Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review - The Object of Labour

I heard about this book through a somewhat ambivalent review in the (excitingly revamped) American Craft magazine. I ordered "The Object of Labor: Art, Cloth and Cultural Production" anyway since it sounded so intriguing. And what a great book it is! A compilation of essays and art projects from 40 diverse artists, critics, curators and writers, edited by Joan Livingston and John Ploof, this is a substantial chunk of both paper and thought.

Although is is possible to get a bit mired in the academic language of some of the writers, the effort will pay off. The first essay by philosopher Maureen Sherlock was a standout for me, as she wove a seamless discussion of art, craft, sweatshop labour and capitalism. I loved reading an interview with Karen Reimer, on of my favourite artists. I learned about Indian kantha cloth, and an interesting project in Bihar that empowers women to stitch their stories in cloth. There no fluff here - it's a valuable collection and very, very relevant.

If I was still speaking to him, I would recommend this book to a director of an art gallery who asked me to help him curate a show on contemporary BC textile artists. Try as I might, I couldn't dissuade him from his preconceptions. Feeling that the depth of talent and exciting work in our corner of the world wasn't enough, he sought a work from a major American artist to give some weight to the show. And just in case that didn't generate the required relevance, he wanted at least one of the artists to be male. After he dismissed an exciting project right under his nose that created wearable electronic costumes for dance and performance (that later travelled to the Guggenheim) as "just being about clothes", I realised that I couldn't work with the guy. Nice fellow, no clue.

Buddy, if you're reading, check out "The Object of Labor"!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

American Southwest - Part 3

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is a little island of a town in the middle of nowhere. My friend Wendy, who I was there to visit, calls it Dodge City. She moved there from New York, and I would say that the two places are equal and opposite in terms of their extremity. But T or C certainly has its charms, and we enjoyed our visit tremendously.

T or C used to be called Hotsprings, because of the geothermal springs close to the surface of the town. We stayed at both Riverbend (very funky and pictured above) and La Paloma Hotsprings (recommended) and enjoyed many soaks in the relaxing hot mineral waters. There are lots of artists and creative types that have relocated to T or C from big cities, so there is a small but cosmopolitan community developing. Lots of galleries and cool shops such as Moon Goddess and Dust and Glitter.

Wendy and her partner Mikey (that's him on top of one of the domes, ready for the stucco coat) have been building a solar powered B&B out of reused materials and papercrete. You can find out a whole lot more through their blog Green Acre/Holy Scrap. These are two of the most dynamic and resourceful people I have ever met, and they are totally inspiring. Mikey says his motivation is that he never wants to work in a cubicle again, but I suspect his genius brain and inventive spirit have a lot to do with it too. He and Wendy make a great team, and have done practically all the work themselves, figuring it out as they go.

Wendy, as I have mentioned before, is the creator of Swap-O-Rama-Rama, and I have become one of her partners in producing SORR's at Maker Faire and helping others get started around the country. She is studying to be a Sufi teacher, and I was lucky enough to take one of her yoga classes while I was there. I love you, Wendy!

Ian thoroughly enjoyed himself, getting into the spirit with his new hat. He also got as close to Sensitive New Age Guy (SNAG) territory as he ever has in his life, taking part in a full moon drum circle at Brett's beautiful farm.

Coming from the lush, wet Pacific Northwest, I wasn't sure how I would react to the dry, dusty climate. But it was marvelous and beautiful. I particularly loved the cacti, and took tons of photos of the prickly beings.

We took the southern route back to Vegas, through Arizona, skirting through California on the 95 north. More gorgeous cacti and lonely outposts - a great trip!

Monday, January 28, 2008

American Southwest - Part 2

Here we are on the road! Our plan was to try and see the Grand Canyon, weather permitting, then continue on to Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Los Alamos was on the itinerary since we plan to visit Hiroshima on our trip to Japan next month, and I thought that it would be interesting, if not too depressing, to see the U.S. side of the story.

The Grand Canyon is spectacular beyond words. It washed the plastic of Las Vegas from our eyes, and restored us to our place as small specks of dust in the universe. And my dear husband indulged me in a romantic walk along the South Rim under a full moon - we stayed in the park in a lodge right on the rim. Expensive, but once in a lifetime memories!

The next night we stayed in the small town of Gallup, New Mexico at the glorious El Rancho, built by D.W. Griffith's brother and hotel to Hollywood stars when they filmed in the desert. Each room is named after one of the actors who stayed in it -we were in the Claude Akins room, right across from the Rita Hayworth room and down the hall from the Humphrey Bogart room. Quite a hoot!

Santa Fe was impressive in it's cohesive architecture - all adobe - and charming in spite of the mobs of well-heeled tourists flocking the streets. Although I thought this adobe parkade was a bit much! (And speaking of a bit much, yes, I do have blue hair. Quite faded since the Twelfth Night party, but still turns heads.)

Los Alamos was chilling, and not just in temperature. At the Bradbury Science Center have done their best to downplay the horror of nuclear weapons and claim to be in the business of the safe, peaceful use of nuclear technology, but I still don't buy it. The life size models of Fat Man and Little Boy were surprisingly small, and the more modern Minuteman warheads even smaller, like dunce caps. The one thing that really startled me was the fact that only 3 weeks after the Trinity test the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Can you imagine the determined effort and energy behind such an act? And if it is humanly possible to achieve such a thing, why can't we summon up such energy for peace, or stopping global climate change?

We left Los Alamos as the sun was setting, and arrived in Truth or Consequences 4 hours later.
Tomorrow: Welcome to Dodge!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

American Southwest - Part 1

I'm back after a ten day trip to visit friends in New Mexico. I thought I would do a series of posts to describe the experience, since there were several distinct elements.

First off is Las Vegas - our arrival and departure point. I always swore I would never set foot in Vegas, however the absurdly cheap plane ticket made the whole trip financially possible. Much has been written about the city, which certainly lives up to its reputation. I was not seduced by its tawdry charms, and really wouldn't want to go back.

We went to see George Thorogood at the House of Blues on our last night. We're not fans especially, but the show was a little more up our alley than Carrot Top. I have to describe the venue, which encapsulates all that is Vegas. House of Blues, being as corporate as Donald Trump, appears to keep a pretty tight lid on images, so you will have to use your imagination.

After the fake plastic environment out on the strip, I was quite impressed by the warm, textured decor of House of Blues. Every inch of the walls are covered with folk/outsider art paintings, the floors are rough, wide planks that looks like they came from a barn, the ceilings are painted in deep, rich colours and patterns, and all the woodwork, railings, bars are covered with bottle caps and old license plates, creating a tarnished shimmer of texture. It was kind of a cross between Louisiana Voodou and Mexican Day of the Dead, all on a spectacular scale.

But look a little deeper, and one realizes that in no way does the room resemble the roadside tavern it is striving to be. The scale, like everything else in Vegas, is so over the top that it becomes fantasy, an adult Disneyland. The curtains on the stage were particularly fascinating to me. (Always trust me to zero in on the textiles!) Two stories high, they were patchwork - apparently real patchwork, not painted. Warm, homey feeling, right? But imagine how much the things would weigh! Dozens of quilters would have had to work on them - one person could never manage.

And a trip to the ladies room revealed another disparity. The decor tickled the eye to be sure - the stalls were of that chromed steel that you see on good ol' boy pickup trucks, and the walls were deep red, with hand painted patterns covering every surface. And there was a young woman attendant, working for TIPS ONLY. Broke my heart that this place could apparently spend millions on decor, but wouldn't pay a staff person minimum wage.

We left before the show was over - George was fine, but I had much more authentic experiences with that kind of music at Toronto's El Mocambo, back when I was in my 20's. I didn't need a slick, synthetic, manufactured version of a nostalgia that doesn't really resonate with me anyway.

Don't worry, the curmudgeon on my shoulder disappeared as soon as we made our way into the desert. Tomorrow: The Really Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thread Glorious Thread

My friend Jean-Pierre, who has appeared in these pages many times before, sent me this lovely iridescent thread that he found in one of the temple markets in Kyoto. I'll have to do something amazing with it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Doll, She is Coming

The doll for the TIF challenge is coming along. Here are the parts ready for assembly.

And here she is in the all together. I had a hell of a time with the joints - I used the disc and cotter pin type and they are looser than I would like. But moving right along...

The clothes are what I will have fun with. Lots of embroidery to work on while I am traveling in New Mexico.

I have been working on a number of other projects simultaneously. A couple are secret and I can't reveal them just yet! But one exciting thing for me is that I am taking over the little coffee bar in my studio building. So far it has worked out perfectly, as I can do my own projects in the slow periods, and there's a small but steady cash flow. I get to chat to the lovely creative people who populate the building and feel that I am contributing to our community by keeping everyone fueled with coffee and muffins.

*Update* I just realized that this is my 99th post! Come on gang, sing along! "99 postings of blog on the wall, 99 posts of blog... take one down and pass it around..."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Take It Further Challenge

On January 1st I was excited to see that Sharon B had posted the first installment of the Take It Further Challenge. The theme for January is to make a stitched something about a person who inspires you. I had just finished writing an article about artist/poet/designer Gretchen Elsner and was still trying to sort out her magic in my mind. So the decision was quite instantaneous - i thought I would make a cloth figure (doll in any other words) that might represent Gretchen.

Now from what I have seen of Sharon's last challenge (Take a Stitch Tuesday), the bar is set pretty high with this crowd. I don't know if a doll will even cut it - but I figure it's cloth, stitched by hand, and I can go bonkers embroidering the wardrobe.

The other thing is that, although I made some marionettes when I was in high school, I am not a doll maker. But this is supposed to be a challenge, right? So of course I want to make a jointed doll.

I figured out a head shape...

...and added button eyes, outline stitch features, and some of my handspun, lichen dyed yarn for hair. Oh, I didn't mention, my own self-imposed rule for this challenge is that all materials must come from the stash.

I was just reading Peter Steinhart's The Undressed Art, and one interesting thing I learned was that the universal approach to drawing a human figure is that one starts with the head, then moves down the body. I apparently have done just that with this doll! Given my lack of doll-making experience, perhaps I should have started my figure with the simpler, less visible body parts, but no, I had to dive right in and start from the top!

Just in case anyone else is following the Challenge and happens to be reading this, I will not be using the colour palette that Sharon suggested. Blecchhh! Oh, sorry to be rude - I guess one person's inspiration can be another's turn off - part of what makes this year-long project so fun. Can't wait to see what others are doing!

While you're visiting Sharon's website, check out her posting about her sewing room clean up and stash weigh-in. This woman is a marvel of organization - I'm in awe. (And I'm pretty sure I don't have 400 kilos of stash - but then I haven't weighed it!)