Monday, March 13, 2023

It's all hard right now

What has transpired over the last week has turned everything upside down but I wanted to show how everything was already such a mess. All of my work lately is BIG and takes a long time. Nothing can get crossed off the to do list quickly. Here is Michelle spending hours helping me on my beater, first to wrangle the screws to get the lid off (we had to saw into several to turn hex heads into flat heads). Here she is trying to undo the massive clog of rags that initiated the overhaul. I probably should have done it years back when I first got it, as it's a used machine that had sat outdoors for years, but I was going through so much then that I could only do so much in the moment.
After many panicked thoughts about how I would have to spend too much on a new one, Bill reassured me that this is a machine, which can be taken apart and put back together, and he offered very generously to help. Thank goodness, because I don't have the mechanical understanding, tools, or gumption for what lay ahead. He's trying here to get one massive cast iron support arm off of its locating pins that have rusted on top and won't budge. After seeing the ones on the other side had been broken off and ground down (with the arm brazed and installed backwards later), we figured we'll survive by locating the position with the bolts. It took two days and we accidentally dropped it on the floor, but finally the shaft assembly came free.
This is after Bill got one bearing off. The other won't budge, which will make it impossible to properly place a new seal against the roll on that side. The entire studio has smelled like penetrating oil for weeks.
Once the roll was out, I could finally see what was causing all of the rust chunks in my pulp, which was failing finish and rust. After one morning of sanding and scraping, I called it a day for a while because the next step requires ventilation, which unfortunately the beater room does not have. Temps also dropped so I can't yet roll it into the front gallery, which has a door to the outside, since the heat is broken and the treatment I need to do won't set properly if it's freezing (plus I don't want to work when it's freezing). While the only useful thing I can do on this job is sand and epoxy things, I did have to remove the bedplate and diaphragm and probably need to cut a new one while I'm at it because I would love to not have to do any of this for a good long time again. Bill has the shaft assembly now to wire wheel the rust on the roll and then I have to find replacement bolts for the ones that are rusted out, pulley belts, seals, and who knows what else.
Next big project #2: trying to get a handle on my book inventory. I have so many books that have been waiting for years to get made, and I have felt this pressure (maybe that I put onto myself) to make some. But truly the pressure is financial, because I've turned down teaching gigs to make room to make art in the hopes that if I make more, I can sell more, and replace lost potential income. I'm happy with how this one turned out.
This took a while to figure out content but once I did, I knew I didn't want to glue in text because the abaca paper would cockle horribly with any moist adhesives. I laced in the text and was also happy with that solution.
This one came all at once in a morning, but then took over a week to actually finish (there are two versions, very close but a bit different). I have also had a bunch of false starts, a book I had to re-do completely, and one last night that I destroyed so I am giving up for now and remembering that it's sometimes better to stop and go to bed instead of stay up and mis-fold paper that I only have one sheet of.
Big project #3: I've wanted to get back to the printshop to print my bark lace onto paper so I can use it for a bunch of different projects. That includes more books, more garments, a print portfolio collaboration, and a performance collaboration. It's so simple and yet brings me full circle: the bark that makes the paper can also be the image that imprints onto the paper. To get shop access, I had to do a one-on-one monoprint session with Lisa so that I could rent monthly access. She's a super pro at this and I had a great time getting to know her and her process better.
Here are some samples of my test bark lace and some bark thread that is also supposed to somehow turn into an installation.
We were really methodical that day and I confirmed that my teacher in Korea really deserves his national treasure status. His hanji is a DREAM to print onto. I was so excited to finally put my giant stash of paper to work.
I love how much detail can get picked up and for now am not worrying about ink colors, just trying to understand how natural fiber holds and prints etching ink. And how it holds up to being smashed in a press over and over.
I got carried away in an early attempt to layer when I finally got into the shop by myself to play. This is the day that everything was wonderful and then all came crashing down later.
By my second solo studio day, I tested a bigger piece of bark lace and have been elated by how much I can do with it. This print is on hanji that I brushed persimmon juice onto over and over.
The fiber holds so much ink that I can ghost many times, easily up to four, even if I don't chose to go that far.
This reinforces my general sense of wanting only to work with materials that I make from scratch with the least harm possible or by recycling. Guess what these little sheets used to be? Bricks! And I have lots more so I am excited to take those apart. Today I had a third day in the shop and it really wore me out. Thank goodness that Bill helped at the studio also with a city code issue that required a lot of panicked running around and sign ordering and phone calls and emails and learning that being in a commercial building is a big pain in the ass.

The major big project that has thrown all of my hard-earned plans for a solid month of studio time out the window is caregiving. My guy has managed to break a pretty important joint and goes into surgery this week. The accident was a week ago and has destroyed my ability do to any admin (there goes major project #4: website overhaul with an incredibly competent web person, who works even faster than me. Plus shows in April, taxes, an international trip, etc.). My studio time is shattered and all the extra driving has messed with my body enough to make walking, standing, doing stairs, laying down, and sitting very painful. I drive to the pool for stress relief and find I've forgotten my swimsuit. Or yell at home alone and in the car. Recovery will take months and of course the artist with "free time" can drop everything, anytime. I have to overcome being angry that I've allowed years of my time be seen as less valuable or free to be interrupted and learn to carve out what I need to survive right now. Time to go yell some more.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts show, tell me how it goes!

Friday, February 10, 2023

Injury and recognition

I was been trying hard to only share positive things but this week has been a dud. This was my weekend sewing, a recycling of an older piece. The recycling in this case went well and I didn't stab myself THAT many times with the needle (plus I had a thimble).
Last week was great because I got to make hanji, and then I finally was able to finish making a makeshift deckle box for the dregs. It took a couple days but in the end I am so satisfied.
A sheet of paper, instead of a tiny pulp wad to put in the fridge to stink up until the next batch! But this week I tried to run my beater and it was utter and abject failure. Not only does there seem to be a short messing with the motor, it is leaking enough to warrant taking apart to replace seals, the roll needs to be refinished because it's flaking bad stuff, and I have to open the lid because I clogged it completely with rag.
Michelle helped me for hours and I was distraught by the series of everything going wrong, so I tried to work in the evening. I started to take apart an old piece of art that I thought was bad and then sliced my finger open with a seam ripper and bled all over it. It was like the Red Sea in the kitchen sink once I managed to get there without dripping blood on the way.

However, I promise to close with better news: Lisa Haque wrote about me for the Hall of Papermaking Champions. I'm the youngest thus far and with this new class, the first of two papermakers of color acknowledged, alongside Paul Wong. Thanks to NAPH membership and the committee for the honor!

Friday, February 03, 2023

What a year already

We had another fabulous papermaking and book art class at Oberlin College for their annual Winter Term. I love WT because it posits that this is a month where you get to focus on ONE project only. While January in Ohio is not amazing weather, it's a quieter campus because many students choose to do their projects at home or abroad or anywhere but school. When it snows, it's even more quiet. But for me, I get slammed into the most busy time immediately after the holidays. It's a great way to completely bypass any doldrums after that ridiculous season. Here are my students cleaning paper mulberry fiber that they had already scraped and cooked and rinsed previously.
You never really know how each group will gel and if the students you selected were the best match for this class so I was relieved to have such a great mix. They were so fully engaged, excited, and kind. I change the class every year to make it work better and this year they cleaned fiber and beat for longer, because I knew it would produce better paper.
Week one is always a focus on Asian style papermaking and fibers, and one student spent a ton of time really picking the milkweed fiber after cooking to get us a fantastic batch.
The paper was lovely and the chiri (waste) paper at the left was also nicer because this time I asked them to try and pick out more of the black bark. This is some of the nicest milkweed paper students have made, again, because we picked out a lot of the excess non-cellulosic material. And then two types of paper mulberry, one from Florida and one from Thailand.
As always, students unleash all kinds of creativity once I show them how to do transfers, embedding, and other techniques to personalize their paper.
This kind of work always takes forever but the results were fabulous!
We also had our regular visits to the Morgan and Zygote so that students can see professional communal art centers that support related techniques. Ed drove the van as always, and his library intern joined us along with Emerson, the new librarian at the Oberlin Conservatory library. This was an especially wonderful month for me because I could hang out with Emerson on campus for the first time since we started at Oberlin as students in 1995!
Biology professor Taylor Allen always lets us use the Critter beater in his research lab to pulp rag that students had cut, from Ed's old cotton shirt and work pants and jeans.
And then we were off to the races with European-style papermaking and pulp painting.
Ed also always generously does the paper marbling demo on the day we decorate papers, while I set up for paste papers and suminagashi.
After recovering from a scary corneal infection during the long holiday weekend (from the usual stress, insomnia, and winter dryness + overwork), I also squeezed in a visit to Nick Fairplay's stonecarving studio. This will eventually become a relief of important Greek people throughout history, to be installed at the Greek Cultural Garden in Cleveland.
I learned so much about this ancient practice, like how important it is to make models (the lion at left).
And, of course, the importance of tools and how hard it is to find good ones because they really aren't made the same way anymore. Nick told us about when he was an apprentice in the UK and the man who made and fixed all of their tools had gone to fight in WWI. When he arrived at the front and they found out he was a blacksmith, they sent him back to England to make bayonets. Two weeks later, his entire battalion was killed in combat. Kids, it is STILL a great idea to learn a trade!!
The last section of class uses the paper we've made to make books.
The feedback this year was that maybe it would make more sense to visit the special collections to see books before they made certain types of paper and books. It's hard for me to take them away from the paper studio at first because I really want to throw them into labor but it's not a bad idea. This is the art library, where I pull a bunch of artists' books for them to view.

We also see books and samples from special collections in the main library, but I like to make sure they go to both since the art building is kind of severed from the rest of campus. I want them to know about more of the amazing resources available to them.
Gena (at left) is a dream to work with, especially because I give her so many last-minute requests for books or supplies and she is really nice about all the things I forget until the students start working. Here, she and Haoyuan are picking dried fiber off of the Japanese sugeta in the main library special collections.
Haoyuan is from Beijing and we met last WT because I noticed my housemate at Shansi House putting up new year's banners. He had done the calligraphy, and I invited him to visit my class to see what else you can do with calligraphy ink. He visited a few more times and then I convinced him to declare a book studies minor (even though he was already a biology/neuroscience double major) and then he took the WT class this year. And made me a new set of spring couplets! Which I hung in my studio.
Last year, I had asked him to do ink tests on different papers, and this year he did it again, but now that he was actually taking the class he had access to all the different papers we made and decorated throughout. He very generously gave me the samples and then I made a little book to house them. Aside from my eye, it was a good month. I now have so many friends and allies in town that my social calendar overflows (not great for rest but it really warms the winter). More importantly, I was able to ask for help when I really needed it.

Now, back home, recovered, and beginning my teaching sabbatical! Of course I've already been tested by new invites to teach...agh. But I've made hanji in the studio this week will make more tomorrow.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Last bits of the year

[This is from a lace show that Tatiana recommended, which I got to visit with Justine and Christie right before xmas on those days that were so bad weather-wise for most and in NY was warm and rainy turning into snow and then coldcoldcold plus howling wind.]

I'm in hellish re-entry from family time in NY where the time is not sufficient for the tasks and the tasks seem to multiply. The deadline is hard as I move to Oberlin on Monday and start teaching class the next day for the next month. One institution asked for a teaching proposal waaaaay back earlier this year and I have not done it, and only in recent days did I think, Could I ever create a proposal for teaching that I would actually be excited to fulfill? I never thought of doing such a thing, something that would serve me as much as everyone else. But of course that goes immediately on the back burner as I deal with basic stuff like a new hot water tank and packing and feeding myself and making sure nothing is on fire.

Until I get some composure, a few bits to share. Here we go headfirst into the next year! 

28ish Days Later

I really enjoyed this podcast about periods, which everyone should listen to (short episodes, very useful information for all people, not only ones who did/do/will menstruate—with the last one, in fact, saying that there is no good reason NOT to teach non-menstruating bodies about it).

Montello Foundation

Jan 22 is the deadline to apply for a residency at Montello, a quiet place in the desert off the grid away from wifi and phones and all about learning to live with yourself and the world around you. I could never handle a residency like this (not the being there, only the getting there) but have supported it since I could and think it would be great for lots of other more sturdy and adventurous artists of all stripes.

Herb Childress

Herb is a lot of things—writer, scholar, active community member (not in the amorphous sense but where he actually goes to meetings, creates protocol, takes care of the place where he lives through action and applied knowledge), thoughtful and gifted friend, and chaplain to those who don't have one. He also gives his work away for free. My favorite is Slush because I am more a non-fiction person, but you'd learn plenty from his novels and stories if you love fiction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The last month always gets demolished

I didn't know until my friend Frank told me that there was a Rodin Thinker at the local art museum that had been bombed in protest of the Vietnam War and that the museum decided to just leave it in its destroyed state (rather than relegate it to lifelong storage, or try to repair to its original state, which wouldn't have been possible) in front of the former front of the museum (now kind of the back of the museum). So I took a look one evening at something I had NEVER noticed all these years.
I rarely am on this side of the museum, so that's one excuse. But I guess it never looked like a bombed sculpture, either. Getting close, it's actually kind of remarkable, and made me think of Steven Young Lee's work. It turns it into an old master's masterpiece kind of thing to embodied history. Given the culture of that time embraced the idea that thinking happens only in the head, this guy seems not perturbed at all that his feet are gone. We still foolishly think that it should be fine of major parts of our bodies, nation states, and planet are irreparably mutilated and destroyed that the rest of us should just carry on.
Right now, when I read this, my feelings don't match the words "tragically." If I was alive and knew this had happened to one of my pieces in protest of a very bad war, who knows how I'd feel. If I was dead for over 50 years and it happened, not sure either how tragic it would be. It feels like pretty straightforward human intervention. Almost a collaboration with bomb.
That was what I was thinking months ago when I looked at it. How is it going in the studio? There's a ton of unfinished projects going on, just as bad as at home, where my book/dry work is. So nothing has changed, except the idea that maybe it's a good idea to clear the immediate vision of stuff that has been malingering for too long. As if there was appropriate storage for that stuff!
Our contractor came by to look at the mold spots that alarmed me on a building only a year into a gut rehab. He was using the ladder I got from Bill, and I was in deep denial when I bought it. I've always managed to get around ladders but this one is 10 feet and heavy, and every time I pick it up I throw out my pelvis (which is extremely unstable to begin with). My PT recommended a different ladder but it's too hard to figure out which model to get to still have access to these 13-ft ceilings. But given how much I do go up and down, I will need a better solution since the exercise/PT route is so slow—I won't get strong enough soon enough!
Michelle came by a little after this stage to help cut down rag. We were going to run the beater this weekend to make paper for FUN and then the beater refused to turn on. I made an emergency call to a friend and after I emptied it of water and then removed the switch cover, it turned on again (very annoying because then I could have just left the water and beaten the pulp but I had lost all hope by then). So this will have to wait until next year, likely.
I leave in days to see my family and friends in NY. When I was sick over Thanksgiving week, I started going bonkers knitting (so the idea that I was resting was a pure lie). The first was too small, the second too big, the third not exactly just right, and the fourth not perfect yet. I'll keep two mismatched ones and give two mismatched ones away. If I can stop tinkering with them! Last night I took out the binding of one that felt too tight and even after redoing feels too tight! It must be the super control freak in me raging up because I can't control the people who park in the studio parking lot now that the bar next door has opened and no one appreciates the handmade signs I made to say the lot is only for art studio folks.
But hey. Hoping that sabbatical next year includes more comics, one of too many things I want to do all at once and then nothing happens except trying to fix my house + studio + body. But there's no fixing to be done, only a slow process of learning to live with imperfection. The quiet two or three weeks of studio time I had hoped for in Dec disappeared when I was asked to do a shoot and then it was cancelled (lots of prep and then lots of cleaning up). But this weekend I have a studio visit, my LAST official engagement of the year. I need to get over my denial about what I want December to be (blissful studio time) and accept it for what it is (getting ready for serious winter AKA squirrel behavior).

Friday, November 25, 2022

Deliberate collaboration with Hyeyung

Hyeyung and I met when we were teenagers as violinists at a very intense summer music experience. I was almost about to go to college and she was a year younger. She and another friend were the clearest examples to me of Korean diaspora kids who had a really different way from me of approaching themselves in the world. Hyeyung was proud to be Korean, which I had never seen that in someone my age. Up until then, I had felt ashamed and misunderstood, but meeting her right before Oberlin helped with a long, slow awakening (which is still in progress). Here she is stripping and scraping milkweed from Michigan.
Hyeyung went into a professional music career while I veered into art but our paths crossed in unexpected ways in Nebraska when I was on a residency and she and her husband/string quartet cellist were living in Lincoln. After her quartet dissolved, we talked for years about collaborating. I've always been hesitant because my view of my collaboration ability is that it sucks. Since she is such an important and beloved friend, I did not want to do anything that would blow that up. But we have sorted out a path towards collaboration that feels right for both of us. She earned a New Music USA grant to have a weeklong residency with me in the studio. While I'd never say I understand the process of composing music, I have a decent sense of being a musician. So we focused on various papermaking steps so she could feel my process in her body. Here's days and days of work for just a quarter pound of milkweed bast, cleaned of its outer protective and waterproof layer (remember I had already scraped a bunch in Michigan, and it's all combined here).
Hyeyung's idea emerged from a letter she read in Epistolary Korea, edited by the late JaHyun Kim Haboush. In 1795, a grieving mother wrote a letter to her dead 10-month-old daughter that would have been read aloud at the funeral and then buried with the baby. Hyeyung herself is a mother and found both the writing (it is written in classical Chinese, the language of scholars and men in charge, rather than Korean script more often used by women) and content extremely compelling. In the letter addressed to her child, the mother creates an incredible narrative of why it was better that her daughter died as an infant, so that the mother would never know the deep loss of losing an older child, while spinning her dreams of how this baby would have grown into a beautiful, well-mannered girl with smooth hair that she would carefully brush while wearing the proper clothes and so on. It's so very Korean mom. To give Hyeyung a sense of different fibers, I soaked Florida mulberry for her to scrape after we finished the milkweed.
The letter went hand-in-hand with ideas Hyeyung has been exploring around Korean women and what it means to be part of that population, especially when your stories have not been told. The most obvious to us are our mothers and their generation. Our mothers do not speak often about their past. I know that my own avoids mention because it was bad. She was born at the end of the Korean War and experienced deep parental loss, abandonment, and poverty. She was too often cold and hungry and taunted by others for that. There is so much more that only comes out in dribs and drabs at the most random weird times. I only found out this summer that her name is not her given name and that her mom said, "Let's change your name because your given name is too sad." So it resonated with me when Hyeyung asked, can we ever give voice to Korean women in generations past, with respect and honor, without putting words in their mouth? I think music is a fantastic way to do that. Because I could see that she was so fastidious, I had Hyeyung do an extra step that I never make anyone do: after scraping the outer bark layers, we separated the black bark (flakes on the left) from the green/white bits (on the right).
Maybe Hyeyung is fastidious by nature, but what I observed was an example of a theory I've had for years: that discipline learned as a musician translated to other fields. I always say that my training in violin, where I had to be alone for many hours trying to solve problems, or with a teacher for many hours watching them and trying to replicate every last movement down to the finger knuckle, prepared me for this papermaking life. The intensity of focus that I brought to my music lessons I brought to my papermaking teachers. And I saw it in Hyeyung, how she saw details that most students never see or notice, how she was fully present as she tried to piece together the myriad of physical movements and observations to replicate my labor. She also approached it without the judgy baggage a lot of people have, because she has an entire lifetime of proof that if you pay attention and practice consistently, you learn and get better. It was so satisfying to see. She is in a whole other universe of musical ability than me, so it would make sense that she saw things in the paper studio and in my work that had been invisible to me for years. This is one day's batch of scraping, in between lots of other activities.
Being together also meant sharing a home, cooking, meals, cleanup, pots and pots of tea, and even the furnace gas leak. Often people try to get back to the stage of living in dorms with college friends, when they were so accessible, because it is such a luxury to be able to be close and share lives together. This was the first time I've been so comfortable with a house guest, mostly because we've known each other for so long, and partly because she's a mom so I know she can handle certain things that I normally would never allow a guest to do. But also because we are a good match. I love the contours of her mind and how she thinks so deeply and earnestly about what she cares about, how she is always open to learning more and discovering things that change old patterns or ideas, and how purposeful she is in everything she does and the worlds she creates professionally, personally, and for her family. She spent at least three days I think beating this wad of milkweed bast. Most students would get upset that this was going on so long but she kept wanting to get back to the studio to beat. 
This was one of four giant prints by He Sanqing (Chinese, born 1988), made in 2016, called Neither Mountain nor Water. We visited the art museum two days in a row and I absolutely loved this contemporary print show in the rotating section of the Chinese galleries. I walked Hyeyung through the sweep I like to take to get to the Korean gallery each time that I visit. Since it was the first residency I was hosting, I also wanted to make sure we had a good balance of non-studio time that would be generative or rejuvenating. Which is why I scheduled a massage for us early in the week! Korean women rarely got to do this kind of thing so I insisted we take that time for ourselves.
I usually don't visit the video room but we happened upon this Patty Chang video. I haven't seen her name/work in years and it made me think about how our art history educations revolve around when we were born, who taught us, and who was big at the time that we were learning about art (I know, this is the case for ALL education!). Patty Chang (b. 1972) was huge when I came up. The tag read, "American artist Patty Chang's 1998 Melons (At a Loss) shows the artist mutating and eating a melon as a surrogate breast while discussing the death of her aunt, a performance that both is absurd and subverts expectations of exoticized female bodies." When I met Hyeyung, I still wanted to be a performer even though I knew I was on a lower tier music-wise. I needed time to figure out that this wasn't going to be my thing, and also visions of what might be my thing, before I could give it up. I haven't performed since 2008, right before I left for my first research trip in Korea. Seeing Hyeyung at the airport with her violin case made me not at all miss flying with my violin! She shared insane stories about her husband being thrown off the plane with his cello even when he had bought a second seat for it. A great reminder of how well we both understand the travel that goes hand in hand with work. She's an very seasoned and skillful traveler.
Our second visit to the museum was with Sooa, the Korean art curator, and it was like having art history on demand. We could ask all the little questions we had and get brilliant answers on the spot. Sooa had also read the book that inspired Hyeyung and we discussed the various letters that struck us. It was so eye-opening to hear about the funeral tiles that were a prized object in the collection that she pushed to repatriate and return to the Korean family to which it belonged. The stories are so very human, how these things get lost. We talked about tomb excavations, and an upcoming exhibit that gave Hyeyung the kernel of the idea that we will use as a jumping off point.
I really wanted to connect Michelle to Hyeyung because of how the former is working on degrees in both studio art and music composition. We had a couple of studio days together and Michelle helped me with dessert one night and hosted Hyeyung for a meal when I was doing something else. She remains the most wonderful student I've been able to interact with over the course of years.
This is the first time I've ever gotten Michigan milkweed to paper form so quickly! Since it was such a small batch, we did small sheets rather than full-on hanji formation.
Early in the week, Hyeyung said that she wanted to not only learn about what I do in the studio but be helpful to me. That made it so much easier to let her do work that I would normally do. This is another key aspect in working with her: she has excellent boundaries and communication skills. And she really just rolled with all of the unexpected things that came up, which made it so much less stressful for me.
Because of the stupid gas leak and other scheduling issues, we were only able to board and then she had to fly away the next day so she didn't get to peel away the final sheets to take them home. But now that the hard part comes, collaborating while separated and back in our regular lives, it means that I can write longhand and enclose paper. I had hoped to do that sooner, but had to work in Columbus a few days after her departure, and then got sick. I've been home nursing myself and variously unhappy about being ill while happy to have a good excuse not to work. Still slowly processing this precious shared time and looking forward to how it will eventually manifest, while always grateful to Hyeyung for her friendship and vision.

Hyeyung Yoon

New Music USA 2022 Creator Development Fund grant recipients

Epistolary Korea

Modern Impressions—Light and Water in Chinese Prints

He Sanqing

Patty Chang

Sooa Im McCormick