Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Artist residency in Hamilton: highly recommended

I cannot imagine my life without the experience of the Cotton Factory artist residency. On all levels – personal, professional, academic, philosophical and physical (since I have now moved my work and my life here) – it continues to enrich, expand and amplify my world.

Residencies are transformative things, I’ve learned. In some ways, contradictory, since you come in to them with a clear, proposed plan for the work but also with an intention to engage with completely new surroundings and people which influences your practice, your insight, and thus, your work.

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The Cotton Factory hosts a mid-length residency. In retrospect, I can see that three months of absolute focus on visual art practice is both a blessing and a challenge. For me, the first month included Christmas and music gigs, all in cities outside of Hamilton, and so I spent what studio time I had establishing momentum for January’s work.

This was satisfying; I was able to stretch my art muscles, and take two pieces that had floundered in my last studio to a new level.

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In January I settled into my proposed plan, which was ambitious: ten collaborative portraits of folk from three cities (none of them Hamilton), a book that explored process and insights gained about art and portraiture, and an artist’s talk/performance.

I settled into Portraits, yes, except that my powerful response to Hamilton and the Cotton Factory community and space was impossible to ignore. It became imperative that I respond also to where I was, that I explore the rich history and culture of industrial Hamilton (which included both of my paternal grandparents, emigrants from Glasgow, Scotland), in my work.

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Pavement II: Gate. oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn bottom edge. Improvisation meets structure, and a narrative emerges.

Within the first two weeks of January – seven weeks after the beginning of my residency,  I realized that my work in The Cotton Factory and in Hamilton needed to be extended. I signed a three-year lease on another studio down the hall.

Now I had two goals fighting for priority in the seven weeks left of my Arts Council residency:
1. Portraits Project, and
2. a conceptual series on paper which explored the human spaces of industrial Hamilton.

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry and progress based on profit/ ownership) on what was once a thriving natural environment. The growing sense I had, that the natural environment – the spirit of the land – was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space through natural growth – with or without human collaboration. Vines using barbed wire and chain link to climb on, trees still growing beside junkyards, grass breaking through pavement.

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The first of five pieces on paper I presented at the artists’ talk for the 2018-19 Cotton Factory Residency. Pavement 1: door and chain. A response to my month-long stay in a student apartment at Barton and Emerald Streets in Hamilton. Pretty disempowered neighbourhood – I found myself walking there with eyes down, was warned not to go out at night.

My impression – of impossibly overlapped stories from 100 years of european emigrant workers who had been imported from their original cultural homes and offered ‘a better life’ in the new world. Enticed from their homes by government-supported businesses, they populated that treaty-acquired, previously populated land, which soon became unrecognizable to itself. They came for wages and in exchange became the visible backbone of the Big Industrial Dream of constant, unsustainable growth – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the perpetually growing, industrial profit/ownership machine.

The same machine that slaves from the south had been picking cotton for for a century or more, in chains, without wages or anything remotely approaching autonomy. These people – not enticed, but forcibly removed from their villages and homes, then commodified and traded –  were the true, but invisible backbone of the cotton industry. For more insight please see this excellent PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, available to rent or own. Here is PBS’ news release announcing the series.

Oh, the damage done. How much wrongness and entitlement can we own, as white people, in the origins of this story?

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Pavement III: Stairs 2019, conte, oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn edge. Overlapping stories, up and down the back factory stairs.

The effects of all of this are all clear and visible now, in old industrial Hamilton. The shores of Lake Ontario, once forests populated by indigenous people, is now dominated by abandoned factories, populated by immigrant settlers and the descendants of slaves. How do we address this, as artists?

In three months, I could only begin, with fences, locks, chains and gates. Trains. What I knew of my grandparents.

[NOTE:  I have received some pointed and negative feedback on my original blog post that I believe is warranted. I want to address my error, as pointed out by a reader, whom I have thanked for her input. 

Here is the offending paragraph, as originally written:

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry) on what was once a thriving natural environment, and the growing sense I had, that the natural environment was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space in collaboration with humans. My impressions, that 100 years of emigrant workers had been just as harnessed and used as ‘natural resources’ by industrial design was part of the story – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the same machine that slaves from the south were picking cotton for, a century ago.

My point about the industrialists’ abuse of the natural landscape for use in the development of factories and suggesting that the immigrant workers were “just as harnessed and used” was awkward and without proper reference points, and this I believe is the beginning of my error. The land was acquired through Treaty between the government and the indigenous peoples (see treaties No. 3, ‘Between the Lakes Purchase and Collins Purchase’and Brant Tract 3&3/4 here. See also the website Native Land, an ongoing indigenous- run project which maps indigenous territories and nations on several continents. Be sure to read their ‘about’ page). The immigrant workers were paid, in exchange for the ‘harness’ of daily work, and so benefitted from the possibility of a new and more prosperous life in Canada. This is not at all like slavery, and though it was not my intention to imply so, the effect on my reader stands, and I take responsibility.

My point should have been absolutely clear, that I  feel that the Cotton Factory building is full of overlapping stories, none of which would exist in that place without the people who picked the cotton that arrived by train. The (white) emigrant workers – my european ancestors – were in fact beneficiaries of the work of enslaved people, through the wages they earned. The toil of slaves and that of white emigrant workers should not have appeared in the same paragraph, without clearly distinguishing the extreme differences between the conditions experienced by them. I have corrected my post to reflect my intended point, with gratitude to AMR for calling me on it. This note will remain embedded in the post as well, for clarity.

My work and my reading actively inquires into the generational, cultural, physical and environmental effects of colonialism and industrialization, white privilege and entitlement. I sincerely apologize for any offense taken as a result of my lack of clarity. 

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Pavement IV: Fence 2019 acrylic, oil pastel and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn lower edge.

I wrote this poem in response,

Song for the Workers

 

If I stood on the street where you walked to work
every day
If I asked what you thought what you remembered what
would you say?
Did it take, what did it take from you
Did you break, how did you remake yourself
again, and then again and then, and then
How many miles of pavement
through the long working years?

 

Did you ever wonder
over a hundred years wonder
where it would all lead us?
Out the grey porch door
down the long street
over the train tracks
through the opened gate
through the big door          (with the others)
Up the long stairs               (with the mothers)
across the wooden floors to the chair,  to the treadle
I think of you now, when I push my gas pedal.
Ten million miles of thread,
fed carefully through your steady needle.

 

For Jeannie Brown,
and for Hamilton where she made herself fit,
like all the others, all the mothers,
the brothers, the daughters and sons.
Transplanted, harnessed,

 

In the name of God, waged.
In the church, when the bells.
Every Sunday.

Hamilton is a place of factories, trains and churches of every faith from every country out of which emigrant workers came. In some ways it is the most european city I have yet experienced in Canada, because of these hundreds of years of carefully maintained connections with ‘home’. I can find food from any part of the world in the grocery stores.

The City of Hamilton acknowledges that it is situated on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory. (Note: Haudenosaunee – This name refers to the Iroquois Confederacy comprising of these Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Anishinaabeg/ Anishinaabek/ Anishnabek/ Anishnaabeg – this name covers Ojibway, Odawa, Algonquin, Potawatomi, Nipissing, Mississaugas, Saulteau, etc….all the Algonkian/Ojibwa Nations.

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Pavement V: Three Crosses, 2019 conte, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper, machine sewn lowest edge.

Because of the Hamilton Arts Council / Cotton Factory artists residency, and this rich, complex history into which my own ancestors’ stories are woven, I have moved my work and my life to Hamilton. Portraits will open in the fall of 2019, and I will publish and tour a performance of my Masters thesis book, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms shortly afterwards.

There is a rich fabric of artists, music and community here that grows into future collaborative work and artistic exploration well beyond the horizons I could imagine in the fall of 2018, when I applied for the residency.

highly recommend that you – artist from any culture in search of a practice-deepening, perspective challenging, new friendship-building, pivotal experience – apply to the excellent Cotton Factory Artist Residency program. From wherever you are, in the world.

Here’s the Link.

(Write to me if you’re from away, and I’ll help you figure out accommodations. keirartworks@gmail.com – put ‘CF Artist Residency – Help!’ in the subject line.)


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Hamilton Residency 5: connections

Three things that are good: 1 the cast iron legs are back on the black studio table that david sereda gave me ten years ago (what is IN that heavy heavy thing, ds?), 2. I have a new kettle and all the equipment to french press the coffee that fuels my morning write, and 3. Sun is melting the cold clamp of arctic crunch that has been squeezing the air out of us all this past week.

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Oh yes, and the walls of this room I will read, sleep and write in for the next month are painted a cheerful, many-varied naples yellow. Makes me smile, though I’m not able to articulate why in this moment. Something about the subtle effects of ongoing displacement…

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I am happy beyond telling to move into the space that will house me and my work for the next three years at Cotton Factory.  SH242 is now my studio – just down the hall from the residency space I have been working in since December 1. Both spaces sing the clear bell-tone of time and permission to grow beyond what I can currently imagine. GO! They ring, each time I walk into the building.

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As I emerge from my anticipated mid-residency slump I can see that new artistic directions have appeared in the Hamilton-inspired work. The drawings and painting are very much in their ugly stage, but I can see where they’re going, and I’m happy. They answer for me both my inspiration and sorrow over the state of some old broken places here, which have been buried under the effects of neglect for too long. Signs of renewal are there though, if you look, like grass growing through the pavement in an old industrial yard. Growth and fertility after decades as a desert.

Anticipated date for the Cotton Factory residency artists’ talk are Tuesday February 26, 6:30pm. I will confirm this on all social media, and Hamilton Arts Council will also announce – stay tuned, and I hope you can come. These talks and the work will be provocative, insightful and good for long-term conversation chewiness.

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I continue to research, listen and plan these collaborative co-missioned portraits which are the vehicle that got me to Hamilton and through this residency. I had no idea how the complexity of this show and book would challenge my abilities and experience. The work is complex and exciting – well worth enough time to do us all justice.

I turned the corner this week, from struggle to clarity when Ashley the fabric artist two studios down gave me her huge canvas. She had laboured to draw the geometric pattern for the seed of life over the entire surface, then lugged the thing around for two years. I accepted her work as a starting point for more exploration from me – a first collaboration in the Cotton Factory –  and realized it is the painting of my own ‘becoming’, effectively making me the ninth person represented in the Portraits show. A door opened, then, into what connects all of us in this experiment. I’m writing through each morning to find my articulation of it, but it’s there now; I can feel it.

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Our new projected culmination date is mid-spring, enough time to make give this project the arc it requires. In the meantime, the nine of us populate the new studio space at Cotton Factory – just us. When I’m in that room I feel as though I sit in the midst of a copse of eight other mixed-species trees. Watching and listening to their stories, observing my own, there, antennae stretched to pick up warmth – between this one’s experience and that one’s observations.

I sit still and fully present as I did at the cabin this summer, to seek connections and patterns in the complexities that connect us all as humans, us Nine. They are subtle, but they are there.

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And finally, O, Faretheewell, Emerald Street at Barton, where I’ve stayed for a month. Glad to have landed safely in your arms, glad to have listened to your complicated and often dark stories, as they came through my window each night. Glad to lock your door for the last time, too.

The next tenant is a medical student from overseas who will also be there for a month. Hope he doesn’t slip on the steps and land in a puddle, as I did.

Happy February, all!

 

 


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Art of Time, Cadmium Red

I was walking down the street  When I thought I heard this voice say

red on it's way to black.  John Berger, via Art of Time, April 12, 2014

red on it’s way to black. John Berger, via Art of Time’s “I Send You This Cadmium Red”, April 12, 2014

“Say, ain’t we walking down the same street together on the very same day?”

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Blue. Also Berger and John Christie who exchanged letters about colour which were read as part of AOT’s “Cadmium”

“Hey, Senorita, that’s astute”, I said.  “Why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute?”

Paul Simon, “Gumboots”, from Graceland

yellow like light, against black like darkness.  Again, Berger & Christie's correspondence, & AOT

yellow like light, against black like darkness. Again, Berger & Christie’s correspondence, & AOT

Many marvelous synchronized happenings and conversations these past two days.  The world is rich with resonance.

Nothing institutional about this weekend, whatsoever.  I just like that lyric, and Aruna referred to it when we were eating tapas on Ossington together..

 

Paul Simon, from “Gumboots” (Graceland)