Sunday, 28 December 2014

Throwing Yourself Open to Fate

This is the third Christmas I have spent on my own– without the company of family or friends.  The grim reaper has been pruning my family tree with a vengeance leaving me effectively an orphan. However, this year I decided that did not mean I had to spend Christmas day all alone.  Every week I try and do something I have never done before and this week it was participating in a communal meal with a hundred souls at St. John's Gathering Place established by the Presentation and Mercy orders of Catholic nuns. There is a free meal of turkey with all the trimmings, live music, presents and carol singing.  But perhaps most valuable of all was companionship.

I wasn't sure how to dress for this occasion, so I opted for middle of the road, which meant a grey dress and a bolero jacket.  I left my vintage fur coat at home and went with a cloth coat.  To be honest, I was dressed entirely in thrift store wardrobe.  But when I crossed the threshold of The Gathering Place they took one look at me and to my surprise slapped a volunteer sticker on me and told me I could join the society matron cluster around the coffee pots.  I was quite literally labeled as a volunteer when instead I thought of myself as being much closer to some of the "guests" who were being served.  I decided to just go with the flow.
Christmas in the dining room.  The Gathering Place was recently renovated.

As it turns out there was a surplus of volunteer ladies hovering and talking with each other.  I sought out someone in authority and said, "What do you need?"  The answer couldn't have been better as far as I was concerned.  The grey haired nun said to me, "We need someone to mingle and talk with our guests".  In short order, I was chatting about Canadian Christmas traditions with a table of Sudanese students, about the local symphony with a group of seniors, traditional Aboriginal medicine with another crowd, and on and on. Everyone welcomed my attention and were eager to chat.  It was clear they felt comfortable in this environment.  I was the new girl on the "block".  Eventually, someone lassoed me with their arms and sat me down with the words, "Now, you eat with us!"  It was a whale of a good time.

The Gathering Place is a community service centre where people can avail themselves of medical services, a hot meal, various social events and companionship.  It is the "safe place" for many in my hometown who find them disadvantaged through circumstance.

This is how the Gathering Place describes their mission:
The Gathering Place is a service centre committed to building community, promoting equality and providing nourishment. It exists to meet the needs of people whom society has failed.

The programs and services of the Gathering Place are offered primarily to people who are homeless or live in less than desirable housing conditions, people who are often unemployed and to people who do not have adequate social supports at this time in their lives.

Monday, 22 December 2014

With Eyes that Close

This image shows the installation after a snow,
which lent an atmosphere of innocence.
The mud made a hungry slurping sound as I pulled my foot out of it.  I was walking down a muddy foot path with artist Pepa Chan, we were on the way to see her installation of With Eyes that Close, which probes the missing but not yet forgotten women and girls of aboriginal descent in Newfoundland and Labrador who were victims to violent crime.  This was not the first time I had made the trek up to Signal Hill and prowled around the back loop of woods behind the Geo Centre Park.  It is filled with lovely distracting views that put you over the City of St. John's and its harbour.

Pepa Chan is an artist who uses plush animals and dolls as her raw material.  She reconfigures them.  And I like her work enough that I have bought it at a silent auction.  My own piece is composed of four legs with pantiloons and tiny white shoes.  To me it represents the dysfunctional family and in particular the odd way we have of constructing memories, stitching together parts that don't really go together or serve a function anymore.  I was curious to see how Chan was going to use the dolls and animals to support her theme.
Plush animals are comfort toys.  Pepa Chan
uses them in disturbing ways.

"We're here" Pepa announces and I shift my gaze up from the slippery rocks and into the wood and I see them.  Eighty dolls placed in the trees.  They look flung as if from some explosion and hang from the branches every which way.  We've had several days of rain and they are sodden.  My eyes first settle on a doll's figure that is upside down.  Purple wool spills out of it like entrails.  "So violent" are the first words that occur to me.  Pepa responds, "the way they died was violent".  She tells me how working on this project gave her nightmares, how she needed to take a break in order to complete it.

I am thankful for the gentle weather and for the fact that Pepa and I enjoy each other's company.  It puts a pleasant sheen on the experience.  This bitter pill needs a sugar coating to experience.  I spend an hour going through the woods, the burnt out campfire ring that was there prior to the installation.  Dolls have been scalped by nature, eyes pushed into their sockets.  This is rough stuff.  My own experience of violence and childhood resurface, which I share with Pepa.  The trees are slick with rain, mushrooms in vivid colours push their way through the bark.  I am moved to tears. This is an exhibition I need to review, I must find a publication that is appropriate.
Scissors: the duality of support and menace are evoked skillfully.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Stuck on Fast Forward

On Monday of this week I sent in my topic list for the indexers at Bloomsbury Press in the U.K.  That means we are getting very close to publication and what a hoot it was to see the book listed as upcoming in  It's real!  Apparently, I am now an "international theorist".  

This is what Amazon has about the book:
'Sloppy' art and craft addresses art and craft practice which is deliberately messy or unfinished in execution and/or appearance.

Sloppy Craft: Post-Disciplinarity and Craft brings together leading international artists, historians, theorists and educators to explore the possibilities and limitations of the idea of 'sloppy craft' within an interdisciplinary (or even postdisciplinary) context. Contributors from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia address 'sloppiness' in contemporary art and craft practice, discuss the importance of traditional concepts of skill, and the implications of sloppiness for a new 21st century emphasis on interdisciplinarity, as well as for activist, performance, queer and Aboriginal practices.

In addition to critical essays, the book includes a 'conversation' section in which contemporary artists and practitioners discuss the practice and teaching of 'sloppy' craft.

The whole of the week was stuck on fast forward.  The "Wild" show as I affectionately call it for the Craft Gallery and the Wood Point Discovery Centre near Gros Morne is gathering steam as works are now being submitted.  I had a photo shoot for the More Than Skin Deep project, a board meeting for Eastern Edge, a book launch for St. Michael's Printshop, a curatorial proposal to submit to the City of St. John's, two concerts to cover and on and on…the Christmas parties have started.  Is it any wonder that I get so wound-up that I can't sleep?  And four more books arrived in the mail from publishers hoping that I might review them in my blog.

'Tis the season.  Time to dig out my Rachel Ryan Modern Nativity manger, which by the way I discuss in my chapter on Sloppy Craft.  I also talk about the historical precedents in Wabi Sabi or the perfection of imperfection.  Now, that's a lesson I need to learn.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The solace of books

Death is what instructs most of all, and then only when it is present.  When it is absent it is totally forgotten.  Those who can live with death can live in the truth, only this is almost unendurable.  It is not the drama of death that teaches us – when you are facing it there is no drama.

p. 348 Iris Murdock, Henry and Cato (St. Albans: Triad Panther 1977)

I have been thinking a lot about books lately.  My personal life has been overwhelming: I lost a cherished aunt who was my last relative from my childhood; my son was rushed to hospital and even the family pet of the last decade passed away.  Combine that with more mundane stresses of long work hours and travel and I was shaken off my center. 

Historically, I have lost myself in a book when I need to escape, to catch my breath before going back to the fray.  As a child my home life was turbulent and often unstable.  Books sustained me and the library was my refuge.  I never went in for the Nancy Drew novels of my girl friends.  Oddly enough, I liked to read encyclopedia and factual based writing.  Once I started writing my own fact-based work I started reading fictional work in earnest.

I missed most of my sixth year of grade school due to illness and a teacher's strike but it was the best year of my education.  That year I decided to read the reference library – or at least a whole shelf of it.  I started at Aeschylus, The Birds, from the Greek tragedies and read my way clear through to Zola.  I can still remember that B was for Baudelaire and C was for Chaucer, D for Darwin and Descartes and so on.  Did I understand it all?  Of course not.  Nor could I even pronounce some of it.  I remember being fascinated by the word hyperbole as in Shakespeare saying "he o'er shot the mark, 'tis hyperbole".  I thought it was pronounced as hyper-bowl, as if it were some new sport.

Usually, I am whimsical in what I choose to read - if it is not research.  I leave myself open to chance.  I buy books at church and charity sales or thrift shops and use open shelf distribution networks.  I like the idea of finding a book and leaving a book in exchange as in a literary version of karma.  On my last trip to England I found a lovely Margaret Atwood volume in a medieval church's book sale.  It was leather bound and had a ribbon marker.  I paid a song for it; took great delight in its sensual offerings and felt patriotic when I left it behind in my flat for the next resident.  I knew Margaret would have approved.  (When I met her as a student she was the most piss and vinegar person; I suspect she has since mellowed with age.)

I started this post with a quote from a book that I found in a free book spot outside a local cafĂ©.  Little did I know that a scant month after finishing that book I would be dealing with death one more time.  Odd, isn't it?  How when I tried to lose myself I instead found what I needed.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Sad News

Regretfully, I will be not posting a blog this week as I have had a death in the family and need to take some time off.