This sixteen-year-old cat I foster spends her first week here under a blanket. She drinks water and sleeps. Processing, it feels like. The loss of her former foster dad, who had to move into long-term care. The four days she spent at a shelter full of a full spectrum of other cats, all negotiating and maintaining territory. She was de-clawed (before it became illegal). The morning I picked her up she got into a violent fight with someone in the cage below her, arrived here furious and terrified.
I think of how all living things exist in collaboration with each other. How breathing itself is an exchange between people and green leaves. How our bodies themselves are ecosystems – many species in (hopefully) collaborative balance, i.e. no bacteria = no digestion. So exquisitely, elegantly symbiotic: we are a community of neighbourhoods made of living things, each making use of the waste or the fruit of the other. People of all living species. It works just fine in a culture of mutual respect.
How good we’ve become at forgetting this. Baffling, that humans dance this illusion of separation, imagine that we stand alone in this world – doing TO it, rather than with. Such deep, inconsolable loneliness. The path of distortions is there to see: ‘Us’ becomes ‘Us vs Them’ when you insert money, which doesn’t breathe or poop or eat or live. It abstracts our connection to the world, and invariably begets an irrational fear of lack, of separateness. Fear becomes isolation and distrust, and all of a sudden we have no friends. We can’t breathe. Disempowered by our imagined separateness, hoarding money to compensate (which of course it doesn’t).
In a recent discussion with an artist friend the question arose: is it possible to teach empathy?
Well I think you need two things for that. The right story, and someone’s willingness to hear it. An opening in a place that’s habitually closed. Sometimes it takes a shock to create those openings in people who have developed thick callouses. Callouses made of money, I wonder.
They are planning to sell the forests of Ontario for money, destroy the ecosystem of Georgian Bay, force an oil pipeline through unceded indigenous territory, build a new and expensive tar sands operation in Alberta. For money.
We all know that these are not good plans. Those trees they want to sell make the oxygen we breathe. Those trees absorb carbon.
I’m a year into my residency here. Like Mia the foster cat, I’m a much different creature than the one who lived in the middle of the red light district for a month last January, who moved into a third floor walk-up and stayed there for six weeks in reaction, who found an apartment with squirrels in every ceiling beside the big old trees in Gage Park and transferred 30 years of (culled) stuff here from storage. Vinyl, books, lamps, a music library, old knitting projects.. I finished the masters on the big oak dining room table from my childhood, then cleared that off to work on art. I wrote about my dad’s passing in his wingback chairs.
My old houseplants bloomed, I found new books, worked my way through to the other side of years of insomnia. I wrote and wrote and write and will write always, every day. In the studio I took old work and deconstructed it, then reconstructed. Tried every new thing I could think of including sculpture. Made lots and lots of interesting mistakes. Very humbling.
My guides right now: Ursula le Guin, Diana Beresford Kroger, Paul Stamets (still), Indigenous Peoples, Trees. In the studio, the Beaver Halls, the Ninth Street Women, Agnes Martin, Mary Pratt, Emily, Georgia. Ancestors.
The next two years of this residency will be more specifically curated than the first. I’m deeply excited about the projects that are on the boards – all symbiotic with one another and relevant to who and where we are now, together in this world.
I’ve decided not to use this blog for announcements and updates. The purpose of this blog space, (now a decade old) is to reflect on the bigger picture. To listen and speak for a deeper hum, when I can hear it.
And yet there is always news…
Which is why I have a newsletter written and ready to send out. It includes brief updates about commissions, an intro to my longer term multi-arts project called Settled, Unsettled, a reading list and some less filtered opinion pieces from me and other artists. Also, and crucially, a bunch of ways we can connect, you and I – calls for your participation and involvement, stuff you can buy, and a calendar of my talks, workshops and open studio dates. I’ll publish these updates once a month via email (first one in the last week of February, so be sure sign up before then – see below).
I really am excited about this thing. Not long, predominantly visual, and it’s interactive! Wooo. Technology is amazing.
If you’re interested in drilling down into my work, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – for now that’s the only way to get on the mailing list for the newsletter. I’m working with someone more tech-savvy than I to set up a gentle pop-up form here in the future – you’ll see it when it comes. I very much look forward to hearing from you.
This website will also change in the next few months (studio work is a priority, so I’m not promising anything quick). The online gallery will get organized, this blog will have its own section, one also for reference photographs I like, and maybe music, and video. Grist for the Mill will likely become a reading list with some book and article reviews, links to interesting work that’s happening out there. I’ll write more about all of this in the newsletter.
The sun just came out and it’s time for second coffee. Thanks for reading the long post – it’s been in the pipe for a while,
Happy February, all.