Sunday, June 30, 2013

something for the table...

Recently Liz and I had the pleasure of cruising up to the Sienna Gallery to see Myra' Mimlitsch-Gray's solo exhibition called Something For The Table.  

I don't really write reviews.  I am just not very good at it.  I always seem to insert myself into the work or go off on some random story about something that hardly relates or at best I get it completely wrong. "This work is about your cat right?"

You can imagine that it is very hard for a metalsmith/jeweler/maker, to not talk about objects.  It is sort of like asking a graphic designer to ignore the horrific typography on a menu at a fancy restaurant   They just can't do it. "Cooper Black! I am paying $40 for a steak and I have to look at COOPER BLACK!!!"  Trust me, this sort of thing is an addiction!  Sometimes you just HAVE to say something.  In academia it usually happens during  a critique.  This obsession comes out as strange jarring, stabbing statements that throw you for a loop.  "Why didn't you sand it?"  "Whats up with this pitting?"  "I just can't talk about this piece because of all of these fingerprints!" 

If you ask my wife, I go off on these long rants about objects ALL THE TIME.  First, I get flustered and then I start cursing, which then quickly de-evolves into me smashing something.   I HATE things sometimes.  For example, why can't anyone one get a freaking travel mug right!  It always leaks, dribbles or breaks!  It NEVER fits into a cup holder.  Why are the tailgates on SUVs always at crotch level!?  When you lean in to get your groceries or 2x4s or whatever you get this nice black stripe across your crotch!  Or how some door knobs are annoyingly close to door jams so when you grasp the knob you end up smashing your knuckles against the trim........  I have a problem...or maybe a sickness... or maybe I just care about the things that I interact with everyday.    

As a maker I have always thought that if you are going to do something, you need to do it right.  There are already a million things in this world and if you are going to add something to it, it better be good.  As a maker there is always a beginning.  When you are learning how to use your hands for the second time in your life (the first time was when you were a me you don't remember) you tend to make lot of crap.  Ashtrays, ugly mugs, candle know "masterpieces".  

At this stage, more often than not, people decide that what ever they are attempting to make is not for them.  "I tried ceramics once...the clay and I just didn't get along"  The few that totally give in and join the cult of _____ give their soul to a craft and end up developing strange superpowers.  They not only are able to speak this strange object language but they are also able to bend material to their will.  By making objects and using objects and using objects to make objects they become these strange object whisperers.  The details of why that bend in that spoon is there or why that lipped edge is curled up just so becomes part of their life.  Really, only someone that has banged out a million cups really knows the proper lip curl to prevent dribbles.  This ability is ingrained in the back their minds so when they need to make something it is just there.  Their hands start moving and then.....done.  The perfect thing is made real.  

I have always been a fan of Myra's work.  I think everyone can remember when they saw that slide of the melting candelabra in their basic metalsmithing class.  Before coming to New Paltz all I wanted to do was to touch that thing.  I mean really hold it and kind of "feel the weight of her hammer" if you will.  Her show, at Sienna gave me that opportunity.  Over the years I have been to her studio and seen some things here and there but I have never touched finished pieces.  I have never seen the work in the place where it was made to be.    

Her new work is a little different than her old work but still very "Myra".  With her old work there was a visual path that connected the old to the new.  She would use old found metal objects in the work and then often dissected, melted or flattened them.  I always thought it was a commentary on how important these objects were at one time.  By smashing them she not only created a time-stamp in metals history but she earmarked a point in her own career to move on.  After this point she had to stop relying on the past to inform the future.  You can only beat a dead horse for so long.  I imagine it was like building a wall that you eventually had to climb over.  Every piece that she made that referenced the past was like layering more brick.  How do you do that?  How do you avoid talking about the past?  I mean objects come from somewhere.  There is always some version of the thing before the thing.   

The best part about her new work is how original it is without being original.  What I mean to say is that I see familiar details that I barely recognize.  Holes, tapers, rivets, screw heads, pinch points etc.  We see a lot of these things in everyday objects.  We see them, but really we normally just ignore them.  Someone spent a lot of time figuring out those details.  It was their job making those details.  They are important and often the whole reason an object exists   When you expect to see them they are boring but when they are there for YOU to discover, you engage the work obsessively, looking for more.  

To me, this is some of the most successful contemporary metal work I have seen in a long time.  It is exciting to me.  Not to sound cliche but it is a visual adventure.   It is almost like getting dropped off in a foreign country, using a pocket translator, loosing it and then only barely making it home.  There is this nervous excitement to the work.  As soon as your mind starts to recognize all of those little details she immediately blurs them into this exciting new object.  A lot of the work is in a scale between handheld and larger than handheld.  So, not only are the details balancing between the recognizable and the non-recognizable the scale allows the work to move between something that could be "used" and  shouldn't be used.   From Sienna's webpage (far more eloquent than I) "…my current interest is to develop new forms without stylistic antecedents. Deliberately tentative, this work investigates facture, explores gesture and embodies utilitarian notions, suggesting a return to the table."

One of the best parts of the show is that you have the option of putting on gloves and picking up the work.  Again, sort of my dream.  I couldn't help feeling like I was being offered an opportunity to hold something that I may never see again in person.  It was a great experience.  Knowing, how much work it took to make these objects added to the awe of it all.  It was weird having Myra there while I was touching her work.  What an amazing thing to be able to see your work and then see someone intimately interact with it  for the first time.  

(I want the big smooshed copper one.  I think it looks like a flattened necklace/collar.  Jewelry maybe?)

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Monday, June 24, 2013

HAYSTACK! / Help find our cat!

I'm BACK! So I am about to pack up my computer to move into our new apartment. Before the brown out I thought I would quickly post something about my workshop at Haystack. First I have to say thank you to all of the people that made it possible for me to go. Who ever that was, thank you. 

Holy shit. It was pretty awesome. I have to admit that I was kind of blown away. The surrounding landscape is so fantastic it almost seems fake. I mean it. I really had never seen anything like it in my life. Moss covered bolders to one side, beaches to the other, seals and porpoises, all the while the soothing white noise of ocean waters puts you to sleep every night. seemed fake. They should totally film a fantasy film there. With unicorns and elves bouncing around. Crazy. 
I had about eight students (including my TA the awesome Tanya Crane) Six of them were work-study. I tried to cram in as many demos as possible without over loading them. They all had KP duty so I didn't want to torture them. 

There is a Digi Fab Lab on the island run by two MIT graduate students. I had a lot of fun "nerding" it up on their shopbot CNC router and talking to them about all of the fun stuff/research they were doing at the MIT media lab. 

There was this strange ying yang thin happening. Everything at Haystack is uphill and the food is pretty amazing. On one hand I felt like I was getting my daily dose of exercise going up and down steps about ten times a day, on the other hand I kept stuffing my face with all the food and delicious cookies and cakes. I am not sure but I think that it all balanced out. I don't think I lost any weight but I for sure got about tens miles clocked in on the stair master.

Truthfully meals were a bit hairy considering I have a serious shellfish allergy and there was lobster everywhere. It was like seeing big red skull and cross bones everywhere. 

 One of the highlights of the trip was going to Liberty Tool. It was kind of a tool junkies wet dream. TOOLS EVERYWHERE!!! Also there was a cool tool museum with a special prison shank display. 

 Haystack is a cellphone, internet black hole. So that means no phone calls, no internet, no weather report, no GPS, no nothing. Let me tell you that is was VERY hard for me to go without for that long. I am sure people would pay good money for it. I would be happy to smash their cell phones for them. It made me realize now how crucial technology is to my studio practice and my life. Even more so when it fails I get unbelievably upset. I want to call my cell phone company and get a two week credit on my bill. What really pissed me off was that voicemail's and text messages would come in sporadically depending on where I was standing. I had a couple of interesting broken up voice mails that were like. "Hello Arthur this is Dr so and so... your blood work came back and me back when you have a minute thanks." "Hello Arthur...its about your cat me back as soon as you get this." "Hello Arthur this is the Dean, I need to meet with you tomorrow its about...BZZZZZZZZZ.... call me back as soon as you can." It was pure torture. I just had to shut off my phone. It was terribly annoying. 

 Besides that I think the workshop went over pretty well. There is something about teaching a workshop that is almost therapeutic. No grades. No papers. No advising. Man it just breaks it down to the basics. Making. 

I pretty sure I had an out of body experience being there. It is kind of hard to explain what happened. I am sure I will not do it justice. So I will just post the photos. 

Sadly, while we were away one of our cats got out and ran away. I am sure he just missed us terribly and couldn't stand it anymore. For those of you around the Hudson Valley if you see our buddy please let us know. We are terribly heart broken. If sighted please call me immediately 804-787-4887

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