Monday, June 29, 2009

Geanticlines and Slumps

Deduction from facebook posts: It’s hot in Texas and California. Not here though. We are getting ready to build an ark. It has surely rained for forty days now, and no signs of stopping. Was Noah’s flood a tsunami, or an expansion of the Black Sea? Geological evidence provides clues but no answers. Reading about geology, I’ve learned about regoliths, orogenies, geanticlines and slumps. I’m trying to work out a new group of installations based on sedimentary rock, and until I do it’s slow blogging. Thoughts like stones sliding along on a thin lubricant of salt, piling up at the base of the slope, in gravitational tectonics of the mind.

We must be humble. We are so easily baffled by appearances
And do not realise that their stories are one with the stars.
It makes no difference to them whether they are high or low,
Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace or pigsty.
There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined stones.
-Hugh McDiarmid

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oh Ye of Little Faith

The phoebes have three very hungry, very orange mouths to feed. The duck and her seven ducklings are taking the path up from the pond. And to think that I, for weeks now, have doubted even the existence of the mother duck, so well had she hidden herself, though her nest must be close by the creek.

In his book Earth: an Intimate History, Richard Fortey writes about tectonics and the fault line where Africa and Europe meet. All the alps of Europe were squeezed out of a seam in the earth no more the twenty kilometers wide, and extruded northward like pasta or spaetzle, in layers and layers of metamorphic rock. It’s a similar fascination to me that a sweater can be made from a long piece of string, or that babies arrive from tiny blobs of genetic material.

As I hope to breach the current impasse in my studio practice, perhaps it’s not too much to wish that something be building below the surface of my thinking to come forth in a rush of inspiration, or hatch like ducklings in seven permutations of a single mother concept. What power keeps the baby phoebe stock-still on the edge of the nest til it’s ready to fly?

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Route One-A

I feel obligated by my own sense of duty not to skip another week of blogging, but it is after all, as of next week, summer, and instead of racking up shows that I’ve seen, I give you this: three moose, various ducks one of whom is utterly comfortable begging for a handout, tadpoles and frogs a go go, just tonight a deer in the driveway, and 4:30 A.M. wake-up calls by a very loud robin. Such is the life of the Maine artist on Route One. It’s a wonder I ever get to the studio.

But I do, and I also made it up Route One-A to Bangor today to the University of Maine Museum of Art to catch Vessels Absent, Aaron Stephan’s exhibit of humanoids cum packing crates, arranged like spectators at an art exhibit. Aaron’s work is born at the intersection of art criticism and craft. What is art, anyway? Is it the ability to make objects, or the gift of allowing those objects to comment on themselves and on art in general?

The packing crates reminded me of Mark Tansey’s “The Innocent Eye,” but I wondered too about the spillage of shredded paper at the base of each crate. Are one’s thoughts about art always so transparently “out there” for other spectators to see? As I pondered the question, I found myself standing contraposto just like one of the packing crates. And I can't leave without noting that the ink drawings in multiples of 64 comment not only on their old master sources and on Andy Warhol, but also on every artist's struggle to get it right.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Participatory Art

According to Dave Hickey in The Invisible Dragon, a book of essays on beauty I’m currently reading, all art up until the seventeenth century was participatory. The people who looked at paintings back then believed in the sacredness of the subject depicted, or had a window into another world of which they felt a part. These days, we look on painting's subjects with dispassion. To follow Hickey’s thread, artists have come up with other ways to get us involved in their art, performance and installations being two such methods.

Aesthetics are inherent in work where the artist is not out to create beauty, but to demonstrate an abstract principle. Take for instance the principle of modulation. Installation artist Amy Stacey Curtis theorizes modulation by putting a rainbow-colored piece of paper inside a tin can, setting the can on the floor, and having her audience walk around it so that the color inside the can is seen to change from red to yellow to green to blue to red. But just as one human does not make a race, so one tin can cannot not give the full effect of color modulation, and the completed installation, exhibited in Brunswick, Maine in 2004, consisted of a circle of 2,304 cans, around which viewers were asked to walk slowly and meditatively. A later version was over 8,000 cans big.

The larger principle supporting Curtis’ work is that everything we humans do affects everything and everyone else. The installation pieces in Curtis’ solo biennials are participatory, as for instance a floor maze where persons entering and leaving in orderly progression emit random sounds, so that the result is something like a flattened tower of babble. In another, viewers walking a line next to a series of pendulums cause the pendulums to sway. No man is an island, but that he ripples the air where he goes. In yet another, photo overlays of many faces make one believable androgynous face.

Curtis examines chaos, not the blow-em-up variety, but a more subtle dis-order that is orderly in its affect. Think of chaos not as a cataclysmic disruption but as gentle revolution: order>chaos>order>chaos>order. As participants in her installations, we combine and uncombine elements, from pattern to random and back again. Installations are made and unmade, labor intensive, maximal in numbers of components, zen-minimal in concept, the actions deceptively simple to perform.

And where the biennials happen is also important. The unused mills Curtis chooses for her installations carry vestigial reminders of multiples of humans performing repetitive tasks. For a complete rundown on the biennials, visit her website and check out her youtube video.