Manifesto woman does not know what to do next.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


…dear Minus 25 Degrees Celsius, dear 70 km ph Winds and your Death-chill-Factor,

what the wind makes out of snow

Thank you for finding a way to freeze a substantial part of the city’s water system – at the very point in our heavy winter when we collectively agree to become grumpy that the world is not green and growing.

The first birds have come north, singing thinly in the cold, but – singing!  Each is reported like an omen and we fear for their lives in the brutal crunch of minus 35.  Then the temperature rises a few degrees to minus 12, skies clear to reveal blue sky yellow sun and we shed our coats in celebration, only to heave them on again a few hours later when the wind bites into minus 20, (feels like minus 38) again.  We each want to stay in bed under blankets or max their VISA on an unplanned trip to Cuba NOW.  Sweaters are coveted for warmth not style and thick woolen socks worth double their weight in gold…


This year there’s a deeper freeze to contend with.  For the first time in at least one generation, possibly two, we the city folk need to contend with what the country folk have known forever, that we are not entitled to comfort without appreciation, warmth without work, nourishment without conscious, proactive, collaborative effort.  All the automatic things we do – toilets, bathroom sinks, bathrubs and shower stalls, kitchen sinks, kettles, glasses, pots for boiling, living potted plants – all of these require replenishment from a source that is now dry and frozen.  We actually need to think about … how water?  Where water?  Need water.

Third-floor roof of the studio building.  Looking Southwest across the harbour
Third-floor roof of the studio building. Looking Southwest across the harbour

We of the four seasons climate are frozen deeply into this cold place where nothing flows, where movement requires effort, just when we would normally be feeling the ebb of winter…


Instead we now know just a little more about our small city’s system for water into tap – the pipes, the flow, the people, the equipment, the efficacy.  We have some time to think about it, since this isn’t going away fast.

We share our resources, our houses, our bathrooms, showers and sinks.  We’re crying Discomfort! but also I think we whisper appreciation for the ones out there all night in feels like minus forty whose job it is to pit themselves against weather and harsh, and try to fix, try to fix, try

Spring seems like years away.  But it will come and all of this will transform into a story we will tell and tell again.  Remember the end of February 2015…?

I want to thank you, Snow, Cold and Wind, for all of this.

When in six weeks I stand t-shirted and digging in my garden I shall think of the winter show of 2014-15.

And I shall miss you.