May 23, 2017

Mad Scientist?

Remember this jar of salt water, vinegar, and rusty bits? After removing the twine, I left the solution and rusty bits sitting to see if anything would happen. Specifically, I wanted to find out whether or not the solution would react with the rusty bits to become usable as a dye bath or color modifier.
Despite the fact that the jar has been sitting on a corner of the kitchen work table for over 3 weeks, I paid it no mind. Actually, I completely forgot about it. Until it turned into something I'd expect to see at the Mütter Museum. I blame our outrageous heat wave.
At first I thought that tumor-like blob bobbing on the surface of the liquid was the bottle cap in exploded form. Not so. The bottle cap and two washers remain at the bottom of the jar.
After marveling for a while at my unintended science experiment, I plucked up the courage to remove the lid, fully expecting a noxious off-gassing or horrendous odor. Nope. The lid wasn't under pressure nor was there any smell. But look what cool stuff is happening on the surface of the liquid!
It's like the pattern of fragile ice at the edges of a pond or on the surface of a shallow puddle, so delicate it will shatter with the slightest pressure or weight. But, you know, rust colored. I have no idea what we're looking at, but it is fascinating. 

The Hubs - who is, after all, an analytical chemist - suspects the frothing bubbles and tumor are due to bacterial or algal activity. I haven't decided if I'm going to try using it to alter dye color or just pitch it. However, I do have some avocado skins to play with. I'll probably go ahead and see what the iron bath does to the avocado coloring. After all, whatever I dye and treat with the tumorous bath will be subject to a thorough wash. Or I might just get too grossed out. Wearing gloves will lower the ick factor, right?

May 18, 2017

A Case for Tangents

I was not planning to write more about tangents. I had no plan whatsoever for what what would spill forth here today. But going on a tangent about tangents? Isn't that too close for comfort to flogging a dead horse? (Eeh gads. What a horribly nasty expression.) Except I turned on the computer, as one does when one writes blog posts. Before getting to said post writing, however, I went down the rabbit hole. And discovered a really cool thing that I want everyone to know about. I'm just as interested in my discovery as I am in the path that led to the discovery. As well as the background "noise" that's been playing at low volume that influenced my choices that created the path that led to the discovery. Blabbedygook? Allow me to illustrate what I mean.

In the background, some of my background "noise," are thoughts about unfinished projects. Our apartment is full of reprimands everywhere I turn; from stacks of paper to be sorted, clothes to be donated, and areas to tidy to untouched clothing patterns and fabric, possible materials for future yonis, and that empty bell jar. Added to the physical reminders of unfinished work are two recent blog posts by Ann Wood and The Craft Sessions, both about strategies to complete languishing pieces. I believe I am now using thinking about procrastination as a procrastination technique itself. But, as I said, this is all playing in the background.

So, on comes the computer. I check in with the blogs I follow. I log onto facebook to see if there's been any activity in the group for the Squam workshop Magic of Myth II: End of Quest. There isn't anything new, but I mention this because it, too, becomes background "noise."

With the Magic of Myth workshop fresh in my mind, I click on a post from Philadelphia Museum of Art. The post advertises a current gallery exhibit, Philadelphia Illustrators, with the following image. Because the illustration looks related to myth and fairy tales (Magic of Myth connection) I choose to click on it to see if the rest of the exhibit follows suit. If it does, I will likely trek on down to Center City to view the show.
Howard Pyle
Sir Pellias Encounters the Sorrowful Lady in Arroy, 1903
Illustration for the book "The Story of King Arthur and His Knights"

Pen and black ink over graphite on paper
Image credit: Philadelphia Museum of Art
I click the link in the post and land on the page of current gallery exhibits at the museum. Scrolling down to Philadelphia Illustrators, I click the link to view the slideshow of the exhibit. I quickly advance through the slideshow until I am arrested by the following painting by Blanche Dillaye. Arrested because 1) it's by a woman, 2) it's a blue landscape which directly correlates to one of the books I am currently reading (A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit - more background "noise" and recommended reading for Magic of Myth), and 3) because of the accompanying text blurb.
Blanche Dillaye
c. 1926
Watercolor over charcoal on paper
Image credit: Philadelphia Museum of Art
In the slideshow of the exhibit, this piece by Dillaye is accompanied by the following text:
Blanche Dillaye was one of the first women to receive national recognition for her etchings. She became director of education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and helped found the Philadelphia Water Color Club and the Plastic Club, a group for women artists. The term “plastic” referred to the state of any unfinished work of art. In her own work, Dillaye was fond of poetic and dramatic night scenes like this one.
By now you can guess what jumped out at me. The Plastic Club, a club for women artists, and the fact that the name refers to UNFINISHED WORKS OF ART!!!!! See? It all comes full circle. The end is the beginning. All ideas stem from one sturdy trunk. Anyway, a quick google search proves The Plastic Club is alive and well in Philadelphia. Founded in 1897, "[t]he name "Plastic Club," suggested by Blanche Dillaye, referred to any work of art unfinished, or in a "plastic" state. The term also refers to the changing and tactile sense of painting and sculpture." Women making art name their club for unfinished work. This is the surprising, amazing vista reached through the tangents described.

That entire process of discovery, choosing which links to click thereby selecting a path, took all of two minutes. Unraveling it to describe in words took a couple of hours (with breaks for toast and more coffee). And that's precisely why I took the time to parse it out. Thoughts flit by in nano-seconds. But slowing down - piecing together how one thought led to this thing which led to yet another thought which led to that thing - seems to me to be a valuable creative tool. Taking the time to trace influences and tangents is proving to be an illuminating exercise of discovery, rediscovery, and fresh inspiration.

May 16, 2017

Divergent Convergences

"We are tangential people," said my friend Albert this morning when we couldn't get off the phone. We kept talking rather than hanging up because the last thing he said led me to to tell about something loosely related which led to another thing from Al which led to. . . You get the idea. Tangents. Divergences. Leap frog. Down the rabbit hole.
I love going off on tangents. The willingness to be drawn along for the ride - eyes wide open, observing the passing scenery - can lead to surprising and amazing vistas. Thought of another way, tangents are like branching limbs and roots. Follow the line of the limb or root and you'll reach several other branches. Follow each branch, in turn, and you'll reach even more forking twigs. Each and every one of the twigs, branches, limbs, roots originates from a single, sturdy trunk. Each tangent, each divergence, can be traced back to a single starting point. Tangents are all related. The divergences converge into (or originate from) a single starting point, a single idea, one core.
I'm toying with this idea, thinking as I type, but divergences converging rings true for me right now whether applied to meandering conversations, down the rabbit hole internet searches where one thing leads to another leads to another leads to another, or a creative practice. All ideas are one idea is oversimplifying the message. But all ideas are related to a single core idea (or ideal) sounds about right. Certainly my own work, influences, inspirations, research sources, explorations, obsessions, and tangents all stem from a single trunk. How about you?

May 11, 2017

Where Do Ideas Come From?

After writing the last post, it occurred to me that I've never given all that much consideration to where ideas for art come from. I've been ruminating about the specimens - or potential specimens, really - and how the idea of them first surfaced for me in the 90s while I was in art school. What formed that idea? Why does it keep coming back?
I've been trying to connect the dots, trace the idea back to its origins. I think it comes down to a convergence of many, many influences. Oh how I hated that word - influence - in art school. I conceived of it as a negative force. I dreaded the oft asked, inevitable question: Who are your influences? It made me think of copying rather than incorporating, of being unoriginal rather than being inspired by everything around me. To set the record straight, The American Heritage Dictionary defines influence as, "a power indirectly or intangibly affecting a person or course of events." OK. So all I have to do to trace the origin of the specimen idea is unearth intangibles that affected me 25 years ago. Piece of cake.

Sarcasm aside, I do have a pretty good handle on many of my influences from that time because they have stayed with me. These influences got me thinking in a more organized, focused fashion about:
  • innate sexism
  • the female body being objectified
  • the female body being used as a political tool
  • the female body being vilified
  • crimes against women and our bodies
  • the advertising industry inventing inadequacies about the female body and selling "solutions"
  • the medical industry inventing inadequacies about the female body and selling "solutions"
  • deliberate ignorance about the female body to justify all of the above
I've shared these cross stitched and embroidered pieces previously, but they're here again to illustrate my first forays into specimens. The idea keeps coming back because I haven't explored it beyond a handful of pieces - some of which no longer exist. Those pieces were the scum off the top, the practice pieces that happen before the magic happens. If the magic happens. Regardless, the magic absolutely can't happen without first slogging through the scum. And then continuing past the scum, inventing and exploring and trying and rejecting and trying again. I'm poised to try again on those specimens that have yet to coalesce into concrete imagery or form.

For my own benefit, and if you're interested, these are the influences I can remember at the moment from the early 90s.
  • Sheela Na Gig by PJ Harvey
    which led to discovering Sheela-na-Gig and Sheela works by Nancy Spero
    UPDATE: Actually, since this in the was pre-internet explosion days, I combed libraries for mention of Sheela-na-Gig, convinced by the song that it was a real thing and stubbornly determined to do whatever it took to find it. I believe I first found Nancy Spero's work then, eventually, learned about the figures on churches in Britain and Ireland.
  • Ani DiFranco
  • Riot Grrrl performers

May 9, 2017

Prompts & Potential

The first time I saw a display of bell jars at Ikea, I wanted to take home a dozen. I pictured them lined up on a shelf in a gallery, housing a collection of "specimens." The specimens would be vaguely medical, vaguely sinister, discomforting. What they would look like or how I would make them, absolutely no idea. But having a dozen bell jars on hand would be just the thing to remind me of the potential project and prompt me to work on it. Right?

Wrong. First of all, I do not have space to safely house a dozen fragile glass domes. Second, I have a bad habit of conceiving of a project, getting really excited about it, sourcing and purchasing materials, and then... stalling out. The materials sit and sit. They become a reprimand rather than a creative prompt. With both these things in mind, I managed to reign myself in and purchased only a single ball jar.

That single jar has been abandoned on a shelf in the kitchen for, umm, well, long enough to collect a thick layer of dust. Weeks? Most likely months. As you can see, it remains empty. (Thank goodness there isn't an entire rank of twelve of them passing judgement on my sloth.)

But here's the thing. The potential of making a specimen or a creature for that one bell jar has been percolating in the back of my mind for weeks (ehrm) months. I've now got two trains of thought as to what it should house: a specimen as described above or a totem of some kind.

The totem would be related to celebrating the yoni as female creative power, either a goddess figure of some sort or a distant relative whose family resemblance is tenuous. I considered papier mâché, but it's not the right texture, the right presence. I'm thinking textile in nature, but have limited experience in soft sculpture (i.e. doll making). However, the fabulous Ann Wood shared a couple tutorials on improvisational doll making (#1 and #2) this past week that may be just the ticket. So, totem it is. 

Which is not to say that I'm abandoning the specimen idea. It's one that first surfaced for me in the early 90s and continues to pop up now and again. A recent visit to the Mütter Museum -  an historical collection of medical specimens, instruments, and teaching models - reinforced my fascination with the macabre and misinformed medical practices concerning women and reproductive health. Plus, there was a fantastic special exhibit by two Philadelphia artists, Caitlin McCormack and Sabrina Small. I was charmed and inspired by McCormack's work in particular - delicate and intricate crocheted skeletons. And I've just learned that the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is open to the public! I've been compiling a hefty list from their collection of 19th century books and manuals on women's health to peruse there in the near future. Yes, specimens seem unavoidable but definitely need more time to percolate.