The sweet anxiety in the worlds of Jennifer Zwick

Seattle-based artist Jennifer Zwick has a new installation, “I’m Pretty Sure This is Exactly Right,” up until June 28th, that has quietly infiltrated a public street space with a window into a private realm — that of the divided human consciousness.  This piece is a part of the Storefronts Seattle program that seeks to “revitalize neighborhoods” by putting art and art experiences into empty storefronts, keeping the vibrant neighborhood culture alive while businesses try to heal from this recession.   To me this is a perfect fit for her work, a tiny peek into a flip-flopped world where art helps out business, and the divide between multiple states of being is not really as clear as it may first appear.  Though primarily known for her photographs, this little constructed world — of a dark jungle scene on top and a domestic interior mirrored and suspended below — reflects much of what I feel when I see most of her work.

It’s like almost being able to touch the slightly off-kilter images of nature she presents, but still keeping us confined behind glass.  The anxiety it makes me feel is like a subtle itch, but then her anxiety slides up beside and takes the hand of my anxiety and we all skip off together with hell in our hand-basket.  I’m sucked in because I know the ship is going down, but her work lets me know it might just all be okay with one tiny flip of perspective.  I did a free-association cherry pick of her work I felt drawn to, and when looking at the pieces all together like tea-leaves I found my own concerns reflected back, that of the anxious human standing on the threshold between wanting to vanish into nature and wanting to be a part of polite society, of losing self but also wanting to.  Our big brain and vulnerable bodies give us the ability to compartmentalize and separate ourselves from even our own bodies and desires, in order to survive.


The Explorers



But it is these compartments that Zwick teases apart with a self-deprecating tomfoolery until the divide only seems like a shadow of the same thing.  It will (never) get better, unless and especially if you break through and dive into the other side of yourself, outside of yourself.  The installation is at 409 Maynard Avenue South (the lower space, looking onto Maynard Ave), in Seattle, Wa. until June 28th.

Hello 2

Hello 2

What Might Go Wrong: 37.  Miss All Opportunities

What Might Go Wrong: 37. Miss All Opportunities

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Chris Larson’s Deep North

I saw Chris Larson’s film ‘Deep North’ in 2008 while at the Miami Basel Art explosion, and out of the overstimulating art overload my eyeballs took in that week these images of quiet and cold have stuck with me.  I wish there was a way to watch the film…What these images don’t really show are the women dressed in grey felt or flannel jerkins, pushing a huge wooden machine that seems to make tubes of ice, all crammed into a little country home.  The rhythmic, ritualistic movements seems at once devoid of any meaning, but oh so human in our ability to carry on, business as usual, with the world falling apart.  After the fact, I realize this little film had a great deal of influence on the performance I just completed……

I know this isn’t really what this work was meant to convey, but it’s like ‘eco art’ in reverse.  Rather than some sort of ‘intervention’ in the natural landscape, it is as if it is the built environment that is painfully intervened upon.  Which of course raises the notion that these boundaries between these two states are, on a larger scale, fabricated in our own sense of how we exist in the world.

What Climate Change Might Look Like: Chris Larson’s Deep North.

Haruko Nishimura and the Red Shoes

I have been thinking a great deal lately about learning and sharing during the process of making art….I’m working on the planning stages of an interactive residency at The Project Room in Seattle, where I will be doing my very first stitch on a project, then will show the results more than a year later.  It has me pondering/picking apart what is it like, how does it unfold when we begin without knowing how to do something or be something or reach something within ourselves that we aim to share with other people, and then there is this process we go through where something that was once unknown becomes a part of us.  These thoughts bring me again and again back to Haruko Nishimura of Degenerate Art Ensemble, and these images of her shot by photographer/architect Rex Hohlbein for her Red Shoe Butoh Journal.

They were made at the very beginning — more than a year ago– of a project , “Red Shoes“, that now in the next few weeks approaches its end.  I like to think about what Haruko didn’t know then and what she does know now.  She began doing her Butoh training outside in parks rather than a rehearsal space, mainly because she was broke after a huge show….and now “Red Shoes”, the final production created with DAE and the Frye Art Museum, is a multi-sited performance that will spill out onto those streets.

Did this early beginning of solo practice in the midst of the bustle of real life in parks and public squares lead to staging this fairy tale in the streets?  Red Shoes will be a transformative experience for those that get to see it….it sold out within hours of tickets coming online (a testament to the impact and devotion that DAE inspires in its fans).  It will be a HUGE multi-disciplinary, multi-artist, multi-location collaborative beautifully terrifying experience, but I wanted to just harken back and call attention to those quiet, solo moments of Haruko in the park two winters ago, where the spark of something began…it’s like she put on the red shoes then and has been dancing for her life ever since.

I also love Rex’s images because Haruko is wearing a dress that I made for her character Shiro from the “Sonic Tales“.  I spent more than 100 hours on the whole costume, bringing little bits of leather glove with me to stitch together when I watched my son swim or play in the park.  Those tiny stitches where remnants of quiet moments in my day to day life.  I like how, through Rex’s images, something I began, that then moved through life with Haruko, is reframed through Rex’s process and eyes and seems to have a life of its own.  The dress bodice also has a linear thread all the way back to another piece of mine from 1999, “Skin Tight”, that Haruko saw at the Bellevue Arts Museum when they did a survey of my work in 2008.

She wanted to feel what it would be like to have the skin tight leather stretched over her spine, like it was stretched around the laurel stump in my piece.  The piece for me, was a way to create a fetish of the tree stump, to anthropomorphize the muscular forms of the wood, while at the same time “animalize” the women’s kidskin gloves (so recognized as a symbol for purity) by boiling them, making the leather shrink tight around the stump and turn back into a thick rawhide texture.

Both stump and gloves (skin) where leftovers from something that was once alive, now very dead…so it was only fitting that the Shiro character Haruko inhabited was a ghost.  I loved having her show me something new about my own work.

"Skin Tight, 1999"

"Skin Tight, 1999"

Haruko is one of the most determined and dedicated artists to the development of her own practice, and it shows when she performs —  a thousand expressions and lives pass through her body and face.  With the sheer weight of the talent she carries around with her, she might have licence to be a diva, but she never carries herself that way.  I’ve had the honor of working with her several times and seeing the way she works with her collaborators…always as a student, always learning, observing and present.  I’ve likewise learned a mountain of infinite things from her, watching her performances and getting to participate at times.  I’m a bit gleeful about the impending experience of “Red Shoes” and what sort of delightful rubbed-raw emotions I will feel coming away from that, and what it might reveal about the intensity of the desire to create, and how that just won’t let us go.

Red Shoe Butoh Journal: RaiNY dAY and test shoots with Rex.

Here’s another view of Haruko performing captured by long-time DAE collaborator Bruce Tom, who has frozen her astounding movements in my costume for “Shiro” in “Sonic Tales”!  Please go see ‘Degenerate Art Ensemble” at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, until June 19th, 2011.

Wyly’s dandelions

I’ve been meaning to post about this  for a while now, my friend Wyly Astley’s installation from the Arts and Nature Festival a few years ago.  Wyly and I just spent a few weeks together, as she is from time to time a studio assistant for me when I manage to scrape together some funding.  She is a very present person, quiet sometimes and always bright, not as one might use the word to mean “smart” but like something glowing.  She, as an artist, person, mother, really reminds me of this installation of brilliant blue dandelions that were subtly sprinkled about the grounds of Camp Long during the festival.

This work was so straightforward. Simple and direct, about a beautiful healing plant so often viewed with disdain for silly reasons,  and it also filled me with a glee that I kinda stifled because I’m a dumb adult.  But the children didn’t stifle and loved and raced about the park finding the flowers.  She once did a temporary art installation for children at a school, where outside the window of their classroom a colorful grove of fabric mushrooms grew overnight.  These same mushrooms popped up in my yard on the morning of my son’s birthday, and he has never stopped talking about it.  It created a particular path in his mind about how he saw the world, and what kind of magic was possible.  I have been from time to time been asked to make art for children (by adults) and it is hard, nerve wracking…but Wyly does it effortlessly, because she is present and knows how to listen to the natural intellect of the child.  I admire her.  I also shared this installation with my high school class at Centrum on environmental installation, and those young artists particularly were drawn to this piece because it’s just craft felt but some how transcends itself.  We talked a lot about how and why this can happen with art…I’m still not sure I get it, but Wyly seems to.  She’ll be doing another installation at this years Arts and Nature Festival, which I eagerly await.

Wyly also makes lovely things for children to wear that you can find here at her Etsy shop.

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