Monday, January 19, 2009

Taking Down the Ivy Wall



Sad but, it's life. To those who never got to see it, it was a hanging tapestry of about 365 sake dishes that was about 11 feet tall and each was decorated with black and white brushwork with warm bare clay included as part of the design. It made its debut in Worcester, MA, traveled to Boston, MA and then one June morning in 2008 was found in a pile on the floor.

It was born of the self reflection inspired from Maine's deepest winter months. It was a time of realization of and reflection on a good number of my faults, and it was a time of getting over those things. There is a teacher told me about how classic architects used to tell their students to plant ivy at the base of their first buildings so that when they grew older and more experienced designers the ivy would grow to cover up their old mistakes. The sake dish installation became a sort of self portrait of my change during that time. The designs painted on all the dishes were reminiscent of ivy on a wall, covering up the old faults. In spending the hours making, painting, firing and them weaving them all together I had time to meditate on what all that meant to me at the time.

Before I went to Watershed I made narrative pottery about the things I couldn't put to words, but when I got to Watershed I found I couldn't draw them anymore. I started making straight functional pottery, and after a little foray here and there I started throwing 75-100 a day, and ended up with about 1,000. (I actually have a few hundred of them finished and not in my closet here in Carrboro.) The remaining hundreds were going to be a part of another project. I was a bit shocked and disappointed when I first heard they had fallen (poor design on my part) and I didn't have a chance to see to them or think about them until going back to NH January 2009.

In sorting through them all, I strongly believe that it served its purpose (and my dad corrected me when I told him this, saying that it served many purposes, and he'd really right). When I was sorting out the unscathed, the slightly chipped, and the pieces into their respective piles, I thought about what they meant. As a whole, they told a story and they made a statement - and I suppose that was probably different for each person who saw it. Now that story is finished (and it's true, that piece represented a certain period of my life - a self portrait - and the getting over the flaws of the past self. Kind of a statement and reminder to constantly growing and not dwelling in looking back). You could see each dish as a word, or a letter, and now they can be reorganized to tell a different story... the story of who I am now. I suppose it's really only fitting that it fell - a true casting away of the past.

The final count is 138 solid dishes, 80 slightly chipped, and the rest - well, don't worry about those. I've actually taken a liking to the pieces that were broken. There are sections of the tapestry that, even though the dishes in the section broke, are held together by the weaving of the fishing line and can be fitted together to form the dish again. Through all the mess - there are still survivors.

Following Intuition: An explaination of my disappearance

You may have noticed I have not been posting regularly and have not been as active in the studios with new work. Rest assured, I am in no means "giving up" or "selling out" or anything superficial like that. To give a long overdue explanation and to let you know the extent of this pause in activity, let me tell you a story.

Short story: I am currently in a graduate program for City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. As a full time graduate student I honestly cannot allot a respectable amount of time to ceramics and still get my school work done and on top of that sleep enough to remain healthy. As such, I came into this program knowing it would be at least a two year pause from studio work. In fact, it is the first extended period of time since starting to work in clay six or seven years ago I have NOT had a studio at my fingertips.

It's strange, not having that outlet. I've found that I replaced my ceramic studio with a kitchen studio. I bake desserts and I bake bread and I cook as often as my schedule will let me. The discipline I had in the studio has been translated into my "things that keep me sane during the semester" schedule (namely running and Aikido). There were definite creativity dry points when I felt as if I had no outlet and felt out of place, but I am starting to realize how these parts fit together. I'm also comforted by what a farm hand in Roxbury, NY said, "We are fooled into thinking that everything we do needs to be obviously connected." And it's true these things I'm doing aren't obviously connected, but that connection is there, and it's found somewhere deeper than the surface. I'm slowly starting to figure those things out.

Long Story:
Let's go back to my childhood. Here is something I have written that I feel explains my development pretty well, "Raised as a first generation American, I have grown up wanting to better educate myself so that I could assist in making communities such that people didn’t feel the need to leave. My parents came to the U.S. in 1981 from a war-stricken communist Cambodia. They started their life over, with no money, no language comprehension, and my older brother not even a year old, just so he and I could live a better life. They stressed their desire for us to be successful in achieving more than they could, due to their circumstances. As a result, among other values, they have instilled in me a work ethic, a self confidence, and an understanding that this is my one life to live. One of the most influential teachings my father has passed on is that time is my most important asset."

Now, let's go back to Freshman year at Syracuse. Eighteen years old, working in clay for a year, naive to the existence of Sorority girls, and floating on a cloud of optimism about the world and how I was going to change things as a teacher of the Visual Arts. I quickly fell in love with Ceramics and the Ceramics community, and became a ceramics major. However, with every semester that came to pass, I spent the first two weeks looking into other programs, either because I felt there was something missing or because I felt I was at a University with all sorts of things to learn that I wasn't taking advantage of. I have been told I have a fatal flaw of finding nearly everything facinating- to the point of being debiliatated by all the amazing things in the world because I can't focus on one. "Jack of all trades, master of none."

I looked into Psychology, International Development and Social Change, Business, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and so on. I felt Ceramics was, personally, at times a very self-serving discipline, and I felt my purpose in life (remember this was a younger me talking) must have something more to do with actively working with the community and effecting change. Throughout the years, the things keeping in the Ceramics field was thinking, "It's not what you study, but what you do with what you study that matters." What kept me going was a vision, of sorts.

The intent was to use those skills to transform old warehouses into some form of aesthetic community city space, with bustling artist studios, creative community classrooms, and progressive local businesses. The ultimate goal of this building rehabilitation project was to create settings that fostered community by making visible the relationships between the people, the businesses, and their surrounding environment. While the core intention of creating a greater understanding of an individual’s place in a local and global community still drives me, the more I learn the more I realize how much I do not know and how much more is possible.

Here I am, listening to my intuition for once. I've gotten better at in over the past year. I am learning, expanding my world, and trusting that the clay and the hands and the years of muscle memory will still be there when I find myself with a studio again. No worries. These are all chapters of the same book, and the story is a beautiful one.