Posted on 3 Comments

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.

Posted on 1 Comment

Hamilton Residency 9: Manifesto 2

Manifesto woman does not know what to do next.

IMG_2191

Baffling. Maddening.

Humbling. Ego-flattening. Intensely educational. I’ve made at least twenty clear plans for these pieces in the past three months of this residency, and the only one that has lasted the duration is Surrender.

I’m thinking this is at the root of what’s happening here.

IMG_2203

The first page after the Table of Contents in J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015) is entitled, “Manifesto”. It reads like a list of  ‘knowings’ that he has captured while circling ‘Art’ through time and his own experience. I recognize his fierce contemplation, his guard-dog reverence for the integrity of great art, his grateful surrender to the unsolvable, radical mystery of it.

IMG_2213

The first two pages of text are provocative, as manifestos are intended to be. He quotes Wilde,

The work of art is apolitical and free of moralism. “The Artist”, Wilde said, “is free to express everything.”
It is precisely the absence of political or moral interest that makes art an agent of liberation wherever it appears.

IMG_2208

I am in a state of surrender again, after another bout of contrivance and manipulation has passed (what Martel calls ‘artifice’). I’ve caught myself again imagining, then planning the end result of each piece so as to define clear, scheduled steps to take me, bathed in glory, to the finish line. Those drawings are always bad, forced, lifeless.

How many times have I erased them now? Doesn’t matter.

When I stop to think and write about it, I can see that it’s odd, the way I increasingly trust this process as the deadline approaches. Artists’ talk for the Hamilton Cotton Factory Residency is now three days from today. Every time I erase and re-draw, the pieces make more sense, the story is clearer. They’re better, so I’ll go with that.

IMG_2199

It is not my will that gives these pieces life. It is me getting my blessed ego and my busy mind the hell out of the way. Yes my hands, my eyes, my cello and my spiralling around and through the studio – read, write, hum, sing, sew, pace, meditate, curl up into a fetal position on the floor – whatever it takes to get lost to myself.

My training, my love of form and colour, media and texture – yes, with these things all in play I am active in my surrender to a larger thing I can’t name or see, like a midwife, listening for signs, ready to act in support.

There is no sense of time, I only know when I’ve got no more good energy to work with. That’s always later than sooner.

IMG_2215

Quebec artist Guy Laramee is tormented by the search for this place of ‘active peace’. His fine fine mind wants to write the treatise, first, to define what it is that he explores, and why. To name its function before it is formed. In his TED talk, Laramee, who for eighteen years has been sculpting exquisite landscapes out of old books, describes his experience of completing two masters degrees at the same time, one in Anthropology and the other in Visual Art. I can see him, bouncing like a ping pong ball between academic rationalities and emotion-based artistic sensibilities.

And yet his experience of making these pieces is like neither.  There is a third state of awareness that encompasses all things, which is where art is formed without artifice.

IMG_2200

Elizabeth Gilbert (famous for her book Eat Pray Love), maintains that this is the opened state where genies can connect the work, through you, to the wilder, more elemental world. This is, as she maintains in her TED talk, the origin of the word genius. We mistakenly apply this state to humans, as though they can access that heightened, elemental state whenever they choose – say, between cooking dinner and taking the kids to school.

IMG_2202

I like what this work teaches me, what Hamilton teaches, in odd and delightful tandem with the forest at my cabin on Georgian Bay.

When I began the residency in December I had an inkling that I would emerge from it transformed, but I could not have imagined how deep and radical the changes would be in me, and the way I understand and do my work. I do know and trust this: in three days time I will share the story, without art-speak and in the space of twenty minutes, to whomever wishes to hear it.

I’ll leave the last word with an excerpt from Martel’s 2015 Manifesto:

Art opposes tyranny by freeing beauty from the clutches of the powers of this world.
True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden
revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.

Only the revelation of beauty can save our world.

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Hamilton Residency 4: rhythm

The overwhelm subsides into a kind of rhythm as I begin to understand what my new job is; what feels unfamiliar but is actually okay.

img_1976

As the illusion clears – of pitfalls and boobytraps at every misstep – I can see that the floor I walk on every day is sturdy, reliable… and beautiful. The walls are well built and practical, the beams and posts resilient and strong. Built to carry workers, materials; to support dreams of steady slow progress in reward for daily, hourly persistence.

img_1989

So many have carried their private stories through here, many more will do so, now that this factory has been so lovingly snatched from the jaws of disuse and abandonment, launched like a ship into the ocean of now.

img_1777

The big building loves industry and honest work; I can feel it.

I imagine, self-indulgently, that it loves the current industry more than the one that built it, and to some extent Hamilton, in 1901. These bricks were laid, these beams milled and bought thanks to the labour of slaves from the south who laboured daily in cotton fields barns and shipyards. A different daily, hourly persistence from that of the workers who laboured here. Did the industrialists ‘own’ them too, I wonder.

img_1722

The Portrait Project grows, here.

In the research process I hold careful space for the stories of what I now call ‘my eight’. I am quietly astonished, again and again, at this meeting place of diversity in story and self awareness, and how each disclosure connects, through my own experiences and oh so gently to another from someone else.

img_1992

They are strangers to one another, my Eight, but they are all here in the studio with me now, as I listen again to what I’ve been shown and told, and form the larger story that is ours together. From this I will make eight pieces that each speak to the other across difference. I’ve never felt more challenged by a visual art project, have never welcomed a challenge more than I do now.  So many languages to learn; listening is good work.

img_1986

I’m grateful to have been able to extend my stay by finding permanent studio space here, at the marvellous Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Not only will this give me the time to do justice to these portraits and my Eight, but also to build strong ties with the people who work here. A new kind of family.