Ahhh, it’s a gloomy day out there and I am probably the only person in the tri-state area who is glad because of it. The weather has been so perfectly, wonderfully spring-y the last couple of days that it’s made me feel like a creep to be holed up and inside working (well, not that I haven’t been without the occasional breaks to the park or to work on the garden). But today? It’s perfectly acceptable to be a creep. It’s chilly which makes our apartment seem cozy and my studio seem like the absolutely best place on earth to be.
And in that vein, a new drawing – sort of a biggie for me, since it’s on two pages and almost 18″ across…
This weekend has about a gazillion events related to Art Chicago and Artropolis, all of which sound really fun and I had been hoping to jump on a plane last minute and go out there and be a part of it. Alas, I think the end of the semester craziness has gotten to me; Jeff has the flu and I don’t have the energy to really go anywhere this weekend, let alone to a whole new city. But if you’re going…
My work (in this case, my new-ish print) is in Diane Villani’s booth at the main fair at the Merchandise Mart.
My work (including a few new books and drawings) is at the Next Art Fair in the Bravin Lee Programs booth, also conveniently located at the Merchandise Mart. (Unlike, say, the satellite fairs for the Armory Show, it seems like all the other fairs around Art Chicago seem to be in the same building… very civilized, I think!). Plus someone told me there would be hotdogs and popcorn served…??? An unsubstantiated rumor right now, but sounds good to me.
Let me know if you go!
The semester is almost done, just a week and a half left. I wrote my last lecture today and put together my final stuff for my drawing classes. I am gnawing at the bit for this thing to be over, only because I have so much of my own work to do and I want to dive right in. My classes this year are probably the best I’ve ever had, so I know I’m going to miss everyone when it’s done… but for right now, all I can do is look in my studio at the huge pile of half-finished drawings and think…. soon, soon…
I’ve been sick the last couple of days too, which doesn’t help.
There is a sheet of notepaper next to my computer onto which I have written all my notes for the last couple of weeks – ideas for work, for classes, stuff I want to write, etc.,- and the list is totally intertwined with a low-grade fever and too much sleep. It reads, in part:
analog to the real world
garbage pail kids
NEED MORE SCHLOCK
write about it and don’t forget Michael Fried
… yeah, that’s about it in a nutshell. I eliminated the obnoxious underlining, which is something I do when I’m especially earnest about a thought that’s popped into my head. It doesn’t really work because in the end, everything winds up underlined.
Week and a half. Almost there.
For some strange reason, my parents were especially into the soundtracks of 1970s broadway musicals – or, at least, when I was growing up, this is what was in their record collection. As a result, I grew up listening to the soundtracks of some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top music ever recorded (Andrew Lloyd Weber will one day rot in hell), but if I’m being totally honest… I loved it. Maybe it was just perfect for a kid; I don’t know. But to this day, I’d bet I still know nearly every word to such classics as Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.
But one of the musicals that I have the fondest memories of is A Chorus Line. I can’t help but think that by listening to that score over and over growing up, I instilled in myself many of the obsessions I carry with me today – making art, performing, art school (or acting/dance class, as in the musical), the critique, American Idol, all that stuff. There’s a particular track that I only remember in the haziest of ways that deals with this student taking a class with a teacher that is especially beloved and adored by all the other students. She takes the class assuming that she will have the same mind-blowing experience as everyone else reports having, and instead finds herself studying with a guy who is totally gross, unsupportive, abusive, and all around a shitty teacher. As all her classmates exclaim their love and affection for the guy, she comes back over and over to the refrain, “I felt nothing.” She goes through this whole What the hell is wrong with me thing throughout the song. I think in the end the teacher dies and all the other students are beside themselves with grief, and she returns to the phrase “I felt nothing.”*
I thought of this as I wandered around the touring Frida Kahlo exhibit, which is currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I want, so much, to be blown away by Kahlo’s work – to have this divine, mystical experience with it; to be moved deeply and profoundly. And somehow, I’m just not. I would accept the alterntive as well – if her work really pissed me off and seemed fradulent, I could deal with that too. But like the girl in A Chorus Line, I kept finding myself feeling nothing.
I would go for a moment or two just being frustrated with Kahlo being a constant victim (Oh Frida: just dump that bum Diego and get a better medical doctor, one that can actually treat your ailments successfully and maybe prevent you from having nonstop miscarriages). And then I’d find myself being impressed with her incredibly fine abilities with paint and the really weird metaphors and visual language she was using. And then, I would quickly shift into not caring and being really annoyed with her. I wanted to see her as this great hero, but I couldn’t force myself to do it. The show made me place her firmly in the camp of surrealism and outside of the realm of feminism which, for me, isn’t such a great place to be. I love that she revealed all this painful, violent, angry, ugly stuff about herself, that she never shied away from incorporating blood or gross imagery in her work. I love that she stuck to a pretty singular theme – the self-portrait – that she worked and reworked her whole life. So why don’t I like her work at all?
And then, as the clincher to the whole show, the only path out of the gallery is through the gift shop (which is something museums are doing more and more). But I have never seen marketing of an exhibition that is quite as out-of-control as this one is. I know that museums have to make money and I accept your standard museum-shop cliche of splashing a famous painting on a mug, t-shirt, or postcard. But do we really need to have an image of a topless, sick Kahlo cropped just so and placed on a men’s tie? (Ok,on a tie?? Jesus.) Reproducing an image on a postcard is ok for me, but reworking it so that it can be a lenticular, 3-d image is kind of going too far. Aren’t Frida Kahlo dolls a little… stupid? Aren’t we basically (re)victimizing her to reduce her work to such kitsch?
Ughhh. I didn’t like the show but the gift shop kind of made me root for her just a little bit more.
A friend and colleague of mine** who came with us on the trip sent me a note saying, among other things:
[I] thought some of the contextual material, especially the ex-votos, helped to place her imagery in a broader context and encouraged me to reconsider her work in the context of Mexican art rather than Surrealism.
Ok, this is a really great point and one that I really meant to draw some sort of attention to in the original post. They had a wall of ex-voto paintings that were pretty amazing and that I was really happy to see. I don’t think that seeing them necessarily changed my opinion about putting Kahlo in with the Surrealists, but they were still very interesting to check out – probably my favorite part of the exhibit.
[…] the audio guide addressed the issue of reception and pointed out that unlike Feminist artists and critics, Chicanos and Chicano artists regard her not as a victim but as a woman of great strength who managed to overcome physical and mental torment.
I’ve heard this before and, while I don’t doubt that it’s true, it still remains difficult for me to stomach. That’s partially my POV as a person who has lived in the US all her life (and has been deeply indoctrinated/influenced by US-based feminism), but also reinforced by the wall text that I’ve seen accompany every single Kahlo painting ever, which really stresses more of the pain that she withstood rather than her triumph over it. This is really a shame, as the pain in her paintings is so self-evident that having a text next to it reinforce it is obvious at best, whereas some sort of text about how she overcame it might actually add more information that would be helpful as a viewer.
(Oh, I don’t know. I still really want to like her work and I still really don’t.)
(Footnotes, sort of)
*Bear in mind I’m remembering this from having listened to A Chorus Line when I was maybe 6-9 years old and then not again for many years. If I’m screwing up the story behind the song, that has an awful lot to do with it.
**I don’t like to drop people’s names into posts unless they’re public figures or if I have their permission, and in this case the name doesn’t qualify on either accounts. But if she grants me her permssion, I’d be happy to add it! I just didn’t want to assume that it was ok.
Hey! If you happen to be in Brussels, my work will be there this weekend at the Tache-Levy booth at the Art Brussels fair.
Next week there’s the Chicago fairs… but more on that in a little bit…
Today I saw something today that I have never seen before in my life – and it occurred to me what a rare instance seeing such a thing is. Perhaps if you travel to remote areas of the world, you get used to seeing things that are so odd that they stop you dead in your tracks… but this was made all the stranger by it happening just about a mile from my home.
I was over on Newark Ave (the “Little India” section of Jersey City), waiting on some dosas and samosa chat. Upon getting my to-go plate, I exited the restaurant and headed up the street, en route back home. That’s when I saw it: A man, medium build and in his 20s, carrying into another restaurant a stack of what had to be about seven goats, all perfectly skinned and dead. The hooves, ears, and (most remarkably) the mournful eyes were still completely intact; he had them layered one on top of the next and slung over his shoulder, carrying them like I would carry a backpack or purse. Their legs dangled gracefully off of his body and their eyes stared at me as I stood there, completely shocked and fascinated.
It was only noon at the time, but as far as I was considered, the day was basically over. Really, nothing could (or should) top that.
I came home and worked on my first try at the massive pop-up book… but man, those goats. I’ll come back to those goats at some point, I’m sure of it.
Anyway. Massive pop-up book. This is what I worked on all day. This picture doesn’t do it justice at all, but I got the most nightmarish part (from an engineering point of view) done:
Honestly, building the rest of the book doesn’t scare me too much – it’s just going to be hard work, but nothing insurmountable. It was this part in particular that was freaking me out.
So what you’re looking at here is the book spread open and these trees coming out of the middle of it. The pages are about 10″ each (so a spread of 20″) and then the trees go up to about 24″ tall. It’s an “assisted pop-up” (yes, I made that up… I think) which means it pops up with some help. Basically, the whole thing comes apart and can be assembled and re-assembled – parts are glued into the book, other parts will come packaged with the book in an accompanying envelope and you have to add them, but then you can take the whole thing apart and shrink it down into this little 10″ x 10″ thing when you’re done with it.
Figuring out how to make it grow tall was the hard part; having it go wide (and I eventually want it to be 30′ or something crazy like that) is really easy – that’s just a matter of accordion-folding. But this tall part… that was really hard. So I’m pleased to have it mostly figured out for now. Now I just have to leave the thing set up in my studio for a few weeks to see what effect gravity has on it – will it droop? fall over? and so on. And then I’ll make adjustments after that. And then, once all that’s done, I can get to work on the actual piece – at this point, it’s all basic architecture; there’s no art really until I get the form all figured out. (I also want to make stuff that’s much taller but the point is: what I did today gives me hope. It should just be scalable from here on out. Maybe.)
When I showed John at the gallery my drawing of the gigantic pop-up, he nervously asked me, “But you’re going to use cheats, right? Like the whole thing doesn’t have to totally pop-up on its own?” I took it as a really sweet way of saying, Please don’t die of a pop-up book-inflicted nervous breakdown. And yeah – this thing has cheats galore. It does, however, still fold up all the way, which I’m psyched for. And if I got this much done in a day – a day torn in half by the sight of skinless goats, no less! – I’m feeling pretty good about what I can get done over the next few weeks.
So I’m all about trying to build a gigantic pop-up book right now, one which starts out looking like a regular (albeit, I’m assuming, oversized) book and then unfolds and unfolds into this gigantic thing.
I have zero idea what I’m doing – right now, I just have this idea that is really interesting to me and no way to really resolve it other than to just jump in and start figuring it all out. Paper engineering is a legit thing; in general, my rule of thumb for life is, “If they offer a course in it at MIT, chances are I won’t be any good at doing it.” And yet, here I am, trying to figure out what I need to know about folding, cutting, glueing, and so forth, kind of all at once.
It’s a good time of year for me to do this. We’re at the end of the semester, so the parts of me that are good at making drawings are pretty closed down and exhausted right now, but I still have nervous energy to burn and a desire to make stuff. Thus, we have the following…
I had this idea to make this gigantic, collapsable tunnel that you could take with you anywhere as a kind of refuge; the idea was that it would fold up completely and then become the back flap of a book. The finished one would have drawings all inside it so that it is this immersive space that you’re hanging out in, but first things first – how the hell to make a collapsable tunnel out of paper?
I started out making about a dozen small models before I just thought Screw it and went ahead and built this large one (which actually was far easier than building any of the models was). So here it is totally collapsed. Its width is larger than the width of my body, but not so big that there’s a ton of room on any side:
It was made by relentlessly soaking, folding, ironing, blow-drying, and more folding of this rather inexpensive paper I had laying around, so much so that the paper was just this close to totally disintegrating.
Anyway. Here I am unfolding it:
and more unfolding (sorry my apartment’s a mess!):
It was right around here that I started to realize an important thing about paper engineering: That once you take a piece of paper and soak/fold/refold/cut/glue/resoak/dry it, it doesn’t really ever return to the original size it once was. Makes sense, but it’s one of those things you don’t really realize until you’re standing in the middle of your collapsable tunnel that you spend a large chunk of the evening before making, and you suddenly see it’s half the length you wanted it to be.
No matter, really. It’s supposed to be a tunnel and not a dress anyway, so I climbed in:
Yeah, I know – the bottom part looks like a mouth which is all kinds of disturbing, but remember that that’s the part that would be glued down into a book if this were the real thing.
The view from inside:
Sort of like a huge intestine made out of paper Chinese lanterns. Still, for a first real try? I’m pretty psyched.