In November 2023, as part of a residency I was doing at the Amazon Spheres, I was invited to give a talk on my work as part of Conflux, an internal conference of designers. They were particularly interested in the dramatic changes my work had undergone in recent years and what drove those changes. Good question, I thought. I would like to know that myself. I set about unpacking the plethora of experiments, dead-ends, crises, writings, and, of course, art, I’d accumulated in the past four years, and attempted to wrestle them into some sort of narrative arc. This post and the previous one are adapted from that talk.
(When we last left our hero, she was a printing machine, generating patterns and covering the walls with them.)
I was aware that these prints weren’t the whole story, that I wanted them to actually escape the wall and fill a space.
This print, Andy’s Ambition, felt like it had the potential to leave the wall. I could see these squarish, space-invader-like characters with four mechanical arms, starting to emerge out of it.
So I cut two of them out of foam core, cut slots into them, put them together at right angles, and poof, I had made a 3D object. I was now a 3-D artist. And I’d made my first model.
I made more of these creatures, cutting the components out with this groovy vintage saw, the cutawl K-11, and I painted them with housepaint in two related shades, employing more of my old painters’ tricks for making illusions of space and volume .
I suspended these creatures in front of the pattern that had spawned them.
On the surface my work had changed a lot. But to say “figurative to abstract” or “painting to installation” is superficial, it masks how deep the change was. My whole conception of what it was to make my work had exploded.
The scary, wobbly feeling of not knowing where something was going or what it was going to look like, was in some ways the point. And something I was/am aware that I need to hang onto.
I read in an obituary of a jazz musician that he’d always try to keep himself in “beginner’s mind,” and the concept rang true for me.
Changing it up with new materials and tools and unfamiliar processes keeps me in beginner’s mind. Over the last two years, I’ve touched lots of different materials, cutting them, folding them, moving around, gluing them down, just to see what they do.
I learned from a book on origami architecture numerous ways to make volume by cutting and folding a flat piece of paper. And I copied the polyhedron patterns from an ancient geometry text and started drawing on them and then drawing the drawed-on pieces.
I made more screenprints, etchings, reliefs, stop-motion animations, and tried different ways to make shapes come out of the wall.
I now make time to experiment with no goal in mind. Even if I have a project with a deadline, I start the process out with an experiment, one that I’m not sure will work, keeping that open, beginner’s mind. A dead end might only be a dead end for a particular project. I put all the dead ends and mistakes in my back pocket.
Last year I completed three large projects in fairly quick succession. All of them were quite different from each other and all drew on my back-pocket experiments, from all that time I spent in the studio trying stuff, not sure what the “thing” was that I was producing. Each had fixed parameters they had to meet, presenting both technical and aesthetic challenges, and each drew on old skills and forced me to learn something new.
I came up with Sweat of My Imagination in response to a tall, curved wall in a stairwell. I drew on my time in film school, making animated films by drawing sequential imagery. The technical challenge I’d been mulling was how to make “fins” stick out of a wall. One revelation, when it was all done, was how these thin bits of plywood could create such a convincing illusion of volume. The other was what color could do on its own, unleashed from representation.
The structure of Jello Salad Deconstructed came out of my Origami Architecture experiments. Making a flat piece of paper, or in this case fabric, have volume just by cutting and folding it. The technical challenge of scaling it up involved learning how to translate these geometric experiments into steel pipe structure around which to tension the fabric. The parameters were ones I’d set up myself, by organizing a show for printmakers’ ventures into three dimensions. This time I only needed to set the wayback machine a few years, to when I was a painter of jello salads and CMYK afficianado (the latter of which I still am). The result was something that was translucent and hovered somewhere between solidity and porosity. It gave the illusion that you could walk through it, but you couldn’t.
As I was unmolding my jello salad, I was offered a residency at the Amazon Spheres Understory. The givens in this case were a very large video screen and the requirement that my installation be something the public could interact with. In my back pocket, I happened to have these handmade stop-motion animations of pattern which I’d made in the isolation of 2021, and which I’d been wanting to revisit. I also thought that maybe that RGB pixel idea had more potential, especially in high tech land. In the installation, Mega Pixels, I created stop-motion animations out of crowd-sourced arrangements of giant pixels, and I learned to code in the process (didn’t see that one coming).
I’m hesitant to categorize or summarize all this into a “process”, for fear that it will become prescriptive, a new rut. (But, since they were expecting some sort of conclusion when I gave this talk, I had to at least take a stab at it.) I’ve found that a new meta-process has evolved for me: A new parameter causes me to come up with a new idea to respond to it. Executing that idea presents a new technical challenge; which prompts me to I learn a new skill, tool, or medium. The new tool presents new possibilities for the next idea or project. Rinse, repeat.
And I’m also hesitant to define the ongoing themes that have emerged, for the same reason. Again, throwing caution to the wind, here’s a swing at that: The idea that technology is something you can touch and move around, something we already do. Low-tech, hands-on, digital in the sense of your fingers; meets other sense of digital technology, manifesting the continuity between different kinds of technology. Humans have been working in tandem with technology since we started chipping stone tools, and making art with them at least since we started weaving.
I think the thing that had kept me in my lane for so long in the past was that I was afraid that if I went wide, I couldn’t go deep. Perhaps now I’m not quite as worried about the depth part any more because I’ve learned how to stay open to what the new materials, tools, and crafts, and their demands, will teach me. Even when I’m mostly using tools I already know, I always remind myself throw in something unfamiliar that I have to learn on the fly, just to keep a little of that scary-wobbly feeling of beginner’s mind.