Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Hamilton Residency 3

My new middle name is Curiosity.  Like a little kid, mouth open: wow. huh? how come? really? Wow, really. Who?

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Strangely, it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, living my brand new daily life in an arts hub in the old rather broken, semi-forgotten industrial sector of this big city where my Grandmother raised her children. Memory cells light up each night with twenty new names and connections, emails fly out daily from my computer to people I’ve just met, or want to meet. The work on the walls of my studio changes before my eyes as I try things I’ve never tried, make mistakes I’ve never made, sort through which ones to keep and which to release.

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

I’m deeply aware of my solitude, my autonomy, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to stretch myself well beyond what has become comfortable. In the sixth day of the first full -time week I’ve lived here, I can feel my thinking, my painting, my writing and my awareness shift as old belief systems dissolve. There are seven weeks left of this residency, and every one of them is glowing with promise.

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From school to studio; books to paint. It’s a complex shift in awareness and perception, I find.  The road from left to right brain is populated with circus performers and street musicians, frequented by students seeking their masters of illusion, lined with bright market tents full of tempting diversionary tactics. You quickly discover that only tourists stop at these, that it’s important to stay mindful and moving forward.

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It has taken a while to sort out who actually lives here, in the space between things predictably linear and things … shaped and sounded differently.  I’m finding that this right brain work is more about releasing what I think I know than applying any learned structure and experience to what I do, since the objective is to change and expand my understanding of what’s possible.

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Often the return to people and conversation is a shock. I’m happy to be reading the reader’s edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book (2009, Shamdasani, Ed.), which is providing some context for the conscious choice to enter transformative space, and be changed by it. A good ‘bridge’ book, as is Once Upon a Time, a short history of Fairy Tale (Warner, 2014), and The Heart of a Peacock, a collection of short pieces by Emily Carr.

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It’s been useful, occasionally, to dip into Art Lessons, Meditations of the Creative Life (2003, Haynes), or a bit of Emerson. Also to shut the whole thing down, go sit in a big chair at the Jackson Square cinema, eat popcorn and watch Aquaman.

Art heals, writes Sean McNiff. I agree, wholeheartedly. Nature heals too.

Now I’m surrounded by human nature, not my beloved lake and forest from last summer, and we humans are complex. Thank you Nora Bateson, for this 8 minute video, which inspires me to make my own, about what art work makes possible.

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In this place of broken sidewalks and boarded up warehouses we grow art, like sprouts push up asphalt. Slowly, bit by bit, but as surely as the sun rises in the east, artists take places like this and clean up old toxic abandoned soil, growing impossible things in impossible places because it is their nature to do so.

It is a reclaiming of health; I’m grateful to be part of the process.

 

 

 


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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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internal inquiry into a considered response

There’s no other way to heal, I think.

I’ve read this many times.  It is lodged in my blood now, where it often sings me awake at night, sometimes until dawn.  It is in my belly too, still mostly undigestible.

The difficulty lies in the difference between what my heart reads and what my head understands.  Or maybe that’s where the difficulty lies. I’m not sure yet.

We learn battle-readiness, to defend our tender new-budded truths.  We are misinterpreted; this can break our hearts.  We misconstrue, often to preserve the rightness of blame, the righteousness of feeling hard done by; this will initially comfort and inevitably constrict.  In the end the effect is the same:  diminishment and poverty. 

I can’t name all of the possible alternative choices, but they are known by their effect: gratitude, openness, expansion.  Love.

Oh, the bluster and the poverty of me!  As though what sparks my interest should dominate all else, till there’s no breath left in the room, and the small simple beautiful thoughts creep away to hide their perfect nakedness.  Lest they get burned by the mocking loud, the snorting judgement, the braying, betraying complaining whine.

I don’t regret this bluster- it has been an important tool for survival these many years.  I do amend it now that I’m out of survival mode:  more heed paid to the exquisitely naked, small simple thoughts.  The tiny observances, the two-way conversations held safely in trust.  All the time in the world to listen well, with love.

It is one of those nights – my blood sings me awake at 3am and now dawn sits pregnant in the east.  Sheets and sheets of luxurious rain cool street and soil after weeks of heat too strong for the season.  I am grateful for the known comfort of this natural balance, counterpoint to my tender-sore conundrum. 

What to do?  I ask the morning, as she emerges. 

In response, the rich rain sings of gravity, release, surrender.  

Family. We are family.  I have no good answer to this difficulty, for how can I be who I am not, even if who I am offends so?

So. Let the rain and the tears fall where they may, in gravity, release, and peaceful surrender.  May the good answers come over time like waves on the shore, with no urgency. Small and simple, held safely in trust.


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Research methods

This spring term has been spine-cracking difficult, not just because of the workload but because of what it’s transforming in me – a requirement of fulfilling what has been assigned:  Read the following ten books by next week; comment and engage in discussion online re same; define a research question and complete a lit review by the week after; build two presentations for the same two weeks 1. about narrative research 2. synopsis and discussion of a major thesis paper related to your subject….

…write a final Research Study Paper Proposal (35%) and hand it in by the end of June; change your mind about your own capacities for this work, now; imagine yourself as a much larger and more efficient person, now; sort out your philosophical and methodological tendencies; ask if you have any questions…

I come up for air to tuck into a quick poster design for a show at Leith Church in July. I realize as I make a poster using these photos that in July I get to rehearse, trade stories, laugh and cry with the persons in the photos.  Then we perform together. Who gets this in their life?!?!

poster draft, missing photo credits, and ticket information. Here is the former: Tom Thomson (Canadian 1877 – 1917), Soft Maple in Autumn, 1914. oil on plywood, 25.5 x 17.8 cm Collection of the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Owen Sound, Ontario, gift of Louise (Thomson) Henry, sister of Tom Thomson, 1967, Photo credit: Michelle Wilson. Ann Michaels photo is ©2009 Marzena Pogrozaly; david sereda photo is © John Fearnall @ GoodNoise Photography. Also, you should come to this if you can. It will be more than magical.

I come up for air to meet my incredible lifelong friends at Summit Place retirement lodge where my dad is, and stumble through some challenging but lovely music. Little Fugue, Brandenburg III, Danny Boy.  Dad cries, as he always has when I play for him.  Another resident tells me afterwards that listening to us play blew the dust off his soul.

porcupine teenager, retreating after I asked him firmly to stop eating the plywood at the shore bothy. They kept coming for hours, until I firmly shooed his mama (HUGE) with a few stones, and brought all plywood inside, at 3am.

I come up for air and find myself waking at the shore, staring at an endless infinity of my friend, the Bay, who is so much a part of who I am

I come up for air and find myself playing Sibelius and the Bach Double in the midst of a high school orchestra in Meaford

I come up for air, blink my astonishment at the world, then dive back in to a deeper understanding of how much I don’t know, dive again for pearls of transformation.  Find my gills, drink humility again and again, knowing it is elixir.

 

 


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old becomes new

Cold toes, bruised ribs from this wiry pull-out mattress, the roar and scrape of post-christmas industrial traffic three floors down.  I keep my eyes closed and read last night’s snowfall from the speed of the passing plough: maybe two inches.

A truck beeps itself backwards into the garage, shovels scrape pathways to retail:  Not a snowday then; We are open for business. I’m tired beyond measure from seasonal work, christmas effort, road trips, and navigating the annual ocean of paper, plastic, wrappings, cups and boxes; private aches, public belly laughs, snow bruises, exhilarations and odd behaviors.  I’d much prefer to be waking in my bed at home, where there’s a bath for slow entry into the day, a kitchen to make simple breakfast in.

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Nevertheless, I have deadlines to meet.  In answer to this, the dawn light pours in through eastern windows to spill on the floor: it’s beautiful here. I feel the call of possibility, and the rituals begin – fold up the bed, start the kettle for coffee, pad down the long hallway to fill the water jugs, come back to play with the cats while my coffee brews.

My studio, where I have worked and played for eight years, produced a hundred or more paintings, taught cello and art, designed, wrote blog, essay and books, rehearsed and performed music, read, edited, shared poetry, and built a rich and enduring collaboration with Knuckles the once-feral cat (who I will love ferociously and tenderly all my life long).

It’s late November 2016 and I’ve not yet decided to dismantle and reinstall it in the spare room at home.  It still feels like I’ll be here for a long time yet; content and safe in the art factory.

Everything is white again.

Everything is white again.

This six-windowed room is on the top floor of an old building that once housed a ladies hoisery factory, managed and operated by my maternal great-grandfather, Walter Keebler*. At one point he employed 200 women here – women who previously could only find work as maids or cooks because until then only men worked in factories.  I imagine that when they found themselves working together, they organized, and sorted things that needed sorting. Women tend to do that, given a little empowerment.

My other great-great grandfather was the CEO of Kennedy Foundry which made propellers for most of the merchant marine in the great lakes.  From the roof of the Circle Bar building I can see where the foundry was.

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When I moved in eight years ago I stripped and refinished the floors, filled the plaster holes with durabond, painted the walls, stripped half of the moulding around the windows (why?  sentiment, I think – it’s just cheap pine), and foam-insulated the ceiling cracks. I got my materials and equipment out of limbo and set up – the first time I’d had a working studio in four years – SUCH a relief to have a space for my soul again.  Since then it has always answered my soul’s need for sanctuary, art factory, practise and rehearsal space, writing space and woman’s shelter – all the more rich because of the family connection.  I feel as though I’ve got to know my ancestor Walter Keebler, somehow.  His slow steady, his endurance and care.

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This week I am packing it all up and removing myself from here, because it’s the right thing to do.  The initial decision was made in answer to the interminable delay in settlement from my marriage (which officially ended late summer 2013), but the choice resonated in my bones: yes, it’s time to move on.  Like the lobster whose shell has become too tight, I need to shed this place so I can grow.

As my mind and heart changes through the work of this masters degree, so is my painting shifting.  I still love working large, but I’m in search of more playfulness, new techniques, new experiments, new media – these will start small, because I have less time after music work and school are done.  Moving studio will help that, as well as insuring that I have enough money for gas and groceries.  (an aside – I just heard a statistic that sent me reeling: Video here, worth watching. I’ll paraphrase – the average annual income for professional writers, musicians and painters in Canada is $6,000.  Yep – I made $6,600. last year, working all the time.)

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Still, my heart breaks each time I fill a box and take it to my car, each time Knuckles the cat looks at me so full of trust and love, each time I look at the bare walls and empty windows.

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What a wonderful, rich eight years it’s been.  Thanks, Great-Grandpa, for the Circle Bar.

*Walter was the descendent of german refugees from the 100-years war, granted asylum by Queen Victoria. She in turn sent her 8000 refugees to the colonies, where William Penn, English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher and early Quaker presided over a flock of immigrants.  His great-uncle Frederick fought with the 50th regiment (for Lincoln) in the American Civil War – we are transcribing his letters home as a family project.

 


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Coming to

I’m in my socks on a quiet street in the old section of town, pulling goutweed out of the garden.  It’s early on an idyllic spring morning, full of bees and growth, flowers and a gentle cool breeze.  A starling, harsh and insistent, comments on my weeding.  I explain that in the ecosystem of my tiny garden many things grow, and that the manifest destiny that is Goutweed’s nature would change all of it into a monoculture. This is why I must, however reluctantly (I’m not feeling reluctant at all, not even shocked that this is so), do my best to kill or maim Goutweed.  I tell him I prefer his sweet starling voice to this rasp.

my lawn.

my lawn.

Muttering about invasive plants and the more tender, solitary ones I seek to protect, I feel myself ease into the beginning of this three-day inner working space.

The mornings early articles were about artists – Kahlo, O’Keefe, Yayoi Kusama – specifically, their struggle to give artistic voice to the particular forms of madness they’d discovered in themselves.  Our relationship with others; our relationship with our own minds – maybe the greatest challenge in being human?

I found myself writing about strict ordering of colour, the music and the muscle of line, the often oppressive heaviness of form.  This was somehow inside of thoughts about the utter sanctity of solitude, the necessity of it.  It’s here I build fortitude, here where I can examine and own my relationship with crow-darkness; my internal, eternal desires (lust even?); my old, creakingly reliable rigidity.

Scratching the surface, but then this is day one of three.

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The goutweed surrenders to my will, stem by stem, and as I stoop mutter pull I hear the sound a badly injured animal would make if I were in the bush.  It’s coming from a largish man in spring coat and backpack. He’s standing at the end of the street, not five houses away.

He and I are the only ones visible. I instinctively give him space, content in my goutweed campaign, not looking, but listening. He moans again.  Mutters (to himself),  You shouldn’t have done that.  It wasn’t right and it’s not okay.  You’re not okay, you need help.  You need to get some help.

I know he knows I’m listening.  In fact, he called me to listen, with his moans.

I think to myself that this is a shared moment of something unnameable but infinite.  I think that every human everywhere works this way, all the time, every day.  We do our best to make friends with our madness.

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My talkative neighbour has seen me – as I hear the creak of his side door I hear myself too, muttering not now not now…  But there he is, coffee in hand, ready to chat.

Startled by the interruption we run with our minds, the largish man and I, to seek solitude again, where the fragile thought-threads can be followed, observed, even understood a little.

You just missed me!  I say to coffee-cup-neighbor.  Too bad!  I need to go in now and get back to my work.  He says ya sure that’s ok. Inside, I can feel the door as I close it.

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I feel happiness.

 


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Frozen Pipes, Day 15

We were told three days ago that the water will not run in our taps until the end of April.  I feel relief.  It’s good to know – that we are directly linked to the spring thaw, that we need to build the gathering and conservation of water into our daily routine, that we will forego the use of our washing machine and our bathtub & shower for seven more weeks.

everyone on our little street is in the same predicament...

everyone on our little street is in the same predicament…

30 litres of water does two sinks-full of dishes, makes a kettle of coffee, flushes a toilet four times, waters the plants, fills five large glasses at lunch and cleans the kitchen.

15 litres a day on schooldays, 30 to 45 litres / day on weekends. We fill these up at the Recreation centre, which is about seven blocks away

15 litres a day on schooldays, 30 to 45 litres / day on weekends. We fill these up at the Recreation centre, which is about seven blocks away

The value of water is now firmly established, and conservation methods improve daily.  As the days go by we learn the value of other things often taken for granted.

Offers for sleepovers have come pouring in (couldn’t resist), which has been heartwarming for us.  Strangers help me carry the 15 litre jugs to my car from the Rec. Centre hose, and offers of laundry facilities, beds, showers, bathtubs, meals, ready-made food (to conserve on dish-washing) are gratefully accepted and welcomed by us.  We learn to write our household chores into visits with friends, showers into dinner invitations…

Wine bottles full of spare water for little tasks & needs in the kitchen window

Wine bottles full of spare water for little tasks & needs in the kitchen window

There’s also something satisfying about boiling water on the stove and doing one’s own dishes in one’s own sink.  I stood at the sink in my housecoat and the pure pleasure of warm soapy water on my hands and felt – good.  A spring bird sang outside in the sun, which was melting the snow into drip music…

All of this white will turn to green, in a very short time.

All of this white will turn to green, in a very short time.

I value the warmth and generosity of our friends, this deeply compassionate community I live in, the inevitable passage of time, and simple things that feel good.

Spring comes, as promised.