Looking Back, Looking Forward

Four years ago this weekend, in the midst of concern over the potential for our country to unravel after the 2016 election, I had an opportunity at the last minute to create something at an arts festival in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

My head was a mix of fear, worry, protectiveness, hope, connection, and disconnection.

Although my own artistic vision is clear in the artwork, I created it in my role as Program Director of FLY Creativity Lab which served students in the Ypsilanti Community Schools as well as the broader community. Although it deserves more than a sentence, for the purposes of the present discourse, suffice to say that state and local policies have re-segregated Washtenaw County’s public schools, and created huge inequities between Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and the smaller population centers in the county.

I knew that it was important to take a stand in favor of pluralism and against the divisive policies and actions we believed would be coming.

There were signs for both candidates in every neighborhood of Ypsilanti. There were people in my social circles who expressed discomfort with the candidate who won but voted that way anyway because he pretended to be “conservative.” I couldn’t fathom how they believed his farce, but they did not heed my counter-arguments.

This work of art was truly co-created. I began with a single yarn tied to the loom: that our community could resist more strongly if we collectively wove together our connections.

Participants found threads of inquiry that I hadn’t imagined. They noticed that the way the yarn was thrown made a difference in texture. They drew my attention to the patterns created by the combination of the octagonal “loom” and the choices that each child or adult made. They connected to the metaphor, finding some hope and joy in a dark moment. There have been many dark moments since, and hopefully this metaphor offered some comfort as it has for me: that we are stronger together because of our differences.

If I were to run this project again, would it hold up? What would I change?

There is no way I would have predicted the ensuing events. What has come to pass is even more dystopian and unexpected than I worried it might become.

Since the work that I create tends to be hopeful and compassionate, I think it bears stating:

I was angry then. I am still angry.

It isn’t lack of anger that moderates how I choose construct discourse in my artwork.

For years, I’ve never found much use in being angry with someone who disagrees with me, but this wasn’t always the case. My mentor at 20 years old, described me as happy-angry. When she saw how angry I would become at people who were doing things that were unjust she said, “They can’t hear you right now. You have to learn to offer an ‘out’ with your observations so that people can hear you. Even if they can’t process or understand you now, it’s possible they will remember later if you teach with compassion.”

The rips in our culture were there before 2016. The social fabric has been torn by generations of racism, misogyny, classism, homo/transphobia, xenophobia, fear, and ignorance. Whatever hopeful mending my generation grew up with in the 1990’s were just ironed on over the laborious but fraying stitches made by the BIPOC tailors of the civil rights movement. The bully of dominant culture has keeps pushing us down more and more often, tearing and fraying the labor of generations more quickly than we could keep up with for the last four years.

But we have kept on stitching, weaving, knitting, connecting to one another.

On the day of the election 2020 I made myself a mini-zine:

With all the uncertainty of the pandemic and the never ending news cycle, I knew if I didn’t occupy myself on Election Night (and for the next couple days!), I would probably not sleep or eat. I arranged with some friends to do a video conference to just “be” and not have the news on. I planned a project for us to do, although I think I’m the only one who made a mini-zine while we were on the call.

I was already thinking, like I was in2016: whatever happens, what can I do? How can I act? How can I create change?

In my mini-zine, I asked myself some questions, and tried to frame it positively, despite my pessimism. I didn’t (and don’t) have any answers. I just keep working, try to contribute where I can, and listen, and listen, and listen.

HOW TO MAKE THE ZINE. Instagram Photos

What would I add to both these projects?

There is a thread running through both my projects, and our culture which gives me hope. We really are stronger together. Every choice we make to connect to someone different from ourselves; every different way of being and moving through our country adds up to weave the counter narrative:

  • The idea of ”radical reimagining” has entered the mainstream because the Black Lives Matter movement has shaped social media, and social advocacy by young people for restorative justice.
  • The fight for re-enfranchisement by social justice advocates, led by BIPOC’s and supported by the vast majority of young, Millenial, and Gen-X people has created a drip- drip- of blue dots dyeing the map from red to blue in big southern cities, and rural midwestern nexuses like Atlanta, Austin, Marquette, and Traverse City.
  • The show of force made by protestors of every race and hue through the summer to now gives me hope that (white) people are finally coming to understand how white supremacy is damaging to our entire culture. Many men have understood that misogyny harms men and women alike, but for some reason white people struggle with how our cultural structure is harmful to them (us) too.
  • Even more hopefully, in Ypsilanti, in the 2020 the progressive anti-racist community has gotten more vocal. Protests for BLM in 2015 were less than 100 people. A silent protest organized on Martin Luther King Junior Day in 2017 by YCS High School students was 300. The biggest protest organized by the BLM movement in June 2020 was over 3,000.
  • Ypsilanti (and our whole country) are still divided. Although I live in Boston now, I spent a few months in Michigan this summer and it is still my home. There was less division in yard signs this year.
  • BUT: Many of the people who didn’t heed my arguments in 2016 have changed their minds and voted for Biden and even for Senator Gary Peters. FLY’s former board member, Eli Savit, ran and was elected to be the Washtenaw County Prosecutor on a platform that pushes for restorative justice and alternative sentencing.

My questions to myself as I consider how I will connect and weave my threads in the movements we will continue to navigate with a new president in office:

What color and texture is my path through the fabric of our culture?

What threads do I throw quickly?

What threads do I weave slowly?

How will I add to our collective strength in the next year?

I believe deeply in pluralism over dualism. We need every voice in the circle to weave strength. To knit together justice, we need to center the voices that have been silenced. What is my role in making that happen?

EDIT: Added link to archived Blog entry about the original piece 12/14/2020 15:42 EST

How to Make: Shadow Puppet Machine for FOOLmoon Reimagined

For FossilFOOLs, I created a work of arts-based research about how city-dwellers access nature combining digital animation and found sounds to highlight the ways that nature is affected by and yet still permeates urban areas. Inspired by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, I combined a recording of the sounds in my backyard– both human and natural– with instrumental and vocal tracks to create a re-mix of narrative sounds.   Rautavaara is known for his symphony to biodiversity, Cantus Arctics, in which he composed a rich multi-layered work that is built around recordings he made of birds in arctic region of Finland.

Still from Song to Urban Ecology, 2020

Originally, the work was to be presented with an active call for participation, people would have created shadow puppets to interact with the installation of the video on a multi-layered tent full of transparencies.

The original inspiration, collecting the ways that nature permeates the lives of my fellow city-dwellers still holds, and I have translated it to a virtual call for participation:

You can MAKE YOUR OWN shadow-puppet machine and share your story!

First, do some research

  1. When you go out today for an appropriately spaced walk, bring a piece of paper or a notebook with you.
  2. Look at the plants and animals that are around you, and spend some time looking at a few that you feel drawn to.
  3. STOP, LISTEN for 3 whole minutes: Write what you hear using onomatopoeia: some letters that you think will make the best impression of what you hear where you are.
    • It doesn’t have to be sounds from the thing that you are interested in. Just any sounds you hear, practice saying them outlaid.
    • For example the plane going over my building right now says “GURURURURURURUOOOOOOOSHSHSHSh!” and the birds say “CRRRRpppptCCrrpt-shwooooot.”
  4. THEN: Draw all the shapes you think the plant or animal you are interested in has in it. Don’t try to draw the thing, just draw the shapes.
  5. FINALLY: try to draw the thing, using the shapes you just drew. Since we are making shadow puppets later, don’t worry about the details, just get the outside shape of the thing.
  6. When you get home, think of a story about the things you drew.
    • What are the relationships between those things?
    • How does the sound relate?

Then go home and make your spinner:

Materials:

  • Re-used plastic bottl- cap
  • Drill or something sharp to poke with
  • Paper Plate, or re-used cardboard
  • Re-used plastic Forks, or popsicle sticks
  • Paperclips for attachments and hooks
  • Yarn if you want your puppets to dangle more
  • Re-used cardboard for puppet
  • Tape, Glue, other sticky stuff
  • Clothespin
  • Drawing stuff like markers

Directions:

Make the spinner

1. Poke a hole in the bottle cap, using a drill. If you don’t have a drill, you can probably use a nail and a hammer, or some other sharp thing combined with a heavy thing. For this part, you need to have a friend or a grown-up around just to be safe.

2. Stick the chopstick into the hole in the bottle cap. Put a dot of glue or tape under the bottle cap inside the lid so that it stays where it is.

  • If you use a hot glue gun, remember that the silver part and the glue are hot, so you should not touch those.

4. Take out the plate and mark the center by folding in half and pinching the middle to make an X.

5. Poke a hole through the X using a pencil or scissors, spin them around to make the hole nice and big so it spins easily. This might also need a grown up or friend to be safe.

6. Glue or tape your spokes, which are the popsicle sticks or forks to the edge of your plate so they stick out like a sun. You can use cardboard scraps if you don’t have popsicle sticks or forks to recycle.

7. If you are using cardboard or popsicle sticks, you can tape or glue a paper clip to the end of your spokes so that you have something to hook your puppets onto.

Make the puppets

  1. Take out your research drawings.
  2. Look at the shapes and the way you put them together to draw your image. You will use this to decide how to cut the cardboard for your puppet
  3. Draw the shapes you want to use for your animal or plant onto the cardboard. I like to use old TV dinner packages for this. It’s relatively soft, and not so hard to cut with scissors.
  4. Cut them out.
    • If you want multiples, you can fold the cardboard, like making gingerbread people, or snowflakes to get multiples of the same shape.
    • You can cut them with scissors or a knife. If you use a knife, please make sure you have a friend or a grown-up to help with this, just to be safe.
  5. Tape or glue them together.
  6. Tape or glue them to a paperclip. You may have to bend the paperclip to make a hook for your spokes.
  • Hang your puppets onto the spinner.
    • To assemble your story, think about the order you put them in
    • If you have birds, for example, different wing positions could indicate progress.
    • If you have flowers and Bees, you could put two flowers and one bee, or lots of flowers, some empty spokes, and then a bee.

Participate in FOOL Moon Re-imagined

To participate, post photos, videos, stories and more to the FOOL Moon Re-imagined Facebook page.

You can go with your grown-up or friends to find things that make noise in your kitchen, pots, pans, jars of rice, and create a sound response to what you heard. A wok makes a nice resounding noise, some sticks from outside might make nice snaps or scrunches.

Combine those with the onomatopoeia you created in your notes, to create a few seconds of sound to make while you take a short movie of your shadow puppet story.

Film your puppets, with the flashlight and your spinner on the wall, like in the photo. Use the hashtag #foolishsongs20 when you upload, or just put it onto the FOOLMoon Reimagined Facebook group.

  • PLAY Play!
  • Make noises like the ones you wrote down! Tell your story in a short video or write it down with some pictures of the shadows you make!
  • Here’s some ideas for how to start:
    • I picked ________ because…
    • ________ are important because…
    • _______ and _______ do ________ together because…

I plan to make a compilation video of all the submissions that everyone creates, so if you want to be included, drop me a line in the comments here, or send me an email to the letter “A” at Allida dot com. If you do not give me express permission, your documentary words, photos, and videos will not be included in our final collective story.

About this project:

Climate change is an issue that directly impacts equity, and environmental justice world wide.  Wealthy nations and communities have the resources to anticipate and act on behalf not only of themselves, but of the rest of the planet, but too often they ignore the urgency of the issue because it is inconvenient to the bottom line. In this moment, with a pandemic influencing the globe, it is clearer than ever that our mutual fates are intertwined, and that collective action is necessary, not just to prevent harm to the vulnerable, but to create beauty and connection for all.

The core inspiration for this project came from a recent encounter I had with a group of Finnish educators at the Next Wave Summit last October in Boston, hosted by the Center for Artistry and Scholarship. Their presentation at Next Wave was titled : “Everything Has to Change and it Has to Change Right Now: Sustainability in the Finnish Education System,” and they also shared this book you can download for free edited by Justin Cook of the Center for Complexity at RISD.  The presentation started with an introduction by the former director of the Finnish National Curriculum who said:

“When I started out in the office here, I remembered the love I felt when my grandparents would read to me, and I thought, I want every Finnish child to feel that love and support while they learn.”

Irmeli Halinen, retired Head of Curriculum and Development, Finland

Yes an artist, my Finnish cultural heritage influences my understanding of getting by by making do.  My mother and grandmother taught me how to re-use everything from cutting down clothes and creating rag-rugs, to darning socks and coming up with inventive ways to use old plastic bags.  I have always worked with re-purposed and re-cycled materials both because of these habits, and because the impact of seeing everyday objects in new forms raises awareness of our cultural associations. I’ve re-purposed construction materials to create wearables and decorative home objects.

It almost made me cry, because my grandparents– both the Finnish ones and the others– used to read to me and were all strong advocates for empathetic supportive education as central to civic agency.  Their model has inspired me as an educator and an artist to cut through my own identity and privilege to find common ground with people across cultural, class, race, and disability. It makes me passionate about elevating the voices and ideas of the communities I have served as an artist and and educator.  

In my work, I endeavor to love every student, and hear what they have to say because we are all one, and the multiple points of crisis our world is facing right now makes that clearer than ever.

UNTIED-UNITED: Stronger Together

FLY’s weekend was inspiring and magical.  We made a web of interconnectedness at DIYpsi, which we titled “Untied-United.”  It’s now hanging on our wall but the process was interactive and thoughtful. About 100 visitors contributed to the yarn-bomb over the two day event, and many many others peered in the door.

Given the divisive climate in our country this year, we wanted to do something special to help kids feel connected to our community, and when presented with the opportunity to take over a classroom during DIYpsi, I thought a lot about how to do that.  Could we use blocks, cardboard, and insulation to build a village and play in it?  Could we do a large scale painting or drawing with all the guests?

One of the things that has always drawn me to Fiber Art is the way that from lines of just thread, there forms a structure.  The interlacing of threads in knitting, weaving, and crochet tie together into a variety of bonds creating different properties and making different kinds of fabrics, which in turn have their own properties of texture and flow.

In addition to choosing colors that resonated, each of the 100 or so people (mostly kids) who interlaced yarn had a different way of experiencing the yarn. Some were playfully tossing; others consciously created patterns of wrapping and weaving; still others decided to poke balls of yarn or thread through and make windows. These different approaches contribute to the structure, but because they happened over and around each other, the resulting fabric is still fully interwoven.

Our community is like that, we are all different and we all make different choices, but because each one of us is part of the community, the choices that we make affect all of us. Pulling one thread in the web moves the whole cloth.

In part Untied United was inspired by my Fiber background, but also by a fun project by Polyglot Theatre that happened at A2SF in 2014. We modified the project because we were using different materials, but it was important to us to have an artifact to share with kids who come to FLY so they can see a tangible result of their collaboration as it warms our office space.  It is currently stretched on a PVC frame hanging near our office.

I’m paraphrasing, but, at the end of Sunday, one family was talking about the project together and the dad said, “What do you notice about the yarn?”
Kid said, “it’s like a trampoline.
“What else do you see?”
“There’s a lot of it, about a million colors!”
“The interesting thing… how strong do you think one piece of this yarn is?”
“Not very strong”
“But wow, the first people to come through wouldn’t really get this, but we are lucky to be here towards the end. All those different pieces of yarn are stronger together.”

Thank you to all of you who helped us create tangible evidence that our community is stronger together: To the participants; To DIYpsi and the Riverside Arts Center who allowed us to share the space with them; To everyone who has given us financial and volunteer support this year; and especially for the generous donations of yarn in the last two years from Ruth Boeder, Monique Bourdage, Mel Drumm, The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, and a few other smaller individual yarn donations.

Mad Science: Calder; Mobiles and Paper

What do you think of kinetic art?  Does it sound complicated and hard?  It’s not, it is just a fancy way of saying “Art that moves.”  2014-06-07 17.44.38

This last week at Mad Science Saturday we explored motion and balance looking at the kinetic art of Alexander Calder.
To make this project, our young renaissance artists danced to some music and drew pictures of each other.They were not allowed to look at their pictures while they drew.

We cut and scored their paper sketches along curves. The resulting forms do unexpected things. They curve around themselves and stick out at weird angles. They really look like dancers in motion!

dancer mobile

Once we had our forms, we began the mobile portion of the exercise. Dancing again, this time in slow motion, I showed them how the center of their body always remained in a vertical line from their neck down. They applied this sensation to their mobiles, and the mobiles turned out balanced.

A few weeks ago, FLY teachers were honored to be invited to a seminar with Matt Shlian, a local artist and one of a very few Paper Engineers in the country. He told us about various aspects of his work, including the curved score method of paper-folding.

We were excited that we’d have an opportunity to share this technique with the kids so soon. This project was already scheduled, but hearing how grown-up scientists and engineers apply techniques that our young artists can learn is really inspiring.

2014-06-07 18.00.05 HDR

Itsy Bitsy Spider Projects

This is a lesson which I prepared to teach EFL students in Spain.  In it they practice numbers, learn to indicate up and down, practice the weather, and learn how to ask some questions.  This project was done with children between six and nine years of age.

[Coming Soon, more videos as well as clear step-by-step explanations.]
The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Puppet
The Itsy-Bitsy Spider Book