Keirartworks's Blog

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


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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.

 


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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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Cabin 21: Poets

It took this tree about 100 years to grow and I’m burning it, piece by piece, in four months. It was the one mature tree I cut down to make room for this cabin – a twinned birch, now half gone.

Every time I put a new log on the fire I’m aware of this – my territorial claim a year ago, my use of a once living thing to keep me warm. The math – our part in climate change.

Human in a place of trees. Over five months they have made peace with, and in me.

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This November forest song is not one I’ve ever heard so directly. I’m listening now because I can – my house is strong and warm, my belly full, and my heart (relatively) at ease. A sense of poignancy gives me added insight – in three weeks I’ll be making art work in an old cotton factory down by the dockyards in old industrial Hamilton, Ontario.

Which is nothing like here, at all.

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What a gift – to witness November here, day by day.  If leaves are like memory and wind like change they dance together, all around the cabin. Is the music then Time? Whatever it is, it feels dangerous, spins them faster and faster, past and beyond the known, remembered moments, the assurances, the conversations, the collaborations.

Birds are gone, toads buried, squirrels vanished. The trees twirl and bend and dip into swift certainty that all of what has happened here will soon be gone and buried, in snow.

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The young maple still gleaming gold against cedar green disappears in real time before my eyes, leaf by leaf.  Just branches like bones, now.

This morning I could see earth on the pathways, now, above has become below.  I walk on what lived in the sky above my head, three weeks ago.

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Branches like ribs, trunks like spines, but this feels nothing like death. There’s a beautiful economy to it, a paring down, a pulling in. I can feel the trees bowing with the wind, with infinite dignity to acknowledge what has been, to welcome what comes. Yes, they’re 100 years strong here, together. And yes, every winter some are unable to withstand the wind, and fall to the ground. Some fall into the arms of another.

I’m now part of the ecosystem here, so these still-aloft but fallen trees are the ones I bring my chainsaw to. These are the ones who will feed my fire, next year.

…which burns low, I notice.

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I’m thinking about this state we are all in, on some level. The state of becoming our older selves, while we shed the things that once were important. The gauge of this is perhaps that we notice things that were always there, but have never been apparent. The wonder of that.

I want this to be so – that the trees also gain a new viewpoint every year, as they reach their branches upward, and their roots down. They participate differently as they grow stronger, wider, steadier – they become protector trees, anchors for all the others.  Some grow more quickly, dominating the canopy in places so undergrowth doesn’t flourish – but these also have shorter lifespans and so build soil for the others.

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What do we do for one another, we who grow so quickly, take without asking, consume so much, are so afraid of dying?

I’ve just come out of a weekend of poets from across Canada who’ve met here  – impossibly and powerfully  – in some combination of truth and humour, compassion and rage these past fifteen years. Thank you, Words Aloud.

These are some who are not afraid, these poets, or at least they’ve found some good cathartic things to do with fear. These humans call us all out to a place of attention, honesty and grace. They walk along the edge of pain and find beauty there, dare to dance there, for all to see. They give us their compassion, their rage, their insight and their tricksiness, but most of all, they call us to our own depths with whispers of courage.

Truth to power. Grow beyond what you know. Find Love –  love Love.  Leap.

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Poets double-dare me to claim my becomings, to walk softly on what once lived above my head. To honour my future, whatever may come. I’ll take that dare.


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Cabin 20: falling up

The lake is gentle again.

I’m back home after a week of travel, grateful to be working outside on the upper deck where I can drink in this soft shore-song; I’d expected snow, but it was quiet rain instead, as hushed as I am, in this memory of warmth.

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I write solstice songs, work out the final details of fall music workshops that will weave our stories together into song.  As Wes Ryan, the performance artist I will work with this coming Friday says,”we stitch together niches of resilience into tapestries for change”.

This work – in part the final practicum for my Masters – requires honest reflection. ‘Where and who did you come from, to make your way here?  How do you own these choices?’. These questions that have been dogging me for a while now, a faithful, tail-wagging reminder to listen to what I’m remembering. To notice what stirs me, and how my body tweaks, aches, stretches and contracts in response.

Some that rise for me are the very thoughts that once triggered fear, heartache, confusion, trauma. They’re softer now, like the rain this morning.

Where do I come from? What led me here?

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Every one of my choices has been a fierce attempt to give, receive, make and understand love, in all it’s levels, all of its forms.

This is where I’ve been. This is how I got here. Now is the place where it’s become crystal clear that the person who most desperately needs love from me in this lifetime is Me – on all my levels, in all of my forms. From this and only this can love of an other flow.

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What a relief, to know this in my bones. My 55 years (the last 4 in particular) – have led me without stint or fail to a place where there is no possible other way to be. The forest around me so generously reflected just how that kind of love works, these past three months.

We all have wounds – early ones inflicted by imperfect parents and siblings, later ones (if we’re lucky) self-inflicted so that we could understand, then heal the first ones. Our biggest responsibility is to consciously claim and deal with our own garbage so we can stand with integrity and help each another. Gotta say, in these times, the choice to live this kind of love, this kind of fierce joy, is political as well as human.

To say this summer has changed me is to understate. I know I’ve got a long way to go, still. Change is a-foot – an announcement re same is forthcoming.  I have only a month left here at the Cabin before I launch myself into the kind of busy-ness that would have terrified me twenty-five years ago.

Bring it on, I say. But I wish for good focus, good friends and gentle weather in these last weeks of Shore Time.

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Birch and maple hold two thirds of their gold and glorious against the grey of up, the other third dresses the forest floor. Tree frogs are weeks gone, though I can hear them by memory – I will never forget slipping into sleep and waking each morning to that chorus.

Crows, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and a great flock of wild turkeys stay to forage in the dwindling daylight and again I am warmed, beyond expectation, in the generosity of this world, and this place.

 


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cabin 19: rhythm on the shore

We had a lick of brilliant sunlight early in the week, golden trees against a rich blue sky – a day the fauvists and Tom Thomson would have rejoiced in, had they been here to witness it. Since then the lake is has been relentless, grey and broody with the wind whipping off James Bay and into the Carolinas where Hurricane Michael chews away.

Here there is a strong rhythm on the shore. Steady and powerful, like draught horses that pull hard through day and night. It is the pound and pull that permeates my work, my sleep, my writing, my awareness. It is not peaceful, but I have settled to it, accepted it as the sound of change.

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Oh Michael, you make our fall so brief!  From sun-soaked joy to the scent of November in mere days. Now golden leaves carpet the roads and the astonishing architecture of tree trunk and branch is again revealed. For a long moment I remember the barren taste of last winter, then shake it off.

Oh, my gratitude for a steady fire in the woodstove, warm socks and good slippers to hand. I sip coffee beside the opened window in the hours before dawn, and let the wind-pushed waves inform the content of my residency applications for January, February, March.

Away from here, where the lake sings in my dreams.

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I love this place, and will be sad to leave for the winter, and perhaps longer.  The people I work with and know here are like family. After twenty-five years here I am grateful to have bonds that can stretch around the planet if need be. These need to be honoured and celebrated.

So here’s a little pre-announcement, because I’m really excited about this…

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Warming the heartfires there will be david sereda, Tyler Wagler, me, a fine string quartet, an awesome pick up band of community musicians, some surprise guests,

…and you,
to sing with.

More details on Monday October 15 – will post here and on all the other regular hubs.  In the meantime, mark your calendars, folks.

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In the meantime, Hurricane Michael pulls us into change, and the shore sings me through the third of three applications, all due this week. I take breaks to practise cello and put another log on the fire.

Life is good, and I am fortunate, in all ways, to be here.

And seriously – mark your calendars for Saturday December 22, Owen Sound. It’s gonna be good.

 


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Cabin 18: breathe

The sun emerges as I put together the pieces for Wassail!, a Solstice event this December in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.

My hope is that every one will feel welcome and loved there – it will be a gathering of us around music, respect, laughter and community – just one of many possible sane answers to the appalling political choices we’ve all been witnessing.

We always have a choice to be our better selves, together. To support each other, expand our understanding, and grow stronger. Together.

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In the forest where I’ve been living, on the lake where I gaze, there is no gender, no division, no skin colour, no greed. It’s easy, when immersed in words and social media, to forget that such places exist. That this is, in fact, our natural state, too.

When the fury of these past two weeks was no longer sustainable I woke up, tempered, stronger, clear.

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I am skinless, boneless, without living organs

you put yourself into me and call me white

you lay yourself onto me and call me woman

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you fill me with your need, which is what I learn to be

I think that this is what life is for

and so we continue,

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until your need becomes far greater than I can fulfill and

You try to eat me. You try to kill me, to fill your greed.

That’s when I wake up.

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That’s when I begin to understand what I’ve been feeding.

That’s when I take back my skin and my Self.

I choose to make music, instead of feeding you.