My studio and academic time between this residency and the first was fraught with the excitement of the realization that so much of the nature of art and academe had changed since my previous experience in the '70s, that I actually had to pay attention and work at understanding the new rules and ways of doing things. Fortunately, between the advice of my Advisor, Judith Barry, and my Mentor, Robert Farber, I was able to learn and adapt and be ready for my second semester Residency.
Thursday, June 20th:
This semester I decided that it might be a good idea to see what Boston looked like, as in my first residency there was not enough time between classes to see anything other than Kenmore Square and the scheduled side trips, so I came a day early and took the "T" from my B&B in Brookline to the library, Trinity Church and Old South Church at Copley Square and then walked into town to catch the Common and most of the Freedom Trail. Bunker Hill and the U.S.S. Constitution will have to wait for next residency. It made a great day and gave me a much better concept of the nature of my surroundings.
Friday June 21st
was the day for hanging work, and I was very pleased to discover that my display area was the first area when walking in the front door. What a fortunate event, as I had prepared my show for just such a venue, but had really not expected to be lucky enough to get it. The space was tight, but worked well. My Mentor had planned with me for a much larger space for the larger of my two primary suites, but I adapted it easily.
Saturday June 22nd
was the day of the first critique, a group crit with Jan Avgikos. I was pleased with the positive response to my work not only from Jan but from my display area peers. Jan's comments were a bit surprising, as of the two main suites I brought, Both my Mentor and I felt the larger - Hope is the Thing With Feathers - was the stronger , and that the smaller - A Major Suite - was the weaker. Jan felt just the opposite, and cautioned me to be, as an artist, sure of myself and not to necessarily agree with my Mentor or Advisor without fully thinking it out.
The Group II seminar was with Michael Newman and discussed the subtle differences between a library and an archive. At the time, I found no significant reason to dedicate an entire seminar to the concept, but as the seminar progressed through the Residency, I came to understand that the significance is of importance, but have utilized the concept to reconsider how I arrange the storage and display of my work. My website is much more sophisticated because of this new knowledge.
I met with Judith Barry as my outgoing Advisor, and was pleased to find that she was happy with my efforts in my academic work, especially my later papers, and was favorably impressed with my studio work. Judith encouraged me to go to New York to immerse myself in the art scene there, and if possible, to move there and become part of it. Moving there is not a likely event in my life right now, but I will certainly endeavor to become conversant in the scene.
Sunday June 23rd
: Before classes, I took the "T" to Old South Church at Copley Square in hopes of attending a Congregationalist service. I arrived about half an hour early and was welcomed in to the chapel where a small group was practicing hymns for the service. I sat there for about five minutes when the director, Laurel Leslie, asked "You're not a tenor, are you? We have no tenors this morning." One of my majors in undergraduate school was voice, and a scholarship in Classical-sacred put me through the first years, so I was welcomed by all. I'll be dropping in to sing with them in my next Residencies, I'm sure.
Fia Backstrom gave us our group critique - an interesting form of critique where Fia and peers speak and then we defend. All seemed to like the juxtaposition of hard graphical elements in my work with the organic forms which are the subject of the work. Also liked by some, but not by the entire group, was the compression of the three dimensional elements into flat two-dimensional space. Some but not all thought the white space detracted from the work, others, like me, thought that the white space successfully makes the entire work float as an entity in itself.
While my Mentor believed that the more saturated versions of the A Major Scales are less successful, Judith believes they are more, and the response in this group was equally divided. some believed that the simpler, less woven spaces were more successful, some just the opposite. One really valid question that was brought up is whether or not my use of symmetrical geometric forms is a crutch, and I must say that it is just that, although a successful crutch.
Fia brought up other artists and subjects which would be to my advantage to familiarize myself and to read, including Aaron Siskind and the abstract expressionist movement in Chicago in the early '50s, photographer Minor White, Hans Hoffman, an abstract painter of the '40s, the paintings and graphics of Kelley Walker, and the paintings of Walker's fellow artist Wade Guyton, with whom he collaborates.
Sunanda and Fia gave a talk on politics and art which was very interesting to me, as I lean towards the political in some of my art. From the concept of Potochenko's radical diagonals to Hans Haacke's social statements of slumlord buildings and the Guggenheim's decision to cancel the show to the bizarre right wing criticisms of abstract art of Senator George Dandero, I was amazed at how little it takes for those in power to be intimidated by those who create.
Monday June 24th
: Seminar with Tony Apesos - Spiritualism in Art - this seminar was very exciting to me as I am a student of religion and the spiritual. Blake's concept of the four states of consciousness makes an interesting framework for comparison with spirituality of many forms. It became clear quickly that the process of making art is a meditative endeavor.
In Michael Newman's seminar on archives we discussed the enormous effect of digital media on archives and the boon to raw material to the artist this information can be.
In the evening we retired to Boston University to hear the poetry of Greg Bordowitz, a writer, artist, video professor, AIDS patient and AIDS activist, a presentation in which he adamantly made the statement "I believe that art can change the world". In the fight against AIDS, he has proven this to be true.
Tuesday June 25th
: Meeting with Sunanda Sanyal, my Advisor for this semester. This was a very informative meeting, acknowledging the state of my expertise in the technics of digital graphics and my shortcomings in the potential direction of my art.
Michael Newman's seminar on archives: We discussed the work of Walter Benjamin in the early 20th Century in his documentation on the methods and results of "modern media". We also discussed Seth Price's How to Disappear in America and its relation to the dropouts of the '60s. We also discussed marijuana seed banks, not only as a source of seeds for growers, but as an example of an archive.
I attended a video - Marxism and Art. Concepts I took from this are that art is revolutionary (indeed), great art and great music have the power to shock, and that the art world is heavily incorporated into the money world.
In the evening we were entertained by visiting artist Angela DuFresne, who does, in her words, "covers" for famous paintings. Angela was delighted to show us her painting based on Fragonard dogs, and insisted on pointing out to us that the dog's tail was caressing a woman's vagina. She also showed us a video "Jiz" Kimber is a Dirty Lezzie. According to Angela "It's about insatiable curiosity".
Wednesday June 26th
: I was critiqued by graduate Karen Assel, who liked the work and told me that she though its success and interest was in the tension between the geometric and the organic. She cautioned me not to use "fillers" or non-germane images within the work. She suggested studying the works of Joseph Cornell, and drew a parallel between my work and his "boxes".
Graduate Janna Generaux also critiqued my work and found it to be technically astute and visually inviting. She found that the flatness of the Feathers suite was disconcerting and that the A Minor suite was visually more engaging. She suggested that I read John Dewey's The Nature of Experience.
In my critique by graduate Sarah Barr, she expressed that she liked the technical aspects of the work and thought that it was intriguing and drew the viewer to it. She told me that the depth of field in the A Minor suite far excelled that of Feathers and thought that that was of significance.
In the afternoon the members of the spirituality class went on a field trip with Tony to the Museum of Fine Arts. Contemporary works that I found to be of spiritual import were Split Boxes by Anselm Kiefer, Manhole by Iván Navarro, Mirrors by Josiah McElheny, Vase by Gerhard Richter, and Black River by El Anatsui. Period works that I found to be of spiritual significance were many of the Egyptian pieces, and the reliquary of the Master of Osservanza.
I attended the woodworking workshop and found some interest. Jamie Keller is a good woodworker and knows that of which he speaks. As a furniture maker and boatbuilder myself, I found it quite interesting.
Guest artist Ken Lum discussed his work at Boston University, pointing out that his work has been socio-political commentary in public spaces. Melly Shum Hates Her Job is a significant example of his work, beginning as an aggressive statement against the establishment, but ultimately being embraced by it.
Thursday June 27th
: In elective seminar Tony suggested we obtain George Ferguson's book Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, and James Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. We further discussed the Victorians' obsession with Faeries and William Blake's poetry. We discussed the importance of Fra Angelico's Transfiguration as a departure of the pure symbolism of the Middle Ages into the representational characteristics of the Renaissance. We discussed the work of Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler and its spiritual elements. Tony lamented the contradiction of one religious group destroying the art of another religious group.
At lunch time I photographed Deborah McDuff's show for her catalogue. I did not have adequate lighting equipment with me nor was there adequate space in the tight confines of the gallery to properly stage the photoshoot. This was quite a challenge, so much of the work was done with extra-wide angle lenses and multiple exposures at different focuses modified and stitched together in photo shop to get adequate depth of field. The catalogue can be seen at: http://cocoanutandpalm.com/deborahmcduffaibshow.html
After lunch I went with Tony to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. We also were fortunate to see the display of Samurai regalia. I took this opportunity to study the Roman section of the museum and study the post-Ptolemaic artifacts of Egypt.
Graduate Mary Zompetti did a group critique in my pod in the afternoon. She thought my work was successful, but suggested that I try doing a study or suite without the inherent montage.
Visiting artist Valeska Soares talked at Boston University Friday evening. Her work is very interesting, bordering between sculpture and installation art. I especially like her book bindings, as they relate to my work much more closely than her sugar cubes or sofas.
Friday June 28th
: I woke up Friday morning feeling great, but by the time I was waiting for the "T" in front of my B&B, I knew something was wrong. By 9:00 I was feeling very ill, and sweating profusely. Miah Johnson, as a competent First Responder, took charge and before I knew it I was on my way to Brigham and Women's hospital. This was my first trip in an ambulance, which was kind of exciting in itself, but I can't say much for the Boston bumpy roads on the way. Fortunately I was not having the heart attack that was feared, but only my first bout of kidney stones, which by the time all the tests were done at the hospital had resolved itself. I talked them into discharging me and walked the mile and a half from Brigham and Women's to class.
When I entered the classroom, everyone stood and cheered, including Michael Newman. I didn't think I had worried everyone that much, but I was very pleased that my compatriots cared enough to be concerned about me. I was especially glad that I had already done my class assignment.
I felt very weak from my ordeal, and after class went home to sleep instead of going to the graduate show.
Saturday June 29th
: On Saturday morning I had a crit with Sunanda. We talked further about the nature of my work and my technical abilities. We discussed the use of canvas as a substrate, and the necessity of rationalizing its use for ink rather than for paint. We both agreed that canvas is looked down upon by purists as a material used for giclée reproductions rather than for original art printed with inkjet. I had these suites printed on canvas rather than paper, which was my preference, because my printer had decent canvas in stock and only mediocre paper. My Mentor liked the look of the work on stretched canvas and recommended that I present the suites that way. They do look good but they appear to be paint and it keeps bothering me that they are ink. I believe that I would prefer paper, and a 40' roll of 36" can be had for $225, so that may be the way to go. I'll purchase a roll for my printer and get him to discount the amount of the material.
I am purchasing a 17" wide printer for smaller works, so the 18" suites may end up 17" x 17" on paper. I think I am going to mount the paper on aluminum sheet and display it set off from the wall 1-1/2".
Sunanda recommended strongly that I read James Elkins' Photography Theory and Sculpture in the Age of Doubt by Thomas McEvilley. Just as Judith did, he wants me to educate myself as much as possible with photo history and art history of the last 30 years.
Graduate Jason Pramas critiqued my work next. He stated that my technical abilities exceeded his, so that he could give me no insight there, but we had a good discussion on how my work relates to ecological awareness and to the importance of keeping that aspect of it subtle, unless I chose to put it at the forefront and make a political statement with it. My work is sometimes very blatantly political, but this is not the mainstream of my direction, so I agree with Jason that it must stay quietly in the background, although clearly present.
My next critique was from Oliver Wasow. We spoke of the nature and sources of my images and the fact that some are harvested from the internet and some are from my own photography. Oliver liked the direction my work was going and the technical quality of the printing and compositing. Unfortunately, we had to cut my critique short, as I began to feel the affects of another kidney stone event.
Louise Goldenberg was kind enough to take me back to the hospital again, as the last thing I wanted again was the drama of the ambulance and everyone worrying about me. By the time I got there the episode was over, but the doctor warned me that it still could be a heart attack or blood clots in my lungs, which could kill me in the pressurized atmosphere of the airplane flying home, so I agreed to stay for more tests. By 10:30 that night all the tests were normal and they discharged me. Apparently the stone is gone and I have not had any more problem with it to date.
Unfortunately I missed the last class with Tony, a field trip to the Library and to Trinity Church. Fortunately I had toured these when I wandered about Boston on June 20th.
Janna Generaux was kind enough to run some errands for me on Saturday while I was in the hospital, including picking up shipping boxes. I really couldn't have done without her help.
Sunday June 30th
: Janna helped me figure out how to pack my works to take them back home on the airplane. I brought them rolled up and had the stretchers shipped to Dick Blick, a few blocks away, and didn't want to disassemble them. It took me all day to pack them. I was the last one out at 4:00, and the package was heavy, over 40 pounds. I am going to research other shipping methods for next residency.
At noon Tony gave me a critique which was quite helpful. we discussed the canvas issue Sunanda and I had talked about and we all agree that paper would be better, although canvas will do if necessary. Tony is not as adamant that my work be non-illustrative as some others feel. this is not unexpected, as his work is very representative.
In conclusion, all in all this was a great Residency for me, in spite of the medical problems I had. My work was well accepted by almost everyone, and it is recognized that the level of my technical expertise has reached a point where I am comfortable with my ability to do with the medium what I want to do, freeing me to concentrate on the aesthetic and intellectual aspects of my work. This is, I think, a pretty good place to be. Now I need to put in a lot of hours bringing the combination to fruition and try to make some good art.