Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Recalibration

The piano room is the only space I’ve yet to spend decent working time in, these past three months. It calls me today, teasing out some soundtrack to the observations, the tectonic shifts of spring 2019.

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Gulliver, pinned – on a walk to Old Dublin. There was a narrative series of these set into the wall of a new-ish building along the way.

I’ve spent the last three days going through two months of correspondence I’ve not had time to properly respond to. It feels good to take time for this.

I find myself Printing out photos, too – how strange a thing, now! – of the Ireland chapter, the Lyon Chapter, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. 

 

Transitional moments as well – the wing of each plane I flew in, dipping into sunlight or through cloud; mountains, fields and neighbourhoods through train windows; the great metal sweep of airports – one (Brussels) with its hallway grand piano, open and waiting to be played.

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For an abundance of reasons I want the memories of this trip to become tactile. I learned this from my artist friend Wes Ryan, who has taught himself to consciously keep the memories he needs to keep alive after a serious concussion made it necessary to do so.

Do I claim an awareness of my own deliberately displaced self, this way, I wonder. Is this a philosophical act. Is this research and preparation for the 2014 painting that awaits transformation into the world of now, in my patient studio? I felt so, when I was there two days ago. I’ll go again this evening.

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Inner travel while unmoored from the familiar took me farther into uncharted territory than I knew was possible. 19 days gone was just enough for me to see the possibility for still more discovery in a longer trip, with the potential to turn my known world inside-out.

I’m still coming home.

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Garden in Montelupo, Tuscany. We trained it into Florence from there.

I took luggage – a masters completed, rich notes from my generous panel to digest; my father’s dignified, graceful passing and all that he taught me in the last hours we spent alone together; a book mostly written; a talk about the book forming itself out of five months of momentum; some deadlines in the comforting future

…questions about why and how art in this time, where are the resonances that will speak in a bell-tone, what is a good portrait; curiosity about solo travel after 10 years of staying put, geographically speaking. All of this was packed, then unpacked and laid out, then re-packed. Some I used, all I carried. I did find answers, but also more good questions.

I’m still unpacking, likely will be for years to come.

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Entrance to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A great gallery, full of questions like this one.

Music has the tenderest of beginnings. I’m much better trained to hold fragile visuals in place until I can play with them on paper than to catch the ascending pattern of a new, humming thought. For this little project though, I’m doing what I can to hold a safe and welcoming space for the shy notes to enter.

Am I compelled to this because through all the old and layered of UK and Europe that I saw, there was so little live music? A band of young and old guys playing american dixieland in a city square. A young guitarist playing pop tunes in a Lyon street. The silent grand piano in Brussels Airport.

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One of the astonishing mosaics in Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.

Thankfully, blessedly, some amazing jams and performances in three Edinburgh pubs that nourished my soul and made me wish I had my cello. (A young cellist did offer me his to play but by that time I’d had three pints). Thank you so very much for this, O Generous Soul, outlaw cousin Nick T!

(the vid below features Nick himself and musician Doug Downie, who later sent me an excellent song he wrote by email – great lyrics, a haunting tune. I’ll make a Canadian version of it & send it back to him)

There was the invisible young man singing softly beneath the vaulted ceilings that hold up 13th Century Palazzo Vecchio, Oh my love, my darling… I need your love… Perfect notes that traveled like whispers along the arches.

We all heard him, the harried tourists, the tired shop keepers, guides, security guards and ticket sellers. I swear even the stone lions smiled.


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We come here to find…

I’ve ordered a caffe latte and a glass of the house red here at Caffe Piansa, since it’s 3:40pm and there’s not nearly enough caffeine in my system. The waiter tells me that Italians don’t like the taste of milk with their wine, so I order sparkling water as well, to clear my palate.

They are having fun with me the Anglaise, and I with them.

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Piansa is a four-umbrella street cafe just outside the Vecchio palace, an iconic old 13th century fortified house in old Florence. A successful banker, Cosimo I bought the Palazzo, doubled, then tripled its size to contain his family and ambitions when it became apparent that the old Palazzo Medici could not possibly expand to match either.

Palazzo Vecchio, towering above the streets of  Firenze and fortified against enemy attack. Symbolically and physically more appropriate to the expanding Medici self-image.

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…and far far above the people.

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view from the almost-top of the tower, the stairs to which are lined with prison cells of various sizes – from 4’x4′ with no window to 10’x12′ with a heavily grilled view of the city

It’s a long walk up to the top, where there’s a sizeable guardhouse (now office).

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I wonder how often the Medici made the climb. Perhaps they did so to check in on the political prisoners they kept in the cells that line the stairs – some like broom closets with a hole in the floor (for relieving oneself), others large enough to pace three strides from wall to wall, with one barred window.

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I’ve just walked three kilometres through the exhibits and the rooms in the Palazzo, up and down the tower, and learned some of the story of how Cosimo I built and decorated his empire. It was his house, but also where Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo II, Pope Leo X (there were four Medici popes, Clement VII, Leo XI and Pius IV) lived while in Florence, along with their wives, children, artists, philosophers, and priors.

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The Hall of 500

When the Medici became royal, they built and moved again, across the Ponte Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti.

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Palazzo Pitti

Around every corner in Vecchio I find reference to Cosimo I, Leonardo the Magnificent, the Four Medici popes, the generations of royal marriages and appointments that spawned and nurtured the Italian renaissance.

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There is a contemporary installation in the Duke of Tuscany’s (smaller) audience room that identifies the Medici insistence upon perpetual expansion in consumption, wealth and power.

The artists argue that it is this worldview of (but not limited to) the Medici in renaissance Italy that has led us to our current era of economic and climate crisis. They have installed life rafts and preservers in the middle of the room, attached by zip cords to a figure who could not possibly pull anyone to safety – a headless mannequin, dressed in high fashion.

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The lions here at street level look sad, tired of holding up the Vecchio palace, tired of their captivity. They stare down at the floor, resigned and angry. Makes me wonder who the artist was that made them.

What am I struck by, in Firenze? The abundance of astonishingly fine craft in painting, in marble sculpture, in architecture, furniture, inlay, but also philosophy, scientific inquiry (Galileo), fiction (Dante, the first in vernacular Italian, not latin).

An empowerment of the arts which continue to empower Firenze.

Tourism is THE industry, here. 4-600 years after Cosimo I, we come from near and far to worship the art, the architecture, the engineering, the telescopes, the navigational technology. Or at least I do, and others who crowd the Palazzi, The Uffizi, Galileo Museum and the streets of old Florence.

Perhaps different minds worship the unchecked ambition that Medici embodied, as our highest achievement, and never mind the art. I wonder.

 

Of course there is a dark dark side to it all, historically. God still reigned supreme over knowledge and discovery; no matter how they admired the old gods and the sculptures that glorified them, or Galileo’s insights into the way we see the world, Medici money was irreversibly tied to the Vatican. But these are not the stories told now, centuries later.

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What do I want to say, in this place? That there’s not enough music to fill these big beautiful buildings, these narrow streets. That we in this square are all strange, and tired and curious, awkward and wondering what to do.

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What will the people around me remember of Florence? Will it be only what they tell in stories to one another, and will that change too over time, only to be corrected and re-triggered by the photographs they took in the remembered moment? I wonder if what is not re-told or photographed is destined to be forgotten.

I think so. Possibly this is why I write, and how I write. Pockets and glimpses of story are interesting to me, here in this little street corner cafe. Some people are aware of being watched, self conscious since I have a laptop and I’m actively using it, others stressed and oblivious.

The waiters joke that I am writing a book. I say yes, a small one. They laugh and say, “Si – piccolo!”  They come to stand beside me for a moment, never too long, but companionably. The restaurant ‘front man’ knows I am like him, watching and witnessing.

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I don’t like being a tourist. But I am one, willy-nilly, eavesdropping without remorse in six languages (American, British, Canadian, Spanish, Italian, … asian).

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My friend the waiter has put on a sweater against the new chill; we can all feel the rain coming.  I finish up my tiramisu & espresso, plan to race the oncoming storm toward the Vecchio bridge, and beyond.

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Ahhh, but no – here it comes, hard and fast, dribbling over the edges of the cafe umbrellas and into campari, wine and cafe latte. We laugh and pull our tables closer together.

Young Italian tourists run yelling through the downpour, I order another cafe latte and hope an umbrella guy comes by…

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Yes! Here he is, and for 5 euro I have the means to venture out again, backwards into history.

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Capstone 2: Seven Swans

Seven hundred pages and four years of journals, four hundred pages and four years of blog posts, two hundred photographs, twenty projects / performances, thirty poems, three notebooks, and three binders full of journal articles and syllabuses, a bookshelf of Community Music and related literature.

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All but the last two are my data, which I’ve sorted through for keywords and phrases, references and pivot points, using a sieve made out of the course syllabuses for my masters.

I can with complete honestly share with you that in the process of doing this, the person who wrote the data over these past four years has become quite distinct from the me who is reading through, and analyzing it.

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What has been caught in the sieve has then been fashioned into a story, called Seven Swans, Seven Rooms, that I will make into a physical book (just learned how, then made the paper for this book yesterday with the inspired and inspiring artist Susan Barton-Tait – check out her work here).

As I do this I’ll take the journal articles and CM & related literature and tie it back in to the story, which will be added to the book as annotation.
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Three weeks from now, with the active help of my audience, I will tell you a tale of transformation from the more than human world, where trumpeter swans deliver messages, where doors are opened by secret keys, where a woman is saved by, then released from, knowledge.

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After that, with the more passive assistance of powerpoint, I will briefly tell you the other story. After both are told, like Jan Martel’s Pi, I will offer you the question:

Which story do you prefer?

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After some discussion with the audience and a panel of wonderful PhDs for whom I have a great deal of respect, we will all make our way down the hall to my studio for wine, nibbles, conversation, and I hope, some spontaneous music-making.

I love good research, and what can be made from it.

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Hope you can come to this: 6pm, on Tuesday April 30, room 206 at The Cotton Factory.

This is a free event, a ‘show-and-tell’ after 31 months of Masters study at Laurier. That said, there will be ways to help me pay for the event, if you are so inclined. Books and cards for sale, signed copies of the Seven Swan’s book available for pre-order, paintings, and plain old donation jars.

I will continue to check in here between now and then. Write it you have questions!

Swan on road

Thanks, for reading.


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Unplugged yet more connected

Story Cake first instalment is coming – never fear.  It has been delayed by some time-sensitive physical and academic tasks, which have taken precedence over all else:
I’ve been packing up the old and building the new.

To the point where I’ve got twenty days left here:

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during which I find places for all this house-ness,

and incrementally move my work here:

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Where I can collaborate with the lake, the trees, the critters, the rocks, and the folk who come to drink it all in.  There’s often wifi connection from across the water; I have some solar panels and a battery.  I have paint, paper, books and simple recording equipment.
What a great big enormous blessing.

It’s been a life-long dream, this.  Ever since I first read about Emily Carr and her cabin.

Postscript:  For the next three weeks some paintings from #Selfie and Five paintings at the River are available for a reduced price, fully instalment-negotiable.  Tomorrow I will post a list with sizes and suggested prices, and my contact information.