As a relative newcomer to Facebook, I am still exploring its many and varied facets. One that I have known about for a while is that you can play SCRABBLE on line via this interface. A while back my friend Dale had invited me to play with her, but my limited understanding of how to get this going took me a while to engage.
Until this week.
I have been inside all week with a virus, and therefore finding perfect couch and Kleenex time to play. I now have games going with Dale (who, incidentally turns out to be a barracuda that beats me most of the time), my daughter, several anonymously numbered people, and a cat named Janet. Janet is also beating me, and I think it's because a lot of the words are in cat language. Words such as "ur" and "ch" are denoted as acceptable, but not ipad, which is clearly a word since I am playing SCRABBLE on it.
Maybe I will have to get a cat.
I started this a while back and am reminded to finish it by the recent opening of the Clarington Museums exhibition Rediscovering Identity: The Power of Photography. This is a multi dimensional exhibit that allows visitors to explore many facets of the medium, its mechanics as well as its history. Local artists were asked to interpret a photograph from the archives, so several IRIS members jumped at the chance to do some portraiture and I chose a photograph of what I assume to be two sisters, dressed to the nines and looking a little nonplussed.
Special guest speaker at the opening was Steven Frank, who spoke about the history of photography, and showed some 19C - early 20C artifacts such as a stereoscope, wonderful leather bound album, and postcard book.
Photographer Jean Michel Komarnicki recently commented that it isn't a photograph until it's printed, and that got me thinking about our existences within Walter Benjamin's famous age of mechanical reproduction. We are rapidly moving out of this era as the evanescent digital age overtakes us, and as the majority of images that we capture never become hard copy.
As JMK pointed out, technological changes as well as material degradation of discs may make digital records unreadable in time. And how about those rapidly fading colour prints from the 1960s? Artists are still, of course creating photographs, mostly printed digitally, but with archival considerations. But the family photos that record so much of daily life, special events, travels etc. are mostly shown on screens rather that stored in albums. It is noteworthy, as Frank mentioned, that when disaster destroys peoples' homes the victims invariably mention the loss of those family albums. They tell the stories of our lives and become the stories that are remembered.
But they are going.
The earliest extant photograph is believed to be "View from the Window at Le Gras" by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. So figuring that by 2025 or so there won't be any more family albums, we can look at this two hundred year period as the age of the photograph. While the latter 20th century will have the richest repository of printed memories, it is possible to look at pictures taken before 1900 and gain a sense of how people dressed, celebrated, wanted themselves to be recorded. Those long exposure times invite an equally long examination of the images.
Will future generations have this privilege?
If you are on my Christmas card list be forewarned that I am regifting the cards and such that come daily in an endless deluge from various charities. Some of these are from organizations that a) I have donated to in the past; b) I haven't donated to ever; and/or c) I have never heard of. At first I recycled them, thinking that it would be wrong to imply that I am in fact a donor to the International Brotherhood of Psoriasis Patients (IBPP) or the Drop-in Centre for XXX. But they keep coming. Each day there was a new package declaring "a gift for you!" and after a while it begins to seem brutish to simply keep the paper moving off into the blue box.
So I have them in a pile, thinking that my grandchildren could play with them. But more have arrived, and more and more. And there are also fancy stickers, and name tags, and gift tags, and printed envelopes.
I don't want to be mean or cheap but at a certain point it becomes an issue of waste. They are usually nice cards with charming images, and not bad cardstock. Each year I send a mix of cards left over from the year before and cards that I buy new. And I am noticing that sometimes we get the same card as we did the year before from others, so I have likely done that too.
Hence the good news is that this year all of the cards will be new ones. And I might be expanding my Christmas card list.
And as they say on TV, the opinions expressed on this card will not necessarily be those of the sender.
Toni Hamel: The lingering
14 September - 24 November 2013
at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa Canada
Given a long run and two galleries at RMG suggests the importance that the curators attribute to this artist and the thematic direction of her work. Hamel's graphically strong drawings and installations present a forceful narrative on the complications of domestic life in general as well as the psychologically repressive nature of carrying out artistic endeavours on the home front. While this is a feminist story told many times, the necessity for retelling still exists.
Hamel delivers a powerful , highly skilled discourse, with content that avoids polemic with dark, subtle humour. The hand of the artist is present, as is the idea of women working with their hands. So-called housewifely tasks are shown in bizarre parody, as images of 1950s style "homemakers" carry out various housekeeping duties that subvert notions of domesticity and underscore its often constricting nature. Women's hands are at work building a nest, decorating an enormous peacock then cheerfully taking it to market in a wheelbarrow, digging in the garden for hearts, working on a child's costume, slicing bread, and so on. Women are shown working together, looking out into a larger world to which there is only imaginary access.
Thread and twine are employed throughout, providing a fitting metaphor for gendered constraints. It is also used to extend, accentuate, enhance the finely detailed figurative work on paper and canvas, to define/confine the walls from which one thousand cranes fly forth, to make a cascade of hair that a woman irons industriously, or suggest the skeletal structure of wings that release a kitchen chair from its base where so much domestic work is done.
The iconic house image appears in thread in small drawings such as "Attachments" where a woman mows an imaginary lawn, her machine's cord umbilically attached to the house. In other works the thread is a line pulled out of one picture plane into another. In a drawing of a photograph of a woman hanging clothes on a line, a passing bird pulls the clothesline beyond the photo into a freer space. Less whimsically, red thread sews shut a woman's mouth.
While the main floor Alexandra Luke Gallery showcases the artist's exquisitely drawn wall works and three major canvas installations, an ascent to the upper gallery immerses one in a world of origami cranes escaping from six houses, into a central nest-like construction made from twigs. An accompanying sound piece of bird cries, gentle whistling, soft giggles, and a beautiful Chopin Nocturne (#9) permeates both exhibition spaces. (audio by Peter Nelis) There is unabashed femininity expressed in the aural and visual content, underscoring the multi-faceted nature of femaleness and of feminism.
In general there is a tendency for us to engage in a cognitive dissonance about the role of women within the domestic sphere. There is a comfort level in homemaking that ignores the toll which it has taken in limiting women's lives. Some feminist theory re-evaluates the hand work of women as integral to oral narrative, as safe spaces for discussions, for storytelling, for continuation of a particular cultural environment, for sharing skills, ideas inside a private sphere. However it is clear from the surreal nature of many of the tasks being done by these smiling, busy women that Hamel's intent is to question the validity of repetitive and often meaningless work or, at least, work that is done at the expense of women having richer more creative lives.
In her book of essays titled SILENCES, author Tillie Olson mourns the silences‑‑ the literary works unwritten or unpublished because of difficult circumstances and biased ... practices. In The lingering Hamel illustrates the issue with biting humour, skill and warmth.
I grew up in a subdivision where we had some Hungarian neighbors. One was my best friend Helen. Whenever I meet someone with any however remote connection to Hungarian-ness I feel compelled to tell them this, along with several other facts such as that I can count and sing in Hungarian, and say a few other words. Without any encouragement I will start in describing the magnificent family picnics I would get invited to, the food that was gradually replacing our previously wasp fare, and what I perceive to be the final kicker, that my cousin had a Hungarian-style wedding since English ones were so dull in comparison. Sometimes I tell until my audience starts to back away. I do know not to follow and continue, although it is tempting.
But those picnics! To perpetually starving adolescents they were the most amazing of feasts, where all of Helen's relatives contributed enormous amounts of breaded veal and chicken, mountains of potato salad, cabbage rolls, barbecued meats, cakes, little pastries rolled in nuts and sugar, plums, peaches, of course watermelon. Much of this was homemade and home grown in those wide and treeless subdivision lots.
We would play in the warm Lake Erie waves, look for fossils along rocky Morgan's point, then go back for more food. I was a big eater for a skinny kid, and one time, on the way home, Helen's family were joking about this, or maybe just mentioning whether anyone was still hungry, and it came up that there was one veal chop left and would anyone want it. The car was stopped and it was retrieved from the trunk for me to eat. That became one of their family stories that, once I got older, would make me shrink with embarrassment at the telling.
The labour market and climate in the Niagara peninsula must have been a major attraction for people coming from Hungary where they could grow the old country fruits and veg. Some were newcomers after the Hungarian revolution in the 50s but the ones we knew were mostly first and second generation families. Nagy and Szabo was as common as Smith and Jones.
Everyone had a garden, and everyone made wine. Our neighbour also had a
still but we were supposed to keep that a secret.
Helen's stepfather John had emigrated more recently, in retrospect he had clearly had a different past life than factory work. He had paintings in the basement, and on summer evenings the crickets and frogs would be upstaged by his haunting mandolin. Language was a barrier - he would grin at us and say things like "Sonofagun" as he polished and polished his car. There was a swing, that he would sometimes push us on, terrifyingly high.
When my friend came out of gawky adolescence as quite the beauty, boys started calling her. This would be when John's old country values took over. One memorable event was when he told a would-be suitor to fuck off, then slammed the telephone down. The cultural mashup between old and new is always hard. I am sure it gets played out over and over, but at the time it was pretty shocking. For one thing, fuck off hadn't made its way off the streets and into the common lexicon yet.
There was hard work and the struggle of upward mobility while still maintaining the old values. Everyone helped - both parents had factory jobs and older daughter looked after the little ones. This is how I learned things like "Don't touch that" and "go home you dirty pig" as my friend's little siblings were her constant shadow. Despite outside work, her mother still made soup stock with cordon bleu clarity, rows of preserves including peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes, dill pickles. Peaches had to be arranged in the mason jar with rounded halves facing out, perfectly nestled to be beautiful through the glass.
The house was also kept impeccably clean. If we walked on a carpet Helen would brush the nap back with her hand to erase our footsteps. We didn't play inside, but I have a clear and happy memory of the two of us playing Monopoly on a blanket in the yard, and her mother bringing out a huge bowl of cherries for us.
My memories from this time are all summer ones. We climbed trees in a nearby orchard, we jumped in the hay in somebody's barn. We played in the construction sites where the subdivision was expanding. We rode our bikes.
Over the years we have lost touch, but I often imagine Helen as Baba, telling her stories of the white bread English families and their goings on.
I have been wrestling with the keyboard on my laptop since I got it
last spring, and this is actually a test to see if there is a happy ending...
The curser would jump all over the place making typing a constant exercise in
craziness, and the more I investigated this problem through the various help
sites the more complicated it seemed. Some suggestions included disabling the
mouse pad, but have you ever tried to find out how to do this through the search
function in Windows 8?
My daughter also had a new laptop (different brand) and was having the
same problem. Eventually she simply attached an external keyboard. So today I
set out to do the same thing, and ended up at Future Shop where one of the
youngsters showed me another way.
Those function keys at the top have little blue pictures on them, and
it turns out that they can be activated via the function button at the bottom.
There is one with a picture of a mouse pad and a tiny hand pointing to how to
turn it off. So now my mouse pad is off, and so far the only wildly erratic
typing happening is by me.
well la de da!
Native American Art
As a student I did a project on Navajo sand painting. As I remember, a healing process takes place over several days, where a patient sits in a hogan while a lengthy ritual is carried out by the medicine man. The oral component has been compared to one person singing all of the parts in an opera. Along with this is the making of a sand painting invoking mythical religious figures and their stories. A principal goddess is Changing Woman, and her images have remained in my memory.
Changing Woman grows old and
young again with the seasons. She represents the power of the earth and of women to create and sustain life.
I always thought that there was a strong resemblance to our modern hydro towers, and that a comparison of the function of each would be artistically and philosophically interesting. It would be richly ironic with commentary on environmental issues. It would not involve appropriation, and be visually quite entrancing. There was never quite the opportunity to develop this thought into something fruitful. Or at least not by me.
And then again I am not Navajo, so there's that.
So this little blog.
is a much bandied word - the Creative Economy, creative dance, creative accounting, how-to-books on enhancing creativity, and so on. At every turn we are exhorted to be creative, and if you are working in so called creative fields there are inspirational pushes and prods available, as well as examples of how
famously creative people managed to do their work. But actually there's the operative word -- work. Getting down to it. Making time even when there isn't inspiration at hand. There are always great ideas floating around but most of them can only be realized through a committed, focused and determined application of whatever talents or other means one has available.
Can there be creativity without focus? I look around my studio at remnants of many writing and visual art projects, ideas explored and then sent to the back burner, pieces from past exhibitions and future ones. Research materials, books, books and more books. The bulletin board in front of my computer contains
-- family photos
-- a Bad Girls Book Club postcard and a group pic of the group that I belong to
--a yellowing article on "How to recover accidentally deleted files"
--a phone list for IRIS members
--a quote from Atwood's Journals of Susanna Moodie on an old recipe card. It says:
in this area where my damaged
knowing of the language means
prediction is forever impossible
-- A sign that says RADICALUNCERTAINTY and another with inhale/exhale. Both are seasons greetings from Lynn and Ric.
--Some health appointment cards, hopefully for the future, although I did miss one of them.
--Quite a nice invitation from RMG for something that took place last September.
And that's the top layer.
Whether all of it inspires creativity is questionable.
Darwin, Worms, etc.
Who knows why our interest gets captured? I say that I have nothing good to read and Laura Hair mentions David Quammen. Unable to find the exact book she had read, I pick up his book on Darwin and that starts it off. Something shows up on public television, then there is Darwin's book on worms, and a lecture series from Stanford available on YouTube. And so on. So I am in a state of mind where everything seems to point to Charles Darwin.
There is so much that is interesting, and so easy to go all didactic on it, but I have to say a few things about this curious fascinating man. His theory on natural selection was revolutionary of course, but also of interest is just his wide and detailed attention to all sorts of things, his family life where his beloved wife had a
deep religious belief that he obviously did not share, his hypochondria along with bouts of real illness that was never fully identified and weirdly treated, the letters he wrote constantly, often asking politely for biological samples from travelers. He was on the Beagle in his twenties, but after that he didn't actually go into the field, and yet accumulated mountains of research that supported his theories. He lived with his large family at Down House in Kent. Support from his well-to-do father was the source of income, so when he was well he was free to explore his many interests.
I was able to get his study of earthworms and am finding it a wonderful read, especially because of a sense of his voice coming through. It's a slim, dog-eared little thing with a torn front cover, unearthed for me in the library stacks. In relentless detail he describes his experiments that lead to his conclusion that worms have more intelligence than, say, ants, that their enormous appetites produce castings that till the earth over and over, that only sick worms wander about during daylight, and other intriguing tidbits. He is
sometimes quite funny, for example, he describes the different manner in which worms in a protected container in his lab cover their burrows, in contrast to those in their natural habitat. The ones that have it easier are "slovenly" in making their burrow entrances. He cuts paper into triangles to see how worms would pull variously shaped leaves inside to block their entrances, and concludes that they can figure out the shape and therefore which end should be pulled to block the hole most effectively, unlike ants that stupidly pull and pull across something that could simply be turned sideways and easily pulled in.
The US is at the low end in a graph outlining global belief in evolution, right down at the bottom with Bulgaria and Turkey.
Darwin solidified his rejection of religion upon the death of his ten-year-old daughter Annie.
He was a homebody, - played two games of backgammon with his wife every day.
The publication of his On the Origin of the Species was hurried along by his publisher when it seemed that
a paper on evolution was coming out by Alfred Russel Wallace. After a flurry it was agreed that the first paper would be co-written since their theories had been arrived at independently. High drama in scientific circles. It didn't make much of a splash at first.
His last book was the one on worms and it was a best seller.
Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of
His Theory of Evolution (Great Discoveries); W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN 978-0-393-32995-7)
 The formation of vegetable mould,
through the action of worms, with observations on their habits.
Back from the north country, upstate New York in the Adirondacks at Saranac Lake. I am participating in an exhibition inspired by an old piano that weathered away outside the art centre. I watched it get more and more interesting over many visits to this wonderful place, as did several others who are exhibiting in this group show. Participating artists are John LaFalce, Larry Poole, Tom Lascell, Eleanor Sweeny and me, with printmaking, photography, sculpture, and manipulated photo transfers. My work is mixed media on canvas.
BluSeed is an artist's dream, with concerts, gallery exhibitions, studios for a variety of art practices, and residency programs. There is an innovative papermaking studio that is holding an exchange with artists from Mexico. Once a few years ago they had artists making paper from military fatigues.
I was lucky to have Jan Prebble from IRIS as a travelling companion. The six-hour drive to Saranac takes us near Fort Drum and through many little towns. There is both a sense of woodsy remoteness and also the military presence with its economic benefits. This is beautiful rugged country, and always exciting to me when we climb and climb until we are seeing mountains, and then eventually, over a hill and down into the village itself, once deemed the best little small town in America. Once famous as a treatment centre for tuberculosis, its recent claim to fame was when the residents raised money to open their own department store in order to buy basic things locally. The sense of community here is palpable, and BluSeed appears to be integral to this.
As luck would have it, one of the frames I had ordered was the wrong size (my fault)'. But Jan rolled up her sleeves, determined to make me another one, and after some BluSeed help, I had a frame! This so far beyond my abilities or expectations that I was blown away.