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Unpacking My Library

A portion of my pandemic shelf.

Walter Benjamin famously wrote about his deeply felt and avid book collecting as he opened boxes to organize his books to place on shelves (a chapter in Illuminations, Schocken Books, 1969). Although he spoke lovingly of particular details about his collection that included memories of acquisition, his approach to collecting books seems to me to be more akin to that of a museum curator’s than to my own relationship with books. My acquisitions came about for reasons beyond my love of reading for its own sake, but unlike Benjamin, I did not buy books (or art or anything else I have acquired) conventionally for their caché, rarity or value in any publicly sanctioned sense. Although my books were not hunted down at auctions or purchased in specialized shops around the world, I do share a feeling similar to Benjamin’s regarding owning particular ones and recalling in many instances where I found them. 

A “bookworm” since childhood (when I did not actually own very many at all), I have amassed and purged untold numbers of books over my life about all kinds of subjects. Those that became part of my physical surroundings are due to the effect they had through my direct experience of them. They may have been intellectually transformative, inspiring or thrilling in their mastery of the written word. I have purchased some books (used) in multiple copies to give away, knowing that a loan is hardly ever returned. I like being able to go to my own shelves and find an answer to a question. I add postcards and other related chotchkes (also sentimental but not actually valuable) near them, as if to keep them company, or vice versa. Collectively, whether dog-eared or yellowed with age, the physical presences of my books are a treasure to me, like favorite photographs from long ago or works of art that have likewise made the cut over and over again. (My one aversion in acquiring used books is finding another’s ink notations in a book I would otherwise choose to own, and I make a point these days to only mark lightly with pencil as I read.)

With every relocation of home, what to do about my books has been a dilemma. Having lived relatively lightly by choice for most of my years, embracing the concepts of Voluntary Simplicity (Duane Elgin, 1981), money for me was always first to be spent on food, after which were choices between art supplies or books. After that, making something by hand was preferable to venturing out to a retail store of any kind. Repurposing, purchasing used, reusing, using up or recycling (if there was still life left in something), was and still is my preferred way of spending resources. As books hold a remarkably important place amid that which surrounds me, so do certain plates with chips (that I paint with gold, as in Japanese kintsugi) or fabrics that have been repaired, beautiful things acquired at flea markets long ago that I finally have the opportunity to use, or particular containers that were never of monetary value but have been holding particular art supplies in my studio for many decades and still work just fine. I find comfort in the old and the used, particularly something that brings a positive memory to mind every time I see it. Objects of all kinds are touchstones to extended time that remains present even in the forward motion of evolution and change. This kind of “holding onto” that by default becomes collecting is, for me, part of making a life in which things are chosen for the quality of their interior resonance, like friends.

As my husband and I relocated to much smaller quarters over the past year I have had to come to grips with collections I acquired without realizing how much space they had previously occupied. Since the need to sell so many of my books decades ago had been a painful experience, I had over time repurchased many of them. With higher paying employment while wearing the mantle of academia I became better able and more willing to purchase more and more books, justifying that they also enhanced my teaching (which many did). Our recent last-in-a-lifetime move to a new state made reassessment about books and my dream of one day having a room that served as an actual library finally, peacefully drift away.

Retirement, then COVID-19, allowed me to put all and everything into perspective. During the pandemic I began to re-read books from my own library, particularly those having to do with concepts of Eastern thought I have studied since undergraduate years. It was astonishing to realize how much more I understand now than when I initially came upon and wrestled with the ideas. Rather than thinking I could let go of such books I’ve had for so long, I ended up wanting even more to keep them—especially with their additional pencil marginalia from my most recent rereads. Each book, whether at home or in the studio, will continue to be assessed and may end up being among all that I leave behind when no longer physically here. Although my hope is that someone else will value what I do, I am well aware that as Benjamin noted, “the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner” and “objects get their due only…[in private collections].” The “intimate relationship” to the objects are, he wrote “Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.” (Illuminations, pg. 67)

In this spirit I address every object that I vetted to come with me to Rhode Island, including things that might have seemed like garbage to anyone other than me (and my understanding husband). Many boxes of books, however, have only been boxed to bring up here to give away. Once I learned where the places were that welcomed what I had, the giving was not only painless, it became a joy. The emotions seemed to hinge upon someone else’s valuing something that I have also valued, even when the things in question are relatively humble. What someone else has loved cannot be thrown away, it must be given to someone else who will also value it, or it must be destroyed, like a bowl in an ancient tomb has a hole forced into it to release the user’s spirit. Something disparaged needs a ceremony, a burial, a flame lit to it, I feel. Whereas things that cause negative memories to arise are good to tear or discard. A balance is somehow struck between opposites.

As a collage artist, this is also how I’m dealing with my own work and materials that have accompanied me here. This is the last studio in which I will try to “use everything up”. Now the world, circumstances, everything has changed. The ways, means and purposes for creating have new chapters. Every book I read, many of which now come from our beautiful local library, and every object and scrap that I touch is being vetted for the last time. Having gotten to the other side of letting go, the movement continues easily now and life flows as it did many decades ago, in freedom. Unpacking my books has led to the unpacking of so much else. 

©2021 Janet Maher, Circlegarden Studio 

Categories
Art Thoughts

Downsizing

Circlegarden Studio
Circlegarden Studio has a new home!

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the former homestead and studio buildings of one of my seminal undergraduate teachers. Once there I experienced the déjà vu memory of a field trip during a semester with him. Having become familiar with his work in the 70s, seeing it again in the 2000s cast me back to this other time. I recalled having been a young tabula rasa, feeling that I knew nothing about anything, as I came upon canvas after canvas of works already created by my professor. I was at the beginning of my art life, while he had already produced so much that he needed to keep adding out-buildings in which to store his works around his ultra modern home in the woods.

As an adult, a professor myself, it was somewhat horrifying to me to see this archive frozen in time after his death. Now his artwork and library were a burden for others to care and try to find homes for. I bought a drawing, matted, framed and hung it in our home near works by other important teachers of mine from that era. This image, however, makes me sad. Instead of bringing back fond memories of a person I care/d about or eliciting an aesthetic joy on its own merits, as most of my art collection does, the drawing reminds me of his piles of work, stacked upon themselves almost as carelessly as he had left them in place while alive, in non climate controlled sheds. I know the situation of having only room to move through such spaces one body width at a time. This also became the story of my own art life.

With each move to some other location I jettison entire aspects of myself. Early on I would simply leave a place/person, taking only what would fit in my car, letting someone else reduce my traces, parse the residue out in whatever way they chose. Others long ago ended up with my fancy figure skates, for example, my kiln, my flat files, the 200 yards of satiny fabric that once covered the walls of a gallery for a solo show, artworks, my own and others’ I had bought or for which I had traded. More Zen-like then, I readily let go of things, keeping my forward journey light. Once settled into academic employment, quickly there was more to archive, however, while imagining that one day others would value the production, its quality, quantity and range.

Some artists save the best piece of each series for themselves. Some sell their work readily and handily, not also needing other employment to pay their bills. Many have trust funds or live with someone who financially supports them, thus being able to focus solely on making work and potentially becoming recognized. Others of us give our work away, do ritual burnings, or periodically take a deep breath, then rip and stuff it in bags to toss like clothes we have deemed no longer wearable by anyone, including, finally, us. Someone who continually recycles and repurposes on principal and includes collage and assemblage as veins of her work, may have a particularly difficult time executing that ultimate “toss”. I find that invariably some intriguing bits move into new “save” piles, suggesting other potential projects. [Note: this is a practice of an entirely different sort than “hoarding”, though non- or traditional-media artists typically may not understand it.]

It is a privilege to be able to begin again by choice, retaining only the most essential components of a lifetime of multiplicity and attracting or inventing new challenges and techniques. What, when push comes to shove, are the essential components? Aren’t they, like starter for sourdough bread or yogurt, bits of remnants from past works to feed future ones? Isn’t it important to have touchstones to accompany one to the next stage? Or is that merely a crutch? Must there be nothing but blank walls and surfaces to allow for more purity in new moments? How strictly must one’s inner best case scenario philosophy align with one’s actual art practice?

How does one overly concerned with the end of the world as we know it due to climate change caused by generations of humans’ mistreatment of the environment “downsize” appropriately and still continue working? How does one who aspires to Buddhist principles carry forward only the essentials from another art studio that has evolved the way it has due to a lifetime of making and decades of teaching? Perhaps by imagining that by 2030 life as we know it will be no longer. What physical elements, in that case, should accompany one into a future of only ten years? Not to mention, who needs an archive?

Perhaps this time I will move in reverse. My first real studio—not a spot of my mother’s basement by the washing machine or in my tiny apartment—was a small room provided as an incoming graduate student. Initially I had brought across country with me unframed starts and some materials into a space with no furniture. The size of a small walk-in closet, this grew two more times as I moved onward and upward before completing my MA. degree, returning twelve years later to complete my M.F.A.  Since then, studio furniture, cast-offs, repurposed and repaired has accumulated. Framed works, art in all stages of progress, materials and many layers of history have also accumulated, along with books—my lifeline to all and everything.

In the throes of a pandemic the Universe has provided a new space in a new location. I am ever-grateful for the gift of being able to pass through a seeming portal into this other, better, reality and future. As wonderful as this all is, the studio is significantly smaller than what my current physical history can accommodate. For perhaps the last time in this life I have the privilege of choosing to let go and move on. This time I think I’ll start with the furniture. Creativity will transplant within the parameter of limitations provided by the flat surfaces and storage systems that fit in this space.

Among the great gifts of this pandemic is permission for artists to let go of rules we used to live by. What was ongoing in the great “before” no longer matters unless we decide it does. Time and purpose is entirely new. I must consider my existing works simply as those that were doable during the juggling acts of the previous decades that formed my Now. The words of my yoga teacher regarding personal energy ring ever more true: “Let it go, then make more.” At last perhaps my art and Buddhist practices will come to neatly inform each other. Less will become not only more, but enough.

Stay safe and well. 

©2020 Janet Maher, Circlegarden Studio

Categories
Black Lives Matter Pandemic Thoughts

Bumbling Into Awareness

 

©2020 Janet Maher, Soul Work (detail); mixed media collage print
©2020 Janet Maher, Soul Work (detail); mixed media collage print

(Updated 6.14.20 at 11:56 a.m.)†

(Updated 6.14.20 at 4:12 p.m.)††

While masses of individuals across the globe have been still enough to notice, much evil has been revealed. The virus that caused the shutdown of life as we knew it exposed the virus of systemic racism that has been running through American history since the colonists arrived into the land of the Native tribes. After the three seemingly back-to-back murders of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that occurred for no cause, and Christian Cooper’s being reported as a threat for simply observing birds a massive multiracial rising in solidarity occurred. It eclipsed any that I have experienced to date. In the silence of a physical pandemic a 2020 Consciousness Raising manifested. Various intertwined movements had gained traction and expanded into Black Lives Matter. Urgent issues brought into larger cultural awareness over the past decade were heard this time as never before. The revolution was not only live, it was televised.

In this morning’s email feed I listened to a wonderful interview between Krista Tippett and Eula Biss, Talking About Whiteness, which prompted this post. Tippett’s The Pause is part of her On Being Project. As a white woman who has been striving to become educated over the years around the issues of racism and white supremacy, like them, I will always have much to learn. I’m embarrassed to admit that I intimidated myself in 2012 against listing Noel Ignatiev’s book, How The Irish Became White, in the bibliography for my first book and in my blog about Irish history and genealogy topics. I feared potentially offending some unknown someone. Irish musician Imelda May, however, thankfully called out publicly last week anyone of Irish ancestry who had bigotry in their psyche with her spoken word work You Don’t Get to Be Racist and Irish.

Involved friends and colleagues over the years have shared important resources, and my university has actively provided training and opportunities for educating oneself. Still, it was personally “easier” for me over the years to actively address the Climate Crisis than to have Black Lives Matter be my cause. There were too many issues to fit on one protest sign, and not enough hours in the teaching days and weeks to address my chosen infused topic and still address the content of the actual hands-on courses. In whatever our professions, we juggle and bumble and do the best we can as we are also growing, simultaneously trying to inspire others by our own behavior. We want to be the change we wish to see.

Through others I learned of Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. She powerfully bridged the feminist concept of male privilege to that of white privilege, including a list of 50 ways in which she recognized her own privilege. One friend is an active part of the Baltimore Cease Fire movement. She goes with a group to the neighborhood of every death due to gun violence and serves as a silent witness and open ear in an effort to help absorb the pain of those who experienced the personal losses. The amazing artist whose work I learned about at an exhibit at Julio Art Gallery, Loyola University Maryland, Tawny Chatmon, is one of the Instagram artists who are offering ways to help. From her site (@tawnychatmon) she linked ten suggested action items that people can do in honor of Breonna Taylor’s birthday, which would have been June 5. (#BirthdayForBreonna) †Last week a friend shared a beautiful prayer written by Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Dean of Howard University School of Divinity, that was read aloud at a virtual prayer service held at Loyola. A Litany For Those Not Ready For Healing is included within the JesuitResource website.

My humble offering in this post is music. Music has always been a deeply important and inspiring part of my life, and personal soundtracks have run throughout it. Despite the tragedies that occurred throughout the last several decades, I feel fortunate for having grown up in the time into which I was born and to have lived to see the day when there feels to be a ground-swelling of growth and change that I believe will take hold this time. New generations have joined the movements that began with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who protested about injustices of all kinds and about dire concerns for the health of our one planet. For the first time in this pandemic I am beginning to feel hopeful for a future in which humans have acknowledged and acted upon the ultimate Wake Up calls.

With joy I began a soundtrack for now, scratching the surface of and selecting from songs I’ve compiled over several years on my Pinterest board Favorite Musicians – Old School.* I’ve gingerly shared a few with students who did not know much about previous eras, but freely open the floodgate now. Forewarned – interestingly, (appropriately) on You Tube some of them are now preceded with an ad for Joe Biden for President.

*I had to include Patti Smith, however, although she is certainly not Old School! I believe she turned the tide of popular music in the 1970s that opened the door to the present, influencing and thus bringing strong women into full presence within the industry.

Stay safe and well. May we listen to and amplify melanated voices and educate ourselves toward a beautiful future.

©2020 Janet Maher

 

Categories
Pandemic Thoughts

Resilience

 

2020 Iris ©2020 Janet Maher

Wednesday night a beautiful new song by Wilco was aired on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night. Seeing Jeff Tweedy and all the band members in their homes, most with partners and children, gave me an entirely new appreciation for my brother’s favorite band. Tell Your Friends is set up on Bandcamp as a fundraiser for chef José Andrés’ enormous relief efforts through his World Central Kitchen. Wilco’s song perfectly captures the feeling of appreciation for our closest personal connections during this time of physical distancing. Never before have the telephone, snail mail and virtual meant to reach certain others mattered as much to so many.

The song can be streamed from a link in this Rolling Stone article which includes additional links. Tweedy also recorded an acoustic version of Jesus, Etc. for the Colbert show. I so appreciate the power of these Zoomed and live-streamed concerts meant to reach through to us and simultaneously affect change. Leave it to Wilco to do this so well. 

We are experiencing Pandemic Time in separate realities through unique lenses. After two months I seem to have turned a corner in how it feels for me.  As I move from engagement with one thing to another, one completion or ebb to resolve or not (considering the weather or the presumption of another day), time rolls on without additional layers of external demands placed upon it. All these years later the fluidity of child and young adulthood time has returned. Sounds of cars may be whizzing past, but my own world has stilled, allowing me to reground in a continual present.

In Pandemic Time maybe it’s OK not to be frantically producing, not to be setting increasingly higher expectations and demands on a self conditioned to being judged by the outside world. It may be possible to reassess life itself when assumptions have been upended and people in every kind of situation are re-imagining their own ways forward. We are experiencing and/or observing both the best and the worst of human behaviors. The flaws within our social, financial and political systems have been exposed. How will we personally and collectively grow from this Time Out and reemerge into healthier and more sustainable states of being?

I didn’t watch much television as an  adult, nor did I have time to see Oprah Winfrey, or even read the majority of the books she recommended on her famous list. Today, however, I watched a 53 minute-long interview between Oprah and Gary Zukav (author of the Dancing Wu Li Masters and Seat of the Soul, among others), that occurred three years ago. Maybe the message of their conversation, interlaced with snippets from previous ones, may be heard and understood even better during the pandemic. Michael A. Singer and Tami Simon, of Sounds True produced another helpful interview, Resilience and Surrender in Challenging Times. Singer offers advice for those having a range of difficulties, and explains larger ways to consider what is happening.

Resilience takes many forms. My favorite Amplifier Foundation poster, Ernesto Yerena’s beautiful artwork honoring Lakota native activist Helen Red Feather, hangs framed at the entryway to my studio. It reads “We the Resilient Have Been Here Before”. I chose this image years back to remind myself of my own resilience throughout life so far, and of the work there is still to do, perhaps with a deeper appreciation. May we all  become resilient enough to help create a future based in the kind of soulful connections we value most. May the world that arises Post-Pandemic be a better place than the one so dreadfully harmed by our collective mistakes, and may that harm not be beyond repair. Let’s remember to tell our friends, “This is going to end. Oh, and I needed you. Oh, and I love you. I want to hold your hand when I see you again.”

Stay safe and well. 

©2020 Janet Maher

 

 

Categories
Pandemic Thoughts

Graduation in a Pandemic

This week has been bittersweet as students have graduated from their most recent educational endeavors without the usual fanfare. Many creative ways have been found, instead, to celebrate these special people, notably by our highly respected former president who stepped into the void and expressed what needed to be said by someone of his stature. It is up to this year’s students who graduated during our country’s lowest ebb, to put things right in this world, though the task may seem incredibly difficult.

Peony purchased from Cricket Hill Garden in 2016 bloomed yesterday! ©2020 Janet Maher

The “long strange trip it’s been” saddens me on behalf of the class who entered my university in 2016 and for all their peers around the world. While every class is special in its own way, this one is ever more so. Those who completed master and doctoral levels, bachelor and high school degrees, unlike any of us before them, have arrived to their recent plateaus to see the strangest of new worlds, currently suffering for reasons they inherited but did not create. This sadness is accompanied with hope in my heart for them. The current younger generations grew up knowing how to work together and be kind to each other. They grew up watching Sesame Street and were taught by elders who instilled healthy habits in them. Many of the 2020 university graduates embrace the attitudes that millions also did at their age, a bit like new, improved, versions of ourselves. This is somewhat reassuring.

Young People’s Climate March, Baltimore, MD ©2019 Janet Maher

Among these graduates are the leaders who will steer things forward in collaboration with their peers who have grown up in a world that went dangerously awry. It is necessary for today’s empowered graduates who know how to work at staying centered in themselves while remaining open to good energy to treat their future as a blank slate of positive potential. Creatively, peacefully, each must do what has not yet been accomplished. In their own ways each much play their relative part “as if their hair were on fire”, while they actively grow into the fullness of themselves. All of us have been at this frightful point looking out into the great unknown—some of us multiple times—but never when the stakes were as high as they are now. 

I spent yesterday in my own time out, remaining outdoors for several hours in the shade that moved around our tiny back yard, relishing the ever-changing sounds around me as I drew. I was reminded of summer breaks from college, when this was one of the things I’d do at my mother’s house (even smaller than ours). My drawings were simpler then and only in gray scale. They were also based in observations of the natural world and some are still treasured. Looking out from my chosen spot, myriad buds of peonies I had transplanted from her yard nineteen years ago are about to bloom again. I relished the glory of my three-foot tall irises that have returned, bigger and stronger than ever in many spots around our home. But no new bloom was more thrilling than the special peony we purchased in 2016 when taking our now deceased dear family friend on an excursion to Cricket Hill Garden in Torrington, Connecticut. Yesterday morning it finally opened! I take this as a sign that all will be better, and I offer that hope for the 2020 graduates. Step by step, with nurturing, tending one’s inner fire, keeping one’s own pilot light safe, following the purest directions that come from within the best of oneself, will lead to your beautiful blossoming. May it be! Let it be.

For those who enjoy my links, a new collection:

Music & Videos:

  • Maryland’s longstanding wildly-loved band, Boister’s, fearless leader, Anne Hambleton Watts, celebrates her daughter’s and other 2020 graduates’ time with beautiful selections of music on WHCP, three segments (A, B, C) of Woman Wattage: Graduation 2020.
  • Headspace has begun to post daily uplifting podcast messages on Spotify and other music-listening sites, search Radio Headspace.
  • My wonderful yoga teacher, Martha Wallace McAlpine, streams daily classes from her YouTube channel, and on Facebook.
  • Jason Isbell interview on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show
  • Worth watching again, angry Italian mayors on March 24.
  • Tipperary, Ireland’s, football star, Padriac Maher, has a gentler approach. He and “Doctor Caroline O’Hanlon share their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and how they’re coping without Gaelic games.” Listen to them here.
  • My former students have certainly heard of The Story of Stuff project. Their most recent endeavor, a feature-length documentary, The Story of Plastic, is available in various ways and folks are encouraged to watch it in virtual group gatherings. Although I haven’t seen this yet, these days plastic itself flashes me back to that scene in The Graduate, 1967, when Ben/Dustin Hoffman is given financial advice. We have finally all come to the realization that in our lifetimes plastic has polluted the entire planet. (I won’t be surprised if this clip is in the film.)

To Read & Listen:

Congratulations to the graduates of 2020 despite all that is going on! Everyone stay safe, well, connected, and pay attention to the scientists.

©2020 Janet Maher

Categories
Pandemic Thoughts

Creatives Rise to the Occasion

The past six decades in my experience of the United States included unusual, perhaps interesting, times. Seared into my memory are events that altered my future engagement with the world and the dreams I’d had when young. Each disturbing or tragic event taught me something I could not have learned as well or as deeply without having actively lived through it. Assassinations gathered my family in front of the television. Nightly news aired images of killings throughout a war that much of the nation believed was wrong. Ed Sullivan and many T.V. shows introduced me to musicians and comedians who gave me a glimpse into a much larger world beyond my neighborhood. Later, there were times of odd and even days designated for filling up one’s car with gas. AIDS appeared, a virus that made love become a potentially life-threatening decision. And more conflicts erupted, over and over, many due to the actions of my country’s leaders.

In none of such times, however, were people in the United States afraid to continue simple, basic activities like mailing parcels or purchasing groceries. Yes, there were fallout shelters and elementary school drills to avoid imagined nuclear debris (as if our desks could save us). None, however, required physical protection from an invisible threat that could weasel its way into our sinuses and try to kill us even when we actively attempted to avoid it. Pandemics in which people meant to be in charge but who didn’t understand what was going on were in historic events in previous generations and centuries, not in ours.

Individuals of every age and walk of life have been cast abruptly into a next level of consciousness as if while we were sleeping. We are challenged to imagine a new future well before many of us were ready to try. Time before this pandemic is long gone. A mere few months have passed and there is only a distant memory of a “before”. Creative works and activities of all the kinds we used to enjoy in full presence, opening receptions and performances we would attend, gatherings of all kinds that we took for granted, feel way back in that past. People recently have been clamoring for places to “open up”, to “return to normal”, as if there ever had been a “normal”, as if any kind of “normalcy” hadn’t been destroyed by design incrementally over the last four years (including during the lead-in to the election). Many of us remember the mourning that darkened our spirits in November 2016, displacing our shocks of disbelief. We worried things could go terribly wrong, but I, for one, never imagined this.

Took down my eleven pieces today from the exhibition at Maryland Hall, Annapolis, that never opened – Unnatural Causes: Art of a Critical Nature

Many life-altering memories within these decades have been shared across the nation, across the planet, but none altered life in such an all-consuming way as COVID19 has. Before, it was possible to protest, make conscious lifestyle changes and swim against the stream with a feeling that collective efforts would eventually take hold. By the Women’s March of 2017 a glimmer of hope remained for many, albeit overshadowed by the deja vu of having been around this block way too long ago. By 2017 the next waves of feminists had, thankfully, emerged; fully supported, finally. They helped create the Me Too Movement that successfully broke new ground. Too many of the same issues, and sadly, more, still needed to be addressed, while the climate was going haywire right before our eyes. To think about it all was overwhelming. Nature, with her prolonged systemic mistreatment, finally decided where the overarching focus must be, and here we are in all its complexity.

As usual, creatives of all kinds have risen to the occasion to invent new ways to engage with others, use their talents, provide moments of calm, laughter, beauty, and help us feel that we will get through this strange in-between time. In unusual times creative minds do unusual things and through them create new realities. The meaning of the words “Essential” and “Privilege” has been fully absorbed in our newly-forming reality. Who is it on the front lines? Who keeps our world actually functioning? What are the essential jobs? Are those in them paid as they deserve to be? Many who are home have found ways and made efforts to keep spirits lifted and provide myriad types of support. Every bit matters as we realize how much all things interconnect.

Following are some links to people, words, and music that I don’t want to forget or that I’ve posted somewhere but anyone reading this may not have seen:

Long Distance Virtual Performances – Tip of the Iceberg!

With hope for an awakened reality post-Pandemic. May we stay safe, well, grow larger and give as we can.

©2020 Janet Maher

Categories
Pandemic Thoughts

Settling Into A Pandemic

It has been quite a long time since I began this fledgling blog. Perhaps its time has arrived. Like everyone else immersed in the COVID19 Pandemic I am trusting the process that will allow a constantly mutating virus* to die out – if people will pay attention to science and protect themselves from becoming host to it. I am also trusting the process of going inward, simplifying my life, while engaging in ways that make sense in relation to members of my varied and widely separated communities. While all life on our planet is interconnected within rippling waves of cause and effect, each of us is experiencing this tragedy in unique ways. As Dr. Maya Angelou expressed, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Potent words for the present.

(*Update 5.18.20, Good news, my scientist friend said that it has been determined this particular coronavirus in not the type that mutates, like the common cold. See this article from The Scientist.)

©2018 Janet Maher, Gaia: Specimen #1, mm monoprint; wintergreen oil transfer print, completed with colored pencils; image size: 9.5” diameter; paper: 13” sq.; matted and framed 16” sq.

In the weeks that the immense dangers finally became acknowledged and addressed in the United States I adapted a different blog (MaherMatters) and posted “off topic” there. I also began to make fabric face masks for a long list of individuals around the country. That list continues to grow and marks my weekly visit to the Post Office with some sense of purpose and usefulness. Among many other activities, mask-making has helped me to focus, like an aspect of Karma Yoga. See my previous posts through these links:

While so many have been seriously, catastrophically affected by loss during this time, so many others are front-line responders and essential workers and an outrageous number of people have died, it is a privilege for we who are actually able to stay and work from home. We may, nonetheless, also experience emotional upheavals as an avalanche of dire news events of the days persists while we are stricken by our new and unwelcome mask-wearing, non-touching reality. Given that not all upheavals are equal, each must still be faced as it occurs and transformed into something greater—greater than the virus, greater than those who willfully do harm.

©2018, Janet Maher, Gaia: Specimen #2, mm monoprint; wintergreen oil transfer print, completed with colored pencils; image size: 9.5” diameter; paper: 13” sq.; matted and framed 16” sq.

Artists, writers, performers, scientists and others whose vocations are inwardly-driven may have an easier time of this. Our own work and endless curiosity provides no lack of something to do, even as such vocations are financially precarious even in the best of times. Ironically, the great gift of time having been given in full while we hunker down by command allows us to work in ways that ordinarily must be fitted around the edges of juggling myriad other requirements within the world of making a living. While parents, conversely, have more than usual on their plates, many have welcomed ways to engage their children in their work-lives, and children have grown in ways that quarantine time has made possible as conventional structures are being reinvented. Creatives and scientists have continued to provide inspiration, explanations, encouragement, guidance and hope for me as the Internet has functioned in ways for which it was initially, positively, intended.

With this reentry into Trusting the Process: Getting There From Here, I intend to offer links to anchors of inspiration that have lifted my spirits or informed me during what I fear will be a long road ahead. I hope you’ll enjoy them, will share your own thoughts, and will subscribe.

  • Probably Tomfoolery has created a beautiful bedtime story, The Great Realization, that has gone viral in the best possible way.
  • Global Citizen streamed an inspiring live Earth Day celebration full of performances and sources of information. Click to stream two hours and forty-five minutes of terrific music collected from the day in the album One World: Together At Home! Stream from whatever platform you use.
  • Boston’s WBUR OnPoint, in conjunction with NPR, streamed a great interview with Brian Melican and Kimberly Dowdell, How Coronavirus Will Change City Life. Read Melican’s complete article regarding pandemics and epidemics in previous centuries, A tale of three cities: the places transformed by pandemics across history. It is disturbing how similar our current situation in the United States parallels that of Marseilles in 1720, when due to letting the safety measures slip on behalf of business 50,000 of 80,000 people died—after centuries of having bypassed the Black Plague.
  • Grateful to have learned of Emergence Magazine through a friend. I find its written and spoken articles and interviews regarding Ecology, Culture and Spirituality are so helpful in these times. In Shaking the Viral Tree, David Quammen explains how the coronavirus came to be and continues to mutate into different strains. If this awareness does not keep you to obeying safety protocols probably nothing will. (Hence, you will continue, selfishly, to put others at risk!) This site is worthy reading for every day and is a free subscription.
  • My heart was warmed by this moment between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is one of the major voices of reason and solid leaders in this time, and Stephen Colbert, whom we watch without fail every night. Somehow I enjoy this show even more as Colbert streams casually, comfortably from home, with help from his family, and brings on terrific guests who are also open to being seen on a more real level than they might have been fully suited on a stage before a live audience.
  • The Earth Day celebration on April 18 ended with this beautiful collaboration between Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, Lang Lang, and John Legend. Full of gratitude to all who performed on and produced this world-wide event, I also have been loving the YouTube streams of so many who continue to offer music to cheer our hearts, such as this fundraiser on behalf of Mass General Emergency by James Taylor, his wife, and son. Music touches us directly and often brings tears, which help to cleanse our souls while bringing us more in touch with a sense of our shared humanity. I’ll continue to post such links. Please share your recommendations too, as I try to use my days as much away from the computer as possible.
  • If you stream Netflix, be sure to see the wonderful Michelle Obama’s documentary – Becoming.

Stay safe and healthy, become larger in this time.

©2020 Janet Maher

 

Categories
Collaborative Art

Nature Meditations

…Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirit of things. That is the real world behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world. — Black Elk

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Details, works by Christina Mollo, Frank Pendrell and Daniel Raggi, Janet Maher and Ashley Twaddell, installed

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Six starts for collaborations, Art on the Trail, 2016

Ideas for projects begin in interesting ways as one thought combines with another, veering off into entirely new directions. This project began sideways from my interest in Irish crochet. I had begun to practice the craft with the ambition to one day create a large-scale work influenced by nineteenth century collars and other forms of crocheted lace. When a call for entries came out for “Art on the Trail” at Lake Roland Park I began to daydream about this while practicing basic stitches. I envisioned creating open “starts” that I could invite former students to transform, thus giving a purpose to my practice and bringing in some aspect of chance. I wrote a proposal and began to invite certain individuals to see if there might be interest in collaborating with me in this way. The participating artists in this project have worked with me in courses I taught in the Studio Arts area of the Department of Fine Arts at Loyola University Maryland. These alumna had shown themselves to be gifted, hard working and creative. All have continued developing their skills after graduation.

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Details of works by Hayley Doren, Sarah Coldwell and Dan Corrigan before installation

I asked everyone to watch the documentary about the artist Andy Goldsworthy (Rivers and Tides) and to look at the links of images I had collected on my Environmental Art board on Pinterest. With that inspiration and the request that they work with natural and/or environmentally friendly materials, the artists selected one of my starts and delved into it in their own ways. The result is the energy of nine creative souls meditating upon the natural world, each as one part of a larger visual voice sharing a chosen site in proximity to each other. It was thrilling to work with such a leap of faith, knowing that as part of a group we were not really working on our pieces alone. Now we collectively mark a space within the very special Lake Roland Park. Our web of connections combine and create new ones through the alchemy of making work to offer freely to the community.

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“Resumption”, by Matt Suprunowicz, installed December 2016

This act of offering art into a natural environment where others regularly escape urbanity and center themselves amid beautiful water, trees and wild land feels like a prayer. May it be enjoyed both outwardly and inwardly by all who visit here, particularly at this time in our strife-filled world. Thank you to Paul Powichroski, who built the tree-box to hold the project catalogue, and for his help in installing the works. Thank you to Kurt Davis and all the helpful staff of Lake Roland Park, especially Joe, John, Shannon and Becky.

-Janet Maher, December 2016

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Rory Nachbar, “16 Stitches”

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop,  and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.  — Black Elk

Categories
Art Thoughts Ireland

The Still Point

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Self Portrait, Killkee, Ireland ©2016 Janet Maher

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…*

As years go by the work of creating art, work that one does to earn a living, and life in all its permutations become less possible to separate. Each one informs and supports, but also robs from the other. There is no real possibility of balance until the parts are simplified through the shifting of time. Artists are always seeking the still point, where extended moments exist without the sense of before or after. The dance of creation is perfectly still.

In Ireland this summer I was able to experience the still point in free-floating time, unhinged from my moorings, feeling new in every day unfolding in one beautiful environment after another. Days were about absorbing and working solely from inner direction, and each contained a surprise.

Most of the time this is not possible, though we make the effort to consciously clear space for moments and notice them when they arise. We generally work in fits and starts throughout days that require many different things. In whole or in part we work hard on one aspect to the sacrifice of the others. Nothing, however, is ever wasted. The attempt is work that matters and each amount of progress counts. Long achievements require long efforts over long time. Thankfully, as we remain breathing we are repeatedly given twenty-four hours to use as productively as possible.

As if fated, over the past ten years an extensive project demanded to be done such that I could not ignore its need. I felt impelled to do it (#1)—NOW(#2)—not set it aside for some future in which I would have leisure time to devote to it. When we have time we may not have the ability or the financial possibilities. When we have the money, the desire, the physical capability, or any number of other things may have significantly changed. I think that when a creative idea takes hold with a vengeance we cannot wait to pay attention to it.

My attention was claimed by trying to figure out how to take on a project that I did not have the training for but felt that I had to do, coupled with the need to continue to be viable as an artist. In the realm of a scholar I was an amateur. In the realm of the art world I was not approaching the content conceptually enough. For some within the non-art world I was not being traditional enough. Who, then, was my intended audience? In the beginning I attempted to continue to make art that had nothing to with this growing interest, keeping the new project quietly aside. It became increasingly impossible, however, to continue to keep both endeavors functioning without overlapping. A positive side-outcome was that I learned a myriad number of skills I might never have attempted or exercised.

I ended up teaching many of the new processes, techniques and materials I was using in my own work, and my previous engagement in photography, which had always been kept to the side, came to the forefront. This, in turn, caused the need for me to master particular Photoshop skills, learn In-Design skills and become able to do my own digital printing, which led to hand-coloring images and bringing photography into my mixed media forms. (I also have taught aspects of this, and the computer as a tool has become a natural component in some of my courses.)

Since 2002 I have made four trips to Ireland, two of them specifically related to research and photographing for what became my first scholarly book and the foundation for my second. By 2010 I had accumulated so much material through scouring records in Connecticut, online, through subscriptions, the renting of microfilm, and reading towers of books and articles that it seemed necessary to publish the material in some form. Who else would have been able to or been as driven as I was to gather this foundation of a history that applied to so many people besides my own family? How could I just store it all away, like so much clutter to anyone else’s eyes? The material had to be put together and presented to others, like artwork does. The project needed to resolve and see the light of day.

Some images among the uncountable number that I have made since 2006 seemed to make the leap into existence as photographic art. Some were exhibited. Many illustrated my first book, some of the second, and my blog postings—which became another outgrowth of this activity. Some works made intentionally as art included photographs that I had made specifically for use in the first book. In some cases it felt necessary not to alter historic images except in further enhancing their visibility. In other cases I attempted to create artworks that might appeal to others who didn’t need to know or care about their actual sources, as I usually do when making collages and assemblages. The process may have been a somewhat schizophrenic way of going about the dual attempt to make art and use art in relation to an attempt to write a book. When one is driven, however, there is nothing to do but follow one’s instincts—even when others think you are on an entirely wrong path. Halfway through a project it is impossible not to see it through. Like art, the question continues to nag, when is it finished? In this case it required a second book in which I sought more contributions from others than I did in the first one, most of my own imagery did not appear, and I was not also the graphic designer.

It was with great joy that I traveled to Ireland this recent time, not as a researcher, but as an artist. This time in Ireland I also worked on books, but they were the hand-made kind (something else that I teach). I also began to draw again (which used to be my primary means of working). Still, I could not help but also make almost 4,000 photographic images. As before, there are some photographs in this collection that might conceivably be exhibited as art and others have illustrated my blog posts. The rest wait in digital folders for when their reason and time may arrive.

There are many works in play at the moment, however, life as an artist in residence focused upon the dailiness of exploration and response (somewhat akin to life in graduate school) is quite different from life in the real world. I am eternally grateful for an amazing, soul-nourishing experience and the fact that my time-juggling (and all that needs to get done) problems are those of the first-world. To have such problems is a privilege. That after all these years I have been able to remain an artist to the degree that I have is also a great privilege, as is the ability to have spent this time in Ireland as such.

Since one project, another journey and my life finally feel as if they have come together in the present, I would like to share my most recent postings from my Irish-related blog here. Following are sequential links to bits of my experience from residing for five weeks in a place that has become an indelible part of me. Ireland continued to open herself further through her people and in my own relaxed exploring of her beyond the specifics I formerly searched for like a dog with a bone. For all, everything and everyone I am eternally grateful.

  1. Ireland, 2016
  2. Ballyvaughan.1 
  3. Ireland 2016. Images
  4.  Ireland Images.2 
  5. Ireland Images.3 
  6. Ballyvaughan.2 
  7. Ireland Images.4 – The Flaggy Shore
  8. Ireland Images.5 – Corcomroe Abbey
  9. Ballyvaughan.3 – The Burren 
  10. Ireland Images.6 – The Flaggy Shore, Again
  11. Ireland Images.7 – Still Point 
  12. Ireland Images.8 – Dublin, Galway 
  13. Ballyvaughan.4 – Wrapping Up 
  14. Ireland Images.9 – Connemara, Mayo
  15. Ireland 2016, Last – Ireland Images.10 

*T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets, I, II

 

 

 

 

 

©2016 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved

Categories
Art Thoughts

Research / Remix: Mapping the Invisible

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It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

 

Google quickly revealed that what seemed to be my perfect title for a new project has already been used in myriad other ways. Since “mapping the invisible” is something I have been doing myself over several years, that phrase occurred as a given. Although I worked with other word plays, trying to jettison something already “taken” to replace with something else, I decided to simply enter a stream that many other people have also encountered while mapping their own versions of the invisible. Many of us also “trust the process.” So be it.

Also like so many others, maps fascinate me. They were imperative during the several years of my previous Connecticut-Irish research as I studied places on both a global and highly personal, even walkable, scale. Maps led me to uncover the invisible both historically and in real time as I witnessed a hidden past of many specific places, now over-layered by multiple centuries of others’ awareness of their present. On another level, X-rays of my own body have revealed on more than one occasion hidden activity that needed to be put in check and forced to remain at bay. A heightened awareness of environmental world decay effected by our careless population of humans continues to reveal other invisible maps that juxtapose with the world I notice surrounding me in my day to day activities.

For these and further reasons I was ready to become intrigued with the research of Johns Hopkins biologist Dr. Jocelyne DiRuggiero. She and her team are deeply involved with a portion of land in the Atacama Desert, Chile, a place of extreme daily temperature changes. Its popcorn-like areas of salt rock, with other parts dotted in smooth boulders that appear as if sleeping, are distinctly otherworldly. By studying the biology of the rocks’ interiors, the team continues to find algae surviving within, against all odds. DiRuggiero’s microscopic discoveries may have significance in relation to the consideration of possible life on other planets, such as Mars.

In the Atacama rocks contain outwardly invisible organic matter that quietly waits to take hold and grow if circumstances become right. Like seeds and bulbs in our own environments that reveal their dormant existence when the weather warms and annual rains resume, that life which we had forgotten about or hadn’t known of previously becomes manifest as if by surprise. The first crocuses, daffodils and  hyacinths of the year did that very thing this past week in our gardens. Metaphorical thinking regarding concealed and revealed macro/micro forms sparked open-ended questions that have excited me to begin a new chapter in my own artwork.

Jocelyne and I began our collaboration in February, just before she left for an extended research trip and I was immersed in teaching and completing several projects at Loyola University. Although time was not on our side, we were able to meet on two extended occasions and share aspects of our respective work. While she was gone I began to experiment visually with details included in her research publications. Microscope fragments depicting the interiors of rock samples seemed beautifully abstract to me, pleasing collections of shapes and lines. I chose particular ones to revise in Adobe Photoshop and enlarge from their one-inch size to a 16” – 24” scale that I printed on photography paper and began to paint upon.

Two years earlier my work, “Journey” (shown on another blog post here) began in a similar way and had accidentally become an acrylic painting followed by a second, very much to my surprise. Although I had painted as an undergraduate several decades ago, generally I only use paint for necessary additional touches of color in something else I am otherwise making. I have never identified as a “painter.” Each new project of mine, however, introduces a new challenge for me to learn to overcome, keeping my own work interesting to myself and encouraging me forward. This project has opened a trajectory in my studio practice that now includes watercolor and gouache paint—no doubt a direct result of having recently made yet another gouache color wheel including tints, shades and washes as an example for the benefit of my students!

Included here are my first four “Research Remixes.” Each is paired with an enlarged version of Jocelyne’s graphics that had served as illustrations in her papers. These will be on display at Gallery Q, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, from  April 4 through 19, with a reception April 5 from 5 to 7.

Microbial#1CPRT   MappingTheInvisible1.4in.CPRT  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #1

Microbial2.CPRT    MappingTheInvisible #2.4.CPRT  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #2

 

microbial#3CPRTsm    MappingTheInvisible3CPRT72.5  Mapping the Invisible: Chasmoendolithic Habitats #3

 

Microbial4cprtSM     MappingTheInvisible4cprt.SM Mapping the Invisible #4: Endolithic Cells

 

©2016 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved