Re-Fashioning Fabric

I think I’ve mostly always been a very resourceful person. I try not to buy new unless I need to; I purchase second-hand regularly, and buy things with a long use life. But since the ICPP report released a couple of weeks ago, and the extremely dire situation we, as humans on earth, all face, I have been inspired to make further changes.

Like many, I have gone through the “stages of loss”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I remained in depression longer than the first three! But I’m now in acceptance, and more so, in action mode! The time to act is now. So, as one of many steps, I’m trying to make more of my own clothes, and to use discarded fabric to do so.

Simply making my own clothes feels empowering: I can tell large-scale fashion corporations to go f*ck themselves, by simply not supporting their profits or often oppressive and exploitative operations. But for me, this doesn’t go far enough. The textile industry is one of the largest environmental pollutants, and energy intensive commodities out there. So for this reason, I’m trying not to buy new fabric, but to make use of stuff that I already have.

Here is one of my recent projects; to take a sample fabric, given to me, and to turn it into fashion. I modelled it off of a traditional Guatemalan top I recently saw at the Musée des beaux arts in Montreal at the exhibition “Connections” (link here). The final photo is the pic I took of the traditional top at the Museum with my son, who was thoroughly hamming it up, as usual! The first picture is the fabric sample, and then three versions to show you how it looks at different angles.

Let me know what your solutions are for using up stuff in the world!


Symposium d'art international de Baie-Saint-Paul

It’s almost 2 weeks since the Symposium d’art international de Baie-Saint-Paul wrapped up and I’m just getting around to posting final images of my time there. What can I say, it was a very full month, and I have needed some time to get back to “normal” life!  I can say that I dearly miss the new friends I made (especially our epic group dinners and morning coffee sessions), the spacious studio I had, and the long walks down to the beach. 

But back to the art… during the one-month Symposium, with the theme "Art and Politics", I created a new sugar mural. See earlier blog posts for more on the process. The images below are how it looked finished, and once I did some manual erasure with water. As most of you probably know, it’s important for me that the sugar murals do get some erosion or decay or water erasure. They are about the destructive aspects of colonization and systems of oppression. The mural for Baie-Saint-Paul is called POWER, and my intention is to disrupt the façade of perfection and order. Power is not stable: it sometimes appears to be, but it is an illusion and can be dismantled. History has told us this. And as we have also learned from history, many systems of power indeed need to be dismantled. The images below are at the end of the Symposium but I don't consider it finished yet. I will continue to work on it in my Montreal studio, adding in some places, removing in others. I'll let you know when the next incarnation is ready for viewing!

Many thanks to all the visitors who attended this year’s symposium (final count was near 10,000!); thanks to curator Sylvie Lacerte for including me in this fine selection of artists; thanks to the amazing guides who so eloquently explained my work to many people (when my french was not sufficient to do so!), and thanks to my fellow artists at the Symposium. I learned so much from being around all of you. Each of your different working processes taught me something and your kindness to share food, ideas, opinions and humour, were all appreciated and cherished. 

À bientôt Baie-St-Paul!  

Connecting: Baie-Saint-Paul Symposium Take 2

I get up to 200 people in my studio each day. Sometimes it's challenging to engage with everyone, but today I was reminded of why it's important to have this dialogue. I had a group of people come in the studio today, with the guide, who gave an excellent overview of my work in french, as the audience was french-speaking. After the formal introduction, one women said that she couldn’t understand how I can put so much time and work into the painting of my tiles, and to do it so well, only to have them wash away. Many people often ask me about this: why would I want to destroy my work, having nothing to remain.

To answer this woman, I told her that when I finish painting my sugar mural, and install it outdoors, waiting to be washed away, that is when the work begins: my physical work is over, but the life of the work is just beginning. I explained how I have long been interested in the tradition of Vanitas paintings, which are a signalling of life’s ephemerality, and the transience of all things. I also told her that this work is a reminder of lives that have been lost or destroyed by power imbalance and systems of oppression. Some structures need to crumble and fall in order for something better to take it’s place.  

She was very moved by this, and told me that my words really affected her. I could see deep emotion in her eyes. It was probably the most meaningful moment I have had during my time in this Symposium.  I thanked her. 

Just after she left, I had this rush of recognition that I also make these works, as a living reminder of the people that I have lost as a result of unjust power structures.  I hadn’t fully made that connection to my motivations until that moment. Sometimes, it’s the contributions that the public makes, that can result in us seeing deeper into our own work. 

Below are some images of what's in my studio this week in Baie-Saint-Paul; some questions I pose to visitors, and some new work in progress. 

Baie-Saint-Paul Symposium: Take 1

I just wrapped up my first week in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec for the Symposium International d’art contemporain. I’m here for a month, as one of 12 invited artists who will be working on our projects all month, relating to the theme of this year, “Art and Politics”.  I’m doing a sugar mural, in my trademark blue azulejo style (it’s not really trademarked… but it’s fun to say that!). This first week has been planning, design, and making the sugar tiles. It’s a modest size of mural (by my standards), at 4’ x 8’. One month is not a lot of time, so I had to consider what I would be able to finish in a one month timeframe. 

It’s a really eclectic mix of artists, from Quebec, Canada, and International. The Symposium is in its 36th year. Our studios are in a former elementary school. My room was clearly the former science lab, as I have this entire wall of shelving cabinets. It's like my own cabinet of curiosity. 

The format of the residency is that our studios are open to the public 5 days a week (Wed-Sunday) from 12-5pm. So while we are working, people come through and ask questions about our project and our process. It’s not solitude working time for those hours!  It’s been very busy, with a lot of visitors coming through. At the end of the day, I find myself really exhausted, since I’m also speaking in french most of the time (to the best of my ability!).  But it’s nice to open up conversations with strangers. I’ve met some really interesting people with interesting viewpoints about my work.  

BITS AND BITES:

  • Baie-Saint-Paul is a really sweet little place!  It’s one hour north of Quebec City, and just on the coast, next to the St. Lawrence River.
  • There is a bonafide beach here
  • The artists are staying in a former Nun's residence (my room is the monastic looking photo)
  • amazing sunsets 
  • and surprisingly, REALLY great coffee!

NEXT WEEK’S POST: More details about the project i’m doing. 

POWER: New sugar mural in Montreal

POWER

Power seduces us. We crave it; desire it. It tempts us, enticing us with its sweet smell of success. 

And, like candy to a child, when we get a taste of power, we continue to want more and more. 
But when do we have enough?  When are we satiated? 

Like a sugar-rotted tooth, power also corrodes.
It corrupts. 
Over time, it breaks down to reveal itself. 

Watch my POWER mural as it too fades and crumbles. 
Installed June 11, 2018 in Montreal, on Maryanne street, across the Parc du Portugal, in conjunction with MURAL festival. 
It will remain until it washes away. 

ADDENDUM: As I posted through social media, my mural was covered by spray paint about a week after I installed it. So the struggle for power in street art took on new meaning!  I added some images of this new manifestation, as well as my counter move :-)
In the end, the insects won, as an infestation of bugs carried on through the summer!

Creation needs destruction

I posted a live video yesterday on Instagram of me scraping some piped sugar off of a panel. It was pretty green vines. And there I was destroying it! I later heard that some people thought I was angry and taking out my frustrations on my art. I found that assessment to be rather amusing to say the least!  So lest people think I am opening up a sugar themed "rage room" in my studio, I thought I would set the record straight. 

Sometimes, as creative makers, we need look at our work objectively. This is also why it's good to have studio visits and critiques by others: it helps us keep perspective, to step outside of our emotions and see what's working and what isn't. I have been working on a sugar piece in the studio and, in trying something new, I came to realize that something wasn't working. My gut was telling me that I needed to stop and think on it for a minute. 

I went home, did some thinking, and realized that some parts needed to go. I couldn't be influenced by the emotional tugging that said, "no, I just spent two days working on that!". It's a tough call to make when you realize you need to start something over,  or often, if we have to just abandon a project or an idea because it isn't going anywhere. But it has to happen for work to move forward.  So the next day, I grabbed a putty knife and went to work scraping off the parts that needed to go. Once that decision was made, the rest was easy. Liberating actually. It's like many tough choices and decisions in life. The challenging part is in the deliberation of what to do. Once you decide to do something, even if it's a tough decision, taking action isn't that hard. 

Part way through my frenzy of destruction, one of the 4ft x 4ft plywood panels fell off the wall, on me, then landing on my desk (along with my open laptop), sending even more icing off, and scattered everywhere. Once I confirmed that my computer was still functionally fine, I laughed at this divine intervention. Apparently, this partial destruction was indeed meant to be.  

What's in a Name? Where my ladies at?!

There has been much public debate recently about monuments and the naming of said monuments. I would like to focus on the names of Metro Stations in my city of Montreal. Today is International Women's Day, and it's 2018 y'all, so why are no Metro stations named after a woman?

Almost a year ago, I was walking through Metro station Place-des-arts and saw an exhibition up along the upper mezzanine platform. It was a series of photos illustrating 28 people whose namesake was used for metro stations in Montreal. "Hmm, interesting", I thought, as I read some of the bio's. Some were names I had never realized were the names of people. It was an initiation by La fondation Lionel-Groulx (see the online version here) and part of the Montreal 375 hullabaloo.

As I kept reading, it became clear that these were only men. Of the 28 stations that are named after "prominent" people, there were no women. Ok I thought... maybe they get a pass because these stations were named in the '60's, so we can chalk it up to the obvious sexism at the time.  But what about the 3 recent stations??  Montmorency, Cartier and De la Concorde? Could they not have found a single influential women in Montreal or Quebec history to name it after?  

With very little research, I found some pretty good options:
How about Les filles du roi?  Without those brave souls, the population of New France would not have prospered. 
Henrietta Edwards, a women's rights activist, one of the Famous Five, who was born in Montreal and fought for women's right to vote. 
And for a more recent figure, have you seen Michaëlle Jean's bio??  There's too much to even list in a bullet point. She continues to inspire me. 

Now, I could certainly come up with more names. But for now, I'd rather hear from you! 
Who would you choose to name a metro station after? I have chosen to focus on women, because I am a woman and I'm especially interested in the presence of women in public space. But there are certainly other omissions of race, religion and class. 

Let's open up the conversation. The next time something significant needs to be named, I'd like to have a solid short-list READY to pass on the STM and The City of Montreal. Leave your ideas in the comments! 

Mindset

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t post it though. I needed to sit on it a while and assess if I should. The post was about rejection. And feeling like crap. Who writes blog posts about feeling crappy!? I know I usually don’t. Typically we post things when we land the big project, when our partner makes us dinner, when our kids do super cute things. I think its human nature to want to share our stories of success. As artists, we don’t want to publicly tell people about the rejected grants, the shows we didn’t get, the days where we ask ourselves what the f*%k  are we doing with our lives and why don’t we just get a real job. 

But I realized maybe there is value in other people hearing about my challenges and days of feeling defeated.  I’m pretty sure everyone has those days, but sometimes when all we see is gloss and Instagram filters, we forget that under it all, along with the ups, there are also downs. That’s life baby. 

So the reason for all this rumination was because I had presented a project for a public art commission, but alas.... I didn’t get it. In French, they call it a “concour”, and that’s exactly what it is; a contest where 3 - 5  artists are shortlisted, and then they pitch their project to a committee. One wins, and the others have to be professional and pick up the pieces of their dignity and self-respect and keep on keeping on, pretending like its just part of the game, and “better luck next time”. 

This is usually what I do. I don’t dwell on it. I look at what I’ve learned from the process; I look at what I need to work on to improve myself and my projects, and I aim to do better next time.  I’ve never been the type to wallow around in self-pity over anything. When I’m feeling low after rejections, I go to the gym and exorcise my frustrations through physical activity; I put on some Missy Elliot, roll up my sleeves, and get back to my studio. 

I don’t wallow: I make shit happen!  I have been shortlisted for almost 20 projects (I honestly can’t remember) and have been awarded 7 public art projects in the Montreal area. I think that’s amazing!  

Well, most days I think its amazing. 

But on this particular day, the day after not getting a project, I didn’t want to turn my frown upside down. I didn’t want to stay positive and see this as a learning experience for next time like I usually do.

I wanted to stay in bed all day and eat potato chips. So, so many potato chips. Mmmmm…. Potato chips. 

And it’s the middle of February. What does sunshine look like again?

It’s 2 weeks later, and now I’m posting this because I’ve had some time to let dust settle and to come back to my centre; the fighter in me has re-emerged and is ready to take on all of life’s challenges. I realized that my disappointment wasn’t because of not getting one project, it was the collective disappointment of many rejected proposals over many years. I just reached a tipping point.

But in life, we face many many tipping points, and every time we have to decide if we’re going to get back up or not. Is this going to break me? Is this going to define me? Or will I choose to look this pain, this disappointment, this sadness in the eye and stand up to it. Whether work related, or affairs of the family and the heart, we can only do better by looking at all of it as learning and opportunity for growth. You grow or you die. 

I still have several bags of potato chips in the house, just in case I need them. But for now, they remain unopened and I’m going to the gym, with some Missy Elliot flowing through my earbuds, fuelling my vibe. 

Bring it life. I’m ready. 

 

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Full circle inspiration

A couple of months ago, I had several friends travelling in India, at the same time. They were all posting photos on Facebook of their daily treks to mosques, caves, temples and tombs. It transported me back to my 26-year old self, while on my first trip to India, the fruit of my application for a Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award. This research award stipulated that I spend a minimum of 6 months there. This was truly a life changing experience for me. Not only was this the first time I travelled outside of North America, but I arrived in Mumbai 2 days after 9/11. I was en route for India, in Rome, when 9/11 happened. The world was in upheaval and so was my young spirit. 

I persisted, though, and remained in India despite family urging me to return home. 

During those 6 months, I did a few self-directed residencies and visited nearly every mosque, temple and tomb of the Mughal Empire. I was fascinated with ornate historical architecture, having mostly researched European architecture before this trip. I was now seeing and experiencing a whole new style of architecture that was grand and mighty, bold and enduring, but also contained fine, delicate features and decorative pattern.

This trip affected my outlook on the world, helping me see myself and my culture from the outside looking in. It also helped shape my art practice. I sometimes forget how much this trip shaped me and led to who I am today, both as a person and as an artist. 

I’m currently completing a public art commission for an elementary school in Montreal. As I look at my design for this commission, which involves the imagery being etched into the huge exterior concrete walls of the building, I am reminded of Akbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, about 10km from the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal rests. The carved sandstone blocks that frame the entrance gates to the site of Sikander’s Tomb always reminded me of quilt blocks. Even back then, at 26, before I was consciously doing artwork with quilt references, I guess was unconsciously planning for future work. I took photos, did sketches. But then I tucked these notebooks away on a shelf with other old sketchbooks to rarely look at and collect dust. 

When I saw the images my friends posted from their visits to these sites in India, it was like an “ah-ha” moment. As I remembered Akbar’s Tomb, I felt silly for forgetting about it all these years and not seeing how much it influenced my current work. It’s comforting to look back and know that the 26-year old who often felt lost and confused during those 6 months amongst the ordered chaos of India, was actually paying attention. For a few years after that trip, I kept waiting with the impatience that accompanies youth, to see some immediate work develop. It didn’t seem to happen. But life went on. 

Sometimes it takes a long time for ideas to develop. All that we see and do and experience affects us and as creative people, eventually it makes its way out.  I thank the Commonwealth Foundation for trusting in me all those years ago.