Monday, January 27, 2014

MARKINGS: a leaderless workshop

As these six weeks come to an end,… it’s been like there’s a chalk circle, a spider web… a dream that we’ve had access to.
This “teaching from the middle” that I’m been experimenting with has its echo in what it’s like to “learn from the middle.  Assume that this “course” was
just a remembered dream:
List those parts you can remember: Travel, Health, Music, people, ideas, activities, animals, birds, stuck songs...Try to recall coincidences, accidents, items from the margins of your regular life.

This "course" was an attempt to see what the powers of minimal attention are. No Full Frontal Attention.   Maybe Treat this like its now one of Kim's Dream Groups: If that were my dream… use these collected elements.

Here’s my collection in words and images: (I'll keep adding)
This started when I was on the Olympic Peninsula meeting a first granddaughter, Ava.  So there's that Life Transitional thing going on:  
What!?? Grandfather!  No, No, he's that old man who visits on Sundays

Look Below for what I described as hypnopompic and hypnagogic...
That's dream stuff.  The Celts call it the Fifth Province, the Land of No Land.

I happened on a 1989 Bob Dylan Album: Oh, Mercy.  Songs from it are still stuck in my head
Far away where the soft winds blow
Far away from it all
There is a place you go
Where teardrops fall

Far away in the stormy night
Far away and over the wall
You are there in the flickering light
Where teardrops fall

We bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly
You know the song in my heart
In the turning of twilight in the shadows of moonlight
You can show me a new place to start
YouTube Bootleg from Dublin

That SNOW!  I liked Randall's Colored Icicles and Joanna's Shadows
I like Kim's Sky Views and Land Veins


I continued working with Kindergarteners on Faery Houses

Crows were around a lot. But one day,
two Turkey Vultures visited and set the crows a cawing:

1.25. 14
Hello travellers,   Congratulations! I heard from nobody for the last week, only an updated email address for Kim:   As you see, this engagement for these six weeks, is as much an experiment in form as content.   We can use email and/or I can put our exchanges on this Wayward Blog… or you can do it here as “comments.”   It’s a chance to alter our more comfortable forms of  in and out.  This experiment is tipped towards being more alone, but with the vague consolation that there are six others trying the same thing.
OK,  the start was just having the “intention” to be tied in time and digital space to these other six people…. And keep the expression of the Cards available to see what happened, what presented. I headed off to the lush, outrageously beautiful Olympic peninsula for the last six days.
I held the intention that I was part of a temporary web with others (that’s you).  I was waiting and trusting that something(s) would emerge from the common, the expected,  to share with this momentary group (that’s you). 
A few things presented during this week:
1. I realize that I am focused on the issue, the details of ADJUSTING: how things are changing, what my options, limitations are. It’s not totally “aging” issues, but transitions.  They can be provoked by many things.  So most everything else was done against that atmosphere. 
Did you have theme or atmosphere of the week?
2. Before even seeing my new granddaughter, I stopped at my favorite beach, Eagle Creek, and bored myself by looking for what I always look for on that beach. Yawn.  Of course, I found it: Driftwood Horns.  I was happy/greedy and also self-sedated by my obsessive agenda: “Always Stop at Eagle Creek for Driftwood Horns“ (image enclosed)
3. I got a bit guilty a day later that those Cards weren’t really working for me.  So I pulled one out from a few years ago and added a feather to it.  OMG! If I hadn’t already bored myself enough!  So after little artistic self-loathing, I put it away.   More knee-jerk defaulting to a already tried (and worn-out) self expression?
Later, I helped load a truck of junk for the dump and then notice the low tide edge of the Hamma Hamma River. 
Hey, what’s that white stuff?  OMG Teeth!  
Salmon Jaws. Oh, how they stink! 
Oh, there are so many of them.

4. Finally on the plane yesterday, I pulled out two sheets of card stock (5”x7” four cards worth) And started to put a few things on them… nice dark black corners. I had the idea that we could all work on the same cards, Exquisite Corpse style,  Maybe I’ll mail these to  Katherine and she mails them to… OR, this morning,  I thought of just scanning my two 5x7s and sending them to you to print out that way and allow for more interactivity.
And You??

One core interest in this Markings is how influence (and power) flow around in a creative environment.... How much direction, of what nature,  when, why...  is appropriate.  Time to experiment!          My interest is leading from the middle.  
I have good hunches on what to do, how get get us all going.... without telling you exactly what to do.
I want to use the Card format. So let’s start carrying a few of those cards as flypapers for what cross our dream-world paths... during the day
Take it out at a lull in the day, to blot that spilled drop of coffee, to doodle.   
OR NOT    (the “or not” is as important as doing it!!)
Assume the card is  a Petrie dish and your helping/watching something grow... Your big job is to Be Present and Wait and Hold the Space.  It’s a liminal, numinous---elusive activity, illusive?   nonetheless real.
A few words that have stuck with me as I’ve been preparing to do this with you:
nightsun      the moon
hypnagogic    those shoreline thoughts as you are falling asleep
hypnopompic   those shoreline thoughts as you are waking up
I’ll start doing the Cards as I’m traveling for the next five days...  Here’s a email description of cardmaking I sent yesterday to a guy (remember Everett?) working with a Vets group and is considering the Cards as a tool:
the “cards” are ways to respond—largely non-verbally—to some experience, theme, direction. They can start with words or use words... what ever the person gets comfortable with. They are small, trading card size and can be done easily in multiples to take the precious “art” spin off the whole exercise. They allow a person using them to develop several nuanced responses to the theme. So no one response is more correct. they allow for a review of the progression of the responses both within each person’s work and when viewed by the group as a whole. If they are done in a few short episodes 20 minute chunks, then reviewed, there’s a lot of collateral learning and sensitizing that goes on. It’s a great, easy. low-tech way to build and demonstrate a “community” of response  Finally, they allow for trading. Take a few of your cards, put them in a pile and let others take them...  
Here are 4-5 pages of information: how anyone can just start doing them. 
So let's see what happens for these five days and agree to share images/scans of the Cards next weekend  and/or tales of whatever happens This is a field experiment in being quiet(er), in watching (more), waiting, receiving...

For the next few months, I'm going to explore some different ways of working with what's been called the "creative unconscious".  I invite others to join in. I'm calling it MARKINGS
It's what artists often work with, self-consciously, some of the time;
It's what everybody does some of the time;
Children have an easier time getting to it than most adults do;
It crashes in on people in transitions--grief, illness, retirement, rehab, reentry, unemployment,-- circumstances that ask for some kind of re-invention of who we are or who we think we are. We are all "vets" of something.

So for a six-week period, a small group of us will roam this territory.  The key feature of this activity is its interactive, or perhaps unpredictable, nature.  One goal of this endeavor is to become more comfortable with the indistinct, the ambiguous, the unpredictable.  There is NOT a plan or Way to do this.  It's a process. And a process you have to be an active part of

So I'll be BOTH the kindly guide, the beadle, the cicerone, the shepherd AND the trickster, the mis-director and the scallywag helping you to stumble and find YOUR OWN ways.  (Remember, it's all about You!  It's not about following my directions)

And for this, you'll pay me $25 for each week you can stand it or enjoy it.
Nope, never happened. No $$ involved . Too elusive an experience to commodify

We'll use Alchemy to inform all this.  Alchemy is the practice of encountering the world with The Heart, The Head and The Hand.  Most of us can do all three; some better than others. Markings is an opportunity to tune up and tone up those areas  that might need it.  Right-Brain/Left-Brain thinking is another form of this.

Let me emphasize the importance of the interactivity of this. This is not a book, a course, a program.
This is a time-bound encounter that will change; It's really all about getting comfortable and fluent with change...

So, I'll lay out a menu of suggested activities: (starters, entrees, sides, desserts??)  You's get to decide what you're hungry for and what would be a good place to start.    Yes, you can start with dessert!

You can and must decide on the rhythm and pace of involvement.  Perhaps you need some daily contact; perhaps not. There are always small, manageable decisions --forkings-- presenting themselves.  When you look back on the series of these you've made, you'll be surprised and delighted at what you see.

There'll be an emphasis on Distraction and its buddies Chance and Accident. (Actually, it's called Synchronicity, and it's not "random") I'm looking for ways that both honor and dissemble the routine ways we naturally have come to live.   I just found this video that speaks to a kind of letting go.  It's what the Surrealists did with the Exquisite Corpse exercises.

Specifically, I'll suggest making Cards, Imaginal Tools, Carving stones, random anonymous art moments...   We may even use the US Postal Service! 

We'll probably start a private Blog to show and share work... and I'm liking tumblr.  But no-cost lurking is possible and encouraged. 

Finally, thanks to Katherine Wilson for provoking this.  As a new mother, she understands transition, distraction, chance and accident.  As an architect, she understands the phases of making and re-making things. Katherine, and a few more of you, were involved with a 2007 version of this.
We'll start when about eight people fall for this.

I thought it was fun last time to gather local materials--sending them to you and redistributing and then making something with them? Maybe creating something around a theme. Katherine

Count me in. Is there a phone conf. type meet up? or one-on-one with you over phone with pics and emails and the such?     Laurie

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beneath the faery house: Nature-Thinking

Faery Houses may be the new Bird Houses for community activity and fundraising!  a Wisconsin version .  Nonetheless, Faery Houses can be a personal, classroom, and family activity.  I'm tinkering with the ways to present it, so it invites people into a dreamy creative process and not just speed them to a Thing. I tried an adult version MARKINGS.

The local sawmill, Laroe's, has a pile of cut-offs for the taking.  These might be the bases for this project. I like using easily available, yet unusual, materials.

DECEMBER, 2013   
I started working with a local kindergarten-1st grade class, (about twenty-three 5 and 6-year olds).   The general topic is "Faery Houses"... an off-shoot of my lifelong activity working with natural materials.
It's a way to explore Nature-Thinking: alternative ways of seeing, thinking, sensing that balance and complement the traditional logic or machine-thinking required in many situations.  It's a chance to develop different kinds of thinking talents. And it's a way of involving people who are more nature-oriented. I learned this a few years ago in a related project at the same school.

I had 40 minutes. The first ten were during a mid-morning snack of various fruit slices and it ended as the children went to lunch. During the first few slices of fruit, I was introduced and welcomed: "Hello, Mr Mack, Buenos Dias".  I had been previewed as a maker of things, things with natural materials and the father of a former student of the teacher. "I had Mr Mack's daughter in class, now she's having a baby!"   (What's the hidden lesson in this? Deal with him and you too will have a baby?)

I started by asking them what they were already making in the nearby woods; what trees were their favorite; I was told that they had already made many faery houses from all natural materials under the Big Sycamore.  "But it's all covered with snow right now." 

I said I'd like to learn more about what they knew about faeries.
I heard about wings and faery mounds and bottoms of trees.  No one had actually seen a faery. I asked if faeries were "nice".  Silence and then yes and no.  They can be either, or both.

I asked if we could do some projects together to learn more about faeries.. and maybe draw some pictures.  OK!  I said I had three different jobs:

I asked if there was anybody who was a good Looker?  Several hands went up.  I put down a stack of picture books on faeries, elves, trolls, angels and asked the group to look through them.  This was a popular activity.

I had Brian Froud's book on Faeries, and a few others.  I have an original copy of Waugh's Clan of the Munes from 1917  I plan to bring in.

Was anybody a good Counter?
Several more hands and I put down a box of those Artist Trading Cards: -- 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" cards either blank or cut/recycled from something. I asked the Counters to give everybody four of these.

Is anybody a good Rememberer?  One boy groaned about how bad he was at remembering. I said that I'd brought two special Chairs for Remembering.  That when you sit in these chairs, it helps you remember what you like about nature and what you really know about faeries.

Whoosh!       Books got opened, cards counted and chairs sat in...
then cards got made: words, wings, bodies drawn colored, named...
The Chairs for Remembering were a big hit.  I invited the users to close their eyes, take a few deep breaths...In and Out, In and Out and "Remember times in nature, in the back yard, the park, the woods .  Remember those smells, the colors, the animals and bugs and leaves you saw... Remember what you liked most about being in nature... Now when you open your eyes try to draw what you remember"
Just a form of meditation, mindfulness? 
The Cards themselves were another hit.  Everybody knew about cards. They are small, safe little things to keep, to trade. Mr. Mack, can I keep six?       Yes.

I go back in January. We'll see where this goes.  The "structure" of this engagement is like its goal... to learn more about The Organic Way.  Even the words of Nature-Thinking are fundamentally are different from Machine-Thinking: seed, grow, digest, fallow, fertilize, compost, cook, raw, whither, harvest, tend.  These are nice farmer-y words, but let's see what happens when they get applied. Is there the patience, tolerance for THINGS not to appear right away?  in a period?

 JANUARY        Visit Two:  No Snack!   I did more Cards and talked about the Faery Houses.
The Snows of the winter slowed things down a bit. Thank you.

February 21, I came back in with 12 small slab cut-offs with a dozen holes of two different diameters drilled in the perimeter; a box of sticks ("kindling"); some yarn, acorns, and several pieces of thin bamboo and pine boughs from old Christmas door rope trimming.

I wanted to see just how much was enough to get all this going.  As a teacher, I have over-prepared many times and, I think, made the experience one of Following Directions rather than discovering how to make something.  In another recent situation, I referred to this as "teaching from the middle"

The kids got it immediately and began finding the right size sticks for the right holes.

Key in this was Grampa-Ed-With-the-Drill to add those extra holes.  

Homework.  I wanted some buy-in from the students, so the teacher asked if they could Find some natural materials to bring in to share.

February 28
There were baggies and bags of pine boughs, sticks, leaves, orphaned dry flower arrangements and a bit of dryer lint... YES!  This helped the kids participate in the project in their own ways.  I asked how they got all this great stuff.  My sister, my mother, my father, my friend... This is the group/community part of making something. Lots of people can have a part. It's much more than just getting a Project Finished.

That day we continued to elaborate the 12 ones we started.
They were still working in groups of three: Two K-1 students and a 5th Grade Buddy.  The projects grew taller, more complex, more fragile.  (There were a few times when I thought I was primarily working with a bunch of 5th Graders with Kindergarteners just watching)

To Glue or Not 
I got asked, mostly by the teachers, about using glue.  I had not given it too much thought.  We started by pressure-fitting the sticks into the slabs, then relying on gravity to help out. Glue makes things so permanent.  Keeping it all fragile may have a value... we'll see.  I remembered that this is not my first time thinking about the Permanence of Fairy Houses.

Here's an exchange with the teacher about NOT doing anymore building tomorrow.  (What is special here is that two of the older classes send in "buddies" to work with the younger students.  So this mixed age/skill grouping allows for a very rich and progressive experience.)
I was thinking of having them look at what they've done and develop a story about the Faery House (in group for 20 min) and then share as many 2-minute versions as time allows.  I don't think we have to build more this week.   How does that sound to you?
Good. They can chat with the buddies and the buddies can take some notes.  When they leave, we can develop the writing.  Big variety of levels when it comes to writing! 

Great Shift of Energy!!!  ... from the manic fussiness of building to the alpha-state dreaming about what built-object actually does.  
To help this, I brought in four Wands, to put all the children in the right mind for imagining what happens in these Faery Houses.  I turned off the lights and the three adults went around the room encouraging mindfulness:

Reality Footnotes
Faery House? No! A Boat.
1. Inevitable side chatter during it all. One girl to another:   
Why do you always get mad at ME and never HER!!?

2. The Teacher covered the tables with newspapers.
Two of the boys got very distracted by ads for toy Transformers on the newspaper and had to be reminded that the project was Faery Houses.  They then built a Boat with an Anchor.

3. Exchanges in the Classroom: 
Mr. Mack, I don't have a chair.  
Mr Mack, my buddy is sick today.
Mr. Mack, are there any more sticks? 
Mr. Mack, I don't have any thoughts!
There is NOT a bathroom in my Faery House.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Artist's Statements WHY!

My tribe feels obliged to "make a statement" about what they do. Most of them are not writers nor even very reflective.  They do what they do.  But somehow some weird aesthetic spirochete bites them and there a rash of words:   examples of what happens in this state of near delirium:

1.   “ The allure and wonder and physicality of working in a variety of mediums to resolve aesthetic considerations, studying the way light and atmosphere as well as surfaces in our environment have become my vocabulary, a challenge that never repeats itself.  It heals and defines the spirit, a passion I hope my art communicates to others.”

2.   Here's a recent announcement from a local college:
During the winter break between the semesters, the arts faculty has taken on the challenge of creating artwork while focusing on the topic, “What is the fabric of your process to create?”.
"THE FABRIC OF YOUR PROCESS"???   Is this translated from the Chinese?  How can one "focus" on gibberish?  I'm going to a presentation on it tomorrow, Jan 30. (Good as promised!)

 3.  A local artist recently sent an email with this title:    An Article about me!
It was a link to a blog by a writer who hires out to do articles for/on artists.This artist let us know how pleased she was with the article/blog:  
"I think I like me, the way placed images and worded things that I feel and think about creativity, my life and my work is so poignant."

4. "I never know what magical 'stuff' will serendipitously find me in the piles of vintage printers' wood type, toys and games, kitchen utensils and industrial findings  that were once useful or entertaining and make them come alive again as my art."                   Who's doing What to Whom?

Well, time to walk the walk.  I've had to do one of these:
Dan Mack's 2013 Artist Statement

Looking at a collection of made things one can ask:   What’s happening here?
Too often maker’s answers start with the word “I”  
“ I have always been fascinated with…”
But biography is a very partial and low-level answer.
It doesn’t honor either the unseen  forces at work nor the crucial importance of the object to take on life ONLY when it comes in contact with an Other.

The maker, aware or not,  has at least two elusive  roles:
to go deep into the old, the unspoken, the messy, the ambiguous, the irregular
to go out, bridging to the sensibility of others. 
Down and Out.    Out and Back. 
It’s a changing rhythm the maker sets up and some people respond.. 
The maker is never quite in control of this rhythm.  There are parts beyond control.  Because accident, chance and coincidence are powerful, ever-present  and humbling forces.   

The down,  for me, is the realm of the marginal, the common, the regular.
In sticks, bark, leaves, logs, stones, feathers, bones
The hunt for the sacred in the profane.    Is it there??
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas puts it this way:
Split open a log and I am there; Lift a rock and I am there too.

This leads to an interest in folk, outsider, the raw, the found, the surreal
The word “foris” has appeared.  It’s that place outside the control of the  authorities; where the knights become demented.

It keeps me tied to decay and fleeting materials: Testimony to Impermanence

It impacts technique too.  
Just how much fussing is necessary to make the point?
When does flourish of technique get in the way of the connection?
It’s always so alluring to make it more perfect, more admirable
… and more remote.

And for that impact on Others, Duchamp said, maybe, “Don’t do as I do, Do as you do.”  Just go find stuff and put it together.
Daniel Mack
May 16, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Just Discovering José Saramago! Where have I been for 65 years?

“We never consider that the things dogs know about us are things of which we have not the faintest notion.”
José Saramago, Death with Interruptions
“As so often happens, the thing left undone tires you most of all, you only feel rested when it has been accomplished.”
José Saramago
“Don't be afraid, the darkness you're in is no greater than the darkness inside your own body, they are two darknesses separated by a skin, I bet you've never thought of that, you carry a darkness about with you all the time and that doesn't frighten dear chap, you have to learn to live with the darkness outside just as you learned to live with the darkness inside”
José Saramago, All the Names
“As my cat would say, all hours are good for sleeping.”
José Saramago, Seeing

Friday, January 25, 2013


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Morse Peckham

Who else reads him?

 Man’s Rage for Chaos: Behavior and Art (1965)

“An ideology is always out of phase with the situation in which it is employed, for an ideology has always
emerged as a response to a preceding situation, the attributes of which are different from the current situation.”   

Art and Pornography (1971)

He's saying that a society needs trivial areas for policing--like pornography--to establish its power over the rest of the structure.