For the month of September I am working primarily on one piece whose working title is, "Queen Sheets." It is a large scale collage (60" x 80") which is being made on a one to one scale of my Queen Sized bed. This piece which belongs to the series, Habitat started with a joke in my head about what were the two things I missed since having kids. The answer was sleep and making art. So I decided to sleep on top of Kozo Paper, which I place under my mattress pad and cover. I have been doing so for the entire interim I have been co-sleeping with my almost one year old now. At the end of the week, the paper gets harvested, sized with fabric stiffener, and then cut and layered into 5" squares. In this post I will share the insights I have gained both technically and conceptually through this process.
Never having made a collage this large before, there were some technical difficulties I had to problem solve (which any quilter would already know!) To begin, I discovered I had to make the squares a half inch bigger so they could overlap a quarter inch on either side and meet up evenly. Quilters call this a seam allowance. I also realized after experimenting with various glues, that a soft matte gel provided the strongest bond (which I weigh down with a slab of concrete until it's set). This has helped with keeping the grid square, the pieces flush and allowing for a free hanging surface, instead of having to restrain it by a canvas or panel. I want the piece to retain the fluidity of a bed sheet.
Another thing I have noticed about my process is I have broken it down to specific steps, allowing me to make incremental, yet daily progress within my limited studio schedule. One thing I am leery about is the possibility of me getting into a formulaic situation which could lead to the death of the process. For me, once the problem solving is over, I become bored and move on. I do not think I have arrived at this point because as I continue to develop the piece, new problems arise. For example, now that I have the four columns built, I am attempting to assemble them together. I ran into trouble with the horizontal lines matching up, thus having to cut out sections where they did not line up and reassemble them in smaller sections that would. I lost several areas which could not be used and as a result and am remaking the missing sections to complete the total dimension of the sheet.
Other things I have discovered is that the paper is semi-translucent allowing for the play of natural light behind it. Before I had begun this piece I had been wondering what it would look like if they were illuminated, and I was pleased to see it added another element of life to them. By looking at the squares backlit, one notices that the creases, folds and layering of the paper which create an illusion of mountainscapes.
Because of the landscape association, I have decided that the orientation of the piece should be hung vertically (80" x 60"). The reason for this is to move away from a Western reading of a landscape which relies on a horizontal format that is created using either linear or, atmospheric perspective. Instead, I have chosen to reference Asian Paintings and scrolls, whose understanding of their surroundings is seen in a stacked perspective. Specifically, in Chinese Painting objects are placed one above another (higher on the picture plane) with some overlap, in order to to give an illusion of distance and space. When I think of these dual readings of space, and how different cultures have divergent interpretations, it makes me think of a zen saying which I once heard:
Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.
During my years in Seattle, WA (1998 -2011) I frequently visited the Seattle Asian Art Museum where I became aware of Chinese Painting from the Northern Song period (907–1127). This work is known as the "Great age of Chinese landscape," which often depicted towering mountains with peaceful scenes executed in a soft brushwork.
Inspired by these ancient works, the misty landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and my commitment to my Buddhist practice (which began and developed over those years), people often referenced my work to Asian Painting.
I recently moved to New Mexico about a year ago. And although the landscape here has a much more open vista than the towering mountains of the Olympics or, Cascades in Washington (which are seen on either side of Seattle) the proximity of the Sandias to Albuquerque emphasize their scale- drawing us to look up towards their majestic presence.
Other concepts I have been uncovering are that the repetition and structure of my process are providing some ease and space in my life. I realize this is my form of mediation that helps me deal with the anxiety which has rapidly risen upon having become a parent of two young children. As I find those moments of peace in my studio I am asking myself during chaotic moments of parenting: can I be with this too? Can repetition be something that provides consistency instead of boredom? Can Structure replace chaos with ease?
Another insight both my mentor Lenka Clayton in ARIM and my own mother pointed out to me, was the fact that I now seem to have yet another laborious task at hand ("my Frankenstein," to quote Mrs. Clayton) much like the ones in my domestic life. As I see it, it is about finding the spiritual in the mundane. Although I may not always feel that when I am changing, folding, or stacking the bed sheets, it sure does when I am in the studio performing some of those same tasks. It makes me think I will have to bring some mindfulness to the process of doing laundry and domestic chores to see if there can be feelings of equanimity there as well. Then and only then could I truly merge motherhood with art and find spirituality in the every day.