I had chosen to have children. At my last open studio, a lot of people described it as “sweet.” I did not feel sweet when I was making it.

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“There is a sweetness to that flower, though,” said my process-oriented friend recently. “Maybe there’s more sweetness in the experience than you’re willing to admit.”

Maybe so.  They never end up being about only one thing.

 

size

such plentiful organs

As part of the preparations for the show I was in this spring, I had to measure some of my sculptures. Maybe I should have done it sooner, but it was never a priority for me. I have tended to just say that they’re “life-size,” and people have tended to accept that answer.

I’m not keen on weighing myself either; I let my doctor do it once a year. At my current height, which I’m told is average, I have been both worrisomely thin and clinically obese. Neither of those extremes was particularly comfortable. These days I’m somewhere in the middle, and mostly pretty comfortable there.

People often comment on the sizes and shapes of my sculptures. One early visitor to my studio muttered under her breath about “those perfect little bodies.” The picture at the top of this post is the littlest and most “perfect” of the adult-sized pieces. She was made using a bare department store mannequin as a form. She’s also one who’s the least happy about her size and shape. When I took her down to measure her, I could almost hear her wail of dismay as I recorded that her hips are wider than her shoulders.

She was born from an observation I made to a therapist I was seeing 10 years ago, that I felt like I had a wire cage inside my body. So of course she had to be smaller than me. It wasn’t my original intention to have a conversation with myself about my flirtation with anorexia, but over the years she has come to represent that as well.

They never end up being about only one thing.

As I’ve started to think about representing some of the experiences I’ve had in the last few years, I’ve become less interested in pushing my body towards some unattainable ideal and more interested in how people actually look.  I’m interested in accurately portraying middle-aged sagginess. As it turns out, that’s hard to do with a department store mannequin. It takes a lot of padding and a lot of time. At some point, it becomes faster and easier to make a plaster cast of an actual torso.  So I asked a friend to help me make a cast of myself, which I  plan to use as a form for the next few sculptures I want to make.

Here’s a peek at my first attempt:

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This is one of the ways that a healthy 45-year-old body can look.  The only comment I’ve heard about it so far has been (from two different women) “Hey, those are my breasts!”  I like it.

If someone wants to complain about this shape, she’ll have to deal with the plump round ass that spawned it (and that once pulled a fire truck across a parking lot) pushing her out the door of my studio.  Or maybe, if I’m feeling more generous, I’ll offer to cover her in plaster and help her tell the truth about her own body and what goes on inside it.