Saturday, May 17, 2014

About the Process...

One of my students recently asked if I knew of any artists writing blogs about their process, which gave me the idea to share what's gone into creating my upcoming exhibit 'Spherical Harmonics' opening May 21st at Boston Sculptors Gallery.  For the record, BSG is a co-operative gallery run by 36 artist members.   Every 2 years each member has a solo exhibit... a great big space with high ceilings, blank walls, complete freedom and carte blanche to do whatever we wish.  

I'll admit, I didn't get off to a great start.  In fact, most times when I've finished installing a solo exhibit (typically having completed the work in the 11th hour) I feel a huge sense of relief mixed with the sinking feeling that I'll never be able to pull it off again.  It was time to start that process all over again.  Being faced with so much choice can be a bit overwhelming.  So, in January, when I sensed the clock ticking, I did what I typically do when I have an upcoming sculpture solo...  

Go back into my sketchbooks

Sketch new ideas
Revisit links of interest I've bookmarked for later 
Look through a stack of books I keep for ideas and inspiration
Sketch ideas more
Make a list of things I'm curious about and would like to explore 
Think and write about the overall 'gestalt' of the exhibit
List materials I want to work with
Sketch ideas some more

I see this process as mining the well, priming the pump, putting on my sculptors thinking cap and looking at the world with 'What am I going to create for this exhibit?' eyes. Usually something clicks, I finally sketch something out and that's it, that's the show, that's what I'm going to do.  Then I go right to the materials.  I don't necessarily know all that I'm going to do but I 
at least know what I'll create for one of the pieces and trust that the ideas will continue to come.   

I had loads of possible ideas for this exhibit.  Some of them were either too complicated, required too much engineering, were too expensive or simply just didn't excite me.

It wasn't until I ran across this image while Googling 'Quantum Physics' that the spark was ignited. In a nutshells these patterns show a cross section of Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals, where at their nucleus the proton can be found. The dots clusters are density plots where the electron is likely to be found in it's ground state (1s) and excited states. Though I was interested in the fact that hydrogen atoms are the building blocks for life and constitute about 75% of the elemental mass of the universe, I was more intrigued with the sheer beauty found at the atomic level, following an orderly natural system as familiar to us as the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Mean. 
That image, combined with the fact that my husband and I would soon be driving from Maine to Key West, for an exhibit of his, and knowing that I'd be spending 10-12 hour days as a passenger with nothing to do but...  roll balls!  I'd roll by day and lay the balls in rows in our hotel room to dry at night.  My goal was to roll 200 balls out of clay a day and at the end of a 2 1/2 day drive down and another 2 1/2 day drive back I had my first 1000 balls made.           

Upon my return I rolled another 2000 clay balls, drilling holes in them and firing them so they could later be hung on the wall.  It was during this batch that I started to question my decision and asked myself what the heck I'd gotten myself into.  At 200 balls a day, it took me another 2 full weeks to get to a total of 3000.   Instead of dreading the repetitiveness, I started to looked at the process as a opportunity for mediation and often listened to audio books about mindfulness.

The balls didn't start out to be red and black.  I first spray painted them all in groups of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.  After painting nearly all of them, I decided that the palette was all wrong for the theme, too playful, not serious enough, and spray painted them all over again to be black and red.  My neighbors, the mail carrier and the UPS driver, I'm sure, all questioned what in tarnation I was doing for weeks on end in my driveway, spray painting balls.  I know the cashiers at Utrecht had me pegged for a graffiti artist as I kept returning for my favorite spray paint, Montana Gold.  

Next it was off to buy sheets of 1/2" baltic birch plywood and lay out the balls, arranging them in the patterns of Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals.  I cut the plywood in the outer shapes of the orbitals, painting them a light grey, the color of the gallery walls, so the plywood would blend in with the wall.    

Next, the baltic birch was hung and I pounded nails where each ball would hang.  

Still, wanting to be sure I had enough balls (no giggling here) I hung all of the baltic birch cutouts on the walls and did a 'test installation' to get a sense of what the exhibit would look like. 

During this process of creating the orbital patterns I was simultaneously working on a kinetic sculpture composed of a 25 foot line of 100 lead balls to be hung from the 12 foot ceiling at Boston Sculptors.  The idea was to connect the hanging balls vertically and allow the viewers engage the sculptures motion by wagging the end balls, creating a wave of motion.

The guys at New England Marine first thought I was seriously into fishing when I went there to order 100 20 ounce lead sinkers, but became interested and very helpful when I described my idea for a kinetic sculpture. Since I need so much space and just the right height ceilings, I actually won't get a chance to see this sculpture complete until I install it in the gallery.  I'm crossing my fingers that I don't pull the ceiling down from the weight and motion of this piece.  

I gather that when the exhibit is up, no one will envision the endless hours of ball rolling, both in my van on the road to Key West or in my studio with my mindfulness meditation audio books playing.  Nor will they imaging me in my vapor barrier mask, ripped jeans and ratty, flannel work shirt spray painting 3000 balls in my driveway. Nor will they know I lay awake in the wee hours many nights, worrying about the gallery ceiling falling down in the middle of my opening reception.  I hope instead that viewers take away an appreciation for the beauty and order of mathematical functions and a simple, tangible way of seeing science in a different light.  I hope they will give the line of 100 lead balls a wag and see 'Wave Line' do it's thing. And lastly, I hope to remind myself that I pulled it off again, and that I should trust in the power of creativity and that the next time I'm faced with blank walls and the opportunity to create with total freedom and choice, the ideas will come again.   

Spherical Harmonics 
Boston Sculptors Gallery
May 21-June 22
Reception May 31, 2-5pm
First Friday, June 6, 5-8pm

Gallery Hours:  Weds-Sun, 12-6pm


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Back from Peru

Thanks to Boston Sculptors Gallery member Nora Valdez, many BSG members had the recent opportunity to travel to Peru and exhibit at the Qorikancha Museum in Cusco.  Nora not only established the connection for all of us, but curated and orchestrated all the details of the international exhibit.  Several sculptors created their work in Peru and some, myself  included, choose to create work ahead, allowing time to explore the Sacred Valley and do a two day trek to Machu Picchu.

I've been wanting to visit Peru and especially Machu Picchu for almost 2 decades now, so I saw this as my chance.  Here are some highlights.   

After flying into Lima on Jan 24th, we flew to Cusco, elevation 11,200 ft, and spent the day acclimatizing by drinking coca tea and sleeping.  I learned that no one, especially this sea level dweller, is immuned to altitude sickness and it's best to allow plenty of time to adjust, especially before even modest physical exertion.  By Sunday, Jan. 26th, Christos, my husband and favorite travel partner in life and on land, and I took the local bus to Pisac to visit the market.  Every day, locals sell and trade their produce and handmades but Sunday is the best.  

Peru's third biggest source of revenue is agriculture, after tourism and mining, and there's no shortage of fresh food.  This market far exceeded any farmers market I have even seen.  

We learned quickly that nothing is priced and you can expect to haggle over everything from a taxi ride to a bag of potatoes.  

I could not resist buying some natural dyes, all from local plants, seeds, insects and moss and fixed with salt, lime, alum, acid, and urine.

We wandered the streets of Pisac a bit and made our way,  

again on the bus packed with locals, to Ollantaytambo.  

These are some of the local taxis, souped up motorcycles really, that buzz the streets taking locals and tourists short distances.  Each on had it's own personality.  

We got lucky and found a great place to say, the Hotel Iskay, where we could hear the river babbling.  A good nights rest and off to visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo the next day.   

Here's a view of Ollantaytambo looking down from the Inca ruins where the land was terraced and irrigated to yield a variety of fruits and vegetables.  

What's remarkable is that the stones fit precisely, with no mortar and are interlocking to prevent seismic shift.  

This site at Ollantaytambo was built in the mid-15th century as a ceremonial site but never finished due to the Spanish invasion of 1532.

The Sun Temple or Wall of Six Monoliths was most impressive due to the size of the fitted stones having been carried on roads, ramps, and slides from a quarry 5 km away...

and the way the Incas created complex irrigation systems to redirect water for drinking, bathing, growing and livestock.

Speaking of sustaining life, we had worked up an appetite, climbing the ruins, so I decided to try my first Alpaca burger.  

As for Peruvian cuisine, which we quite enjoyed, llama is also popular, as is chicken, ceviche (raw seafood or fish mixed with lime juice and pepper) and guinea pig (bottom left in the case).  

After lunch we took the local bus to Urubamba, not a touristy town at all but a working town, which also had a great indoor market.  

The colors were a photographers dream!

And the streets were alive with people shopping, selling, working, and on the move.  

After a good nights rest, we traveled by bus to Chinchero, land of the weavers, at 12,343 ft.

At the Center for Traditional Textiles in Chinchero we visited a co-operative where woman demonstrate their craft and sell their exquisite work.

Below you'll see woman using a back loom and weaving indigenous patterns, each indicative of the village they are from.  

We also learned how the women use local plants, herbs, insects, to make dyes for the alpaca yarn.  

That's a guinea pig house in the back, which they keep as pets, till a special day comes along like Christmas or a birthday, then it's meal time for guinea.  

Woman have their small children with them always.  We found Peru to be a very family centered culture.  That's yarn she'd dying.  

While in Chinchero we also visited a church, museum and more ruins.

Peruvians are quite enterprising and will approach you with anything to make a sol.  1 american dollar equals about 2.8 soles.  Everything is quite inexpensive to USA standards.  

This small museum had wonderful examples of large ceramic vessels for carrying water on ones back.  

Even though it was/is the rainy season in the Andes of Peru, we managed to escape the entire trip without getting wet.  Back to Cusco to set up the exhibit, give an artist talk and get packed for the trek to Machu Picchu.


Our guide Xavier, with Llama Path tours, picked us up at 5am in Cusco and we made our way by bus then train along the Rio Urubamba to the beginning of our two day trek along the Inca Trail.  Xavier was a wealth of information and shared with us info about Inca history, local flora and fauna, architecture, culture and the Incan beliefs.  

Left to right:  Altin, Roz, Laura, Christos, me, George, Nancy, Hannah and Jessica

Here's the trekking gang!  Not only were we fortunate to have Xavier as our guide, but we stayed dry, had no injuries and all kept the same pace.

At the end of our first day of hiking we got our first view of Machu Picchu.  Since it was the end of the day, all the tourists were gone and we had the rare opportunity to see it without the crowds.  

After a night of hot springs, a good meal and a comfy hotel in Aguas Calientes, we returned the next morning to a magical and misty Machu Picchu to explore for the day.  

Pictures don't even come close to how awesome Machu Picchu (old peak) is.  Christos and I thought we'd make our own peak by taking a little yoga break before heading back down to town to join the group, meet out train, then bus, then van on the journey back to Cusco.   

Our last full day was finishing up the installation for our exhibit Visions/VisiĆ³nes at the Qorikancha Museum.

The Qorikancha is an archaeological site in and of itself and it was a true honor to have work in such a special site.  As you can see from the open courtyard above, it's an open air museum and Boston Sculptors work, along with other invited South American sculptors work, is exhibited throughout the second level.

Artifacto, wax, dye, steel, 72"x96"

In one way or another each artists work was inspired by something Peruvian. My work above, was inspired by Inca artifacts such as pottery, shall pins, knives, tweezers, mace, weaving tools, and hair ornaments recovered at Machu Picchu by archaeologist Hiram Bingham on his expedition in 1912.

Qorikancha Museum show features artwork by the following artists from the Boston Sculptors Gallery: Caroline Bagenal, Kim Bernard, Murray Dewart, Donna Dodson, Rosalyn Driscoll, Laura Evans, Peter DeCamp Haines, Michelle Lougee, Nancy Winship Milliken, Andy Moerlein, Nancy Selvage, Liz Shepherd, Jessica Straus, Nora Valdez, Hannah Verlin and Joseph Wheelwright alongside notable South American artists such as: Ronald Alvan, Pablo Yactayo, Jacob Sulca, Persi Narvaez, Ivan Tovar, Victor Zuniga, Luis Angulo y Gianfranco Yovera, Carlos Bardales and Xavier Cano.  

The work will be on view through March 30th, 2014.