I’ve been thinking about how to deliberately involve natural processes /natural energy in small events that result in a “something.” Can we think about how nature can be a partner? I like that this both makes the resulting “something” grounded in physical laws, while also making it seem a little alchemical.
Making solar energy/natural energy power the score
Exploratory scores (that also rely on natural energy)
What if…. you could make a chain-reaction, conservation-of-energy drawing?
Start with a piece of paper and hole punch. Punch a constellation of holes. Save all the holes. The energy expended punching holes has been released.
Next, reabsorb that energy. Set the punched page on the coated paper. Scatter (or carefully place) the holes onto another piece of coated paper. Set in the sun to catch the light. The reabsorbed energy will make the image.
What if …we leave the drawing up to chance applied to a pattern?
Start with a circle of 13 dots. Roll the die; X=die. Connect every X dots with a straight line, continuing around the circle until you return to the dot where you started.
Starting a new project — and starting anew in general. My external hard drive of images failed and the data couldn’t be recovered, so I really am starting over. (Lots was backed up, but not the very very recent things that I was especially in love with). I am working on strategies for handing creative work off to someone/something else: another person, the sun, chance, wind, something. Informing some of this is thinking about Flusxus scores and Surrealist games: sets of rules or instructions that put an activity into action, and resulted in something new and, likely, unexpected, and that could be enacted by anyone. I am wondering if the rules someone/something else’s rules: what can I set up that will use the rules of physics to make something unexpected?
One of the questions on the exit interview from the Lucas Artist Residency asked whether the change of location was helpful to my work. This got me thinking about travel, and about when and whether a change of location can really be justified, especially when grant funding is involved. I also must note that family support was essential to this undertaking: my partner and kids are ultimately the ones that made these trips possible.
My travel for my Montalvo residency was covered by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. MSAB funding also made it possible to attend a workshop on Alternative Aesthetics (led by the amazing Dani Tull) at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center over the summer, and to make a quick trip to Los Angeles to photograph the plaster mathematical models in the collection of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Unfortunately, current and future MSAB visual arts grantees won’t be able to use the funds for this kind of travel: new rules allow artists to travel only within the state. Without the MSAB grant, I would not have done the residency (or the other trips): but how do I explain why the travel was important?
Part of being at a residency is about being somewhere — anywhere— new and different, away from your regular life and responsibilities. But I would also argue that being at Montalvo was about being at that particular place, at that particular time, with that particular group of people. It was great to have light and warmth — and the weather certainly facilitated the work I was trying to do. The artists I met were not artists I would have ever met in MN (I’m not sure any of them had ever even been here), and that was great. Meeting artists from around the country — who travel all over the world — gave me insights into how artists make work and make a living under all sorts of circumstances, in a variety of places. I certainly better understand the advantages, disadvantages, and peculiarities of where I live than I did before. I had to rethink how I articulate my work and career in a different, broader context, for people who don’t know anything about my state or what’s happening art-wise here. I was far out of my element, it was a challenge, and that was great.
Really, though, in many ways, the argument for travel is just the same as the argument that those who pushed to eliminate the MSAB’s “wasteful” spending on artists’ travel: it was selfish. I wanted to attend a workshop on cults and UFOs because it it was so far from — and yet such an obvious extension of — my regular path. I wanted to go make my own photographs (and, as luck had it, cyanotypes) from real plaster mathematical models that I could study, handle, and discover directly for myself. And traveling to Saratoga for a residency gave me a month in the studio, in the sun, and with a great group of inspiring people. I did my research, I figured out what I wanted to do, and I pursued the idea selfishly. I work with constraints all the time; the ability to travel removed a big constraint, and lots of resulting little ones, that conspire against my desire to make the work I would most like to make.
Before I left for my residency at Montalvo, I spent lots of time worrying about getting ready — but had very little time to actually get ready. I didn’t prep my paper; I didn’t test the kind of printing I planned to do; I didn’t even get my working images scanned until just before I left (and had to have the files sent after I arrived). I packed at the very last minute, realizing too late that I couldn’t bring the paper I had on hand to use during the month. I felt terrible: the residency was such a gift, and I simply could not face failing to take full advantage of the opportunity because I wasn’t fully prepared.
So, here’s how it turned out. After a harrowing day of (mostly not) flying on one of the coldest days of the year, I wound up in Northern California. It was warm, there were leaves on the tree, I could keep my windows open, there were birds and squirrels rustling in the brush. And I had a lovely, large, blank space. The hastily-packed box had all the basics: some paper, some tape, some stuff to cut with. Anything I didn’t have could be sent. And until it arrived, I had what I needed to get started.
As it turned out, the residency afforded me more than just time and space: it also offered room to make mistakes. I had a whole month in the studio, and while I didn’t want to waste any time, I could change course, make corrections, improvise, and invent without worrying that I’d run out of time. At home, I’ve become good at working in very small spans of time, with lots of interruptions, but working that way doesn’t leave much slack for errors or shifting ideas. Because there was time to spare, and all the time was my own, I think I turned out to be a better artist than I thought I was. I can improvise, I can be scrappy, but I can also work past mistakes, solve problems, and work with precision.
Certainly the point of a residency is to give an artist time and space — but especially time — to make work. What I realized, however, is that while the quantity of time really mattered (I figured that each day at Montalvo was the equivalent of a week of studio time at home), the quality of time was also significant. Part of this was that work time was plentiful, uninterrupted, and focused: but it was also time that wasn’t required to multi-task. Work time could be work time, and down time, mercifully, could be down time.
I have good chunks of time to work at home, but now realize that those blocks of time come when everything else is done: kids dropped off, groceries bought, meals made, job-job wrapped up. I can — and do —make good use of that time, but the minute I get to the shop and sit down at my table is my first chance to tuck in and get to work, but it is also my first good chance to check facebook, or find that book on amazon, or read that article someone forwarded me. At Montalvo, work time was beyond plentiful, but maybe even more importantly, it wasn’t in competition with down time. There was also time to take time off and not worry about it.
A bonus photo + little book project. In regular life, I don’t have to make anything that isn’t the thing that that I am working on right that second. This month afforded digressions, experiments, sidetracks, and resulted in this extra little project, inspired by the photographs in G. Fischer’s Mathematical Models.
On track & off-track. This month, I have much much more time than I may ever have again. I really really want to make use of every minute — to take full advantage of this place, this wonderful space, and the time — but it is also meaning that I don’t need to worry too much about getting off track. I can fold a bunch of paper, I can try adapting (unsuccessfully) a famous rendering of 4D space, I can attempt to remake (also not so successfully, but there’s hope) a photo of Brancusi’s studio. I am also finding I am being more deliberate about staying on track: testing and tracking exposures for the cyanotypes, making multiple versions to choose between — experiments that I am unlikely to pursue if pressed for time.