Thursday, December 25, 2008

Disc Dance

Tah-dah! (...the sound of horns and an exciting beat...) Finally, the long-awaited (by me) images of my Disc Dance installation! It was created as the centerpiece of an exhibit called Transformations (actually, it now seems to be called SmartART), a collaboration of four mid-size science and environmental museums, including The Ecotarium in Worcester, Massachusetts; ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont; Musée de la nature et des sciences, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada; and The Children’s Museum of Maine in Portland.

It’s just been installed at the Ecotarium, and will travel around to the other three museums over the course of the next few years. After that, it will go into a rental pool for ten years, and then will revert to me. Thanks to Betsy Loring, the Ecotarium’s Manager of Exhibits and Collections, for taking the photographs of the completed piece (seen below). You can see more images of work in the exhibition here.

I thought it would be fun to take you on a quick trip to see how this project developed over the past year. Here’s the idea I came up with after a period of consultation and back-and-forth with folks from the participating museums. The idea was to make plexiglass buttons of various sizes (as I’ve been doing with painted tin disks) and hold them in a grid on the top of the installation. Light would cast the colors on people walking below.

I discovered when I actually created some pieces out of colored plexi and lit them, that light doesn’t really work that way. You have to be VERY close to it to have the light cast a discrete shape that can be perceived as a circle. Very shortly, the light just starts to make a vaguely-colored puddle. Plus, Mr. Gravity makes the grid s-a-g, and all it takes is one person jumping up to grab it to make all hell break loose (you’ve got to think about that sort of thing in a place where there are thousands of visitors a month). So, I realized that the image area needed to be on the sides, not the top. Here’s what I was working with in my studio, mocking things up on scaffolding, trying to see how everything would work at that scale (It turned out in the end that scaffolding was a good thing to build the piece with).

I still wanted light to be cast on the people inside the installation, so I modified a disco ball; here is a shot of it in the studio.

And here’s the final piece at the Ecotarium. You can see the lights and disco ball on top. I owe huge thanks and appreciation to the professionals at the Ecotarium who mounted the lights and built the frames that hold the artwork, as well as the whole standing structure.

Here’s how it looks inside the installation. There are three layers of plexi in the cases. The inside two layers have circles in different sizes and colors made with transparent vinyl film. The outer layer of plexi is a translucent white. When you’re inside, you see the circles overlapping in three layers, and their projections on the inside of the white “screen.”

Outside, you see the light projected from the inside, as a softer, flattened image.

Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

Studio Place Arts has been selling my work like hotcakes – in the last month they’ve sold four button fish, four hanging birds, and two Herald Angels. Every time I put something in, it flies off the shelves! Whoopee! I just took in something new – Noisemakers! They use the little clay bits I’ve been making the last few weeks, and they make a great sound when shaken. The perfect item for New Year’s Eve, Purim, or something for your next gig as a percussionist.

I’m also continuing work on a piece for an upcoming SPA exhibit called Picture That Poem. I need to finish painting the text on boards that will be affixed to the sides of the sculpture (you can see the first row in the image below). The poem is called Reincarnation, and is by my mother, Sandy McKinney:

The part that arrives at heaven's chop-shop
doesn't leave much to work with, but you're
one of the lucky ones. Reliable sources
advise that Y2K came with amnesty for all
previous karma, so you'll only have to pay
for the one you messed up last time.

Things are a bit crowded at the moment,
what with a big backlog before the millennial gift,
but just hang in there. Don't make waves and you
can look forward to a safe and improved return.

I’ll post a picture when it’s finished. And maybe some detail shots.

The real reason I made the clay pieces (seen in the noisemakers above) was to use on more figures from the Disarmament series. Here’s the latest finished piece, and then a piece in progress. These are two of the ones that will be suspended, as I mentioned in a recent post.

The circular clay embellishments on the following figure have two different colors of clay. I didn’t make enough in the first load (not knowing what I might be using them for...), but I’ve now got enough new ones ready to go into the kiln to finish encrusting it. Stay tuned.

All of these figures need to have a skirt. I've used metal, hacksaw blades, clay, beach fibers, and nails for the other ones, but I don't know about this one. Anybody got a suggestion about what materials I might use?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter in my Heart

I did more work on the Disarmed pieces (see my December 6 post, "Disarmament") yesterday at the studio, and figured out that it would be neat to suspend some of them from the ceiling so they didn’t have to be mounted on stands, but would still stand upright. One of them actually takes little mincing steps when dangled so its feet just barely touch the floor. I intended to take some photos of them for the blog today, but when I headed out in the snow this morning I fell on the ice and banged my right leg. So I stayed home and did paperwork and decided to put up a quickie on the blog. I'll take pictures at the studio tomorrow.

When the snow is on the ground and the sky is grey, it is truly bleak, even up in the garden. I think about growing older every day and the inevitability of death. John Hanna, a Barre stone sculptor and a wonderful man, died on Friday, December 12. I went to his funeral yesterday. There will be a retrospective exhibit of his work at SPA from January 10 - 16, 2009, with a reception from 2-4 on Saturday, January 10.

I’m thinking about doing a piece that involves doors, maybe combining with the Disarmed pieces for an installation: “The Disarmed Approach the Event Horizon.” I guess that's what death is -- getting sucked into the big Black Hole. I’m imagining a beautiful old door with little doors (and openings) cut into it. You could look at it from either side. There would be small people in the small doorways. And the disarmed all around, on the floor and on pedestals.

People don’t seem terribly inclined to respond to my questions, but under the circumstances I can hardly keep from asking this one: What are we here for? What do you make of the fact that our art lasts longer than we do? Is this great or terrible?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Second Tuesday

This post is about making connections with other people in the art world -- which is kind of what this blog is all about! Along that line, I'm delighted to see that people are responding and/or participating in the comments section (right below this post, guys -- easy to do! Exercise for the little grey cells as well as the fingers!). Also, housekeeping-wise, I'm reminding folks that I keep an email list of people who want to be informed about new posts. I am trying to post once a week, though sometimes I get lazy or over-excited. The email I send out gives you a taste of what's on the blog, but is a special little communication all on its own. Short, really. You can email me to ask to be put on the list. Go to my website, and click on Contact.

Here's a photo of the people in my Art Group at my studio this past Tuesday. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month, discussing and sharing our own work and ongoing issues in the arts. Sometimes we come to my studio in the winter or in mud season, since it’s in town and not on a back road, where most of us live. We were a small group this month – left to right, Alex Bottinelli, Liz Nelson, Lynn Newcomb (who told us she just got a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship!), and Maggie Neale. Five other members of the group were absent for various reasons.

I’ve been meeting with this group for over ten years. I started when I still had my studio in St. Johnsbury (maybe in 1996?). The members of the group have changed a bit over the years, though it has actually stayed remarkably stable. We’re all women. We’ve invited men to come, but we never found any who were interested. The most valuable thing to me about the group is that it gives me a historical look at other people’s work, seeing the trajectory of their practice, how things have changed or remained the same. And each of these people is also a witness to how my work has morphed, and what has engaged me over the years.

Making art is a curious thing to do, and having others who have the same proclivity is comfortable and creates a bit of community in a profession that is quite solitary. The visual arts (unlike theater, music, and dance) are not practiced ensemble, but singly, one by one.

I gave Liz one of the painted political lawn signs I’d made for an outdoor installation in Johnson this summer. She took it home and has been doing her own installation project with it – putting it in various outdoor locations around her house and then photographing it. Here’s one she took at night with a flash.

So what would you like to talk about? What do you do that creates community, fellowship, fellow-feeling, fellow-traveling? Do you get enough, too much?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Around and Around

I’ve been working with Izuri Mizutani, an artist in Japan, to put together two exhibits of Japanese and Vermont artists in 2010 (In Nagoya, Japan and Burlington and Barre, Vermont) to connect with the tenth anniversary of the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity.

I’m very excited to do some new work for this exhibit in my Circular Statements body of work (see below for a previous piece, Targets, and a detail of another piece, to show how the disks cast shadows). I’m so excited that I went to the studio today (Sunday) to work, and now I’m posting two days in a row. I’ll give you a bit of a break after this, I promise.

My idea is to do paintings of different species (plants and animals) on disks that will be mounted in a wire grid, like the pieces above. Here are some of them that I particularly like.

Questions? Hmm, I went to a women’s potluck last night at Irina Markova’s house. She told stories about her father and asked others to say something about their fathers. This is a good idea! I’m inviting you to tell a story about a time when your father shared an art experience with you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


No arms. But stuff on the torso, body core, corps, corpse…

These are all pieces I've finished in the past week. I wonder what the stuff on the chest is. The surfaces suggest micrographs of pollen (scroll down about a third of the page) or diatoms (scroll down two-thirds of the page). Maybe that's because I continue to be interested in how humans are part of the continuum of life on the planet.

Those aren't arms. It's milk squirting out like pearls.

I want to let you know that I put up my 2002 stop-action animation film, The March of the Teapots, on YouTube. As soon as I figure out how to break up the Circular Statements video that Gail Schwartz made into three smaller segments, I’ll put that up too.

The question for this post comes from here. How would you encapsulate your life story, your philosophy, your achievements, or your insights in six words? I might say (partly taken from a poem by my mother):

Leap before you look! Bonzai! Hurrah!