Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Slow Dyeing in Kansas City

That is not slowly dying in Kansas City; that would be something altogether different.

During my week at the Educators Art Lab at Kansas City Art Institute my focus was fiber and the theme was Slow Cloth. Taught by the awesome Kim Eichler-Messmer, this particular class emphasized  natural dye techniques and the Japanese art of Shibori.
Shibori is Japanese for resist dyeing, so what we consider tie dying is Shibori, but the Japanese have a way of making everything more elegant and beautiful. Shibori is not splotchy colored blobs; it is more carefully considered than that. What follow are examples of different Shibori techniques.
This is what I always thought of when I heard the word Shibori, but it is only one type. Fabric is folded and attached to a pole with tape. Thread or twine is wrapped somewhat widely around the fabric and pole then fabric is scrunched down, forcing some fabric to pooch out over the string. Once all fabric is wrapped and scrunched, it is moistened and then dipped in dye. (Look: here are my notes, not very readable, but the pictures help.)

It really goes pretty fast once you know what you are doing.

Fabric is folded and stitched in a running stitch that is knotted at one end. Designs can be deliberate or random, sections of fabric can pinched and sewn. When stitching is finished, you grab the end tail of your thread and pull it tight, which bunches up the fabric, then it is made wet and dipped in the dye.
I tried to make a bird shape with this technique with some success, but not much.

Mokume which means wood grain is a variation this. In this instance threads are sewn in paired rows so that they can be pulled together for a wavy line effect.

Machine stitching

I am not sure what the Japanese term is for this.  Fabric is accordion folded and then stitched on a sewing machine. The trick is that the bobbin thread is cheap and flimsy so that after the stitched fabric is dyed, the sewn packet is ripped open. I played around with ideas of reflection when I "drew" them. I really enjoyed playing around with this process and if I possessed a sewing machine, would do lots more.

If you don't like sewing, this is the Shibori technique for you. Fabric is folded accordion style, either in squares or triangles, then matching wooden blocks are placed on either side of the fabric bundle and clamped into place. The fabric is then dipped in the dye, although it can be partially dipped in one dye, then rinsed and then dipped in a different dye bath. You could also clamp and dye in one color, then let it dry and then refold and clamp another set of shapes in place and dip in a different dye bath to build up pattern. 

This one was folded, clamped and dipped in ferrous sulfate then dried and refolded and re-clamped with a different shape and then dipped in Indigo. 

It was a great experience, and the only side effect is that your hands turn blue.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Art in Kansas City

During a week long teacher workshop at Kansas City Art Institute, I had the opportunity to visit two art museums.
One was the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. This is a very small museum, made even smaller by the fact that two new exhibits were being installed. The building is gorgeous and shows the art well. An exhibit called Deconstructing Robert Mangold placed his work alongside his artistic peers and influences in a satisfying way. There was also a nice little collage exhibit.  The cafe is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in town, but it was not open when I was there, so I cannot confirm that, (nor have I eaten at many spots in town.)
Robert Mangold Print
A little deconstruction

The other museum is the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. The locals are really proud of this museum, and I wasn't sure if I could be impressed but it turned out that I was. The museum comes across as a mini Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's got a little bit of everything.

 I was told the collections of Asian Art and Native American Art were exceptional. Since I live in Washington, I thought: we have entire museums devoted to these areas how great can their rooms be?
But I was impressed with the Asian Art rooms, they give the Sackler and the Freer a little friendly competition. In fact my favorite part of the museum was the collection of pet cricket accessories. 
Tiny cricket feeding bowls in front of cage and cage cleaning brush, cricket fighting ring is to the left.
Horse in the Temple Room

And the Native American section engaged me more than the confusingly displayed National Museum of the American Indian.

Other favorites were the Nick Cave (a local and a graduate of Kansas City Art Institute) work, and a show of snapshot photography. 
Funny double exposure snapshot
Nick Cave Property
detail Nick Cave
Yinka Shonibare with Anselm Kiefer in background
Love this George Ault

Go Kansas City!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Miniatures and Dollhouses

The National Building Museum is exhibiting Small Stories: At Home in a Dollhouse. I was so excited about this exhibit because I have always loved miniatures. But I found the exhibit a little less thrilling than I had expected. One problem being the confusing way the audio worked, but I figured that out eventually.

I did learn some new things though: dollhouse miniatures began as a fad in the 17th century similar to cabinets of curiosities that were meant recreate actual homes in a small scale. They were also used as a tool for young women to learn how to manage a household. They were the only kinds of properties most women could own. Gradually over time, they evolved into playhouses for children. Last year I enjoyed reading The Miniaturist by Essie Burton which tells a mysterious story of a woman and her cabinet that recreates her home in miniature.
The exhibit features many old Dollhouses, but what disappointed  me was the strange scale of the oldest houses, for instance a giant copper pot on a small table. Also the dolls all looked awkward and wrong in their spaces (when do they not?)
Downstairs in the manor house
My favorites were the ones from the early 20th century, which had managed to get the scale under control but were old enough to be charming.

My favorite part of the exhibit were the contemporary rooms made by mostly local artists.
This clever one by Bridgett Sue Lambert depicting a camera trained on a mini dollhouse and giant printer printing out stills of the dollhouse and framed prints stacked against the walls. It also had a basement. I would not mind going back and studying this one some more.
I also loved this one called the Exile of Prospero by L. Delaney.

The contemporary pieces really made the show for me.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Unicorn or Jesus

It's almost the end of the school year and students are restless and the pressure is on to keep them engaged.  My 6th grade students are writing and creating shadow puppet shows.
 They are allowed to work in small groups and my suggestion is that they retell a classic fairy tale, but I  open to alternate story ideas. Two girls were debating possible story lines for their show.
  "Well, we have to have Jesus in our puppet show" 
"Jesus? I want to do a play about a unicorn." 
"We could have Jesus, a unicorn and a rainbow." "
"What about a rainbow unicorn?"
And just like that, Jesus lost his starring role.
(Never mind that shadow puppets are supposed to be black.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unexpected consequences of teaching

I have been thinking about a former student lately.

I do a landscape painting unit where we spend some time drawing outside on the school grounds.  Our school property has a public jogging path that is heavily used.  Some of the students will sit in the middle of the jogging path and I go around and ask them not to block the path. In this particular year I had a difficult group and some of them would not budge.  Along comes a bicyclist all decked out in bike gear and wrap around glasses. He starts cursing at the students, which was not appropriate or expected. One student jumped to his feet and started yelling back at him. "At least I am not a loser and I don't wear spandex and live in my  parents basement!" Along with a few more choice words. "Jack!(not his real name)," I said, " you can't say things like that, you are going to get yourself in trouble someday."
 "But Ms S., I know it's immature, but he is a grown up and should know better, but I am just a kid."
Well, true, but the whole interaction it was out of line.

Early last week I learned that this same student, now a junior in high school, had murdered his father by stabbing him to death. I feel devastated. Even though he was a difficult and troubled boy, I kind of liked him.

That is something I hadn't expected when I started teaching: that some students will break your heart.

Once again I find myself lying on my back in NYC

For the second time in 24 hours, I found myself lying on my back in a public space in New York City.

The first time was in SOHO. We had gone to an art opening that we thought would be installations of light and sound, but was instead three sets of googles, remotes and headphones dangling from a ceiling of an art gallery. After standing around a very hot room and gradually getting closer to having a turn, they closed the gallery. So that was a failed experience.

My son Victor suggested we check out the Dream House. The internet told us it was closed, but we walked to the address and were buzzed in. We climbed up two flights of creaky carpeted stairs as an incense smell intensified. A young woman in a sun dress (this is March) greeted us and asked us to take off our shoes, remain quiet, take no pictures, and to please make a donation. 

She then opened a door to a small apartment glowing in blue, magenta and purple. In the main room about ten people were sprawled on the floor. A giant sound of buzzing, humming and beating filled the space. 
Most chose to lie on the floor, some wandered, some shifted around slowly because changing your position changed the sound. Did I mention that it was really hot and the incense smell was overwhelming? (At least that explained the gatekeepers outfit). I lay on the floor, I walked, I stretched, I put my head against the window. We probably were in there about 30 minutes, and there were always at least 10 people in the room. It was not as I imagined it, (I had thought it would have more rooms with different sounds in each room), but it was interesting and more rewarding than the gallery show we had come from.

The second experience was at the Whitney. Laura Poitras' show "Astro Noise" is about surveillance in the post 9/11 world. The show consists of projections, documents and video clips, some large, some small. One room had a carpeted platform in the middle and a large projection on the ceiling. The projection is of surveillance footage of the night skies over Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you realize that people are sprawled on their backs on the platform. So you wait till someone leaves and there you are lying on your back in a museum in New York.

It's kind of mesmerizing watching the stars shift across the sky in the company of strangers.  But the best part of the installation is when, several rooms later, you walk into the final room and see that an infrared camera has been broadcasting the unsuspecting viewers lying on the platform to the public.
Surveillance indeed.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Road trip to Roanoke

Last weekend, which was brutally cold, we took a drive to Roanoke, VA. Our purpose was to go see Wilco in concert on their current tour. I had tried to get tickets for their DC show, but was having no luck. I scanned the concert dates and saw that they were going to be in Roanoke on the Saturday of a three day weekend and thought, why not?  I easily scored good seats. And I have to say, it's more fun to see music outside of DC. Of course we did see them in DC also, I was able to get tickets eventually, after the pre-sale frenzy was over.
This is my sketchbook record of the trip, scenes from 81.
But anyway, this is not about tickets, this is about Roanoke. The drive is about 4 hours down unexciting route 81. We griped about how we could be in NYC in the same amount of time or some other more exciting place. Neither of us had ever been to Roanoke and we had pretty low expectations. The only thing I could pull from my memory was that a friend had told me that someone had reproduced a miniature version of Graceland in their front yard and you could visit it.

This lion was in the window of an antique shop.
Once we arrived we started to think about dinner, we'd have to eat early, but the realization that it was Valentines weekend had us worried. We scanned menus online and were surprised to find so many interesting restaurants. I had been sure we would have to eat at an Applebee's or something. So we set off for downtown and found....a real downtown. Shops, restaurants, a marketplace, a museum, lots of people: it's a happening place.

One thing I have learned is that if you are ever in a situation where every restaurant is booked, your best bet is the sushi restaurant. And once again I was right. They told us we could have a table if we left before 7:00. No problem.
We ate dinner and  we saw the show, which was great, and just a short frigid walk from our hotel. Apparently Wilco had never played Roanoke before so the crowd was really fired up. The concert hall had amazing acoustics; we weren't expecting that either. The next morning we rejected the free hotel breakfast so that we could go back downtown and explore more. We had chicken and waffles at Thelma's, wandered into some shops and stopped in at the Taubman art museum.
The museum is easy to find because it has a Frank Gehry-like design. It is also free and has a very nice collection for such a small museum. They had an Audubon show, an exhibit about George Washington which was very nicely sourced, as well as a contemporary installation about tobacco farmers in Virginia. They also have a large selection of Judith Leiber handbags, which was different and interesting to see.
The glowing red restroom @Taubman

So, thumbs up to Roanoke; I would go back again. After all, we still have to visit mini Graceland.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Snow Day activity

On one of my snow days off I tried my hand at painting with  watercolor, baking soda and vinegar. I saw this on Pinterest and was bored enough to give it a whirl. It's the kind of thing you do to entertain your young children, but why not? I was pretty much alone with nothing else to do except shovel snow.   First you put a couple spoons of baking soda in a cup and then you add about a quarter cup of water. Then you can add either liquid watercolor or food dye. I had a 20 year old box of Pentel tube watercolors so I used them.
Then I began painting, the paint is kind of thick and needs stirring.

I made three different pictures on watercolor paper, one with squiggly lines, one poured, one squares. I also drew a little in my sketchbook. Then I used a dropper to add the vinegar.

Hisssssss, it makes a cool sound.
It was fun, but eventually all the colors ran together. I guess if I did it again I might tape the paper to a board so that I could pick it up and swirl it around more. 
Here is a detail. Hours later I could drop more vinegar on it, it would fizz some more.  The sketchbook was the least exciting, probably because the paper is thinner. It is definitely about process instead of product. 
I highly recommend doing this if you are 4 or 5 years old.