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particularities

I am not been feeling generous with humans of late. Maybe because I’ve read and signed and shared more petitions than I can count over the last week. Myanmar’s big-oil supported military shooting at citizens, Trans Canada Pipelines & TC Energy’s horribly distorted value systems, the fact that we only protect TEN PERCENT of our incredible boreal forest from loggers, who cut the equivalent of four hockey arenas EVERY DAY, Doug Ford’s bid to get more money for his election by selling the greenbelt to developers, the massive amounts of garbage left by Londoners released from lockdown… when, just when are we all going to grow up out of our collective stupidity?

I’m not calling you stupid, nor me. It’s US, together. WE allow all of this to continue.

There’s a new Canadian news service called The Breach. Entirely people-funded, launching this spring. They are determined to ask good, uncomfortable questions. I gave them money.

There are passionate, knowledgeable, remarkable people who have built grassroots lobby groups, people who understand where the political and financial pressure points are, who are collecting signatures and delivering petitions where they will count. These are the places I’ve signed and shared – my twitter feed, @KeiraMcArthur, is full of opportunities to do the same.

There’s more, but getting this much off my chest has lightened my being enough that I no longer feel like screaming bloody murder at next person who litters in Gage Park.

Thank you for reading through all the spit. The fact that you do really does count for me.

Have you noticed that the world is both smaller and larger in these pandemic times? I’m regularly in conversation with California and South Africa now, along with people from other continents, cultures and belief systems. I can check what the weather is like in Kyoto and Prague, whether it’s raining or snowing at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, and then continue with my chores… garbage out on the rain washed street past the chirping sparrows then respond to a text from LA, then turn the kettle on & after send a quick note to Johannesburg.

I eat a Mexican avocado, a Chilean plum. I wear a merino wool (Australian sheep) sweater made in China, shipped from the US. The gas in my car comes from the ground beneath the middle east, my coffee from Guatemala via the Kicking Horse Pass in BC.

A container ship blocks the Suez for a week, and 400 million dollars per hour in traded goods just… stops. More empty shelves.

Effects and counter effects. I came into this residency to change and deepen my work, which was never gonna happen if I wasn’t willing to change and deepen myself. Luckily a global pandemic, then, which brought with it some hard right turns, then some hard lefts, also some necessary full stops. Much buffeting and dissolving of old ego stories. I am not the person who arrived here in January of 2019.

The works shifts as the world does – how can it not? In purely material terms, working on six and seven foot canvases is no longer practical or sustainable. I have two on the go at the studio and three here in my apartment, but I’ve scrapped all big installation plans for now. Works on paper, which began in 2019 and grew through 2020 into a 2021 series of painting/drawings (Conversation Pieces – see posts with this tag) with crazy-wild shifting grounds – these have become my new pleasure and practice, each one a delight and a surprise. Small, intimate and mid-sized, they fit and shift in the changing light on walls between other things – much more practical.

And playful. I’m putting fruit stickers in some – Chile, Peru, South Africa, used stamps – Spain, Poland, USSR, in others.

Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Resmaa Menakem, my friend and inspiration Marilyn Struthers and the entire conversation around intersectionality and post colonialism has turned me with slow, steady inevitability toward an exploration of my own indigenous roots in Scotland and Ireland. Back across the ocean I will go, through the commons and the old ways to find out more (when we are able to travel, which I hope will be in 2022). This will, no doubt, change and deepen me some more. Bring it on.

It’s these backdrop pieces that aim me toward a personal archaeology of my ancestors’ land, story, memory.
It feels very much as though they are expressions of an older part of me

Trees and water, water and trees. In 2020 I found myself studying the behaviour of my beloved Georgian Bay, while the world was in lockdown. My cabin there is in a forest, some of which is original growth that anchors the various levels of shore over the past eleven thousand years or so. I love that lake with my soul, and will always return to her to learn and give thanks. The Water Bodies project, and The Tree Story project are both alive and well in me, waiting patiently while I change and deepen enough to make something meaningful that honours the lake and the tree people I know and love.

The red-tailed hawk sails past my window on the spring thermals. I know where her nest is, among the trees on the escarpment cliff at the end of my street. I felt a need in this post to offer a snapshot of the particulars of place, purpose and context to you, a pause to breathe in the way everything connects us one to the other, whether it’s through garbage strewn and picked up, petitions signed and shared, tough questions asked, choices and artwork made.

Watch here and on Instagram, twitter, tumblr, fb and a new YouTube thing (in development now – why not?) for photos and stories from the new work. If you have a piece of wall for a twinkling piece of art capable of sparking a good conversation, there’ll be some easy ways to purchase it from me.

I’d be so honoured.

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The Stories come seeking

Stories that want to be told come in through the eastern window in the morning, or sometimes down onto the roof with the rain.

There’s a beautiful one that follows me everywhere I go now, about the water that washes the eastern shore on Georgian Bay and how that is like, and also not like the ocean that kisses and smashes and chortles the eastern shores of the Shetland Islands. This story is long like a river that runs deep then dives deeper, to run beneath the desert.

There’s another about trumpeter Swans who were many, then few, then gone for a hundred years, hunted into oblivion by europeans. Now the imprint of those wild ones on the land teaches the new, tame ones how to be who they are. The tame ones teach the humans to be …better.

There are the stories a Mother Tree whispers to me – the one that once grew right here, the beating heart of the great breathing forest that lived – lives! she says – along the flanks of Lake Ontario, sheltered by the arms of the limestone escarpment.

They come in the window and through the roof with pictures and sounds to show me. Listen. Can you hear this? Can you see how this is, how it connects with that? Look at this marvel! Listen.

And so I get to work, and write. Draw containments for these, paint them, sing them, play them.

I’ve just sent two applications in to Banff Centre for the Arts for month long residencies this year, timed after my commission work has been completed and distributed with love.

What I’ll build at the Banff residency is a visual language that matches the stories that come in, asking to be told. I’ll work with colour, water, gravity, resist, paper and time. The musical language will develop too – downstairs in the room I’ve made for it, in car rides between here and my cabin, and on the road between here and Banff this summer and early fall.

That Banff Centre will of course choose to invite me or not; I’ll know by May. If not Banff, then from a back yard studio in Vernon, or a cabin on Lake Superior. From the blue artist’s studio at the edge of the ocean in the Shetland Islands. Either way, the stories will be told, and I will find a visual and musical language for them. This is the road I’ve chosen.

I will need help. I can’t tell the stories the way they’re asking to be told, without readers, without input, without research and connection, without funding assistance. Without performance venues, walls to hang the work on, other artists to work with and pay with respect, audiences to sing the music with. Without a family of collaborators.

Become a Patron

This is a link to my Patreon site, where you’ll find some options for collaboration with me and these stories. Benefits, too, as sincere tokens of my appreciation and love. If you join me as a patron, I will take you with me on the road, into the studio, the residencies, the water, the forests. Your story will mingle and connect with these ones, and you will be included in the books, songs and paintings that will be made. You will have my rich and enduring gratitude and love.

Most of the content on this website will continue to be free. I’ve been writing here for ten years and many life changes, and I love the connection it provides. Please consider, though, that this space takes great time and effort to build, develop, evolve, enrich. If you feel inclined to support this, even for the cost of a good coffee every month, the space and the work I do will only get better.

I am and will continue to be eternally grateful for your collaboration and support. Nothing in this world happens in isolation; we’re all in this together.

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Revolution

revolve.  One cupboard cleared, one old pine chest emptied, two rooms of six reconfigured. Three boxes of books off my shelves and into the car for passing forward, a trunk full of clothing for VV. Winter wear rediscovered, pared down, and stowed in one kist, guest blankets in the other.

I now have a better practice setup, a reading place where the views are interesting (for looking up from a thought in order to process it), and a comfortable desk in the western window for writing, with the trees right there. All the dusty corners have been cleared out; the dining room table is covered in swans.

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evolve. This is a thought I look up from and stare with, down Gage Avenue South. I’m thinking of what has brought me here.

It rains and rains in Hamilton. Purposeful rain, punctuated with flashes of white.  A constant big throaty rumble dominates all smaller sounds. Every so often a crash I flinch from, even snug in my enduring love for storms.

I laugh aloud, like a kid:  Thunderbird flies above us, immense, benevolent, alive. NOW.

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volution – a rolling or revolving motion; a spiral or twisted formation or object. A turn or twist about a centre.

It is well past midnight, but how can I possibly sleep through the crash and flash? Now splashes of lightning, but the rumble is distant. I can hear crickets, drips – tree frogs!? through the open windows – all of the windows are wide open.

My soul’s centre has always been the powerful, living breathing lady of Georgian Bay; my life continues to spiral around her. I imagine that the water now falling on Hamilton came from there – pulled up by the sun, pushed by the wind, dropped on this house, on the asphalt of Gage Street, on the ancient park trees I can feel the deep hum of, from here.

We are cleaner, clearer for this rain; we drink it down like a blessing.

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volition. A voluntary service, an offering of personal resources to support something valued. Yes. I will do this.

Such a subtle distinction, isn’t there, between obligation and volition. The former tends to beget resentment, the other gratitude. One is often inherited, the other deliberate, chosen, in a selfless moment. Makes me think of how some gifts are actually hooks. More like investments, with an uncomfortably undefined assumption of return. Is this in part why it can be so difficult, in general, to receive? Over time, too many manipulative, conditional offerings; best just to say No Thanks.

Thankfully, and perhaps increasingly other gifts – of time, energy, food, a roof, effort… are just what they are. Simple. Human, compassionate, generous. Drink it down with gratitude for this kind world, pay it forward when you can.

Gage Avenue is quiet in the wee hours, dripping and cricket-ed. I’m here quite deliberately, but what of my gifts? My offerings? I begin to think they are simpler than what I’ve believed them to be. That this is part of what I’m here to find out.

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ignition. The act or fact of igniting; state of being ignited. A means or device for igniting.

A phrase has been niggling – shall I call it an aphorism? What brought you here won’t take you there. While Marshall Goldsmith has been highly successful at dominating a google search for this thought (his book has popularized the idea, which he unpacks in bullet-point form for folks looking for life and career hacks), the concept is as old and as wise as the hills. As reassuringly complex.

In the last two weeks of August I stared at the lake as often as possible. Swam in it, played in it, paddled on it while holding this complexity quietly in my mind. I am not what I have learned. I am not what I do (the push of those things is what brought me here though. I’m in a good place, grateful I made that effort).

I’m what I can’t yet imagine understanding, what I can’t see from here. What draws me like a heartbeat. What moves me. Forward. In. Out. Through.

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cognition. The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. A result of this; a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition.

I’ve just walked down the street to the 24-hr corner store to get cream for coffee #2. Brought the umbrella I paid 5 euro for in Florence four months ago, didn’t need it. The whole world out there is rain-soaked & breathing.

Aha. The difference between inclusivity and inclusion. The latter is policy change (e.g. de-segregation), the former an action taken in full acknowledgement of the complexity and contradiction in any evolving situation. Policy does not change minds. Thoughtful, articulated action, does.

Aha. At its best Art is healthy connective tissue between other-than human beings and human beings, humans and humans. As mycelium connects plant life in a forest – information, nutrients, shared resources and understanding. Propaganda and pornography are toxic versions of this. They connect through extortion.

Aha…

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recognition. Coming to understand something clearly and distinctly. An acceptance (as of a claim) as true and valid.

I have the strongest sense that what I’m actually doing now is dismantling what I’ve learned – belief systems, artistic practices, cultural assumptions, a scaffolded understanding of the way things ‘work’. That beneath all the accumulated data of what I’ve learned about the world is a deeper, older world of what I’ve always known.

More like remembering than learning.

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Wordplay, then.

Revolve, evolve;  volution, volition.  Ignition, cognition; recognition.

= Revolution?