31 August 2015

MFA Studio Art: Graduate School, Summer #3 . . .

Every summer, for the past three summers, I have been working towards a second graduate degree: an MFA in Studio Art. I go to Baltimore, Maryland and live in the dorms at the Maryland Institute College of Art for 6 weeks. It's great fun, and each summer we all liken it to adult art camp.

Every summer our studio spaces change around, as does our work. (You can see my last two summers' works here and here.) This year I had a particularly large studio in the second floor corner space of the Fred Lazarus Center. It overlooks West North Avenue and has a slight vibration in it, which I got used to after a while. 

I thought it might be fun to show images of my studio and works-in-progress before showing images of the final work I completed. A lot of what happens in my studio is really important to what I'm making, even if whatever is happening in my studio space doesn't actually make it into the final piece.

I had a variety of things on my wall that I was looking at and thinking about. The grouping of words above started everything off. My goal was to put together a performance piece as a tribute for Ben. So I was looking at things that had to do with rituals and spirit and spectacle. I have always been looking at these things, but this time I was researching these themes in a different way. Before, they were sort of surface ideas. Whereas now, they so-incredibly-obviously affected me in a new way. A much more meaningful and emotional way. 

This is a video still from one of my favorite videos. You can see the full video below. Oddly enough, it's a song that Ben's son also listens to. We have a lot in common. So I texted him throughout making this project to see what his reactions were to things that I was doing. Sometimes his reactions would help to direct my making. 

Ben's son told me about how he and his dad would spend hours making and shooting off rockets. So instantly I decided that rockets would play a major role in this performance piece. I found this extremely odd photo, of some random rocket collector, online somewhere. It became a huge source of inspiration for me. 

Mary Reid Kelly's work has been a great source of research material for me since hearing about her in January. I'm most interested in her use of color (or lack thereof) and the elements within the work itself: video, installation, costuming, drawing, set design, animation, make-up, etc. It's everything I love in one thing. It's a whole orchestration and organization of things. It's genius work.

And of course: costuming from Southeast Asia. Living and working in Singapore, and traveling to the surrounding countries four or five times a year, has had the most amazing affect on me. It's almost like I look at things in a whole new light. There's more magic, somehow. I know this probably doesn't make sense, but it's something I can't really explain. But I can definitely feel it. MAGIC!

My studio has this weird ability to attract people. Bruce (above) would show up to help out with any video questions I had. But what's funny is he would just stand like he is in the picture above, until I noticed him. And Joke (Yo-ka) popped in everyday. Sometimes we would chat, sometimes we would head next door for a drink, and sometimes she just stopped by to hula hoop. 

In fact, everyone stopped by at least once or twice to hula hoop. Even my friend Sarah--who's not even in our graduate program . . . I loved it! This has been a particularly hard year, and these friendly little visits really helped! 

Here's one of my BFF's, Tori, playing around in my metallic streamers. I bought 4 metallic streamers while I was visiting friends in El Paso (more on that trip soon!). They were about 7 feet long, and reminded me of rocket trails. Everyone who walked into my studio wanted to get inside them. It was hilarious, but they are kind of shiny and tantalizing!

Every summer, towards the beginning of the summer, we are asked to hang up work featuring ideas that we are thinking about. It's a professionally mounted show, but only stays up for like a week. Ben's mom had posted on my Facebook this amazing picture of Ben from like 6th or 7th grade at a rocket show. It was a newspaper clipping. So for the show, I cropped out the text and printed it out really large. Then I painted the rocket he was holding in the photo. I printed out two, actually. One each for Ben's boys. The one above made it into the show, but the second one is only partially finished. It will be finished and included in my thesis show next year.

You can see the two prints, ready to be trimmed, above. I really like how this piece turned out. It looked great in the gallery.

Here are two panoramic shots of my studio. These images give a good sense of how the studios are laid out and what is going on inside the space. I love how the long, metallic streamers look!!

And here's one of two vests I decorated and used for the final performance (tribute). Each vest had hand-and-machine-made patches on them. And that's a picture of a sugar glider (Ben's favorite animal). I used the sugar glider to influence the two masks (at the top of the image) that the rocket launchers wore to shoot off the rockets in the final performance.

Then came the rockets! Ben loved rockets! He loved them so much that at his memorial service, his oldest brother told the most hilarious story about this giant 5 foot rocket he built that ended up landing in some fancy person's backyard. Tyler told me stories, his mother told me stories. The rockets were it! I ordered 8 of them, complete with engines. But when they came in, I was like: Wait! This is science-y! How do I put these together???!!!! 

So I enlisted the help of Jason. He built rockets when he was in middle school and was totally into it . . . I helped by putting on the parachutes and fenders. Fenders? I'm pretty sure that's not the right word for the little fins at the base, but that's what I'm going to call them.

We spent two days building them, and then took them to a local high school and did some test runs. It was the most exciting thing I've ever done!! No one ever told me how much fun these things were to shoot off! And they go so high! Oh my goodness, we couldn't even see them! Or where they were going to land. It was so fun!

After the test run, and we determined that they were going to work, I painted them. I followed no packaged directions and painted them exactly as I would want them painted. I'm sure that any legit rocket maker and collector would've balked at my drips and wiggly stripes. But I loved them!! They were bright and cheerful! 

These were signals, you see. During the performance piece. For Ben to take notice, to know he was being celebrated . . . As strange as that might sound.


Next came the boat. I built a boat as a sacrifice or offering. I made it out of cardboard, painted it, and then burned it. 

It was a relatively large boat, complete with a note for Ben painted on the inside and then covered back up with paint. I really liked this boat. It was fun to make.

I also made a variety of costuming pieces. The rocket launchers wore the two sugar glider headpieces, above. And I made two patches for their vests. Both items I mentioned a few paragraphs back. Here's the patches coming to life, below.

Patches are so much fun to make. You design it on the computer and then just run the machine. I had to change out the thread each time the color changed, but it basically does everything. The only time it kind of sucks is when the thread gets caught up or the bobbin thread runs out. Sometimes it's hard to line the needle back up with the design. But I managed two nice patches, eh??!! Kept one for good measure.


I made a giant cape for my friend Patti, who was assigned to run after the rockets as they floated to the ground. I also gave her a beautiful tiara to wear. She looked stunning, and was perfect for the part! 

Along with our studio time and various other tasks, we also attend an art history class each week of the summer. The class is between 5 and 8 hours long each week, with no breaks unless they are requested. We learn all sorts of exciting things about artwork that I've seen a zillion times, but never had these works presented in such an interesting fashion. 

The first and second year students also present their work in a very rigorous critique that lasts for three days. Each student presents his or her work for 40 - 45 minutes, including questions from the audience. Below are some of the works I felt drawn to during this year's presentations.

The last day in my studio space found me making special hats for the graduating 4th years. Here I am working on the hats with Jassie and Joke. It was great fun!

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The project I worked on all summer that I introduced above was called, Conversation Launch. The project was a tribute to Ben and inspired by conversations with his older son.

I was very lucky to have such a beautiful piece of land to present this piece on. My professor Renee let me use her land behind her house. She mows it in such a way that it lent itself to a parade and rocket launch very well. The path was sort of in an X. So the rockets were launched from the center of the X, and we sort of paraded around the edge of the X.

Several people volunteered to be part of this project. I was completely grateful for their willingness to participate. I told everyone to show up in their most colorful clothes or whichever costume they wanted. I would provide headpieces for those wanting a bit more. They really got into it!!

I picked out some colorful tights and stuffed them with plushy filling. We put those on people's heads. I also drew out various shapes on the ground with Holi powders. And whatever powder was left, people rubbed all over their arms and faces. It was great!

I set up a little space with tinsel and glow sticks, at the top of the yard, where I took documentary images of the people involved. Didn't they look great??!!

And one group photo of us, before we took off in the parade . . . 

I arranged for three people to lead the parade and two people to carry the boat. The rest of the people just sort of fell in line, with the rocket launchers and Patti breaking off when it was their time to "perform". The participants and audience were in charge of their own documentation. I thought it would be interesting to have the collaboration for the project come in the form of the footage that was turned in. So people were taking videos and still images throughout the entire piece. And over the course of the following days, they uploaded their footage to a Dropbox folder that I set up. These are some of their images, mixed in with mine.

Bruce (from one of the first images in this post) volunteered to document the entire project, so that I would have it to look back over. And so that I could have shots that were sort of all encompassing or overarching. Here he is capturing one of the rockets on video. 

And here's Patti, trying to figure out where the rocket will fall. Every time a rocket shot up, people would yell out, "Run, Patti! Run!" It was hilarious!

This is a rocket called, Big Daddy. I love this image: pink, blue, smokey orange, yellow, and green. Such goodness!

After the parade and the launching of 8 rockets, we gathered around a fire that Renee built. 

With the help of Renee, I sat the boat on the fire and read the following statement out loud as it burned . . . 

"Loss is a four-letter word that I am not accustomed to using. I've tried it on for size before, but it only pertained to weight or video games, phones or keys.

Once in fourth grade I lost my dog, but he came back. Thankfully before the school bus came to pick us up. He was just as excited to see us, as he was to run away from us.

I always imagined that when people left the earth for good,
it was because of age or something in their body that wouldn't let go. If this were a contest, I would say that the second one is far worse than the first. Sudden and tragic, or long and heartbreaking.

But it is not a contest. Darkness--as it pertains to death--is irreversible and happens to all of us.

I believe that small moments of joy exist in these times of darkness, in these times of loss. I don't recognize them at first, but they wiggle their way in and I am so grateful.

In January, I almost died off the coast of Malaysia. The boat went down. We were two miles out from shore, with no life jackets.

The water was dark and heavy and cold. And the night sky was overwhelming. But I can clearly remember looking up and seeing thousands of stars. The moon was huge.

I kept telling myself to focus on the light.

In Egyptian mythology, the creation of the world and the universe came out of darkness and chaos. Once there was nothing but endless dark water without form or purpose. Boats were one of the most important forms of transport and the divine realm was thought of as a watery region, high above the earth; rivers, islands, and marshes.

In March, my lifetime friend-turned partner died. I wasn't quite sure what to do.

I'm not a cryer, but I was doing an awful lot of crying. I'm also not much of a sleeper, but I was doing an awful lot of sleeping.

All of these 41 years, I had taken advantage of my good fortune. Turns out, I had never really lost anything until now.

During our time together, he spoke endlessly of wanting to build us a boat. Just the two of us. Tonight I am sending a boat to him, allowing for his spirit to set sail. The rockets were a signal to him. To watch this piece. To show him that he is being celebrated.

You can not compare pain: my pain, the pain of his parents, that of his sons, or of his friends. But it only takes a very small amount of joy and light for change to occur.

Have you seen how seedlings can break free through cracks in a sidewalk? Joy can be found in these all-encompassing and tiring moments of darkness.

Perspectives shift. Friends emerge. Patience and empathy grows."

Apparently it stopped burning almost at the same time that my reading stopped. I actually didn't know if it would burn at all, because the cardboard was so thick. But it went up in smoke very quickly!

After the reading, we had a few more rocket launches. Then we lost all of the rockets to the trees, so we decided it was time for S'mores. 

As daylight turned into nightfall, people started to leave one-by-one. And the glow sticks and tinsel were all that remained.

I'm almost positive that Ben was present during this tribute. For one, it was supposed to rain. But it was clear as could be. And everything went so smoothly. And the video footage came out so great. I mean, it was a little awkward . . . Because everyone was having fun and it was sort of a somber time. But I think I'm okay with that duality now. It's okay for things to be awkward. And it's okay for tributes to be fun. Ben was a fun person to be around, so I think it was fitting.

I am piecing together several different video pieces from this event that I will feature in my thesis show next summer. So be on the look-out!

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I really love Baltimore. It's a beautiful city. And it's an interesting city. But mainly I love Baltimore because I have met so many good, good people there. My school attracts really great folks, who are wonderfully creative. But this city also does it's share of retaining good people. Every summer has been such a treat! A vacation from real life! It's so much fun . . . 

I couldn't love these people more!!

Even my friend Rob came through town. I met him the first time I was in Baltimore, for my Community Arts graduate program in 2009. Sarah, Rob, Joke, Jason, and I went to Four Hours of Funk at The Wind Up. And it was just as much fun as it was the summer before. It looked like Christmastime inside the club!

We went to gallery openings . . . 

But one of the best parts (and maybe the saddest part) of the summer was watching these beautiful people present their thesis work and graduate from our program. These 7 people are probably some of the nicest, most creative people you will ever meet. They made me feel like family. I will forever be grateful for their support and friendship . . . 

I bought a painting from Jason. Amare is helping me plan a trip to Ethiopia. Tori and I text almost daily. Ashley just had her baby today (seriously, to-day). Patti just texted me to make sure that I knew there were some crazy things taking place on the VMAs. Mara sent me home from this summer with some amazing Jesus prints by her mother-in-law for Ben's mom. And Jean keeps everyone posted with her meal choices on FB, which are always mouth watering. She picks the best flavor combinations. I love these people!!!! XOXOXO!

And I can't wait to see them again!!

I spent a lot of time with Renee and Joke this summer, as well. Renee is on the right, above. She is the person who graciously let me borrow her yard for Ben's tribute. Joke, above and left, hula hooped in my studio daily. She's been in lots of pictures in this post! We love hanging out together . . . Below, we are getting ice cream at this place outside of Baltimore City. The ice cream is made from the cows on the property. So you can look at the cows while you are eating their ice cream. :)

This is Ashley's dog, Rita. She is a puppy and wild. She would always try and find me in my studio. I love her!

Every summer, we have a Holidays in July party. This year, I gave away some of my raver gloves. Joke got them! 

I received two beautiful prints of Ume's work, below. Ume is a 2nd year student. She's so great!

The graduating class always throws a graduation party on the last day of the program. This year's theme was "punk masquerade". You had to come to the party with a mask on or you wouldn't get food: #nomasknoburrito. Joke and I took the punk part of the theme and decided to go as Daft Punk. We hand-crafted our helmets from cardboard, spray paint, felt and cellophane. I think we did pretty good! Check out the real band, below . . . 

Here's our raver gloves in action . . . 

And here we are with our mentor and art history professor, John Penny.

The graduating group being honored, above . . . 

Our Dean, above, showing off the mug she received as a gift . . . And the graduating group with our program director, below.

The party ended at midnight, but I didn't go to bed until 2am. Needless to say, it was not easy to get up at 4am for my flight to Nashville at 6am. Ha! Note to self for next year . . . 

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Speaking of next year . . . Here are the people that will be graduating next summer! Go, go, Summer 2016!! If you are in the Baltimore area, keep an eye out for dates and times of thesis presentations! More soon!