Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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Lamps and chairs

When I told dad I would present my final masters research (with some bad-assery) in ten days, all the terrible anxiety and fear vanished from his face. He smiled.

He is in the final, non-verbal stage of dementia, frustrated beyond imagining that he has no words and only emotion, no time, only an endless Now of waiting.

He aches for contact and love, is willfully strong in his child-like, impotent rage at the hospital and nurses and pushings around; time to get up now, time to eat now, time for your bath now, time to brush your teeth now, come one now, you can do it….

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Complex, these relational family stories, aren’t they.

I’ve just moved my work and my life to the city where he grew up – a twenty minute walk from Delta High School where he was a young football hero, the much admired alpha-male athlete, scholar and master of ceremonies at assemblies, funny, smart, beautiful in body and strong in integrity. He was a dreamboat.

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So often in my life I’ve been astonished by his empathy for those who struggle, his wrathful impossible judgement of people from cultures not his own. By his blind reliance upon others – mostly my mom- for the simplest of human requirements – laundry, house cleaning, the facilitation of travel, trips, makings-so.

He has uttered bone-headedly hurtful things to me without a hint of awareness or remorse. He has offered, with infinite tenderness, a perfect, graceful insight at the precise moment it was needed.

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He wrote poems to us, when we were small.  The Keira Lynn flower’s the one I love best… (i.e., more than petunias, snapdragons, and pansies). When things were sometimes difficult, we communicated in carefully considered, written notes. In these, he always, always told the truth.

He cried, every time I played or sang. I do this too, without restraint, when I’m moved.

In the past week I’ve visited him four times, six hours return from here. Each time, fewer words, more frustration. Each time, more moments of peace, and grace.

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He smiles because he knows that even though it was never my role in our family to be the academic one. Nevertheless, I will present this final bad-assery of a masters capstone in ten days, and it will be good.

It will be better than good now, because I have his chairs with me to write in, his lamps, for inspiration. He is helping me.

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My dad is an artist, these are his horses.

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Thanks for your help, Dad, it’s perfect.  I love you.

 


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Capstone 2: Seven Swans

Seven hundred pages and four years of journals, four hundred pages and four years of blog posts, two hundred photographs, twenty projects / performances, thirty poems, three notebooks, and three binders full of journal articles and syllabuses, a bookshelf of Community Music and related literature.

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All but the last two are my data, which I’ve sorted through for keywords and phrases, references and pivot points, using a sieve made out of the course syllabuses for my masters.

I can with complete honestly share with you that in the process of doing this, the person who wrote the data over these past four years has become quite distinct from the me who is reading through, and analyzing it.

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What has been caught in the sieve has then been fashioned into a story, called Seven Swans, Seven Rooms, that I will make into a physical book (just learned how, then made the paper for this book yesterday with the inspired and inspiring artist Susan Barton-Tait – check out her work here).

As I do this I’ll take the journal articles and CM & related literature and tie it back in to the story, which will be added to the book as annotation.
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Three weeks from now, with the active help of my audience, I will tell you a tale of transformation from the more than human world, where trumpeter swans deliver messages, where doors are opened by secret keys, where a woman is saved by, then released from, knowledge.

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After that, with the more passive assistance of powerpoint, I will briefly tell you the other story. After both are told, like Jan Martel’s Pi, I will offer you the question:

Which story do you prefer?

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After some discussion with the audience and a panel of wonderful PhDs for whom I have a great deal of respect, we will all make our way down the hall to my studio for wine, nibbles, conversation, and I hope, some spontaneous music-making.

I love good research, and what can be made from it.

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Hope you can come to this: 6pm, on Tuesday April 30, room 206 at The Cotton Factory.

This is a free event, a ‘show-and-tell’ after 31 months of Masters study at Laurier. That said, there will be ways to help me pay for the event, if you are so inclined. Books and cards for sale, signed copies of the Seven Swan’s book available for pre-order, paintings, and plain old donation jars.

I will continue to check in here between now and then. Write it you have questions!

Swan on road

Thanks, for reading.


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Capstone 1: in every direction, a window

The morning is introverted and full of stillness.

My ambition and drive are sleeping, I neither expand or contract, I am simple with my first coffee. Listening, in my purple slippers and with these six red candles, to the train, the starlings, the panicked robin, the traffic that sounds like wind.

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Cello is warm and awaits my daily workout upstairs, eight pieces of artwork still lean, a box of old cards from 1994 is there, still unpacked and place-less.

Already, the day claims a slow approach, deliberate and sensual. With my ambitions and yearnings still (uncharacteristically) at rest I have a different awareness in this moment of Morning.

As though the Moment bows to me, hand extended: a silent, respectful invitation to dance.

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I accept, on the condition (granted) that I finish the thought that whispers from behind me and a little to the right.

Research is like a dance with listening. The idea you begin with shifts as you move through space and time, in constant contact and conversation with the material you study. You and the listening moment, together then apart, in rhythm, sway, skip, twirl, in step. The dance changes your awareness, deepens the question.

Reading is also listening, from inside a warm blanket, tucked in with hot tea and soup. Active reading is like this too, save that the soup and tea are like elixirs that demand a body-response: speak, write, note, answer, connect.

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What is painting, then? What is making music?

It feels to me as though painting is about bringing all of these listening moments together with my acquired skill, getting my ego the hell out of the way, and allowing the moment to sing, for as long as it takes. Same with playing.

You show up, clean and ready. Then you surrender to the piece.

Sounds simple, but it’s not.

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Read, dig, collect, code, analyze, dance, draw, write, paint, sing, play. Oh ya, also eat, walk, sleep, connect, laugh, practice and hang the paintings. Use the phone with your voice to tell people you love them.

I’m going to dance with the rare listening moments, all the way to my Masters capstone performance on April 30.

I need a BUNCH of people to come and be an active part of it.

Please write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information, and/or stay tuned to this blog if you are interested. Details to follow.


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Portraits 2: broken hearted?

Time teaches that there’s more to this story we’re in now than ‘broken heart’.

So many other hearts are broken, badly and beyond repair, in this world, across religion, family, geography, faith and belief, music and art, that there’s no room now for any one person’s ache and wrong. We are in an ocean of ache, still buoyant on the impossibly, miraculously resilient raft of human love and ridiculousness.

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I write here to fully claim my personal online voice that emerged almost a decade ago to release the pressure from the daily relational muzzle I’d learned to wear. To accept full responsibility for the effects of the choices I made in response or reaction to events, traumas and pressures in my life. All of what I’ve written has affected people in ways I cannot know – I hope positively, but I cannot know.

I was harnessed by both the impossibly restrictive muzzle, and the resulting survival-need to release internal pressure, from age zero. Thankfully I was given art, not guns, as tools.

Oh, Christchurch New Zealand. Oh world.

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This is the blog and the time that requires me to be wide open, fully responsible for my choices and the effect they have had on the people I have held close in my life, as well as the people I affect without even knowing. My choice, my works, my notes and paint – all of it.

I’m no victim.

In the final estimation, I believe those affected by gun violence aren’t, either. Nor do I believe that the shooters can claim immunity from inflicting pain, because they themselves are in pain. I, too, choose to make change with the tools I have learned to use, learned from pain, and thankfully, also love. So, I am also a perpetrator, since I choose action.

We are both victim and perpetrator, all of us. We all inflict pain and damage; we also heal. We all have the capacity to choose something larger, something generous, something warm and impossibly, miraculously resilient.

It’s NOT a cliche, it’s conscious action:  soft, gentle, firm, tender, shaking, shuddering love. You choose to risk your heart, and you DO this.

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Difficult things matter. They are never, ever easy, but they matter.

Please – we need to learn how to go where it’s not comfortable to see ourselves reflected, to handle this drowning extremist wo/man in their panic, all of us – well before they open fire. They are us. We are we.

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I don’t know what to do, here in the second day of my apartment with next to no furniture, with too much work to do in too short a time, my heart all in yearning for peace, for integrity and connection and miractulous human impossibility.

I’m sorry, human and non-human world, that we can be so harmful to one another. Please, please. Let’s find another way to be here together.

 

 

 


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Portraits 1: Hubbard Squash

It’s been a long transition, seems like, from Artist-in-Residence to Resident, at The Cotton Factory, and as of this week, in Hamilton.

In fact it hasn’t been long, considering the details sorted and schedules set, leases signed and accounts set up. Futons purchased and assembled, movers booked, packing strategies set in motion…

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Two weeks. I’ll admit the first eleven+ days have been dented fairly seriously by some intense emotional rites-of-passage. I felt strapped in, then jettisoned, like a hubbard squash at Kemble’s Punkin’ Chuckin festival, off the safe warm planet I know and sailing through the air into deeply unfamiliar territory…

It takes me until mid flight to realize that I am NOT a hubbard squash. That I can control how and where I land.  A good time and place to reunite with your objective self, is mid-flight.

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Mid-flight’s an excellent place to realize that others have gone this way before, and landed well. I’m glad some wrote their stories, glad some were to hand.

A good time, as it turns out, to pull an all-nighter, as the newly arrived guest-house neighbours fight at top-voice and Melbourne Nat from downstairs texts at 3am: I don’t know what to do! It feels like it could turn violent… Nat and I both wide awake, both triggered, trying to read.

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Still time, the next night, to toss and turn on the red studio futon (away from the fighting) while the traumas and the memories dance their processing dance around the birth of nine new paintings and a brand new Fairy Tale.

As Marina Warner writes in Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014),

Even a writer as dreamy (and privileged) as the German Romanic Novalis defined the form as a way of thinking up a way out: “A true fairytale must also be a prophetic account of things — an ideal account — an absolutely necessary account. A true writer of fairy tales sees into the future.’

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After some ridiculous walking in circles, some determined but fog-shrouded reading and drawing, a 6km walk, some Netflix, more drawing, I finally find a full night’s sleep at the guest house. At 5am I wake, blinking and grateful beyond words to feel articulate again.

Somewhere in mid-flight, in my non-panicked heart-brain, the new fairy tale is formed and performed – with frogs –  to friends, family and the Wilfrid Laurier MACM panel.

Feels like prophecy, to me. Also feels like I need to write a hubbard squash into the story now.

I really do hope you’ll come, and be part of it.

April 30 and May 2 @ The Cotton Factory. May 4 or 5 in Owen Sound:  Portraits, and a Fairy Tale. With frogs.


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Ten portraits to self-study Capstone

On the eve of a research plan presentation with and to colleagues at Laurier, I surface from my muttered scribbled reading of journal articles to stare at the lamp…

Okay, figure it out. Where do yellow roses, portable solar panels, flights to and from Dublin, camel trains, artists’ talks, nine amazingly diverse portrait commissions, Community Music practice and study, art as mycelial connection, skunks, great lakes industry, my badly broken but mending heart, and autoethnographic methodology meet?

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Turns out they meet here in my third floor Hamilton walkup, where all available surfaces are covered with books, pens, pencil crayons and sketchbooks.  Just the tip of the iceberg, as they say.

This computer, stuffed full of journal and blog, photo and video, scratchy songs with wooden frogs in them, is the rest of the iceberg.

For the purposes of research, book, and journal article at the end of April, all of this is raw ‘data’.

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Of course all of these threads have come together. Of course these madly overlapped worlds will find voice and fulfilment together in the course of the next two months.

Of course they will. Do I sound a tad overwhelmed, though, I wonder.

Some of the threads that seemed so separate until I took a more objective look: my Community Music masters, begun in 2016; my broken but mending heart; my beautiful off-grid cabin; my move away from the town I’ve lived and loved in for 25 years; my daughter on a camel in the Sahara; my parents who now navigate advanced age with great dignity; the three funny, provocative artist’s talks I will offer up next month in this new place where I was born…

…this new old place that hugs the shore of a great lake, reclaiming itself at the end of the industrial era; this place where I meet new tribe members every day, where we cook up intriguing and important new projects …. for July and for three years ahead.

Inside and outside of so many worlds, all at once. What an amazing time this is.

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conversational drawing, end of Feb.

I feel as though I’ve been in a birth canal for the past six months. As though all of this will blossom as planned (of course it will) and I will wake to find myself ‘born’ and on a plane to Dublin on the eleventh of May.

The past six months and for the next two have been/are full of a lot of DOING. Oddly enough, though, the ‘doing’ time has felt profoundly peaceful, if that makes any sense. Feels peaceful now, even in this moment (I’ve been overwhelmed before, it always goes away).

I’ll be delivered back to my cabin at the beginning of June, where I will soak up Love of the Big World, maybe fix up the other cabin, build a bonfire, share a scotch, stare at the lake, laugh, and breathe.

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I must say, in the meantime it is odd to have Howard Stern with me, through the floor boards in my studio every day.  I’m hoping he and I can come to some kind of ear bud new schedule agreement. Surely, yes…?

It is excellent to have the company and constant support of good friends on this trip of change. You know who you are: thank you. I love you, and always will.

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More to come!


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Hamilton Residency 10: Manifesto.

Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.

Enlightenment: what you feel as you walk away, unharmed, if you successfully apply this to any dangerous situation.

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My Manifesto, then, as informed by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:

J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Carl Jung’s Red Book, Wassail! 2018, my nine portrait collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of good and bad artistic choices

To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:

Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing  for money.

Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art.

(Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)

Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think.

Werner Herzog put it this way:

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”

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Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out Peta on social media for denouncing the use of wool.

Sing for the young girls and boys with multicoloured hair who are entering a life in which their bodies are commodity, where there is no such thing as physical, emotional or psychological safety.

It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for.

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Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species.

Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.

Act, compose, direct, for the bully boys and their muzzled wives who get elected so they can take an axe to our carefully crafted, compassionate safety nets. This too, is human, they are also “We.”.

Make art that supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide.  Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.

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Go direct. Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context.

Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in deep private, personal insecurity, unhealed trauma, fear. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.

Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that.

Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.

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Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care.

A corollary:  Some people do not have a truth to stand in. Accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.

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Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.

A corollary: divisive, abusive work is not art, it is propaganda. Do not indulge in easy smallness, or the exclusion of anyone.

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As Rutger Bregman, Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Rebecca Solnit and a growing ocean of people have realized, the “Us” of this world is endangered.

So. Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are.  Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.

Make your work count.