Sewing the Sea Blanket and Strange Simultaneity
H&R Block Artspace, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO, 2000-02
Sewing the See (Sea) Blanket: An action and its residue, posidonie (eroded seaweed root collected on the Mediterranean seacoast near Marseille), thread, needles, baskets of sorted materials, table and chair.
Strange Simultaneity: 45 minute video projection composed of intercut images filmed in Cassis, France and Kansas City, Missouri between September 2000 and October 2002.
Strange Simultaneity is a video that creates a context for the action of Sewing the See (Sea) Blanket. Collecting to make the blanket itself, began two years ago while I was on sabbatical in the south of France. I had proposed to the Carmargo Foundation in the village of Cassis, near Marseille, that I would make work from long walks. In my proposal I wrote "During these walks I will engage in a kind of heightened perception as a guide to finding "material" for my work. My aim is to take notice of the surroundings with an intensity that is simultaneously purposeful and playful. On these walks I will collect fragments from industrial production, shore detritus, nests, plants and earth pigments. I may derive images from flora, fauna, geologic or architectural structure. I would like to be a generative force in a complex conversation about the world. The dialogue begins with my own feet walking, my own muscles working, my eyes seeing, my lungs breathing and my hands making - myself as a sensing, creating body.
For years I have been strangely compelled by collecting and have felt that this activity must be, or become, part of my making process as a sculptor. I have felt that I could get my hands around this idea easily, but not my mind. It was only after reading and rereading the poetry of Mary Oliver that I began to get a glimpse of where my collections might lead me. Almost all of Mary Oliver's poems are written from her intense daily experiences with the world. She has held a praying mantis on her hand and watched its jaws move; she has played Mahler to a mockingbird and later received a gift in bits of Mahler mixed into the bird's song. I slowly began to realize that human perception, especially as related to pace, place and quality of absorption, was entirely significant to me. I would like to make sculpture and drawings generated by amplifying, intensifying and abstracting ordinary phenomena, things there for everyone to see, but so woven into the fabric of the everyday that they are not usually noticed.
The psychology of collecting - who does it? why? what does it mean? -is part of the work. Issues of chance and accident come into play when I consider walking as my means of locating sources. David Abram, in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, writes of phenomenologists Heidegger, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. These philosophers have helped me see my work in a larger and more stimulating context. Husserl's concepts of the lifeworld and intersubjective phenomena, for example, relate closely to my process. The lifeworld as that "world of our immediately lived experience, as we live it, prior to all our thoughts about it...The lifeworld that is "the world we count on without paying much attention, the clouds overhead and the ground underfoot, of getting out of bed and preparing food and turning on the tap for water"...and "intersubjective phenomena" as "the common field of our lives and the other lives with which ours are intertwined, (that) is profoundly ambiguous and indeterminate since our experience of this field is always relative to our situation in it."* From Merleau-Ponty "the complex interchange that we call language is rooted in the non-verbal exchange always already going on between our flesh and the flesh of the world. The perceptual reciprocity between our sensing bodies and the animate, expressive landscape both engenders and supports our more conscious, linguistic reciprocity with others...Human languages, then, are informed not only by the structures of the human body and the human community, but by the evocative shapes and patterns of the more-than-human terrain". * Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
I am interested, then, in the relationship between nature and culture; a relationship that includes the earth, the body as a sensing-self, language, and the artist's potential to construct meaning through a process of participating with and within these systems. Today we participate primarily with human-made technologies. When considered in the context of our long-standing relationship with the earth, it seems we are engaging in a delicate balancing act.
In making the work I want to meld, not only forms, materials and memory, but also process with product, accident with intentionality, and playfulness with seriousness. I seek to construct my work through intense and labor-ous (though not laborious) processes in much the same manner as we are all laboring to form our lives into sites of significance and meaning. Paul Valery notes that "When nature wishes to turn out a hard article of set shape, a support, a lever, a brace, an armor plate; or when it aims to produce a tree trunk, a femur, a tooth or a tusk, a skull or a sea shell, it works in the same indirect way: it takes the liquids or fluids from which all organic matter is made, and slowly separates out the solid substances it needs." My process, too, would be to slowly separate out the things I need to form my work within the multi-layered context of the world.
This work has to do with seeing and conversing with the world we live in, and with making as a way of seeing and conversing with the world. As an artist who is also committed to teaching, I would like my work to pose questions and provide meaning for others. As we ramble around on the earth imagining, inventing, reinventing, abstracting, sharing and in the process taking our ideas miles into the stratosphere and deep into subatomic depths, can we return again to the grounding of the earth? Artists, poets, philosophers, scientists, theoreticians have done it since before time was recorded.