Spring 2001: Meditations and Transformations

Looking back on these works, they form a through line of spiritual seeking through process. In times like now, where the world is in suspended animation, a dose of specific process and ritual can be helpful. In what ways can I impose order on the simultaneous plodding of too fast and too slow?

These fledgling explorations of spiritual connection through internal or external processes formed the ground on which I sit: learning to navigate and impose routines and practices upon myself to manage the firehose of information that I am curious about and engaged with at any given moment.

Although the final work in the series, which I shared last week, was designed to invite participation, both of these works are focused internally, or at least on making personal internal processes external, just for me.

What I wrote at the time only scratches the surface of what I can see now looking backwards, so in addition to the captions from the red portfolio album, I’ve added some reflections, and included a third piece, which was not successfully documented at the time, but which connects to a tension in my work about embodied fashion.

Performance I: Copper Circle Clock

To draw attention to the tension of values that is inherent in the aesthetics of fine art in the western canon, I often choose materials that one would normally consider practical and re-cycle, re-purpose, or re-position them to an aesthetic rather than practical value.  In the world of the arts, materials matter.  Whether one chooses oil paint, pencil, charcoal, or fabric, there is something to be said for the way the material affects the viewer.  

Materials have cultural weight, and by repurposing hardware, I seek to show honor and value for labor in my creative practice.  

As the daughter of a college-educated union Ironworker, I value the beauty that is created by labor.  It’s one of the reasons that the buildings and bridges in Chicago were so inspirational.  Hands made them, and I value every stage of the process from idea and design, to re-bar and sand-blasting.  

In this work, I took washers and laid them out in a clock formation in the middle of the room and then twisted them successively on to loops on refrigerator tubing and large washers to create an artifact from the performance.  

In designing the work, I was considering the form that I imagined, an artifact which would leave a vertical tracing through time. Knitting or beading leave behind a structure, and the purpose is the product, for example a sweater or a necklace.  In this performance I created illustration of time itself by using fiber craft skills to engineer a purpose-made object that spirals up in a circle, with cardinal points to mark how we chart time on a clock.  

The most interesting piece of the work was the sound that the washers made, jingling and sliding along the copper tube.  It reminded me of my visit to the Buddhist temple in Japan when I was fourteen years old.  The rhythmic jingle was like the meditation bells and drums that the monks and practitioners made as they repeated their sutras.  

The finished object hung on my ceiling for awhile at home, jingling in the breeze of that summer with the window open reminding me about stopping and noticing time and process.  

Performance II: Rolling into Transformation

So many times when we consider changes we want to make in ourselves, we think we know what to expect, and yet, even in a simple action, there are often emotions and feelings that one does not anticipate.  Some are joyful, and some are frightening.  It is how one considers them that creates growth.  

This was a performance to externalize internal processes of wrapping and unwrapping emotions and thoughts during moments of change.  Conceptualized as a quick meditation on personal transformation, I cocooned myself into a cloth in Lincoln Park. 

The wrapping was more claustrophobic, and the unwrapping was more freeing than I expected it to be.  

The cloth was a sign leftover from an exhibit at the Field Museum, which I purchased at a re-use center and which my friends had taken to Burning Man.  Dust from the Playa, stuck in the cloth despite repeated washings, also stuck in my throat.  I can still feel the air as I finally came free, joyful to be out of that internal space. 

Performance III: Personal Space Farthingale (Undocumented)

The convenience of public transportation is huge, however, the process of entering a crowded train carrying a hatbox on one’s head on the way to the theatre can make one feel like a sardine.  

One tension I felt in Chicago was between that independence provided by public transportation and the dehumanizing feeling of being packed so close to other people, never looking one another in the eye, or looking too closely at one another as sometimes happens.  

To explore this, I attempted to create some personal space for myself with a PVC icosahedron farthingale, which I wore on the bus during one of our studio days.  It kept people from touching me, and its pointy triangles hurt both me and them.  The reaction I had was mostly stares, as if this personal safety device were more of a fetish object than armor.  

Unlike the washer mail I created, it does not invite touch, but the visibility of this armor meant that in wearing it, I still made myself an object of curiosity.  There is that tension in urban space between seeking to connect to others and wishing to remain safe and anonymous.  This work did not do exactly what I expected it to, but it created an interesting discourse about safety, desire, and space.  

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