Thursday, August 25, 2016

Caterpillars in the Garden

In our last episode of Caterpillars in the Garden, we had swallowtails on our parsley in 2008. Hoping to attract them again, I faithfully kept a parsley patch, but nobody came. The parsley has migrated around the backyard: jumped the stone walkway, hidden under the picnic table, and I gave up. I don't have any control over who comes to grow there, but I do still have hope. Last year we saw one caterpillar; the next day it was gone.

In the first episode, two caterpillars made it to the chrysalis stage. We could tell when they were going to emerge because the chrysalis became transparent and we could see the folded wings inside! A young family was visiting the day the first one was ready. I kept calling the girl over until finally we watched it emerge. She, in the age of the single digits,  was both impatient and did not seem that impressed. I, in middle age, who had never seen this event before, was excited. There should be a word for when you know you've witnessed something important and rare and the person next to you takes it for granted. It's not quite wistful or knowing or disappointed or eager or nagging or demanding or delighted or awestruck or wonderfilled. But some kind of combination.

At the time, I made a book about it. Unfortunately, I didn't make very many. It was called Those Who Wait Can Walk Through Walls. It's a simple folded X-book, with a few alterations, tucked into a folded chyrsalis-shaped-window envelope. You have to peek inside to read the text. (photo: Sibila Savage)

Last week, I examined the parsley for the millionth time. The caterpillars are showing up again. This one came first, living on a renegade parsley between two pots by the picnic table. (Taken with a magnifying lens)

I found two later, and they are younger, judging from their instar stage. Here is one. (magnified also)

It's so nice to think about something aside from the news. We hope the story begins again.  But we don't have any control over certain aspects of nature. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 22, 2016

New Book Art: The Catch

My goal: an inexpensive book using a structure I would be willing to make about forty times. The Woven Accordion is an easy eight-panel accordion with two long slits horizontally down the center, six cards woven through the slits. I would print the six cards from one linoleum block so that I could rotate the block and be able to have something different on the front and back. To highlight this, I would print in reddish purple on one side, purplish red on the other. And so I did.

The Woven Accordion works like a Jacob's Ladder, but, being made out of paper, it catches a bit and must be helped and worked by hand, more like a flexagon than the child's toy. Each card looks like a face card from a playing card deck, but instead of Queen both rightside up and upside down, she is paired with King on one card, Jack on another; Jack and King also share a card. The book fits in the palm of your hand.

The Catch has six letterpress printed words from handset type, and you can only see one set at a time before you have to manipulate the book. "Called one name / known by another" is that text. Other text within mentions how a wooden 2 x 4 is really 1 1/2 x 3 1/2, and this text is printed from the carved block and appears on the cards. The book measures 2 x 4 inches. The images on the cards are 1 1/2 x 3 1/2. Yeah, a little conceptual.

The Catch is now available at nevermindtheart on Etsy and will be at my table at the SF Zine Fest on September 4, 11am - 5pm in the County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park.

Instructions for the Woven Accordion are in Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms on page 135.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Book Art: Alphabetical Lichencounters

I must be going mad. No, I'm just excited about the upcoming SF Zine Fest, and it is causing me to make more books this summer than I have made in a few years total. When I was in college I made six books a year. They were small-scale, meant to be affordable. I loved making them. I'm enjoying the process all over again.
  Now I present the latest, Alphabetical Lichencounters. Yes, I made up that word. Yes, it is a pun. My drawings of lichen, letterpress printed from photopolymer plates, fill the counters of select wood type letters. Counters are the closed parts of letterforms such as inside the O and A. I broadened the usage so I could choose lichen that were interesting and distinctive, even if their initial letters weren't closed. The lichen encounters the letterforms. The Pants book format includes the prose poem from my HOUSEWORK house, this time letterpress printed from handset type. I wanted to be able to share that piece with more people.

Lichen is interesting. You can't cultivate it. And it is algae+fungus, a symbiotic relationship between them. First became fascinated and drew them, posted the drawings here in 2013. Alphabetical Lichencounters, like all the other new books, may be found on my website, my Etsy store nevermindtheart, and with me at my table in San Francisco on Sunday, September 4, 2016, County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park, 11am - 5pm.

Fun Fact Addendum 8/16/16: Just got an order from Germany, which made me curious to see what "lichen" meant in German. It means union.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Art, Artifacts, and the State of Creation

A poetry professor and conceptual artist at the University of Pennsylvania was interviewed recently by the New York Times in regards to his class, "Wasting Time on the Internet," that includes social media in the curriculum. The article shows how the online presence actually put students in touch with each other, and facilitated collaboration and communication, not isolation, as some people had thought. The premise is interesting, but as I read further into the article, I realized this was part of a host of fads and renewed theories that I will say are currently plaguing the art community.
  • Deskilling: simplified, that anyone can do anything and you don't need training. This is a subject my friend and colleague Celeste Connor wrote about in Art Practical
  • Curators/Curating/Curation: that curating is an art form.
  • Top-Ten Syndrome: the notion that only the top ten people in any field get to be the creators of anything new, that they are the only valid creators. They are the only ones recognized, either monetarily or societally. 

In art schools, new deans are being installed that have little or no practice over the field in which they are to preside. Gradually, the deans who were prominent in their fields are replaced by administrators who don't actually make anything. Sometimes these deans are curators. As a colleague explained it, the curatorial class is "those who use makers as their raw materials," who move around the people who have made things that already exist. In relation to this, the NYT article asks Professor Goldsmith, "if we're just remixing, are we creating?" He responds that people become masters of their own collections, and in a following question that "an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts."

The question then is: from whom are we to collect these "better artifacts?" If they are only from the past, what does that mean? If they are from what is being generated presently, who is generating them, why aren't we, and why shouldn't we?

This brings us to another issue: online courses with "famous" people. Through an SF startup called MasterClass you can learn about acting from Dustin Hoffman, screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, writing from James Patterson, for example. They are all successful at their careers, but are they good teachers, too? Maybe yes, maybe no. Art schools are looking at the famous teacher model and looking for high-profile makers to teach at their schools. Are they good teachers, too? Teaching is a skill, and not everyone is good at it. In fact, it takes years to get good. Imagine if all we have left are courses, online and classroom, taught by celebrities who are not really teachers at all. Is this deskilling or marketing? Is this education? In this scenario, those who already have, get more.

Back to collecting and curating. Arranging and rearranging, appropriating and who has the "better artifacts." This, to me, seems to be a form of shopping. Nothing wrong with shopping, but let's not call it art. All the pieces already exist in the world. The only thing the curator/shopper is doing is putting them side-by-side. Found poetry, for instance, is a thing. But it must be transformed. You can't just pick out the phrases you like and put them together, summarizing the author's original intent. You have to make the words mean something entirely new. Transformation, which is the key element in making art, is barely there, and if it is it's on the surface. Our cultural soul needs depth, not surface. 

Let's focus on the other words Goldsmith used in referring to an educated person: "a curious person." Artists, makers, curious people can make things happen. David Brooks writes in the recent article, "How Artists Change the World," that artists can "retrain the imagination" and change how our society sees the world, really make the world better by giving us new images to enlighten us. He believes this creative vision is important. Work that has meaning comes from inside, from dreams, visions, experiments, and curiosity. We have to continue to be curious and to get our hands dirty to grow, learn, and make new discoveries and new art. It's called work. That's what it takes. Can everyone make art, write poetry? Maybe not. But anyone can put in the work, practice, dream, and try. In this way, we don't have to settle for what's already out there and rearrange it. We can work toward creating new art that is even better. You decide.