Wednesday, September 26, 2012

At the Brooklyn Book Festival

Last weekend, Patty and I flew to New York to do some things related to her short story collection, The Temple of Air. On Saturday night, there was a reception and reading near Washington Square in Manhattan. It was hosted by the publisher of the book, Jotham Burrello, at the apartment of one of his friends. That alone would have been worth going to NYC for, but the next day, Patty and Jotham manned a table at the Brooklyn Book Festival, handing out cards, taking names, and spreading the word for the three books that Elephant Rock Books has now put out into the world:


The festival was held outdoors, in the plaza in front of Brooklyn's borough hall buildings. Luckily it was a beautifully warm September day. There were reading stages in three areas, and lots of panels and readings in the offices and public buildings surrounding the plaza. There were thousands of people there, which gave me hope that the world of the paper book will not die out any time soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Expo Chicago 2012

Chicago has a new art fair, Expo Chicago, which I reviewed for the online art magazine Hyperallergic. It was a smaller affair than the big art fairs like the Armory show in New York, or Art Miami (sorry, I forget where that one is held). But it's still tiring to walk around and see so much art in only one afternoon. Here are some pictures that I didn't include in the Hyperallergic article:

Tony Tassett, fibreglass and acrylic, at Kavi Gupta
A visit to the art doctors from Berlin
Stephan Balkenhol at Galerie Forsblom/Helsinki

Specially designed something hanging from the ceiling - architectural/design
feature, not art, but still impressive

Georgia Russell, cut paper, at Galerie Karsten Greve AG


Zilvinas Kempinas, Lemniscate, magnetic tape and fans, at Yvon Lambert/Paris.
The fans kept the tape whirling around in the air at precisely the same location
each time - very clever.



Saturday, September 22, 2012

A great interview

Here is the interview that Samantha Villenave did with me for her Google+ Art+Talk series. It's long, but you can dip in and out of it by sliding the timer along. We had a great discussion of my art, how ideas come about, how to combine art writing and teaching with studio work, the value of art education, the uses of social media, and much more.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Fiction Writing: Week 3

We did an interesting word game this week: when it's your turn, say an object-word and make a related gesture for it; then say a verb that's only now coming to you, and make an unrelated gesture with your hands and/or body. Hilarity ensued. Example: someone said "Sincerity", then rolled their eyes sarcastically. Another person said "Barbell," then made a double-handed gesture that signifies penetrative sex.

Here is an extract from a piece of writing I handed in:

Mr. Marshall was over six feet tall, but always seemed bigger to Johnny. He wore a suit of dark tweed and a maroon tie bearing the emblem of a strict Catholic order. He had the upright posture of an ex-military man, and he had a way of staring unblinkingly at you through his dark-framed glasses in a way that reminded Johnny of a hawk looking at a rabbit. He leaned down to listen as Mrs. Crosby spoke quietly in his ear. Bernadette was squalling away, but she stopped instantly when Mr. Marshall raised his palm into the air. Johnny tried to hear what Mrs. Crosby was saying, but all he caught was the low quick urgent tone. Mr. Marshall nodded once, then said:
“Very good, Mrs. Crosby. Please take Bernadette to class 3b and I’ll join you in a minute.”
Mrs. Crosby put her hand on Bernadette’s back, between the shoulder blades, and guided her towards the door. It seemed to Johnny that she was treating the sniffling Bernadette sympathetically. The door closed, and Johnny let his eyes fall to the ground. He knew what was coming next.
“Well?” said Mr. Marshall.
Johnny did not reply, did not look up. The next second he was jolted by a sickening whoosh! as Mr. Marshall slapped a tawse against the edge of his desk.
“Well?” Mr. Marshall said, louder.
Johnny’s eyes locked with the headmaster’s. It would have been difficult for anyone to tell who hated the other more. Still Johnny said nothing.
“I’m going to call your brother,” Mr. Marshall said. “Perhaps you’ll be able to him what you did today. Meanwhile…”
Johnny felt many things at once. Marshall hadn’t said anything about what Bernadette had done, or even why it was wrong, only that Johnny, and Johnny alone, was going to be punished for it. Marshall knew what he was saying by mentioning Johnny’s brother. If he had threatened him with Johnny’s father, then that would have been a sign that the trouble was the usual, small kind. But if Trevor got involved, Johnny knew he was in for more than one beating today.
He held his arm straight out in front of him, palm extended, flat, raised upward. Marshall raised the tawse high in the air and slashed it down savagely on Johnny’s palm. There was an ear-splitting crack that could be heard all the way down the corridor to the classrooms where the other children were sitting. Johnny’s face reddened, his eyes bulged, his lips pursed, but he produced no sound and no tears.
“Oh, that didn’t hurt you?” said Marshall. “How about this?”
He hit Johnny’s scarlet palm again with the tawse. This time, when the headmaster pulled it up, the notch at the end of the leather strap pulled up a small sliver of flesh. But Johnny refused to cry,refused to make any noise. Even as Marshall swung the tawse six more times until Johnny’s hand was cut into a bleeding mess, Johnny continued to hold his breath, staring up at the dark frames of the glasses that slipped down over the beetroot coloured face of his punisher.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fiction Writing Class: Week 2

Last week was the second of the Fiction Writing class I am taking this semester. What stood out for me this time was the way that recalling aloud from each other's work, while we all sat in that semi-circle, already caused people to see more detail in what they recounted, and to transfer some of that "seeing in the mind" to the in-class writing.

Here is a dream-telling that I wrote in my journal for week 2:


Dream

I’m in Key West, but when I look out of the window, there is concrete and glass and asphalt everywhere, tall buildings with old fashioned iron fire escapes, and an elevated train track with cars thundering by overhead. This isn’t Key West, I think: this is Chicago.
“This is Key West,” says RA, who seems to know what I was thinking, even though I am sure I didn’t say anything. “We have to pick up the stuff from Key West and take it to Chicago.”
“What stuff?” I ask.
“There isn’t time,” says RA. Suddenly we are running through a long corridor, dimly lit by a string of forty watt bulbs dangling from the cracked ceiling. The corridor stretches out for miles, and we seem to run forever without getting to the end of it. At last we come to a giant freight elevator, and RA says: “The stuff is in the basement.”
“What stuff?” I ask again.
He doesn’t answer, but just grabs me by the elbow and pulls me inside the elevator when the doors slide open.
I quickly notice something odd about the interior of the elevator. It is enormous, and made entirely of glass, and it has two floors like a split level apartment. We are standing on the upper level, looking down into a space that is decorated in glass and chrome furniture. A glass chandelier that must be ten feet wide hangs down from the ceiling of the elevator. Through the glass wall in the other side I see a brick wall moving upwards, interrupted every few seconds by signs saying “7th floor,” “6th floor”, and so on. So this must be an elevator, I think.
“Yes, of course it’s an elevator,” snaps RA.
“I didn’t say anything,” I shout. “And where did all these people come from?”
I notice that even though we are on the balcony of a giant glass penthouse apartment style elevator, we are now standing in a densely packed crowd of men and women in charcoal grey suits, shoulder to shoulder as if we were riding a cramped high-rise elevator during rush hour. I hear a voice saying: “Hello, Philip.”
I peer around the shoulders of the person in front of me, and below me I see JB, sitting on a chaise longue, naked except for a man’s shirt which she is hastily buttoning up. She is looking down so that her long blonde hair obscures her face. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“For what?” I say.
Then the elevator reaches the basement, the doors open, and I am dragged out of the elevator by the crowd. From somewhere far off behind me, I hear JB’s voice faintly crying:“Don’t forget the stuff.”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bookmaker

It takes hours just to make a relatively simple book like this:


It's two lengths of paper, folded, glued and stitched to make four pockets, into which I will put some small prints.

I also took some old watercolour paintings, cut them up, and experimented making map-folds out of them, and gluing them so that they will open out of this box in a jack-in-the-box fashion:




Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Find

I rediscovered a set of alphabet stamps yesterday that have been buried in a box for nearly eight years:


It's not quite letterpress, but it'll do to make some basic words in a nice font on some old prints:


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Embossing

Back in the studio today, I made some trial prints from five more collagraphs. None of the prints looked at all good enough to photograph. But I tried just embossing some paper using a collagraph plate with lines of lentils glued to the surface, and that came out nicely. Below is the embossed paper next to the plate:


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fiction Writing Class: Week 1


So last night was my first fiction writing class proper. I've sat in on my wife's workshops and tried some of the activities that were used in this class, but this is the first time I have sat in the room for four hours and done all the activities and in-class writing with a roomfull of writing students. There will be fourteen more classes like this, and as I said near the beginning of the class, my goals for this class areas follows:
"I have a lot of starts and slightly longer pieces of creative non-fiction based on memories of my childhood. Some of these have strayed into fiction after beginning with a real memory. I have used a lot of the shorter pieces in my visual art, too -- videos with voice over, audio recordings, even performance. But so far I feel that I haven't gone as deeply as I could with this material. So I want to use this class to explore what comes out when I try different forms, ways of telling, ways of seeing a story. I want to be completely open to where the writing takes me. If that's fiction, if it leads to something that I'm not aware of yet, I want to see what that is, what it sounds like. I also know that there are talented writers in this class, and I want to use the listening part of the activities to feed into my own writing, too. I don't even necessarily want to end up with a 'done' or finished piece, though that would be nice: just getting a good start on the voyage will be great."
The class is called Fiction Writing, but I believe that the Fiction Writing Department's teaching method, called the Story Workshop approach, is designed for people to find their voice in any genre or form. I've sat beside teachers who use this approach, and have used elements of it myself in teaching journal and sketchbook. But this was the first time I've been able to immerse myself in it and direct it to my own writing. First of all, everyone sits in a tight semicircle with the instructor on the diameter line. No hierarchies, no front of class and back of class. Everyone sees everyone else's face. Everyone becomes the audience for everyone else, like the first storytellers around the giant fire. That might sound poncey, but in practice it works.

The activities in the first class went like this (as far as I can recall): a listening exercise, starting with close-to sounds, moving out to the street, then to action, gesture, a moment of story; an activity called One Word, in which you go around the circle putting forth the first word that comes to mind -- but I noticed the instructor very cleverly led us eventually towards objects, verbs, smells; taking a place from some story material, seeing it in the mind, trying to place other people's "object words" in that place; telling a moment from that place you're seeing in the mind; writing the moment of scene that emerges from all these imaginative word based activities; reading back what you wrote to the rest of the group. Then lots of reading and writing assignments for the next class. Homework! I haven't had to do homework in over twenty years!

One of the main differences between this Story Workshop and the more conventional writing workshop is there is no handing around fourteen copies of your first drafts to be vivisected by your peers. I know that some people miss that if they come to Columbia College's fiction writing classes from that kind of workshop, but having experienced both kinds of teaching close-up, I am convinced that this one ultimately trusts the writer more. But I don't even need to generalize: I can just say that already, after one class in which I reconnected with a piece of writing that I started last year, I saw more in the scene than I did before last night's class.

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