Thursday, June 06, 2024

Activity as volumetric thinker

Looking up at the heavens she howled and cried until she grew hoarse, but even after her voice had given out, her whole body continued to shake. If only she could become a sculpture. Though she had produced many drawings and prints, she had know that she was meant to be a sculptor since her youth. And now, the only way to escape this pain was to become a sculpture herself.

— from 3 Streets, by Yoko Tawada

1. Can I call myself an artist? Yes. Apparently I am emerging. Some of my sculptures are on display at the Montreal Art Center and Museum, June 8-22.

Women sculptors have often been single figures, whose very activity as volumetric thinkers caused consternation. (Penelope Curtis)

2. What am I trying to prove? And I am certain I am trying to prove something. I am, however, not sure if it is to the world or to myself, or to someone else. This is a partial proof that anyone can be an artist. If I can do it, surely anyone can. Or at least anyone who takes the time to respond to a call for submissions, prepare a portfolio and a statement. Anyone who can manage the logistics of exhibiting one's work. Alternatively it is proof that I have some artistic talent. Can both hypotheses be true?

3. Having the goal of exhibition has shaped my time. There are deadlines. Paint must dry. These past months have been exceptionally stress-laden, for life reasons, yet I made a commitment to participate in a group exhibit — an added pressure, but also a distraction from life, even a handy excuse.

4. Would these sculptures have turned out differently without a looming end date? Minimally. In some cases, a decision was forced. I no longer had the luxury of procrastination. But the right decisions were made, of this I am confident. 

5. Some finishing detail was rushed. As I browse work in galleries, I notice the precision I didn't make time for — a sanded contour, a crisper edge, a neater mounting. Such detail can be a differentiator between competent work and confident work. While parts of the process are meditative and slow down time, I need to relearn patience, I need to take more time.

6. How do I title a sculpture? A title can change everything. It gives the viewer a framework, it sets a tone. An artwork must announce itself to the world. It takes a stance. It makes a statement. It tells a story. Sometimes it's an untitled story about nothing in particular.

7. I play a game with myself when I visit galleries and museums: I look at an artwork cold, understand something about it, identify how it makes me feel; then I read the little white label at its side, for its title, year, materials, maybe some other context. And then I look again. This game makes me feel like both a winner and a loser simultaneously, that I am some clever purist exercising her cumulative knowledge and insight but also never fully appreciating what an artist might be trying to say. Is the failing mine or the artist's, I wonder.

8. They say a picture's worth a thousand words. What is a sculpture worth then? Why do we title artworks with words? An artwork can generate a feeling; but a title can help the artwork tell a story. Sometimes I think the title should be able to stand on its own, without the artwork.

9. I read artist statements and laugh at their empty wordiness. I have collected many sample over the years. Enough to fill a book.

10. How do I price a sculpture? Unlike a canvas, I cannot charge by square inch. I can calculate time and materials, but what of found materials? Do I count the time involved for mould-making on top of the time to make the clay original? If I reuse the mould, should I adjust the price? 

11. What is my artwork worth to me? What do I want for it? At this point, mostly I want someone to take it off my hands. I'm not in this for the money. I like the idea of barter pricing, because some things are more useful to me than money. One sculpture is priced at "Removal and disposal of two old hot water tanks from the artist's cellar basement, accessed via trap door and steep step ladder." Another costs "Air duct and dryer vent cleaning in the artist's condo, which may include the removal of animal remains and other debris." But it's only because I'm financially comfortable that I can entertain alternative economic structures.

12. Curatorial philosophies and logistics are confounding me. How do I choose what to display? How many pieces? How do I display them? Painters must choose how to frame their paintings; sculptors must stage their work, in three dimensions. I put my work on a pedestal. Should these platforms conform to each other to forge (a perhaps artificial) cohesiveness of the sculptures, or should they play to each piece's distinctiveness?

13. Where do I find such pedestals? Do I make them, modify them? How do I transport them? How much time have I devoted to the material that supports the art, beyond making the art itself?

Object-sculpture is by it nature materially and spatially assertive, so a sculptor needs logistical and material support as well as the endorsement of others who believe in the undertaking. (Clare Lilley)

14. Here's a smattering of books I've read in recent months (rather, almost years), either directly or tangentially about art and artists, that have shaped some of my art thinking, bringing me to where I am now.

  • Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women Since 1945, published on the occasion of the Arts Council Collection Exhibition
  • Old in Art School, A Memoir of Starting Over, by Nell Painter
  • Like a Sky Inside, by Jakuta Alikavazovic
  • Biography of X, by Catherine Lacey
  • The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession, by Michael Finkel
  • The Deceptions, by Jill Bialosky
  • Tell Me I'm an Artist, by Chelsea Martin
  • Sirens and Muses, by Antonia Angress
  • The Art of Vanishing, by Lynne Kutsukake
  • The Exhibitionist, by Charlotte Mendelson
  • 3 Streets, by Yoko Tawada

15. Why do writers have so much to say about art?

16. There is so much more I want to say about these books, but I'm not sure I remember what. I read differently now. I regret not blogging, not documenting my response, not writing my way through my opinions. 

17. I've been messing around, playing with art, toying with the idea of art school; if not a degreed program, then workshops in exotic places. What do I hope to accomplish with school? More proof, validation? (Of what?) More importantly, what do I hope to learn?

18. I have been making things out of clay and, for the most part, casting them. I want to learn about different casting materials. How do I even begin to go about casting bronze? Where do I get some bronze? Can the things I do with clay be adapted for ceramics? How do different types of clay feel, or behave differently? I have trouble finding answers in books or on the internet. I suspect the answers may come from people, possibly school. I want to experiment with materials, to find the material best suited to the story I want to tell.

19. Perhaps I want to prove that art is easier than literature. The price of admission is lower. It's easy to show my work at the little gallery down the street. People actually stop and look. It's less simple to publish a book. There is no little publisher around the corner. There aren't many people who will casually spend 20 minutes with my writing and spend a few hundred or thousand dollars on it.

20. Perhaps this exercise in art was a warm-up. Or merely a procrastination tactic.

Exhibitions are not the end point of a process. Exhibitions start things, and they begin processes of change and reassessment. They don't close a chapter but open it. (Joy Sleeman)

Gaping holes in the body of her argument, 2024; clay, acrylic. On the beach at Benitses, she came apart at the seams, 2022; plaster, acrylic. 
The body is a construct, the body is a triangle, 2023; hydrostone. Jeremy is a delicate flower, 2024; clay, plaster, acrylic.

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