Monday, September 10, 2012
Breathe-Outdoor Sculpture at Maudslay 2012
The simplicity of this year's piece is in contrast to the long and twisted road to its creation. It was one of those situations when I was firmly planted in my own way. I am a believer in the importance in right intentions and perhaps that is where the twisted road began. This is my sixth time exhibiting in Outdoor Sculpture at Maudslay. My first year was an ambitious piece which involved ink drawings with natural materials on handmade paper from Bhutan, ladders, and lots and lots of rain which led to technical difficulties. The next four were much more about the specifics of the place (quotes from John Greenleaf Whittier who spent much time at Maudslay and Martha Brookes Hutcheson who designed the formal garden) and the viewer's experience (Word Play with letters in a tree to find and spell out a Wordsworth quote and the community book installation Play at Maudslay). This year I decided that I wanted it to be more about me and what I do as an artist. Perhaps the hubris of that is what got in the way.
We send in our proposals in May and then have the summer to work on, and in some cases, change our plans. This year's theme is Inside Out. We are encouraged but not required to have our work relate. I started with the title Transcendental Choir and planned hanging scrolls which viewers would unroll to read quotes by the New England Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, to name a few) on the inside. I viewed it as the beginning of a new set of work, but as the summer went on, I became less and less interested in figuring out the mechanics and construction of the scrolls and knew I needed a new plan.
As I pondered the idea of Inside Out, I thought of the breath and how it brings the outside in and lets the inside out. I thought I would make a "Breathing Station" with instructions to stand under my chosen tree and breathe, but then decided that that was too conceptual for me. Although I am going through a lot of conflict about the making of objects and the burden of what to do with them that follows, I still like make things out of tangible materials.
I had written a text about the breath and wanted to use the words. I still have a stack of waterproof tyvek sheets from earlier projects and a life-time supply of black liquid acrylic from the Hawthorne project so I knew what I would be using for the writing.
In late spring, I had taken a jewelry class with Lisa Scala in working with sea glass and stones and was interested in using some of the techniques. My vision at the start was strips of tyvek with wire-wrapped stones hanging from them.
After bringing several hanging strips to near completion, I could see that it just wasn't right. At first I thought it was the quality of the words that I had written. Admittedly they weren't good, but that wasn't the problem. After some puzzling, I realized that I was revisiting an issue that I thought I had resolved twenty years ago in an epiphany moment that I talk about in my Artist's Journey talk. A poet friend looked at an accordion book I had made from binders board. It had imagery on the front and text (me telling what it was about) on the back. She said, I can see so many things in this. And I said, Aha. When she left, I covered over the text on the back and realized that some things are better left unsaid. Yet here I was again telling the viewer what to think and canceling all the mystery and limiting the work.
Released from the burden of my text and still needing something for my tyvek strips, I made it simple—the word BREATHE with one letter on each strip. I wrote two sets of the letters and chose the best. I made a second set of strips for the back with abstract brush doodles. I had thought about sewing the two sides together but decided that it would be a simpler cleaner look without the stitching with the added benefit of being easier and quicker. I used imitation sinew to tie the tyvek to pieces of grape vine and wire to wrap the stones.
If the making was filled with twists and turns, the installation was a straightforward joy. I hadn't looked at the tree since I had chosen it in May and was delighted with the sloping branch overlooking the field. I'm sure that was why I had chosen it in the first place but I felt it was a sign that I had gotten it right. I finally was able to relax and breathe.