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Friday, September 5th, 2014

Finding Your Center

Photo Credit: John WIlson White, Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Photo Credit: John Wlson White, Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Finding Your Center is a self-help audio tour and distributed sculptural installation that playfully responds to our quest for calm, balance, and equilibrium in the face of the demands of modern life. Using color, voice, shape, and sound—and responding to the unique architectural features of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts—Susan O’Malley and Leah Rosenberg lead visitors through the exhibition spaces in search of an elusive center that is both physical and internal.

The project begins at the central pillar in YBCA’s anteroom and includes three additional locations in and around the galleries of the ground floor. Using a bright color palette designed to induce feelings of harmony, Rosenberg responds to the building’s repetition of the classic column shape by highlighting existing cylindrical forms as well as suggesting new ones. An edition of round colored stools, which visitors can use to rest and reflect, accompanies her installation. O’Malley’s audio tour refers to and engages with Rosenberg’s painted sculptural elements. As the affable tour guide narrator, she interweaves positive affirmations with moments for self-reflection and gentle prompts for listeners to engage with the exhibition environment in ways that inspire calm.

Finding Your Center is conceived in dialogue with Montalvo Arts Center’s current multi-year theme about health and wellness entitled Flourish: Artists Explore Wellbeing and is envisioned as a site-specific response to the decentralizing impulse of BAN7. Consistent with Montalvo’s commitment to fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration, the project features partnerships with San Francisco-based writer Christina Amini, Bay Area industrial designer Benjamin Laramie, and Seattle-based composer Tiffany Lin. Much of this project was conceived and developed by the artists while in residence at the Lucas Artists Residency Program at Montalvo Art Center.

– Donna Conwell, Curator, Montalvo Arts Center.

 

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Track three

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Track five

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Jumbled, but here I am

Almost two years ago mom and I started this project together. I think it’s some of the work I’m most proud of to date.

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From “One Minute Smile,” 2013, Performance

We knew that her terminal illness would eventually take her life, as it did on January 6, but she didn’t live the last three years like she was doomed. She lived them one day at a time. Every day was a gift.

With the funerals and parties over, I return to the to-do lists and backed-logged emails. Though transformed, I’m mustering the energy to pick up the pieces and move forward, or as forward-ish as I can manage.

I googled “how to manage grief” and “am I depressed or is it grief?” to keep things on track and to make sure that this thing doesn’t spiral. I found the bullet point checklists strangely consoling. Talk to friends, exercise, write in your journal. And remember, these things take time; everyone deals with it differently; be good to yourself; it may be hard to concentrate and be focused, they say. All things I know, sometimes easier said than done.

I also look to art that snap me out of ambivalence and into some clarity. I’m reminded of the human-ness of this endeavor – the primal need to scratch something down, create something out of sorrow, joy, and suffering. The act of doing something, however simple, is transformational. I’m renewed in my belief in the process, and I can hear my mom tell me: if it takes more energy to frown than be happy, trick your brain and smile.

 

 

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Someone Who Inspires: Tiffany Singh

When Donna Conwell, curator at Montalvo Arts Center, told me about Tiffany Singh, a New Zealand artist who was coming to the Saratoga residency to hang a thousand bells in a tree on the property, I knew I had to meet her. I could imagine the visual power of the installation, but loved the thought of the sound of bells moving in the wind. Bells and chimes transport the internal state. They are reminders of time – the bell clock tower in the town square, the buzzing ring of a timer, the meditation bell – these resonant sounds ring in our ears to express the simple fact that we are alive on this earth.

 

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Tiffany Singh, Bells of Mindfulness(detail), 2013, bells, cranes and string installation at Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, CA

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Tiffany Singh, Bells of Mindfulness(detail), 2013, bells, cranes and string installation at Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, CA

Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Tiffany Singh’s “philosophies and practices encompass influences as varied as Modernism, Eastern and Western spiritual beliefs, Jungian psychology and ancient cultures.” I admit, after reading her statement on her website, I was nervous to meet her. Her work, so deeply grounded and spiritual in nature, I imagined her to be the earth-goddess-mother who, while I may admire deeply, I may feel insecure with all of my earthly attachments. But when we met at an opening, she was drinking a beer, laughing joyfully and totally approachable. I knew we’d get along just fine.

Tiffany’s work engages our senses in such a way that we are compelled to look inward. In a contemporary world where we  avoid dabbling in the realm of the spiritual for reasons that may be personal or political (as an atheist-leaning former Catholic, I certainly feel the inner-resistance), Singh’s spaces satiate a primal desire: to gather together, participate in ritual, and be present in a moment.

This interview continues my series of conversations with people who inspire me. I’m grateful to Tiffany who kindly responded to a few questions I sent her.

Susan O’Malley (SO): I’ve been trying to think of questions for you about your work for sometime now. But when I think of what you make I’m immediately arrested by its simple beauty: bells in trees, prayer flags, wind chimes, color. Instead of questions, my mind is transported – there is an internal shift that happens. What do you think of that?

 

Tiffany Singh (TS): I think the nature of the work is sensual, which hopefully quiets the mind and places the relationship to the work in more of a state of spirit and feeling. This for me is a successful response. As a lot of my motivation is to to remove us from the mind and position us a connection with mindfulness. For me its an Inviting of meditation between artwork and audience, through subtle vibration fields using sound and visual mediums and often with instruments that denote spiritual space. Instruments believed to have a role in healing, through clearing and creating energy around the chosen structures or sites.

 

This matrix of conversation extends in a multi-vocal correspondence, and relies on various exchanges, affinities and empathies as its dynamic structure – the vascular and cellular structure and sinew becoming of a kind of living, breathing organism – from which the artworks meanings will grow rather than being dictated by myself.  It is this non linear pathway where artist and audience role is often inverted which chooses to endorse and illuminate experience and brings forth meta-conscious awareness and purpose to detail meaning and interconnection. Perhaps it is the interconnection and sensual relationship that you respond to.
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Tiffany Singh, What is the Color of the Breeze, 1001 bamboo wind chimes and ribbon, Taranaki Int’l Arts Festival, 2013

SO: The work shifts and changes and breathes as we do too – you make it look easy. I admire the kinds of spaces you make – you utilize simple materials to make visually captivating installations that transform us internally. Are there spaces/place/ideas that you draw your inspiration from and are referencing?

TS: For me it is all about using a creative gift to be useful. I’m always trying to explore how to do that through the correct channels and supporting a clean line of energy the whole way through. So fair trade has become very important. Connecting and supporting artisan communities though a social arts practice. It also becomes about an energetic exchange then too, as the love and sacred nature of materials that are traditional made and used in ceremony and ritual are strongly felt. Even when the materials are in different contexts and communities. I see myself more as a facilitator and a healer that allows me to use the medium of art to show things in a new light and allow people to feel without prescribing or enforcing myself onto them. I am also Buddhist and i feel this philosophy is apparent in my work too.

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Tiffany Singh, What is the Color of the Breeze, 1001 bamboo wind chimes and ribbon, Taranaki Int’l Arts Festival, 2013

 

SO: Let’s talk more about Buddhism. You are incredibly generous with your work. In the recent installation at Montalvo, you installed 1,000 cranes and bells in a tree and then gave them to visitors. How do you let go of the work after pouring so much into it? What is the most meaningful part of the artwork for you?

TS: This is where my Buddhist teachings come into play. My Practice teaches to firmly sit it my practice. Its about feeling everything and letting it pass, no attachment ownership or expectations. All thing shall pass. It doesn’t mean it is easy. I definitely have a strong attachment to my work after spending so many labour intensive hours on it. Yet the process of giving joy and spreading notions of generosity far outweigh ownership. The most meaningful part is a tough one. Working with fair trade is increasingly important to me, it is incredibly rewarding to be able to support international artisans through creating a work of art. If I have done my job right, its all rewarding from conception all the way through the making process to handing the artwork over to be engaged with as a gift and generosity and sharing to facilitate a new work of art.

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Tiffany Singh, Fly Me Up to Where You Are , 2012, flags painted by children representing their hopes and dreams

 

SO: The entire process is what brings the meaning to what you do, absolutely. So what are you working on now?

TS: I have been awarded the Colin McCahon residency which is a prestigious residency in Titirangi in Auckland, New Zealand. Colin McCahon was a NZ painter who talked of spirituality in his work. I am interested in using the intersection between McCahon’s ideas around spirit and my own as provocation to think about our collective moral, ethical and spiritual values. There is a genuine spiritual quest within my work and I will be extending this by working with iwi and native plant medicine.

There are two threads to my current practice: generating a sacred studio space where visitors are welcomed to make bell strings for those who have passed over. It is a work addressing the pain body that is held onto in association to loss. Where conversations around community, spirit and our roles within contemporary society are prioritized through an arts practiced engaged in making a small memorial piece in a shrine line space where stories are collected and shared and contributions result in an installation alongside my own work a the end of the residency. There will be a ceremony where we burn and pass the collectively made pieces over. The second thread to my practice, is a more personal development. I will be developing my color spectrum (red, magenta, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) and making dyes in this spectrum out of native flora, from which I will be gilding and dying skulls to rise to the notions of samsara.
Bells for Bells of Mindfulness at Montalvo Arts Center

Bells for Bells of Mindfulness at Montalvo Arts Center

Studio wall at Montalvo Arts Center

Studio wall at Montalvo Arts Center

In an ideal world I will be distilling reflections on past work, which have led me to an understanding that human beings are highly dependent upon our often overlooked relationships with others and with our common world. By examining a connective and reciprocal relations model, I hope to develop new ways of working together within our changing reality. Through process or rather a collective composition within an active generation of meanings realized by all those who take part – each offering to share their stories and experiences with the local community and beyond.
 
SO: Congratulations on these opportunities and thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to keeping up with you on your wonderful tumblr feed.
Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Someone Who Inspires: Jorge Rojas

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Jorge Rojas, Tortilla Oracle, 2013, Photo credit: Guy Nelson

Almost accidentally, but perhaps by no accident, Jorge Rojas became the Tortilla Oracle. On a whim, and because he had to scratch a more elaborate plan for a performance he was supposed to do that day (of course the longer story involves a pregnancy and impending childbirth), he decided to read tortillas at an art event. It was a fun game that he played with friends at dinner parties over food and  wine – why not try it out with complete strangers and call it art?

And just like that, it happened. He became the Tortilla Oracle.

Maybe it’s when we don’t notice what we are doing that we are doing our work. I remember another artist telling me, “make sure to look at what you are throwing away, because sometimes this is where your real work is.” In some ways Rojas had been tip-toeing around the role of the Tortilla Oracle for some time. His performance work brings people together, offering a space to create, paint murals, and commune. He transforms materials like an alchemist in his paintings and sculptures. He is the kind of person you feel safe to share your story.

When I first heard of Rojas’ project and upcoming performance at MACLA in San Jose, I knew I had to talk to him. The project captured my imagination – both it’s silliness and earnestness. There were also similarities to the Pep Talk Squad – so I felt a sort of kindred connection to him. We are both interested in giving permission to people to be heard and seen in public spaces. But I was also fascinated with and truly inspired by the way he has embodied this role.

I use this space to periodically interview artists and people who inspire me. Rojas generously answered a few questions I sent him about his project. I hope you enjoy learning more about his practice as much as I have.

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The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths (Bruce Nauman), Image courtesy of Jorge Rojas


Susan O’Malley (SO):
When I first heard of your project, the Tortilla Oracle, it immediately captured my imagination. I thought it was funny – that an ordinary tortilla could reveal some kind of truth about the self. But I also felt like there was room for seriousness within this framework. What do you hope happens through these exchanges?

Jorge Rojas (JR): I think it’s great that most people chuckle or laugh when they first hear about it. Humor can provide a safe place to enter into the piece. Another thing that usually comes to people’s mind is a sense of disbelief; they wonder “Is he for real?” “Is this a real thing?” But once people enter into the work and they sit with me, they realize that I take this very seriously and am committed to what I’m doing. Not only to my performance, but also to the exchange we’re about to have. Each reading begins by creating a sacred space, which involves ritual, prayer and intent. It can be quite personal and intimate. Each reading is really a performance for and about the person sitting in front of me. We, as societies, have gotten away from making time and space for personal ritual and quietness in our lives, where we can just be with ourselves. People who practice things like meditation and yoga understand this.

I’ve learned through this project that people yearn to be seen for who they are. Not the selves that we present regularly at work or in our social lives, but our deeper selves, who we really are. There have been times when I hardly need to say anything, some people immediately open up and tell me about what’s going on in their lives. People need someone who they can trust, who won’t judge them, so that they can get something off their chest or just share what they’re going through. It can be very healing. Many people don’t have that ‘someone’ they can completely be themselves with. My hope is that the Tortilla Oracle is a place for these types of exchanges to occur and that the experience continues to resonate within them well after the performance.

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Jorge Rojas,  Tortilla Oracle, 2013, Performeando Performance Festival, Grace Exhibition Space, Photo Credit: David Crespo

SO: You started interpreting the marks on cooked tortillas with friends at a dinner party as a game, but have since developed the persona of the Tortilla Oracle that is closer to a shaman than a party goer. Can you tell me about this transformation that’s happened over the years?

JR: Each time I’m invited to perform Tortilla Oracle, a new set of opportunities and challenges arise that force me to look deeper into the history that this work is rooted in. For instance, when I was invited to perform Tortilla Oracle at Project Row Houses in Houston, they said, we love the project but we’d like to invite you to propose an installation and some kind of project around the work that will involve the community further. It was really through this opportunity or challenge, that I decided to dive in and begin researching and exploring some of the ancient myths, legends, and creation theories around Corn/Maize and its uses in mystical practices. It was through this process that a larger project was born called Gente de Maiz (People of Corn). What started as an experiment in social participation and communication has evolved into a profound historical and anthropological research project. It is the kind of project that I could easily find myself researching for the rest of my life.

I started performing Tortilla Oracle in 2009, and it wasn’t until this year that I began donning the ritual (face and hand) paint. I’d considered it for a long time but it didn’t feel right before. The paint is low key, I don’t want to scare or alienate anyone, but it is part of my transformation.

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Jorge Rojas, Gente de Maiz/Corn Mandala, 2011, Installation view at Project Row Houses, Courtesy of the artist

This year I was in New York City for a project and visited the Metropolitan Museum where I came across a ceramic funerary urn of a seated figure of what appears to be a shaman or healer who uses corn as his medicine.  The piece is from Monte Alban, Mexico, 4th-5th Century. The moment I saw it, I instantly felt a connection. The man in the piece has two lines painted or tattooed on each side of his face and the palms of his hands are painted red and are held out in front of him in a gesture of offering. This is where I found the inspiration for my own paint. It’s a quite an interesting process initiating one’s self into a rites of passage. I’m just trying to be aware so that I notice the signs as they present themselves to me.

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Ceramic funerary urn Rojas saw at the Met from Monte Alban, Mexico, 4th-5th Century, Image Courtesy of Jorge Rojas

SO: The art world is generally a pretty skeptical place; do you find it surprising that people have been so open to the project in places like museums and galleries?

JR: I’ve been somewhat surprised, but at the same time I think a lot of museums and galleries have become more interested in hosting performance-based work that is ephemeral and experiential, and that can appeal to broader audiences. The Tortilla Oracle creates curiosity and that is a very good thing for museums.

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Jorge Rojas, Tortilla Oracle, 2011, West of Center, Jancar Gallery, Photo Credit: Joseph Christensen

SO: OK, so why tortillas?

JR: Most shamans and healers use some kind of object or talisman to help them divine. Whether it be cards (tarot), tea leaves, coffee grounds, smoke, I Ching coins, or in my case tortillas. These tools are used in divination to help access information that is stored in our subconscious minds, helping us to understand our selves and our place in the world and universe and getting a fresh look at the aspects of ourselves that we need to work on. Cultures throughout the Americas have long worshiped Maize as a deity of plenty. The Corn Mother, or Goddess, is often linked to renewal of life, fertility and protection. According to Aztec religion, Quetzalcoatl, “The Feathered Serpent” was the god who provided humans with their first corn to plant. Shamans of Aztec and Mayan cultures used corn as a divination tool. I’m basically taking an ancient practice and translating it in contemporary form. The tortilla is a byproduct of corn and makes it more accessible to people. I think tortillas are perfect for reading. One side represents the past as it enters the present, and the other, the present as it enters the future. The flow of energies (earth, water, fire, air, intent) is indicated by the marks made on the tortillas. At the end of the reading, participants eat their tortilla as a way of internalizing the experience. Plus, who doesn’t love tortillas?

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Jorge Rojas, Gente de Maiz/Corn Mandala (detail), 2011, Installation view at Project Row Houses, Courtesy of the Artist

 

SO: So true, everyone loves tortillas! But you’re asking a half-Mexican Californian-bred corn tortilla lover. I want to hear about what’s next for the Tortilla Oracle.

JR: I’ve been invited to perform Tortilla Oracle in San Jose, CA on Nov. 1st at MACLA for the opening reception of Maize y Mas: From Mother to Monster.

I’m also excited to be working with Elena Garcia-Martin, Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and Literature at the University of Utah. Elena’s teaching and research areas include Performance Studies and the Contemporary Latino and Latin America stage. She approaches performance from perspectives ranging from cultural politics and identities to phenomenology and forms of knowledge production. She’s writing about ways that my performance practice combines imagination, empathy and creativity in new, transgressive, participatory ways, and how they model new ways of communication to a society much in need of self-expression and interaction. She’s interested in the Performer as Shaman, as Enactor.

I look forward to continuing to present this project and to experiencing its evolution, as well as my own.

SO: Wow, that sounds really exciting, I look forward to seeing what happens as well. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

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Jorge Rojas was born in Morelos, Mexico. He is an artist, independent curator and art educator. He studied Art at the University of Utah and at Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He has taught mural painting and other art-related workshops throughout the New York City public school system and currently teaches Art History at East High School in Salt Lake City as part of the Clemente Course in the Humanities. His work and curatorial projects have been exhibited internationally in galleries and museums including Queens Museum of Art, New York; El Museo del Barrio, New York; New World Museum, Houston; Ex Convento del Carmen, Guadalajara; Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach; Hemispheric Institute, New York; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; and Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City. He has received grants and fellowships including National Performance Network’s VAN Residency, Experimental Television Center, West Chicago City Museum Artist in Residency Program, Vermont Studio Center, Project Row Houses, and The Creative Center’s Hospital Artist-in-Residence Program. His work is included in numerous private and public collections including The Mexican Museum, San Francisco; Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach; and New Jersey State Museum, Trenton. Jorge is currently artist-in-residence at The Huntsman Cancer Institute. He is the Founding Director of Low Lives, an international, multi-venue online performance festival that was founded in 2009. Rojas lives and works in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife Jenna, and sons Felix and Emiliano.

 

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Pay Attention to the Good Stuff

The world works in funny ways. We try to make sense of it through belief systems or therapy or art or superstition. But really, do we have any idea how it works?

One of my favorite artist teachers: Tony May, Two Unretouched Photos, 1860 & 1987, 1987. Photo by Dale Leslie.

I am beginning to think that when things align in our favor, it’s important to pay attention.  I’ve never been very good at this. I am partly superstitious – if I get too excited maybe the good karma fairy dust will fade away. And I am also misguided – too much happiness and people may think I am full of myself or something dumb like that. But I’m not cool enough to keep it cool.

One of my art+life teachers: Lea Feinstein, Pangolin, 2001, Folded and Dyed Tyvek on Wood Panel

I’ve been feeling really grateful and I want to share it. I’m receiving some measure of feedback for questions and requests I’ve thrown out into the world and it feels right. Like they are maybe the questions I need to be asking.

An important teacher at CCA: Jon Rubin (collaboration with Harrell Fletcher), North Beach Parking Garage (this is one of my favorite works of their collaboration), Image from artandarchitecture-sf.com

Next week I’ll be teaching my first art class to college students at CSUMB. The job came unexpectedly – and it’s the kind of opportunity I’ve been looking for, asking people about. (How does someone who wants to teach art in the Bay Area get her foot in the door? This is what I kept asking. The answer: you tell everyone that’s what you want to do. And then two weeks before classes start you get a phone call because someone can’t teach a class in the last minute. Then, you say yes.) And now a new adventure begins. I’m excited and nervous about being stretched and challenged in this process.

I’ve been reading about sand tray therapy this morning. Totally intrigued by it but also love how the set up looks.

I’m also been asked to propose how my art can operate in public spaces I really care about – including a hospital, San Pablo Ave in Berkeley and a park in Nashville.  These are the kinds of spaces where I want my work to live, and so it feels validating that others feel the same way.

While I don’t know what these things will look like yet, I’m grateful. Excited. Anxious. Ready. Thanks for reading.

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I love this sign. For its content, its design, line drawing and hand painted text.

 

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Be the Change You Want to See

Be the change you want to see. It’s a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that Obama recently re-popularized on a tote bag.

It’s a statement that resonates with me (I guess that’s why I bought the bag).

And when I close my eyes and think of what this idea may look like, visually, I can’t help but go here:

One of the options you get when you google “psychedelic mandala.” Yes, I’m going there and I can’t help it. I’m a Northern California hippie at heart. And there is a reason why this image is so powerful.

Do you feel me?

If change begins inward, then it  ripples out into the world, bumping into other things and transforming outwardly along the way, like a mandala, an orbit, a circle.

Chris Duncan’s paintings communicate this universal interconnectedness for me. Starting from the center, his colors vibrate and spread outwardly. His installations allow us to enter these fields, acknowledging our own relationship to it.

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Chris Duncan, Eye Against I, 2010, installation at Eli Ridgway Gallery, San Francisco

Chris Duncan (I couldn’t find caption for this piece, sorry).

Then there are Chris Johanson’s wonky mandala-ish paintings, perhaps reminding us of our own beautiful flaws and the inherent disharmony in the world. Yet, despite this, somehow everything holds together. In these works there is no perfect symmetry, just a complicated lovely world.

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Chris Johanson, Forever is Both Ways for All Time (Perceptions #2), 2007, Sugarlift aquatint and aquatint etching, 37 x 45 inches, edition of 40

I could spend all day looking at mandala-inspired art, which would be fun, but I’m sure someone has done a better job of it on the internet.

But what is interesting to me in thinking about abstract language and imagery, is how image can transport us to an internal and emotional state of mind. Music easily does this, too,  but when this happens through image (as a person invested in the visual and tactile) it’s pretty magical.

If change begins internally, as Gandhi suggested in his powerful message, then what we do and how we see is critical in being the change. I’m now seeing these works in a new way, which begins with me…

Thanks for following my strange post today, I had no idea where I was going from the very beginning.

 

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Mantras for the Urban Dweller (Moment to Moment)

I am thrilled my work is included in Moment to Moment, a magazine happening in real time, through various media outlets, and in cities around the world throughout the summer and fall of 2013. This project has been curated by the great folks of The Thing Quarterly with support from Levis Made and Crafted.

I created a series of texts that are Mantras for the Urban Dweller. They are off-kilter, open-ended public service announcements; invitations to pause amidst the hustle of the city. The texts open the possibility of a flash of introspection in the hamster-wheel of life; and I’d like to think that the words can be repeated, chanted, spoken, howled, whispered or interpreted. In these works I’m suggesting my wish for how things could be: if we paid closer attention to our being, to our grieving, to the way the sun makes a spectacular reflection on the buildings at that certain time of the day. It has to begin somewhere, why not here?

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Mantras for the Urban Dweller (More Beautiful), 2013, Castro Street Muni Station, San Francisco, CA

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Mantras for the Urban Dweller (This Place Right Now), 2013, Castro Street Muni Station, San Francisco, CA

Mantras for the Urban Dweller (This Is It), 2013, Castro Street Muni Station, San Francisco, CA, Image Courtesy The Thing Quarterly

Mantras for the Urban Dweller (This Is It), 2013, Market and Sanchez, San Francisco, CA, Image Courtesy The Thing Quarterly

Moment to Moment Magazine, Produced by the Thing Quarterly, Image Courtesy The Thing Quarterly

Moment to Moment Magazine, Produced by The Thing Quarterly, Image Courtesy The Thing Quarterly

On left: Mantras for the Urban Dweller (You’ve Been Here Before), 2013, Installation in Oxford Circus Tube, London, Image Courtesy of The Thing Quarterly

Middle: Mantras for the Urban Dweller (You’ve Been Here Before), 2013, Installation in Oxford Circus Tube, London, Image Courtesy of The Thing Quarterly

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Someone Who Inspires: Imin Yeh

Imin Yeh is an artist I have long admired ever since I saw her woodblock prints at Open Studios at California College of the Arts (CCA) while she was a grad student there. I loved how her prints utilized formal imagery and technique but were also layered with inquiry and humor (Ben-Jams is a perfect example of this).

Ben-Jams, Imin wondered, “How many prints do you have to sell to pay for printmaking school?” and sold each print in an edition o 85 for $100.

Yeh is a serious artist but doesn’t take things too seriously. This isn’t to say that her work doesn’t engage in relevant questions about labor, identity, and politics (to name a few of the themes she has explored in her work). But what makes her unique is how she manages to draw us into this world with playful curiosity and a touch of sneakiness that keeps us on our toes.

I hope you enjoy our back-and-forth on printing, craft, labor and what to do in your 30’s.

Susan O’Malley (SO): The first time I saw you work was at Open Studios while you were a grad student at CCA. It was  refreshing to see a serious printer in a conceptually driven program that had recently dropped the “Crafts” from its name. What was it like to be a dedicated printer in this program?

Imin Yeh (IY): The campus being split between Oakland and San Francisco paired with an “unofficial” separation of Craft and Art are two things that did make it challenging to be an artist working in a craft-based and facility-heavy medium like printmaking. I remember endless hauls of screens and materials across the bay and also developing a practice where I prepped things for weeks and piled on projects for marathon printing days when I was actually able to make it to the studios. I was also the only printmaker in the entire program for my first year, and of course the rigor of the seminars were weighted towards theory.

Though I remember it being a stressful and challenging time, the resulting few years as a practicing artist in the Bay Area has made me think that the time at CCA was extremely fruitful. The challenges only made me a stronger printmaker. I am not above hand printing with spoons and showering with my screens. These challenges also made me a better artist, because I learned to conceptually and theoretically consider the history and potential of the medium of print far beyond the reaches of “work on paper;” it’s a medium at the intersection of popular literacy, commercialism, and social engagement.  My practice now  finds itself in exhibitions, residencies, and many opportunities that are not limited to the cannon of printmaking.

SO: What has always made printmaking exciting for me is the accessibility of the multiple. This opens the possibility to disseminate information and reach a broad audience – or as you describe print, “a medium at the intersection of popular literacy, commercialism and social engagement.” I definitely see this in your work – sometimes taking form in a fake political campaign like Juan-Ton 2012 or in geometric installations that you’ve wheat pasted in public. How do you think about the multiple in your work?

IY: For me, the process-based medium of printmaking and its potential for making multiples illustrates the inherent relationship between process and product and labor.  My practice copies the very aesthetic and process that is ubiquitous in the mass-production of commercial industry. The projects blur the lines between imaginary and “real” businesses, people, and/or products. Through humor, satire, and participation, the projects implicate the viewer into more critical dialogs about the invisible labor and the stories behind the objects we consume.

Juan-Ton 2012 Campaign Logo, 2012

In the case of the Juan-Ton Project, the entire inspiration for the work was a real email I received asking me develop a campaign identity for a Latino political candidate that wished to appeal to Asian voters. Instead of taking the gig, I was serendipitously commissioned for a new work at the San Jose Museum of Art. It was one of those magical moments where the art gods smile down upon you and grant you the opportunity to use design and print for humorous and seemingly irreverent commentaries instead of “real” work. The installation included screenprinted posters, screenprinted campaign t-shirts which were sent all over the country, and a vitrine full of hand-painted fake campaign merch. It was important to me to play with the idea of what is easily reproducible vs. what is hand made. We live in a culture where any idea we have can be printed on mugs, mouse pads, and other junk that is manufactured across the world, and those cheap objects validate a real business or a real intention.  So sometimes through conceptualizing the potential of the multiple inherent in printmaking, I end up painting “one of a kind” stuff.

SO: I love how you’re so present in the labor of the work. In the day of the digital image, it’s clear your hand is always involved in your prints and projects. Why are you so invested in the physical labor involved in the production and craft of the work?

IY: I really enjoy being industrious.  I find repetitive tasks relaxing and I kind of strive for that moment when muscle memory matches up with using the most efficient movements and you can crank through a project. I love seeing how things are made, especially factory tours. Sometimes I go on YouTube benders watching assembly line videos. I find seeing things in rows and rows beautiful. You can psychoanalyze that as much as you want, I think I need help.

There are many reasons I’m so invested in the production and craft: for one, I love print. I love the simplicity of a woodcut, that it’s just wood, ink, paper, and a sharp knife. Doesn’t get sexier than that. People have published books in thousands for thousands of years in this simple manner. I love that I can find myself in rural India and print work to share with people. I also use design and screenprinting to mimic/copy/and counterfeit mass produced objects, and through my position of privilege as an American and educated artist, I can give heightened cultural value to work that is done by invisible labor forces. I am interested in our fascination with things that are hand-made as an analogy for “Good” and “High Quality” and “Authentic.”

Also I don’t have enough money to pay someone else to do it, I’m the cheapest labor I’ve got.

SO: Let’s talk about the various interventionist institutions you have founded – like the Art of Downloadable Craft, a website with free downloads which seem to be intended for the bored cubicle worker everywhere as well as your more recent SpaceBi, an unauthorized contemporary art center within the Asian Art Museum. Both projects play with humor but also comment on and disrupt cultural and social institutions and systems. What do you hope to instigate with these kinds of ventures?

Paper Mahjong from the Art of Downloadable Craft Project Website

IY: Both projects are about reclaiming time and are exercises in finding loopholes for creativity. The Art of Downloadable Craft is a way for office workers to make crafts by stealing paper and supplies from their offices. The most ambitious project, a downloadable mah-jong set, is 100% free but you have to take the time to build the set, which takes about 15 hours. Its a game from the computer that is 100% analog. I like how once you reinvest that amount of labor into something that is free (ie stolen cheap copy paper) it is suddenly worth a lot more to you. It’s very hard to throw away a mahjong set that took you 15 hours to fold. SpaceBi invited artists to think about the museum as a space to create new work.  Instead of going to the museum because the exhibition on view is compelling enough for you to spend 17 dollars, artists just created new, weird, funny works using the museum and it’s collection as a backdrop. Both projects were exercises in the freedom you have when you are unofficial, tiny little acts you do that don’t break any rules, but also don’t follow rules either.

SO: That’s awesome. You are a woman who wears many hats – you are an artist, teacher, designer… and you just turned 30 (happy birthday, btw)! I know you have many projects going on right now (which would be great to hear about…) but I’m curious, what is one thing you dream of doing in the next decade of your art making?

IY: So many things are happening right now! I have a big project coming up at the Asian Art Museum for the final installation of the Proximities series. I am doing an installation at Shotwell Paper Mill. I am helping the amazing Michael Namkung for an amazing exhibition on fatherhood. I will be in a few big exhibitions as part of the SGC International Printmaking Conference which comes to SF in March. A few more projects that aren’t ready to be discussed.

If my 30s are anything like my 20s, I hope I get a bit more sleep and find a way to prioritize the relationships I have in my life… but I know one thing I dream of doing. When I was 20, I received a  fellowship to travel to China for 7 months and research contemporary Chinese Art. It was there that I first saw woodblock prints from the modern Chinese Woodcut movement and committed myself to being a practicing studio artist. I would like to return to China for work related to being an artist and not a tourist or researcher.  That is what I would love to do!

SO: I’m looking forward to seeing what you do in your 30’s.

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Do Something Simple

A friend of mine decided to make art that could fit in her pocket: a piece of fabric with needle and thread, a tiny note pad, miniature items like paperclips, buttons, feathers. This way she could always make something in the precious time between a work meeting or picking up her kids.

I love the economy, modesty and the constraints of this set up. It speaks to the possibility of making and finding art anywhere. This is something I thought about a lot in grad school, and this intention influenced my Artist-in-Residency Project in San Jose, where I gave myself a simple set of instructions to 1) do something 2) use what is available 3) don’t be destructive of other people’s property.

The following  are three artists I admire for the economy of materials as well as the poetic concept behind their works. There are many more in this category, so this may be  just a start to an ongoing list.

Lenka Clayton‘s conceptual projects are rooted in observations of the everyday. However, her simple actions take us to a place that is poetic and wonderfully absurd. She recently started a Residency in Motherhood that brilliantly reflects on her own life of an artist/mother. The specificity of  works like Things Found In the Mouths of Babies, Alphabetical Shopping, and photographs of The Distance I Can Be From My Son tenderly comment on the minutiae of raising a child while asserting a sense of agency and subversion through her simple gestures and observations.

Kate Pocrass’ Mundane Journey’s was a hotline from 2001-2009 that you could call and get instructions to visit easily overlooked, everyday details in public spaces. Pocrass’ location specific and descriptive instructions heightened an experience of seeing seeking, transforming an ordinary event into a secret work of art.

I recently met the brilliant Molly Smith when she was in San Francisco for her opening at Romer Young Gallery. All of her works in the exhibition – which included sculpture and drawings –  were made on a cross-country road trip. She incorporated whatever her sensitive eye was drawn to along the long highway stretches and empty truck stops. Wood fragments that magically and only somewhat awkwardly nestled in one another; soft washy-colored textiles that defied the force of gravity – the artist’s hand felt absent and present all at once. I loved the sheer confidence of this project and was energized by her lucid aesthetic sensibility and transformations.

Molly Smith, Ebb, 2012, corn husk, cat tail and cedar, 4″ x 15″ x 20″

I am inspired by these artists because they make work with whatever is around them – objects found in a child’s mouth, a strange sign in a public space, a dirty t-shirt on the side of the road. While the materials may be modest, through slight alterations, they are transformed into works that are poignant, personal and quite powerful. The works inspire me to look closer and more softly at what surrounds me – in a way to understand myself better and embed the creative act in my daily routine.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Signs on the Wall

TRUST THIS SPACE. I’ve made a sign that says this and recently hung it in my new work room to remind me of it.

I’m a fan of how people use text in a work space – as a means to remind, encourage and disrupt.

Artist Christine Hill hangs THINK in her various store-like projects. Apparently her Dad worked for IBM, where THINK is the company’s mantra. But unlike a big technology company, Hill’s artwork often takes the appearance of cottage industry, where she often keeps shop, gives tours and provides other services.

Christine Hill, Small Business, 2012. If you look closely, the sign over the door says THINK

I also remember seeing Brittany Powell‘s large letters spelling HECK in her small cube-like studio during Open Studios at CCA years ago. A nice description of the art school experience.

Brittany Powell, Heck, 4′ x7′, 2003

One of my favorite text lists to tack on the wall is Sister Corita Kent’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers. (I often wonder what the MFA experience would be like if there would be some guidelines for students and teachers instead of the typical schizophrenic pedagogical approach I experienced).

And then of course there is the well-loved list How to Work Better by artists Fischli and Weiss:

And Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments on writing:

Of course there is always this classic:

Any others I should know about?

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Leaves, Life, Loss

I am haunted (in wonderful way) by the artwork November Gutter Leaves, Pasadena by Los Angeles artist Pae White:

Pae White, November Gutter Leaves, Pasadena, 2009, Canvas and aluminum

The image of a floor of dried brown leaves has bubbled into my consciousness now and again for over a year now.

On walks I’ll often think of it.

And especially when the seasons change and the leaves create a crunchy brown carpet on the garden floor.

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In between leafy greenness and specks of dust, the leaves are ephemeral, lifeless, dry.  Like November Gutter Leaves, Pasadena, I want to freeze the moment somehow before they decompose and rot.

And then the other day over dinner my friend Christian Frock showed me pictures she took of a foreclosed home with dry brown leaves scattered everywhere.

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Christian L. Frock, Beach REO (Alameda), 2013

The previous owners apparently left with everything in it – including the houseplants.

Christian L. Frock Beach REO (Alameda), 2013

Christian L. Frock, Beach REO (Alameda), 2013

The houseplants are a fraction of the loss here, and like White’s installation, the dead leaves shift the scene to the uncanny and surreal.

I love it when a work can be so simple in its execution yet evoke an emotional and personal response. For me, White’s constructed gutter leaves made of aluminum and canvas describe the stillness of loss, a tender and palpable space between grief and beauty. So now the sight of brown leaves allow me to hover in this emotional space, relish in it. Oddly it is affirming to be reminded of my own fragility, of our own fragility, really.

Is there an artwork your mind returns to from time to time?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The In Between-sies

What do you do when you don’t know where you’re going next?

I’ve been thinking about the legendary Bay Area artist David Ireland and how he would make his wonderful Dumb Balls when he couldn’t think of anything else to do in his studio. He would toss the wet concrete back and forth in his gloved covered hands for hours until a spherical object would form in his palm.

Through this repeated action the concrete object would manifest a physical shape of an internal world – worry, anxiety, excitement or simply just being present in the moment (these are all my guesses, btw, or maybe better described as my projected emotions on a beloved deceased artist).

I like thinking about Ireland’s Dumb Balls because they are objects made consciously from the place of not knowing. They give shape to the uncertainty of what’s ahead, perhaps allowing the mind to pay closer attention to what is here right now.

It is wonderful to think of the accumulation of Dumb Balls made during his life. For me they signify the patience, time and vision that occupy a life of creative work.

A creative mind is a relaxed mind. This was the inspirational text printed on my friend’s tea bag recently.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to what I do during the time between projects. There are things that I do that are more about dancing around my anxiety of the unknown: I sweep the kitchen floor. I sleep more. I reach out to friends. I read.

But I’m also experimenting with consciously documenting this time – as a way to alleviate my mind from the anxiety of the unknown but also to be open to what’s in front of me now. I’ve been making line drawings and using this process as a form of meditation, where each line represents a question or thought I repeat over and over until the page is full.

I’ve given myself permission not to judge them (and I feel a little funny about putting them out here for you to see at this point, but what the heck, it’s just the internet, right?). I’m enjoying the process of making something with my hands and connecting a gesture with an internal state. And for now that’s all they have to be.

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I’m curious: what you do in your time in between things? Are there projects, gestures, activities etc you do to allow your mind to be present and open to the next thing?

 

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Laugh Art

One of the coolest opportunities I had while at the San Jose ICA was working with the legendary  performance artist Linda Montano for the exhibition This Show Needs You. She was wonderfully eccentric and generous – more so than I could have imagined.

My favorite memory with her was when she performed Laughter Therapy with my husband Tim and I while driving her around San Jose in our blue Toyota Corolla. It felt totally awkward yet exhilarating laughing with her in our car – and eventually we were rolling in our seats. I recently rediscovered a stack of Laugh Art instructions she gave to us, written on the backs of yellow Chinese Joss Paper. Here are a few to share:

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LMBreakfast

LMWorried

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Hope you have some good laughs today.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

An Unsolicited Open Letter to the Young-ish Artist (this means all of us, right?)

Dear Young-ish artist,

I noticed that you needed to be reminded of a few things – many of which I’m sure you already know. But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. So here it goes.

Taking the path of an artist is a radical one. There is no steady paycheck, 401K or linear trajectory. You do it because it’s either art or insanity; or because you have a gift that needs to be shared with the world; or because you want to be famous. But here’s the deal: it takes time to cultivate it. Very few of us can jump out of undergrad and earn a living as a novelist. Sometimes you have to take a job writing copy at an internet company to prove that you can take care of yourself; or you have to take several jobs so you can buy the materials for your giant octopus sculpture; or you have to experience the darkest grief of your life in order to find your voice. And there will be lots of bad poems and terrible paintings and bad decisions before anything comes of it. It takes time and it takes space and sometimes it takes doing very little alone or in the company of other like-minded people for these things to happen. Everything is part of it. So be patient, pay attention, and be kind to yourself.

Maybe it will take 15 years, so in the year 2028, when you quit your day job writing ad copy for Hologram Space to begin. Maybe then you’ll decide to finish the novel you’ve been plugging away at in your free evenings. You decide to do it because it’s been nagging at you for years, sometimes making you feel so empty inside that you don’t recognize yourself, your spouse, or your children. And as you finally jump into this adventure it dawns on you: it’s always been here. You’ve always had everything you needed to do it. It just took you this long to accept this and the uncertainty of the process.  And, now finally, you’ve said yes and things are happening. Don’t scold yourself for taking so long, just appreciate that you’ve finally made it here.

Sincerely,

Your friend

PS. This post inspired after reading this article about one young person’s “SF Dream” as well as the wonderful book Letter’s to a Young Artist (edited by the folks from art on paper; still sad art on paper no longer exists, one of my fave publications).

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Hello, Dallas

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You Arrive My Life Begins , 2013, Laser cut mirror plexiglas, 60 x 24 inches, Image Courtesy Galleri Urbane, Dallas, TX

My show in Dallas! I admit I was simply relieved that the five new prints, two mirror pieces and two stencil works I sent in the mail actually arrived unharmed (thank you postage gods!). I was really thrilled with the show and the install (thank you Adrian!). In fact, I was so pleased that I made people take nerdy photos of me in front of the work.

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You Are Here My Life Begins (diptych), 2013, Digital print on archival rag, Image Courtesy Galleri Urbane, Dallas, TX

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From left to right: You Are The One For Me, 2013, 30×40 in.; A Vision So Wonderful, 2013, 24×20 in.: We Belong Together, 2013, 24×20 in.

Here is another fun install shot seen through the mirror piece:

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This Feeling We Share Is Real, 2013, Mirror plexiglas and vinyl, 24×20 in., Image Courtesy of Galleri Urbane, Dallas, TX

And the gallery from outside:

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Galleri Urbane, Dallas (even though it says Marfa, confusing, I know).

Many thanks to Ree, Jason, Adrian and Natalie! A wonderful time meeting the good folks of Dallas.-

And in case you’re interested, here are a few things we checked out during our day-long visit:

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An work by Jenny Holtzer at The Modern that humbled me to pieces.

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JFK conspiracy theorists just outside the 6th Floor Museum near the “Grassy Knoll” offering their own perspective on the assassination of JFK.

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JFK Memorial Plaza, which I found to be an incredibly depressing memorial and work of art – so institutional, concrete and utterly stark. I suppose it must have been difficult to be charged with the task of creating a memorial for a charismatic, young president whose assassination changed the fabric of a nation. But this?

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But the presence of Segways make it easier to digest, I guess.

Thanks for reading. Be back soon.

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

You Arrive My Life Begins Part II

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All This Time It’s You, 2013, Digital print on archival rag paper, 30 x 40 inches

 

It’s interesting how we sometimes give so little to what is most important to us. Maybe it’s because we’re scared, and ignoring this thing – whether it’s a person, an idea or a decision – is easier than the possibility of failing it.

It’s only recently that I started to think of myself as a full-time-creative-type person in this world. It’s not as if creative pursuits have not been an important part of my adult life, it’s just that I haven’t taken this role seriously, or believed in it enough to nurture it. And I admit, I’ve been scared of it too – of failure, success and everything in-between.

In many ways the work I’ll be showing in Dallas opening this Saturday is about the rediscovery of my creative life – and my gratitude (directed towards myself and others) in being able to pursue it. Below is a brief statement on the exhibition. Stay tuned for more images to come.

YOU ARRIVE MY LIFE BEGINS is between a thank you note and a love letter to anyone willing to read and receive it. After all, what is an artwork without a willing viewer on the other end?

Without you, without an audience, without the belief that there is something here – a connection between yourself and the work – between you and me – things stand still. We’re going nowhere. What I’m interested in is what will happen if you accept the gratitude and affection of this work. Not in a mindless way, but in a way that is specific to your being. My hope is that in sharing my own feelings through the work, others will feel it too.

I’m interested in how words are read in space, the possibility of open-ended and positive texts that  serve as both reminders and meditations. Similar to street signs and advertisements, I treat the text with a sense of authority: bold font in all-caps entice the viewer to read the words on the page. Yet, the texts are meant to surprise and perhaps evoke a sense of possibility, optimism and interconnectedness in our lives.

I hope you might feel it too.

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

You Arrive My Life Begins

So much of the past year has been about becoming, committing and beginning for me. This has been particularly true of the past month. Some highlights in image format for the viewing pleasure of your eyes.

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After a two-year stint, we recently moved out of our San Jose home, a big and bittersweet project.

The roses when we left.

Photo By Phillip Yip

Photo By Phillip Yip

A lone flamingo garden ornament in front.

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And the back yard – at least six citrus, an apricot, two cherry, two plum, a fig, pomegranate, persimmon and multiple apple trees. This was my mom’s garden before we moved in, and we were lucky to benefit from her master gardener skills.

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Photo by Phillip Yip

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Meanwhile, I’ve been busy making prints, mirror-based works and two stencil installations for solo show for Galleri Urbane in Dallas, Texas, which opens May 18. The show is called You Arrive My Life Begins. Some teasers:

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Photo by Phillip Yip

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The show is between a thank you note and a love letter to anyone willing to read and receive it. After all, what is an artwork without someone on the other end? I’m putting my gratitude and love out there and am hoping the feeling might be a shared one.

And while it’s only been a week, I’m so thrilled to be in our new Berkeley home. I have a real studio work space here, the first dedicated space since grad school. Here is a picture of me in it, using an etched mirror to reflect the space back.

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I am here awake and alive. Thanks for reading.

Susan

P.S. A special thanks to Phillip Yip‘s photography skills. I’ve include several of his images in this post.

 

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Someone Who Inspires: Leah Rosenberg

As an artist and pastry chef, Leah Rosenberg’s world is filled with exquisite color, flavor, ideas and beauty. But what really draws me in to her (as if this wasn’t enough) is her presence. She makes life feel lighter – and her endless stream of ideas and observations are a thrill to be around – there is so much possibility! And the things she creates– from paintings to cookies – are made with a kind of care you recognize as open and generous. But they are also so beautiful. You immediately want to be part of her world.

While her artwork often adopts minimalist forms like color stripes and dots, they are far more personal and generative, often referencing specific relationships, experiences and emotions. And what’s really cool is how she naturally moves from making paintings to cakes (like these and this), treating both with equal import.

Part of this blog project is to ask questions to people who inspire me. Leah was gracious enough to reply to questions I sent her. I hope you enjoy her responses as much as I do. Oh, my questions are in black, her responses, naturally, are in color.

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Color is so important in your work as both a painter and pastry chef.  When do you think you became aware of your affinity towards it?

I love mixing color.  I love to know people who have a favorite color and own many things in that color.  I love that people often leave the blue square when eating the Mondrian cake.  I love pairing colors and associating them with flavor.  I love that there are colors I don’t love. 

When I lived in Vancouver I had a job at Kroma Acrylics making acrylic paint.  Our job was to make fresh paint. At Kroma we made certain colors on certain days. I loved painting the color charts.  Such a monotonous task, but such a delight with 52 charts taped up around the shop and I would go around with cerulean blue or red oxide or naples yellow.  I’m interested in color functioning as an indication of a moment or as an avenue for accessing different memories.  My favorite days there were the ones where I got to pipe the paint into the tubes by weight.  I haven’t thought of it until now, the parallels.  I actually titled a show I had at True Silver last year FRESH PAINT, without even thinking about the cross over.

At the time, I was also working at a flower shop.  I didn’t make very many bouquets, but I would load in the buckets of flowers and arrange them in the shop.  It was like a puzzle and like painting.

 

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From “Time Will Tell” exhibition at 18 Reasons, SF, 2009

 

Stripes and layers take form in the cakes, paintings, plates and pinatas you’ve made. If money were no object, is there a place or thing you would love to create using layers and/or stripes?

The Guggenheim.  Inside and out. 

Do you have a favorite color and flavor combination right now?

We make this cake right now at work based on the Damien Hirst painting Amalymine. I love mixing cake batter color because I really feel like I’m in the studio.  I like to just select colors based on what I feel like.   Sometimes it’s inspired by an outfit someone was wearing at the museum that day, or the red door of a light blue house that I passed on my bike ride in, but lately for some reason I am always trying to get this light lime/pistachio color.  For some reason right now, I dig it.   A bit more blue added to the batter gives this rich teal which I also love.   And then to think that someone is going to ingest that color combo thrills me.

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Batter for cakes based on the Damien Hirst painting Amalymine, served at Blue Bottle Cafe at SFMOMA


When do you feel most inspired?

In the company of good people making interesting things.  Looking at art, reading recipes, listening to lectures.  I have been fairly obsessed with reading biographies lately.  Mostly of athletes and creative people.  I’ve noticed most people have made a name for themselves by committing to their passions. They make by making room to be inspired through a process of sticking to a routine, committing themselves and observing the things around them without judgment.  I’m inspired by their stories, as simple as some of them are.

You wear several hats in your life right now – artist, pastry chef, blogger (what did I miss?)- what’s something you are especially excited about?

The thought of covering the Guggenheim in colored stripes and making a cake about it.  That would be something to blog about! 

To be serious though, the Modern Art Desserts book just came out last Tuesday and it has been so wonderful to get to be involved in the events promoting it and getting to share some of the stories included in the book.  It is such a lovely record of some of the things we have presented up there.  The museum is closing in one month and I’m excited for what comes next.  I have been writing for www.modernartdesserts.com to share some story-based behind the scenes moments and keep people who are interested up-to-date on what we will working on during the museum closure. 

 In terms of my own artwork, I have been thinking a lot about editions and utilitarian artworks and an artist’s signature.  I’m not sure if I can articulate this yet, but I’m thinking a lot lately about Andre Cadere’s Barres de bois rond (Round Wooden Bars, 1970–78) – long poles made of colored wooden cylindrical units. The colors on each rod were arranged according to a system, yet each stick contained one anomaly, confounding attempts to identify the system.  These sticks were his signature.

He would attend an art opening and leave one there from what I understand.

Also thinking about Christo’s wrappings.  Like thinking about how those function as paintings out in nature. I’m thinking about reaching a diverse audience and how serving a cake at a bus stop or painting a random park bench  in stripes might bring delight to someone’s day. We live in a different kind of world now though,  which complicates things, but also might be even more interesting. 

I am currently working on a project for upcoming exhibition, FEAST, at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego

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“Color Coordinations” installation at State Bird Provisions, SF, 2012

 

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Listening to Your Dreams

This Saturday Christina Amini and I listened to people’s dreams. Some shared their life dreams, others reflected on what they hoped the day would bring; we even heard a dream from the previous night. We liked hearing every one.

But before we headed out, we had to resolve a very important question: what would we wear? Since both of our Pep Talk jackets are lost in storage somewhere, we were forced to devise a new look. We settled on matching yellow shirts with iron-on felt letters spelling it out. I WILL LISTEN. Perfect. We call our look “just nerdy enough.”

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Every time we create a space to listen to people wearing weird get-ups, it’s like learning how to interact for the first time. Each place – whether a gallery, park, parking lot, grocery store etc –  presents its uniqueness. How do people use this place? Where do people gather? Do we look just strange enough so people will talk to us or will they more likely run away? Part of the fun is experimenting with a place until we get people interested in talking to us.

The original plan was to sit on the floor pillows in the gallery and invite visitors to talk with us. But the dynamic proved unsuccessful – people were literally looking down at us, and maybe this subconsciously sent a message to their brains to maintain their power in the relationship – and not come down to our level. We were also competing with an amazing spring day, so we moved outside.

Outside offered possibility.

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We met several people and listened to their dreams.

We met this couple listening to classical music on their iPhone. Music was their dream. Even though she showed musical promise as a young person, her mom discouraged her to pursue music – it wasn’t serious enough. Even so, music continues to be a vital part of her life and their life as a couple. So, Christina wrote this for them:

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We gave each person a typed-up dream on an index card with a yellow painted frame. We hope each person would pin-up their dream as a reminder to her/himself.

We love how people are so surprised by this process – maybe surprised that someone listened, that we are serious in this endeavor (in spite of our funny shirts and traveling typewriter). Maybe the surprise is with themselves: now their words committed to paper, their dream is within their reach.

Dream on and thanks for reading.

 

Friday, April 12th, 2013

I’m Moving I’m Playing I’m Dreaming

Spring has arrived with a burst of change and activity. I feel grateful for all that is happening in my life.

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I’ve taken this advice to heart: I’m moving. I’m playing. I’m dreaming.

I’M MOVING: We signed a lease and will soon have a Berkeley address! We are so excited that we don’t even feel daunted by the heinous task ahead.

I’M PLAYING: I’m speaking tonight with three wonderful artists, Mel Day, Jeanne Finely and Carlos Ramirez at the Palo Alto Arts Center. We will be discussing our projects in the Community Creates exhibition and how we navigated representing community in our projects. Please come!

Tomorrow Christina Amini and I are getting the band back together and will be available to talk and listen at the Montalvo Arts Center gallery from 1-3pm. We are eager to hear about your dreams – not the ones that put to sleep but the ones that make you excited just thinking about them.

Also, I’ve been working on a new series of prints and text works for a show in May at Galleri Urbane in Dallas, Texas. This is the first time I’ve ever shipped an entire show to a different state, so it’s pretty exciting. More to come on this!

I’M DREAMING: Mostly I feel full of gratitude that I can live my dream right now. I’m pursuing my creative life and learning about it everyday.  I haven’t cracked the code that gives me inspiration 24/7 or figured out how to earn a living at this just yet, but I’m giving myself this time – and for me this is a big deal.

The truth is that when I dreamed of this life, I never knew exactly what it looked like, I just imagined how it would feel. It feels open and light and there is the delight of the many faces involved in it. Maybe one of them is you.

Everyday there are highs and lows – but in this moment I’m feeling like there is possibility. So let’s just go with it, then. I’m living my dream and outside my window there is jasmine that smells like heaven. Not too shabby.

Thanks for reading.

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Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Giving Care

I spent a week visiting my mom in Ohio and often thought about the word caregiver, which is defined on dictionary.com as “one who gives care to an adult or infant.” This rings poetic for me – one who gives care. I imagine care as one of those English words that probably has hundreds of translations in another language.

My mom needs care with most everything now. Giving her care is not so much poetic as practical. How do you lift a grown woman into a wheelchair? Mom, are you in pain? Is your bed at the right height? Is the catheter irritating your leg? Is this food the right texture for you to eat? Do you need your oxygen?

I’m participating in a universal human ritual – a child taking care of her mother at the end of her life. Though happening all too terribly soon. My mom is only 65.

My sister Trish does this everyday. She is a mother, daughter and primary caregiver to our mom, for which I’m incredibly grateful. She has had countless sleepless nights entitling her to give up – but she hasn’t.

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Giving care is an act of love and selflessness. It is exhausting, frustrating and rewarding. It’s part of the human life-cycle.

Artists have addressed the grief, love and hope related to the end-of-life care of a loved one. Artist Linda Montano dropped out of the art world for seven years to take care of her dad before his death in Dad Art. Using footage from their time together as well as a choreographed performance she created a film that “allows for an experience of shared communal grieving.” 

And artist AA Bronson found his healer-self while the primary caregiver of his partners from General Idea who both died of AIDS in 1997. In an interview he said, “Towards the end, a nurse came every day, and a doctor visited once a week. I learned things from the nurses, like how to do different kinds of injections and those kinds of things. I felt like care-giving was something I was good at,  so I began taking my healing courses. But it was ten years later before I found the courage to actually do it for the public.”(PURPLE FASHION magazine #11, Paris, 2009).

What’s your story of giving care?

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

It’s OK If You Think It’s Ironic – But It’s Not Laughing At You

As my artwork intersects the fuzzy territories of self-help, self-healing and self-actualization (like this and this and this), people may ask: is it sincere or is it ironic?

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Glen Helfand made this observation about the pillows (above) included in the Happiness Is… exhibition at the Montalvo Arts Center. About them he wrote, “These works traffic in bromides and, more than other works here, insert a specter of irony: are we meant to enact these phrases or scoff at them? Are they offered sincerely or with more sincere intent?” (Art Practical, 4.10, “From Saratoga, Happiness Is…“)

It’s tricky when a work opens confusion in is intent and substance. One one hand, I appreciate that an object, text, or image can hold opposing ideas simultaneously. I happen to like irony and care about self-help texts; I acknowledge that both are part of me and the world I live in.

I also feel that the viewer has an opportunity to decide how to read a work. This possibility for self-reflection is an important aspect of the work – one can decide if a work brings value or dismiss it for any number of reasons.

What I don’t want is the work to feel condescending in any way; and I certainly hope it does not fall short in substance. While I don’t take Helfand’s critique too personally, it does cause me to pause. Though this project is what needed to happen at the particular time it was made, I do think about how I can convey my intent in a way so that the audience, friends, family, art critics etc. can feel connected and maybe even enriched by it.

Making art isn’t easy. Learning more about it everyday. Thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Happiness Is…WALKING

What a wonderful day – twenty people arrived to walk up a hill with Leah Rosenberg and me at Montalvo Arts Center. It was pretty special to see everyone eager to participate in such a simple activity.

Before heading up to the lookout, we planted California poppies, Tidy Tips, Pride of Madiera and Phacelia Gradiflora in Leah’s Seed Confetti bed.

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When Leah and I met about six months ago to talk about developing this walk around happiness, we were actually struggling with this word – happiness. At the time, the idea of happiness occupied a very particular space and set of associations for us.

What did interest us, however, was the clumsy, challenging and surprising space of pursuing happiness – things like process, learning, and moving forward. Turns out, this is what happiness is for us. Yes, it can be a burst of elation, but it is also a journey – which includes everything from falling in love to failing in something you love.

I think Leah’s Seed Confetti is a lovely example of this. She gives us the opportunity to plant the colorful paper seed strips and then anticipate what beauty they will bring – it’s a long term investment. I love the idea that people will return here and see the flowers blooming in this bed.

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After we planted the flowers, we passed out color buttons – each person selected a color that would remind her of an intention for the walk.

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Then we walked up the hill silently, and saw the nine signs I installed along the way.

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Finally after working up a sweat, we arrived at the lookout, where we broke our silence and had a surprise party. Leah made a beautiful cake for the occasion. The cake reflected the favorite colors of the group from a survey we sent to participants prior to the walk. We marveled at the view and the cake.

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Leah served the gorgeous cake to each of us.

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Image by Michele Guieu

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Image by Michele Guieu

We couldn’t have been happier.

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Many thanks to Lauren Baines, Michele Guieu, Jason Disterhoft and Tim Caro-Bruce for taking photos. And most importantly, thanks to everyone who joined us for this experience.

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Getting Better Everyday

I made this list while thinking about various healing and happiness inducing actions for the recent Happiness Is... exhibition. Some are ideas I incorporate in my own life; others are exercises I’ve borrowed from other artists, gurus and friends. Enjoy and be well.

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Breathe. Remember you can always return to your breath.

Focus on your breath for one minute, then two minutes, then five minutes all the way up to 20 minutes. Do this everyday.

Find a comfortable space and trust it for awhile.

Take a walk.

Surprise someone with a handmade gift.

Throw a surprise party for someone you love.

If you are stuck, turn on the music and dance.

Write down three things you are grateful for at the end of the day. Do this for one week, a month, a year. Notice what happens.

Lean up against a very tall building and let it support you.

Lean up against a very tall tree and let it support you.

Lean up against someone you love and let her support you.

Think of all the people you love in the world, imagine each of their faces smiling at you one by one.

Do not look at facebook for one day, then two days, then an entire week.

Make lunch for a friend and include a note written on a napkin.

Call a dear friend you haven’t heard from in a long time.

Call your best friend on a regular basis.

Talk to a stranger.

Join a club or start one of your own.

Take a class on something you know nothing about.

Teach a class on a subject you are passionate about or want to learn more about.

Check out books at the library on subjects you’ve always wanted to learn about.

Give yourself permission to write bad poetry and make bad art.

Start a one-sentence daily journal.

Make a cup of tea for someone else. Bring it to them without them even asking for it.

Give your money away.

When someone compliments you on something that you have (your sweater, your earrings etc), give it to her.

Invite friends over and make a big pot of soup to share with them.

Have a dinner party with friends and eat in a circle on the floor (with plenty of pillows etc).

Eat your meal outside.

When you eat fruits and vegetables, thank yourself for being kind to your body.

Raise your arms up as high as you can. Pretend you are a redwood tree.

Give your belly a gentle massage at the end of the day.

Close your eyes and smile for at least one minute. Try doing this the first thing in the morning.

Pretend you are 20 years older than you are today. Dress like that person pretend you are her for an entire day.

Drink a glass of water for 15 minutes and do nothing else.

Write a hand written letter to someone who lives far away from you but you think of often.

Notice the things that you enjoy doing. Then make sure you do those things every day.

Smile at three people during the day.

Every morning commit yourself to being kind to yourself and to others.

When in line at the market, focus on your breathing instead of looking at trashy magazines.

Make a poster with an inspiring story or phrase on it. Hang it somewhere in public for others to feel inspired too.

Take a walk during your lunch hour.

Find a place – maybe it’s a tree, a building, a lobby, a patch of grass – to leave your worries. Go there every day and let go of your worries.

Give away things you have that you don’t use to someone who will appreciate it.

Use your nice things every day, don’t just save them only for “special” occasions.

Find time everyday to sit on the floor.

Lie down on the floor and try to imagine your body sinking down. Do this for at least 10 minutes.

Describe a beautiful place or event to someone who is no longer here.

Revisit your favorite thing to do when you were 8 years old.

Swim in an open body of water.

Cultivate a simple daily practice that reflects something you love to do.

Hold a baby until she falls asleep.

Watch something grow.

Keep track of all the movies that really make you laugh. Revisit when necessary.

Take a nap.

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Someone Who Inspires: Christian L. Frock

It feels great to have friends who inspire you.

Christian L. Frock is one of these people. I admire Christian for so many reasons – she fearlessly speaks her mind,  she is generous (as a writer, curator and friend) and she genuinely cares about making the world a better place.

Since 2005 Christian has collaborated with artists to present artworks in unexpected places through her project Invisible Venue. With minimal funding (yet no lack of imagination), the projects have taken shape as online exhibitions, billboards, temporary sculptures,  site-specific interventions, ephemera and video projections (to name a few).

In addition to Invisible Venue, Christian is an educator, curator and prolific arts writer. As I have watched her practice develop over the years, I’m continually inspired by how she has carved her own path and developed a truly authentic voice. She follows her passion and instinct to investigate our complex visual culture – and manages to communicate her observations to us with exceptional care.

One of the goals I have for this blog is to feature the work and ideas of people who inspire me. Christian was gracious enough to answer a few questions over email about what fuels her practice.

Susan O’Malley: What inspires you to move forward with an idea or artist?
Christian L. Frock: I am inspired to work on projects with artists who intuitively understand the core values of Invisible Venue as an experimental, shape-shifting platform for ideas. My collaborators make work that takes place in and engages with the world at large – all of my work as a writer and a curator is driven by the myriad ways artists conspire to intervene in public space.

SO: Do you have a motto, mantra or mission statement?
CLF: I don’t have a formal mission statement – I’ve worked for institutions in the past that we were guided by mission statements and they were limiting. Or worse, they were constantly in the process of rewriting their mission, which is a perfect example of bureaucracy at its most ridiculous. I don’t have preconceived ideas about the work that I do – I try to follow the best opportunities and a path is carved along the way. All of my work – my writing, my curatorial projects and collaborations with artists, my teaching – all of it is driven by an interest in autonomy. Independence is the basic organizing principle for my work and the rule is this: there are no rules.

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Christine Wong Yap, “The Great Balloon Giveway” 2010, produced in collaboration with Invisible Venue for Here and Now, organized by Mills Art Museum.


SO:
Since Invisible Venue is nomadic in nature, how do you think about your audience?
CLF: Invisible Venue was born out of an interest in the Internet’s potential to connect people and ideas at a geographic remove. The projects variously take place in the built environment and online, so there is usually a physical audience – both informed and accidental – and an online audience.  The accidental audience is the least controlled and this often yields some of the best responses. Beyond that, I am mindful of the need to convey the work for a remote audience online, who may or may not have been watching for the last several years, and to consider ways to engage a remote audience. I try to think about all of the possibilities when I am developing a project, but it is always an experiment, every time – remembering this is essential to the work.

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Sites Unseen advertising intervention featuring Jordan & Hewitt in association with FREEE “Untitled” (billboard), curated by California College of the Arts graduate students in collaboration with Invisible Venue; with support from Add-art.org, a project of Steve Lambert and Eyebeam Development Site.


SO:
What do you read or look at to fuel your practice?
CLF: Facebook has become a useful news aggregator–my newsfeed is loaded with links to articles from wide ranging resources including Mother Jones, the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the LA Times, Newsweek, Time, the New Yorker, Bloomberg Business Week, Harper’s – at the same time, I get a lot of news about shows and projects that artists are working on. I also watch a lot of short-form videos produced by galleries, institutions, and publications and read a lot of print magazines and journals, from Vanity Fair to the Economist. My course readers are compiled from open source media, so I filter everything with this in mind.  I am interested in how art and ideas are conveyed in general interest publications – this is more exciting to me than finding the same information in an art journal.  By the time an art journal covers it – if they do at all – its historicized, whereas general interest publications cover the larger socio-political framework of the present. Finding art in the context of the larger dialog matters to me – I want art to be part of the mix. This is why I value writing for KQED Arts, Northern California Public Media.

SO: What are three things that bring you joy?
CLF: Conversations with artists about their ideas are the great privilege of my work as a writer and curator – leave us to talk (ideally, at a pub) and, later, leave me alone with time to write and I am quite content. As Invisible Venue has developed over the years, I’ve also had great moments of connection with people who find the work online. I did a project online earlier this year with Alina Vasilchenko, an artist in Moscow who found Invisible Venue while researching an online Berlin-based archive that I was unfamiliar with – how IV ended up there, I do not know. We exchanged emails for about six months leading up the to project. Every time we exchanged email, I marveled at the fact that I was connecting with a likeminded stranger on the other side of the world. One of the true pleasures of Invisible Venue, for me, is getting an echo back across the ether.

SO: What are you working on right now?
CLF: I have three shows on deck – one at Headlands Center for the Arts, an MFA grad show at San Jose State University, and an Invisible Venue project with José Faus and Sean Starowitz’s Byproduct: Laundromat, a series of experimental programs in a Laundromat in Kansas City. I also teach a grad seminar about autonomous practices at California Institute of Integral Studies and write regularly for KQED Arts, SFArts.org and art ltd; I have three pieces coming up in the next month, one of which will tie into a public program I will present at Intersection for the Arts in June, about artists who confront violence. I also spend a lot of time thinking about a show I am developing with Tanya Zimbardo, about women artists who work in public space, but that is set to take place a bit further down the road. Like anyone else, I have applications for various gigs and grants out there all the time – I often think about how great it would be if some of these things worked out, but I don’t dwell on it too much. Invisible Venue is flexible for a reason — in the absence of opportunities, I make my own.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Give It All Away: Part I

Important advice from one of my dearest and wisest friends: GIVE IT ALL AWAY.

Give away your ideas, your lunch, your things, your time, your art. Give abundantly, indulgently, as if you have inexhaustible resources, even if this is not true.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this advice recently. It’s been an ongoing mantra in my mind as I go about my daily business emailing, organizing, cooking etc. Eventually my thoughts wander back to it: Give it all away.

Then, after considering giving it all – everything – away, my thoughts carry on: to whom do I give? and more importantly, what do I give? 

Then, I freeze.

Not because I want to stingily hold on to my awesome smelling orange blossom candle or adorable hoop earrings, but because in examining what I give and want to give to others, I open myself to vulnerability, rejection and fear of the unknown.

And yet, I know my work as  person, artist, citizen of the universe is letting go of my fears in order to explore and cultivate what I give. Generosity is a willingness to share one’s gifts with the world. Acknowledging these gifts can feel simultaneously scary and empowering – because this is the work you’re supposed to do in this life. This is the work that is bigger than you.

When you enter your mid-30’s and you are a woman (like me), you feel an essential power within you (it’s true!). If this truth was popularized and embraced in our culture, the world would be in much better shape. Maybe this feeling of power is rooted in our biology – our instinct is to create, nurture and intensely love the object(s) of our making. But even with biology and a burning desire to give – we still have to be mindful enough and commit to honoring it.

More soon on my adventures in giving it all away. I’ll be working on it.

Thanks for reading.

Susan

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

San Jose Signs

Did I mention I live in San Jose? Some amazing hand painted signs here. Enjoy!

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Paleteria 2000, Monterey Highway, San Jose

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On the Alameda, San Jose. So much going on that I am confused about the politics but love how it looks.

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Free Palm Tree at Delia’s Furniture (near the San Jose ICA). I think it may be available still if you’re interested.

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Somewhere on South First Street, San Jose. You can never lose with black text on yellow.

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

One Minute Smile

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(This is where you smile and time yourself for one minute).

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I originally performed this with a generous audience as part of a conversation about happiness at Montalvo Arts Center on February 20, 2013. I was incredibly touched by the audience, who received the work with great care, similar to when I first exhibited these texts. We smiled at each other and realized that a minute felt so long. Our awkward giggles filled the space with beautiful sound.

Smiling does influence emotions positively (science even says so).

I’m reminded of Linda Montano’s 1973 Happiness Piece, where she photographed herself smiling every morning for a month. In her book Art in Everyday Life she writes, “I felt somber, sad, and thought that everyone else could smile and I couldn’t. I knew that I could change if I practiced and so I repeated positive acts consistently – I wanted the habit of happiness to be available to me so I disciplined myself to smile everyday.”

I really love the simplicity, self-awareness and sense of possibility with Montano’s  Happiness Piece. She never shares if it works, only that she did it for a month in 1973. It’s an invitation to us, really. To try to smile every day, even on the days when we least want to.

 

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

A Happy Space

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Hot off the press! A feature of yours truly in the recent “Underground” issue of Content Magazine (yes, I’m blushing). Many thanks to Daniel Garcia and his team for not only including my ideas about why art is important but also for their dedication to local creativity and print. Order your beautiful over-sized matte issue here.

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Poster images from Community Advice project, commissioned by Palo Alto Art Center.

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

A few more yards in San Jose

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On a recent walk to the store I photographed the yard-trim piles in my neighborhood.  It’s no secret that I find great pleasure in the strangeness of the sculpted yards here in San Jose (also see this and this). But I’m also a big fan of the pile aesthetic. So here are three piles from that day.

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Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Taking a leap

I’m starting this blog because I’ve recently taken a leap.

I left a great job in the arts where I worked with a wonderful group of people. Leaving familiarity is not easy, but I knew that it was time for a change. Life is too short, I would repeat to myself (partly because it’s true, and partly to give me courage).

So now it’s time to cultivate a life as an active and creative person in this world. What this means is happening right now and invented as it happens. I know that I want to be braver and to think bigger. But I also want to figure out how to earn a living and do what is meaningful to me at the same time. So what better way to sort out my questions than on this  public forum we call the world wide web?

So, let’s see where it goes. I’m looking forward to it.

 

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

LOVE IS EVERYWHERE

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Love is everywhere, look for it.

Yesterday I was reminded of this when the refrigerator broke. The over-ripe bananas that I had accumulated in the freezer started to defrost and I was faced with no other choice than to make banana bread. And naturally, banana bread reminds me of love.

The sweet carmel-y smell of the bread baking reminds me of my mother’s love. Growing up in a big family, my mom would make dozens of loaves for us in one day (as opposed to the the measly two that I managed to bake). I still think there is nothing like coming home to a freshly baked slice of banana bread. When it’s moist with a carmel-crisp top just add a smear of butter and you will cry and go to heaven.

I didn’t really mean to make this post about food, but I guess I’ve done it, so here it is.  The recipe was nothing special,  just found here on the internet. I suppose I have to show you a picture of the banana bread I made, so here that is too.

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Not quite the perfect specimens, but I assure you they taste like love.

Happy Valentines day.

 

 

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Beginning is just beginning

Beginning is just beginning. That’s what I’ve been saying to myself as I have been trying to get this blog-like space on my website up and in motion.

And so it begins. Welcome. I’m glad you made it. I’m glad I made it too.

I have a few simple aspirations for this endeavor. First and foremost, it will serve as an extension of my creative practice. But instead of sweet and short inspirational texts, I’m going to dig a little deeper here. I’m going to pay attention to my own advice. What does it mean for me to listen to my heart or speak up for myself? How do I live these things in my everyday life? Can I practice what I preach?

I also hope to share stories of the people, places and things that inspire me to be more kind, brave and open.

And so it begins.

I’ll keep this first post short, but expect more to arrive in this very space every week.

I will look forward to it.

Susan

 

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