Concentration

Summer Sun Rug (in progress)

Started a new rug to consign at a local boutique, more about that when I put the rugs and purses in progress into the shop.

Though I love drawing and sketching, often it is not the place where I make breakthroughs. The materiality and spatial relationships of things are somehow distant when they are on paper, and I can visualize something bigger and better, so at some point I just have to “waste material” and make it three dimensionally.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that recycled materials are so fascinating for me. They are cheap, sometimes discarded, sometimes just re-claimed and re-purposed. They are usually cheaper, so if something gets screwed up there is little risk.

Last year I did a series of drawings that were colorful concentric circles, inspired by a variety of sources, not least my own childhood attempts to do Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”  This year those drawings have inspired or perhaps influenced the rag rugs I’ve begun to produce.

I’ve been reading a book put out by the Michigan State University Press about research done on a collection of Finnish American Rag Rugs. Though I never associated my hatred of waste and love of creative re-use with my Finnish Cultural Heritage, the more I read of this book, the more think that it, along with certain habits of humor and prosody, were inherited from my Finnish family.

The book contains stories about how the women, mostly from my grandmother’s generation or older, learned to weave, where they got their looms, whom they taught, and why they wove.

Although my rugs are crocheted rather than woven, it is interesting that, as a 4th generation Finnish American (mixed with other things, though also not more than 4th or 5th Generation on any side), some of the Suomilainen traits have trickled down.

I’ve written elsewhere about going to Finland while living in Spain, but I’ll briefly re-state it for you here and now:

It was half-way through my second year in Spain. Though at this point I still have an American Accent (can one ever really lose it entirely?), my Spanish is otherwise perfect. Nevertheless, every time I go someplace where they don’t already know me, people try to speak to me in absurdly broken English.

So I go to Finland, for a little more than a week, and within hours, people are speaking to me in Finnish, by default. They do not speak to the Germans in Finnish at the cyber cafe where I go for a late night cup of tea. To me, I look just as much like them as I do like a Finn.  When she goes before me in line to buy a pack of gum, they speak in English to the Chinese girl who lives in Oulu and actually DOES speak Finnish.

Finally in exasperation, I teach myself, trying to remember how my grandmother would pronounce things, how to say “I do not speak Finnish,” and “Do you speak English?” At a book store when my oil pastels set off the alarm, I try the first one, and the lady looks at me funny and switches without a beat into English. I explain I’m looking for a bilingual Kalevala. Then at a yarn shop I use the second. This time the girl looks much more confused and starts to reply in Finnish, catches herself, and asks, “But, don’t you speak Finnish?”

A year later, in Brussels, we stumbled into a Finnish Cultural Center. To my Belgian Tour Guide, they spoke in English, to me in Finnish. (It was simple, “Hei Hei” “kaksi euroa, kiitos” “takemiin”). I passed rather than point out that I wasn’t in fact a Finn. They heard me speaking to him in English spattered with French.

Ethnic Identity is funny. At some point in my life it was very important. In 5th grade I did whole projects of study on nothing but Finland and Jewish-ness. As I’ve gotten older, though I appreciate and better understand some of my roots, I also appreciate the freedom of being an American. I pick and choose. I adopt Spanish table manners, and Persian cooking; Japanese paper-folding, and French radio.

But somehow, despite all my picking and choosing, some of my heritage shows through.

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

Here is an article about Kate Cullen, the 21 year-old sociology student who was studying in Istanbul during the early days of the Gezi Park Protests and the woman in the photograph that inspired this Stained-glass collage.

She describes her desire to participate saying, “My main purpose was just to add one more person to the movement.”

In another  question about the moment she was hit with the cannon, she says that she wanted to show the protests were non-violent and threw her arms wide.  She goes on to say, “The image is not about me whatsoever.  The image is about a symbol, about what these protesters were standing for; in the scheme of things, my act was absolutely nothing. It was no braver than thousands and thousands and thousands of protesters who were doing the same, and more,” and then describes the larger losses of injuries, eyesight, and even death.

Though I would argue, her act was a drop, a big drop, I know what she means about it feeling like nothing.

Often the acts of beauty and love that we do feel quotidian and insignificant, but each choice we make can create or destroy.  Each act we perform can sustain or cut off.

Her act, though a tiny drop, is in fact a very big thing.  Each protester who sits in the park is part of the larger scheme even if we don’t see them.  Each protester is a big thing because all together, each person added to the movement is valuable.

The worth of protest is not in suffering, but rather in compassion.  As Cullen points out , “The girl in the black dress is no more me than it is that man who pulled me into the house and gave me lemons….”  By participating in this body politic, each one joins together and each act builds together because it is formed in the invisible compassion of the man with the lemons, and by visible empathy drawn to the image of the Nike of Samothrace personified in the Woman in the Black Dress.

Like I said, she could be you, she could be me.  She is all of us. Though we are far away, raising awareness about struggles world wide (and in our own backyard) is important.  Sure we can’t be a voice for every movement in need of our compassion, but we are all interdependent, and the positive work that we do for each other still betters our civilization.

Peace for Gezi Park

Kissing in Taksim Square

Last Sunday afternoon, after the Eco Ride, I participated in a local event to support and share more information about what’s going on in Turkey since 31 May, 2013. The above is one of two stained-glass-collages (and accompanying stencils) that I made to highlight some of the iconic photographs that came out of the protests. If you are in the area, you can like the organization page on Facebook.  If you aren’t local, it is still an interesting page as they review both Turkish and international press and provide some translations and summaries of articles you wouldn’t otherwise see.

At first I did not want to directly illustrate any of the violent responses because by showing violent reactions in a beautiful way, it in some way romanticizes that violence. The first drawing that I did was of a couple kissing next to some burning rubble. The love of individuals becoming apparent even in the context of the flames of conflict. Taking artistic liberty, I turned the flames into the leaves of the trees that must now be re-planted in Gezi Park.

Kissing in Taksim Square
Seeing choreographed blood and explosions in movies can be exciting, though real blood and real destruction, even from animals killed by the side of the road is disturbing. Part of the reason that works of film are exciting is because they are not real. Things don’t happen that way, and we know it. Many of the photos of the violence that has been going on in Taksim Square have been graphic and disempowering. Turning them into stained glass would not show solidarity, it would romanticize the ugliest parts of the goings-on.

What changed my mind was this photograph.

We cannot see the face of the woman in the original. She could be you, she could be me. She stands, ready to face the impending impact with arms wide as if she is going to hug the water. Powerful like the Nike of Samothrace.  Nike, for those who haven’t studied as much art history refers to a personification of Athena as goddess of victory in battle. Unlike some other images, that I won’t post, it does not show the moment when she falls, but rather the moment when her peace faces down the violent onslaught of water.

Nike of Samothrace (Louvre Official Catalog)

In my version of the image, I made the area surrounding the woman lighter and more green than the rest, hoping to show that out of this moment perhaps new green space and a hard look at the political problems that Turkey faces will grow up. Perhaps this small act of resistance will be a first step into the victory of non-violent protest, spurring political action against corruption.

For the protestors in Turkey

Bracelets for Ecoride

Photo of 2 Bracelets

Next Sunday, the 23 of June, is the forty-first annual EcoRide. It has a couple of different loops for local bicyclists that stop at a variety of eco-conscious area sites. Ann Arbor is rife with ecologically conscious farmers, recycling and re-use places, etc, so the EcoRide only stops at a few, but it is nevertheless a fun day.

This year, I’ll be participating in their new pop-up art gallery event in Riverside Park (the ANN ARBOR one, not the Ypsi one), bringing along my rag rug (and maybe some little things) and sharing my skills as a fiber artist to raise awareness about sustainability. Just like the now slightly tarnished “Live Strong” bracelet, participants will be invited to make their own recycled t-shirt bracelets, titled, reCYCLE bracelets. Hopefully it will not only be fun for the young riders, but will inspire others to share what they know about recycling.


View Larger Map

Here’s a video I made for the Ecology Center so they can promote the EcoRide.

In addition, my mother will be at the Leslie Science Center in the Project Grow Garden there. She makes recycled garden sculptures that can be used as trellises, light trees, or scarecrows as well as looking really cool.

Recycled Planter with pink flowers

106:365 Maze Fish

106:365 Maze Fish

This drawing is somewhat inspired by my new batiked dress.  Also by the mazes left behind by the Emerald Ash Borer.

Now I’m finally caught up with the drawings I missed.

These last few weeks have been busy busy, and though I love writing down the thoughts that occur to me during these drawings, there just haven’t been very many free moments to do so.

Mazes and labyrinths have always fascinated me.  Finding connections.

The way I learn a city is by stitching together how streets connect to familiar objects.  It is somewhat less exact (in some ways) than creating a map in my mind, but it indicates a different way of getting around.  Once there are enough connections, it is often more accurate.

Spanish friends were always surpirsed that “la guiri” could find her way through Madrileño streets more easily than they could.  In part it was the newness to me.  But in part it was because those Madrid streets that connect to plazas and churches, museums and shops, fit in with the way I like to build connections between things.