29 January 2018

My Experience With Art.

“If I can wish for anything for my art, that is what I want—to live in some child forever—and if I can demand anything of other artists, it is that they attempt 
as much.” - Dorothy Allison


Recently I saw two sculptures by Nathalie Miebach at the Frist Museum of Art in Nashville, Tennessee. They were amusement park scenes made from an assortment of mixed media and found objects: rope, dowel rods, paper, bamboo, beads, sequins, tiny woven structures, tape, etc. One of the sculptures said WONDER WHEEL on the side of what looked to be a ferris wheel. The ferris wheel had little woven paper baskets going around the inner part of the wheel, and green flags and white and black circles decorating the outer part of the wheel. Underneath the wheel was a bit more complicated. There were more woven paper baskets but in the shape of tiny boats, and they didn’t seem to be going in one particular direction. Different styles of nautical flags were sticking out from all angles of the base of this sculpture, which appeared to be a deconstructed basket. Around the edges of the basketweave were tiny, red and white, life rings and beads in various shades of blue. Below the basketweave was what appeared to be a raft made out of bamboo “floating” on an ocean of blue rope.

The second sculpture was a larger version of the first sculpture, but with what appeared to be a waterpark going through the ferris wheel shape, and tiny boat structures racing down the waterways made of blue rope. The base was made of dowel rods built into a structure that looked like tiny scaffolding. The “rope ocean” was sitting atop this scaffolding and draping over the sides. The viewer could make out a sign saying WONDERWHEEL that was written around the circular part of the ferris wheel. Letters spelling out JANES TIDES in red next to a yellow arrow was on the side of the sculpture at the upper part of the scaffolding. There were dowels and colorful beads, paper baskets with umbrella tops, and blue life rings jutting out from all sides of the scaffolding.

These two sculptures contained everything that I personally love to see in artwork: craft, interesting materials, imagination, discovery, color, celebration, questions, and fear. My interpretation of these two sculptures deals with the complexity between two very real feelings: excitement and terror. I see these sculptures and instantly I am taken back to a nightmare I had when I was 10 or 11. I was at Six Flags Amusement Park in Dallas, Texas. And I was on top of a roller coaster when the park began to flood. I remember being at the top of one of the roller coaster peaks in the little roller coaster car, and there was water closing in all around me. Orcas were jumping up and out of the water, and the sun was shining very bright. I was the only person in the park, on the ride, in this terrible flood. This nightmare happened over and over and over again, eventually creating in me a fear of large bodies of water that turned very real when I almost drowned off the coast of Malaysia in 2015.

These sculptures also make me incredibly happy and excited. I love parties and colorful celebrations, circus-style aesthetics and amusement parks--my most favorite being pop-up style carnivals that happen at random in mall parking lots or open fields. And I love to visit deserted amusement parks or old parks that are monuments to things from another time: dinosaur parks or Haw Par Villa in Singapore (a park dedicated to the gruesome depictions of Chinese folklore’s 10 Courts of Hell). I love bright colors and party flags in all shapes and sizes. These two sculptures make me think of the tingly feeling you get in your tummy when doing something new or exciting, and they take me back to any number of times when I have felt that tingly sensation. I also love how imaginative they are. These sculptures make me think of animation projects by Pixar films, and this brings me an overwhelming sense of happiness and joy.

However, in real life, these two sculptures do not have anything to do with what I experienced with the work and mentioned above. From the artist’s website, she writes: “My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations. Using the methodologies and processes of both disciplines, I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology, and meteorology into woven sculptures. My method of translation is principally that of weaving - in particular basket weaving - as it provides me with a simple yet highly effective grid through which to interpret data in three-dimensional space. By staying true to the numbers, these woven pieces tread an uneasy divide between functioning both as sculptures in space as well as instruments that could be used in the actual environments from which the data originates.”


My first memory of being involved with art or art making, or art having anything to do with my life, was when I was in 1st grade. I attended Jenks Elementary on the South side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. My mother received word from my teacher that I was very good with shapes. I could mold different sized spheres or cubes in Play-doh and place them in ascending or descending order based on their size. During this same year, I was photographed for the newspaper with a collage I made out of various colors of construction paper. I have no memory of making this collage, but there is photographic evidence that it happened. I do not remember making the spheres or cubes, either, but I do remember my mother saying that she was very proud of me for completing these tasks. My mother was a teacher for most of her adult life, so I have no doubt that she influenced my learning capabilities at a very young age.

The following year we moved to Dallas, Texas where I eventually finished my primary and secondary education. I was not enrolled in any visual art classes again until the 10th grade. During primary and most of secondary school, I spent hours writing and performing plays to vinyl records from my parent’s collection. Everytime I think about this time in my life, I am very surprised that my parents did not enroll me in theatre. They did, however, enroll me in dance. I was in 3 - 4 dance classes a week from the time I was 3 until I was 25. Additionally, I played the piano for 8 years and the violin for 6. But theatre was never a consideration.

When I was 13, I remember walking into the kitchen where my mother was reading the newspaper. She looked up from the paper and said to me, “Andy Warhol died.” She said this to me in the same manner that you might say, “It’s raining outside.” Just sort of matter-of-factly. At the time, I hadn’t a vague notion of who Andy Warhol was, but I remember her clarifying her statement later on by saying, “He was a famous artist.” I was intrigued by this statement, but it was not until my early undergraduate days--some 10 years later--that I would become incredibly obsessed with Andy Warhol and all of his Factory darlings.

Throughout my teenaged years, I drew architectural plans. I did this for fun. The way some of the other kids my age hung out at the mall, read books, or went to movies, I sat around all day long drawing designs of buildings and houses. Most of the time these designs would be imaginative and made up. And more often than not, they would be houses or buildings shaped into the name of a friend, an idol, or a crush. Space and designing spaces has remained very important to me.

It was not until I went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree in 2007 that I realized the true potential of art. Under the guidance of my ceramics professor Margaret Meehan, art became a language to me, a tool for change, a profound statement. It was suddenly political, and provoked questions and emotion. It was almost as if something else began driving me to make things--something out of my body, but of my body. And it was at this fruitful and prolific time that I found myself at the opening of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s collaborative ballet Cult of Color: Call To Color. Mr. Hancock collaborated with Ballet Austin’s chief choreographer and a musician to create a wonderful production themed in “life and death, the struggle between good and evil, love, authority, spirituality and moral relativism”. It was a spectacle of amazement that I have not stopped thinking about since.

This concept of collaboration opened up a whole new world to me! What theatre had been doing forever was suddenly available to me. It always had been, I just never realized. I could call the shots on what I wanted to make, whether I was skilled in that area or not. I just had to have two things: an idea and follow-through. Suddenly a weight had been lifted! Collaboration was a tool to make ideas bigger and louder, and I could engage people and my love for working with others. I immediately tested this theory by producing a short performance piece in a racquetball court where dancers in cake costumes that I hand sewed performed to a maniacal laugh track. Success! My relationship with art had changed forever. Everything came full circle two years ago in Qatar when I saw Trenton Doyle Hancock speak at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Doha location. I was honored to be able to thank him in person for what I felt was a life changing event.

My undergraduate coursework is also where image making and documentation came into my life. Before any other medium, I found and fell in love with photography. I started my obsession in the mid-nineties capturing images with a film camera, a Canon AE1. I developed all of my own film, spending hours in darkrooms. I liked that you could see the grain that built up each image. And I loved the smell of developer, and that time seemed to stand still while I was in the lab. I spent hours taking pictures of everything, manually changing F-stops and shutter speeds, to suit my needs. I changed light, color, sharpness, contrast. It was a fabulous exercise in learning to see and understanding the world around me. I could hide behind my camera and record everything.

Fast forward to now, and I have my iPhone 7 Plus on the ready at every possible second: digital participation all the time. My phone camera is easy to access, always has "film", and can take 30 or more pictures in half a second. It's not film. And it's not as clear as a DSLR. But it does all of the things I need it to do. My phone was my documentation tool for the cultural research I did while I was living and teaching art overseas for 4 years. Everywhere I went the images became a source of visual storytelling to help me remember where I traveled, what I did, who I met, and helped relay information to my family and friends in the United States. If I'm not taking pictures, I feel like I'm losing memories, which makes my stomach and heart very heavy. I am constantly worried that I will forget an experience.


When I make installations or performance pieces, when I am teaching or working with community, I am always chronicling everything from start to finish. Image making is my passion. It is the proof I can point to so that I can say: I was there, that really happened, this is what I made. My camera is an extension of my relationship with the world and the recording device for documented experiences I hope to leave behind.

No comments:

Post a Comment