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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Late in the afternoon,

Alright, I’ve given Paglia a fair shake, but alas, no. The energy required to sift through her self-aggrandizing provocations to find nuggets of meaningful insight is more than I have to spend, especially when other books beckon. Let it be known that I approached her latest with goodwill and open curiosity, and made it through a full third of the essays and interviews printed therin.

I like the paper the publisher chose. It felt like crisp linen sheets on my fingers as I turned each page. A first for me; the quality of paper upstaged what was printed on it.

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I could not overcome a growing distress over the state of the world as seen through Paglia’s judgemental lens. For me, she misses an interesting examination of the rich complexities of what it is to be human by directing our gaze again and again back to herself, as a kind of Queen of Opinion. I suppose that’s the game of (mostly white) pundits and politicos, as paid by the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, FT, etc… to divide and distract us.

Not playin; I closed her book.

IMG_2631Popova now, in Figuring (2019) introduces me to complex, interconnected humans I’d never hoped to learn about and from in this way – Johannes Kepler, Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Sophia Peabody in the first five dancing chapters alone. I will happily carry her bright yellow book with me until it’s done and my mind is fully changed by it. Likewise with Shotwell’s Against Purity (2016), Tsing et al (Ed)’s Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017), Berger on Landscapes, another on synesthesia, another on natural soundscapes.

 

 

 

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Like a spring filly released into the field, I am without academic harness for the first time in 2.5 years. I can read whatever I want to.

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With gown and hood, I graduate from my masters program, then drive around Southern Ontario (as we do) for 17 hours, to deliver, pick up, visit, revisit.

Before that a week of family and friends, to celebrate the beautiful complexities of my Dad and the resonances he leaves with his passing – another kind of travel, through time and story.

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Before that, 20 days of a journey in and through Dublin, Lyon, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh and all the related airports, train stations and car rentals, going backwards through the history of my ancestors, taking note of the ideas and economics and systems that formed their world, centuries ago, in four cultures and three languages.

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May feels like a long run-on sentence I have yet to punctuate properly. It sits in a pile of boarding passes, maps, brochures, museum tickets and restaurant receipts on my dining room table.

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But I am Home, where the plants and the windows, the kettle and the bullet-strong coffee, not latté, cafè latté, espresso or cappuccino, much as I love all of those.

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The park and my patient, glowing studio, the now-opened books, my excellent bed and windows in all directions. My cello out of his case and ready for ritual every morning, the starlings singing through the bathroom window.

Home which feels different because I am different after these journeys that still need punctuation, these travels I still need to claim sense from. All in good time.

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The horizons have been pushed far far beyond what I imagined; the world is impossibly, curiously new. There is plenty of good work to be done here which I’m happy and eager to begin.

…after I read just a little more.

 


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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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