Yesterday morning my 4-year old daughter and my husband sat down on the living room floor to wrap a birthday present for a friend, and made this. Mark making and wrapping are both incredibly appealing to me as studio activities, and here, the loose grid and line work really compliment the form. This work is situated in our routines, our relationships, and was probably torn to pieces.
We've been making some improvements to the library I work in. Repairs in my very own library, what an absolute treat! I was so excited to see the marks that were revealed after the carpet was pulled up. Layers of removal.
Above: Scrap pile. Accumulated while sewing in the attic, periodically interrupted by my 3 year old's slow-brewing irritability.
Below: Aggravated by the concrete, these tree roots edge their way up, mounding and fortifying themselves.
When I was in college, I remember looking around while walking to class and suddenly realizing that I had missed the turning of the leaves. Had I really not been paying attention to my surroundings at all? The leaves were gone and I’d have to wait a whole year. I felt disoriented and full of despair.
My 3 year old daughter has also felt this late, desperate awareness of the world moving on. We usually read three books as I put her to bed. The other night, after the second book, she realized that she hadn’t really been listening to the stories. She saw one book left and began to panic. She said "but I, I didn’t… I didn’t hear it!” She had a busy brain and was having trouble settling. She wanted to become engrossed, she remembered how good it felt, and was heartbroken to have missed it.
Every evening I have been thinking about this parallel experience I share with my daughter. In the morning, I can’t remember the specifics. I have only a vague memory that she and I have a shared experience, a shared longing.
I took this photograph just the other day, not long after I was able to recall my late night thoughts with enough clarity to record them. It is the latest addition to my repairs collection, which I started in 2004 in order to focus on and record how I take in my surroundings. These thoughtfully composed bricks are tough competition for most abstract painting and contemporary sculpture.
I’ve been in this particular building many times for a mindfulness meditation group over the past 5 years or so. I’m only now taking in this composition of bricks.
Over the past several months, I’ve begun to explore search engines as a medium. I make search ads, tempting curious internet searchers to click on these short text-based works. I see them as artworks themselves, and also as part of a larger ongoing project, building a network of touchpoints among people who are curious, and who may not be looking for art. The ad you see to the left is a screenshot of what my search ad looks like to someone who is navigating search results. I've linked this screenshot to the companion blog post, to roughly simulate the experience for you.
As both an artist and a librarian, I enjoy distraction, and the accidental nature of looking for one thing, and finding something else. I enjoy the openness that occurs in these moments, and the opportunity for connection and change.
I am building my audience-community in this serendipitous virtual space. I imagine my visitors first looking for a recipe, become tempted by my search ad, then stumbling on my photographs of a partially cleaned, flour-covered kitchen table, alongside my short prose on messes, reality, and baking oatcakes with my toddler. I want my audience to encounter my blog and leave feeling more curious, contemplative, and more likely to notice their surroundings.
I dearly miss the sky in these photographs, stretching nearly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It is home and road trips and anticipation, solitude and conversation. It's "Thriller" on the Fisher Price cassette player, carrot sticks and pretzels in little plastic baggies, winter hikes on Christmas Day, rubbing my mom's shoulders from the back seat on long car trips, and my brother's legs creeping over The Middle Line.
I grew up in this flat midwestern landscape, and now I live in South Western Pennsylvania, where hills seem to pile up on one another. It is a challenge to get a clear unobstructed view of a single tree in silhouette. The foliage is often dense and interrupted by the sloping, layered horizon.
In fact, nothing ever appears in its entirety in South Western Pennsylvania, as it does in my flat midwestern homeland pictured above. I do love the coziness of Western PA, though it can feel as though the small wedges of sky are the only way out. When my husband and I first moved here, we found ourselves climbing hill after hill, trying to get a better view of our house, our neighborhood, the rivers, anything to orient ourselves. We needed to ground our understanding of our terrain by climbing higher and higher in an attempt to step back and see the whole.
I took these photos while visiting my midwestern homeland, from behind a tinted car window while my dad drove my daughter and I to the O'Hare airport in December. We all ate pretzels from a plastic baggie on the way. As we passed rows of trees planted as a wind break along the side of the road, I realized that full tree silhouettes are something I long for.
Look past the row of trees in this photo -- there's a silhouette of a spruce tree. A perfectly serrated triangle.
My 2 year old daughter is interested in silhouettes right now. She has been asking questions about the "black trees" when we're out at dusk. My husband and I explain to her that anything can appear black when it's lit only from behind. At one point, she asked if she could have a flashlight. She wanted to experiment with what would happen if she shined it on something in silhouette. Did she come up with this or did one of us suggest this at one point? It's difficult to know for sure.
While reading together on the couch, she asks "Why is Elmo black?" when she notices his profile in shadow in Elmo's First Babysitter. Every time we have these discussions about Elmo being black, and we have them quite often, my thoughts go to Kara Walker, in part because her work has shaped so much of my understanding of the Victorian tradition of silhouettes, and also because "Why is Elmo black?" is a potentially puzzling and powerful question. It reminds me of what my high school teacher wrote on the chalkboard on the first day of world religion class: "God? She's Black!" He intended to challenge us, and to provide a space where we could observe our own assumptions.
Silhouettes exist in a similar space. We become aware of ourselves viewing something at a distance, whether it's Elmo and his babysitter, Walker's fantastical and horrific scenes, tree silhouettes along the side of the road, or the back-lit dancing monsters in Thriller.