Keirartworks's Blog

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The hum beneath the noise

A sideways start to the day so my antennae have been awry.

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I’ve been picking up on things I wasn’t expecting to see or consider, so experiencing the odd sensation of living out two narratives at once:  the planned, artistic inquiry into functional art and the role of repetitive action in studio work, and the unplanned trundle through jumbled pieces of family story interaction/reaction have overlapped themselves.

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I’m experiencing a kind of synesthesia in which my mother’s story about her conversation about social media, conspiracy theory, the deep south, Alberta and guns is intermingling –  with an image of a cotton plant’s blossom and fibre spun into threads then woven together make fabric.

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I can see long long bolt of wet, hand-scrunched white cotton, and a handful of skilled Indonesian workers adding three sets of strong dye.  I can see them, precise and efficient, building the wax print.  Then more dye, more scrunching, more dye again, add sunlight, sprinkle setting compound from a bucket.  Remove the wax resist, then wash. Package and send from Indonesia to Canada, where I then buy two yards each of several bolts to make functional art with.

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Thinking about how our notions of guns as a necessary protection is printed into us, just as racism and misogyny is. How for those of white, European descent, colonial privilege is dyed into our very nature.  How a wax print resist can protect part of an these old ideas from being erased by bleach.  How after the shock of change the small part not erased still holds, but differently – transformed into a beautiful repeated pattern, altered by the new colours around it.

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Two complexities inform each other in my sideways day, and that’s just fine.

The videos below describe how old and incredible this process is in Indonesia;  it’s time for me to get back into the studio.

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Chickens in the background in this modern batik making video from Java. Note:  this is not traditional Javanese batik – for a video description of this with beautiful gamelan soundtrack go here


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The Great Rise Above

A strategy emerges…

Frustrated, once again, by an intolerable situation I find myself yearning, once again, to be in a position of greater power.  A very wise, intensely intelligent friend gently reminds me that there is already enormous power is in what I do, what I make, and the way I offer this to the world.  I’m grateful for the reminder. It’s all too easy to forget my own resources when I’m staring at closed doors.

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She is right about it.  I do feel this power each time I gather the time, the focus and the funding to weave thought together with art and music, dig into the deeper meanings of experience to produce and present a show, a book, a well-turned blog or a song.  In those moments I live at the epicentre of my own authorship, which is the most powerful place anyone can speak from.

When I am there, especially when collaborating with others who work from a place of integrity, I can embrace diversity and rise above petty manipulations with ease. I can use my strength (and the humility that goes with it) to connect, include, direct attention to, propose solution for, mentor, encourage and inspire others to find this place for and in themselves.

This is real power- the kind that empowers others, who then empower more others, and others so that positive empowerment extends throughout the entire complex ecosystem of this planet. It includes, connects, relates, nourishes, and directly addresses disparity.

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I can’t always be in that place. When I’m out gathering experience, sharpening insight, building resources and connections for production, I often bump into my own triggers, stumble upon long-smoldering fires that light up when poked. It is a place of questioning I go to, and many times those questions lead to more closed doors.  No matter how fiercely I glare, I cannot burn a hole in them; they will not open to let the healthy air through.

Behind most of these doors is the place where our five-thousand-year-old patriarchy still thrives in self-perpetuating, ever spiralling madness.

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But things are changing.  Doors are becoming less opaque, so we can begin to discern the goings-on behind them.  No matter how benignly they’ve learned to present themselves, the active players appear in increasing contrast to the determined inclusivity of the marginalized voices we hear and join, in global women’s marches, Time’s Up, Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives, and so many more.  I’m relieved by this, even in the midst of my abhorrence of the willful damage that continues to be done.  It’s better to have names and faces to represent patriarchic culture than rail against the blank wall of systemic misogyny and racism.

It was in this context of frustration that I watched the footage and photographs, read the written responses to the March for our Lives movement two mornings ago.  As I did, I cried.  Tears of gratitude.

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The Rise Above is important because it fosters clarity and wastes no energy on diversionary tactics.  I saw real rage, real grief transformed through integrity into the clear, directed action of millions upon millions of people – led by youth.  They will not stop, and nor will I.

There’s a reason that Tolkien’s work endures.  The ring of power melts in the very fires that forged it – our own European industrial revolution, run terribly, horribly amok.

Things are changing. We’ve all had far more than enough.

 


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Listening Blanket.

I find myself looking back through eight years.

This is a lot like my recent experience of standing inside Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirrors.  There is no floor, no boundary, no anchor point, nothing concrete, just a feeling of wonder, rising into awe.

As I scan and assess these eight years passed through the lens of now, it is like that. Everything I had thought to be firmly rooted in permanence is changed. This includes me. It includes how and what I remember.

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Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009

I think of Stephen Hawking, who died on the same day I visited Kusama’s rooms.  Who spent his life exploring the phenomenon of time, and published a book in 1988 which translated mathematical code for us.  In it he wrote, “You cannot predict the future.”.

He also wrote this: “The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”. This I have more trouble wrapping my head around.  Perhaps Kusama offers clues in those infinity rooms. Maybe all that I no longer recognize after eight years of life is a form of living proof?

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Also Kusama. (please forgive my finger upper left)

In this house, where I have lived these past four years is a collection of things from two family ‘anchor’ homes which were dismantled and dispersed, in 2013 and 2015.  Also here is one lamp, two plants, books, a piano, a chair and a bed which come from another house I built (with my now-ex husband) from 2006 until 2013.  In the room above me are art supplies and equipment from my factory building studio which I opened in 2009 and closed in 2017 – another home dismantled and dispersed.

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studio, January 2017, with my friend Knuckles the wise polydactyl cat

On the walls here are paintings I’ve made from five solo art shows dating from 1998 through to 2014.  Three of them are directional paintings, West, East and North, that describe summers I spent in a ‘hut’ studio at the farm my parents gifted to my estranged sister and I in 2004 as Tennants-in-common.  After a prolonged and emotional struggle, my sister and I agreed to dissolve the joint arrangement in 2017.  As a result I no longer own any interest in the farm. Some of the trees I planted there are now twenty-five feet tall – they live their own complex story now, and will far outlive our little manouverings.

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The final room of Kusama’s exhibition  – these stickers have been/ are being placed by us, the visitors.  Over time, the physical things in the room appear to lose their form.  Another kind of dismantle/dispersal, where increase in entropy moves in the direction of time.

The paintings on my walls resonate differently than they did when I made them, as I gaze from this place of me, now.  My sense of ownership is radically different than it was when things seemed more concrete, more permanent.

Who was that woman who painted these things, I wonder?  The way I might wonder about a woman reading a book on the subway.

I find this liberating.

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Here’s what Oxford English Dictionary has to say about entropy:

  • Physics 
    A thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

    ‘the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time’
    count noun ‘the sum of the entropies of all the bodies taking part in the process’

 

  • 2: Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

    ‘a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme’

 

  • 3:  (in information theory) a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.

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I find I can relate more directly to the original.

Origin

Mid 19th century: from en- ‘inside’ + Greek tropē ‘transformation’.


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After a year of howls, gifts.

Not sure I can articulate this, yet.

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Harness has become a listening blanket.

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Rage has become discernment,

patient, like a well-fed shark

constantly in motion.

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Pain has become beauty,

complex, like music.

like sky and lake.

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There is time.

I am grateful for this, since it will take some time to make a new story.

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I can feel the new story coming

from across the lake.


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There’s a place where it fits

If you’ve done the work and you feel a strong something to be true, even if it goes against the grain, there’s a place for it.

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… but you need to listen, and see where that place is.  And when it is.

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Keep walking, pay attention.

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Make certain no living thing will be damaged.

Then make it so.


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DNA- identity?

I’m tucked under a fish blanket in the summer porch of a lovely Air b&b in London Ontario.

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After a mess of driving through and around Southern Ontario (Owen Sound Toronto; Owen Sound; Waterloo; Owen Sound; Toronto; London) in the past week it’s good to be planted in the side porch of a stately old pile of yellow bricks in my housecoat, with a satisfying cup of coffee beside me.

Peaceful.

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My daughter, her father and I have sent our expectorant to a lab in Ireland where our DNA will be tested.  From this test our ancestry will be revealed to us (and our data will be added to a growing ocean of data about origin, migration, connection among humans).

My results came in yesterday, with few surprises:

Ethnicity Estimate:  Great Britain 58%; Ireland/Scotland/Wales  (Scotland): 16%; Europe West 10%

 Low Confidence Regions (though the percentages are small, these connections are more interesting to me.  Caucasus?!? That’s the Middle East.)

 Europe East 5%;  European Jewish 3%; Finland/Northwest Russia 3%;  Scandinavia 2%;  Caucasus 2%; Iberian Peninsula < 1%

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Migrations (also interesting, but no surprises here.  Clearly I’m not indigenous to Canada, through I’m seventh generation born-here on my Mother’s side.  I come from a long line of european colonial settlers.

Pennsylvania Settlers
I know about this – my mother’s mother’s family were Pennsylvania Deutch, descended from German refugees of the Thirty-Years War who were permitted to enter England. Queen Victoria sent 10,000 of these overseas to settle in the English colonies under William Penn.  

From your regions: Great Britain, Ireland/Scotland/Wales, Europe West
I know about this too – A recession and the potato famine in Scotland, the result of a market crash in England pushed my Kennedy ancestor overseas to the Ottawa Valley in 1935, then to Owen Sound where he built a foundry.  My McArthur ancestors were farmers and blacksmiths out of Campbeltown and Glasgow area who were granted land in Saskatchewan in the early 1900s. Land that blew away in the dust of the ’30s, when my father was born.

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So here am I, white woman of european & Scottish descent sitting on a porch built by wealthy English colonials one hundred or more years ago on indigenous treaty lands.   

I wonder if these massive elm trees were planted then, to give name to Elmwood Street.  I wonder who planted them, how they were paid, and by whom. 

I wonder whether the beauty of these living elms is the real wonder, regardless of who, when or how. they came to be here.

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Postcolonial thought.

If someone reversed what has more recently been said to Syrian refugees and Dreamers in the United States, and told me to “Go back where you came from”, I would be unable to do so, even if I were willing even eager to leave this North American culture that has so shaped me.  I cannot legally live and work in the UK under the current international laws and policies that currently exist.

As a white person, descended from Scots and european industrialists, I am privileged.

My gender makes me less so.  My chosen single-ness less so again.  My profession as artist/musician/writer/grad student…. well.  Because of that I get to have more interesting discussions.

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My name is on the title deed of a tiny piece of property which is actually not, from an indigenous / ally point of view, own-able by anyone.

So where is my home?

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It’s more than possible that I do not, in fact, have one, save for whatever place I choose to put roots into, for however long.  I am a nomad, as are we all here now, in North America, though indigenous roots go deeper than any of us white folk might guess, and it behooves us to pay attention, and learn from those cultures.

But we can also learn from out own.  For example, and as a start, out of western Europe comes Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to sort out the why and how of these times.

Nomads Matter, in this complex system of us.

I am honoured, and challenged, to know myself as one.


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The S-Curve Tale

A curious thing happened during a conversation in a car. This led to an email query somewhere else. An oddly cheerful response came quickly and in the instant of that moment as it sunk in, I felt the foundations of my private inner world shift and crack.  Two months later the ground still feels unsteady but I now know with the help of good counsel that the fault line was there all along, deep, unstable, barely visible.  The curious thing that happened in the car was as inevitable as was my private earthquake.

This is a gift of challenging proportions.

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Toronto Writing

I’m walking forward anyway, through the rubble of old belief systems.  As I move on and through I’m seeing curious things I’d never noticed before. Other things that used to seem bewilderingly odd now make perfect sense.  It’s a lot to take in, on top of the regular things I do, since those things too appear differently in this new context.  I’m often exhausted by both the broadness of my new world, and the newness of myself within it.

Context and complexity – so very important to understand that we cannot know the whole, or the parts without observing how things intersect.  Thank you Nora Bateson, for this.

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Waterloo writing

I carry a kind of grief for things lost that wants to claim every moment, but so far has not; there is real beauty in this new place, and peace.  If I can stay rested and curious, grief and I can have good, rich conversations, but there is a time each day when they demand a kind of forensic focus on how, exactly, this feels. 

I begin to understand that this grief too teaches me more about complexity, as I mine my history for hidden memories, and sort through what’s been broken for what might be worth fixing.  I’ve read and spoken to many who better understand this piece of our so human puzzle.  Most recently Katherine Schafler has been helpful.

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Though they are important, of course feelings aren’t the point, though objective management of them can be a way to claim meaning for your pain.  Meaning can lead to choice – the kind of choice that leads to well considered action in a complex world.  This resonates with what Bell Hooks writes, that love is more action-in-honesty than it is an expression of feeling.  I agree. We’ve swallowed a great deal of misinformation about love and gender in this culture.  Disney has a lot to answer for, though I must say, they appear to be trying to address this.

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Future Bakery, Toronto, writing.

Today I purged four boxes of books from my shelves, and noticed that so much of the published and printed writing in this house is white, Eurocentric, patriarchal, colonial.  In many ways the ideas, theories and art recorded in these pages represents my heritage, the bricks and mortar of my socio-economic privilege, my cultural harness and my pigeon-hole.

From this new and broad place here it’s easy to see what is simply no longer relevant.  Tomes I’ve kept for forty years are now gone; they are untranslatable into this moment of us, now.

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Writing, at home.

Here is where a new story begins. as told by a single white woman descended from industrial Scots, farmer Scots, and teachers of english literature, living in English Canada on Ojibwe treaty land. Mother of a lovely, smart, compassionate young woman. Complex and connected.

Artist, musician, writer. One tiny intersected piece in this great gift of challenging proportions.