Moving to the Mountains

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A few years ago I was in a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. I was living in Italy and was only in Portland for a few days, on the road hopping from place to place. As I sat in that cafe sipping my americano, Built to Spill played over the speakers and to my surprise I almost started crying. Time ran backwards for a moment as I was enveloped memories of Seattle and I recognized just how far my life had gotten from my home.

I loved living in Italy, there are so many things to love about living in Italy – gelato, cobblestones,  church bells, wine, pasta, museums around every corner – but it was never intended to last.  The West is my home, always has been, always will be, even if I spend years of my life away The West is my culture; the music, the progressive thinking, the monumental landscapes, hiking, snowbanks, camping in the rain, etc. The culture of the West is the veil through which I feel the rest of the world.

And so I’ve spent the last couple of years steering my career West – residencies in Washington, a show in Hawaii, and on a whim last summer I applied to be the Lab Manager for Printmaking at Utah State University. I didn’t know what to expect from Utah or from Utah State University. I knew I wanted to be further west and I wanted to spend the majority of my time in a printshop instead of a digital studio.

What I have found here is beyond anything I could have hoped for – a beautiful home,  supportive fun colleagues, students who are excited about printmaking, a large well equipped studio, a fantastic art museum, monumental landscapes and easy access to all things West Coast.

I’ve accepted a promotion to Area Head and Assistant Professor of Printmaking for Utah State University. I’m so very happy to be putting down roots in the Rocky Mountains. This means I’ll be spending more time on research, traveling to document more domestic violence shelters, and teaching our fantastic students. I’ll also be headed to Los Angeles a few times a semester and Seattle of course.

I’m excited to see what comes next!

 

 

 

The Power of the Tangible

There’s an article on Politico by Jack Shafer questioning the success of print newspapers’ jump to invest in digital versions. After all this time physical prints still have higher perceived value than the digital versions.

…online editions tend to be perceived as inferior to the paid-for print product because they’re free, plus the “tangible” nature of newsprint gives it an edge in readers’ minds over the pixel product.

This is, of course, very human. Even in the face of so much intangible passing around our culture, we are still hard-wired to value material objects and tangible markers of time.

I’ll point you in the direction of Ellen Dissanayake for some of the reasons.

Early on as a printmaker I latched on to the poetic righteousness of Print’s role in marking time and disseminating knowledge. It is still one of the things that drives my days.

Here’s to the hope that on the other side of this era of cultural upheaval there are some really great steakhouse quality newspapers waiting for us.

(Read the article for that analogy to make sense.)

Thu-Van Tran – La Venice Biennale di Arte

In a series of works Thu-Van Tran reproduces fragments of a rubber plantation in the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale di Arte.

Casts of hevea tree trunks are laid out in front of photograms of tropical foliage and a video of people carving the bark of the hevea tree to extract rubber. The photograms make the ephemeral moment of light hitting leaves durable, and the mark of the worker’s hand is evident in the casts of the trees. Looking like bones, the trees are displayed on crates reminding me of something being packed and stored like an artifact, no longer a part of its true ecosystem. Together the pieces broadcast an experience of work, colonial domination, and nature.

I’ve been reading some of Walter Benjamin’s writings on mechanical reproduction and the “aura of the original.” He creates an argument that contradicts itself almost immediately, or at least pales over the intervening years.  He places the reproduction in the realm of the “other” or alien; something that is not quite right as a way of devaluing it in comparison to “the real”. I assert that the otherness or the mediated state of reproduction in and of itself creates an experience all its own – a new realness.

In this case we are presented, through mechanical reproduction, with the weight of the nature and action of the plantation. Pain and beauty are both present in the collection of these seemingly prosaic objects and views, until the video decodes the signs for the viewer.

Benjamin and I are going to be healthy sparing partners.

Again, again, over and over, that’s when it starts to get interesting.

 

 

 

Printmaking and Catalan Independence

Catalonians are fighting to vote on whether to secede from Spain.

In this week’s On the Media journalist Vincent Partal speaks about the roll of media in the Catalan independence referendum: Catalonia Crackdown.

Partal mentions the importance of printed materials in the battle between Spanish and Catalonian officials. In an attempt to stop the referendum voting the Spanish government confiscated pamphlets, posters, and ballots.

In response Catalonians printed new ballots in a secret location (see video above) and created posters that could be printed at home.

Print Power and democratic distribution in action.

Kristen Schaal is a Horse

Kristen on a horse

A still from Bob’s Burgers episode Warf Horse

Sorry, this post has nothing to do with Bob’s Burgers but it IS about Kristen Schaal’s genius (she voices the little lady in the pink eared hat in the image above) and there IS a horse… sooo… yeah.

 

There’s a joke that I like to tell. It’s the Two Whales joke. If you’ve heard me tell it you’ll remember. Ask me the next time I see you.

The humor of the joke depends on repetition and a kind of variation in performance that as a viewer I can find super annoying unless it’s done really well. I’m not going to tell you the secret of the Two Whale joke here, just in case you do find an opportunity to ask me about it.

But Radio Lab explains repetition specifically loops and they begin the show with a clip of Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler performing Kristen Schaal is a Horse.

Our delightful pattern seeking brains see something looping or repeating and we instantly ask, why? Why is this __unit__ repeating?

In the case of Kristen Schaal is a Horse…well… you should listen to this:

Kristen Schaal is a Horse on Radio Lab’s Loops Episode

Again, again, over and over – that’s when it starts to get interesting.

 

 

 

ABETARE – Petrit Halilaj

 

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ABETARE – Petrit Halilaj – Wallpaper installation, scans from a book

There was a special focus on the book, as an object and as inspiration, in this year’s Venetian Biennale di Arte. Christine Macel, Curator of the 57th International Art Exhibition, even referred to the nine main sections of the exhibition as chapters.  The Pavilion of Artists and Books, rooted in an exploration of artistic practice, opens with works that illustrate the continuum of  otium and negotium, idleness and action, the fits and starts of intuitive creative production.

The pavilion, there’s no physical separation between the conceptual pavilions they flow into each other room to room, highlights artists’ relationship with books and knowledge as both inspiration and object.

Halilaj’s piece is a deconstructed a book spread over the surface of a few walls.

A digitally printed wallpaper is made from images of pages from Halilaj’s childhood alphabet book. Ubiquitous across cultures, alphabet books are used to teach children the basics of language as well as a social behavior and norms, two kinds of knowledge imparted.

The original book was passed from family to family in an effort to protect cultural identity during a time of oppression and lack. Reproducing the pages in this way, across a wall, in ABETARE the information is disseminated all at once, urgently, as an announcement across the viewer field of vision. There is a radical nature to exposing information that was once passed hand to hand to avoid detection.

The images are printed on a plasticky vinyl maybe, self adhered to the wall. The all-over-ness and encompassing environment is disrupted only by the work’s location in a hallway to the bathroom.

Again, again, over and over – that’s when it starts to get interesting.

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Dear John

“Schoenberg said that everything is repetition – even variation. On the other hand, we can say that repetition doesn’t exist, that two leaves of the same plant are not repetitions of each other but are unique. Or two bricks on the building across the street are different. And when we examine them closely, we see that they are indeed different in some respect, if only in the respect of how they receive light, because they are at different points in space. In other words, repetition really has to do with how we think. And we can’t think either that things are being repeated or that they are not being repeated. If we think that things are being repeated, it is generally because we don’t pay attention to all of the details. But if we pay attention as though we were looking through a microscope to all of the details, we see that there is no such thing as repetition.”   —  John Cage

 

Oh, John.

I taught a four week workshop in Venice this past summer and while there multiples and copies were in the forefront of my mind.

Last year I presented a paper at Mid-America Print Council’s conference, Modes of the Multiple – I talked about variation and repetition as pursuits in art. I wrapped painting, photography, prints, GIFS, and Book Arts into my talk. Writing the paper inspired me to continue to collect ideas, reference points, artworks, and theories about multiples.

This process of collecting ideas and artworks has gotten kinda unwieldy, crossing from conversations and note taking to fully formed thoughts. So I thought I’d start setting down some of my collection here in a series of blog posts.

While collecting I expanded my definition of reproducible media from image and mark replication (printmaking / photography) to include all forms of mechanical object making. It was an intuitive expansion, probably the result of being raised at Penland School of Crafts where different media easily crawl all over each other in a happy jumble,

The concepts play out in different forms: casting (metal, clay, glass), digital and analog printing, digital fabrication, repeat patterns, Xerographic printing, publications / book art and design, paper-making, textiles, photography, graphic design, product design, and more.

If I cast (ha! pun!) a wide net for conceptual links there are really interesting relationships between all reproducible media:the multiple, seriality, intermediary process, copy/original, replication, sequence, transference of mark, plurality, industrialization, and standardization… to name just a few.

And so it was with that eye that I first approached my art viewing this past summer. It helped me to clarify for myself, to find the edges, and some of my main questions about what can be included in reproducible media. Does it include collaged ephemera? Performance? What about the daily tides of the sea?

Starting here are some of the threads I’ve been gathering as a  basis for understanding this large subsection of artistic practice – Reproducible Media.

Again, again, over and over – that’s when it starts to get interesting.

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Back in Italy

It’s my first time back to Italy since moving from Cortona to Arkansas last year.

It’s reall fantastic to be here and not be worried about finding work or transporting art. Right now I’m just here to help my students and enjoy the sea.

I’m here with three ladies from the States. We’re focusing on the contemporary art exhibited at the Venice Biennale of Art. 
First impressions of being back? My Italian is better than I remember and it’s easier to try new words when I’m not overwhelmed. I think Italian grocery stores are my favorite in the whole world. Truffle, artichoke, and yoghurt are some flavors that are way more present here than in Arkansas. No one walks with their phones out, actually not much phone use in public at all. Tiny cappuccinos are still silky amazing. I’ve missed being surrounded by layers of history and strata of materials.

Venice is spectacular as always and more dear than ever before. 

So very grateful to return.