Beginning ideas of a new project

March 31, 2009 at 9:50 pm (art)

It might be the fever talking – I’m home sick (and have canceled classes for the first time due to illness ever!) and it has me laying in bed just thinking up new projects to entertain myself as I drift in and out of sleep. I thought of this idea this afternoon and just mentioned it to Jeff. I really had no idea if it was decent or not (I’m pretty delirious and out of it) but he seemed into it… and now I’m worried that when I get better I’m just going to forget it. So:

I was thinking that I wanted to create a kind of 3-d model, not unlike the pop-up book that I made for my BravinLee show or the house I made for the Hunterdon show. Basically, a three dimensional version of one of my drawings, made totally out of paper. As a starting point, think of something like Barbie’s dreamhouse – you’ve got Barbie, she’s got this house and all the furniture and clothes in it, her convertible is parked outside, etc. There’s a certain amount of control that the creators of the dreamhouse assert – you’re not “supposed” to put her sweater on upside down or put her canopy bed in the dining room – but there’s also a lot that they’re leaving up to the person who’s bought all these little individual parts.

So there’s this 3-d drawing made out of paper with all the individual parts and – since it’s one of my drawings and I’m really interested in how text and images work together – each part would have some text that is part of it. Maybe (if we go back to the idea of Barbie’s dreamhouse) if you look in the glove compartment of the convertible, there will be a message, or maybe there will be text embroidered on Barbie’s smart looking power suit. The text can be read alone and make sense, but it makes so much more sense if it’s put in the context of the other pieces in the house. Meaning, the text on the canopy of her bed will be a complete and sensical sentence, but its meaning is fuller and more complete when the bed is put next to the night stand and so you can read the text on the night stand and then the text on the bed… and then the text on the rug, etc.

Each piece is sold separately – it is technically possible to have the convertible with no Barbie, even though it’s a big question who would want that. Or maybe you like everything in the house except for the rug – well, just don’t buy it then. There is customizing that the owner of these pieces can do and omitting pieces is definitely an option.

So the project is this: a 3-d drawing with all these individual pieces that can be bought singly or as a set. Individually, the pieces would be maybe $3-$20, and the edition would be open for a short amount of time (say, three months during which time I’ll just make a piece as I sell it). People buying the pieces could set up and display as much or as little of the scene that they want and, in the process, edit the text to their liking. And – since I was thinking about Etsy anyway – I could put the whole project up on that site without announcing that it’s “art.” It would appear as just another wacky collectible, but one with a serious interior logic that unites everything.

That’s the idea. I don’t know – it might take some refining and thinking about, but right now I like it.

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Things I love on Etsy

March 31, 2009 at 11:30 am (art, culture)

Shopping for clothes is one of my most hated past-times – it’s nearly impossible to find something that fits my budget (ie, inexpensive), my body (very tall), my taste (black black and more black, but I also love stuff that’s unusual or downright weird), and my politics (ie, was this garment made by slave labor? I’m tired of simply hoping not). So after a frustrating afternoon of shopping for some spring clothes and still coming home with nothing, a friend of mine reminded me of the existence of Etsy.

Etsy is a sort of clearinghouse for emerging designers, artists, craftspeople, and so forth. You go to the Etsy site and you are treated to a barrage of images from hundreds (I’d imagine thousands? maybe tens of thousands?) of homemade items by sellers all over the world. They have everything – housewares, clothes, food, everything. Want a cool screenprinted t–shirt? Instead of buying it from a mega-store that has all sorts of questionable business practices, why not buy it directly from the artist who created it? In many cases, what you see on Etsy is an example of an item that the artist will make by hand when they receive your order. This means you might have to wait a week or so to get your item, but it also means that when you wear your t-shirt out on a Saturday night, chances are you won’t bump into half a dozen people who are wearing the same thing.

Not everything about Etsy is so great – with as many retailers vying for your eyes and dollars, there’s a lot of stuff that just isn’t that exciting. It’s difficult to search, too. Looking for something like “shirts” will turn up an enormous amount of links to homemade shirts – exciting at first, but then you realize that huge percentage of them aren’t even in the ballpark of what you’re looking for (there’s an apparent trend of making clothes for dolls, which means that I kept seeing a thumbnail of a really cool design listed for really cheap and then upon clicking on it realized: oh, wait. It’s for a doll). This doesn’t even factor in the more subtle question of taste. What would be awesome is if Etsy found a way to really tailor your search to rid it of things like this, but also of things that aren’t at all your taste. Something like, “search for: shirts; leave out: empire waist, maternity, green, yellow.” (good lord, did that make any sense at all?)

But whatever. The point is, for the same amount of money I would have spent buying something at a megastore, I was able to get something directly from the creator on Etsy. And so, without further ado, here are some designers that I really liked, that I other bought from or will buy from very soon. May this very short list make your Etsy searching much easier:

I bought a shirt from JAlvo, but what I really love are her jackets. It’s maybe a little steep for me to spend right now on one of these amazing jackets (although her pricing is very fair – it’s just that I’m pretty broke), but maybe one of you want to take the plunge? Her clothes all have amazing cuts to them and everything is pretty much black, white or grey. What could be better?

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Untamed Menagerie makes some incredible jewelry that is simple and direct but also shockingly original. Cut from acrylic, they make these silhouettes that in some cases tell little narrative stories or in others just amaze with their detail and fine touches. It’s like wearing a Kara Walker around your neck. And come on, that’s super cool:

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Moresassvintage has this awesome octopus-girl t-shirt that I keep coming back to:
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And lastly, for now, Fleathers makes some stunning jewelry which is out of my budget… and possibly my entire lifestyle. But man, it’s super cool. If I wasn’t a poor academic schlub, I’d wear this in an instant – it is gorgeous:

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Thoughts about what the hell is happening in the world.

March 22, 2009 at 9:09 pm (art, culture)

Just about every spring I’m reminded of the advice I got right as I was getting ready to graduate from college. I had grad school laid out in front of me, but I saw it as not much more than the two-year diversion it really was, so I eagerly asked all the teachers that I liked and respected what they thought I should do as I tried to make my way as an artist.

Among the things I was told (and remember, this is 1995):

  1. Get a studio in Manhattan – you have to get a studio in Manhattan. No one will ever visit you outside of Manhattan. If you move to Brooklyn or Queens or, god help you, Jersey, you may as well toss all your work in the Hudson.
  2. Apply for a grant – there’s plenty of federal/city money out there, just waiting to be taken by ambitious young artists.
  3. Get a cute, fluffy dog and walk it around the Wall Street area so that you meet rich men who you can date and who will help support your career. (I absolutely swear to you that I am not making this up or exaggerating. This “advice” was told to me by several different faculty members and went through different variations, including walking the dog through the campus at Yale, in Soho, and on the Upper East Side.)

Right. My point in listing these (and there was plenty more that I got) is that absolutely none of this advice is good; in fact, while it’s all patently absurd now, it wasn’t really any less absurd back in 1995. Artists don’t have to have studios in Manhattan, there are no grants to be had especially for younger artists, and I have never had a rich boyfriend (or for that matter, a stupid fluffy dog). And yet somehow I’m still here.

When I was first started teaching full-time, “advice” like this rang in my head so loudly as to drown out all other thoughts. If I became a teacher, would I necessarily wind up to be like these teachers – most of whom I truly think meant well, but were woefully out of touch and quite obviously projecting their own hopes and fears (mostly the latter) onto me? I promised myself I wouldn’t – that if need be, I’d be a Kansas born-again Christian housewife voting Republican before I ever became that teacher that tells her 22 year old students to get rich boyfriends so they can keep painting.

For the most part, I’ve held true to this. It hasn’t been hard, in part because I’ve had terrifically talented students around me, and because most of my experiences in the art world have been pretty good and so encouraging them to do as I’ve done hasn’t been anything that I look at with mixed emotions. But for the last few months as I’ve woken up every morning to find that this economy crisis we’re in just keeps getting worse and worse, I’ve been able to feel that generation gap growing between me and my students. It’s becoming clear that the experiences that I’ve had and things that I’ve learned may not be as relevant to them as I had hoped. I can’t tell you how much this disappoints me.

At first, when I felt the terrain shifting underneath my feet, I just sort of ignored it or was sort of numb to it all. But then, as I read things like Holland Cotter’s NY Times article a few weeks ago or Jerry Saltz’s various Facebook updates, it dawned on me that wow, there are actually people out there more clueless than I am.

My apologies for all the lists in this post, but Cotter’s argument seems to fall around three points:

  1. Art used to be better in the past.
  2. The recession will be good because it will inject some sort of “energy” or urgency into artmaking
  3. So what if artists have to get “real” jobs? Maybe it’s good for them.

Point #1 is annoyingly nostalgic; point #2 seems downright cruel (is it actually morally ok to argue that when people have no healthcare/income/housing they make better art?); point #3 assumes that there will be jobs out there to get that earn enough above minimum wage to allow artists to continue their practices, when there is actually no evidence anywhere to support this.

Saltz, meanwhile, uses his Facebook statuses to cheer on the opening of new galleries in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side – a way better attitude to take than Cotter’s, but still missing the point. The recession isn’t “all in our heads;” it’s not a matter of just cheering up and thinking optimistically and it will all go away. What’s happening in the world right now is scary. And like the saying goes: if you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention.

So, in keeping with all the list-making, let me start another – this one is sort of advice to the advice-givers (which means of course that it’s advice I’m also giving myself):

  1. Admit that things are bad – really, really bad. The only way we’re going to ever overcome what the hell is going on is if we take a moment and really acknowledge what’s happening. You can’t really understand the problem if you keep telling yourself that it’s over or it’s not as bad as absolutely everyone around you is assuring you it is.
  2. Stop saying that the recession is going to “clear away” the less serious artists/galleries/etc. This concept of “clearing away” makes me sick – it’s a euphemism, and it’s like expecting people you don’t like to just exit stage left and disappear forever. Human beings don’t do that. They declare bankruptcy, they lose their jobs, their lives get fucked up – it’s not pretty. So don’t pretend that it is.
  3. Know that you are not in control. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next few years. Really. I feel pretty confident in saying that the art world is going to look quite different in about five years than it does right now; beyond that, I can’t tell you much. And I also can’t speed it up or see it more clearly if I squint any further.

Point #3 is what keeps me going every day. The one thing I feel pretty good about predicting is that when the smoke all clears, who is going to be in control of it is that new generation that I’ve been so worried about giving bad advice to. They’re the ones who are going to solve all the problems dumped on them, because they have to – they have no choice. I have the luxury of sitting around and worrying all the time, but they won’t get to do that. They’ll figure it out – and it won’t look anything like fucking Tricia Brown or Soho in the 1960s or whatever, because they have to come up with their own solutions that somehow fit the time in which they’re living. All I can really hope for is that they invite me to the party when it finally starts.

I’m a one-semester sabbatical replacement for a class called Professional Practices where we learn the business of the art world. It’s controversial for a college to run a class like this – such classes place the school dangerously near the tech-school arena, when what we really want is for it to be regarded more like a university (is there a “How To Make it in the English Major World” class? no… exactly). But it’s been occurring to me that the controversy is misplaced – that the real controversy should lie in the fact that every generation has to make it up as they go along, and with this one coming up now that’s more true than ever. You can learn from the past (and the present), but not like it’s a blueprint or a map – it’s more like a big puzzle that needs to be sorted out and embedded in it is a clue that sort of points you to where you’re going… maybe. But that’s it. There aren’t steps that you go through and then – ta-da! – that’s it, you’re done. You have to figure it out for yourself, and you have to keep figuring it out, always. And what’s true for your future is true for mine too – we’re all in the same boat.

The point of this whole post is not so much to give advice, after all that. But rather, it’s to state the three things that I have swirling in my head almost constantly these days, that I’ve been waiting for someone else to say already. Since that’s not happening, I’m taking the matter into my own hands:

  1. I have no idea what the future holds, and I just really needed to say that. (Nobody else knows, either, and run away from those who say they do.)
  2. We’re all pretty terrified. Some people are terrified-optimistic and others terrified-pessimistic, but overall we share the same base emotion.
  3. It’s going to be ok, because it has to be ok. There is no other choice.

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New drawing

March 15, 2009 at 6:20 pm (Uncategorized)

I haven’t abandoned drawing for the quilts… and actually, I have more of both to post soon…

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First “quilt”

March 12, 2009 at 12:22 pm (art)

My work goes through different stages: there’s the huge amount of stuff that I make in my studio that never gets seen by another set of eyes; there’s the stuff that is at least interesting enough for me to post on here; there’s what then I like enough to put on my “real” website (although sometimes there’s a big lag there, only because I’m lazy about updating it); and lastly there’s what I give to the gallery to show. I save that last category for the work I’m most confident in, but I try not to sweat the other categories too much.

Anyway, had you told me that I was going to spend much of spring break working on something that was only going to make it to category #2 – post on the blog – I would have thought you were nuts. I was so itching to go and get stuff done – to get some very finished work just out there and to feel like I had really accomplished something. For better or worse, it didn’t work out that way – actually, I’m pretty ok with that, because it’s helped me to figure out so much in my own head.

So, here’s the first “quilt”:

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It’s about 50″ x 35″, and I know the picture’s not the greatest, but I’m saving obsessive documentation til I do one I’m really crazy about. This one I think is ok – a good start, but not where I want the work to be just yet. For starters, I have to completely redo how I’ve been making the girls. In this piece, I made them out of simple applique, but since they are so tiny I am having a hard time getting the details I want (for instance, individual fingers, toes, and noses just sort of disappear). In the future, I’m going to experiment with making their bodies out of embroidery – their dresses might be ok as applique, but their faces need more delicacy.

The text in the word balloons is all hand-embroidered – it took a while, but not as long as you might think. In the future, I’d like to have a lot more text on a piece, more akin to the way that text is in my drawings, but I decided to stop where I was on this one. I also want to work in more layers in the future (erm, the future being later this afternoon) because I’m interested in this connection between quilting and abstraction and I think there could be some good ground to explore there.

I do really love the presence of the fabric (especially that beautiful – and very expensive!! – portrait linen that makes up the sky).
And the process is really, really fun – and the idea that I can work bigger like this is really exciting. And so, on to the next piece…

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New work (in progress)

March 8, 2009 at 11:16 pm (art)

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This is what I’ve started to do with my spring break – it’s a large quilt* version of one of my drawings. (*Ok, so – basically the term “quilt” is incorrect – this has no backing and no stitching that attaches the top part to a back. The process used to make this is closer to applique, however I’ve just found that in explaining it to people, most folks don’t know what that is. You say “quilt” and they get it, even if technically it’s a bit off. But whatever.) I’ve been experimenting with making bigger drawings and it’s just not working – from a practical standpoint, working larger than I have on paper makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t have storage; I don’t even really have a table big enough to sprawl out on. The large piece in the Hunterdon Museum show (which is what pushed me to try and experiment working bigger) was made only by rearranging the furniture in our bedroom and moving in there for a week or so – not the best solution.

But cloth? Cloth doesn’t “ding” and it can be folded up at night. Squinky can sit on it without ruining it and without me having a heart attack. And the best part – I can cut it up into little pieces to work on and then stitch those pieces together to make a whole (collaging, basically – only it looks very natural and perfect in a sewn piece and it doesn’t work as well on paper over a large expanse).

Anyway. Just an experiment for now, but will be interesting to see where it goes.

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Faith Wilding

March 3, 2009 at 6:21 pm (Uncategorized)

For those of you following the ongoing saga of my 15 Artists/15 Weeks class…

Mary Kelly made the cut (we’re talking about her this week); Judy Chicago did not. It’s an especially tough choice for me because to be honest, I don’t especially like either of their work. For the sake of the course I have to put my opinion to the side and – when push comes to shove – Kelly is without a doubt a very influential artist that many of the students at our school don’t know that much about, and thus she’s in the mix.

But after spending all day writing about Kelly’s work, I arrived back at a thought that I’ve come to over and over during the last few years, which is simply: Why don’t I spend more time with Faith Wilding‘s work? Jesus Christ, talk about your incredibly influential and under-appreciated artists. Her work is amazing and whenever I see it in a group show (usually some “feminist art of the 1970s” roundup) her work is always the one drop-dead piece that totally blows me away.

Anyway…  just had to toss that in. Pulse Fair is here this week and then next week it’s studio(!!!!!) all next week for spring break. I can’t wait.

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