Bedouin Cocoon: Spring 2001

The unexpected places in which surprises happen are the places where invention happens.  Whatever plans I made, the process of creating and performing forced me to push my limits.  Those limits left space for the air to pass, and for others to enter and share in the learning. 

This performance did not have a title when I started, it began with the feeling of transience and tension that exists in cities between constructed and natural space. I loved Chicago in many ways, but things moved so quickly, especially for me: I worked full time and went to art school part time, trying to afford space and time for myself to breathe was extremely challenging.

In response to that feeling of continual fatigue, my stream of making turned meditative. I did drawings, beading, knitting, manual work that I could carry and which made me stop to breathe.

These small works, however, did not solve the feeling of being stuck in close quarters: a too small apartment, the space between people on a bus, the low-ceilinged platforms of the Red and Blue lines, and no benches or welcoming areas to stop and contemplate the beautiful tall buildings and open spaces.

Out of this feeling of claustrophobia, arose a desire to create a sacred space, created through and set aside for the things that I value. So this performance had four goals: 

  • Creation of an artifact that illustrates or leaves traces in time or space
  • Consideration of sacred or meditative space as internal or external
  • Connection to pattern, repetition, but valuing biomimetic or organic 
  • Consciousness of processes for growth

To leave traces of the process of meditation, I designed a structure that could be sewn sequentially, one tube after another like beads. The finished product would be a 5/8 icosahedron.  To pull in natural and biomimetic forms, I then wove fabric in and out in a meditative way to create a cocoon-like structure. This was all done with a rhythm and in silence, considering, meditating and creating at once.  

Putting all of this together, the dome created a space for contemplation shared with others.  The process, artifact, pattern and form being inspired were combination of human and natural forms, and they created an interior space in open air.  I chose the spot, on top of the airshafts surrounded by wildflowers because they epitomized for me the tension between natural and urban that I felt in Chicago, and felt like a generative location.  

The surprising moments in the process, where the poles fell through the grating, and when the whole structure blew over, illustrate for me something that I have since taken on as key to my practice:  There is no such thing as a mistake in art, only a new opportunity to create something new.  As you click through the gallery you can read my thoughts on the artwork at the time.

On the Journey: But What About the Leaves

A red photo album on my colorful concentric circle rag rug in my apartment in Boston.

When I was visiting my father over winter break, I unearthed documentation of artwork that I did twenty years ago.  It is funny to think of myself as an artist-practitioner for twenty years.  Yet, when I look back at that work it is plain how it connects to my work today, and the red threads in the work stitch clearly through a variety of projects between then and now.  

Some of these red-threads are obvious to me, but I have shown the work to a couple of friends, both of whom asked some razor sharp questions, that make me feel like the work was more of a success than I thought it was at the time. 

The documentation in question was work for a class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called “Materiality, the Body, and Motion,” which was taught by Mark Jeffery. The documentation is bound up in a red photo album with photos by my classmates, and a colleague, Alberto Antonio Aguilar, who worked at Pearl with me. The book is interspersed with handwritten notes on deep teal colored vellum, onion skin, and copper painted magnolia leaves.  I will be sharing these projects over the next few days and weeks.

The photo album is open on my rag rug and you can see my toes.
What’s inside the Red Album

The work was about safety and connection in urban life: seeking a way to create sacred space and grounding to the earth in a place coated in concrete and hyper-human constructed space.  

My two friends who asked questions about the work zeroed in on that right away.  They read my notes and asked questions about the patterns and the method of creation.  They wanted to know how the projects related to one another and to my current practice.  They helped me bring out some meaning that I created at the time, but hadn’t then developed the spiritual wisdom to put into words.  

The three projects were investigations into my relationship with the city of Chicago, and to urban space in general.  

Sunset Reflected II

My feelings about urban spaces are mixed.  On the one hand, it is clear that the way towards sustainability involves dense living areas.  In denser areas, it is easier to create infrastructure that supports sustainable choices like public transportation, and larger buildings which hold temperatures and can be regulated with convection using green architectural techniques.  On the other hand, it is clear that urban spaces as they exist with layer upon layer of human choices that clutter those possibilities.  While nature creeps into sidewalk cracks and organized plantings, urban areas are also removed from the grounding feeling of nature. 

Downtown Chicago in the year 2000, before the re-development of Millenium Park, had very little space that held native plants or quasi-wild spaces. Now there is a beautiful garden with native plants, tailored on a very geometric matrix, but still more wild than what was there then: a big field of grass.  

Where I grew up, on the southeast side of Ann Arbor, was only a 20 minute bicycle ride from the denser downtown.  However my house was across the street from a city-owned field, pond, and swamp that had been bought back from a developer sometime in the 1970’s as evidenced by abandoned foundations from their attempts to remediate the floodway.  In addition the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ biggest nature area, the Mitchell Scarlett Woods, was right next to my school, and all these connected up with a big park nearby that has its own nature areas.  

Outside

Essentially, we could walk for about two miles inside those woods, with few traces of humanity except the sound of 1-94 racing by a football field away from us.  We went on orienteering and nature walks in those woods.  We overturned rocks and stumps finding bugs, hunting garter snakes, and corralling toads.  Turtles and egrets sunned themselves in the pond, and we shoveled it to skate and play hockey in the winter.  

Yet we were only about twenty minutes by bus or bike from Ann Arbor’s downtown packed with cafes, galleries, vintage shops, and book sellers.

I was privileged to have easy access to both urban and natural life.  

Chicago, with the backwards flowing river, reclaimed swampland, giant skyscrapers, and twenty-four hour public transportation was both exhilarating and traumatic for me.  Being able to go anywhere I wanted easily, and accessing the resources of a huge urban area– fabric stores, art galleries, cultural activities– gave me power and cultural capital that I couldn’t quite reach in my hometown.  The geometric hard spaces are organized and functional, created by the values of urban life: easy to navigate, but rigid and mechanical.  They are so shiny they seemed untouchable and fragile. 

Humans built the city and it was inspirational and intimidating.   

Nightscape Portrait

However the beauty of human-built spaces was also a barrier.  It was difficult for me to be so far removed from organically flowing streams and wild areas full of overgrown woods.  In my dorm at DePaul, I was removed from the sounds of birds.  They were replaced by the rumble of the EL going by at all hours across an empty field with no trees.  

When I moved out of the dorm, the neighborhoods I lived in were a bit better.  I prioritized living near parks or near the lake, but there was still a restlessness that I felt that fed into my artistic practice, and motivated me to see solace in creating art, connection, and what I used to think of as “sacred space.”  

Thoughts about home

When I moved to the Boston area for graduate school, it was surreal.

On the way here from Ypsilanti, Michigan, not quite my home town, but very close, I drove through Canada. Not that exotic, I’ve done this road trip a few times in my life, though customs and border enforcement always makes me nervous.

Then, I visited my best friend, whom I have now known 3/4 of my life. She is working on re-habbing a castle in Upstate New York to create a Social Circus and Arts center. It’s an old armory that looks like a castle. She and her significant have spent a few years working on this project and building support for it.

I hadn’t seen her in a number of years, but that felt like home.

Then, she drove with me to Boston, and helped me settle in. She drove back to her fairy castle, and stowed my car until Christmas.

Meanwhile, my cousin was getting married in Marin County, so as soon as my stuff was in the apartment, I flew out to OAK and hung out with family, recouped my grandfather’s camera and a bunch of art I had forgotten he had from my ex-boyfriend, via my ex-boss in Palo Alto.

That felt like a very fraught version of Home.

Cambridge, where I flew back to live, did not feel like home. My apartment was empty, I knew nobody. As a nontraditional older student I felt out of place at Harvard, even though I “pass” as belonging, there were many places and times that I was unable to push back on things.

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And then there was none…

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Fast-forward to this past summer: the job I got after grad-school pays enough that I can save money and for the first time in ten years, I can afford a trip to Madrid.

The mom from “my” family came to meet me at the airport, and drove me back to where I was staying. Their house has had some renovations, but it’s pretty much as I remembered it, except the littles (from my Segovia Alphabet Video) are now just entering college and about to take a year abroad on an Erasmus scholarship in Italy.

I saw so many of my old friends in Madrid and Paris, and remembered exactly how to get around and where to find what I needed.

Many people are now absent, but it still felt like home.

I’ve now been in Boston for just over two years. I lived in Madrid for four. I live here. Some parts of it feel like home, but it is a place I still don’t feel connected.

Home comes with a lot of cultural and geographical values attached to it. I remember at one point, real estate agents switched from selling houses to selling homes. I found it jarring, even though I was about eight years old.

Is it possible to buy a home?

To me, home is something more human than architecture. It is not just the building you live in, but the shared value created by the inhabitants of the place. Not everywhere I have lived is a home. I am no rolling stone, and mostly, I don’t wear a hat,

Seriously though: some places I have stayed are just that: a place I spend time to sleep.

Video and poetry collaboration with Iva Markicevic

Others had some ineffable qualities that made them home. Some of that was the work that I myself put into them, particularly when I lived alone.

However there is more to it than that: connecting to the place in one way or another and creating a sense of community. Roommates, neighbors, family, work affiliations, and community evolvement all play a part in that.

I do not have a magic formula, but I know that creating a sense of home takes work, but it also takes a willingness to accept others.

These works of digital art reflect some of my thoughts, and some of Iva Markicevic’s thoughts about home. The joys and pains of attachment to a place are ripe for creating because all of us struggle with what it means to be home and how to build it.

In-between Thoughts

Art is a necessary part of my life. The process of putting pencil to paper or looping needle and yarn help me process my thoughts and feelings

Art is a necessary part of my life.  The process of putting pencil to paper, or looping needle and yarn, help me process my thoughts and feelings.  Focusing on the process of creation frees up my mind to wander and problem-solve.  Seeing the line of color as it turns into form or image gives me insights into whatever is on my mind.  

There have been times in my practice, like now,  when I have enough space to dedicate to making. Whether I have space or not, playing with form and image clears my mind and focuses me on next steps, so over the years, the process has crept into practices that fit in between things.  Instead of weaving and dyeing, I knit more.  Instead of print-making, I papercut or make origami.  

When I lived in Spain, this process bubbled up through work with my students into oil-pastel drawings, that were focused both on final results and process. 

This short private showing was made up of works that instantiate different ways of recording and making visible the process and revelation of drawing and other art that fits in-between.  

Although I started this with one thing in mind, the process of creating the mechanism to display this particular work inspired me. I am hoping to turn this display mechanism into a mobile display unit in which I can tell stories, share moments, create space for people to interact. So often art is both a narrative or metaphor for its own moment, and a springboard for the next.

Cathedrals and Time

Buttresses of the Cathedral of M-14. Nice long walk in Bandemer towards Argo

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Over the years I have always loved bridges. They have great acoustics. They are beautiful in their way, even the ones that are very boring infrastructure have their moments of numinous beauty. Over the last few years, I’ve been taking pictures of the bridges that cross over the parks in Ann Arbor. Watching for that difference of the light, much as Monet painted quotidian haystacks over and over. In a way, it is even more impressionist than the Impressionists, this photographic documentation. But it misses something of the feeling that I get from the bridges. From the human-made space as it interacts with the natural world. The most beautiful of the bridges have not only the organ music of the freeway traffic, but the rose windows of the sunlight reflected up onto their latticework from the reflected light on the water.

Cathedral of M-14 A video posted by Allida (@hemoracallis) on

But even that sound misses the numinous nature of my meditation under bridges. There is a moment when the bridge turns from being dark to being light that makes it mysterious and beautiful. The transformation from shaded cavern to glowing life and light is a numinous experience, and so I’ve started to take time-lapse videos to document this metamorphosis.

 

Time lapse with less frames. Watch the bridge light up

 

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We Build grand structures these days, but they are not always built for their beauty as the cathedrals and basilicas of old. They are build for practical purposes, their architects and builders are nearly invisible to us, but this does not mean that they cannot be beautiful.