Ok. I have spent the last several weeks trying to come up with a way to talk about my art, the way I usually talk about things, starting with a metaphorical story and wrapping it through all the sentences that follow. But I have discovered that writing about art is hard. Really hard.
First, I started with this, mostly because I wanted to use the word dither:
“After dithering for the entire month of August, I decided to redo the first canvas of 'The Nebulizer Vial Project, 2019'. I should have started earlier but redoing three months of work seemed like it was going to be a huge drag, so I put it off. By dithering.
The first canvas or panel, whatever you want to call it—somedays I am not even sure what it is—was loose. My art floozy and I were a little hesitant with its construction. So, the final result ended with the burlap overlay jiggling when a person of any girth walked by. By girth, I mean Henry, who has no girth at all. He is tall and skinny, but he moves fast and jumps a lot. I think he is pretending to play basketball.”
But that did not work out. I hit a wall about three paragraphs in.
Next, I tried this approach:
The Cayston vials are tiny. 'The Nebulizer Vial Project, 2019' is going to be fine. I can mount all six vials to the left of the saline and Pulmozyme. No need for the addendum canvas. This is good, because, for the life of me I could not figure out how to get it to work without having to purchase a warehouse in downtown Allston solely for display purposes.
I was in Allston last week, driving Henry and his friend to a concert. I was able to take in the city scene because it was rush hour and we were not moving. Anyway, the area would not be too shabby for a warehouse studio/gallery, still gritty but with some amenities.
I had some other ideas to deal with the Cayston vials. My favorite one involved placing the vials into beautiful baskets made out of screen, burlap and copper wire and mounting them on top of wooden pedestals. They would then be placed in front of their corresponding month. Doable, but fussy and it would not tie into the thesis of the project. I thought about changing the thesis to accommodate the pedestals but came to my senses.”
I got stuck with that too.
Then I thought, let’s just jump right in:
“The Nebulizer Vial Project, 2019: each and every one of Emlen’s inhaled nebulizer vials wired, in order, to four burlap panels for an entire year.”
It was too dry.
So, I am just going to start at the beginning. Not quite the beginning, when I was forced to take my very first college art class my junior year to fulfill a requirement for my art history major. It was an advanced 3-D sculpture class. Why start with something easy, like intro to drawing? Midway through the semester I realized I could do art.
Nor will I bore you with the period in my mid 20’s when I was deciding between a career in interior design or architecture. While writing my nine hundred pro and con lists, taking a calculus class, because, apparently, math is required for graduate school and I took zero math classes for my art history major, and studying for the GRE’s, I was also working in retail, taking design classes and pretending to be an artist. I even had a belly button ring for effect.
A girlfriend/fan of a band I was hanging out with in my spare time—they called themselves Milk Punch-decided that she wanted to start a mobile piercing business. She asked if I would help her by being a client. Sure. Why not? I plopped myself down on a sofa that looked like it was recovered from the street after being rejected by the local raccoon population, in a room that could have doubled as a movie set crack den and unzipped my shorts while the band practiced on the other side of the house. That is the story behind the belly button ring. In case you were wondering.
I ended up going with architecture. It is a funny choice for someone who likes to wrap things with wire. The belly button ring was a funny choice, too, for someone who is allergic to nickel. It was constantly infected. Pretty gross. For the record, I did not know I was allergic to nickel until I had a sub-par belly button ring. The doctor who treated the infection suggested I find an eighteen-karat gold belly button ring. Who has that kind of cash when you are in the middle of making a major life decision, almost failing calculus, studying for the GRE, working part time in retail, taking design classes and pretending to be an artist? I hung the nickel infused sub-par belly button ring from my rearview mirror. It has been there ever since.
It turns out that I am pretty good at architecture. Math is not really needed. At least calculus is not really needed. Basic math skills—adding and finding “x”—are important, but the other stuff you can forget. Pretty early on I realized that moving walls can be considered an art form. Also, you get to use tracing paper and drawing tools. I love working with new materials and drawing implements. And I met Paul—of “Dear Paul” from above—while trying to survive my first real architecture job. The job was pretty awful. People can be awful. But Paul is great. We have been friends for ages. Anyway, architecture kept me creatively satisfied for many years. And it kept my husband busy. Every weekend. Moving walls.
Rather than all of that, I am going to write about my newest art stint. My mid-life creative crisis art stint.
Even though my mid-life crisis has been small compared to some, it still needed attention. My husband and I had been through a lot. Correction, we are always going through a lot. It is constant. We have a child with a chronic illness. We are always battling something. Cystic fibrosis is relentless.
Instead of doing something drastic like moving to VT to start farming goats and making cheese or buying a giant four-wheel drive camper van and off-roading every weekend I looked to the past to figure out when I was truly happy and content. It was in my 20’s when I was pretending to be an artist, at least once the belly button ring was removed. However, I realized at that point in my life I had very few responsibilities. The allure, I assume. This is not the case these days. I am busy with children and their countless activities—read last month’s post, “The Evening Run Around”—a husband, a house needing many repairs, a yard that requires constant maintenance and many, many doctor appointments.
How do you fit in the need to be creative while you are on the hamster wheel of motherhood?
Drawing and painting are not my strong suit. I have tried. It seems so convenient to travel with only a pad of paper and some pencils or pastels, to sit down and start sketching the minute you see something of interest. Or to be one of those artists who watercolors in the wilderness. That would be convenient. We are in the woods a lot. However, I have never had the patience to learn the process. Photography intrigues me too, but I can never remember the f-stop rules.
I used to work with what was around me, making 3-D objects out old wire, discarded fabrics and broken glass. Materials and inspiration came from the houseware store where I worked, from rummaging through my father’s workshop bins of discarded project parts or from items lifted from piles of what other people considered trash. I worked with everyday junk.
Now I am surrounded by groceries,—I shop every week—coffee cups and lids,—I am addicted—junk mail,—everyday more and more arrives—ribbons,—I am one third of the kid’s swim team ribbon committee—laundry,—so much laundry—and cystic fibrosis nebulizer vials—too many to count. These items are my ordinary, my routine. I began to wonder what a year’s worth of each one of these items would look like. Could I present them in a manner that documents what I do on a daily basis, that is visually pleasing while creating a space for a viewer to pause?
I came up with my mid-life creative crisis thesis: Exploring the ordinary and mundane of everyday patterns and routine through art and writing.
Where to start? Which one of those mundane items that make up my life is the most important? Easy. The cystic fibrosis nebulizer vials. Emlen’s cystic fibrosis demands that he sit down two to three times a day to inhale one to three vials of medications at a time. The whole thing, the disease, the medication and the constant awareness of his health is such an integral pattern of my daily life. The timing of the day—school, activities, playdates, meals and exercise—revolves around the nebulizer routines.
I began collecting the left-over nebulizer vials. I needed a feel for the numbers. I had never thought about how much space, both literally and symbolically, the #nebmeds require.
By the way, I am coining a new hashtag, #nebmeds. It is easier to write/say than nebulizer vials.
After I stockpiled a couple of months of the used vials, filling one of my larger salad bowls, I began playing with different patterns and configurations with regard to various calendar systems. I experimented with horizontal, linear and even circular systems. I settled on four panels, loosely based on the current traditional calendar. Each panel would document three months of #nebmeds, with three columns per month, ten days per column and six spaces per day for the vials.
It took my art floozy a few tries to put the panels together—stretching black screen is difficult—but he finally figured it out. My art floozy is Christian, a.k.a. Husband. Art floozy is a term used by our friends, Denise and Dan, to describe an artist’s assistant. According to Denise and Dan, the uniform requires a feather boa. We do not have feather boas—who does these days?—which is fine as there is a high probability that a boa would just get in the way of all the gluing, stretching, stapling, stringing and nailing which is required for each panel. Christian wears his work worn khakis, his tried and true Musketaquid t-shirt—he has three or four of them—and his wood shop clogs. Still a pretty good work outfit.
I am about to start the final panel. I have been wiring #nebmeds for nine months. It takes up several hours of each week. Some weeks are faster than others. If Emlen is on the inhaled antibiotic Tobramycin, I can get away with just one long afternoon a week of wiring. However, if it is a Cayston month, the other inhaled antibiotic, I wire for several afternoons a week. Mounting one day of Cayston to the canvas, with its extra six little vials per day, can take up to thirty-five to forty minutes.
When the piece is finished, I hope that I will be able to find a wall big enough to display it. Allston? Each panel measures seventy-six inches tall by fifty-eight inches wide. They are big. The entire project takes up most of our living room, which I suppose is appropriate as that is the room where Emlen does all his breathing therapies. We use it for little else. Even though the panels are scattered about, the whole thing, together, is pretty powerful. To have all the panels on one wall as intended, that will be something.
My art floozy is currently working some connections—it seems that art floozy also means manager—and I suppose I need to start reaching out to the art world.
I am stuck on one thing though, and I realize this might be putting the cart before the horse, what do I write in the little blurb that is placed beside the project? I know its main purpose is to introduce Emlen and me and to explain the art work’s significance. How detailed do I need to be? When my friends stop by the house and happen to see the whole thing, they have lots of questions.
I answer them:
“Why is it organized the way it is? How is it a calendar?”
Each panel contains three months; each month is made up of three columns. The piece begins in January and proceeds in calendar order. Each month with an extra set of vials wired below the main grid is a month with thirty-one days. (Remember that little ditty, “Thirty days have November, April, June and September. Of twenty-eight is but one. All the remnant thirty and one”? That should help.)
“Wow. It is so ordered. Why did you use a grid system?”
My master’s degree in architecture taught me that one of the ways to design well is to establish a structural organizational system and build on it, adding layers, thus manufacturing a design rich and full of depth. The grid is an elemental way to do this, and it plays well with the ridged requirements of cystic fibrosis medications. The everyday #nebmeds need to be done twice a day, religiously. However, when Emlen is sick we add more sessions with more vials. Life gets a little unruly trying to fit everything in. I feel the grid demonstrates the required structure of the everyday medications while also providing a base for the layered chaos of all the extra #nebmeds. (I have OCD tendencies. I like things to be uber organized. Most of you know that already.)
“Why did you use burlap?”
Burlap is the work horse of fabrics. That is what is required to take care of someone with cystic fibrosis, consistently reliable, ever present. Or–another interpretation, and I suppose I change my answer depending on the sensitivity of the person asking—while burlap is tough it can decompose easily if not cared for or pre-treated when exposed to external elements, like cystic fibrosis lungs. (I like the smell.)
“Why do you use two types of wire?”
I chose to use the black annealed wire for the #nebmeds that Emlen does twice a day, every day. These are the hypertonic saline and the Pulmozyme vials. I used copper wire on the vials that are inhaled in addition to the twice a day #nebmeds. These are the antibiotics Tobramycin and Cayston. Also, if we have the time or it is needed, we squeeze in a midday round of hypertonic saline. (I would have used all copper—it is my favorite—but it was too shiny for a chronic illness piece.)
“Why is there a pink vial?” (This is the most asked question I have had.)
There isn’t. It is no longer part of the project. It was an Albuterol vial from a clinic appointment. I was unsure about whether or not to include it as it was not part of Emlen’s daily routine. At the next clinic apportionment Emlen was given inhaled Albuterol again, but the vial was tossed before I could grab it. Now, I am only wiring #nebmeds we do at home. The pink vial has been removed. (I did not feel like rummaging through the hospital garbage.)
“How did you come up with the idea, or any of your ideas?”
The ideas just pop into my head. Re-read the above, the creative mid-life crisis part. (I stopped drinking alcohol. My mind is a lot clearer.)
As an art history major, I feel that people should figure out significances for themselves. They should puzzle out the rhythms of a work. They should view, discuss and conjecture on their own. Should I provide the answers to these questions on that little blurb? Or am I being lazy, unwilling to write about my art? Writing about art is hard. Really hard.
I need to go to a museum, to read the blurbs beside the art, to see how it is done. I rarely do that, read the blurbs. When I view art, I usually do not want to be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. Maybe now it is time.
Alright. That worked. I can write about my art.
Let’s see what I can do with “The Laundry Photos, 2019, a.k.a. Sisyphus is Not a Myth”.
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