Weigh Your Words – continued

 

Last spring, amid the end-of-school-year insanity heightened by our daughter’s graduation from high school, I was preparing for the rebirth of the Weigh your Words project that I started at Artomatic in the summer of 2012 (see the post on this blog from May 17, 2012).  My seesaw and sorting bins for Weigh Your Words were accepted as part of the FIGMENT NY event on Governors Island, a short ferry ride from South Ferry (Manhattan) or Brooklyn.

This festival is like a mini-Burning Man – free arts event with no sales allowed in order to focus on creativity and exploration rather than commerce.  Participants who need an established space and/or need to transport/install more material than they can carry in on the festival days are juried in.  Anyone else can just turn up and perform or demonstrate during when the event is ongoing.  It is a perfect venue for a contemplative, interactive installation geared toward a wide range of ages.  Plus, you get to take the ferry there, and I am always happy for an excuse to ride on a boat.

We installed in the rain, but the weather was lovely over the weekend when the show was open.  I was tucked along the edge of the grounds, so I had a relatively slow and steady trickle of visitors – ideal for an installation that requires some concentration. At first, I used the rubber mats just as a place for people to sort through the stones, but then I rearranged it with an empty space in the middle for special arrangements.

Searching for Words

People participated alone or in groups.  One mother and daughter stayed at the site for over an hour, having a very detailed and intense conversation about which words they were picking and why. Then they took a “selfie” lying on the rubber mat with their words surrounding them.

 

This became a theme, with some wonderful variations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some people got pretty obsessive about finding all of the right words and arranging them:

 

 

 

Some people just wanted to play with the stones and dump them in piles.  That was OK too…

 

And the seesaw got lots of action as well.  I monitored it a bit, helping people figure out how to balance it (if they wanted help) after they had filled two bowls with words/stones.

They particularly seemed to enjoy the revelation that, in order to balance two sides, you could take a stone from one of the bowls and place it along the edge of the seesaw, closer to the center, to alter the weight.  Then we could have a conversation about how to pick which words should be moved.  If two people were playing with the seesaw, and each had described themselves, but the two sides didn’t balance, could they eliminate or move words that didn’t describe them as accurately as the others?  Or could the other person pick a word that they thought was less accurate?  If a person had filled one bowl with positive aspects of their personality and the other with negative ones, which ones are really closer to the middle and could be moved to help the two sides balance better?  A simple mechanical solution could become a deeper psychological exploration.

Some people just liked to sort through the stones, filling bowls and thinking about words, and adding missing to words to my ever-growing list.

I had a wonderful time, and I think visitors to my installation enjoyed themselves.  Some people expanded their vocabulary, some had a mini therapy session, others just goofed around.  All in all, a great experience.  I will continue to post information about this project as I find more venues to show it on the separate blog devoted to Weigh Your Words.

 

 

For Pulse: Pass it On

This piece is about neurons in the brain, specifically about explorations about their communication (or lack thereof) as part of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  I have incorporated neurons into my work in the past – two of the Courage Unmasked pieces (both for the 2009 auction) had neurons in the interior of the mask, where the brain would be, indicating the patient’s escape from the claustrophobic world of the radiation treatment environment into a more freeing world of their imagination.

Neuron in View from Within (in progress - 2009)

I also decided, one day, that I “needed a spine” (as in needed to find more courage to stretch myself in my work) so I made one:

Spine – 6″ high – enough for my purposes

Now, I wanted to go big.  So I started making larger neuron armatures.  And I wanted to add movement, so I decided to make a mobile with each section approximately 2 feet in diameter, each touching the other off in a spin – sparking a reaction, sending information.

 

Two neuron armatures - testing the movement and shadows

I knew that once I covered the armatures with flax paper, the pieces would change dramatically.  The shiny metal would become matte, neutral paper.  So to bring it alive again, I added metallic leaf to some of the ends to catch the light as neurons pushed and touched each other.  And I added bound pieces of broken mirror to the interior of each neuron – a reference to the loss of memory and identity that accompanies diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  The neurons are suspended with swivel hangers so that they can turn more easily/smoothly when only lightly touched and hang with about a 6″ overlap at the outermost tips so that they bump into each other fairly easily, but don’t lock dendrites.

Neuron Tangle

 

Installed at Strathmore

Now that the five neurons are installed at the Strathmore show, I can see how I could fill the entire room just with neurons (50 or more of them?!), suspended throughout the room at different heights, with narrow pathways so that the visitors touch off movement as they try to navigate the space.

For Pulse: Clot (a series)

Once I had started on one piece (HPV Deconstructed), the others flowed more easily.  I wanted to do a piece about blood, and blood cells in particular.  I also wanted to work more extensively with non-paper materials.

Mesh – In college, I had taken a course called Projects in 3 Dimensions, in which we explored many media, including wire window screening, playing with its bias and springy quality, the difficulty of finishing the edges and the connective possibilities of those spiky edges, as well as the shadow and moire effects of its distorted grid.  A couple of years ago, I took a class with Dennis Nahabetian, learning to distort the grid pattern and electroform bronze mesh.  So, I came up with a form reminiscent of a blood cell in its springy, doughnut-like shape, but also, it turned out, connected to other more symbolic references to blood.  One of the symbols for the Norse god Odin is a triangular shape made of three interlocking horns, drawn from the three horns full of mead made from the blood of Kvasir (another Norse god) that Odin drank.

I was thrilled that I could make a form similar to that out of wire mesh, and so began experimenting with the shape in both aluminum and bronze wire mesh.  First runs of the three-sided form included extra folds in the segments, making the “cells” puffy and textured.

This effect was pleasing, but the surface seemed too busy, so I backed off and made slightly simpler forms, with stiffened stripey edges and no central folds.  I concentrated more on combining the two colors of the mesh and creating a composition of stacked (clotted) cells within a steel frame. In addition to the beautiful effect of the translucent mesh and the shadows it creates, I liked the additional reference to the mesh-like material (niobium webbing) used to make stents used to prevent clots in medical procedures.

In the end, I made quite a few extra cells so that I had maximum flexibility, and they each took up to two hours to make!  I pinched the edge pattern in each piece, three pieces per cell, and then folded over all of the edges (one wire at a time) to help them catch less on each other and look more finished.  I like the way that the mesh still catches some, a reminder of how clots form.

The frames (made by Elle Brand – thank you!!) were welded 1/4″ steel and I covered them with high-shrinkage charcoal-colored paper to create a matte finish.  I wanted the frame to be a shadow element that contained the forms, but didn’t compete with their shiny surfaces.

In the end, I made three clots, choosing to use only one bronze cell per piece to highlight the cell form and give a dramatic focus to each piece.  When lit close to a wall, the shadows are quite dramatic.  The image below is of the installation before final lighting at Strathmore, and I will update this post when I have final photos.  The shadows should be higher on the wall.

 

For Pulse: Deconstructing HPV

“Deconstructing HPV” is as much about the magnificent engineering of virus structures as it is about the human quest to understand what can hurt us.  In addition to addressing scientific exploration, it is a cautionary piece about treading carefully through the social implications of medical precautions and assumptions about human behavior.  Recently, all children, male and female, aged 12 and older are required to receive a three-shot inoculation against HPV, which can be transmitted through sexual contact.

For “Deconstructing HPV,” I made a full model of the HPV virus – an icosahedron comprising 140 triangles with focal groups of 5 triangles each.

Wire armature for Deconstructing HPV, starting to cover intersections with flax paper

The surface is only fully covered on part of the piece, revealing the interior as though the skin is being peeled away, one triangle at a time.  I hung a wooden plumb bob in the center, a measure of the balance of the structure and a colder, mathematical examination of the form.

The plumb bob has a screw-off cap and a small space inside, into which I tucked a few lines of Helena’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgment taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste. (1.1.6)

 I do not oppose inoculations that can help us avoid the transmission of terrible afflictions.  I do not doubt that kids as young as 12 are exposed to HPV through sexual contact.  I hope that the conversations we have with our children about sex, increasingly filled with warnings about pregnancy and STDs and urgings to inhibit hasty actions, can also include some discussion of the wonders of love and being comfortable with one’s own body.

Getting ready for Pulse

Since last summer, I have known that I would have new work – an entire room of large pieces and installations – in an exhibition this February through April (2013) at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, MD.  The show is called Pulse: Art and Medicine and is curated by Harriet Lesser.  My inclusion in the show stemmed from my involvement with the two Courage Unmasked auctions (2009 and 2012) and the embellished radiation masks I made for them.

The next few posts discuss the pieces I have made for the show and the process I went through preparing for my first focus on larger work made to be shown together.

I have always incorporated biological and mathematical themes in my sculptural work, but the Courage Unmasked pieces – the focus on a particular subject matter and the concentrated time and effort around the fundraising project – forced me to think a bit more deeply about the narrative and symbolism of the work I was creating.  That experience was invaluable as I prepared for the Pulse show.

Brain Teaser (2009)

View from Within (2009)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first three months (most of the summer of 2012) I searched online and in books for inspiring images, letting my mind wander as I made work for other shows.  I found it very hard to get started with even the experimental, exploratory part of physically making work for the Pulse.  Perhaps I was a bit daunted by knowing that I would have an entire room to fill.  Perhaps I was intimidated by the knowledge that I really could make anything I want.  I knew that I had permission to work in materials other than my usual paper shrunk over wire.  Perhaps I was stunned by so much freedom.

Eventually, I started by falling back on something familiar.  The first piece I started was a variation on the mask I made for Courage Unmasked in 2012.

Beauty and the Beast (2012)

Beauty and the Beast was a reflection on the conflict between the beauty of the HPV virus (represented here by a 1/2 model of the virus’ structure) and the beauty of the patient (in this case, my mother-in-law, whose mask I used for this piece) and the virus’ destructive properties.  I painted the mask silver to evoke the image of the beguiling and devastating robot from the 1920s movie Metropolis.

“Deconstructing HPV” includes the entire model of the HPV virus and I will discuss it in the next post.

 

Deconstructing HPV (2013)

 

Masks…

When it finally dawned on me that the Smithsonian Craft 2 Wear show next weekend is right before Halloween, I decided to kick myself into gear and make a few pieces I have been thinking about for a long time.

So here are two masks.  I hope to make more, but I am not sure I will finish them in time for the show.  The plan is to make a whole series of them, many of them much larger, in hopes of being able to get back into theater/costuming some time.  The adventure continues!

Owl mask - flax with seaweed over steel (2012)

Bat or Dragon mask (still deciding) - flax (w/ seaweed) and abaca (red) (2012)

Pentaradial forms – my favorite

I don’t like to pick favorites, but even though I resist when people ask me, my favorite number is 5.  I loved to draw five-sided stars when I was a child because you can draw them with one line.  As someone who was dragged through the tortures of the 1960s experiment with New Math, I find the halfway point between multiples of ten comforting in this base-10 world.  Five is an interesting number for an artist to work with, it takes some thought and planning, even if you aren’t aiming for perfection.  You can’t just jump right in an divide pieces in half – you have to plan fairly carefully to make sides balance.

All of that was true even before I became obsessed with Echinodermata – marine animals with five-fold (pentaradial!) symmetry including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, blastoids, crinoids, etc. Interestingly, many of these animals are bilateral at first and then become pentaradial as adults – a process that gets my design juices really flowing.

So here are a few images of five-sided pieces I have made.  Enjoy!

Echinoid Bracelet w/ pearls and gold leaf (2012)

 

Small echinoid vessel (2011)

Blastoid (2011)

 

Puzzle Necklaces

I really don’t like clasps.  So I am always daydreaming about ways to make bracelets and necklaces that side-step the issue completely.  Lately, I have been playing with a new necklace design that comprises linked components that collapse on eachother so that a necklace can just slide over your head, but not hang too loosely around the neck.

I have been trying a few different three-sided triangular elements, in both black and natural flax paper shrunk over flexible steel armatures.

Here are two of the first stabs at it.

2012 Smithsonian Craft 2 Wear show!

This October 26 through 28, I will be selling my jewelry at the first weekend show in almost two years!  I was honored to be invited to show at the Smithsonian’s Craft 2 Wear show at the Building Museum in late October.  It’s all wearables, so I will only have my jewelry there, but please come by and say hello and see what I’ve been up to!  I hope to post images here of a new series of geometric necklaces.  I also plan to add color to my inventory again – mostly charcoal (I know – a color??) and red – in addition to the usual natural flax and abaca colors.

Hope to see you there!!

Courage Unmasked 2

I am very happy to be a contributing artist in the second Courage Unmasked auction – a fundraiser for head and neck cancer patients – to be held on September 12, 2012, at the Katzen Arts Center at American University.  The show will be up in the Center’s front rotunda for a few weeks before the auction.  This year’s masks are lovely – a wide range of techniques, materials, and sentiments.  You will be able to see them on the non-profit’s website at http://courageunmasked.org/ starting in late July.  If you are in the Washington area, please consider coming to the auction and bidding on a mask or two.  It’s a great cause and will be a fabulous event.  More details to come closer to the date.

The mask I made this time is a half model of the structure of the HPV virus (one of the viruses linked to throat cancer, among other things) over a silver radiation mask.  I think the mask, when silver, is reminiscent of the robot from the 1920s movie Metropolis – both beautiful and terrifying – as is the virus – a gorgeous mathematical structure that can cause so much pain and suffering.

Here is an image:

Beauty and the Beast