Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Pushing away from the status quo

I'm still not sure how I'm going to keep myself from sliding back into the status quo of inequality, turning the other way, choosing the easy but complicit choices. I'm curious to see what people in craft think about it.
In my insular world, the studio is creeping along. But the floors are done, which means everything else can go in. If only we could have given the contractor the orders in July when he asked for them before I left town, instead of today. Once everything arrives, it should take two weeks to finish (who knows how long inspections after that take before I can occupy). But due to the c r a z e in construction and renovation, everything seems to be backordered. Each year I think this space will get done in that year, and I've been disappointed for almost three years running. Please let it be 2020! But more importantly for people living in the U.S.: please be counted in the census!
In the ongoing saga of my insular world at home, I went to the huge lovely garden store to get REAL topsoil to go on top of the clay and rocks that my lawn guy put down a couple weeks ago (I fired him but I still have rocks and clay in my lawn), and more grass seed to spot treat. When I did those spots, I realized how much extra work I just made for myself so I didn't go as wild with the soil and seed as I had initially imagined. Owning a lawn is still a huge learning curve for me.
I saw this hilarious sign (DOGS 2020: BECAUSE HUMANS SUCK) on a street that has been blocked for months due to massive utility work along the entire road. After I finally got over my fear of being attacked for looking Asian during pandemic, I walked outside of my house and explored the weird non-grid streets near me. This one is one of the curved roads where my heart jumped to see a big red IMPEACH sign on the lawn. I had always thought my neighborhood was full of polite but scary folks who simply 'tolerated' my existence but would call me 'oriental' to my face and ching-chong me behind my back. That sign made me feel less afraid (though across the street was another lawn sign for a church. Maybe they cancel each other out). In that regard, please if you are American make sure you are registered to vote and have a voting plan in place!
This was today's batch of bricks. I know, I said I'd NEVER make another brick in my life. But these are really, really desperate times so it's nice to fall back on something I know how to do. It's also nice to reap the benefits of being an excellent student: I kept copious, detailed notes in 2006 about every day of my thesis production. What kind of fiber, how long it was soaked and beaten, what the best angle was for my 3-part molds, etc. I wish I could say I was taking those notes now but I'm in my 40s and not my 20s so that energy goes towards cooking my meals while I prepare for this show.
This was last night's batch. Yes, I know that is the most ridiculous tiny fan but it's what I have right now (I have a more powerful fan but it's for summer and already stored, plus it would be too powerful for this job. I need drying speeds to be done in a day but not too quickly).
This morning I released last night's batch from their molds. I letter the molds to keep track of which goes with which. My miter saw blade got weird on me yesterday so I stopped just short of the end of the alphabet, at W. It's just as well, because doing 20-something sheets/bricks a day is a reasonable ask. In 2006, I did 80 to 160 a day depending on my energy levels and how fast the first batch dried.
This first batch brought back a LOT of memories of all of my technical issues. They never go away, but are problems I can deal with on my own. Unlike the unnecessary stress (and financial repercussions) that this area went through hosting that ridiculous 'debate' last night. I ventured down near there today to pick up milkweed pods offered to me earlier this week and am soothed by Sarah's milkweed journey.
I'm hoping for 150 to 200 by the end, unlike my 2,000+ the first time I did this. Again, the temperance of age! Also, I have a LOT of other things to do (like process a billion milkweed pods), unlike my thesis semester when I cleared the decks of extraneous jobs and relationships to be in production from the end of January to the show opening in April. Even though plenty of friends I had then have fallen away, I am so thankful to the ones that are still here for me to this day.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A lot of straw on this camel

Last Friday felt unbearable, losing RBG and the noise that ensued. I listened to a great interview of Hasan Minaj by Phoebe Robinson (video version here, audio here) about what college has turned into in this country. Aside from all the wisdom, he said that the world these days is too noisy. That was the most resonant part for me.
Last week I had a walking date with a friend, which is when we saw the bird and nest sculptures on someone's front lawn, and this apt sculpture on their side lawn, how things are feeling lately.
I haven't been as good about a regular schedule of rising, walking, exercises, and breakfast because it has gotten cold. Today I did get up and in and out of bed a few times before finally getting outside, even though it's a warmer day. I need to also water my lawn that is now full of clay and rocks. Yes, I fired my lawn guy (probably a couple years too late, but I'm bad with this kind of confrontation).
I've also gotten back to a frantic type of twining because of a show deadline. I was told very late in the timeline about what I was expected to show/not show and it has thrown me off. But I always get back on my feet.
At the farmers market I got these lovely cucamelons, which brought a little light in these dismal days.
In a long awaited attempt, I was very generous with myself and used a lot of my dyed cords for this new piece. As I was working, I felt like all I wanted to do is crawl into a hole and not emerge for a while.
So first I closed this "basket" because it's a joke, get it? What kind of basket has no entry?
Then I thought it might be too much for folks, they can't handle that. Nor should I be so fatalistic. So I went back and made a hole (not easy when you've cut away all of the cords early). No hole = sculpture (= lots of money). Hole = vessel (= less money because somehow it's functional). Making the most of the directives to only make and show new work!
Even better, a maker shared with me a video months ago that I really highly recommend, a Cree man making a canoe out of the trees. It's a much better use of an hour than reading the news, for me, at least.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Today I drove west for a couple of hours to meet a dear friend at a nature preserve. She wanted to see lots of wildlife but mostly it was egrets, yellow flowers that I couldn't identify (tickseed? Something much taller?), a frog in my path that jumped into the grass, a couple of snakes, a huge grey bird that looked like a dinosaur, and a bunch of what looked like enormously fat geese or ducks. Plenty of plants, but it was a bit bleak seeing marshes that looked choked by invasives.
It was a good break from yesterday's work: my lawn guy showed up alone and asked if I wanted to help. I wasn't sure if he was joking but after I talked to the electric company about a weird bill, I got booted up to work. Spreading 2 yards of dirt was no joke, though I was not happy with it because it was clearly not topsoil, looked more like fill dirt. At this point, all of the land is clay so here I go adding a new layer of clay! He seeded today and I had to buy a new hose to start watering. Grubs killing my lawn set me over the edge but at least...we pulled out some invasive weeds? At least I get to throw money at a lawn I don't use? If Fulbright cancels our grants next spring, I may finally get serious about doing my own lawn/yard labor so that I don't have to be disappointed constantly. At that point, I'll need the exercise!
I still love seeing the ironweed against goldenrod at the metro park a mile from me, though it's cooling down considerably. What is NOT cooling down is my general sense of outrage. I listened twice to this great interview between Audie Cornish and Claudia Rankine. I was also horrified by stories about the abuse of women in woodworking as outlined in this article from a couple years ago. The idea that men would be so threatened by a woman doing carpentry alongside them that they would risk her life and actually break her back? Sigh. This weekend I was happy to take in a concert of all new music through Open Space Music, reminding me of a story that a friend told me about her colleague's recent experience trying to buy a book—

My [colleague B] was looking for Minor Feelings at the Strand bookstore, and she asked at the front desk where to find it. The person who was working said, you need to go downstairs and ask the person working downstairs because it’s really hard to find. There was an Asian woman who was also working at the register, and she said, oh, I know where it is, I’ll help you. It turns out that the book was almost impossible to find, stocked in a place where anybody hardly goes. B went up to the front desk and asked why the book was not displayed in the front along with other books that deal with racial equality and so forth. The man said, we only display books that were published recently. B then told him that the book was published in 2020 and they should have the book at the front. He was very defensive and started telling her all the reasons why they didn’t have the book out.
I still don't know what to do with all of this hurt in my body about where we are right now. I know that the twin pandemics are causing my current state of being barely able to stay on top of my life, the weird dreams, the constant clang of things falling out of my head as my mind stops being able to grasp anything for longer than a millisecond. The answer used to be my work, but I can't even see it under the pile of teaching, fall applications, trying to schedule medical appts before year's end, and maintaining my basic life without getting pulled under. I feel desperately sad to miss my niece's transformation from newborn to babyhood and beyond, and miss my mom's cooking. I have to remember that the change of seasons is never smooth, and that the scampering now to see loved ones outdoors before it snows is a real necessity to keep me strong through the winter.

So as not to be 100% a downer, what's good? Watching someone online get really excited listening to a violin/cello duo. Witnessing a composer geeking out on music theory after explaining why it's important to give students a break this fall because they are already feeling so worn this semester. Realizing that I can identify more plants this year than I could in past years, so even if my relationships with people have deteriorated, my relationship with the organisms that keep all humans alive has strengthened. Having too many books to read, so time to crack another one open!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Holding space in the stuckness

I visited Yuko at the Verne Gallery over the weekend and completely agree that some days are just tough going!
Every time I set up for class now, not only do I have to pull all of my tools and samples and so on, but I have to check out a laptop, adapter, tripod, webcam, and mount in case someone has Covid-19 symptoms and has to stay home. I also have to set up an HDMI cable, an extender cable, an extension cable that goes into another room, a video camera, power cable, and mount on my work table so that the students can see behind me on the big screen what my hands are doing (as they can't get close to me anymore). I also have to drag mats around so that no one trips all over these cables.
After sewing four new masks before the semester started, I realized I should have made silk-lined ones to be more gentle on my face and provide some kind of extra electrostatic barrier to particles. So I made more, for me but also for my parents in NY, and strung them with shoelaces (I am OVER making bias tape! Over!!).
In the slowest-moving studio building known to man (and men are responsible for the slowness of it), I asked Bill to help me get my beater off the pallet that it arrived on in the winter so that I can actually move it around and properly be able to look into the tub to be able to refinish it. There were some very scary moments in the process but we did it!
Bill had also given me some milkweed starts earlier this season, and one day I was worried that they were dying because suddenly the leaves were almost gone. When I got closer, I saw that this monarch caterpillar was hard at work eating and pooping. Its frass was all over the leaves and at the foot of the starts it had already eaten. Sadly, it wasn't a great place to hang out—not really enough food or shelter—so it's gone.
Another friend later in the season had heard about someone in her neighborhood giving away even bigger milkweed starts! So this was waiting for me when I got back home from Virginia, which was a wonderful surprise. I wish I knew which species of milkweed it is.
When I read about how philanthropy is set up to benefit the very rich, and get tired of walking in my neighborhood seeing all of the yard signs, I try to get away places with a lighter human touch. This is a golf course that has turned into a metro park, and I was amazed by how much it has changed in the last several years: soooo much more vegetation! You can still hear the constant noise of cars as the park is on the corner of two big main drags and very close to the highway, but wildlife is having its way.
I loved seeing the ironweed, and though it's not the goldenrod and aster combo, it's the same purple/yellow principle that attracts more pollinators. Though the actual people walking through this park were not as nice as ones I usually encounter in the street, it's good to have this option a mile away, as the big nature preserve I like to visit requires a longer drive. Right now, I am taking a massive procrastination break from my work, having gone through a couple big deadlines but still with a few more to go. I am attempting the one goal rule by Jessica Abel, and am learning about how much I squirm away from my work, every second I can.
Lately, I've been thinking of things and then a day or two later, they show up! Linda Ligon had contacted me a while ago about writing about my work, and then yesterday this lovely publication was waiting outside my door. The Long Thread was just what I needed to see and it includes people I admire, like Sarah Swett and Mary Hark.

Meanwhile, the hard work persists. I keep making changes to my syllabus, the readings, the whole framework of my class this semester in artists' books. I keep falling into old traps because I'm so well conditioned by different types of oppression that intersect in my body. I hope it's not like what I just learned from my lawn guy about why my backyard has died: grubs!! AGH. I wondered about the holes multiplying and the dead grass and so on. I wasn't vigilant, I wasn't informed. But now I am, so the repair begins.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

How could I forget?

I meant to include this, but it actually deserves its own post: Pati has worked so hard to make an incredible video about hand printing that is so much more. All of her work makes mine so much easier, as she goes through the process of printing images without a press and how her mind works when approaching her printmaking and her artists' book making. It's very calm and soothing as well, and is packed with detailed technical info as well as her inspirations from books (real books, the ones you hold in your hands that have paper pages!).


Looking back when it gets unbearable

Lately, the burden of a great many things that feel extremely unjust has been keeping me low. The barrage of bad news, always. Teaching in person when we are not equipped to do it safely or well, not compensated for all the risks we have to take and the extra time it takes to change everything we do, looms ominously. Having to re-apply for a Fulbright grant because the one I was chosen for may not happen due to pandemic but policy won't allow us to fulfill the grant any later (plus, they already have me on provisional status because my parents were Korean nationals when I was born in the US, so I've already had to jump through an incredible number of hoops), is another downer. When I was away, it was easier to tolerate. Given less than a week of time and space, I made this teapot, my best. I wove other things, not even all pictured here. And finally gave my rhododendron drawings homes in lots of books. Today is painful, so instead of being present, maybe it helps to return to the past.
Last year, I met Claudine Latron in Lille, France. Her converted garage studio is where she makes paper, books, artwork, and moulds. She was generous, gentle, a font of knowledge and quiet energy that makes all of her work possible.
After spending a month making books using this structure, I realized I didn't appreciate it when I saw it in person at John Gerard's studio. An American who was wise enough to get out of this country many years ago, he makes paper, artists' books, and so much more—including running a papermaking supply business in the German countryside, picturesque and calm.
In the Netherlands, I visited Peter Gentenaar and Pat Torley, who each make remarkable handmade paper artwork. He does the colorful sculptures like what you see here, and she has an amazing method of pulp painting that allows the most deliberate detail.
The mouldmaker who made my trip possible by hosting me, meeting me at the airport and showing me the train system, and taking time out of his busy life to drive me around Belgium and all the way to his teacher's widow in England, is Serge Pirard. If only I had not been so careless and erased all my photos from England, I would show you those as well.
Serge even arranged a little side trip on our way into the Ardennes, to visit Pascal Jeanjean, a French papermaker working in Belgium. Aside from making impeccable handmade paper, he works hard on creating watermarks for his custom paper. This is a wax mould for one.

I had not edited my photos from this visit last year!! I wish I had gone through these hundreds of photos immediately but each day I was so tired that I would just upload to my hard drive and go to bed (except that fateful night in England when I didn't, and then accidentally took other photos over them. Not sure I'll ever forgive myself for that mistake). This was a new camera, I hadn't practiced enough, and things are out of focus! This is what I get for not wanting to just use a phone camera. Oh well. But these mistakes are a little easier to live with now that time has passed and I marvel at the fact that I could travel so easily. I miss that.