Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Post F**K Cancer

El Sueno - Ria Vanden Eynde
 My friend and fellow Seeking Kali collaborator, Ria Vanden Eynde of Belgium was in the States recently showcasing her work at Jennifer Kosarek's Eve N Odd Gallery.   The exhibit, F**K the Big C,  features work of cancer survivors Betty Esperanza, Branka Djordjević and Ria Vanden Eynde.  All three artists exhibited new works that reveal their elevated intensity, passion for creation and a glimpse of how their cancer and treatments transformed their art practices.  Over the summer I worked with Ria to make small print editions from several of her oils for this show.  Earlier this month I traveled to Florida to deliver the prints for the signing and the exhibit.   I've worked closely with Ria on art collaborations for over two years but it was always across the ocean and by skype, emails and Facebook. It was a great experience meeting, documenting the exhibit and being a part of bringing the works of these remarkable women to Florida.

I’ve struggled more than usual to blog about this exhibit.  Probably because I collaborate with Ria on many other projects outside of her cancer work I fear writing something that typecasts her as a “cancer artist”; that her work is simply about that aspect of her life. Her biography reveals that she has a PhD in Mathematics, a certificate in Gestalt Therapy and perhaps most revealing is Buddhist studies.  The later, I find essential to her work, for it touches on her attention to the details of an examined life and how our human sufferings unite us.  Ria could certainly be teaching advanced mathematics or working as a therapist, yet through her work as an artist she is able to concentrate our attentions on the transformative aspects of the trials we endure throughout life.  Her art has content, it is not art about art but rather art about life.  I sometimes refer to her work as activist art.  Not a blatant in your face superficial take on our common sufferings, but a realization that these trials progress throughout our lives, one after the other and how we cope with change is what defines our lives.

Aggressed Body - Ria Vanden Eynde

Ria told me about the exhibit last winter and we discussed how to work out the problems printing small limited editions.  Ria handled the scanning or the photography of her original pieces while here in the US I would receive the files and make trial proofs which were sent to Belgium for suggestions and final go ahead.

I have to admit that although Ria had approved the final versions of everything that was printed, since I never saw the oils I was somewhat apprehensive that after all the work and travel they weren't going to be faithful to the originals.   As it turned out, we both loved the final printing and had a great time hanging examples from the newly signed editions.

Works from this limited print series are still available online through our Seeking Kali website.  The sale of these small editions of nine prints each directly benefit a charity called My HopeChest, which is the only national breast reconstruction organization working to help “uninsured” women heal completely. 

 Ria Vanden Eynde signing print editions at the Eve N Odd Gallery, St. Petersburg, FL

 Jennifer Kosharek of Eve N Odd Gallery (in red) and Ria Vanden Eynde (center) on the set of NBC Daytime prior to the opening

During the opening Ria read her series of Acrostic Poems from her "Dear Thyroid" series.  The following video shows a small  excerpt (the full performance is on Vimeo)

Ria Vanden Eynde and F**K the Big C


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The KALI Edition

 The Kali artists with the three AP copies

We began our limited edition portfolio on the social network platform of Facebook with that status line where it asks, “What’s on your mind?”  At the time I was staring at a tanghka on my studio wall and I idly wrote, “The manifestations of Kali.”  Ria Vanden Eynde of Belgium, an artist I had exchanged some mail art with replied and suggested collaboration on a piece.  Soon Susan Shulman of Canada joined the conversation and the idea of a limited print edition based on the Goddess Kali was born. We had become acquainted through participation in the group show, A Book About Death at the Emily Harvey Gallery in NYC in 2009. Although we never actually met, we were acquainted with each other’s work from the online blog documenting the exhibit.  Over the course of several weeks we worked out some rough guidelines; double sided folios would be folded and placed unbound in a clamshell case.   

We set no deadline but as we shared pieces by posting on Facebook several artists surprised us with their own Kali images. Eventually, we decided to announce an open call for this type of image and were pleasantly surprised when, by last December, we had over 100 works by 80 artists.  The works ranged from traditional media, mixed technique, spoken word, video and performance.  These we documented on a dedicated blog then compiled a DVD of the material. The DVD has since made debuts in Berlin, Montreal and Boston.   

My work on Kali went the route of performance as well and I developed a shadow theater production that was performed on Long Island at CW Post and in Boston at the Mobius Artist Space.  During this period we collaborated on several more projects including posters for International Women's Day and videos, and works for new venues of A Book About Death. 

We finally had enough material by spring of 2011 and I began a process of making trial proofs that were sent to Canada and Belgium for approvals.  The printing and case construction was complete over the course of the summer.  

 The six hands of the artist group Seeking Kali

 All that remained was to finally all meet so the works could be signed.  While I had meet Susan twice on occasions when she visited NYC, both of had yet to meet Ria outside of our weekly Skype progress sessions.  We settled on September in NYC since Ria was traveling to the US for a show of her work in Florida at that time.  All that remained was to determine where to sign the edition. 
 Taken at Hyperallergic Headquarters in NYC (photo credit: Hrag Vartanian)

We contacted Hrag Vartanian at the art blogazine Hyperallergic and he graciously agreed to host us as we set up, signed the works and documented the process.  We were pleasantly surprised that that he wrote a short piece on us in Hyperallergic, given the timing of his other deadlines.   

The 18 month journey was complete on September 16th as we sat in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn Headquarters and signed.  

 The edition, ‘Kali’, rests in a handmade cloth covered 9” x 12” x 2” drop spine case with the title and artist’s names in 24k goldleaf.  We produced this as an edition of 9 with an additional 3 artist proofs.  The books contain 6 double-sided prints from each of us. A hand-stitched booklet contains artist statements, biographies and screen grabs from our original Facebook conversation completes the edition.   Folio sheets are printed on Moab 190 Entrada rag with the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 ink jet.   

The edition is available starting in October through TBCL (The Book Collectors Library) a Montreal based dealer of Livre d'Artiste.  I'll make the link to TBCL when the book is posted to their site.  More information on our collective works and future projects can be found at seekingkali.com

 Inside the Kali edition case

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Art in the Dark

 The road to our house after Hurricane Irene

I live in southern Connecticut and was hit rather hard by recent Hurricane Irene.  While our home faired well, the road I live on had many downed trees that took out the power lines.  It took over a week for the power to be restored.  I realize that it is a rather minor inconvenience in comparison to the standard of living most people on the planet are forced to endure.  Still, it was enough time for me to reflect on the practice and process of artists in other times or other circumstances; the times before instant worldwide communication via the Internet, before phones, or places where light at night means flickering candlelight.  The work I usually do on the computer ceased.  There was no video editing, no blogging, no photo editing, no submissions for grants.  This was all replaced with the realization that as an artist I was in the dark, seemingly invisible or at least handicapped in efforts to have my work seen.  It was an event that I had plenty of time to prepare for since I could see the storm’s track updated and predicted by excited weathermen.  The dire warnings were in place, so about three days out I went to stock up on the recommended batteries and cell phone chargers and of course there were none to be had….anywhere.  I’m not quite sure when this happened, but note to self: you have to start very early to beat the survivalist crowd….very early!  

 My preparations were a bit more naïve.  Do all art requiring electricity STAT!  Make sure that everything I had agreed to print for my Belgian friend Ria Vanden Eynde was finished in time for the F**K the Big C exhibition in Florida.  Make sure that the editions for our Kali Folios were printed and complete in time to be signed in NYC the next week.  Nail down various hotel and airline reservations.   And then the storm hit. Not huge by hurricane standards but big enough to knock out the power to most of Connecticut.  So art could still be done during the day, but nothing requiring power.  Want to wash a brush?  Haul up some pond water.  Frankly, forced camping isn’t as much fun as a planned camping trip but I did get a chance to focus on some basics.  I printed from a woodblock, made the folio cases to house our editions and spend several evenings gilding by flashlight and an oil lamp.   

From a friends house I checked up on the artworld and discovered that art critic Jerry Saltz who was vacationing had announced several days before that all was well because power was back on in Connecticut. Ha, I thought, perhaps just in the sections that count.  Jerry’s comments on his popular Facebook page were very tongue in cheek concerning the trials and tribulations faced in that section of the state (running low on supplies of pate de foie gras etc)  Now that I am sitting with a laptop, water on tap, a running refrigerator and all the comforts of the first world I’m thanking lucky stars that this was not worse.  I’ve also had enough dark nights to reflect on the parts of the world still suffering from disasters and wonder who is sitting by firelight struggling to make art.