Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Museum As Medium

I think the average artist and contemporary art student has a love hate relationship with museums and  perhaps often sees museums as the corporate aspect of art and artists, epitomizing the business of the art world.

In spite of the fact that our fourth year Fine Art class were able to see such a variety of remarkable and inspiring art work by numerous renowned artists, which I can not underestimate, it was however the experience of the small independent galleries in Chelsea that many seemed to be have struck by. 

There is much to be said for the small museum. Through out my youth and adult life I recall visiting odd, unusual, little, museums,  some in Ontario, others throughout parts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  They were always full of strange and wondrous items and treasures. Three headed calves, clothes that belonged to the biggest man in the Maritimes, the smallest woman, antique tools, farm machinery, replicas of buildings and some preserved original structures. They were fascinating,  interactive memorials that transported you to another time and place.

There is a place for the large mammoth museum I know. The smaller museums offer something very different though I believe, allowing for, the museum as medium, because of the intimate experience enabled by the particular, the peculiar, the precious and the rare. You don't get lost in the small museum, and more often than not you have the opportunity to converse at length with the curator, which enriches the experience.

I noticed in the Metropolitan Museum there were rooms, like small museums within the museum. I went to the antique musical instrument room. It was an amazing, intimate experience, and I didn't feel overwhelmed with the expanse of space and the amount of items within the exhibit. It was a valuable characteristic that optimized the museum as medium.

Last week I watched Night At The Museum with Ben Stiller, featuring The Museum of Natural History in New York City, an incredible place. Here's a funny clip  about not touching the exhibits.
I remember going to the Royal Albert Museum in London England, seeing Goya's masterpiece, Guernica and waiting so badly to touch it. The attendant very assertively reminded me to not touch the painting. I must have had that look on my face, that he undoubtedly had seen many times before.  It's the most natural thing for a person to want to do I think, or perhaps that's peculiar to artists. I also saw the wonderful dancer Josephine Baker's costumes with all those feathers. I admit I touched it!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Performance, Narrative and Art

Recently, our Art Seminar Professor Jerry Ropson asked our class to work on a project involving an interview with our fellow art students. He divided us into predetermined groups of three and four.  We were also asked to provide a couple of you tube videos related to our art practice.

The initial questions I asked, where based on the Proust Questionnaire, acting as a jumping off point enabling us to get to know more about ourselves and each other. They also lead to more questions and further discussion. We produced our own video that consisted of actual video taped interviews. I will post this at a later date once they have been edited. We will be presenting this project in class tomorrow.

Ideas On Performance and How It  Relates To Narrative:

CM  Performance I am not so interested in. I am not a performance artist, though I have been involved in  studying the elements of developmental drama and comedia del arte/street theatre in the past. I am very interested in archetypes that also run through many theatrical classical types, and how this translates into my painting through imagery of mythology, story telling and narrative.

I think we all have elements to some degree that resemble archetypes and are often played out in persona or personal masks or roles we play in life. I find this intriguing and psychologically I try to learn about the human condition, through archetype and myth in the form of story telling, legend, regardless if they are fictional or not.

RT  The line between who you are and your art, for example K and I have a lot of self portraiture in our art. Do you feel your art has any form of self portraiture? Or does it identify with who you are?

CM  Well, I can't help but feel that this is going to happen because it is an expression of yourself (art). I love portraiture and this had been my passion in the past and still is, but now my work is more about a kind of inner self portraiture. 

RT  Yes that makes sense. So does your art take on more like a narrative of the inner self then?

CM  Yes

CM Proust Questions
1. Your favourite character in fiction?
2. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
3. Your favourite painter?
4. Your favourite occupation?
5. What's your greatest regret?
6. What's your greatest achievement?
1. My favourite character in fiction when I was young, was always Snow White. I think I wanted to be her.  I identified I think because I thought of her as being kind and sweet like her. I wanted to emulate her. She had all those ugly funny looking friends (dwarfs) she lived with but she loved them regardless and they all loved her too. They never resented her for being beautiful. I guess she is still my favourite fictional character, because of the same reasons.

2. If  I could change one thing about myself  I would like to be less of a procrastinator. This problem of procrastination directly affects my life. I can't wait around to get motivated or inspired and though I don't do this now, I still procrastinate at times, when it comes to being productive creatively as a daily habit. So that's why I write regularly in journals, it helps me to be disciplined and keeps the creative wheels greased and juices flowing. I'm not sure how exactly this works but I know it does. It has something to do with my unconscious and the right side of my brain I think.

3. My favourite painter is Andrew Wyethe, who uses egg tempera. After being able to see his work in NYC I was absolutely blown away with the masterful mark making. My favourite occupation has been being a Youth Care Worker working with troubled kids especially when I could use my skills as an creative person and working with horses as well. Animals, art and kids is one of the very best combinations ever.

5. My greatest regret would be not finishing my Fine Art degree from NSCAD. However I don't hold on to this regret, the main thing is, I am going to finish my BFA this coming Spring at Mount Allison and I am so happy and satisfied with this wonderful experience later in my later life as a Crone!

6. My greatest achievement?  I have had a few but returning to University too finish my degree at the age of 56 would be the greatest achievement to date.

RT That's funny because I did a big project on snow white in 2nd year in drawing...it was more about the romanticizing of Disney characters though and the unrealistic depiction of women etc.

I procrastinate too! I would definitely change that, or my fickleness. I'm really bad at making decisions, because I always want to do everything!

RT  How do you feel about acting on stage vs street theatre?

Do you feel like we have different personas or selves. Do you represent yourself always in one way, or in many different ways; for example do you act the same in every situation, or do you act differently sometimes..why do you think people act or in different ways in different situations?

CM  Instead of studying Comedia del arte I should have applied to Second City. I love Second City Improv! That would have been my dream come true!

CM   Street theatre is right there on the street with close contact with the audience, I love that. Anything is possible, anything can happen. I loved the immediacy improv element living in the present moment and working off of your fellow performers. I see it like the stage is more like the big commercial gallery. Street theatre is like the artist run centre.

CM  I just try to be myself but sometimes there are circumstances when you need to act accordingly. But I don't often find myself in these situations. Some folks don't know who they are, know themselves very well or aren't comfortable in their own skin and so try to conform or are like camelions becoming what they think will please others in whatever situation they find themselves in. That stinks.


KH  Proust Questions

1. I'm not sure I really have a favourite character in fiction. I don't read a whole lot and i think that with movies and tv shows i tend to be more interested in the actor than the character itself. but someone who comes to mind is Sally Bowles in cabaret, as portrayed by the fabulous Liza Minnelli. I guess the thing I'm interested in, is that she tries so hard to be this outgoing sexy type character, but you can tell that she really is putting it all on and inside she's kind of a mess.

2. If  I could change one thing about myself, the obvious answers for me here would be, to go with the appearance based things, like I wish I were taller, thinner and my boobs weren't so big. But that wouldn't really help anything in the long run, so maybe something like not procrastinating would be good for me too. i definitely do it enough. or just that I wish i could just be more motivated in general.

3. Who is my favourite painter? I don't think I have a favourite painter, necessarily. I appreciate painting but it rarely grabs me the same way some other forms of art do. I've also always had a hard time naming one particular artist as my favourite. I'll say that last week in New York City, I  saw a Louise Bourgeois sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum, that I unexpectedly loved, which gave me a new appreciation for her.

4. An occupation I've had? I haven't really had any I particularly liked. My least favourite would have to be a tie between waitressing at my grandparents' restaurant with a horrible head waitress who did nothing but take smoke breaks and tips, and summer camps for 3262247473 kids who didn't want to be there.

5. What's my greatest regret? All the things I haven't done.

6.What's my greatest achievement? Something I haven't done yet.

CM  I agree R the female Disney personas are abysmal. Though I'm not sure when I was little I thought about how beautiful she was but I thought it was strangely curious why she was living with dwarfs, and I found it lovely they got along so well and how they had such affection for one another

CM   K do you identify with that character Sally Bowles? Or do you identify with Liza Minelli? Is motivation peculiar to artists K or is there a reason you feel motivation is an issue for you personally?

KH  It might just be that I’m trying to find a way to justify using Liza Minnelli as
my answer. I don't think I really identify with her, necessarily, because she
comes from this entirely different background that i can't even begin to
understand. I guess I'm just drawn to this persona that she seems to have
created for herself. Her whole image and the way she acted from just seemed
very deliberate, and now that she's older she kind of just lets the crazy show
through. she's been through a lot, she's a tough lady.

I think most, if not all, artists have motivation problems to some extent. Then
I look around me and see everyone working and making these amazing things and I
feel like for me it is a bit more of a problem. Not just motivation to do art,
but motivation to do anything at all. Sometimes sleeping just seems more
attractive to me than engaging with the real world.

RT Proust Questions

1. I have a lot of favourite characters in fiction, mostly in Disney movies and musicals. I love the Little Mermaid and Belle. Also Alfaba from Wicked, Mimi from RENT, Nina and Vanessa from In the Heights, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Meg from Phantom, Meg from Hercules, Pocahontas, Danielle from Ever After. That's just to name a few. I spend a lot of my time pretending to be characters I am not, like whenever I sing, I'm probably not paying attention to other people, I'm just acting in my own world.

2. I also wish I could sing/act/dance well enough to be on Broadway, or some big musical.

3. I don't look at much painting, but I saw Eric Zener's paintings in NY and I loved them, mostly because of the subject matter but also because they are very photo-realistic and photo is my thing. The paintings are of people underwater;a lot of them are falling or jumping into the water. They seem suspended in space. To me it's like the freedom I feel when I am in water, I have a powerful connection with water that I find hard to explain. I especially love the way the human body looks and feels in water. It is cool and beautiful.

4. My favourite and least favourite occupation was tree planting. It sucked but it was also an amazing experience.

5. I don't really believe in regretting things. I think you learn from everything you do and that makes you a better person.

6. I don't know abut achievement but up to this point some of the best decisions I have made where. to stay home and study fine arts here to quit tree planting and come home for my dad's birthday this summer and to go see the musical "In The Heights" in Scranton, New York last weekend.

CM  It's wonderful to look at artist  or art that can change our minds, change our art, and change our opinions!

CM You can act, dance and sing already R.. You're a triple threat!

RT  A favourite occupation? A job the would be great? Something to do with theatre and art and maybe kids.

CM  Interesting what you say about water and how you identify with that. I also am the same. When I studied Mime I learned this is the element I identify with. We really all do have an element we are most like I believe.

Regrets aren't healthy no point in worrying about the past.
Rena what do you consider to be some of the most important lessons you have learned through your mistakes as an art student over the past four years?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jerry Ropson and Narrative Art

Our Contemporary Art History class had a special guest, Jerry Ropson, visual artist, story teller and Assistant Professor at Mount Allison University, this past Wednesday. He gave an engaging presentation of his work and discussed his ideas surrounding narrative, in relation to his own art practice. All through the presentation he referred to his attachment to his woodshed at home and how he was given the chore of bringing in wood to the wood box from an early age. He had a love hate/relationship with this woodshed. His  attachment to wood splitting became a central theme of a large part of his art work. The woodshed was a very significant part of his psyche growing up and I think has been become symbolic of his deep connection with where he is from, his family and life in rural Newfoundland.

The fact that Jerry grew up in isolated Newfoundland close knit community, lends itself to story telling, making your own entertainment, which is embedded in a strong history of oral tradition. Unfortunately much of our own oral tradition has be lost within our North American culture, with the exception of some isolated communities and First Nations people. However I think it can be said, there is a revival of sorts happening, in the contemporary development of narrative arts.

Recently I sat down and spoke with Jerry about story telling. He shared with me the experience he had doing a residence with a woman known as the Dean of story telling, Gioia Timpanelli. She is definitely the consummate story teller. I think Jerry has been influenced Gioia Timpanelli, in the sense that this has been one of the life experiences that helped him to gain a sound understanding of his art practice enabling him to bring together his personal and professional art practice. Like Kiki Smith he has learned to trust his intuition and come to understand and appreciate his family and cultural heritage that are all part and parcel of his art practice and work.

While in New York City, I saw Tony Smith's sculpture, at The Whitney Museum, in New York City. My Professor Dr. Anne Koval informed me he was Kiki Smith's father. I have to say I am a great fan of Kiki Smith and find her art to be very much about narrative. She comes from a Catholic Irish family and I find it fascinating that she considers Catholicism to be about story telling. So much of the Catholic imagery, belief in the Virgin Mary, festivals and etc., directly and indirectly comes out of the Celtic history with worship of the Goddess, relating to archetype, and mythical stories through oral tradition.

Communication, language and oral tradition I have always been very drawn to. In particular story telling has been a constant in my life, which has been for me like numerous guideposts that help to form and confirm my belief that in order to grow, we must be willing to fail and make mistakes. This is what it means to be human.  Narrative art to me is a spiritual kind of journey and is about the human experience, and human beings as story telling creatures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Annie Leibovitz's Pilgrimage

On November 8th in New York City, I attended Annie Leibovitz’s  presentation at Barne’s and Noble Bookstore about the recent publication of her book entitled, “Pilgrimage”. This book of photography is personal exploration and a sort of vision quest, while traveling throughout America and the United Kingdom in search of things she considered meaningful to her without any preconceived agenda.

After seeing the various photos within the book and hearing Leibovitz speak, I felt the experience she had, reminded me of a book I once read entitled , “The Spirituality of Imperfection.
These documented photos were more than simply social documentation, which she has been well schooled in from her mentors, Robert Frank and Henri Cartier Bresson.

She told the audience at her presentation, “ it is out there” for all to experience. I think she is referring to the meaning in life that can be found in the pursuit of what is meaningful to each individual. Interestingly, she said the night before on David Lettermen, she took this journey to “save her soul”. She also said what motivated her was that "she needed to save herself".

Her photos invite the viewer to experience a personal glimpse into the spirituality of imperfect humanity of those famous people, who once seemed larger than life and unknown. One feels a closeness and intimacy with the rooms, the landscape and the objects she photographed and I suspect it is not because of the camera or the sophisticated equipment used, but because of the subject matter itself, and because she bothered to take this personal journey and share it with others. 

The strong element of synchronicity is apparent in this book, in that how one thing lead to another, following her heart’s desire in fulfilling the dream her late partner, Susan Sontag and of always wanting to travel to find people, places and things of meaning.

Her own personal crisis and desire to be close to her children was the antecedent to this journey.
Her photos demystifies the famous, and the infamous, giving an intimate, human portrayal, that is both beautiful and a presentation of the imperfect fragility of life, that draws the viewer into an experience and appreciation of the stuff of life.

I'm drawn to the fact she sees much of her personal and private work as being connected.  Annie Leibovitz impresses me as having a great appreciation for all art forms and expression.

Leibovitz began her artistic pursuits first as a painter prior to her practice as a photographer. Her particular passion for dance I found very moving, finding out that her mother was once a modern dancer, thus her photos of Martha Graham’s dance warehouse and her references to Isadora Duncan.

There is a sense of story telling and narrative in this work that I think reflects Annie Lebovitz’s nature, that reveals what and who she admires and loves. She photographed a variety of landscapes, rooms and items found first in Massachusetts at Emily Dickinson’s house. Here through the use of a small digital camera she stated how surprized she was that the digital photograph was very accurate representation of  the way it actually appeared, without any assisted use of lighting. Her use of the digital media is a reflection of how she considers the digital photography as a simply another creative tool, and describing the digital camera process as being the modern dark room. I must say, I was a little disappointed in hearing her say this on David Letterman however she did also remark during her presentation at Barnes & Noble that was not of the opinion that anyone could be a photographer because of the digital camera photography which she considers to be more of a generational difference.

After her time in Massachusetts she traveled to Niagara Falls with her children, where she began making  lists of places she wanted to visit, including the English countryside homes of Virginia Wolfe, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud in London. Here she would use more complex cameras and equipment and her subject matter expanded to include objects and landscape.

While in Walden Pond where the site of Thoreau’s cabin was, she was drawn to other Concord writers like Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Throughout the book there is not a single person photographed, however it is full of portraiture and the intimate traces left behind by the people she portrays. 

Her inclusion of Beaux Arts sculptor Daniel Chester French’s studio, who made the statue of Lincoln Memorial perhaps not only reflects her interest in what it means to be American, but how Lincoln the man was never really portrayed personally in an intimate way.

 She spoke about the photos she took of his white gloves found in his pocket the day of his assassination and of his top hat which had two spots where his fingers wore the rim, as he was constantly putting his hat on and off. Leibovitz expresses how Lincoln loved to chop wood and was very precise and related the continuous removal and placement of his hat with his precise and almost compulsive wood chopping activity.

Georgie O’Keeffe was the person Annie was most moved by, and remarked how struck she was by the simple lifestyle she'd had lived her life at Ghost Ranch, lived, which perhaps convicted Annie Leibovitz, as she lives a very famous, somewhat complicated and lavish lifestyle.

More than anything the messages I went away from Annie  Leibovitz was, do what you're passionate about.
The traces left behind by those we love are a way to hold on to them, in our memory and a way to nurture and honour our own humanity.

“I would encourage everyone to make their own list,” she says. “My book is a meditation on how to live. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but you should always try to do what you love to do.” 

                                                                                                                              Annie Leibovitz

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Water Instruments, Gordon Monahan, Steve Mann

I think most people I can safely say love to hear beautiful sounds and  there have been studies that give evidence that sound evokes many emotions and responses in the human psyche. My recent exploration of performance which certainly isn't expansive, none the less I have a renewed interest in it, however I am not exactly certain why, other than for the enjoyment of creative exploration and process.

A friend a few years back gave me a cassette recorder that was old but in excellent condition. I visited an artist friend in her studio and conducted three interviews with her and on the last occasion I used the recorder to tape our interview, followed by photographs of her in an out of her her studio and now I intend to do studio photos of her as my subject matter. 

Upon my return home I immediately proceeded to play back the interview. I was annoyed because of the quality of the sound  had been affected by the recording of the machine itself. The longer I thought about  the recording of the actual machine itself, I became some what curious about it. I asked myself why? I think it has to do with the purity of the event itself machine noises and all. There for me lies the rub, the questions I thought were effective and illicited the responses I had hoped to acquire.  I thought to myself how can I  push this further, and what is it that makes me want to? After further consideration I came to the conclusion it's about sound for me, and about process, without placing value judgement on creative expression regardless of the machines technical glitches.  I have the freedom to choose to leave the noise in and use this as part and parcel of the piece or scrap it and do another. There is something curious about old recording devices even the sounds picked up of the recorder by the recorder itself. The recorder almost becomes an instrument of sorts. Sound is language and music, each tells a story.

I found an interesting video online about the hydraulophone  or water flute, which was a very cool instrument invented by Steve Mann, a Professor of  electrical and computer engineering in Toronto Ontario. This reminded me of a sound installation  Gordon Monahan  did in 1990 involving water entitled, Aquaelian Whirlpool to make music. Both individual concepts involving sound are very curious to me. They extend and push the boundaries of preconceived notions of what music is, involving combined elements of water and air. 

"The Aquaeolian Whirlpool demonstrates that the music of aeolian harps can be transposed from the medium of air to the medium of water; that the music produced in both cases is a kindred phenomenon; that the flowing of water and air is fundamental to our production of music; and that in many cases, water and air are interchangeable substances in the generation and transmission of sound."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pamela Coleman Smith and Alfred Stieglitz

Last week I was asked to do a Tarot card reading as part of a performance for the end of  an Art Symposium. Unfortunately I was unable attend. It led me to learn more about the woman responsible for this very well known Tarot deck. I have been reading Tarot cards for approximately three years now. I was amazed to find out that Pamela Colman Smith was a very talented artist with a very fascinating life. Here is the write up on one of the cards I have in the deck I purchased four years ago.

" She was born February 16, 1878, in Middlesex, England to American parents. Her childhood years were spent between London, New York, and Kingston, Jamaica.

During her teens, she traveled throughout England with the theatre company of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. Thereafter, she began formal art training at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, graduating in 1897.

Although American by birth, she returned to England, where she became theatrical designer for miniature theatre, and an Illustrator, mainly of books, pamphlets and posters. 

Around 1903, she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1009, under the guidance of Arthur Edward Waite, she undertook, for a token payment, a series of seventy-eight allegorical paintings described by Waite as a rectified tarot pack. The designs, published in the same year by William Rider and Son, exemplify the mysticism, ritual, imagination, fantasy, and deep emotion of the artist.

Despite occasional art shows and favorable reviews by critics, the continued slow sales of her works and rejections by commercial publishers left her deeply disappointed.

She never married. She had no known heirs except for an elderly female companion who shared her flat. She died on September 18, 1951, penniless and obscure. There was no one funeral procession to honour her life. There was no memorial service to touch upon the impact her work  would one day have upon her admirers. She died disappointed that her paintings and writings failed to achieve success, yet she never stopped believing in herself. 

Pamela Coleman Smith would have all but be forgotten except for the seventy-eight tarot paintings known as the Rider-Waite Tarot pack. She would no doubt be astonished and gladdened to know that today the deck touches the hearts and emotions of millions of people.''

I found it to be intriguing to learn that Pamela Coleman Smith was friends with William Yeats and had done art work for him. As well she was the first woman artist to have her painting shown by American Photographer and Modern Art Promoter, Alfred Stieglitz, in his gallery, Little Galleries, which up until this point only photographs where ever exhibited.
Her successful show marked a turning point between the old era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of photography and new era of Stieglitz as revolutionary promoter of modern art.

New Egg Tempera Painting - Manawee

This is the latest egg tempera painting I completed last night which will be included in the series I have been working on based on the imagery from the book by Clarissa Pinklola Estes, Women That Run With The Wolves. It is called Manawee, Hymn For The Wild Man.