I'm pretty excited about "Check Residuals," an art installation I have been developing for several weeks. I see so many pieces and parts as I work methodically, never clear about where the process will lead, despite the appearance of order that happens. I'm left a bit on edge as the days pass while I move further from my starting point. It isn't until the parts begin to arrange themselves through newly formed relationships that could not have happened without going through this process, that I can begin to feel satisfaction.
These syringes are residual objects, left from tube feedings. I coated them with color that has now become a residual on their surfaces. They are parts for an installation I am working on for Physical Presence (A Dialog With Residual and Surrounding Space) a group installation show curated by Rachel Lachowicz.
When Rachel provided the title for her show it triggered, for me, a routine task of residual checking. To check residuals in science is an analysis of what has been left before making a decision to move forward. The specific task to check residuals in caretaking means to pull back on the syringe to evaluate the quantity and color of fluids left within the internal space of the gut. To check residuals is a repetitive action done several times a day just as I have repeatedly dipped these syringes. My intention is to create an interactive surrounding space that transcends this residual checking task while transferring its possibilities to those who enter the installation.
YEAR ONE At Castelli Art Space- A collaboration between Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata. Curator- Peter Frank
I had the good fortune to slip into Castelli Art Space in Los Angeles 24 hours after the opening reception for ‘Year One’, a collaboration of large paintings by Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata, curated by Peter Frank.
At first glance, the larger than life canvas drop-cloths adorned with paint daubs, gestural markings and ink shadows over raw cotton weave, appeared as if they were all segments of one screen cut apart and hung separately. But, that sort of read is a method of programming our brains use to identify information quickly; Neurons responsible for cognition take a snapshot and the quick read can render a moment far more shallow than it actually is.
I was surprised to have the space to myself. Well, almost. Director, Carlos Iglesias explained that the reception was the previous night and that he and Loren Philip were there to document and prepare for an upcoming write up. Both were gracious and didn’t mind my presence as I quietly moved among references of fragmented figures and frosted color. My retina flipped back and forth between surface dimensions and field depths. Some were real. Some were illusion. My first glance, snapshot was dissolved and replaced with various non-verbal conversations between two distinct hands.
Knowing nothing of these two artists was an advantage because I could experience the work without a back-story from either artist to steer my response. Having minimal room within the space to step back or between these large un-stretched panels, activated my perceptual vision so that it was just as charged as my direct vision. A sense of importance was evoked through the arrangement of the canvases that now included me, just for my being there at their feet. I was dwarfed like a child in a crowd curious about the details that surrounded me. It became apparent that these twelve paintings, as similar as they first appeared, were quite different from one another. In some pieces, the artists’ marks between line and block were polite social confrontations. But others were interruptions between two ends that poked back and forth, the way comfortable friends with opposite characteristics, break into each other’s sentences so that they become kindred and inseparable.
Sunday was All Saints Day. Similar to dios Los Muertos, it's a day to remember family members who have died, except that All Saint's Day is for those put to rest within the year and we don't throw the vibrant parties that take weeks of preparations. A year ago, last month, my mother and sister were buried in a shared grave. Last year we dropped two stones in the church water for them on All Saints Day although I hadn't submitted their names. So, this year, we added my sister's and my mother's names to the list of "Saints" that would be read off during service. Saintly-hood is subjective. If we are all broken, then who is deserving of such a title? What is a saint after-all? My daughter and I waited behind the last pew, while a small sect from the bell choir chimed with each name called. Families and friends who submitted names, stood when their deceased was called. Pastor Jen Strickland and Pastor Jacob Buchholz took turns reading names that were once said daily, but in these passings, would not be heard often. And one by one the hurting people walked down the center isle and plunked a small blue-glass stone into a translucent vase of water. The surnames were alphabetical. Renee and my mother would not be far apart from one another. I squatted and whispered to my daughter that it was a special day when we remember her Aunt and Grandma, knowing that her understanding of them came mostly from pictures and stories. Julius, who is filled with direct memories of them stayed in the pew with Lilac and his aide. I pointed to the names on the list for my daughter to follow along and when it was time, I stood, took her hand and we began our calm decent. The atmosphere was meditative, the bells chimed softly one at a time. The clunk of stone into water resonated in the air and our line of quiet people stepped forward down the center isle with wet eyes and heavy hearts. AJ noticed how the eyes of people in the pews followed her as we passed. Then she looked up at me and said, "Mamma, are we dead?"
A good friend of mine who lives in Saudi Arabia asked me about current topics/trends happening in art for potential phD studies. This was my response-
Well, right now what's getting so much attention is art and political propaganda related specifically to the White House, our current President and his relations. His face is everywhere- in satire drawings, on cakes at art receptions,* in oil paintings represented in very grotesque ways... As much as I disagree with the current administration and have a lot of dislike for Trump, I struggle with this sensational, slamming style of art making because I think much of this art, which is meant to oppose the current administration, is actually feeding into it and giving Trump even more power. When we look back on this time in art we will see that man's face everywhere and that disturbs me.
A similar thing happens to criminals-the most evil doers become famous. While their crimes need to be remembered, their faces should be erased from history.
Technology is also on the forefront of art and this takes many different forms from the materials themselves to the things that make the materials. Often, technology is compartmentalized to mean artificial advancements- like computer technology and robotics, but another area of technology is biologically based- gene mapping, DNA-nano fabrication.... It is now known that genes have note, pitch and duration- characteristics of music. Fascinating stuff.
*As for the face cake comment- In John Baldessari's work, he put colored circles over the faces of people he didn't want to see. I prefer this action to eating such a face on, in or of cake. I like cake :-)
Pretty awesome is my daughter- Today, a weekend day, we took on the challenge of finding a spot on the beach. What were we thinking? Challenge is amplified when one of your party uses a wheelchair for mobility AND head and trunk support. What this means is that we have to infiltrate the lifeguard stations to borrow and then transfer Julius from his manual, indoor wheelchair to a bubble-tired sand-roving beach wheelchair. I am ever so grateful when one is available. Chalk one point for California beaches. Still, with a body as "involved" as Julius' (this is how we articulate the level of severity for individuals with cerebral palsy) we still have to adapt the adapted beach chairs, which have no head rests, lateral supports or chest harnesses. So there I go about my way, tucking in a Styrofoam water board to increase the height of the backrest, tying a scarf around Julius' chest, stuffing rolled towels behind his neck. I removed all the bags from one chair and clamped them to the beach-buggie: Back pack, suction machine, sterile water, tube feeding bag. I slipped the strapped finger pulse oximeter around my neck, made more adjustments and off we went. Julius coughed. I grunted. The buggie doesn't move well on the concrete, but it's only a few yards to the sand from the lifeguard/security house so we managed, but had to maneuver around the red security truck stopped right in front of the transition. "Really?" I think to myself. We bumped down to the sinking sand. I was wearing tennis shoes rather than sandals because just last week I turned my ankle and need more support. I pushed forward full body angled to get all the thrust I could. My sight-line was obscured by the height of the board behind Julius' head.
Sure enough, Julius bumped quickly off the paddle board backing and I was disappointed with myself for not bringing something more functional for his head support. Already, I felt my ankle aching but I stepped along the side of the buggie to push my son back to center and tried again. The same thing happened. But this time I saw my daughter closely by kneeling in the sand diagonally to the right of us. "C'mere baby girl" I said flagging her over, "help hold your brother up." "Okay" she sings and jumps without hesitation to take on the task, pushing on him from the side, but she was no match for his dead weight and the swollen tires where too big for her to work around. "Come up here" I encouraged and she climbed up to her brother's lap facing outward like she's done dozens of times during our walks together. "Let's turn you around," I instructed facing her toward him with each leg straddling his hips. "Hold onto his shoulders tight now" and she's so sure she's got this, "Okay mommy!" But of course, even with her extra height for a two-and-a-half-year-old she doesn't have the physical strength to prevent her brother from slipping and she slipped along with him. Again I stopped and this time adjusted both of them.
Now, I can't imagine what we must have looked like to the congested bodies on the beach who were clearly not sure how to react, but finally a woman broke the barrier and asked if she could help. I knew she was a mother (must be mo-dar), "yes, please," I said truly thankful as my ankle had already begun throbbing. With her gesture, the staleness was broken and people began to snap to the reality that it was okay to step in. Another man came and MM, who was watching from a distance, dropped the beach load he was lugging to come help as well. Julius' little sister continued to do her part, holding her brother as best as she could. MM turned the buggie around and pulled going backwards towards the water, while another man helped and we two mothers supported the sides so both kids would stay centered. When we stopped at the first clearing big enough for us, I thanked the strangers for helping and little sis slid belly-down her brothers legs to run for her beach toys. She had no reflection, no judgement what-so-ever-about the feat that was just accomplished.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” This quote by the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche is very popular in America, even so over-used as to have become cliché. The quote works well because the word “stronger” is open for many interpretations.
I found a morphed version of Nietzsche’s quote that reads, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” Yes, that is also true. Traumatic experiences change and can even estrange people from others. They can also bring people together. From my encounters, the former dominates. Ultimately though, being made stranger still leads to greater strength in some way.
Last summer, during a multi-media art event at ARTSHARE LA, this amazing artist listened to people's life stories and turned them into songs. I was fortunate to be one of her story-people and was completely taken back by her interpretation of what I shared with her. Her name is Lauren Turk. Below are the lyrics to the song she wrote for me and Julius.
For 17 years I've been longing.
For 17 years, you've helped me through.
All my love goes to you.
And all your loves comes back into me, too.
I wish for you that you could touch the world.
I guess you do because you help me know myself.
Why, I don't know, life goes the way it goes.
What a gift to discover this special love.....I'm capable of.
I wish for you that you could touch the world,
I guess you do because you help me know myself.
I wish for you that you could change the world,
But I know you do because you help me change myself.
My mother was a difficult person to love, but that did not stop us from loving her. Her sister, Janie, who spent the most time with her over these past few years, caring for her and managing her estate, rose to the challenge, loving mom through the hardest time of my mother’s life when her independence was surrendered and her memories, many painful, pre-occupied her thinking.
What I miss the most about my mother is the sound of her singing and the way in which it made me feel grounded and safe and full of hope. She had an amazing voice, much bigger than her five-foot stature and she was happiest when she was lost in song.
But happiness did not come easily for my mother, who slipped in and out of depression throughout her lifetime. She was a person who held onto pain and lashed out at those who loved her most.
When my mother was fourteen-years-old, she was called to the school swimming pool where she was asked to identify her sixteen-year-old brother’s body. My uncle George, whom I would never meet, was an expert swimmer, an athlete on the school swim team. Mom argued with him earlier that same day and during their short spat she told her brother to drop dead. A couple of hours later, she stood over his lifeless body feeling responsible. She would have to tell their mother what had happened. And she would carry the guilt of her last words to her brother for the rest of her life.
The longer we live, the more pain we accumulate as disappointments and loss continue to wound us. Some people are better at letting go of these burdensome emotions and replacing them with good memories in the process of healing. Others, like my mother, are not. Still, in all my mother’s sharp confrontations that I witnessed both as a spectator and as a participant, she never wished pain or harm on anyone. The agonizing lesson from the death of her brother would never be forgotten.
As a matter-of-fact, and in spite of her hard edge, it is honest to say that my mother was a humanitarian. She fed anyone who visited our home, embraced people of all ethnicities and sexual orientation and never hesitated to make up a bed for whomever needed it. In her midlife, she bred and raised puppies into show dogs that she treated as children, assisting in the birth of newborn puppies and nurturing the old, retired animals until they passed. This made for a very lively scene in her home.
Above all, mom adored her grandbabies, showing off their photographs to anyone whose ears and eyes she could catch. And any time mom was stuck in a downward spiral, when she was in physical or emotional torment, stories of her grandchildren, their faces and their voices softened her, lessened her pain and brought her immediate happiness.
Aging may or may not be graceful as bodies fail, minds fade and filters dissolve. My mother never had much of a filter to begin with. Sometimes, this characteristic made her very funny. My Aunt Janie will share some of that with you [Janie caught my almost 79- year-old mother watching porn and when asked “what are YOU watching?!!” she was told, “I don’t know, but you’re paying for it.”...] Other times, it made mom difficult to say the least. We certainly never had to question what she was stirring up in her thoughts. Mom liked confrontation. Mom loved reaction. And that made her, a very animated story-teller.
The dinner table was never boring when I was a little girl. The meal was never quick. My parents sat for, what felt like hours, over our evening meals chatting, while my mother dominated many of the conversations. I was spellbound as I sank into the tales that my mother could tell so colorfully. The ones I remember most are the Biblical stories she told us. We were not religious. We did not attend Sunday mass. Still, my early teachings from the Bible came from my mother who had a falling out with the Catholic Church but did not let that stop her from sharing stories from the Bible with us around the dinner table. Her fall-out with the Church was due to a rejection she faced from the priest over her second daughter, my older sister Renee, who was born with Down Syndrome. Renee was denied communion due to her disability and my mother could not accept that refusal.
I want to share a remarkable thing my parents did when Renee was born, a detail that should not be forgotten as we say goodbye to mom today. It was 1959 when my mother gave birth to Renee. What she did next rose above all standards of the time. She and my father brought Renee home from the hospital and raised my sister just as they raised all of their five children. In 1959 this was not common. Couples that gave birth to disabled infants were more likely to transfer the care of their children to an isolated institution, as was recommended by healthcare professionals. Any agony felt was buried as these parents announced the “death” of their unacceptable child to family and community. I will, forever, be grateful to my mother and my father for this act of love and acceptance that would impact my life profoundly.
I was born after Renee and no one would ever partner my life and impress upon my heart for as long as my sister Renee did and continues to do today, even though I can no longer hold her in my arms or feel her little pat on my shoulder.
Renee shaped me more than my parents ever could. Renee gave me a voice when I thought I had none. Renee gave me courage; She taught me how to advocate and she reminded me over and over again that I was not alone even when I felt the most lonely. It’s hard for me to bring my sister back here and let her go a second time, but I have to tell you, this was not my idea. Renee’s ashes have been by my bedside since she passed in 2013 and I was fully invested in the commitment that my sister’s ashes would be buried along with mine. Then, one night a week or so ago, while sitting in my bed, feeling heavy with the loss of my mother, Renee’s ashes somehow told me they needed to go home. I was shocked. “What?” “Are you kidding me? We’ve been together for so long!” I said, I would think about it. I would sleep on it. I would talk with Janie and we would see….Maybe. Maybe.
Well, My mother will be buried next to her mother, my Grandma Alice, who died too young, leaving my mother with little children, a newborn and a son, not yet conceived.
My sister, Renee will be buried next to both of them. It is good. And Janie tells me of the many family members that we have resting at Holy Sepulchre. Our father is there too. It is where Renee’s remains belong.
Saying goodbye to our parents hurts. No matter how the relationships played out. As we say goodbye today I want to offer a gift to everyone here and especially to my family, a gift from my mother to you, if you will accept it. Let my mother and all those we have loved who have passed on before us, carry away the troublesome shortcomings, disappointments and pain that life dishes out. Let scars be smoothed today. Move forward loving deeply with grace and appreciation for the lessons our parents have taught us in whatever way they could.
Last night at an ArtBlitzLA discussion group, I learned something about an artist friend, Lara Salmon, that I hadn't known before. What I interpreted as shyness she defined as awkwardness. This was a reminder of how very different the same thing can be to different people. What I push to accomplish through object making, she wants to reach, solely, through performance. My relics are the medical materials I incorporate into my work and, then, the finished objects themselves, after the process is complete. Her relics are those concrete items she brings to her performances and the documentation in whatever format it takes. Both of us, have honed in on specificity of body, but her body (direct) is a conduit while my body (of work) acts more as a receiver for me.