2016

A friend of mine, who I met at Puppet Camp two years ago (and is starting again this week), chooses a word as a theme every year.  This year, I have decided to try it out.

My word for 2016 is Care.

Care.

Take care. Take care of. Take care of it.

Care for. Care for self, care for others.

Careful. Not to be hesitant, but to be considerate.

This will be my mantra for the year.  Hopefully 2016 will be a good one.

Returned from Europe!

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Returned!  Very happy to be home and back in the studio!

I returned from Europe one week ago, Friday the 10th.  Soon happy to be home, although Europe was wonderful!  I visited as many places as I could – Cologne, Barcelona, Vienna, Amsterdam, Venice, Brussels, London and Paris. Phew!

I saw lots of things- the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Manneken Pis, Park Guell, Cologne’s cathedral, etc, etc. and lots of art!  Lots of historical art in the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Tate Modern, Mumok, the Albertine, etc, etc, etc.  Marianne and I went to the Venice Biennale (which was awesome!)  I saw the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, shows of Joseph Cornell and Henry Darger, Tracey Emin, Egon Shiele, and many more interesting exhibitions.  I visited my family in the Netherlands, and an old friend in London.

It was a lovely trip.  Some highlights:

Beef Carpacho. Yum!
Beef Carpacho. Yum!
Casa Battlo
Casa Battlo
Crypt
Crypt
Crypt in Vienna
Crypt in Vienna
Venice
Venice
Ventian Laundry
Venetian Laundry
Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
Rusty metal/ Belgian Chocolate
Rusty metal/ Belgian Chocolate
Belgian chocolates
Belgian chocolates
Me and Latifa
Me and Latifa
Me and Latifa
Me and Latifa
Riding the Carousel
Riding the Carousel
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre
Highgate cemetery
Highgate cemetery
Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery
Sad Selfie at the grave of Karl Marx. Highgate cemetery, London.
Sad Selfie at the grave of Karl Marx. Highgate cemetery, London.
Pere Lachaise cemetery
Pere Lachaise cemetery
Parisian breakfast.
Parisian breakfast.
Creme Brule at Les 2 Moulins! (Amelie style!)
Creme Brule at Les 2 Moulins! (Amelie style!)

Home

dugout

It’s been a while.

It’s not that I’m not interested in writing, or wanting to neglect you, dear Blog, but did I tell you I’m working on my MFA?  My apologies, dear Blog, but I’ve had a hard time fitting you into my schedule.  Anyway, I think I’ve found a free few hours in which to write.

It’s been wild, dear Blog. Wild.  Crazy busy and intense.  I’m learning a lot, not only in my schoolwork, but in my life as well.  This year has been incredibly challenging, but also incredibly wonderful.  I’ve learned a few hard lessons, but I have a new appreciation for the simple things, and have learned to have faith that everything will come together.  I know how lucky I am. I know that it’s okay to let things go that aren’t serving me as well as they could without knowing what’s coming, in order to make room for possibility. You can’t stop change from happening, try your best to enjoy the current moment. You can never go back.

Which leads me to my theme.  Home.  I am currently visiting my parents, in Hanna, Alberta, after having lived two semesters in Waterloo, Ontario.  It is strange to be back here, a place I’ve missed and longed for since I left last July.  I thought my longing would finally be appeased, even if only temporarily.  The funny thing is that now I miss Waterloo.

The idea of home is something that sneaks up on you.  Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have called Waterloo home, now I call it that almost every day.  When did Waterloo become home?  Will I always long for the place I cannot be?

What exactly is “home”? Is it really even tied to location?  Is it where your family is, your friends, your boyfriend?  Is it a place that only exists within your heart, or (worse), your memory?  Can you ever go home? Can you ever BE home? I’m starting to think that only those who have never left home really have a home. (But even that is problematic.  What about the passing of time?)  Do you only know what home is once you are away?  Do you have to leave for home to even exist?

I’m also preparing for my Shantz Internship, which is coming up VERY soon here, May 15th.  I am going to Cologne, Germany, to work with Alexandra Bircken for six weeks. (Very exciting!) I will have a little more than a week once I get back to Waterloo to get everything ready to go to Germany.  The funny thing, (and I really feel terrible admitting this) is that while I am very excited and really want to go on my internship, I kind of don’t want to leave Waterloo. Go figure.

I am using this summer to study this idea, as it applies to myself.  I have four places I will be this summer, and four ways they relate to home:

  • Waterloo, Ontario, Canada – This is my physical home, where I currently reside. (Although there are things going on here- I just found out that my landlord is selling the house, so I’m evicted- won’t have an apartment to return to when I get back from Europe. But I’ll deal with that later. “Have faith that everything will come together.”)
  • Hanna, Alberta, Canada – My where-I’m-from home, where I grew up and where my parents still live.
  • Cologne, Germany – A completely new place for me. This is a temporary place for me, may never be described as home.
  • the Netherlands – A mythical home for me.  My father’s side of the family is from the Netherlands.  I have roots there, and so have had a mythical idea of this place in my head for all of my life.  I’ve never been there.

I am curious to hear what others think the concept of “Home” is.  Is it a physical location? A country?  A town? A house? A state of mind?  Family? Friends? A lover? Is home familiarity? Routine? Comfort? Longing? Is the word “home” only a way of approaching how we treat a place? Is home in your blood? Can home be a place you’ve never been? Is home your past? Does it only exist within yourself?  Does home even exist at all?

All I know is that you can never really go home (but I will always want to).

Two Weeks In.

jen_hall

Grad school is going to kick my butt.

It’s only been two weeks, and already it feels like the end of semester crunch time.  I have done a bunch of short answer responses for various classes, a bunch of readings (for both my classes and my TAship), made a bunch of GIFs (and more on the way), written and revised (and re-revised) my syllabus I am designing for my pedagogy elective, attended classes as a Teaching Assistant, gone to the library about 8 times, had a personal meeting with the librarian, done my WHMIS module, done my Academic Integrity Module (“Don’t plagiarize!”), argued with the student loan people, gone for a beer with my classmates on a whim, gone to 3 openings and a birthday party, cried rather memorably because of the smoke at said birthday party, went to about 15 welcome events, all of which served pizza, attended sholarship information sessions, and found my way through “Needless Hell” (Needles Hall), and had my first studio visit.  Phew.

I’m also planning a research paper (that’s going to be interesting, if I can pull it off), and thinking about potential artists to intern with.  We (the MFA’s) are going on a field trip in the beginning of October to New York (EEEK!) and then the department is holding it’s Sculpture Symposium, which will include visiting artist lectures from 7 artists, studio visits for the MFA’s, and a few other events.  We will also be mentoring some of the senior level undergraduates, and have an exhibition coming up in October.

I haven’t even mentioned my studio work.  In addition to my serious studio work (which I am totally shaking up in order to start something new), I am taking an elective, Hybrid Digital Media, for which I am required to keep another blog as a digital sketchbook.

On top of it all, I am re-adjusting back to life as a student, and not just a student, but a grad student.  I have moved from Calgary, where I have spent the last 8 years of my life.  I sold/gave away/got rid of everything I owned that I didn’t bring with me in my car.  Not only am I adjusting to a city where I know no one except my classmates, all of my friends and family are still back home.  And I recently split up with my longterm boyfriend, on top of everything else.  I’ve given up a lot to be here and I’m not going back.

I’m really not trying to complain – I want to be here, and I want to make the best of it – but the experience is really going to push me, as it should.  I’ve gotta find a way to manage it, get into my new groove, and see where it takes me.  I hope that this is the toughest part of the transition.  Hopefully by the end of it, I’ve learned a lot, developed some new work, and built something of a new life for myself here.  I guess now I get down to work and see what happens.  Stay tuned.

On the bright side, I’ve been sleeping really well, probably because I’m so completely exhausted when I get to bed.

(The GIF is a quick little sample that I, Neda and Ryan made in my elective, Hybrid Digital Media. I’m not quite sure how they conned me into it.)

Liminal Space

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Liminal: “threshold.”

“…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
– Richard Rohr

I am in the in-between space- having left behind my life in Calgary, and not yet really started this chapter here in Waterloo.  I am here to do my MFA, and have come early to get settled in, so that the inevitable business of September will hopefully not be too much of a shock.  There was a minor crisis when my living arrangement fell through, but now I have a room rented in a place which I think may actually be a pretty good fit (fingers crossed), possibly a blessing in disguise.  I don’t move in there until month’s end, however, just before classes start, so for now, I’m in the liminal space. The in-between.

I’m trying to relax, slow down, explore the new city (cities, actually, Kitchener AND Waterloo), rest and calm down.  I’ve been doing okay with that, I think, although it’s not easy.  If you know me at all, you know that I usually have a few different things on the go at any point in time, so this kind of unstructured time is a little tough for me to wrap my head around.  I’m anxious and nervous, and have a million things I need to do and get, hardly any of which I can or should do before my funding comes in or I move into the place I’ll actually be staying at.  Such as getting a few pieces of furniture, a dresser, for instance, or a new computer, which I am really starting to need.  (This one is starting to pull some serious attitude.)

So, I’ve been hanging out in the studio, getting settled in there, starting to make some little things and write lists of things I think I’ll need.  I’ve also been walking around quite a bit, checking out Uptown Waterloo, as well as some other fun things, such as the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG), and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery.

my Waterloo.

Waterloo_studio_selfie

– A bad cell phone picture of me and my new studio. –

So I’ve arrived, safe and sound, after driving for a whole week, with everything I own in my car. Actually, I quite enjoyed the drive- got to see my family and a few old friends along the way, and listen to my music and see the country.  The car wasn’t so full that it was uncomfortable, and I packed it well- what I needed was where I needed and I used the space well. Anyway.

I’ve been here a few days now.  To be honest, this part has been the hardest part of the transition so far.  Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, but I could feel all the love from my family and friends, all the good wishes and support.  Now that I’m here, I feel really alone, and soooo far away from home.  I hardly know which way is north.  And I had a fiasco (and subsequent freak out) with my living arrangement, but don’t worry, I’ve got that sorted out now.

On a happier note, I moved into my studio today, and met a few people who I will be working with, including the graduate advisor, department administrator and one of my new studio mates.  It’s pretty quiet around the Fine Arts section of campus right now (although there is a surprising number of students around the rest of campus).  I spent some time moving into the studio today, sweeping up and getting things set up for myself, which I think is helping me feel more normal.  I can’t wait to start doing some work in there (although, with having to find an apartment at the last minute, I have less money than I anticipated, which means I have to wait for supply shopping).  In the meantime, I will spend some time working in my sketchbook, and using supplies I already have, and maybe even finish some things I’ve already been working on.  Because of the whole moving thing and everything else, I feel like I haven’t really been able to put in any decent studio time in the last few months at all, so I want to spend some time feeling out the space and getting settled in, both into the physical space and the right headspace.

Anyway.  Right now, I’m just trying to get used to a completely new place (not to mention the crazy muggy-ness – I now understand why people complain about Calgary being dry) and settle in.  I knew it would be a big change, but I don’t think I realized how BIG. It’s not a vacation where I can just go back home when I feel like it.  Home as I knew it is not there anymore. Right now, I’m really reminding myself why I’m here, why it is the right thing, and I need to do it, uncomfortable as it is right now, and telling myself that I will get used to it, and eventually, it will feel like home too.  Change sure as hell is not easy.

Spending a few days in Hanna, my hometown.

Special area

Now that I’m done work, I, rather impulsively maybe, decided to come out to visit my parents for a few days, and maybe help out with some things around here.  The timing is maybe not ideal- they’re both working, Dad on night shifts.  Even normally, my parents have a lot going on in their lives, socially and otherwise, including yoga, golf, friends, and working out at “the Ranch,” a quarter section of land just south of town.  I think this visit is more for me than anything- I’m feeling a little restless and sentimental about leaving (already!).

This will be one of the last trips I make out here, for who knows how long.  I have a trip planned early next month with a couple of good friends to go through to Manitou Beach, a unique mineral-rich, unusually buoyant lake in the middle of Saskatchewan.  It is not far from the towns where my parents grew up, and a little-known Saskatchewan treasure.  I have dreams about this place occasionally, and it occupies a special place in my heart.  It is also the reason, I suspect, that my mother can’t swim.

The last time I will be through here (Hanna) will be July 26th, as the first stop of my trip out to Waterloo.  I feel like I should be out here to document as much as I can – and filter my experience through my camera (as Mark does in Rent), something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Ever the documentor, I am, although I am not really sure why I feel compelled to do that.  Am I more sentimental than most people? I’m not sure.  The only thing I know for sure is that I am a savour-er, always have been and always will be. To that end, I stopped on my way out here to take a photo of a particular road sign which marks the edge of Special Area #2, where Hanna is located.  I always keep an eye out for this particular sign, and it always strikes me as amusing- What makes this area “special,” other than (to me) that I grew up here?  Why is it number 2, why not number 1?  I know why this actually is, but before I actually was aware of that, it held a lot of intrigue.  Also amusing to me now is that there is no Special Area #1, in Alberta, at least not anymore.

Anyway.  I brought my nice camera out here, will have to take some photos. Maybe I’ll post some later.

Laying Track.

Woody allen

Lately I’ve been thinking about some things, talking about them with friends.  Friends ask where I find the time, motivation, and inspiration to continue to do what I do and maintain a sustainable practice without losing steam or burning out.  As I’ve been out of school for three years now (where did the time go?), I’ve proven to myself that I can do this, and as tough as it is sometimes, I am able to maintain it and keep it up over time.  I am committed.  

It is all too easy to let life get in the way, taking care of day-to-day business.  It is tough to prioritize my practice, when it would be so easy to commit to a full time job somewhere and just forget about it.  Or worse, feel guilty about not having the time to devote to it, or the energy, or just “not feeling inspired” to work on it.  I know sometimes it seems I have it easy, in not having a constant gig – temping allows me to take the time I need off, but it is unreliable – so I am able to commit to my work.  It is a sacrifice, however, in that money is often tight, and that can be quite stressful. You have to be resourceful.  (But if art school taught me nothing else, it’s how to be resourceful.)  You have to say no to things that aren’t going to be valuable to you.  I try to set really specific boundaries and say no to those things that take me away from my work.

I’ve committed to my life as an artist, because, although I do think I could do another career, I don’t think I would be happy.  Tough as it is sometimes, being an artist is a constant adventure, and can be really rewarding.  In terms of my practice, I am my own boss, which definitely comes with it’s own challenges.  I have to keep myself motivated, working, and committed, managing my own moods and problems (such as the 36+ rejections last year), as well as wearing the many hats that are required as a professional artist.  I have to not only conceive of and make the work, but source the parts and materials, manage expenses and income, keep track of everything for tax time, keep up my website and newsletter, some marketing and promotion, applications for exhibitions and residencies, write about and photograph my work, organize exhibitions (making sure I am prepared- the work is done as it should be, that I have everything I might possibly need to install, including tools and volunteers if necessary, transporting work, and dealing with the gallery, contracts, providing images, etc.), etc.  It’s not an easy gig.

Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s really not.  When I was at the Gushul in March, pretty much all I did was work, and happily, too.  It didn’t take me long to develop a really good and natural rhythym – up at 8, early, to take advantage of the daylight), work until 2 or 3, with a short lunch in there somewhere, take a break- a nap or read/rest/whatever for an hour or so, and then back at it, until bedtime, most days.  I was putting in 12-14 hour work days most of the time.  Sometimes I would go to the cafe to write/draw/think if I wanted to, but it wasn’t to escape my work at all.  Since I’ve been back, however, it’s been a little tough to get into a routine, but I’m working on it. I realize that my own productivity goes in cycles and is impossible to maintain that way in the long run, but the more I can set myself up for success, the better. The routine made it easy to be productive, less resistance.

I’ve also learned that I need to keep my emotions out of it, as much as possible- to not take those 36+ rejections personally- I could have been rejected for any number of reasons, only a small portion of which likely have anything to do with me.  I also need to keep my emotions out of it when it comes down to working- it’s not an “if I feel like it” thing, or an “I need to be inspired to work” thing, it’s a showing up thing.  A commitment to doing the work, whether I feel like it or not.  A job. Laying track.

What makes it look like a lot is a commitment to doing some every day, or almost every day.  To keeping my eye open for opportunities, and being organized enough that I can act on them if they are appropriate.  To writing an excellent application, sending it in on time, and then forgetting about it (so that it’s either a nice surprise when the good news shows up or so that the rejection doesn’t sting so much).  A little over a long period of time adds up to a lot.

So, today, like every day, I’m “laying track.”

Downsizing.

Week 1 - 3693

I want to make a change in my life.  A big change.

A friend of mine from school is getting rid of everything she owns and leaving on a big travel adventure.  I find myself so jealous.  And not even for the adventure- well, maybe a little.  In thinking about leaving to go to school in the fall, I realize how much stuff I have, most of which means little or nothing to me.  It’s weighing me down, even just thinking about getting rid of all these things.  Some things I’ve been holding on to for years, and I couldn’t even tell you why.  Is it precious to me in some way? No.  Is it unique? No.  Would it be expensive or difficult to replace? No.  And scarier- have I used it lately? No.  Scarier still- Have I ever used it? No.  Why do I have these things?

I think it’s a feeling of security.  My parents (and their parents before them) worked hard for what they have- they still do.  And there is value in that, earning something.  Saving for something of quality.  But my generation, we have everything we need, and too much more.  Things are so plentiful and so easy to attain that we all own way more than we need. Sure, most things I own are really cheap, or hand-me-downs – there’s nothing wrong with that, but I rarely say no when someone offers to give me something.  And I take it home, put it on a shelf somewhere, and there it stays.  Of all the things I own (excluding artwork/things I’ve made), very few are things that I feel I’ve worked hard for, earned, or value in a real way.  It’s been about accumulating, or getting a leg up, so to speak.  Or saving broken umbrellas for a rainy day.

And I think it’s costing me something.  How much more money would we have, if we didn’t feel the need to go shopping for more clothes, or my biggest weakness, books?  How much more freedom would we have? How much more would we value and take care of the things we do own? As I think about leaving to go back to school, I am amazed at how much crap I own.

I’ve realized that I do it with things like art supplies and groceries too. I buy more material than I anticipate needing to build a certain project, even taking into account the possibilities of mis-measurement and errors.  For instance, I bought four yards of burlap a few months ago, and for what?  I don’t know.  I still haven’t used it, and don’t know if I will.

B and I always buy certain things at the grocery store that we never seem to eat at home.  I don’t know how many bags of dry noodles and spaghetti sauce are in our cupboards, or cans of soup. Or frozen vegetables, perogies, or burritos. How much food do we throw out of the fridge because there’s been too many “better choices” to eat, or even that we’ve forgotten it’s there?  I think on some level I am afraid that at some point in time, there won’t be enough, or we will run out, and so I have got to collect and hoard as much as I can while I’m here.  Do you see how much of a problem this is?  How fear, even unarticulated, could cause so many problems which, if I could just change my point of view, might be fairly easily avoided?  And the reality is, I’ve never been in need of anything that wasn’t somehow attainable to me.

Wow.  We are priviledged, to be able to afford to be so spoiled.

So, it’s time to make a change, for me, at least.   I want to be more conscious of what I spend my money on, what I actually need and use, versus what I think I need and use.  I want to clean the “garbage” and unused supplies out of my studio and my life, the things I’ve been saving for God-knows-what reason.  The clothes that I don’t like, or that don’t fit. The ratty towels that never get used.  I want to start to buy groceries so much more consciously, keeping in mind what I can and will eat before food goes rotten or gets forgotten about.  I want to spend my money that much more consciously, not doing what is convenient all the time, but what might have the most value in it for me.  I want to have enough – enough food, enough things, enough money, enough experiences, and enough freedom – to enjoy my life and what it could be, but not so much that I am limiting myself with too many possessions (which could be related to bills), too many responsibilities (working to pay for the things), too much food, etc, etc. etc.

Time to make a change.

—–

So here’s my experiment.  The photo at the top of the post is $36.93 worth of groceries (yes, Cracker Barrel was on sale).  You can see that I was trying to eat healthy, although there are a few treats in there.  I am planning to track how I eat this week, where exactly this $36.93 goes and how far it lasts, with one exception- I had some hamburger meat and taco shells set out for dinner before I went to the store, so they’ll be part of that too.  B will not be included in this, as 1) He and I don’t have similar eating habits- he won’t eat most of this anyway, and 2) his schedule is so busy with running his Taekwondo club that he’s not home for meals anyway.

—–

PS> As the next few months pass, up until August, I will be giving away/ selling a lot of things, those of you in Calgary stay tuned if there’s anything of interest.

My relationship with the studio…

Generally, I love my studio.  It’s the best place in the world.  It’s cool in the sweltering heat, and contains everything I need to work.  I can make a mess down here, and no one minds.  It has good light, is comfortable, and has lots of storage. I can work at my desk, the sewing station, or the long counter, and if I want to do some computer work, read, or sketch, I can sit on the loveseat in front of my main desk.  It is a happy place.

As a professional artist,  I make deals with myself for studio time. I must be down there on work days. I am allowed upstairs to make lunch, and unless I am actually working on the computer, it is not downstairs with me, as it can be too distracting.  On studio days, which I try to schedule ahead of time, I try my hardest to let nothing interrupt.  No going for coffee with a friend in the middle of the day.  No supply runs during studio time. I find that these “flexibilities” are often just excuses when I feel stuck on something, or just plain don’t want to be there.  It happens.  Sticking with my 9:00-5:00 schedule helps me to take myself seriously.  I don’t always need to be doing serious work during this time, but I do need to be down there, not on the computer, and not reading books for pleasure (unless they’re directly related to research).  If nothing is coming, I doodle.  Or stare at the wall.  Or clean up.  Pull stuff out and look at it. Sketch.  Flip through older sketchbooks. Usually just spending some time in the space helps me to loosen up and let things percolate.  I have lots of things in various stages, or that I’m not sure if I’ve finished yet- they need time to sit with me for a while before I know what they need.  Just having things in my line of sight helps them stay in the forefront of my mind.

Sometimes it flows, and sometimes it’s the last place I want to be, if I’m feeling tired, or stuck on something. Sometimes I feel like I’m clawing at the walls, trying to get out. Even on these days, I have to be there until the end of the day.  If this means I need to pull out something completely different than what I’ve been doing, then so be it (like the paintings above). While I know that the common concept of an artist is that they must be “inspired” to work, I often find my best stuff comes out if I push it a little.  The pushing helps me to make work that I maybe wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t kept my rule, such as these drawings of Morphoid skin cells.  It also helps me to finish up things that maybe I haven’t finished yet, or that should be tweaked or altered.

I work in my sketchbook in this time, and on the train, and I make a lot of lists- things to do, supplies I need, etc.  I also use the time to work on writing proposals if I feel stuck, or behind on that.  That often reminds me about ideas I’ve had and gets me excited about things again, kickstarting the process.

They say that it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at something. And I believe that to be an artist, you have to make things.  Not just once, but every day, or almost every day.  It has to be always in your mind.  It’s so easy to slip out of the habit, and once you do, it’s much harder to get back into it.  The easiest way for me to keep things moving along is to simply put in the time, whether I feel like it or not.

Sometimes it’s an incredibly tough battle.