Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Hamilton Residency 9: Manifesto 2

Manifesto woman does not know what to do next.

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Baffling. Maddening.

Humbling. Ego-flattening. Intensely educational. I’ve made at least twenty clear plans for these pieces in the past three months of this residency, and the only one that has lasted the duration is Surrender.

I’m thinking this is at the root of what’s happening here.

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The first page after the Table of Contents in J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015) is entitled, “Manifesto”. It reads like a list of  ‘knowings’ that he has captured while circling ‘Art’ through time and his own experience. I recognize his fierce contemplation, his guard-dog reverence for the integrity of great art, his grateful surrender to the unsolvable, radical mystery of it.

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The first two pages of text are provocative, as manifestos are intended to be. He quotes Wilde,

The work of art is apolitical and free of moralism. “The Artist”, Wilde said, “is free to express everything.”
It is precisely the absence of political or moral interest that makes art an agent of liberation wherever it appears.

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I am in a state of surrender again, after another bout of contrivance and manipulation has passed (what Martel calls ‘artifice’). I’ve caught myself again imagining, then planning the end result of each piece so as to define clear, scheduled steps to take me, bathed in glory, to the finish line. Those drawings are always bad, forced, lifeless.

How many times have I erased them now? Doesn’t matter.

When I stop to think and write about it, I can see that it’s odd, the way I increasingly trust this process as the deadline approaches. Artists’ talk for the Hamilton Cotton Factory Residency is now three days from today. Every time I erase and re-draw, the pieces make more sense, the story is clearer. They’re better, so I’ll go with that.

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It is not my will that gives these pieces life. It is me getting my blessed ego and my busy mind the hell out of the way. Yes my hands, my eyes, my cello and my spiralling around and through the studio – read, write, hum, sing, sew, pace, meditate, curl up into a fetal position on the floor – whatever it takes to get lost to myself.

My training, my love of form and colour, media and texture – yes, with these things all in play I am active in my surrender to a larger thing I can’t name or see, like a midwife, listening for signs, ready to act in support.

There is no sense of time, I only know when I’ve got no more good energy to work with. That’s always later than sooner.

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Quebec artist Guy Laramee is tormented by the search for this place of ‘active peace’. His fine fine mind wants to write the treatise, first, to define what it is that he explores, and why. To name its function before it is formed. In his TED talk, Laramee, who for eighteen years has been sculpting exquisite landscapes out of old books, describes his experience of completing two masters degrees at the same time, one in Anthropology and the other in Visual Art. I can see him, bouncing like a ping pong ball between academic rationalities and emotion-based artistic sensibilities.

And yet his experience of making these pieces is like neither.  There is a third state of awareness that encompasses all things, which is where art is formed without artifice.

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Elizabeth Gilbert (famous for her book Eat Pray Love), maintains that this is the opened state where genies can connect the work, through you, to the wilder, more elemental world. This is, as she maintains in her TED talk, the origin of the word genius. We mistakenly apply this state to humans, as though they can access that heightened, elemental state whenever they choose – say, between cooking dinner and taking the kids to school.

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I like what this work teaches me, what Hamilton teaches, in odd and delightful tandem with the forest at my cabin on Georgian Bay.

When I began the residency in December I had an inkling that I would emerge from it transformed, but I could not have imagined how deep and radical the changes would be in me, and the way I understand and do my work. I do know and trust this: in three days time I will share the story, without art-speak and in the space of twenty minutes, to whomever wishes to hear it.

I’ll leave the last word with an excerpt from Martel’s 2015 Manifesto:

Art opposes tyranny by freeing beauty from the clutches of the powers of this world.
True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden
revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.

Only the revelation of beauty can save our world.

 


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Hamilton Residency 8: Manifesto #1

Loud country music/talk radio and potty-mouthed men clear as a bell up through the floorboards, Mychael Danna’s soundtrack for Life of Pi here in this room – amazing how Danna wins.

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In collaboration, of course, with my golden chair and my 1956 singer, my cello and all the love in the world all over the walls: drawings of old doorknobs, rusted chains, chain link and barbed-wire fences, train tracks in one point perspective over what appears to be spirit goats, female weight lifters and scrooge-like, chicken-like nature spirits.

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It is in this context that I dip back into my beloved “Theories of Modern Art” (1968, UC Press), purchased while in art school in the eighties, and find rich thoughts about art written by futurists, cubists, fauvists, expressionists, impressionists. Thrilling as always to read articles written by Klee, Kandinsky and Marc, as published in Der Blaue Reiter. This time I want more. I want to read what women artists felt, thought and wrote.

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It is apparent that, for the 1968 editors of my long-beloved book, women artists didn’t write anything even footnote-worthy. Really? Sigh.

I set my jaw and dig through journal articles, 1st 2nd and 3rd wave feminist literature, new studies of historic groups of women painters (…the Beaver Hall Group developed no manifesto? You’ve got to be kidding…).  Eventually I’m led to Kate Deepwell’s 2014  Feminist Art Manifestos: An Anthology (available only on Kindle).

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In the first intro paragraph, Deepwell defines the term “manifesto”:

A political programme, a declaration, a definitive statement of belief. Neither institutional mission statement, nor religious dogma; neither a poem, or a book.  As a form of literature, manifestos occupy a specific place in the history of public discourse as a means to communicate radical ideas.

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I realize that I’m new at this, at least in this lifetime. So I’ll sit with the idea for a while, and trust the process of crafting a credible, rooted manifesto, distilled from my experience and, like an arrow, aimed at where I intend to go.

In this moment I suspect it has something to do with my ability to listen. To pay attention to what’s in the negative space.

more to follow…

 


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Hamilton Residency 7: mark the trail

It seems to go like this: three or four intense 12-hour days working with huge wave of images connections paint insight epiphany, then a long day – like today – of disorientation.

I think the undertow is strong. It feels like being pulled backwards, so I can go over things again, integrate what they mean. This way, if someone asks me, I’ll be able to articulate what’s at play.

Feels like a dance.

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Roaring like a Snowdragon lady out there since first light, later spitting hard rain on a sharp east wind, splatter on the window louder than the beeping of backing-up-trucks next door. Shoes not boots so wet socks for the first hour. Printer pooched mid-page while working on a reference photo I need to draw from. Two hours cajoling him according to online hp instructions then a trip through foot-high road slush to get a new printer, since apparently five human years is 120 in printer time, and old faithful is not worth another $80 for a new print head.

Another hour or so of tech-drain before I get a good reference print out of New Printer, by which time my reference point has migrated into the recycling bin, as they do when they’re not caught and used immediately.

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Drawing board now but my heart’s not in it. I’m tech-tired and caught in a small, humbling moment of grief: I loved that old printer. We lived through a lot together; he printed many many cello choir parts, many journal articles (2-sided), without complaint.

I look at the painting I thought I’d be finished today and decide that I wrecked it last night just before I went home. It’s probably not true, but it needs a new solution now, so drawing board.

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It’s Tuesday, says the calendar, nod goes my head and up again to build the next strategic plan. Two weeks until show time at the Residency Artists’ Talk on Feb 26 (6:30pm). I’m looking at four of seven planned pieces, fully aware that they represent a tunnel I’m about to enter.

I asked someone last week whether it was a bad sign that I’ve written the talk before the pieces are done. Apparently not – it’s the reverse, she said. I agree. The paintings themselves feel like improvisations around my understanding of what I’m doing here and why I’m doing it. As they continue to emerge my understanding deepens – like a dance.

Music emerges into an understanding of ‘moment’, too.  A piece of cello music I’ve been playing for thirty years is always a variation of itself, reflected in and by the context of it’s sounding- Courante from Bach suite I, on a murky Tuesday in Hamilton, after my old hp friend signed himself off into the land of recycled parts.

What a layering of things that is!  JS Bach and Hewlett Packard, accompanied by the spitting, hissing Snowdragon Lady outside.

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I always have ten people with me now; I begin to understand that I always will have this particular ten. I’m aware that increasingly I yearn for a gathering of us over a slow meal, perhaps, or on a walk together through old trees. I wonder at the levels of curiosity we each carry – how they would ebb and flow, rise and find rest through conversation fragments and simple gestures, how we would weave ourselves into a fabric if we were all in this room together, painting one another, laughing and listening.

I write notes to them through the day. Curiosities – about connections between them. I’m not quite ready to send these, yet. Which is strange, but I trust the process as it unfolds.

I think about kind mirrors and critical mirrors. I wonder if our internal mirrors are always stronger than the external ones.

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Composite sketch for Pavement II, who dances differently. We approach one another in earnest on Valentine’s day.

More to come, from the tunnel…

 

 

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 5: connections

Three things that are good: 1 the cast iron legs are back on the black studio table that david sereda gave me ten years ago (what is IN that heavy heavy thing, ds?), 2. I have a new kettle and all the equipment to french press the coffee that fuels my morning write, and 3. Sun is melting the cold clamp of arctic crunch that has been squeezing the air out of us all this past week.

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Oh yes, and the walls of this room I will read, sleep and write in for the next month are painted a cheerful, many-varied naples yellow. Makes me smile, though I’m not able to articulate why in this moment. Something about the subtle effects of ongoing displacement…

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I am happy beyond telling to move into the space that will house me and my work for the next three years at Cotton Factory.  SH242 is now my studio – just down the hall from the residency space I have been working in since December 1. Both spaces sing the clear bell-tone of time and permission to grow beyond what I can currently imagine. GO! They ring, each time I walk into the building.

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As I emerge from my anticipated mid-residency slump I can see that new artistic directions have appeared in the Hamilton-inspired work. The drawings and painting are very much in their ugly stage, but I can see where they’re going, and I’m happy. They answer for me both my inspiration and sorrow over the state of some old broken places here, which have been buried under the effects of neglect for too long. Signs of renewal are there though, if you look, like grass growing through the pavement in an old industrial yard. Growth and fertility after decades as a desert.

Anticipated date for the Cotton Factory residency artists’ talk are Tuesday February 26, 6:30pm. I will confirm this on all social media, and Hamilton Arts Council will also announce – stay tuned, and I hope you can come. These talks and the work will be provocative, insightful and good for long-term conversation chewiness.

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I continue to research, listen and plan these collaborative co-missioned portraits which are the vehicle that got me to Hamilton and through this residency. I had no idea how the complexity of this show and book would challenge my abilities and experience. The work is complex and exciting – well worth enough time to do us all justice.

I turned the corner this week, from struggle to clarity when Ashley the fabric artist two studios down gave me her huge canvas. She had laboured to draw the geometric pattern for the seed of life over the entire surface, then lugged the thing around for two years. I accepted her work as a starting point for more exploration from me – a first collaboration in the Cotton Factory –  and realized it is the painting of my own ‘becoming’, effectively making me the ninth person represented in the Portraits show. A door opened, then, into what connects all of us in this experiment. I’m writing through each morning to find my articulation of it, but it’s there now; I can feel it.

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Our new projected culmination date is mid-spring, enough time to make give this project the arc it requires. In the meantime, the nine of us populate the new studio space at Cotton Factory – just us. When I’m in that room I feel as though I sit in the midst of a copse of eight other mixed-species trees. Watching and listening to their stories, observing my own, there, antennae stretched to pick up warmth – between this one’s experience and that one’s observations.

I sit still and fully present as I did at the cabin this summer, to seek connections and patterns in the complexities that connect us all as humans, us Nine. They are subtle, but they are there.

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And finally, O, Faretheewell, Emerald Street at Barton, where I’ve stayed for a month. Glad to have landed safely in your arms, glad to have listened to your complicated and often dark stories, as they came through my window each night. Glad to lock your door for the last time, too.

The next tenant is a medical student from overseas who will also be there for a month. Hope he doesn’t slip on the steps and land in a puddle, as I did.

Happy February, all!

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 5: anchoring

Yesterday I slipped on the bottom step and landed in a puddle. Full soaker from my lower back to my knees but the books and laptop were fine; I kept going to the car, to the studio, to the cello, to the paintings then to catered ramen for lunch, which turned my day back in the right direction.

Factory life.

 

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Factory life here among artists and arts workers is not so dissimilar from how it works in the twelve acres of forest where my cabin is. Each living thing there takes ownership of its space according to the conditions of nourishment available to it. Some need direct light, some indirect. Some grow best in the lee of things, others push out west into the prevailing wind, and so provide shelter.

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All are connected in a system of shared growth that does not privilege strength or size or ability of any one kind, but instead demands and supports difference, so long as there is fair exchange of nourishment. Tree, critter, lake, wind, insect, sun, rain, snake and amphibian all require each other’s full active presence, in order to thrive.

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Oh how I miss my toad friend, and that singular, complex world! Even as I remember the daily surprises of living and listening in the woods last summer, I meet another resident here in the complex and overlapped worlds of this old factory/ new arts building, and I feel… a resonance. Carlos and Avery build and restore, now the new boardroom, next the floors downstairs; Avery also runs a weekly life drawing class and paints beautiful figurative pieces on burlap. Carissa runs a kind of creative dispatch for the owners and is also a singer songwriter. Glen does interactive sound installations and books live music, Warren does any number of things and is generally awesome; all are fully, actively present.

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We meet at lunch upstairs, tenants, staff, owners – like critters at the watering hole, thirsty but also curious. More names to memorize and pin to stories. Another reference to part of the building I’ve never heard of or been to… I learn more of the shorthand every day. Who are the guardians, who the connectors. Who the generators, the observers, the part-timers who come like bees do to a meadow full of flowers.

Tenants are active and connected, come downstairs now! Someone’s moving studio and giving away stuff (I find a good stretched canvas and a vase, which I fill with flowers and put in the shared sitting space.) Hey Keira, don’t you like to work large? Ashley’s giving away a huge canvas – go find her, she’s right down the hall from you. Ashley tells me the story of her unfinished 2017 piece, and how she turned to sewing instead. I tell her what it will be used for and invite her in to make some marks on it, which makes her happy.

Mycelial exchanges.

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I carry My Eight with me in my head through the halls, through studios and conversations. Spread them out on pages of newsprint and toothy paper, measure them on the walls, sort and rearrange their answers to Proust-inspired questions. Serious, then playful, I’m less and less overwhelmed by the task of shining some kind of light on what is becoming in me, and in them.

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Though they have never met one another and may never meet in person, I imagine us sitting at table together and playing an obscure board game after dinner. These Eight who have commissioned internal portraits from me are part of this ecosystem too.

More and more every day.

 

 

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 4: rhythm

The overwhelm subsides into a kind of rhythm as I begin to understand what my new job is; what feels unfamiliar but is actually okay.

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As the illusion clears – of pitfalls and boobytraps at every misstep – I can see that the floor I walk on every day is sturdy, reliable… and beautiful. The walls are well built and practical, the beams and posts resilient and strong. Built to carry workers, materials; to support dreams of steady slow progress in reward for daily, hourly persistence.

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So many have carried their private stories through here, many more will do so, now that this factory has been so lovingly snatched from the jaws of disuse and abandonment, launched like a ship into the ocean of now.

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The big building loves industry and honest work; I can feel it.

I imagine, self-indulgently, that it loves the current industry more than the one that built it, and to some extent Hamilton, in 1901. These bricks were laid, these beams milled and bought thanks to the labour of slaves from the south who laboured daily in cotton fields barns and shipyards. A different daily, hourly persistence from that of the workers who laboured here. Did the industrialists ‘own’ them too, I wonder.

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The Portrait Project grows, here.

In the research process I hold careful space for the stories of what I now call ‘my eight’. I am quietly astonished, again and again, at this meeting place of diversity in story and self awareness, and how each disclosure connects, through my own experiences and oh so gently to another from someone else.

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They are strangers to one another, my Eight, but they are all here in the studio with me now, as I listen again to what I’ve been shown and told, and form the larger story that is ours together. From this I will make eight pieces that each speak to the other across difference. I’ve never felt more challenged by a visual art project, have never welcomed a challenge more than I do now.  So many languages to learn; listening is good work.

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I’m grateful to have been able to extend my stay by finding permanent studio space here, at the marvellous Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Not only will this give me the time to do justice to these portraits and my Eight, but also to build strong ties with the people who work here. A new kind of family.

 

 


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Hamilton Residency 3

My new middle name is Curiosity.  Like a little kid, mouth open: wow. huh? how come? really? Wow, really. Who?

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Strangely, it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, living my brand new daily life in an arts hub in the old rather broken, semi-forgotten industrial sector of this big city where my Grandmother raised her children. Memory cells light up each night with twenty new names and connections, emails fly out daily from my computer to people I’ve just met, or want to meet. The work on the walls of my studio changes before my eyes as I try things I’ve never tried, make mistakes I’ve never made, sort through which ones to keep and which to release.

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

I’m deeply aware of my solitude, my autonomy, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to stretch myself well beyond what has become comfortable. In the sixth day of the first full -time week I’ve lived here, I can feel my thinking, my painting, my writing and my awareness shift as old belief systems dissolve. There are seven weeks left of this residency, and every one of them is glowing with promise.

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From school to studio; books to paint. It’s a complex shift in awareness and perception, I find.  The road from left to right brain is populated with circus performers and street musicians, frequented by students seeking their masters of illusion, lined with bright market tents full of tempting diversionary tactics. You quickly discover that only tourists stop at these, that it’s important to stay mindful and moving forward.

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It has taken a while to sort out who actually lives here, in the space between things predictably linear and things … shaped and sounded differently.  I’m finding that this right brain work is more about releasing what I think I know than applying any learned structure and experience to what I do, since the objective is to change and expand my understanding of what’s possible.

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Often the return to people and conversation is a shock. I’m happy to be reading the reader’s edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book (2009, Shamdasani, Ed.), which is providing some context for the conscious choice to enter transformative space, and be changed by it. A good ‘bridge’ book, as is Once Upon a Time, a short history of Fairy Tale (Warner, 2014), and The Heart of a Peacock, a collection of short pieces by Emily Carr.

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It’s been useful, occasionally, to dip into Art Lessons, Meditations of the Creative Life (2003, Haynes), or a bit of Emerson. Also to shut the whole thing down, go sit in a big chair at the Jackson Square cinema, eat popcorn and watch Aquaman.

Art heals, writes Sean McNiff. I agree, wholeheartedly. Nature heals too.

Now I’m surrounded by human nature, not my beloved lake and forest from last summer, and we humans are complex. Thank you Nora Bateson, for this 8 minute video, which inspires me to make my own, about what art work makes possible.

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In this place of broken sidewalks and boarded up warehouses we grow art, like sprouts push up asphalt. Slowly, bit by bit, but as surely as the sun rises in the east, artists take places like this and clean up old toxic abandoned soil, growing impossible things in impossible places because it is their nature to do so.

It is a reclaiming of health; I’m grateful to be part of the process.