Cubs games

I've listened to two already! Thanks Mrs. Allen for this gift! 

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Curtains

Main studio space now separate from the kitchen... 

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The case for Living Aesthetics

Dedicated to and revised for Michelle Wilson on the 5 January 2017

Sewing Circle in the Women's Studies classroom, College of Liberal Arts, Penn State, Fall 2015

Sewing Circle in the Women's Studies classroom, College of Liberal Arts, Penn State, Fall 2015

Yuriko Saito (2001, 2007) recognized the seemingly insurmountable barriers surrounding social art practices that seek to mimic everyday experiences. She suggests that these works rid themselves of their traditional “art-hood,” in favor of presenting “the message, idea, and the like in the best design possible, so that it fulfills the aesthetic, educational, and practical mission within peoples’ everyday life” (Saito, 2007, p. 251) . . . A casual, participant driven sewing circle preclude it as a form to be seriously studied within these standards. Ultimately, Saito argues that the gaps between social life and art as defined by western aesthetics appear unbridgeable (Sapelly, 2016, p. 19).

In November 2014, I wrote a blog post situating Michelle Wilson’s work in paper to my definition of aesthetics that emerged through my research on sewing circles. Although I impetuously deleted the blog, I continued to develop the concepts undergirding that page in my doctoral dissertation, quoted above.

Background

Initially motivated by readings on several definitions of “alternative” aesthetics, including relational (Bourriaud, 2002), dialogical (Kester, 2004), their critiques (Bishop, 2004, 2006, 2012), as well as ideas surrounding site specificity (Kwon, 2002), I saw that each scholar fiercely retained connections to traditional Anglo-European art history. These contexts also maintained strong ties to Dickie’s (1974, 1984, 2001) contentious definition of the institutionalized art world. As Auther (2010) explained, most female artists working with fibers who attempt to find a place in this art world often find themselves homeless; or, they must constantly position their work in traditional fine art theories and disciplines. Consequently, these women artists routinely reproduce the systems of oppression that characterize the visual arts by willfully ignoring or belittling the histories of female textile labor. Many identify those who practice traditional fiber arts as amateurs or “hobbyists.” Exclusion continues to dominate Western aesthetics, even by those whose work is most marginalized in that world.

Soon, I realized how irrelevant these angles and debates were to my research on how American women contributed to mass movements through their individual and collective hand needlework. Rather, goaded by Koren (2010) and inspired by hooks (1990, 1995), I wished to define a new aesthetics that avoided the pointless art vs. craft / professional vs. hobbyist disputes that are inevitably tied to art as commodity– its value and preservation as determined by certain art professionals.

I named my definition of beauty living aesthetics. Why?  Because it’s a philosophy born from and inclusive of simple acts of what was once considered women’s work. Whether a wealthy women leisurely embroidering or a poor women weaving cloth and sewing clothes, the needle was part of many women’s daily tasks. Also, its practices can be done while engaging with others, where both practitioner and participant equally work toward their own aesthetic visions and outcomes. Communally and independently motivated, living aesthetics thrives on a community that thinks, feels, works, and lives through their hands.

Paper and print making as a living aesthetic

Provoked by Wilson, I established relationships between paper and textiles. Papermaking shares fiberarts’ negligible status in art history. As a process, it too lies well outside of the Western canon. Few art departments include paper as a major. Often, as in the case of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Penn State, a papermaking studio exists but incorporated as an elective course or experimental space in the fine arts. Further, as Cochran and Potter (2014) show, the genealogy of paper and printmaking is inextricably linked with the hands of women. Devoted to its process and conceptual possibilities, Claire Van Vliet and June Wayne established communities and businesses based on a collective passion for hand made paper and print, yet their names are largely unknown in mainstream stories of art.

My early attempt at defining living aesthetics was further fueled by a 2014 trip to Chicago to attend a knitting conference sponsored by Vogue. During that trip I visited Anchor Graphics, set in Columbia College Chicago’s papermaking department.  Observing the sinks, drying racks, and gadgetry ornamenting metal shelves, I recalled a similar aesthetic governing the dye kitchen in the Fiber Arts department at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Both spaces reflected the cold atmosphere of a science lab. Seriousness repressed any sense of play in these institutionalized studios focused upon marginalized processes!

During my tour of Anchor Graphics, I met Nuria Montiel, a visiting artist from Mexico. Paring down the printmaking process, Montiel constructed a printmaking studio on a cart, and went all over Mexico City teaching people how to make prints. By taking paper “on tour,” she engaged strangers, built community, shared the process of paper and print making, and ultimately created a form of socially engaged pedagogy rooted in the hand. Further, Montiel generated a form of collective knowledge, which, if permanently captured, establishes a foundation for further development of her teaching and practice. If Montiel desires, she can share this knowledge and build a Global community.

Hence, what is deemed insignificant in the art world becomes a creative interruption during the daily life of an interested stranger. Montiel’s “studio on a cart,” redolent of the elementary art teachers “art on a cart,” emerges as an everyday activist practice of getting to know others through a marginalized artistic process. Here, manual labor and portability offer infinite inventive possibilities.

In conclusion, I suggest to anyone willing to engage in either the pure or applied aspect of my theory and philosophy of living aesthetics is to do the following: Remove paper and textiles from the academic art setting. Restore their collaborative, every day roots and roving natures. Throughout, cultivate processes guided by the unknown, ruled by improvisation and chance, and you have what I call living aesthetics.

Sewing circle on the cart, Willard Building, College of Liberal Arts, Penn State, Spring 2016

Sewing circle on the cart, Willard Building, College of Liberal Arts, Penn State, Spring 2016

Walking at the intersections....

In his essay, Walking While Black, writer Garnette Cadogan writes about the differences between meandering while at home in Kingston, Jamaica - and as a student and professional living in the United States. A sensitive and chilling interview with Marco Werman, as well as his essay, are well worth listening to and reading...

Walking is a popular topic explored by many researchers in the arts lately. Naturally, intersections of gender, race, class, and ability all influence one's attitude and approach to walking. As a woman, I'm not going meandering along dark city streets; however, unlike Cadogen, I do not have to worry about others being afraid of me or being randomly stopped by the police. I've caught my fair share of sexual harassment, but, other than being hyper-aware while walking as an undergraduate living in the Fenway section of Boston, I felt safe, secure in that city built for walking.

Walking is a huge part of my life, has allowed me to pay attention to the world when life was grand or difficult. Lately, I've been contemplating buying a bus pass, but I'd rather walk the 35 or 40 minutes, or ride my bike to campus, rather than take public transport. Walking helped me write my dissertation, explore my future options as I prepare to graduate, and simply smile at the sweet landscape surrounding me.

To have to "perform" - as Cadogen must - in order not to appear threatening is tragic. My small gesture of support is to share his story...

Mulling Cadogen's words, I wrote, walked, revised, and published. Rise, write, walk, repeat...  

Reflecting, post-walk... 

Reflecting, post-walk... 

Aftermaths

Killing, mourning, and wounding are routine this summer. Last night after listening to more stories and perspectives on the shootings in Dallas, I lay in bed thinking about the vigil for the Orlando victims held on the steps of Penn State's Old Main barely a month ago.on June 16.

Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, more in the US...as the host of my favorite radio program, The World, a weary voiced Marco Werman put it: I'm losing track of all the violence.   

As I design my syllabus for my fall course, Feminist theory and practice, these incidents compel me even more to explore with students how to put into practice the critical theories we study. bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Richa Nagar and the Sangtin Writers, Zaneli Muholi, Patti Smith, and Nikki Giovanni are my models. With them by my side, I feel encouraged to persevere in the face of hate and bloodshed. 

Writing, along with sewing or knitting, have become my preferred methods of healing, understanding, and reconciling myself to the paradoxical world of love, hate, and indifference we live in. I can publish and teach as a way of actively trying to change society, even if it is a whisper among the deluge. I am comforted by my blog, my pedagogy, and my hand work to help mend the deep tears that continue to plague humanity.

The Art Education Sewing Circle, 2012

The Art Education Sewing Circle, 2012

 

 

Re-weaving body, mind, and soul

Last week I had my first full body massage in months. Writing, knitting, reading, and, more recently, moving, has injured my upper back and neck muscles and my right wrist.

Four hours later, I sobbed for two hours.

My body, far more attune to my emotions than my conscious mind, enacted the very antidote to reflect upon my frenetic, uncertain but exciting exploratory post-grad student life. I am a devoted walker, runner, and now cyclist, but when it comes to the actual physical healing of my wounds, I tend to ignore or endure the pain. But I MADE the time - and money -  for my masseuse's comforting, healing hands to begin the process of molding back into place my battered muscles. In the process, I realized that I am no longer on a graduate stipend, and am committed to steering my own scholarly and aesthetic ship. I jump into the unknown, however, with a circle of support, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity. Unsurprisingly, my body helped me pause, mourn my original but rigid plans after graduation, and move on...

We academics talk a lot about self-care but rarely practice what we preach. I am striving to nurture all aspects of my life, and this implosion was painful but enlightening.

If you're in State College, make an appointment with Christine Hoskavich at J. Stephens Salon on Waddle Road, before you hit Wegman's. You'll look like hell but feel terrific!

Be ready for and embrace the intense but cathartic fallout afterwards...

Ear Lavage

About a month or so ago, I had a physical. My PA saw that I had a major wax blockage in my left ear, and suggested that I have an "ear lavage." The nurse arrived with a spray bottle equipped with a long thin tube, a rectangular plastic device with an oval hole, and towels. After several blasts of warm water and ear wax softening solution, the pesky, nasty bit loosened - and finally left my ear canal. We had a good laugh afterward! And, I regained what I began to assume to be partial hearing loss...

The lavage experience reminded me of the trials and triumphs I experienced while writing and defending my dissertation. After repeated blasts of warm water, I felt as if I was drowning. But I had to undergo this process in order to clear my canal.

How analogous these feelings were as I wrote, rewrote, edited, and revised my dissertation!!!!!

Last Friday, June 3, I received official word from the Penn State Graduate School that my dissertation had been approved. I will graduate in August.

Already, I am picking up some of the stitches I had to drop while revising my endless drafts. One is examining the relationship between house slave and plantation mistress, and the converging aesthetics that manifested in their quilts...I am fleshing this out for a guest blog post for the Textile Society of America's upcoming conference,  and for a proposed conference paper for Penn State's African Feminist Initiative Conference this Fall. Many thanks to Anne Swartz, Professor of Art History at Savannah College of Art and Design, for the chance to share my work outside of Proquest and Penn State....

Awed and numb

Class today. How do I describe it? The students split open like ripe fruit, sharing stories relating to the issues facing pregnant teenagers between the second world war and Roe v. Wade.

Spurred by their reading - a chapter in Ann Fessler's book, The girls who went away - many students revealed intense, emotional, personal narratives. I watched and felt the thoughts emanating from 50 or so young people sewing before me with their heads bent.

You never know the healing power your stories have upon others.

Some of these freshmen may not fully grasp the weight of these stories now – but later will be confronted with a similar situation, and know they can seek help and choose what's best no matter what other people think.

This, while I sat and stood with some Novocain left over from my morning root canal…

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Design or decoration

A couple of days ago, I watched a periscope with Henry Lohmmeyer discussing his latest photography course, Heard.  At one point he discussed design versus decoration. Interior design - interior decoration... the decorative arts....What's the difference? One carries more intellectual and aesthetic weight than the other. Also, decorative is an adjective historically applied to women's creative work inside and outside of the home...

Below is an image of my handmade journal imported from Italy and bought from my favorite store in State College, The Nittany Quill. A perfect intersection of superb design and decoration!

Leather journal cover with refillable pages... 

Leather journal cover with refillable pages... 

Authenticity

By chance, I joined a handful of grad students to lunch with a potential professor. Over sandwiches, she asked us about our own job searches. I spoke of how I don't fit into any of the descriptions typically found in art education, (teacher prep and certification); women’s studies (transnational feminism; queer studies) or studio art. "Well, you have to tailor your research to the job," replied one of the students. I sighed, thinking, "story of my life, I never fit anywhere and am not about to alter who I am and what I do." But another grad unwittingly reassured me. "You know, that's true, but I feel inauthentic when I try to imagine myself in a position that doesn't quite match my work."

My pedagogy is driven by authenticity as described by adult education theorist Patricia Cranton.  She defines authenticity as a practice by which an educator examines and revises unconscious assumptions by focusing on “self-awareness, awareness of others, relationships, context and critical reflection” (Cranton, 2006, p. 113). Educators wishing to establish a learning environment based upon trust and mutual respect must recognize that vulnerability and risk are inherent in this process. In her work with mostly middle aged, working class Canadians, she struggles to achieve such an atmosphere. Later, I thanked the grad student for her honesty in the midst of an academic world increasingly trendy and inauthentic.