Friday, November 25, 2011

Trails and Side-tracks

With the approach of Thanksgiving, the steady pace of production had slowed down a bit in the factory. On Wednesday before the holiday, the sense of excitement in the air was unmistakeable. Most non-essential associates left early for their holiday preparations and it became more difficult to get anything done that was not strictly limited to my studio.
For the first time in two months, I took a day off.

On Thanksgiving day, we went hiking to the northern section of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, around the Greenbush area. The Kettle Moraine has a unique and beautiful rolling topography (moraines) and pitted landscape (kettles).
trail in the Kettle Moraine

Terez, Kristen and me on the hike.

The plants and tree varieties here are distinctly different from those evergreens of the Pacific Northwest; there is a real sense of fall when hiking in Wisconsin. Another thing that signals fall around here is the deer hunting season. Only after we got out of the car in the forest we realized our huge mistake: did not have blaze orange vests to signal our human presence to the hunters that are undoubtedly out there hiding away and waiting for the bush to move. Hunting is as much part of culture in Wisconsin as concealed guns, motorbikes, cheese, the Greenbay Packers, and game day cupcakes frosted with frightening yellow and green.

cupcakes and buns in local colors (this pix is from some time ago, still during Brewers baseball season)

All week, the news is full with efforts to recall the union-busting governor; but Kohler Village is as dormant as the castle of Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tale. When we talk, associates grumble about the work and job security, about cuts to benefits and bargaining rights, about no pay raises for the past many years. There is a general feeling of the workers being taken advantage of due to the recession. Every day, at least half of the associates wear their UAW Local 833 T-shirts emblazoned with Harley-like logo of orange flames to work.

The issue of labor and unions is very complex, historical yet pertinent, and I don't claim to understand it. I listen when they talk to me and I answer the best as I can their questions about our sluggish economy in Washington state. On a funny note: Every time during our conversations, the workers are surprised when I tell them that I teach. In their minds, the artist who come here on a residency come to make money on what they produce. And in their minds, similarly to their industrial production, the more I produce the more money I make. So it makes good economic sense to them that I'm in the studio all the time.

How different reality is!
With a strong will I focus on the blushing plaster fragment project now. I cast all my molds on certain days, the smaller ones twice, which gives me non-stop work of filling molds and then opening, cleaning and reassembling them, taking out casts and fixing the pour-holes on the clay well into the night. The result is about 30-40 casts. Cleaning and glazing that many pieces takes another few days while everything else has to be on hold. This process feels very mechanical, (even to a discipline-queen like I am) and I'm aching to dot this schedule with at least a few side projects that yield to unpredictable results. Doing this casting routine once or twice a week takes so much energy that I always decide to do just a few molds next time, so that I can do other things during the workday. It has gotten so bad this last time with yet another new mold (plus the pedestal and tile molds), that I could not even open some of the molds in time, resulting in casts way too dry by the time I got to them, which cost me more time having to fix cracking around the tougher places.

Studio on week 10: pedestals, small pedestal mold and more molds. There is barely any floor space or work surface left uncovered with stuff drying, waiting to be glazed or finished.

I guess, because of the relative monotony of the casting process and also because my time at Kohler is drawing near, I could never not fully give up the interesting side-tracks. Let's admit it: I'm now finding myself looking for distractions. Whether it is digging up boxes full of discarded barcode decals from the trash, or going through the metal cull for interesting shapes to be used for making plaques for the pedestals, or carving pictures of the local weeds into tiles, or plotting a project that honors the individuality of the workers I made friends with; - I welcome the opportunity that arises to do something else interesting while I'm still here. It's too premature to talk about these projects. They are not finished yet, and due to the lack of time to really develop them, none of these would become a full-fletched project for the time being.

On the other hand, I'm getting beautiful results with the glazes. The colors are heart-stopping in a very bodily, and, as it was commented on, "evocative" way.
Just out of the kiln this week.

There are 4-5 layers of pinks and reds sprayed on very thin to get the blush and I never know what it will look like until it comes out of the kiln. So is the excitement of ceramics.

This past week possibilities for the title of the project occurred to me just out of the blue. I definitely have the words that would be used to describe what the work is about. I'm still trying them out in various combinations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mood Indigo

In recent days, two books are on my mind: The Wind-up bird chronicle by Haruki Murakami and Mood Indigo (also known as Froth on the Daydream) by Boris Vian.  Both of them were favorites of mine at various ages.
After returning from whirlwind trip to Hungary I had a rougher than expected transition back to the factory-life. It's interesting what a few days of pause can do to the ingrained work process; I had to make tremendous efforts to remind myself of how I've been doing things. The first mold I made after returning was a complete disaster. Looking back at it, it was riddled with bad timing (on my part part) and curious accidents (on the part of the plaster positive, which kept falling apart). The mold works just fine now.
The week I returned, they started covering the large window panels at the factory to protect the ware from the cold drafts that inevitably sneak in during winter. Even though the days were sunny outside, one could not get a sense of it in the inside. Humid heat building up in the casting shop and the light haze through the oppressing plastic dampened my mood for a few days.
With being gone the residency reached its turning point. I have a little over 4 more work weeks left.

The days are short, seems like the nights are even shorter.
I'm barely getting more than 4hours of sleep. I have to constantly remind myself that I need to stop doing side projects, like the constructing pedestals or the little buildings (see pics), playing with the color slips and conducting other experiments with Kohler's unlimited possibilities.

I think I'm having a hard time giving up certain mental versions and iterations of the project I've thought I could accomplish. The only thing need to be focusing on now is to keep casting the broken fragments I already have molds of. Setting the fragments up in an installation was the idea that brought me here and that is the result I ultimately want to be leaving with.
There are 23 shapes already (23 molds made!!!), - a good enough variety. I'm the only one who would notice if I had ten (or even 2 more) shapes, - meaning that I still need to make 10 new molds.
In order to have the necessary volume of objects for an installation, my energies need to go towards casting: every mold, every day. That pretty much necessitates excluding any other project. I'm slowly forcing myself into this mindset but it does not feel right because the raison d'ĂȘtre of being here is that of constant innovation and of playing with the unlimited possibilities.

On the plus side, I had a few of my wonderful friends visiting this past week and I got to give several lectures to college freshmen from Millwaukee. This latter reminded me of interacting with my students, which I duly miss. A photographer came to my studio to take some artist-at-work shots. After a brief but inspiring conversation about my project we decided to frame the shots with the casting shop in the background, which I feel is completely appropriate considering the subject of my work.

Finally, here is the Duke playing Mood Indigo.

sunset over the factory, November 5