March Spring Winds

A sequential animation with improvisational flute using a Japanese pentatonic scale.

March Spring Winds is a contemplation on tensions that coincide as seasonal change crashes into human emergence from the pandemic.  Created through a meditative practice on internal ecology, the video consists of a sequential drawn animation combined with an improvisational flute melody to evoke the interplay between complements. As plants sprout and animals emerge from hibernation, this is a reflection on how we can evoke joy and honor loss.

A swoosh of orange criss-crosses the green and blue background. A still from the video above

What has emerged?

In English, the word “emergency” indicates an urgent crisis, something that came up, an emerging need. During this year of acute slow-motion crises, this linguistic quirk of English has occurred to me more than once. In French and Spanish, a the wing of the hospital for treating trauma is Urgence or Urgencias, respectively.

Shadowy amoeba shapes on a red and gold background. A still from the video.

As I was drawing, I watched as motifs slowly emerged, creating new layers of meaning and emotion .

It made me stop to consider how with a crisis, there is potential for disruption and trauma. In my day job, which is at a school, there has certainly been a complete overhaul of our systems. There are things that are frightening about massive change, especially when it is accompanied by inequitable risks for marginalized members of our society.

However, transformation is not all bad. The acute injustices that have become visible– emergent– to more people have spurred people to push their own limits. Existing networks of care have mobilized deeper generosity and participation. Technology that seemed like science fiction when I was a child has become a broader everyday platform for education, art, and connection.

These emerging transformations have the potential to create sustainable and lasting change, but it requires everyone to make a conscious choice to continue troubling the waters of injustice.

The orange swoosh returns on multi-colored background with green zipper shapes and reddish footprints. A still from the video.

What will you carry forward?

This year has been full of barriers, pain, and sadness, but there have been moments that emerged for me that have deepened my sense of community and interconnected ness. As you watch this video, please think about how both pain and empathy have had an impact on your own life.

What challenges have you faced?

What has helped you get through this year, and how can you pay that forward to someone else?

This video was streamed through the FOOLMoon CommUNITY Facebook page, and at the Ann Arbor Art Center on April 9! Check out the event here to see some other stellar artists.

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

Songs of Urban Ecology: Cathedral of M-14 Fugue

What spaces around you do you ignore?

Stop, Observe, Listen.

The Second Song to Urban Ecology, this one was actually begun first. It was originally a photo series that I took in one of my favorite parks, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

M-14 is an expressway that runs between Ann Arbor and Plymouth, which is an ex-Urb or Suburb of Detroit.

The “Cathedral” is the open space beneath the overpass, as it runs over the Huron River. The light on the tracery of the steel-framed bridge combined with the rhythmic organ of the traffic overhead make it a very contemplative place. Nature and City collide here, not just because of the highway, but because it the western bank of the river is skirted by an old industrial corridor where welding and manufacturing shops once dominated, though few now remain.

Although the overpass could be thought of as marring the landscape, and the noise pollution and runoff can be harmful to the ecosystem, there is something beautiful to be found in the coexistence of this massive basilica of concrete and steel, designed not for occupancy, but instead for passing over.

Re-claiming the beauty of labor normally masked by its utility, I seek to showcase the labor of the Ironworkers and other skilled trades as they contribute to our culture by re-claiming the space for something besides a pass through.

The light shines off the tracery of the steel frame. The fog hides and reveals the ugly concrete pylons. Graffiti quite literally marks people’s interest in the site. Ripples highlighted by the thin line of light between the lanes create calligraphic flourishes on the surface of the water.

In this project, I also re-claim the space beneath the bridge for the ways that nature and land shine through human imposition. I stopped there and meditated, watched, listened about once a week for a couple of years. I began to notice many small details. All the photos are of plants which grow* along the banks of the river in the natural area opposite the old industrial corridor.

Here I want to acknowledge that one person or set of people cannot truly claim the land we inhabit, whether they hold deed and title or not. In re-claiming the land, I do not claim ownership. I re-claim the right to create a stronger relationship between people and the earth. This “Cathedral” is part of a complex system for which we are each responsible, and which is affected by our actions.

Beyond that interconnectedness, I also acknowledge that Washtenaw County has its own storied history of disputes between Native Americans, French, English, and ultimately the Territorial European Americans who became “Michiganders,” like me.

The Huron River, after all takes its name from one of the several local groups of Native Americans: groups that have traversed and lived here include speakers of Anishnaabe and Wyandot, known to many Americans by their tribal names (Chippewa, Ojibwa, and Huron, Iroquois respectively) as well as other tribes from Canada and Ohio with whom they traded well into the 19th Century.**

One step, beyond acknowledging who was here first, is to think about how we can better honor the land itself. I don’t own any land that I could give back, but I can be a better steward of the earth, and advocate for more harmonious relationships and care between humans and nature.

Place Based Education: Stay at Home Workshop

Saturday May 16, 10:30 AM

Eastern DaylghtTime

Join with Google Meet: https://meet.google.com/cwg-akvj-hed

For the participatory art part of this project I am creating a workshop which will be geared to sharing some ideas about how to combine art and science to take advantage of the time we are all spending stuck at home.  

Everyone is somewhere.  But what is somewhere?  How do we know our own “where?”

Place-Based Education focuses on those questions in order to engage people.  Looking closely at the world right in front of us.  It is something that people often take for granted, but to study it, to really look at it to see things as they connect to you and to other things, takes practice.

In Making Learning Visible, the children created their own maps of the city of Reggio, for example.

Another example is a project that Lisa Voelker from Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition collaborated with me and FLY in which we created a digital installation and a mini map of the park behind the Riverside Arts Center based on a series of small projects that students did in just one week.

Place Based Learning can begin with a small moment right where you are.

Everywhere you go, there you are. Place is an easy text for anyone and everyone to begin a learning journey.   

Before the Workshop Saturday at 10:30 AM:

In this workshop we will play with taking time out of every day to look and listen by drawing and photographing something you can see near your house. Since we are all on various versions of Stay Home Stay Safe, I ask that anyone wishing to participate adhere to local public health recommendations and local law enforcement. If you are allowed to go to a park, do it! If not, don’t.

  • Take a picture of something you are interested in that you see nearly every day (for example outside your window).
  • Take a picture of the same thing every time you notice a change.
  • Write down or draw out things that you notice:
    • What is the same?
    • What has changed?
    • Is it only visible things? What about sounds and smells?

If you don’t have time between now and then, don’t worry, I will have some samples and give time to go out and take a picture during the workshop. You might also want some things from your recycling bin, some crayons, some water, something to stick (tape or glue) and some markers.

*With the exception of the trillium, all of the plants were photographed within a half-mile of the bridge. The trillium grow there, but mostly in very small patches. I found such a beautiful large pink patch elsewhere that I couldn’t resist cheating This particular trillium plant was photographed in Montibeller Park in Pittsfield Township.

**In some ways, Michigan’s history, with French dominance into the 1820’s means that relationships between present inhabitants and past inhabitants have been preserved. The French wanted to convert, and “save” rather than dominate like the perpetrators of Manifest Destiny. There are still Native Americans from local tribes living in Michigan, particularly farther north. This does not mean there was no harm. Forced family separations, discrimination, and damaging economic practices remain to this day. But I did learn Native American History during my second grade class, and it did include the harms and the wars in my eighth grade class, and went into staggering detail about the cruelty by my junior year of High School.

Make it Out of the Ordinary: Pixel Magic

We are all living in a surreal moment, so this next creative prompt leans on the Surrealist practice of collaborative drawing to connect our FOOLmoon CommUNITY.  

Over the next few weeks will will be collecting our pixels and bites to create compelling stories about our CommUNITY and connect not just our drawings and sounds but each other.  

This week, you are going to help us take over the FestiFools Instagram Feed with our collective surrealist dreaming. Follow the directions below and email or tag your photos #makeitoutofordinary and #pixelmagicmoon on Instagram or Twitter.  Our FOOLish team will cast some pixelated spells and post your images on Instagram where they will connect and tile, just like collaborative drawings on paper by Dali, Miró, Tanguy, Man Ray, and others.  [Edit: Now with collaborative Whiteboard, see image below, or follow this link]

Join the #pixelmagicmoon Challenge!

Materials:

  • Paper
  • Something to cut with, or patient fingers to fold and tear
  • Dark marking implement (black or blue is ideal!)
  • The camera on your phone or other device to share with us at wonderfoolproductions@gmail.com
  • FOR AFTER you share your black and white image: Coloring implements

Instructions:

  1. Make a list of ten things that made you stop and think. 
    • What made you feel connected to our CommUNITY?   
  2. Make your paper into a square.  It does not matter if you are starting with a GIANT page or a tiny page, once it’s a square we can do PIXEL Magic and shrink it to link up with everyone else’s tiles.
  3. Mark the midpoints on the sides of the square by matching corners and pinching JUST the edge of the paper.  (You can fold across, but then you will have the creases visible. If you are a very young person, it might be easier to pinch, anyway.)
  4. Mark with a pencil where those creases are.  These are how your machine will match up with other FOOLmoon CommUNITY members’ machines.  
  5. Look back at your list, and choose TWO things that you think would be FOOLishly fun together and draw them into your square so that pieces of them touch those midpoints.  
    • How do they relate? What can you imagine and invent?
    • You can use pencil and then outline with marker later. 
    • You can use mechanical elements like gears or levers or buttons
    • The MOON is the limit: use your IMAGINE-ation!
  6. Take a picture before you color and share it on social media and/or email it to wonderfoolproductions@gmail.com
    • In a couple of weeks, we will provide instructions to repurpose a cereal box to turn these black and white drawings into a color-it yourself tile puzzle, and are hoping for some other fun re-mix ideas!
  7. Color your machine if you want.  Make another! There’s no limit!  
  8. Check out our machines as we build on instagram, or check back for curated tiles on Facebook!
  9. As a community we will connect our stories and ideas. Join the BEAUTIFUL collaboration (beginning of image below)!

Make it Out of the Ordinary: Faux Luminariaux

This post about making something “Out of the Ordinary” is the first of several I will be doing in collaboration with WonderFool Productions as a part of their new initiative, FOOLmoon CommUNITY in which they will enable creative engagement with WonderFool artists both as a response to the current physical isolation, and to deepen and extend their community impact throughout the year.

Written instructions can be found at the bottom of the page.

Under the circumstances we do not assume anyone has any one material at home, so everything we imagine for you will have multiple materials suggestions so that you can truly  make something literally out of ordinary things, you already have at home.

This week, we are truly appreciating our artists and the ways that our virtual platform has created CommUNITY, so here is a project made from ordinary materials that will bring back a little extraordinary GLOW!  

Faux Luminariaux:

Lots of luminaries from ordinary materials

You can take materials you have around your house to create your own mini luminary with abstract images created with Crayon and Marker; Re-purposed magazines that create imaginary scenes that pop; or build draw your own scene on regular paper and bring it to life with a flashlight.  

Creating a joyful image

  • What is out of the ordinary for you right now?
  • What did you see this week that  you joy?
  • What story matters to you?

As you read the instructions below, full of technical information, hold on to these questions. Imagine what these things look and feel like. Think about what colors they might be, how they sound, and how to break down the story into snapshots.  

The technical bits are here to give your ideas some legs, but it doesn’t matter if you have all the materials or if your folds are perfectly straight. What you want to express is the most important. 

Materials:

  • Paper
    • Could be plain printer paper with crayon, marker, or watercolor
    • …A page from an old magazine that inspires you (collage post creation to add interest)…
    • …Baking parchment colored with crayons
  • Crayons
    • Works on most light surfaces
    • Flows and blends very well on parchment paper.
    • Wax is hydrophobic, so you can use watercolor or marker on top of it and it will show through.
  • Markers
    • Works best on copy paper, but some markers may be alright on magazines.  Not recommended on parchment paper
    • Can be used like watercolor if you want to do wax resist. Just use a paper towel or brush to gently brush across it with a small amount of water, or mist it with a spray bottle. 
  • Watercolor
    • Only good on printer paper, but don’t use too much water. 
  • Glue (for collage on finished luminaries if you want more details)
  • Other sticky stuff like staples or tape (for lantern version).

Folding Version 1: Origami Box

Diorama Luminary, with collage detail

This version looks more complicated because there are more steps to follow.  However, the kinds of folds that you are doing are easier, so this one is the easier version.  

  • Recommended for young people who have not yet attained the age of 7 or 8.  FOOLish fun for people of any age.  
  • Recommended for printer paper or magazine page.  
  • Fold first, then unfold so you know where the main image should go on the paper unless you’re going to go totally abstract. 
  1. Fold Hotdog style (vertical, longways in half).  
    • Use your rectangular paper.  Printer Paper size or similar rectangle.  It can be a scrap, but it works best with something that is close to A4 or Letter in proportion.
  2. Close the cupboard doors:
    • Fold the two sides so that the whole side goes into the middle, a move called closing the cupboard doors in Origami circles.  
  3. Open the whole paper up flat.
  4. Fold Hamburger style (Horizontal shortways in half)
  5. Close those cupboard doors, it’s a wider cabinet this time.  DO NOT OPEN this time.
  6. You will see that there are four lines that cut through the cupboard doors like they were window panes in a French door.  The top and bottom fold lines are where we are looking right now. Taking the paper up to the bottom fold line on the right side, make a triangle by matching the folded edge to the window pane fold line.  
  7. Do that to all four corners.  DO NOT UNFOLD
  8. You will see that you have a kind of irregular octagon now.  In the middle where the cupboard doors are folded there is a bit of paper sticking out just past the triangles you just made.  Using the triangles as a guide, fold that back.  
  9. Here’s the magic part: You can now reach inside the pockets you created by folding back that flap of paper, and pop up your box, carefully reaching inside each corner and pinching along the edge of the triangle to make it stand up.  

If we were just learning the box you’d be done unless you wanted to make a second one as the cover to keep something in.  BUT since this is a Faux Luminary, you’re not done yet.  Notice where the bottom (top) of the box is, and fold it flat again.  This is where you can color your scene.  Unfold the box and draw whatever you want inside that rectangle, with whatever materials you want.  

Folding Version 2: Accordion Lanterns

  • Easy, but easier with experience and strong hand eye coordination, so recommended for young people from 7 or 8 years old and up. 
  • Best with parchment paper or printer paper, because magazine paper cracks easily with its coating.  Experienced folders can do magazine paper, but if you haven’t done this before, it is recommended that you use printer paper for your first one.  
  • Draw and decorate your paper first, then fold. 
  1. Accordion your paper, so that the outside folds are mountain folds. There are tips for how to do this evenly in the instruction video.

2. Crease the whole accordion with a marker or round scissor handle. 

3. Fold the top and bottom third of the accordion into a pleasing angle, think the way a capital C curves, and crease as hard as you can.  

4. Open the “C” curves up, so the accordion is a line again.

5. Flip the accordion over and re-crease the folds you just made so they are very strong and deep.  

6. Open the c curves and open the accordion flat-ish.  

7. Lay it so that the accordion zig zags look like stairs or ladder lines going away from you and begin reversing the folds that are on the side of your dominant hand.  I am right handed so I started with my right hand on the bottom fold and carefully followed the crease lines all the way to the top.

8. Do the same process on the other side of the ladder.

9. When you are done, the accordion will be reconstructed, and your c curve will be there flat, but inside out

10. Pop the middle of the curve back to flat, but not the c curves.  This will create an arched semi circle like the picture

11. You can staple or tape the ends together so it stays fully curved.