Seeds, Germination and Fruition

Spring is here and so it seemed appropriate to use a sprouting seed metaphor.  I am sitting in my dining room, looking out the back window at the lilac bush that is in full bloom.  It is always the first on the block to bloom, with my next door neighbor's following so that we have a solid three weeks of delicious lilac smell to enjoy each spring.  This year is a little bittersweet as it will be my last one to sit here with this view.  In a few days, I will move all my worldly good out of this house and into a storage unit in upstate NY.  I have rented this house for two years during which time I will live in Newfoundland (mostly) and upstate NY.  

I will have the option to move back after two years but that seems unlikely.  It feels clear to me that this particular phase of my life is coming to an end.  You could call it my New York City phase, in which case it would include the entire 34 years that I lived in the city.  Or you could call it my Sunnyside phase, which means this house for almost 20 years - raising my children, homeschooling, numerous art projects, divorce, and the kids moving out on their own.  It's a lot!  This beautiful house is a family house - it wants to hold a family - so it is time for me to explore some other ideas, places, options.  The people moving in have a daughter just about the age that my son was when we moved in.  And so it goes.  

Do we ever really know which is the end and which is the beginning?  The faded bloom or the seed?  And do we ever really know how long it takes for those seeds to germinate?  We think we know.  We want to know, but I don't think that we have a clue.  

This fact came home to me in a big way just this week, appropriately enough, as I have been packing and cleaning and clearing out 20 years of stuff (more really, since some of it has travelled with me for a long time - just found a box of sketchbooks from the late 1980s!).  An old friend and colleague called me out of the blue and told me that his boss saw one of my artworks that is installed at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.  It was a project that I did nineteen years ago titled K2tog (Knit Two Together) .  I remember it clearly because I was pregnant with my daughter.  It also was the first time I thought about knitting as something more than a way to make things - knitting as community, as a bond between people and cultures, a shared language and shared experience of making. The project involved me collecting swatches of knitting and stories of learning to knit.  I thought that people coming to Bellevue - people from all over the world - might need to remember that they share more than just illness with everyone else.  So I collected the swatches and stories and combined them into one piece that is still there, still encouraging people to stop and look, read, remember this simple idea - we are not so different from each other.

Anyway, his boss saw the work and totally got inspired by the message.  It so happens that his boss is in charge of art and cultural programs for the city hospital system.  A few days later, I was sitting in his office, talking about how I might make some new projects that bridge cultures and tap into the way making things with our hands offers us a feeling of power and value.  It makes us feel good at a time when we really need to feel good.  I left with the mandate to come up with some ideas and, with their support, we will make them happen.  

It took 20 years for that particular seed to bear that particular fruit.  If I had made that work with any kind of expectation of what it might bring next, how sorry I would have been when the calendar flicked along, like in a cartoon where the pages fly off in the wind, and nothing seemed to be happening.  It is simply impossible to know when or what or where.  In a way, thank goodness for that.    

Yes, thank goodness the world has other plans and ideas, and thank goodness for projects that take nineteen years to develop.  As I sit here, looking out at the lilacs, I see that, for one thing, I needed to do all my yoga therapy training in order to really make this art project be what it needs to be.  Who knows what else needed to happen, but perhaps I will find out as my new ideas begin to sprout.  

So, what is the end and what is the beginning?  Finishing one thing, starting another - are the lines between them really that clear?   And can we have the patience and the trust needed to let it happen?

The Bedroom at Joyce Goldstein Gallery

 

The Bedroom

Created by

The Women Artist Team (T.W.A.T.)

Including: Ruth Adams, Laura Allen, Elaine Angelopoulos, Masha Avina, Vivian Baumann, Amy Bay, Diane Bertolo, Caslon Bevington, Susan Carr, Stella Chasteen, Sasha Chavchavadze, Mieling Chen, Robin Dann, Lisa Corinne Davis, Pauline DeCarmo, Colleen Deery, Lauren Drescher, Athena Dugan, Deej Fabyc, Melita Greenleaf, Freeda Handelsman, Marcia Hillis, Paula Lalala, Robyn Love, Jennifer Marshall, JoAnne McFarland, Anne-Marie McIntyre, Eva Melas, Tamalyn Miller, Portia Munson, Hye Ryung Na, Helen Oji, Lourdes Sanchez, Shannon Shook, Carri Skoczek, Melinda Stickney-Gibson, Molly Stinchfield, Julie Torres, Katharine Umstead, Fran Willing, Jessica Willis, Anne Zondek, and more.

Opening: April 8, 2017.  4:00 to 7:00 PM

Refreshments will be served

4/8/2017 thru 5/6/2017

Joyce Goldstein Gallery, 16 Main Street, Chatham, NY

(518) 764-8989

 

more info: joycegoldsteingallery.com 

and thewomenartistteam.wordpress.com 

Skillful Means

The next three months will be (partly) devoted to exploring skillful means - upaya in Sanskrit.  In Zen practice, one might say that zazen is the most skillful of the skillful means but there are lots of other ways to look at it, too.  What is the most skillful thing in any given moment?  It's not always obvious.

In art making, I have always loved the idea of virtuosity.  It is the next step after establishing a level of skillfulness.  I remember my Chinese art history professor describing the categories of artists in ancient China, with "skillful" being the lowest - almost an insult.  The idea is that anyone can be trained to make nice pictures so it is what you do with that skill that really makes the master.  The virtuoso.  

In both zazen and art, I have a long way to go before I can lay claim to virtuosity.  For the next three months, I especially hope to think about and express what it means to use time skillfully, to use my materials skillfully, to interact with people skillfully.  Everyday we make all sorts of decisions - why choose this but not this?  So, how do you discriminate among objects and ideas without setting heaven and Earth infinitely apart?  I hope to find out.

As part of this exploration, I am going on a social media fast.  I truly value how Facebook keeps me connected to people from all areas of my life but I know that I waste a lot of time there too.  Will it be more skillful to take a break?  Again, let's find out!  I suspect it will mean more posts here since I do love to blather on (and on).

And meanwhile, here is a glimpse of the gloves for the performance The Demon Under the Bed.  It also signals that I have finally figured out how to add photographs to my blog posts.  Baby steps, people.  Baby steps.

Mirror Gloves, 2017 (for The Demon Under the Bed)

Mirror Gloves, 2017 (for The Demon Under the Bed)

Stepping Into Empty Space

For the past several months, I have been working on a new piece that is nothing like anything that I have ever done before.  It enters territory that I would have died rather than step foot into not so long ago.  It is still slightly (read: hugely) horrifying but I find that I must do it - everything is pointing in that direction and who am I to ignore such a calling?  

It started last summer in Newfoundland.  I got an idea for a performance that would take place on the brook (read: river) that empties into the bay near my house.  The idea, which may yet become reality, is to create a full-on spectacle.  Launch myself, in a fabulous costume, down the brook and set to sea.  The details of that performance are still cooking in my head but, with the seeds of it planted, I came up with another idea for a performance as part of The Bedroom/T.W.A.T. project (see earlier post on that).  I call this project The Demon Under the Bed.

In my previous work, there has been a performative element, as I like to call it.  That means I am physically active within the piece - my body and presence moves the work along - but I am just myself.  I don't have costumes, there is no choreography, no soundtrack, no special meaning to my being there beyond as a way of making the larger meaning of the work come forward.  The Demon Under the Bed is different.  There is a costume.  There is a soundtrack.  There is choreography.  The meaning of the piece is in all that stuff.  That is the larger work.

The idea of moving and performing - maybe dancing - has been simmering under the surface for awhile.  For years, that kind of thing was something that I would rather hide under my seat than even watch someone else do.  It seemed self-indulgent and exhibitionist.  Finally, I realized that such a strong reaction deserves attention.  I explored it a little a couple of years ago with the result that I sat in a chair and said, "No, you can't make me move." for three months.  I never quite found out who the "you" was but whoever it was, they surely weren't going to make me move.  In retrospect, that is a kind of interesting in and of itself, but it was pure torture for those three months.  Clearly I wasn't ready.  

Fast forward two years and I began to remember a time when I was a little girl, begging my mother for dance lessons.  Living a rural area, the nearest city an hour away, with three other siblings and very little money, the answer was no.  But I began to remember the strong impulse of wanting to move in a certain way - an expressive way.  Alas, with adolescence and a family where female bodies were heavily scrutinized and always found lacking, I became far too self-conscious and, frankly, self-loathing to take it up on my own.  Maybe some of the horror of watching others do it is actually based in envy or longing?  I don't know.

But, here I am 35 years or so later, stepping into the unknown.  No ground beneath my feet, the potential for utter humiliation at near 100% certainty.  At the same time, it is so clear that this is moment to take this up.  I hear the demon under the bed starting to rumble and rouse.  Are you ready?

Not All Pussies are Pink

Like so many - millions! - of my global sisters and brothers, I marched on the 21st to protest the new administration in the US and to celebrate and advocate for the rights of women around the world.  As the signs said, Women's Rights are Human Rights.  It should be obvious but, obviously, it isn't.  

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you noticed that hundreds of thousands of people - men and women - wore handknit pink hats to the march.  "Slyly" as the New York Times put it, referencing DJT's words when he was caught on audio tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.  Somehow this was not enough to prevent him from becoming president (I am still shaking my head in disbelief about that) and two women used this moment to create the idea of making these pink hats in protest.  Their idea caught on and they put up a website.  And then...hundreds of thousands of people were knitting hats!  I had a tinge of jealousy that I didn't think of the project for a split second but then I let it go because it was such a joyous moment to see the sea of pink and to know that so many hands worked to make it happen.  It was visually and viscerally stunning and it put knitting as activism "above the fold" as they say, in the news.  It was glorious.

Until it wasn't.  Among the comments about the sea of pink knit hats, some started to point out that not all pussies are pink...and not all people who identify as women have pussies.  At first, I admit, these comments felt a bit like a slap in the face and I thought how there is always someone who tries to bring down a good thing.  Like, can't we just enjoy our wonderful moment after months of depression and anxiety?  Then I thought that the pussy hats weren't about pink or any other color pussies, they were about taking back colors and words that have been used to diminish, negate and violate women of all colors and sexual identities and to limit our reading of this spontaneous show of knitting to some kind of literal depiction was wrong.  I still think that (a little).  

Then I started to read some responses to the march from women of color that felt like another slap in the face.  They witnessed and experienced things that I didn't see or hear but I believe happened - acts of disrespect and disparagement from white women in the march.  Just because I hadn't witnessed such things doesn't mean they didn't happen - and perhaps the fact that I didn't see it points to something else at work and my ability to notice (or not) bias from my place of white privilege.  They rightly wondered where the hell we have all been while they have been marching and being attacked for, well, lifetimes.  I realized that some of the sting I was feeling was the very uncomfortable sting of being shown the truth of something ugly that I play a part in, even if I don't like it myself or condone it or support it.  Every time I began to sputter, "But...but...." in my head, the words, "white fragility" would dance through my thoughts.  

Ouch!  

I tried to just stay with that feeling of discomfort, which, let's face it, is a lot less discomforting than - oh, I don't know - being attacked by police dogs or tasered or shot.  In my life, I have known violence and discrimination because of the fact of being female.  Can I hold those experiences and know that they are not diminished by acknowledging that the experiences of my Black and Brown sisters, who also have had experiences that are equally valid and, most likely, even more challenging and insidious. Can I allow myself to just feel all of it - the discomfort, the not-knowing-what-to-do, the fear, the shame, the horror?  Sit still...there.  Can I have faith that by sitting still in the midst of all that discomfort, the next steps will become clear?

I want everyone to feel what I felt last Saturday - marching and then looking at picture after picture of people wearing pink hats and realizing that we will be counted; our voices will be heard.  I felt it.  I want you to feel it too.  I'm working on it.