Keirartworks's Blog

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


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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 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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Cabin stories 6: learning human

There is not a tree here the species books would call perfect. They are bent and twisted, storm-broken and shallow-rooted. They share a mere skiff of soil, what sunlight they can reach and make the best of what they have. Ironwood, cedar, birch are the oldest. Sapling maple and ash have found space too, and tall twisting rowan that drop bright orange berries in the fall.

Birch is the tallest, and shortest-lived – they fall first, in piles where green moss and mushroom speed the process of rot. Seeds from any species take root there; everywhere I look death feeds life.

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Here companionship is visible – a staying with, through weather and change. All around I see slow and deliberate acts of steady-ing and support. These beings share their vulnerabilities – a trunk too thin to support straight growth will lean on another, older and stronger. They live this way, making room, sharing strength, all their lives. They stretch their roots beneath the skiff of soil, to connect with their own mycelial network. This community  of flora and fauna knows who among them is weak, starved or injured – and they send nourishment or honour death, if death it must be.

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This morning’s brief scan from my tiny access point into the world-wide-web offers me news from Rebecca Solnit (a major hub of the human mycelial network ), who scans today’s news and puts all in context of sanity, who treks through the away-ness of Tibet, brings solar lights, medical teams and menstrual kits with her for giveaway.

I see elsewhere that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman: 1984 team has partnered with the Anti-recidivism Coalition (ARC) in California to raise awareness and funds in support of formerly incarcerated men and women.

Also a broad spectrum of successful Go Fund Me campaigns (Thank you Amanda Palmer), Avaaz squaring up against Monsanto, great new restaurant downtown, free umbrellas if you need ’em, looking for recommendations….

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These trees teach me to reclaim my love for humans. Contrary to what we hear or read in the news, we do help one another, genuinely and reliably. We do what we can to keep ourselves and each other laughing-strong so we can withstand together the ever more serious blights that threaten the world. We Stay with the Trouble, we collaborate across knowledge fields to study the warm data that inter-connects systems, we learn, we notice, we support, we link arms as companions, we resist the fear that would divide us.

Universal companionship requires a proactive sensing of signals that is not possessive, but compassionate. For me, this is a learned practise that extends beyond simple emotional sensitivity.

My humanness requires a conscious determination to crack the carapace of whatever restricts my self-awareness, to reveal the vulnerability that connects me with all vulnerable selves. To honour and sing with the voice only I have, to speak my claimed insight – gently, firmly, assertively, especially if it goes against the well-promoted grain. To pay attention, through my uniquely human skin, to the other species around me.

To see and understand pain, for what it is.

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Nora Bateson:

The revolution, the evolution is not going to be found in conference centers or seminars in 5 star hotels. It won’t be definable in righteousness or sanctimony.

The resonances will be and are where the pain has been–where there was no choice but to become unbreakable.

Where the scars are generations deep and sculpt into raw, sassy, funny, sexy, harsh, confusing.

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Nobody’s ever ready for real change. The tree snaps in the wind, the hurricane rips through an island, a city. The bullet misses, or finds its mark, your heart breaks, suddenly and without warning, in a new place. The army invades and you become a refugee, the American Government takes your child from your arms, someone who has been raped himself, rapes her. A diagnosis, a move, a new job, you fall into swooning, impossible love….

Not one of us is ever ready. But if we are human, if we allow us to fill with compassion and laughter we can claim our pain and learn how to keep growing; life from death.

We can choose to play our pathway out of trouble, learn to think differently, to haltingly, hilariously, try out a new language.

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Unconditional:

  1. without limits
  2. unrestricted by definition, requirement, or compulsion


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Impossible.

There is too much to absorb, digest, translate, re-form into something good and relevant, and far too little time.  Someone – Leonard Bernstein? referred to this as one of only two things needed to accomplish Great Things.  But when, as my marvellous friend Maria puts it on Wednesday, “every minute of my time is accounted for from now until Monday at 10pm”, Bernstein does not comfort, despite my really good plan.

So thank you Annie Lamott, for your timely, perfect, pithy truth.  I have read and received it from three disparate sources these past three days, and now the angels of safe containment and healthy boundary are here (I called them) to guard the perimeter while deep focus reigns supreme within; it’s buckle-down time.

To tell a good story well, and thoroughly – a living, breathing story, this is necessary.  Necessary to trust that though all hell may be breaking loose out there beyond the perimeter, this story is relevant, it needs to be told.  Necessary to filter out the hooks and pulls, the triggers and the waverings, and make use of the fine fine sieve that lets in only the heart of things.  The heart of things, that resonates with everything and everyone you love, that threads and connects this good story back to their good, strong hearts.  Resonates and strengthens, if the story is told well.

A heart breaks; snow falls steady onto five inches of itself.  A woman drives slowly through zero visibility; a cat eats the head of its kill.  Wildfire claims someone’s beloved farm; blame is released like a sigh, back into love.  Tears fall in shock; another paragraph is written.  Someone wanders, lost; the kettle boils for tea.  The Heart of things.

Humility meets courage; another page is printed.

The Heart of things.

Impossible.


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radically inclusive

Let’s say in a fit of wild enthusiasm you’ve made a generous statement about the music you love to play:

“Anyone can play in this band!  Come on over and jam with us!”

 

Word gets out because your music is fun so five new people show up to the next band rehearsal, in this order:

Geoff, a classically trained oboe player who’d like to try playing your drum kit

Ruby, a 12-year-old angry slam poet in a hoodie (no eye contact)

Mairy’s whistle-playin kitchen-jammin Uncle Pat

Pete’s mom Sherry, who sings twice weekly with the Sweet Adelines (so knows how it works)

Rico the PTSD’d army vet (in his wheelchair), who plays a mean harmonica

 

Your bandmates Eric the Ego (lead singer) and Tasteful Steve (guitar) are over there with their mouths open, staring at you in disbelief.  Your pal Sam (great bass player) is smirking through her inscrutable look and has shrugged, just now.

” Well.”, you think to yourself, “Um.”

But this is what makes you so good at what you do: you decide in that moment that this will become a band project, and ‘the band’ will rehearse as usual, but on another night. With a little finaegling, this makes the situation okay for everyone (indicated by a second shrug from Sam).

What ensues from there is perhaps one of the best, funkiest, tastiest most heartfelt art-records ever made, a massive collaborative process of laughing changes-of-mind & heart & music & life for everyone, including Eric (the less overblown), SuperTasteful Steve (the less serious), Sam (who sang at the Adelines’ last concert in full leathers), Geoff, Pat, Sherry and Rico, who now regularly go to slam nights with Ruby and her African-Canadian girlfriend.

Next Project?  How about an online thing linking Iqaluit midwives with spinners/weavers from Georgian Bay who then write songs with retired Mounted Police?  (Sam’s idea).

Bell Hooks would say….  Huzzah!

Paolo Friere would say…  Huzzah!

Lees Higgins and Willingham would say… Huzzah! Huzzah!

Rebecca Solnit would of course write a review of the entire mad thing for the Guardian, with exhaustive research that proves without a doubt that yes, inclusiveness requires great courage (and willingness to laugh at ourselves) but makes us all so much better.

 


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Rage like a mountain

There’s nothing new. But there is a new urgency I can’t ignore or discount – to do so would be futile, and frankly, cowardly.

It appears that I’ve come to a place of no return with critical parts of my life that have always been up for negotiation.

Like the movement of tectonic plates, a deep and radical shifting of my priorities.

I find myself, with some regularity these days, shaking with rage. I feel also, and at the same time a profound sense of deep and steady calm, no less intense and alive than the anger.  The word Ferocious comes to mind.

I have somehow expanded my capacity to contain Ferocity.

It feels quite safe in a dangerous sort of way.  I’m mindful of a need for care.

While I read for my masters.  While I make buffalo stew.  While I use my chainsaw to cut firewood, practise new bow technique on my cello.  While I write, sew, draw, listen to Joni Mitchell and RVW Symphony number 9 for work and pleasure.

While I think about wise, strong people who have been denied a voice of their own for far, far too long.

It’s difficult to put my finger on the ‘why now’ of this.  I think that doesn’t matter.  It’s the thundercloud that matters.

I will do the things I do for better reasons. I’ll learn to do other things, because they need to be done.


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internal inquiry into a considered response

There’s no other way to heal, I think.

I’ve read this many times.  It is lodged in my blood now, where it often sings me awake at night, sometimes until dawn.  It is in my belly too, still mostly undigestible.

The difficulty lies in the difference between what my heart reads and what my head understands.  Or maybe that’s where the difficulty lies. I’m not sure yet.

We learn battle-readiness, to defend our tender new-budded truths.  We are misinterpreted; this can break our hearts.  We misconstrue, often to preserve the rightness of blame, the righteousness of feeling hard done by; this will initially comfort and inevitably constrict.  In the end the effect is the same:  diminishment and poverty. 

I can’t name all of the possible alternative choices, but they are known by their effect: gratitude, openness, expansion.  Love.

Oh, the bluster and the poverty of me!  As though what sparks my interest should dominate all else, till there’s no breath left in the room, and the small simple beautiful thoughts creep away to hide their perfect nakedness.  Lest they get burned by the mocking loud, the snorting judgement, the braying, betraying complaining whine.

I don’t regret this bluster- it has been an important tool for survival these many years.  I do amend it now that I’m out of survival mode:  more heed paid to the exquisitely naked, small simple thoughts.  The tiny observances, the two-way conversations held safely in trust.  All the time in the world to listen well, with love.

It is one of those nights – my blood sings me awake at 3am and now dawn sits pregnant in the east.  Sheets and sheets of luxurious rain cool street and soil after weeks of heat too strong for the season.  I am grateful for the known comfort of this natural balance, counterpoint to my tender-sore conundrum. 

What to do?  I ask the morning, as she emerges. 

In response, the rich rain sings of gravity, release, surrender.  

Family. We are family.  I have no good answer to this difficulty, for how can I be who I am not, even if who I am offends so?

So. Let the rain and the tears fall where they may, in gravity, release, and peaceful surrender.  May the good answers come over time like waves on the shore, with no urgency. Small and simple, held safely in trust.