Day 6

Here was the view from my bedroom this morning after last night’s storm:

There is normally a road you can see.

So speaking of snow, and probably because of it, I’ve been thinking about Helen Chadwick’s ‘Piss Flowers’ a lot since I’ve been here.  She was doing a residency in Banff and she and her partner peed into the snow and then cast the interior spaces.

As I’m working with plaster, I’ve been wondering how she physically cast the space in the snow, and what would happen if I poured plaster into the snow.

So, as there were huge snow drifts outside my studio today, I have to wonder no more:

Not really what I expected.  I thought it would be smoother, like when it spills on the counter and hardens, but of course I had forgotten about all the air inside snow, which (I assume) is what’s making it look a bit like coral.

Again, not sure where, if anywhere, this is going, but that’s ok.

I haven’t mentioned my art making bible – Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland – but it saves my sanity all the time.

As it’s the end of the week, I’ll leave you (and me) with this from their chapter on ‘Uncertainty’, p.21:

What’s really needed is a nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way.  Simply put, making art is chancy – it doesn’t mix well with predictability.  Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art.  And tolerance for uncertainty is the pre-requisite to succeeding.

Day 5

So here’s an art tip:
Should you be thinking of tackling issues around the Middle East and Islam and feeling a bit weird or uncertain about it, just start reading about the mixed bag that was/is the Dubai Art Fair and your confidence will be restored.  I understand it’s better now, but what I was reading from 2009 said: “Much of the rest, though, was either pretentious or too literal, either decontextualized or straining to project a context.”  Fabulous.  I spent way too much time this morning reading Artforum’s Diary archive (one of those rambling internet search moments) – but I feel revived.

It’s easy to forget, sitting on a farm in remote Nova Scotia, that much of the larger art world is really just a glitzy, vapid, hot mess where the work that gets high praise (and dollars) wouldn’t survive two seconds in a first year art crit at your local art college.
Check this out and then imagine trying to justify it in front of a skeptical art prof:

Now, before I sound bitter and disillusioned, let me say that much of this actually makes me feel the opposite.  Looking at bad art that’s ‘made it’ is actually quite freeing.  Rather than feeling all hung up about how to present your ideas in a subtle intelligent way that reads well without being too obvious, you can see someone who took all those ideas you already abandoned as too literal and just barfed it in a gallery.  Nice.  Now maybe you don’t have to be so precious and tormented right?

There’s something about telling people you’re making a prayer rug out of eggs that sounds fairly ridiculous and reductive, and I’ve been struggling with this since I started.  There’s also that nagging feeling of not being ‘allowed’ to dip your toes into certain cultural subjects if you can’t speak from a position of authority.  Now I say, screw it.  If I flip it around and think about someone in Iran with a Canadian grandmother wanting to explore ideas of Canadian identity and the English language in their work, I would see that as perfectly valid, as well as interesting.

Here’s some work I did on this subject in 2010, but never put on my website, as it never really seemed to ‘fit’ with the rest of my practice:


'Abstracting gestures of worship may lead to interpretations of Islam (and your work) as mysterious and unknowable'

'This is about difference and Islam, but also about how exotic I look with lots of eyeliner and a veil. I'm hoping I look more Iranian than I actually am.'

These are obviously takes on Shirin Neshat’s work, specifically her ‘Women of Allah’ series (a series I did write about, quite critically, in my art history Master’s thesis – a lifetime ago).  Work about ‘identity’ often treads a fine line between self-indulgent cliche and profound reflection of what really makes us all who we are.  Tricky business, with –  I would argue –  less room to  maneuver when you’re basically white.

So, right, some art today…

Ok, so attaching a video is apparently not possible here (I need to upgrade or something).  Hang on…
Hmmm…embedding doesn’t work either.  Right, here’s the vimeo link then:

It’s called ‘Do you speak English?’  I’m not going to stick around and see if it works (it’s still processing through Vimeo) as it is stormy out there and I’m looking forward to the comfort of the house.  Nothing quite like a snowstorm and a bubble bath – as long as the power doesn’t go out.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from the Artforum Diary (though in this case about Vanessa Beecroft), a world away from my little snowy art corner:

Like black crows, the art fans massed around the installation, staring in rapt contemplation of the naked posers, the classical art references, the inexorability of death, and the fact that we were stuck out in LIC [Long Island City] and there were no refreshments…

Day 4

A bit of an art fail today.

I was looking at this area outside:

And I have in mind something like this:

In case it’s not obvious (!) that would be thread and eggs stretched between the two posts.

Unfortunately, I misjudged the distance between the posts and ran short of thread as the rolls I had weren’t actually the full 110 yards.  Whoops.  So, as I was down there anyway on this cold day (-15 with wind chill), with my eggs and thread (I’m using real eggs, blown out, as then I can thread through them), I tried to use these other two posts which are closer together:

But it didn’t really work so well (you can just make out the egg in the top photo if you enlarge it).  I was a bit discouraged, and cold, so I guess you could say I didn’t really give it my full creative energy.  I left it set up down there and will revisit this another day – with full spools of thread.

Tomorrow is supposed to be pretty miserable – they’re calling it a ‘messy mix’ on the weather report (whatever that is, but it can’t be good) – so I might start some filming, perhaps just from the comfort of my little farmhouse.

Day 3

Not a whole lot to report creative-wise today.  My rubber mold for the eggs started leaking, so that was a bit of a crisis for a bit.  It’s tied together with rubber inner tubes and I think they’re just getting looser.  Plaster was just running right out the bottom.  This is what it looks like (post-crisis):

Anyway, after some panicked Face-booking with my friend Len (whose technical knowledge about sculpture and a crapload of other subjects is second to none) she basically shamed me into figuring it out by reminding me that I am an ARTIST – therefore creative problem solving is what I am supposed to be good at.  Right?  Right.  Ok.

I tried plasticine, which (duh) doesn’t stick to rubber, but then realized that sometimes the solution is right there in the problem.  So I used plaster to seal up the seam.  Success!  And yes, I felt pretty pleased with myself.  At least, it seems to be working so far…

The rest of the day was spent working in the office here as I’m on a part work-exchange.  I’m helping to organize their big fundraising event in March, which is actually pretty fun (so far!).  It’s going to be a Cuban-themed event (pre-Castro – natch), so I spent a large portion of my time on the phone trying to get various chocolate manufacturers to donate chocolate cigars – as you do.

So, art making itself took a bit of a backseat, but here’s what I’ve got today:

This is what happened when I was (mistakenly) trying to solve the leaking problem by making the plaster mixture thicker.  I like how it’s sort of egg and sperm like (though the thing on the right is a bit like an organ or brain).  It’s very similar to an early mistake that I did have in my studio a few months ago:

(sorry for the dark photos – too tired to fix them right now)

But now that I’ve done it twice, I feel more legitimate in maybe using them as sculpture or a multiple (yet each one would be unique).  As in, it wasn’t just a one-off fluke and now I know just the right amount of ‘wrong’ to make it happen again.

Of course, anything you put in that oak case (bought at auction) looks fabulous.  Like my friend Powell of P|M Gallery said, you could just put your lunch in there and feel like you made awesome art.  Too right.  Maybe I should have brought  the case with me…

Day 2

I call this one ‘Daunting’:

Oh, kidding (sort of).  This is just the layout in my studio of the proposed prayer rug to be filled with eggs.  Obviously, I’ve got a lot more to make!  I need 408 in total.  I think I can make around 20-25 a day, so just making the eggs is going to take 16-20 days.  So I do have time – just.

Today I woke up to snow – horray!  I’m excited because a lot of my ideas revolve around snow and ice, particularly the video plans.  So I went for a walk this morning and snapped some pictures.  Here’s a little glimpse of where I am:

view from my studio

distant view of the Bay of Fundy

I started snapping some foliage…

and then brought some back to the studio – pretty unusual for me.

So art work day 2 – my experiments photographing plants in the studio:

I like the idea of maybe using shadows as a way of projecting a reference to the landscape on the egg surface.  Once I finish the eggs of course – back to casting….

Day 1

Ok, here we go.  Two pieces today cause I’m such a rockstar…

Actually, the first piece some folks will call me out on as it already made an appearance in my studio at NSCAD, but I’ve put it up in my studio here to get me started:

Basically, it’s an egg with thread through it.  I think it’s the start of something, though I’m not sure yet exactly what that might be.  I probably need more of them in order to decide.  I had thought a while ago of making an abacus, using eggs as beads, but as I didn’t have anything I really wanted to count, I abandoned the idea.

Ok, continuing with the egg theme…

I’ve been casting eggs in plaster in preparation for this residency – though I don’t have nearly as many as I should as I went off the project a bit as I was sick of talking about pregnancy and that’s all anyone can talk about when a pregnant woman works with eggs.  Understandable I guess, but really, if I look at my sketchbooks from 3 years ago and the ideas are still there when I was very much not pregnant.

Now, I’m just like, screw y’all, I’m working with eggs, and if it’s about pregnancy, well so be it.  Well, sometimes I am – again, nothing is resolved yet (I didn’t call this blog ‘a work of resolved art every day’ – for good reason) – but I falter regularly and then go off and drag a life raft around or something…

Ok, so really the larger project I have in mind uses eggs more for how they represent fragility, and the cycle of life.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my Persian background through my paternal grandmother.  This might actually be linked to pregnancy, as I think there’s something about starting your own family that makes you consider your background in a new light, while at the same time realizing that any tenuous link you have to another culture is just about to become even further removed.

In any case, the main project (and my residency proposal) involves making a Persian prayer rug out of approximately 400 eggs and using the surface for video projection.  Obviously I don’t really know if this is going to work until I actually do it as there’s lots of variables, including, for a start, being able to cast enough eggs in time.  There’s also other questions: ‘will it look like a rug?’ (referencing through the mihrab shape – the point towards Mecca – should help, but we’ll see); ‘what will be projected?’ (a video has to be made, something about being Canadian – probably involving the landscape, possibly snow); ‘how will it physically stay together?’ (magnets?  on the wall, the floor?) – and of course the larger, unspoken question that all artists face alone, in the dark: ‘is this just a shitty idea?’

Well, just in case it is, one must continue working on other things until the day of reckoning right?  So, as part of the idea revolves around being Iranian/Persian, but not really being Iranian/Persian, language seems to me to be of crucial importance.  I don’t speak Farsi, I don’t understand Farsi – nothing.  I remember my grandmother trying to teach me when I was around 10 years old and being profoundly uninterested.  Oh to go back in time and smack myself!  So I’ve brought my ‘Intro to Colloquial Persian’ book and tape – yes, tape, this is how long ago I thought it would be a good idea to learn – and then of course did nothing about it.

Anyway, to make a long rambling entry, short(er), I just experimented today with trying to carve letters from the Persian alphabet into a plaster egg.  I stupidly left any useful carving tools at home, so I just scratched it in with an unfolded paperclip, but I just wanted to see if the idea had ‘legs’, so to speak.  I think it might.  But of course the text doesn’t mean anything to me, and is probably nonsensical anyway (Persian letters change their shape according to the position they occupy in the word – which is interesting in itself), so there’s lots more to pursue.  I also need to find a tape player…