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Friday list, April 2, 2021

Each Friday, a list of things I want to try. Designed to stretch my curiosity, challenge my beliefs, and poke my ego.

I began this in 2010 when I started the blog, then stopped after a while. Time to brush them off again, since there’s a lot to navigate in these times.

[trigger warning for one item on this week’s list. I refer to Hitler’s cruelty during the Holocaust as an example of the real challenges inherent in true forgiveness and reconciliation. This is part of my work as a white settler as inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action from First Nations People in Canada, and the work of Resmaa Menakem.]

List for Friday April 2, 2021:

  1. 1. Walk in the grass in bare feet, make sure there’s mud on them
  2. 2. In the interest of learning more about true reconciliation, try forgiving Hitler. Really forgive him without for one moment condoning the pain he inflicted and the cruelty he empowered and supported. Imagine he is my son, and I love him. What would I ask him to do in atonement? What would I ask him, period? (if I can’t forgive him that’s okay, try again when I’m ready to come back to it)
  3. 3. draw a frog from memory

4. Change something that’s been the same for at least six months

  1. 5. Finish two things then make a loud crow sound

6. Dance in my kitchen

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I am not been feeling generous with humans of late. Maybe because I’ve read and signed and shared more petitions than I can count over the last week. Myanmar’s big-oil supported military shooting at citizens, Trans Canada Pipelines & TC Energy’s horribly distorted value systems, the fact that we only protect TEN PERCENT of our incredible boreal forest from loggers, who cut the equivalent of four hockey arenas EVERY DAY, Doug Ford’s bid to get more money for his election by selling the greenbelt to developers, the massive amounts of garbage left by Londoners released from lockdown… when, just when are we all going to grow up out of our collective stupidity?

I’m not calling you stupid, nor me. It’s US, together. WE allow all of this to continue.

There’s a new Canadian news service called The Breach. Entirely people-funded, launching this spring. They are determined to ask good, uncomfortable questions. I gave them money.

There are passionate, knowledgeable, remarkable people who have built grassroots lobby groups, people who understand where the political and financial pressure points are, who are collecting signatures and delivering petitions where they will count. These are the places I’ve signed and shared – my twitter feed, @KeiraMcArthur, is full of opportunities to do the same.

There’s more, but getting this much off my chest has lightened my being enough that I no longer feel like screaming bloody murder at next person who litters in Gage Park.

Thank you for reading through all the spit. The fact that you do really does count for me.

Have you noticed that the world is both smaller and larger in these pandemic times? I’m regularly in conversation with California and South Africa now, along with people from other continents, cultures and belief systems. I can check what the weather is like in Kyoto and Prague, whether it’s raining or snowing at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, and then continue with my chores… garbage out on the rain washed street past the chirping sparrows then respond to a text from LA, then turn the kettle on & after send a quick note to Johannesburg.

I eat a Mexican avocado, a Chilean plum. I wear a merino wool (Australian sheep) sweater made in China, shipped from the US. The gas in my car comes from the ground beneath the middle east, my coffee from Guatemala via the Kicking Horse Pass in BC.

A container ship blocks the Suez for a week, and 400 million dollars per hour in traded goods just… stops. More empty shelves.

Effects and counter effects. I came into this residency to change and deepen my work, which was never gonna happen if I wasn’t willing to change and deepen myself. Luckily a global pandemic, then, which brought with it some hard right turns, then some hard lefts, also some necessary full stops. Much buffeting and dissolving of old ego stories. I am not the person who arrived here in January of 2019.

The works shifts as the world does – how can it not? In purely material terms, working on six and seven foot canvases is no longer practical or sustainable. I have two on the go at the studio and three here in my apartment, but I’ve scrapped all big installation plans for now. Works on paper, which began in 2019 and grew through 2020 into a 2021 series of painting/drawings (Conversation Pieces – see posts with this tag) with crazy-wild shifting grounds – these have become my new pleasure and practice, each one a delight and a surprise. Small, intimate and mid-sized, they fit and shift in the changing light on walls between other things – much more practical.

And playful. I’m putting fruit stickers in some – Chile, Peru, South Africa, used stamps – Spain, Poland, USSR, in others.

Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Resmaa Menakem, my friend and inspiration Marilyn Struthers and the entire conversation around intersectionality and post colonialism has turned me with slow, steady inevitability toward an exploration of my own indigenous roots in Scotland and Ireland. Back across the ocean I will go, through the commons and the old ways to find out more (when we are able to travel, which I hope will be in 2022). This will, no doubt, change and deepen me some more. Bring it on.

It’s these backdrop pieces that aim me toward a personal archaeology of my ancestors’ land, story, memory.
It feels very much as though they are expressions of an older part of me

Trees and water, water and trees. In 2020 I found myself studying the behaviour of my beloved Georgian Bay, while the world was in lockdown. My cabin there is in a forest, some of which is original growth that anchors the various levels of shore over the past eleven thousand years or so. I love that lake with my soul, and will always return to her to learn and give thanks. The Water Bodies project, and The Tree Story project are both alive and well in me, waiting patiently while I change and deepen enough to make something meaningful that honours the lake and the tree people I know and love.

The red-tailed hawk sails past my window on the spring thermals. I know where her nest is, among the trees on the escarpment cliff at the end of my street. I felt a need in this post to offer a snapshot of the particulars of place, purpose and context to you, a pause to breathe in the way everything connects us one to the other, whether it’s through garbage strewn and picked up, petitions signed and shared, tough questions asked, choices and artwork made.

Watch here and on Instagram, twitter, tumblr, fb and a new YouTube thing (in development now – why not?) for photos and stories from the new work. If you have a piece of wall for a twinkling piece of art capable of sparking a good conversation, there’ll be some easy ways to purchase it from me.

I’d be so honoured.

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Conversation Pieces

J.S. Maier Company, porcelain makers

In a small village in northern Bohemia where there are large deposits of kaolin a porcelain factory is built by three merchant partners, in 1890. Shares in the company are passed down to sons and daughters through three generations, who manage the factory and sell porcelain wares throughout Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

Twenty-four years later a world war, with Germany at its epicentre. At war’s end, Europe, the Middle East and Africa are re-distributed at the 1919 Paris Accords. The village is now in Germany. Nine years after that at the Munich Accords, Czechoslovakia is given to Hitler in an attempt to prevent WWII. He marches into Prague in 1939, and occupies it.

Shares in the porcelain factory are confiscated by the Third Reich, and management of the factory is reassigned. The descendants of the three partners in J.S. Maier Comp and their families disappear into work and concentration camps, and out of history.

Seventy-five years later, I buy a Czechoslovakian ‘tea set’ from an auction in a small town in Southern Ontario, Canada. The cups are tiny, and I’m a coffee drinker, so it sits on a lower shelf behind a door. A year after that the world, already in the grips of climate change, overpopulation, astonishing corporate abuse and systemic white supremacy is swept into massive and abrupt change by a global pandemic.

Lockdown keeps me from my studio and my elegant tea set emerges from the lower corner shelf and onto the table, an echo of old world comfort. Tea served to myself in a ceremony of pause, as a way to mark the passage of time. Milk poured not from a printed box but from a graceful gilt-edged creamer, then tea from an elegant pot, fluted and tall. My blind Glasgow-born grandmother lived alone and drank twenty-seven cups of tea a day at regular intervals; I begin to understand the ritual that once baffled me.

I’m missing conversations and writing at favourite cafes like The Brain. Sitting right beside someone I don’t know in a room full of people watching live music, an artist talk, a play. I miss smiling at people with my whole face, and not just my eyes. I observe the now embedded courtesy of avoiding contact and nearness; cross the street when someone else approaches, two metres at all times, always behind masks. Questions at every store, have you…? Do you…? Are you….? No. No, no. Okay, come on through.

Stay Home. And so we do. I read Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless.

The light here in my residency apartment is lovely on the gilt-edged blue and white porcelain, and right there is my good sharp pencil. There’s a pile of printing paper I had torn into pieces last year after experimenting with media in the studio. There’s my dad’s travel W&N watercolour set and some titanium white, there’s a speaker, my playlists; I start to draw ellipses. With my pencil and brush, titanium white and ultramarine blue I explore curves and the hollows, connections and conversations, the way the light shines the gilded handles and rims. This becomes a ritual pause that marks the passage of time.

Research enriches the experience, deepens it with the story of enterprise, good business, fine craftsmanship, anti semitism and brutality. Not so comforting, this old world porcelain, however beautiful. Not a tea set, but coffee set, made at what had been J.S. Maier Co in a little village in Southern Germany during World War Two, by imported german workers. Some of these workers are artists and master craftspeople, and I wonder what they are thinking about as they draw the gold lines around each rim.

The new owners stamp their work CZECHOSLOVAKIA, under the J.S. Maier mark of a hand holding a torch beneath a crown.

Now we have variants of the virus, and vaccines. A year since the first lockdowns we still Stay Home, still answer No. No, and no. from behind our masks in socially distanced lines. Through the long months we’ve become better at connection across distance, so that borders and countries and oceans and physical travel begin to seem like old school. Maybe also better at connection with ourselves, better at understanding what we value in others.

Each one of us has insight into this experience from inside a bubble of solitude or space shared with family, room mates, a significant other. We live in a billion trillion fish bowls – in small-space water that once was a pond, a great lake, an ocean. That’s a billion separate experiences complete with observations, epiphanies, traumas, breakthroughs. This fascinates me far more than the news, this ocean of fish bowls that we are.

With brush and pencil I explore these little cups and saucers, the creamer and the pot which are exactly and precisely designed for conversation and the sharing of anecdotes, insights, choices. I draw them on grounds I have made that look and feel chaotic, and change as the light changes. Like our world does. My curiosity is peaked. What do my musician friends see? My prison guard friend, my teacher friend, my paramedic friend… could I curate a pause that connects us in conversation?

I find a package of used stamps from around the world Poland, CCCP, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Churchill, the Queen of England – little pieces of old school art, from a letter sent long ago from somewhere to somewhere. Makes me want to connect.

Conversation 1 happening this week. You may be getting an email from me, inviting you to the next one. Stay tuned.