Friday, August 20, 2010

The Post-Mort

During my theatre years, 'post-mortem' referred to the critical examination made by the technical support team after a performance was struck. In this instance there is only myself to evaluate the relative success of the project - to deem if changes or improvements are required or whether the endeavour should be laid to rest.

For now the project will remain dormant (although posts will continue to sporadically surface on the blog site) and the only task remaining is to mention and thank many people for their very meaningful contributions. The list of people involved in one way or another is extensive so forgive me if I have overlooked you (my memory doesn't always operate at full capacity) but please, remind me of my oversight.

I want to give thanks to Daniel, Glenda, Beka, Janine and all of the staff at Profiles Gallery for providing much more than a venue in which to exhibit.

Thanks to Deanna, my friend and co-exhibitor. Let's do it again sometime!

Thank you to the community of art-goers who visited the show while it was up including my friends, family, and even the mayor of St. Albert.

I want to express gratitude to Dawn, Sharon, Rick, Brenda Kim, Marjan, and the many 'anonymous' people who sat with me during my twelve hours of silence to share stories, anecdotes, actual articles of clothing and just general musings - the blushing young woman with the backpack, the retired Canadian Forces officer, the lovely middle-aged woman in chartreuse, the PhD candidate from New Zealand researching oral storytelling traditions, the young Asian woman who shared her apron story, the Doukhobor woman who shared with me a part of her culture, the woman who fed me a fresh market berry, and the couple who stopped to reminisce about their elder name a few.

Special thanks to the people in my own corner of the world who contributed articles of clothing and stories so that I could hang it all out on a line for the rest of the world to see - Connie, Bob, Don, Carol, Larissa, Lori, Murray, Lorna, Don, Polly, Charity, Enerys, Christina and Dorothy.

To my young models, Brienne and Jessie - thank you!

And to Liz, my make-up artist (Aria Studios), and Rianna my hairdresser (Deor Hair Studio) thank you for helping me with the 'look'.

For Beth, Brenda Kim, Glenda, and Lisa, a very heartfelt thanks for your presence and participation in the workshop.

Thanks also to those who took time to write comments on the blog site - Ken, Natalie, Paula, Jan, Stephen, Joann, and Yan). Daniel perused the site frequently over the duration of the show and printed out the pages so that visitors to the gallery could also read them.

For a brief period of time we were all spun into this marvelously unique yet common thread. Thank you - everyone - for being part of the project and helping to create a space for storytelling to emerge.

After Hours

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Empress' Clothing

My writing fell by the wayside this week as I spent my time saying goodbye to a friend.

It wasn't as 'cut and dried' as the goodbye one would spit out at the end of a casual phone conversation but that final kind...the one that takes days to pour out and pulls your thoughts from the here and now into the " I remember when..."

I was twelve when I attended my first funeral. I skipped school with my best friend at the time, Jessie, and we attended the service held for Mrs. Poon.

Mrs. Poon, together with her husband, ran the neighbourhood corner store and any of us kids who spent more time than money hovering over the candy section would soon realize she had eyes in the back of her head.

We had difficulty understanding everything Mrs. Poon said at times because she came from somewhere else. There wasn't a day (until the end) that we didn't see her sitting high on her stool behind the confection counter. She always greeted us; she would smile, and we liked her.

My last memory of Mrs. Poon never seems right. I am looking down at her instead of the other way around. She isn't wearing the indiscriminate relaxed clothing we came to associate her with. Instead she wears a formal, iridescent turquoise gown. It is the most beautiful blue-green I can ever recall seeing and the way it shimmers reminds me of the way sunlight must sparkle on faraway oceans, in tropical lands - lands that remind me that Mrs. Poon comes from somewhere very far away, somewhere picturesque and serene, lands in stunning contrast to the neighbourhood where the two of us have come to spend some brief time together.

When I think of Mrs. Poon to this day (and I do still think of her), I think of her dressed as a queen. I think of her embarking on a majestic voyage, returning home perhaps, to family and friends who have been eager to embrace her and to know all there is to know about the foreign land she visited.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Silence

Today I want to leave you with a quote from Rita McKeough, an artist whom I admire.

"As soon as you stop the chaos, you experience the subversive power of silence. Dialogue and listening are politically and socially the most powerful tools for change."

I invite response, as always.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Im)Pulse - A Workshop in Performance Art

(Im)Pulse is a 3-hour workshop designed for individuals interested in knowing more about aspects of Performance Art and learning to think about the body in art as 'the medium'.

Through experiential activity, gesture, play, and interpretation, participants will consider the practice of art-making within a public setting and the presence of both artist and viewer as vital elements of the work.

July 22nd, 2010 from 6 to 9 PM (Registration Required) Profiles Public Art Gallery, 19 Perron Street, St. Albert, AB. Phone (780) 460-9537 for further details.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

West - Monday through Friday

The photographs were based on the plight of a western prairie woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar landscape of banal and seemingly endless days and spends a lifetime trying to forge out an identity, silently praying her daughters don't follow a similar path.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Following Subject Matter May Not Be Suitable for all Viewers

Mother, may I go out to swim?

Yes, my darling daughter.

Hang your clothes on a hickory limb

But don't go near the water.

This of all verses sums up best the inconsistency of messages I received as a youngster. It also makes me wonder about the countless other 'mixed messages' that as an adult I feel bombarded with daily.

It's true that a number of cities and municipalities have bylaws outlawing the use of outdoor clotheslines. Many of these same communities urge us to be responsible citizens by being conscientious consumers of energy and resources.

Although using a clothesline saves money, energy, and helps our laundry to smell fresher, keeps our whites whiter (thereby eliminating the need to use harsh detergents and bleaches), and helps our clothes to last longer and show less wear, aesthetically it doesn't have the same appeal as an architecturally manicured backyard consisting of 2.5 trees, a barbecue and a patio umbrella.

One of my neighbours has three vehicles parked in back that he has ignominiously stripped for parts but somehow that doesn't offend the bylaw officers as much as my hanging laundry on a clothesline does.

To get around the bylaw, I've just done away with the clothesline entirely. I counted four houses on my block today that still have Christmas lights hanging from eaves and trees, and one even has a sadly deflated Santa mercilessly slumped over a fence, so I see no problem hanging my delicate unmentionables from the branches of my caragana hedge. In my opinion, it's a welcome sight to see the fruits of my labour and know that the fresh outdoor air is a far healthier alternative to chemically-scented drier sheets (another entirely unnecessary 'item for consumption' conceived by business magnates seeking higher market shares).

I'm sure if Miss Amy Vanderbilt was alive today she would agree, "It certainly has our attention."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Secrets - Big Lessons

Some years ago I confided in a dear older friend, "Here I am thirty-nine years old and I'm still scared!"

As an artist I often feared: what if no one understands the work I put out in the world? What if I make something that causes people to react, offends, makes people angry or think less of me, or worse yet, what if they laugh or dismiss what I am doing as irrelevant or meaningless?" I was struggling with what I felt I had to do to please others and with what my soul begged to do.

My fear had immobilized me from trying so many things. It controlled my creativity and restricted my ability to approach my art with the total commitment and enthusiasm required to reach my full potential. It kept me from embarking on adventures, from meeting new people, and closed doors even before I reached them. It limited my opportunities and prevented me from fully embracing the life I had been given.

My dear friend closed the distance between us, held his hand out to hold mine and whispered, "I'll let you in on a little secret. We are all scared."

I looked at him in total shock and surprise. "What? You're all of what...fifty? And you're telling me you're still scared?" The most confident and capable person I knew was standing right before me telling me, in all seriousness, that he was scared too.

That encounter caused me to re-examine what it was I was truly afraid of. I realized that it wasn't so much that I would fall flat on my face but that there would be no one there to pick me up when I did.

The secret that my friend shared gave me faith that if I took the risk of extending my honest, inner-most self to others, there might be someone, either through their counsel or by example, there to assist and guide me through the scary times. The biggest revelation of my life came in the form of comfort in the knowledge that I wasn't alone, that everyone faces fears in life - fears that far outweigh the mere inadequacy and frustration that I was feeling by trying to lead a life of little consequence.

Making art got a whole lot easier.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Monday Wash Day - Everybody Happy?

There was a platform built near the back door with steps on one side that we would climb and Mother would set down her laundry basket of wet clothing and pull the line towards her. A bleach bottle with a large hole cut from the top of it containing numerous wooden clothes pegs hung from the line. As her work progressed and corners of pillowcases and bath towels were fastened to the strong cord, I could see other women in the distance performing similar actions with similar household items. Often the women would wave or call out greetings. Sometimes they would invite us over for tea.

It was the 'lines of communication', though, that conveyed vast amounts of information, far greater than what the spoken words said. The day of the week laundry was hung was significant. It told whether there was order in the household. The dungarees and faded shirts told whether work was plentiful. A predominance of women's undergarments signified the time of the month. A sea of diapers heralded a baby's arrival in the world and black on the line meant a sympathy card was in order.

Some people learn to read by following the words in a book with their eyes and enunciating each syllable until the sounds and rhythm of their spoken voice makes sense to them. Standing on a large wooden box in the middle of a rural setting was how I learned to 'read.'

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Language of Socks

One of my earliest memories was of sitting on a bench in a rectory as my Uncle carried on quiet conversation with our parish priest.

We had taken off our shoes when we entered the small room and I was painfully knowledgeable that my socks were soiled. I awkwardly tried to avoid drawing attention to my little self, thinking that it was somehow enormously wrong to have dirty socks in this of all places.

I struggled to tuck my feet as far underneath the bench as my little body would enable so that Father wouldn't see my feet.

Somehow, at four years of age in a world that was occupied largely by imaginary friends and memorizing the colours in my crayon box, I was intensely aware that my soles needed cleansing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Missing Buttons

Imagine yourself getting dressed. You proceed to do up your buttons, top one first, then the next, but as you proceed down the line you realize you are missing one. Your mind scrambles to remember the 'tug' or the little thread that was pulled releasing the anchor from its moor. You try to recall the sound it made as it dropped to the floor, and where you tucked it for safekeeping until such time as you could reattach it.

What happens when we don't maintain connections; when we become careless and don't attend to strengthening them? It may be a bit of a stretch to equate missing buttons to soul loss but consider what happens when we can no longer 'keep it all neatly tucked inside'?

Human contact is essential. Evidently, having someone to confide in is very good for our health.

I was remembering an interview documenting the growing social isolation among people in North America. A professor at Duke University had conducted a survey that revealed North Americans have fewer close confidantes than they did twenty years ago. The numbers indicate a dramatic social change.

Is human contact diminishing? Could our prevalent use of the Internet be influencing whether we have fewer close ties?

There could be numerous explanations, including the changing nature of our interactions. Society has become more racially diverse. We tend to have smaller families, marry later in life, and have fewer children than we did twenty years ago. People are spending more hours in the labour force, partly as a result of more women going to work. People are more dispersed geographically and tend to have longer commutes due to proliferating suburban communities. Socioeconomics continue to play a role as people who are well educated, white, and well off, tend to have more resources than people who lack education, or who are from minority racial or ethnic groups.

One major area of note is that women tend to have more confidantes than men. Just as physical fitness has its own rewards, having someone to confide in is equally important. Researchers who have studied the relationship between stress and disease speak of the mind-body connection or the 'body and soul connection' commenting that one of the best things a person can do to nurture good health is to maintain quality relationships. Having someone to talk to aids in combating stress, fatigue, and difficult life experiences.

The researchers also found that women tend to share from their souls and connect with other women, confiding on a deeper personal level about relationships and day-to-day pressures, while men tend to emphasize superficial or communal interests, and therefore don't develop as many emotional associations as women.

The question remains whether to button up or not.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Performing the Act of Listening

If something is meaningful to me, perhaps it holds meaning for another as well. Just as a thread connects a button to a garment, a thread of communication connects one person to another. Words once spoken cannot be taken back without leaving some residual substance behind. They remain forever 'out there' lingering in the vastness of the universe.

I understand radio transmissions to be like that. As a child, I was fascinated by radio waves forever circling the heavens, scattered and fragmented in the many pockets of a universe I wasn't even aware existed.

Words can also live on as memory, deeply embedded within our psyche - an embodied experience. We can cut our ties with a person, but inside us, no matter how hard we try to bury or push them aside, words remain.

Listening is a powerful means of communication. It can be passive or active. Listening involves far more than mere silence on the part of the listener. Active listening is attentive; participants are fully engaged and feedback is often given through body language.

Can listening also be an art form? Can the experience of listening or being listened to, be beautiful or thought provoking? I suppose we have to examine our finely-ingrained definitions of what 'art' is to determine whether we accept listening as a form of art, just as we need to consider a 'performance artist' as the artwork.

Art as a performance is not so very different than art on a wall. Viewers form ideas, opinions, insights, connections, and sometimes are confronted by discontent or opposition to the circumstances. All situations demand a response or reaction. When we enter an art gallery, do we have the expectation that we will see something familiar, something that we recognize? Perhaps we have the expectation of seeing something we haven't seen before. It is an art gallery after all - a space for viewers to suspend belief, if only for a little while, and take the work in through their various senses. Next time you enter an art gallery, consider what the work is asking of you, rather than what you are asking of it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The First Post

I have spent years doing laundry, both mine and others. It is drudgery and a chore that cannot be fully appreciated for being anything more. During those hours of exasperating toil of what I considered to be an empty and futile task (what was done today only became undone again tomorrow) my creative mind drifted to the endless secrets and stories that laundry possessed.

An article of clothing is not much different than an article of information. Snagged threads, stained collars, runs in knits, torn pant knees, clothing that showed wear in predictable places as children outgrew them, pockets that held much more than lint: so many intimacies were revealed in those repositories of information.

I never revealed my findings however. I was protective of the secrets I became privy to and considered my role as laundress equal to a person in a position of utmost confidence.

There was a tremendous responsibility in that assignment. I held confidences that could topple... well, small kingdoms. I became the repository.

A good laundress learns to mend minor 'indiscretions' and a confidante is a woman to whom personal matters and secrets are told and entrusted. It was through laundry that I learned my path in life held meaning.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In Service To Help You Come Clean

Your Laundress Confidante will be available at Profiles Public Art Gallery, #19 Perron Street in St. Albert, Saturdays July 10th through 31st between 1:00 and 4:00 pm. Phone (780) 460-4310 for further details.