Friday, October 31, 2014

Eco-Dyeing Update: Pokeberries

At the end of a recent walk in the nature preserve, I noticed a pile of cut weeds along the path.  It was mostly a mess of gnarly vines and shaggy tendrils, but there were pokeberries in the pile, too.  Not wanting to let them all go to waste, I grabbed a handful to take home for eco dyeing.

You may remember that I've been a little disappointed that the lovely pink color that appears after dyeing with rose petals never stays (though the remaining mottled browns are nice).  I've read that most eco-dyers have success creating pinks with staying power by using pokeberry.  I thought I would give it a try.

I chose two sections of Dye-licious naturally pre-mordanted fabric for my experiment.  The fabric directions indicate that the fabric should be washed and rinsed before starting, so one section was quickly washed, rinsed, and wrung out before beginning.

For comparison, I took the other section straight from the packaging and placed the pokeberry onto it directly, using vinegar to dampen the cloth -- though the fabric directions explicitly state that vinegar is not necessary.

I secured the bundles with rubber bands.  These went directly over the dye pot to be steamed for an hour.  I poked two skewers through the rubber bands so the bundles would be suspended over the steam like a rotisserie.

After steaming on the stove, I set the pot outside to let the bundles batch in the warm sun,

and then let the process continue in the garage.  (I didn't want the pot accidentally knocked over by a curious dog or raccoon in the dark.)  My goal was to let the color soak in for at least 24 hours.

A day later I unwrapped the bundles and found this glorious fuchsia color. I don't have any screens to set cloth on so my two pieces relaxed on the grass, held fast by rocks I've unearthed in the garden.

The color deserves a close-up.  The color hasn't been enhanced in any way; isn't it gorgeous?

As much as I didn't want to, I knew I had to rinse the fabrics.  I prepared myself to say goodbye to the saturated color, but discovered this lovely delicate mauve-ish color stayed in its place after rinsing. I think the color is a little richer than you see here, but hopefully you get a sense of the results.

I'm pleased to have successfully dyed a colorfast pink.  The section of fabric that I washed and rinsed first did slightly better than the one on which I only used vinegar.  I'm curious if the color would change significantly with a modifier, but that will have to wait until next year.  I don't have pokeberry in my garden and most of it has died in the fields.  Something to look forward to...

Monday, October 27, 2014

All the World's an Expert

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a new trend in museums: allowing the public to curate exhibitions.  In a nutshell, a few museums have given visitors the opportunity to decide upon an exhibition theme and/or choose the art (from a pre-selected pool) for an exhibition.  In some cases, the museums have seen an increase in membership and donations; in other cases, museum staff members have resigned over the public's involvement.  The big question is, is it appropriate to let the public be so involved and if so, what does this mean for museums?

I find this turf war fascinating, and a bit sad.

I think one of a museum's overarching goals is to get the public, its visitors, to appreciate art.  Appreciation comes from interacting with the art.  Sometimes that involves learning about its origins, the time it was made, the social structure of the artist's community, or the particular challenges the artist might have faced.  In the case of the public curating, the viewers have a vested interest in the art because they are choosing what might be seen.  They get to make choices.  Viewers spend more time looking at all the art options in order to make a choice, as opposed to simply looking at what they might select themselves.  They are involved.

I'm disappointed that a curator might resign over this type of scenario.  A good curator could still be the gentle guiding hand in the creation of the exhibition during the pre-selection process.  I don't see how the museum's leadership role in the appreciation of art is diminished by letting the public sometimes have a say. I don't think the museum relinquishes its role as an expert by exhibiting artwork selected by public opinion.  These exhibitions would become a collection of favorites and I can imagine there would still be many educational opportunities.  I think there would be  sociological things to glean from public curating that would dovetail nicely into the "facts" of the art.  We'd likely gain a lot of insight into trends, social conscience, and probably get a few surprises as well.

I think this would get people thinking and talking, and Isn't Art Supposed To Be a Dialogue?

I think enabling the public to participate in the development of an exhibition is a great idea.  I don't think it should be done all the time -- there's a lot learn from experts curators.  But I do think it's an excellent way to engage the public and to let them be part of the artistic process.  I think it's a very resourceful way to get visitors to come back (and pay again and/or become members).  I think it could be very exciting for a curator to understand their "market" and community via this process.  I say Bravo.  I hope museums will, whenever possible, let visitors have a say.

If you're interested in reading the full article, here's the link:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fall Break

While my husband stays home with our youngest, I'm in CA with our older two children who have a fall break from school.  I never have difficulty finding things to take pictures of; here are some favorites from just the last few days.

The lonely pier at dusk

Sometimes you just have to take the Hallmark card-style picture when you see it.

A redwood tree trunk after the morning fog -- I just love the texture and color

A windy day means lots of wave pictures.  This is one of many.

A bluebird watching wild turkeys

Magical light on a hike

I love vacations with my camera.  My children have become very tolerant of, and somewhat amused by, all my stops and starts for "just one more picture".   It's hardly ever just one more....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

MAD Artist in Residence

MAD (The Museum of Art and Design) in New York City offers an artist in residency program.  While we were at the museum to see the Biennial, we stopped by to see if there were any artists in their studios.  Lucky for us, Ricardo Cid was hard at work, but happy to stop and chat with us.

Ricardo is a mechanical engineer from Mexico who was combining his technical expertise with art pursuits.  He was making three-dimensional, solar powered "robots" in various geometric shapes that would rotate, spin and dance (as he called it).   He's created installations in Brooklyn in which large robots rotate in time with a music track Ricardo created, making a lovely synchronized moving display. He completed the installation with lights and a bit of fog.  He showed us the video and we were all impressed.

Ricardo's work space at MAD, with computer for programming and robots in various stages of completion

You can watch a video here that shows how four different robots respond to the same piece of music.  It also gives you a small sense of all the thought, planning, and engineering that goes into each piece.

While at MAD, Ricardo was working out the kinks on some smaller models that were serving as prototypes for a larger installation he was hoping to place outdoors, in trees.  He could visualize the trees and "robots" moving in tandem.  In this case, he was calling his robots ballerinas, as they danced with the wind and the trees.

So, so, cool.

Aside from creating dancing robots, Ricardo also used his scientific brain to restructure the calendar into interconnected atomic forms -- representing months -- that also showed moon phases and relative position to the Aztec calendar.  I didn't understand it all, but who cares?  I get excited when I meet someone whose brain follows paths I can't even imagine.

Ricardo's 2014 Neo-Aztec calendar.  Love the gear-like months!

I'm going to be on the lookout for more artists in residence so I can witness more creative thinking.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The MAD Biennial

When Deidre Adams was in town, Natalya, Benedicte, and I met at MAD, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.   We went to see the MAD Biennial, NYC Makers.  The exhibition program described the biennial as follows:

"NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial is the first in a series of exhibitions examining cultures of making in urban communities.  Showcasing more than 100 participants, the Biennial celebrates the artisans, artists, designers and other makers who live and work throughout the five boroughs of New York City today.

Presenting a diversity of cultural producers on a level playing field, NYC Makers is an open and inclusive project, featuring practitioners whose work demonstrates the highest skill, discipline and innovation.....Makers were nominated from a range of trades and disciplines by over 300 New York City-based cultural leaders and civic figures, and selected by a panel of ten, including representatives from all five boroughs..."

I had high expectations for the Biennial.  I've loved most of the exhibitions I've seen at MAD.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Biennial didn't live up to the excellence of its predecessors.   I felt the artwork presented on the fourth floor was much stronger as a group than those on the fifth, making the Biennial very inconsistent in experience and appeal.  I also think the presentation of the artwork on the fourth floor was more thoughtfully considered than the fifth.  This was both surprising and disappointing.  I think, perhaps, the solution would have been to select fewer works for the fifth floor, and focusing on stronger pieces.  Because the galleries were organized by intent, such as "Community Garden" seen here (anchored by an installation of organic plants and the naturally dyed yarn whose colors were created with the plants), artworks weren't really transferrable between floors.  But I think it was a disservice to those artworks displayed on the fifth floor to be so crammed in because most couldn't be appreciated to their fullest advantage.

A view of the fifth floor installation -- it looks busy and cluttered in my opinion, and makes it hard to enjoy each piece individually.

A view of the fourth floor -- I felt the more open display allowed viewers better opportunity to appreciate each piece. (I also thought this collection of art was stronger, with or without installation considerations.)  

Nonetheless, there were plenty of pieces that I thought were interesting, exceptional, and/or thought-provoking .  Here are some of my favorites:

A portion of Every Person in New York, 2014
Ink on Paper
Jason Polan
The artist is attempting to draw every person in New York City. He sketches in the streets, subways, cafes, museums,  and other public places, hoping to capture them on paper before they disappear in the crowd.

Parasol Skeleton Hat, 2012
Wood, straw, cotton
BFAMFAPhD represented by Ben Lerchin, Caroline Wollard, Lika Solkova, Vicky virgin, and Julian Boilen.  The program indicates "The 2005 census revealed that there are more artists than lawyers, doctors, or police officers in the United States.  Each year, another 100,000 students graduate from American institutions with arts-oriented degrees.  The three projects here are an etched Plexiglas installation of data by Caroline Woolard; a line of clothing instigated by Lika Volkova, in which discarded and unwanted paintings are used as raw material for a local fashion cooperative; and an online data tool by Vicky Virgin and Julian Boilen.

Echo Hat, 2014
displayed in front of Vigilant Floral, 2011
Mylar wallpaper
Flavor Paper and Dan Funderburgh
(If you look closely, you'll see security cameras within the floral wallpaper design)
A Knight of the Round Table and Sir Gawain
from King Arthur's Camelot, Cincinnati Baller, 2013-14
Sally Ann Parson, Parson-Meares Ltd, Sandra Woodall, designer

Eight mannequins (from MOTION2_RED), 2014
Ralph Pucci

Large Chiffon Hat and Blackbird, both 2014
Harriet Rosebud
displayed in front of Gold Leaf Dome panel Sample, 2013
2013-14 Die Fledermaus Act II, Metropolitan Opera Scenic Artists
Robert Jones, designer
on the opposite wall is Peacock Crest, 2013
2013-14 Die Fledermaus Act I
Velociraptor Mount, 2008
Steel, Polyurethane
Richard Webber
Working behind the scenes at museum, Webber made this mount for a Velociraptor dinosaur skeleton to illustrate how fragments of fossilized bones could be safely displayed.  I love the shadow it makes, too.

There were a few other artworks I would have liked to share, but my pictures don't do them any justice so I won't belittle them here.  

Despite my lackluster feelings about some of the art in the Biennial, I will say that it was a successful exhibition in that I continue to think about it.  Sometimes I'm inspired by things I loved, and other times I'm scratching my head.  Why did the panel accept some of the pieces?  What didn't make it in?  I wish I had some insight into the selection process because I'm sure it was fascinating.  

If you'd like to see the Biennial, be sure to get to MAD before October 12.  If you do go, please share your thoughts; I'd love to hear if you had the same experience I did.