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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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and yet,

This rain’s falling hard, straight down. Even so, there’s a reassuring line of red sunfire on the horizon just now; the sun rises warm above bruised clouds. I’ve been sifting through headlines to check the people barometer, which reads just like the morning sky: heavy and bruised with some pockets of humour (a photoshopped Rudy Giulani giving a press conference in front of a wall of Ritz cracker boxes).

Some days are thicker than others. Dear Mister Trump is making sure we all stay awake and alert to the very real dangers of rampant ego, fear and delusion while he begs for donations to support his legal battles. We know now that he owes a great deal of money to a significant number of people, and crying foul at this point is a fantastic opportunity to rake it in, no doubt.

To Trump it makes perfect sense to fan the flames of discord and division; we’ve learned this about him by now. I do not waste one iota of energy in indignation; he will eventually be persuaded to leave.

Meanwhile we re-enter quarantine and self-isolation in a new pandemic surge, we tighten our budgets yet again, re-stock the pantry, trade our summer tires for snows. While the GTA hospitals fill up again and again staff is stretched beyond their limit, again long term care facilities are most vulnerable. Bankruptcy filings increase, still more storefront businesses close. Never has the difference between the stock market and the economy been so stark … or no, wait. We’ve been here before, haven’t we. Face palm.

I don’t waste energy on the Bezos or the Zuckerberg, either.

Collectively and personally we have taken heavy losses, yes. But good grief, Charlie Brown. We are still alive, we still laugh and eat, sleep, dream, read books, help each other, care for ourselves, and many are still gainfully employed. We can still crack jokes, even and especially at our own expense when, disoriented, we bump into walls, then recalibrate, reset, hit another obstacle then stop, laugh, rethink, try again. Social media is awash with memes of comically frazzled animals captioned: my mental state right now. It has NOT been easy, but we are, in fact, making our way through, despite an appalling lack of real support and direction from many (most?) of our political leaders.

My BS meter peaks all the time these days; I’ve stopped watching politicians and avoid mainstream news. I did watch Kamala Harris and wept happy tears, though, as The US turned a hugely important, historic corner.

Shakespeare’s life and career was concurrent with the bubonic plague. Thank the Universe, then, that despite the many theatre closures in London he continued to pour his energy into crafting story – stories we still consistently quote 420 years later, whether or not we’ve seen or read the play. Take note, that his stories did not focus on the plague, but on people – how they show themselves, how and what they choose. In a New Yorker article from this past May (2020) Steven Greenblatt observes that in fact the plague plays a subtle but central role in the deaths of Juliet and Romeo, “The plague, which is hardly represented in the play, does not cause their deaths, but the profound social disruption it brings in its wake—conveyed in the rush of seemingly irrelevant details—plays an oddly significant role. The ill-timed quarantine is an agent of the star-crossed lovers’ tragic fate.

For Shakespeare, the quarantine and theatre closures were an effect. People – kings and princes, moneylenders, daughters, wives, friends, soldiers and besotted fools were far more interesting: the myriad, fascinating ways people chose to respond to life, in times of adversity.

I sign a new petition, write new letters to elected politicians every three days or so – against wetland development, human displacement to make room for pointless corporate projects, demanding clean water for first nations NOW, universal basic income for all….the list goes on. Thank you to the people who are on those front lines, investigating, advocating, watching the shady government deals that are happening under covid-cover. I’m aware that these issues are shared and visible because of choices made by people, while in isolation, to change a broken system.

We do figure things out. Every day I work with practicalities, weave in new skills to bring what I do into alignment with how we are now. Learning through the inevitable first batch that will never see publication, now seeing a glimmer of the stories I love and want to tell. Always with paint and colour, music and language, all in layers, visceral and strong. I’ve got good plans in motion that will generate income from and for this work, am grateful for the new practicalities of internet commerce.

Talking about money need not be a divisive issue. Are we coming anywhere closer to a place now where we can see that, as with Shakespeare’s plague, as with the pandemic, income affects, but need not define us? So much focus on money since yes, we are indeed dependent upon it. Certainly, take care of what you need to take care of. But what if we found ways to ‘unhook’ from the disempowering belief system that’s connected to money? What if, instead of focusing on economic self-judgement and anxiety, on how to profit, collect and consume ever more, chasing security as if our lives depend upon it – what if we just … let money be the simple, relational thing it is?

I suspect this looks a little different for everyone. For certain though, an enormous amount of energy and time get freed up if and when we unhook from the toxicity. If we weren’t so obsessed with what’s going to happen next month or next year, trying to to control the economic ‘weather’ so we can keep things the same, maybe we’d work out new, healthier systems that would never have occurred to us, otherwise.

Ivor Wynne Stadium (Tim Horton’s Field), November 2020

As an artist I’m familiar to the point of boredom with judgement placed on my chosen career. The voices are clear and remarkably self-righteous; our culture simply does not support artists in the way it supports bankers, lawyers, CEOs, teachers. It’s a predictable trigger point, when I tell people what I do. Why such a point of contention?

A handful of people early in my career took direct offence with my practice. They were, in fact, a reflection of the voices inside my own head: You think you can do this full time? What makes you so specialYou think you’re the next Emily Carr? (which is funny, considering). Maybe if my pieces regularly sold for $1M this resentment would dissolve into a grudging admiration? well that’s okay then, you’re in the business of money; I get it now.

People who do not resonate with my work will politely change the subject, or, unsolicited, show me someone else’s work they prefer or an approach that makes better sense (as if to guide me in a better direction). Well, if it were me, I’d… An online troll attacked me personally and fervently with some nastiness they felt compelled to project in the moment. Others find my work engaging and compelling, which often leads to further conversations, connections, exchanges. People are different from one another, and always have been.

I don’t waste my energy on a need for external validation. Not any more. That said, I’m blessed to have many people in my life who are sincerely supportive of what I do, which feels warm and good to me. I am and always will be grateful for this.

Art isn’t about money, Charlie Brown, it is about people. Selling my work for 1M is not and never could be my primary goal; it just doesn’t work that way. The folks who pay grossly inflated prices for art are quite often trying to hide dark money or use investment loopholes – the purchase is far less about the art than about taxes. Certainly if the artist is still alive it’s rare that they see any of this, since the big money goes from one ‘investor-owner’ to another. Good heavens, how Emily could have used that money while she was alive and working!! The middle-folk – dealers, agents (Sotheby’s, etc) rake in a tidy fee, for guaranteeing that the work will hold its ‘value’, or at least tracking its value on the art market. You’ve heard of the BANKSY painting that shredded itself in 2018? He was making a point.

Value on these upper echelon markets is capricious. Recently there’s been a huge demand at art fairs for ‘primitives’, or work by artists who have never been to art school, who may have regular day jobs as bus drivers or insurance adjusters. Was it last year that someone duck taped a banana to the wall at Art Basel Miami and sold it for $120,000.?; Face palm (but also pretty funny).

on my walk to the studio there were ten people here, all wearing masks, picking up garbage and bagging it.

I’m not BANKSY, though I greatly admire what he does, as I do Ai Wei Wei and his work. I’m not aiming myself at being quoted in 400 years. I’m just observing and responding to the complex, relational world of right now in a way that stretches, challenges and eventually empowers me. I do believe art is about people, and that people are about connection, choices, stories, innovation. I know without any doubt that income will flow and I will keep on doing this, because things just work out, in exactly the way they should. I don’t need to control the weather.

If you’re someone who resonates with this, I’m glad. We need to keep stretching and evolving, empowering ourselves and each other. If this makes sense to you and you’re interested in hanging or showing my work in your spaces, I would be delighted to find ways to make it so. You can connect with me through this website, email (keira@keiramcarthur.ca) or on social media (messenger works well). Coming in the next few weeks are a newsletter option, and a subscription series which gives you access to my new Story Cake videos. I’ll talk about these in my next posts.

In the meantime, If you like what you read and see here, and just want to offer support, I’ve set up a safe, encrypted donation option on this site for the first time in eleven years. Your support of the work I do here can only make it better, so if you are able, I am grateful to receive. Here’s the button, apologies that it’s so large (I’m working at simplifying as you read):

Thanks for your support! xoxo

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My point here is that we can choose where to invest our energy. We can choose how to know and show ourselves, just as we did 400 years ago, 2000 years ago, aeons ago, when there was no such thing as money. My point is that when something makes no sense, you can choose to find something that does, and focus yourself there. WAY more interesting than being stuck.

I find art deeply meaningful, and choose to spend my working time making it; other people study and learn from fruit flies. Still others are in jobs that bore them to puddles but make really interesting things happen when they’re not at work. Raging lame duck president is canny enough to earn money from loyalists, classical dancer does their work in an abandoned factory, shows get cancelled even though musicians really do need income and work so let’s fix that problem of income. We share rich meaningful phonecalls, broken hips mend, poison ivy heals, tears soak into a pillow, snowflakes dance on the wind, and I hear laughter outside. What a fascinating, amazing world.

It’s not about the pandemic or the politics, or that person that’s driving you nuts. It’s not about money or fear.

What do you love? Do that.