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


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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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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: 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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Springboards

All ten portraits but one large one, spoken for. Incredible, since the Portraits Project arose out of the Hamilton Arts Council’s Cotton Factory Residency offer, announced only eight weeks ago. In the meantime, seven gigs in three different cities, 3,000 km and six different family Christmas gatherings. In the most recent meantime, Westley the Bernese Mountain dog and I become fast holiday friends…

…and the snow falls, then melts, then falls again in Grey County, Ontario, Canada.

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As I watch it fall I find myself in wonder at how time can compress and stretch, how it can split as it did this past December into many parallel timelines, each one as full of healing moments as with tasks, events and connections. I’m not the only one whose life went this way – folks every place I’ve been have their own version of crazy and wonder-filled weeks.

What a world to pause in, here. As Westley snores on the floor beside me and Fezick the fighting fish soaks up the music I play (how does that sound from inside a fishbowl?!?), the snow falls like sifted fragments of memory.

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I think about the marvel that was Wassail, at Heartwood Hall, three days before Christmas, and one day after a solstice evening of reading & music with Anne Michaels and david sereda in Toronto. Never has there been a better entrance into the holiday season – poetry and song so gracefully offered in a tiny, mid-metropolis church, then the next night a hall packed full of voices raised in full-throated song  – both breathtakingly beautiful and boisterous (some downright badassery by the Wassailors).

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Thank you, Anne Michaels, for your language and your strength; I continue to be guided by who and how you are in these complex times. david sereda for your love, your sincere and powerful intention, and your true voice for and of the world. Thank you J Scott Irvine for sponsoring Wassail – it was important and valuable to many, as you are important and valuable – to many. I am honoured to call you friend.

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Thank you Kim Dutfield, Tessa Snider, Jim Howitt and Ted Stewart, for showing up to the Wassail workshops and dreaming up impossible, improbable and brilliant versions of songs we all know – and manifesting them beautifully in performance. Thank you Coco Love Alcorn for being exactly right, for knowing just what to do, for your great soul.

Thank you Tyler Wagler for your excellent voice, your beautiful guitar, and your fine, fine sensibilities in music and in life. The sound of your laughter is up there in my top 20 favourite things – it’s always worth hearing what you are finding hilarious in this world.

Thank you Christopher McGruer, for your perfectly toned rendition of Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales; thank you Lauren Best, poet laureate of Owen Sound, for your buckets & sticks, and being game enough to join us on the last possible day.

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Thank you Suze Laporte and Mary Flynn for tolerating my annoyingly list-driven parallel selves through the months of November and December. You have been so so generous with your space and time, and I could not have done without your help.

Thank you family, thank you all the full-throated singers, thank you Heartwood Hall, Nathan Wagler and dear Lisa Koop – I’ll talk chicken with you anytime.

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I promised to write about my patreon site (now up and running, but no, you’ll have to wait just a bit more for the link) and how to climb on board with the arts projects in my world, but that post will have to wait until after this one.

This post is about good friends, gratitude, springboards.

When I was in gymnastics as a kid we called it a vault – or maybe that was the action, I don’t remember. You run full tilt, then leap and land hard on the wider end. It compresses then releases, lifting you in a kind of explosion, up and through the known laws of gravity.

The sensation is like being propelled, higher than you could ever get on your own steam, by euphoria. During those long impossible moments in the air you can sumersault, twist in a pike, flip like a dolphin, and vault yourself onto and off the ‘horse’.  The landing can be tricky, but there’s always a padded cushion, a spotter, and a good sense of humour waiting there to soften it.

With good friends, and gratitude, you can defy the laws of gravity, and find ways to land well, with laughter. Thank you, and all my love to everyone for 2019. Lets do this one together.


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The Turning of the Year

Why so complicated?

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leaving Hamilton for Kingston; 6am, Wednesday December 19, 2018 

The only movement is a slow floating down and slightly to the right, here in the woods. The only sound the crunch of snow underfoot, and the dog’s open-mouthed breathing. He finds deer tracks from earlier today, I find the mother tree – five feet wide at the trunk, strong, healthy arms raised to the sky – a living monument to time and resilience, to peace.

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leaving Toronto for Owen Sound, 6:30am, Saturday December 22, 2018

Do we find our need in these times maybe. Does it sometimes speak in the voice of old sorrow, maybe.

Underneath the desire for things and events that pass for fulfilment, that partly satisfy  -lies the deeper understanding that seeks acknowledgement:

Ah. I do feel an ache, here. And yes, only I can name it. Only I can tend to it. 

Also:  I can ask for help with this. I am not alone.

May we tend to our deeper needs with compassion and love, for ourselves and for each other.

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A new year begins, from a place of deep deep love.  Truly, all of my very best to you all.

Keira – xoxo