The Artist talk for my Conversation Pieces July 2021 show is all around me in …pieces. A story about my Dad, a memory from the Mary Schneider School of Art at age 13. Some bits about Toxic Ego Art I encountered at York University in the early 80s, and how for a long tragic time we were taught that art is only for those who understand Art Speak – a profoundly unfortunate era we are only now emerging from. I find a paragraph or two about how, when fully present with a painting, a song, a performance, a poem, you can trust your own response to a piece. You can enter into a potentially life-changing conversation between Self and Art – we all have the capacity to be profoundly moved, shifted, haunted and transformed by the work that calls to us. I just found a short exploration of why the work I love best explores the uncomfortable edge of beauty.
I’m back from my mouse nest removal adventure, which this time did not send me into brainlessness and a 2-day fever. There’s cleaning to be done but I can’t bear the idea of a roaring vaccuum so instead I pull out these thoughts, written in the thirty-six months since a much different version of me moved out of house and into cabin in 2018. I notice each thought about art has a different flavour. Some rage, others weep, a few that begins with a version of “Okay, Lookit.” These blare like manifestos, declaring the rights of dignity and respect for anyone who makes art.
I find resonances for the Conversation Pieces project in Katherine Lochnan’s Mystical Landscapes, Snowden’s Epidemics and Society, Havel’s Letters to Olga – a dissident playwright-turned-President who learned wisdom in isolation when imprisoned by the Soviets. I find rich and thoughtful passages in Camus’ The Plague.
in Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost I find this: “Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?
Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own.” (p5)
I think back on how the early days of the pandemic landed in the centre of a culture of misinformation. How study contradicted study, data was fudged – or correct, but we didn’t know which research or what science to believe, or how to reasonably inform ourselves about what was safe. One exasperated emergency physician posted a ‘how to sanitize your groceries’ video on YouTube so we could watch him wash his onions and oranges, his cereal and the plastic packaging on his bread. But even in steadier times rational science, however well documented and peer reviewed, cannot override emotional panic, or we would not still be convincing people that there is a climate crisis. Solnit writes to this as well,
“…Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ — the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea”. At the same time the physician posted his grocery cleaning methods, Choreographer, Writer, Artist’s U founder & beacon of light Andrew Simonet sent this out onto the internet ocean:
This is what we train for.
Our present moment is a health crisis, a brutal one.
It is also a crisis of meaning. It is a crisis of connection, of story. It is a crisis of who we are to each other and the
agreements that hold us together. And those are things we artists know how to work on.
The script for how we will be together in this time has not been written. Artists will have a huge impact on
Simonet continues…”Your skills are sorely needed. If you mostly hang out with artists, you might think your skills as an artist are normal. They are not. Few people have the range, depth of practice, and follow-through to discover and
manifest new visions.
Artists navigate the unknown. We go in our studios and ask new questions, pushing away from shore and into
uncertainty. In this time of roiling uncertainty, we know how to stay awake and responsive, and how to help
others do the same.
Artists build possible futures. This moment desperately needs futures beyond the sobering medical news and
the jarring contortions of policies and markets. We are connectors, conveners, community builders.
It was shortly after I read this beautiful trumpet of a note in the spring of 2020 that, determined to utilize all my decades of training and “open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar”, I decided to spend the summer studying water at my cabin. I came back and taught myself the regulatory effects of a good cup of tea, and then drew the creamer, which was also a good stress relief practice. I contracted covid too – perhaps as part of the research?
Sixteen months later and here we are. I’m writing an Artist Talk for Conversation Pieces – my artistic response to our covid-19 pandemic. Knitting the thoughts, the experiences, the ideas – the pieces – together.