More than Anybody Wants to Know

I was raised to fear “being a bore” by talking too much about myself or something few people were interested in.  So I was understandably drawn to begin my first blog with the And then, I… project because I needed a place to think/write/say anything I wanted without worrying that someone had to listen to it!  As far as I know, almost nobody reads this blog, I’m comfortable that I’m not boring anybody, and I’m having a blast thinking about the last 12 months of art-making, touring, connecting, and reporting results about And then, I… to the Mid-America Arts Alliance.  To document the project, I created a 2.5 minute video slide show of some highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJXPMLbYw_4.  I also contracted with Little Rock videographer Michael Ferrara to document the culminating exhibition improvisations.  Viewing this YouTube piece will require patience: it’s in HD and takes a bit to load, and the ambient HVAC sound obscures the dialog since it was filmed sans wireless mikes, but the performers are delightful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Sn3xGBRjc

 

And then, they…spoke

Thanks to Cindy Romeo, Conway educator and theater maven, the culminating exhibit of the And then, I… tour included a performance component based on the interactive viewer contributions.  Katie Campbell directed four improvisations, each one based on feedback for each sculpture installation. Arkansas actresses Verda Davenport-Booher, Erin Fowler, and Aleigha Morton used the commentary as a basis for the scenes they created as an homage to the theme of the exhibit:  pivotal moments in the lives of women.  I confess that at first their youthful appearances and voices seemed unseasoned.  It seemed unlikely that they could have personally experienced the situations they had developed.  But pivotal moments don’t come with “Born On” or “Use By” dates, and anybody at any age can experience a traumatic or ecstatic moment that they want or need to share–and that urgency transfers regardless of age or situation.  Instead, I celebrated the work of these young women, glad I had contracted with Katie to direct and them to perform: it was fun to hear their interpretation of what I had been collecting and reading for several months.  Including the improvisations was a way to play it forward: for these emerging professionals and for the viewers, who received an enriched experience.  Thanks, Cindy: meet you at Blue Sail Coffee anytime!

CCC Improv 3 Blog

left to right: Erin Fowler, Aleigha Morton, Veda Davenport-Booher

CCC Improv 2 Blog

left to right: Aleigha Morton, Erin Fowler, Veda Davenport-Booher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CCC Recep Cindy Blog

Barbara Satterfield and Cindy Romeo

 

CCC Recep Improv 2 Blog

left to right: Veda Davenport-Booher, Barbara Satterfield, Erin Fowler, Cindy Romeo, Katie Campbell, Aleigha Morton

 

In the Gallery

It was a pleasure to install And then, I… in the Third Floor Gallery of the Cox Creative Center, a part of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock. It’s wonderful to have a lovely environment with no distractions and exciting to have and direct lighting.  And it was fun to figure out a cost-effective way to share the information gathered during the public art tour.   Posters shared the phrases, titles, and descriptive words contributed by viewers for each group portrait.  Actual dedication cards were tacked to cording hung from the ceiling, and an exhibit notebook on site included the complete charts for ballot and survey information.  The evidence was there to suggest how viewers would interact, and they did not disappoint: it was gratifying to open the pedestals at the conclusion of this culminating exhibit and find surveys and ballots waiting to be read.

CCC Recep Room Blog CCC Recep Room Blog 2 CCC Recep 1 Blog

 

By the Numbers

The interactive components of And then, I… were designed to help me understand who connected with the exhibit, how much time viewers were willing to spend at the exhibit site, and what their responses were to the art work.  Dedication cards took about 15 seconds, each group portrait ballot took about 45 seconds, and the exhibit survey card took about 1 – 1.5 minutes (multiply that by 4 if completed for each group portrait).  I meant to create a thorough snapshot of my viewers; however, viewers sometimes didn’t complete the demographic portion of the survey, or skipped over a section of the ballot.  Even so, generally speaking, the information suggests that:

88% of respondents described themselves as female,

50% of respondents were ages 65-80, and 33% were ages 41-65,

66% described themselves as married, with 14% identifying as divorced, and

48% of respondents had attended or completed graduate school, and 37% had attended or completed college.

These numbers reflect what my Artist, Inc. small group, and various artist friends had suggested at the onset of the project: that the series would appeal primarily to women who were middle-aged or older.  Some suggested that I include men in the group portraits: that good art is universal and doesn’t limit itself to a sex or age.  I don’t apologize for the focus of the work.  It was of personal interest to me. I also think that adding men into the mix of moments would have diverted the attention away from the confluence of women’s influences on each other, to how women react when men are present: two very different dynamics.

Even with a generous margin of error, the “statistics” are incomplete.  However, the And then, I… project was intended to find audiences in small towns, in public spaces, and at public events, and offer those people an opportunity to engage with public art. In that respect, the numbers are less important than the evidence that viewers saw the work and took the time to share their thoughts and opinions.

And the Winner is…

The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was the third regional celebration for the And then, I… tour.  The festivals best represent why I chose to display my new series in public spaces: I got to see, hear, and experience people’s immediate reactions.  Without an “art” context, the ritual of approach through a museum to a gallery or a brochure explaining what was on view, visitors were amazed, confused, moved, bored, curious and touched to encounter the sculptures depending on their personal experiences, their available time, and/or who they happened to be with that day.

Parade Route Blog

Parade goers line up for the kick-off of the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival. Note the logo on the town’s water tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group One Outside Blog

Families from YMCA exercise class and the swim meet encounter the sculptures on their way to the festival events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variety of their encounters affirmed my opinion that the usefulness of art–not its market value, but it’s ability to inspire contemplation and foster conversation–is a fluid process that isn’t as dependent on prior knowledge of art as it is any individual’s desire to engage with his or her environment. And whereas festival sites compete for attendees’ attention, they also are venues that encourage personal choice.  Figurative sculpture, by virtue of its familiar form, is a natural choice for investigation.  I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to display the work during festivals, and thrilled that And then, I… became part of Warren’s parade route. As difficult as the logistics were, linking And then, I…  with festivals was a winning combination: a unique diversion to interact with + unvarnished responses to it = my idea of a valuable public art project.

 

Exhibit Outside Blog

Four generations of Pink Tomato Festival attendees encounter the installation on the parade route.

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Visitor to the festival has a moment of reflection at the Donald W. Reynolds YMCA installation.

 

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

I’ve been asked if I’m pleased with the exhibit tour: its quality and impact.  I know that’s a fair question. Artists are supposed to thoughtfully consider how their mastery of their chosen medium and exhibition resume affects their career.  However, quality and impact are relative, and the visitors I’ve met and responses I’ve received have revealed what those words have come to mean to me for the “And then, I…” series.  Quality is now less about craftsmanship or technique and more about the ability of the sculptures to attract attention and encourage contemplation – even if the viewer thinks they are strange, funny, or ugly – and especially if the viewer thinks they are familiar, revealing, or beautiful.  Impact is now less about making my own statement with a new series shown publicly and more about the viewers’ investment of time in responding to the comment card, ballot, or survey.  In Heber Springs, a woman brought her entire family to the exhibit, conversed with them and me about the work, and explained that she had anticipated attending since seeing the news article in the local paper.  They had recently moved from Wichita, KS, home of the Ulrich Museum of Art, the Wichita Art Museum, and the Mid-America Fine Arts Museum, among a dozen other institutions that they and their children greatly miss.  In Dardanelle, a woman was inspired to share the exhibit with her family in the Phillipines, sending them photos of the art work and asking their opinions about the figures and group portraits.  Present at the library de-installation, she explained how much she had enjoyed seeing the sculptures and thinking about her sisters and mother who live so far away.  She had an opinion about every group portrait, and her interest had an impact on me.  I’m grateful if the sculptures have generated interest during the tour, and I treasure the conversations I’ve had with viewers: each makes any effort I make a pleasure.

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Selfie with a Twice-Visitor to the Springfest Display

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Selfie with a Favorite Sculpture

What is This?

As the Spring 2015 tour of “And then, I…” begins, I have some explaining to do for those who will walk into the installations and spontaneously ask, “What is this?”  Turns out, I haven’t told the whole story…

I’ve previously shared my fine art influences for this project: the historic terracotta altarpiece Compianto sul Cristo morto by Niccolo dell’Arca, the Conversation series by modern artist Juan Munoz, and the Passions series by contemporary video artist Bill Viola.  Each and all are about the organizing idea of the art work: moments shared by groups of people.  I realized, after two tour stops, that I hadn’t shared the craft influences that are responsible for the look of it: ancient Jalisco figures of West Mexican cultures, contemporary ceramic artists Roxanne Swentzell and Adrian Arleo.  Each and all are about the creative process of working the inside and outside of a form at the same time.  The outcome is a pottery aesthetic: the human form as a vessel that takes shape according to the artist’s way of seeing and doing.

 

Unknown Artist, Jalisco Region, Ancient West Mexico

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Adrian Arleo, Honeycomb Couple, 2006.

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Roxanne Swentzell, Emergence of the Clowns, 1988.

I love making vessels, and I love this look for my figures: both are hollow-built, using coils and slabs. I hope these images will help viewers who are curious about the forms I’ve created, because I understand why they can be confusing at first glance.  The “And then, I…” figures look different from traditional terracotta busts and bronze figures in museums.  “I’ve never seen anything like this,” is a helpfully candid remark I’ve heard several times, and I hope images of my influences will give viewers quick references for hollow-built ceramic figurative traditions.

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Adrian Arleo, coil-building a figure.

 

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Roxanne Swentzell, finishing a surface.

 

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Swentzell figure about the tradition of coil-built ceramic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Spring 2015 tour of “And then, I…” begins, I’m looking forward to sharing more of the art story, and to conversations that address the question, “What is this?”

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Unknown Artist, Jalisco Region, Ancient West Mexico.

 

Balancing Act

I’ve been working on two new figurative sculptures for the Spring 2015 tour of “And then, I…” The original proposal called for 9. I’m up to 15 now. What is it about this series that captivates me?  That has me chucking the usual pickup & clean in the house, rising early to head to the studio, silencing the iPhone, and hoping for uninterrupted hours for fleshing out earthenware women?  I have to admit that part of it is being competitive: I’m getting better at making the sculptures, and now I’d like to do them all over.  Part of it is being responsible: I have deadlines for tours and expectations of completing my grant project, and I want to do a good job.  But most of it is finally giving form to what I usually don’t share: my observations about people and situations.

Many of us keep our observations under wraps, particularly after having survived scorched-earth experiences with family members or friends.  Our success in life is partly dependent on how to determine who wishes us good or ill, what form their wishes tend to take, why they have included us in their wish list, and when they are most likely to bestow or visit their wishes upon us.  And that’s what the figures are about.  Observing the “who.”  Memorable stances, postures, gestures, glances, turning to or away, and facial expressions in a variety of situations eventually form a hologram that addresses the who, what the wishes are, and what conditions they both come with.  Somehow, representing and interpreting this dynamic balances what I haven’t shared: it’s a reaching out that is long overdue.

Group 2 #3 Figure

Sharing, in tidbits.

2 K Face Made blog

Observing, with mind racing.

3 L Face Made blog

Observing.

 

 

Everybody Needs a Hidey Hole

Back in the day, I used an old empty shoe box as my “hidey hole” for written observations about my 9-year-old life, such as: my mother is so mean, my sister is nuts, or, if I had a million dollars I’d give it to my daddy. I comforted myself this way in a small crowded house where privacy came at premium price.  I was reasonably sure that nobody would read them: being allergic to dust and exhausted most days from working full-time outside our home, my mother was not one to clean out closets.

I had forgotten that comfort, and hadn’t considered its archetypal breadth, until I checked the first “And then, I…” sculpture installation in Helena, Arkansas. The plexi trays designed for “comments” (write the name of a person significant to a turning point in your life; write what you said or did next) were completely empty.  However, when I removed the pedestal’s magnetized door with the mail slot to retrieve surveys about the art installation, I found the “hidey hole.” I expressed relief to a nearby desk volunteer who assured me she knew most of the people who had filled out a card…! This comment and my memory of an old shoe box coalesced into a pivotal moment about the sculpture tour project.

Getting the exhibit together for the Helena tour was a quick turnaround. The bulk of the tour is during the festival season April – June. But this fall venue was essential: it was the first test of how viewers would engage with the art work–the interactivity upon which the “And then, I…” sculpture project depends. Thank goodness I thought to put a slot in a removable pedestal door for surveys.  But more importantly, thank goodness for the viewers!  Their instinctive responses taught me what I hadn’t thought of: in small towns, personal experiences are most often shared with familiars who know each other’s details (even each other’s handwriting!). An unqualified naming could imply any number of unintended things.

The intention of “And then, I…: Monuments to Pivotal Moments” is to honor those people who helped us through turning points in our lives.  I’m revising exhibit materials to more effectively encourage viewers to participate in that homage in light of the fact that–even in our bare-all, Facebook-posting, tweeting world–for the truly pivotal moments, everybody needs a “hidey hole.”

Built-in Confidentiality

Pedestal Hidey Hole: what goes in, stays in–no peeking.

 

Don’t Despair, Repair!

Nothing feels better than to get an art work to the kiln safely and close that lid.  And nothing feels better than to open the lid after the firing cools to see your handiwork.  Unless it has blown up.  My stomach actually drops. I usually close the lid immediately and go do something productive in the studio to take the edge off.  Then I go back to the site of the disaster to assess the damage, reclaim what’s intact or usable, celebrate what can be saved, and clear the mess away. It isn’t hard to draw a parallel between kiln blowups and personal relationships.

Nothing feels better than to enjoy friends: to share news, to confirm affection and mutual respect, and to depart with the knowledge that you love and care for them as they do you.  As we mature, we learn that friendships often have a cyclical life, and we navigate in and out of various circles and groups for various reasons.  Anything cyclical tends to roll, and with a few bumps in the road and a pothole or two, friendships can blow up, fracture, or crumble. Our stomachs drop at that pivotal moment when we realize someone isn’t who we had depended on them to be, or we realize that we haven’t met their expectations.  When something is revealed that exposes a betrayal, or we inadvertently touch a sensitive chord.  When words are said that let us know we are not well-thought-of, or when we are resentful enough to lash out. When a look is exchanged that freezes us out of what was a comfort zone, or we intentionally look past someone who has hurt us.

My coping mechanism in the life cycles of friendships has often been to close the lid on it for awhile and go do something productive.  It takes the edge off the disappointment.  It distracts the mind until it can sort out the what, why, and how of the blow up or fracture and determine next steps. However, it is often easy to get so productive with what I turn to that it can take years to go back to the pivotal moment, assess the damage, reclaim what’s intact, and celebrate what can be saved. And sometimes, it takes years to recognize the pivotal moment itself.  Oftentimes, the fracture is less of a disaster – or less important -than previously thought. Sometimes, it’s just too late.  However, even so, after years of experience, nothing feels better than knowing – among true friends – there are always options for clearing the mess away and someone is usually willing to help.

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