Friday, October 31, 2008


I'm working on a new series of drawings that mimic and make light of my recent cosmic frustrations. Life feels hard here in San Francisco with all the money and future and health things to worry about. It's actually quite nice to hole up in my sunny studio, talk through the wall at Conrad and draw crazy things. These new drawings illustrate celestial pleas, with thousands of tiny hand-written words in giant speech bubbles. The first one is called "why oh why oh why" and the second one is called "no yes no". They work sort of like those fabric drawings I made in Portland last year-- I start in one random place on a sheet of blank paper and let a pattern dictate how the drawing proceeds-- except in this case the pattern is with short repeated words instead of rendered stitch work. I'm interested in how the words begin to slip in and out of their meaning, especially in "why oh why oh why" which is funnily reminiscent of "xoxoxo" or "e-i-e-i-o."

For now it's nice to just be conceiving, activating and completing drawings in short amounts of time. The brevity and aerobic dexterity of their execution helps keep me focused. Pandora radio helps too. Moreover, I'll get to try lots of different words and mess around with the paper composition and can worry about the editing process later. These pictures came from Portland and are part of a series I have of double-takes where the photographer has taken multiple frames of the same scenario, but often with surprisingly different results.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Research v. Me-search

Georgia went to the Laurie Anderson lecture at Berkeley last week and told me about how she talked about the discrepancy between research and 'me-search' and her disdain for the latter. She also thumbed her nose at blog-writing because it falls under what she considers the irresponsible narcissism of me-search. I can't help but think that what she was talking about is pretty much exactly what I'm doing here. Do I care what she thinks? Not really. Am I interested? Well, yeah!

Today in class I asked Jordan if we could talk about the difference between these two things: me-search and research. I agree that me-search is connected to the male dominant tradition of art being the act of geniuses and I would feel repugnant to learn that I am carrying on the torch by feeding into that misconception. Art is hard work. You have to learn it and make it and learn how to make it work. On the flip side, I also agree think the way we understand art-making by female-identified artists is problematic. Female expression is usually read as being inherently emotional (read: hysterical) and I feel equally hesitant about being connected to this tradition too.

Obviously a big part of my disconnection is queer thing-- I feel neither expressively Male or Female and can't figure out how to dissect myself from these generalizations. Here's one problem-- how can I, as someone who is working with biography/history/memory/identity/ownership as major cornerstones of my work make art without the same gender politics that have shaped my biography/history/memory/identity/ownership? It's hard to know if I'm being smart and introspective or if I'm just being narcissistic and masturbatory. Why should people be interested in my memories?

Here's what I've resolved. The reason why my me-search is okay is because I feel like I was raised in a family/community/country that does not encourage women to vocalize from their experiences and to look inside themselves for answers. We're taught to look outside of ourselves-- into history, into experts into our partners. And who is to say that doing research on other peoples linear interpretations of the world is better source material than doing research on myself and the things in my life? I think that it's a powerful thing to be able to talk about myself, about my own observations, and about how I am figuring out my place in the world. Here's the thing-- sometimes I'll get an idea for a drawing that just feels right. It feels right to be making art about my family because we're a group of people who have been tied together by proximity and bloodlines. By learning about them I learn about how I was raised and why I am the way I am.

This is a good picture for today because it's a family, posed but not perfect, and behind them is a masterpiece in a gilt frame. I'm so interested in those six people, and for me the painting sort of symbolizes everything else outside of these six people in this room on this day. I'm under no false pretense that my art completes the world, that it makes it more beautiful, that it demonstrates how it should be-- none of these things. I think the world is pretty amazing and fine by me, excluding environmental/emotional/global political turmoil and trauma. I hope that what I'm doing here at school is recording my observations as a primary document-- it is and always has been about telling stories.

Toby, gallant horse friend

I had a horse that looked a lot like this one when I was small, but it was white with a black mane and tail. It's name was Toby. I think my parents actually still have it-- in the basement and broken (it never even existed for Dennis-- Will had been kind of a rough-rider). Toby bounced on springs, and as you bounced faster his trotting noise became faster, graduating eventually to a galloping noise until some mechanism in the horse determined that the threshold at which faster bouncing could no longer occur had been reached-- at which point Toby would whinny and my parents usually told us to give it a rest. It makes me remember this song my grandparents and parents used to sing to us while bouncing us on their laps-- a song totally chocked full of all sorts of gender and class polemics. But whatevs-- it was fun.

This is the way the country folk ride,
the country folk ride, the country folk ride
This is the way the country folk ride,
Hobblety, hobblety, ho.

This is the way the Ladies ride,
the Ladies ride, the Ladies ride,
this is the way the Ladies ride,
Trot, trot, trot.

And, this is the way the Gentlemen ride
the Gentlemen ride, the Gentlemen ride
this is the way the Gentlemen ride,
Gallopy, gallopy, go.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home sweet home

We moved to this house right after I turned 12 about a month before 7th grade started. I got home from summer camp and helped my parents pack up the dregs of our small cramped house in New Jersey. I was disillusioned and mourned the end of camp tragically. I refused to pack the contents of my dresser and desk drawers, so my father just duct-taped them shut and packed them into the truck still full. I remember the cats were miserable in their carriers, Dennis was just two years old and had earaches the whole way, and it was hot, sticky and crowded in the car.

I picked my room first, the long rectangular one in the back with two closets. I was invited to Rachel Rosenfield's house to sleepover with Deena Hadi, Miriam Marks, Kendall Galbraith, Nicole Grantz and Margaret Faraday-- I didn't know that they would soon turn on me and my straight-legged khakis and that I would walk to school by myself. We watched the Olympics (it was the year of the Dominiques) and Grease and stayed up until Rachel's father thundered down the stairs and told us to be quiet.

Back then the forsythia bush just bordered our yard-- you can see in this picture that it is about 20 feet wide now and slowly engulfing the yard. It's twelve years later, and those three cats (Missy, Spike, Einstein) have three new friends (Cisco, Kringle, Chumley). We moved and a year later I got diagnosed with diabetes. We moved and our mailbox slowly rotted into the ground until the city of Ithaca purchased us a new one. The blue tarp you can see in the picture covers the back porch which started falling off the back of the house last year under the weight of another Ithaca winter. I have no idea whose car that is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

trusting/making/seeing/believing (count 'em)

After work in Oakland I decided to go to Emeryville to try to find a book I can't find at any of the small bookstores along Valencia. I was flat-lined by how few books of intellectual value they had at Borders and how few employees they had at Barnes and Noble. The entire experience was bookended by fantastic vehicular chaos on my way in and on my way out-- all of the roads had just been paved and dim chalk lines attempted to wrangle cars into order until they get painted. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but I'm writing about a place where sidewalks are few, one-way roads are plenty, and 6-lane ribbons of pavement connect one mini-mall oasis to the next. I was amazed by the number of cars I saw accidentally turn down one way roads (the wrong way), the sinusoidal swaggering of cars and the mayhem that ensued.
I think about the trust of car travel a lot-- about how nervous and tight-shouldered I once was when driving, my palms sweaty and hands sore from gripping so hard on the wheel. I was so nervous then, and not now. This worries me, because I'm jettisoning myself down paved roadways at high speeds in a scrappy piece of steel, trusting every person who can prove they're 17 and pass a 10 minute driving test.
As I circumnavigated the huge beige windowless buildings of Emeryville, I also started remembering about how malls used to feel, and wonder when they stopped feeling so spectacular and when they started feeling so expectational and performative. I think that there must have been a point where I started paying attention to the smaller, with less bravado, but equally epic performances that happen all the time. And I guess that once I realized they were there, and that they were beautiful and interesting, I stopped believing that they weren't in my life, that I didn't have to go somewhere to buy the experience, that I could make them happen myself.
I'd hate to push this over the edge into some sort of road=life analogy... except to say that today what I saw was a lot of people not paying attention to what actually existed, looking instead for directions (that didn't exist) to tell them how to interpret what they could have deciphered themselves. At high velocities. And this is kind of how I feel too-- and something that is certainly stoking the fire under current frustrations I have with my drawings. Sometimes it's hard to trust what I know when I'm making something to see. And sometimes it's hard to trust that I'm actually seeing what I'm making.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sparkle, glitter, magic.

This past Sunday was an excellent kick-off into a new week-- Maggie and Margaret came into town on their way back to the beast coast from the best coast. Most of the time we just sort of hung out, did the local queer bar circuit and some minimal gallavanting. Yesterday Maggie and I went to the Sutro Baths, but unfortunately didn't see any ghosts. We did, however, see a very very dead bird and inspirationally climbed a cliff wall because we were too lazy to walk back and take the stairs to the road. We had an embarrasingly 'Wesleyan' dinner party with Sally, Kevi and Missy, and then scaled Bernal Hill in the mist. Maggie told me (this morning, over apple fritters) that I sound like a seasoned San Franciscan, which was nice to hear because it's been just two months going on twenty-two more....

Sunday, October 26, 2008


After an on-again off-again sort of relationship with this drawing, I finally finished it today. Hooray!

Long time waiting

It's been a little while since my last posting, and since I was last actively working in my studio. On my way to a complete burn-out, I took my first whole day off since moving to San Francisco on Friday. And then I took Saturday off. And now it's Sunday and feels impossible to get back on the art-making blog-writing train but I'm making a leap for it. It doesn't help that I had work today though, nor that my scanner is inexplicably not working. So here's a picture of a picture and the kick-off to reinvested commitment to this project:

This seemd a suitable picture to post since it was the first of what turned into a collection, bought in Asheville, North Carolina, Thanksgiving 2005. I was down there with Margaret's family and it was weird. But this particular afternoon was pretty okay. Margaret had just parallel parked a car for the first time. Flynn, Margaret's little sister, was being silly and 18 years old, sometimes walking a block ahead of us, sometimes walking (barefoot) blocks behind. We got lost in a huge antique warehouse and dissappointed the cashiers by only spending about a buck each. The semester before I had been trying to take pictures underwater by putting my camera inside a big ziploc bag. It didn't work, but makes me appreciate this picture-- imagine a giant 4" by 5" camera stilted in the water-- this family probably had to stand in their silly bathing suits for a really long time waiting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Yesterday after the opening my mom's friend Ric from Kenya and his partner Jane came by and visited my studio. Meeting Ric when I moved out here helped ignite my interest in figuring out more about my parents. I think it's pretty dumb that I don't know anything about my parents lives from before I was born. The posting I wrote about my mom on October 13th is riddled with mistakes. For example, she lived in Kenya for 4 years, not 5. And she went to Brazil with Rotary, not Quakers and went to Kenya with Quakers, not by herself. And she met my Dad the first week of grad school. And they only dated for 10 months before deciding to get married. This is what I am talking about! And all of these details came from a 5 minute conversation over the phone.

When I asked my mom if she thought it was dumb too, and she disagreed and said she thought it was pretty normal and was surprised that I am even interested. She tells me that when I was living at home as a teenager I was totally disinterested in talking to her, much less hearing her talk about her life. Of course, I remember it differently-- that I was disinterested because no one was telling me what I wanted to know. Then again, when I was a teenager I didn't know yet that teenagers are generally ridiculous, and now I do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Memories...of the days that were

Okay. New project. This one's going to be good. I asked Michael the librarian if I can borrow the old typewriter station that they used to use for card cataloguing at the CCA library and he said yes. I'm going to set it up in my studio and everyday I'm going to type personal memories on cards, one on each, all beginning with the word "Once..."

For example, "Once in 5th grade I was so angry at Will that I wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking him to make Will get sucked back into my mom's vagina and to be born out again as a different person. I had just learned about that particular female part from the archaic nurse at our elementary school. My mother was upset and insulted about me equating her vagina to a vacuum/garbage dump and I was upset and insulted that she had read my letter, seeing as how I written it in confidentiality to someone else."

I think the way I think about memories is in the same pursuit of order a librarian might feel, and I think that this could be an interesting way to start 'making sense' of my version of the truth, especially once I start cross-listing and cross referencing memories into multiple categories. I'll be at home for Christmas (I hope I hope!) and would like to get my parents and brothers involved with the project too.

Michael the librarian told me that they used to organize the card catalogue frequently and that it was one of the more laborious and painstaking tasks to work on. When new books were added to the collection, their corresponding cards would temporarily be filed 'above the bar' (meaning above the rod that holds the cards in the drawer). Eventually someone would take the drawers apart and thread the cards into order, making their place in the card catalogue fixed and official.

I've been thinking about new ways to start recording memories/ideas more quickly and succinctly. I like that my drawings take a long time to render, but have anxiety over the fact that if I concentrate on one drawing it is potentially at the sacrifice of many others. I don't want my version of history to be revisionist and exclusive, so I've been troubleshooting as to how to make the art more about the process of memory rather than focusing on making visual representations of singular moments and ideas. This could be a project that I work on continuously or come back to periodically until I'm so wizened and old that I have to start reading the cards to remember what the project is about. So romantic!

Monday, October 20, 2008

lady-artists present....

I convinced Brigid to co-curate a show with me. We walked around and heckled our friends to put pieces in, and then stayed up until an ungodly hour hanging the show next door in the main building. This all happened pretty much on the same day.
That being said, please honor us with your presence at the opening of:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Bruce Galleries, East 2A and 2B
California College of the Arts
1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco, CA

co-curated by Mara Baldwin and Brigid Mason
an exhibition of 23 first-year MFA female artists, who include:
  • Mara Baldwin
  • Nicola Buffa
  • Georgia Carbone
  • Sofia Cordova
  • Tigerbrooke Fifer
  • Crystal Gonzalez
  • Maggie Haas
  • Erika Hanson
  • Kelly Jones
  • Claire Kessler-Bradner
  • Sasha Krieger
  • Monique Lopez
  • Anna Ludwig
  • Dorathy Lye
  • Steph Mansolf
  • Brigid Mason
  • Rebecca Najdowski
  • Natalia Nakazawa
  • Rebecca Wallace
  • Alice Warnecke
  • Hillary Wiedemann
  • Carmen Winant
  • Sune Woods

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The 7th day, day of un-rest.

Last Friday our Dialogues and Practices class went on a field trip to the Contemporary Jewish Art Museum and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts here in San Francisco-- which was excruciating until they fed us and quite pleasant afterwards. One of the shows up at the CJAM was thematically driven by an open call for artists working with visual representations of the first 6 days of genesis. The show was just okay, with some really awesome illuminated manuscripts from 800 years ago--beautiful. The idea of genesis being fluid and interpretable was much cooler.
Today was a crazy day with deinstalling an undergraduate group review and installing an undergraduate exchange student show. Nevertheless, I experienced my own moment of genesis while messing around with my scanner (see picture). Sune's son has been playing with all the plastic animals I collected from the Bins in Portland over the past two years, so I've been reminded that they're still around and waiting for me to figure out why I still have them. Here's a herd of horses, shot from underfoot. I once started a drawing in Portland of a herd of plastic horses, but was thwarted by my housemate Erin's rotten cat-friend, Jem, who walked all over it after being in our soggy garden.
It's an abstraction of something tangible, like many of the drawings I'm working on right now. Tomorrow I'm putting together a show of awesome lady-artists here in the MFA program with me at CCA, and I'm excited to see how it turns out. There may even be an opening, on Tuesday night (to be established), so keep your schedules open, San Franciscans.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dave Baldwin, self-portrait, 1971

My dad took this picture of himself the year he took off from college and lived in Vermont. When I applied to Wesleyan my grandmother, Mimi, told me two things: one, to join a sorrority and two, to avoid 'getting lost' like my father did when he went to the same school. I'm sure she dissapproved of my father's lumpy wool sweater, his black combat boots, facial hair and pony tail-- but I love them and I love this picture because it shows me things that my father would never think to describe.
I've always been fascinated by the stories of my parents lives before me and before eachother and find the backwards stitching of my figuring out their narratives is really amusing and a process of constant revision. Inspired by my posting on the 13th (my mom's birthday) I've started a project in which I'm trying to write down everything I know about my parents until their meeting each other, which I pinpoint as the genesis of my own history of how I came into being. It's a project about writing and learning and information flow and memory, but which will eventually include infinite revisions as I remember stories, do research over the phone with my parents and figure out better ways of making the chronology more seamless, coherent and true.
I had a funky crit on Wednesday that left me seething and I'm still not totally sure why. I guess it was funky because I felt people were criticizing my visual vocabulary instead of giving me suggestions of how I can make my vocabulary speak better. Afterwords someone in my class came up to me and told me that she liked what I was doing but wished there was a way to include the stories and anecdotes that I tell when describing where I come from. And so this project was born. It will tell (I hope I hope) the stories of people dear to me through an incredibly fallible human lens-- of how I remember what I've been told by my parents of how they remember things happening a long time ago. I mean really, the information has gone though so many transformations-- making the gravity of words so much more epic, heavy and laden with intent, which is, of course, how everyone tells stories, whether they mean to or not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thoughts on yesterday

What's going on in this picture? A deer in a starched landscape, with brittle antlers, the palette pallid and wan. This picture came from Portland and I love its oddity. A few weeks ago I biked home from the studio late and when I rolled in front of the house there was a lot of foot traffic happening in front of the house next door, strange for our Holly Park home. I learned that the wife of the elderly Chinese couple living next door had perished in her backyard from heat exhaustion after trying to tar and seal her roof on one of the hottest afternoons of SF late-summer. She was 82, and had been supporting her husband who had ailed from senility for years. From everything I've heard this was one tough cookie. When I went upstairs to my room I looked out my window and was greeted by the tableau of her undoing-- a rickety aluminum ladder leaning against the house, two cans of sealant (one still open), and the roof half-sealed. I had already been doing a lot of research about San Francisco history and its hauntings, so I've been hyper-aware of ghost activity outside my window.
Yesterday I had a really unproductive crit with one of my classes. I'm sure that it's at least partially because I was hungry and tired and sick-- I've been having earaches for days and I feel like I'm three again. But I also felt like I was not being listened to-- I was trying to talk about what I want to do and people kept projecting new ideas on me-- telling me what they thought I should do. Here's what I think about that: if someone tells me to do something, I won't do it. The whole point of art-making for me is the personal lens and the joy of genuine expression-- feeling like what I make is of me. If an idea gets told to me, it will always feel tainted by the fact that someone else came up with it-- it could never feel genuine. Maybe I'll change my mind about this down the road, but for now, I like my persistance-- it's part of what makes me me. It's what makes and 82 year old climb up onto her roof against the waning bend of her health and why makers make things they havent before even if it will be difficult, potentially unyielding and impossible to finish.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

inquire, inquired, inquiry, inquiree

Glen came by my studio yesterday and we talked about the new projects I'm working on. When I first got to CCA I thought that my next move was to start renderings drawings of objects that critiqued and examined their role within a greater social context than my own experience. So I started on these drawings of things that aren't mine and found that I kept hitting walls-- I felt like I was being repressed by regarding objects as cliche or mass-manufactured with some sort of Pop sensibility, which really isn't my interest at all. And I mean, that's been done before, and it's been done really well, and I'm not sure I can help shed light on a topic that's already been floodlit. I think my drawings are smarter and more engaging to look at when they're backed by my own personal experience and sensitivities.
I'm very excited about my new drawings of lichens, based on the documentation I took during my trip to Colma. When I was in high school I studied botanical illustration with an amazing woman named Bente King. Already in her eighties at the time, she still worked for the Cornell herbarium drawing field specimens, and my mother had known her when she was enrolled there in the 70's. Bente passed away a few years ago, but there are probably thousands of drawings in her trace. I think these new botanical drawings connect to my other work because at their core there is a story. A story that explains my continuance of a family trade as the daughter of a botanist and descendant of nursery men and horticulturalists. And I think that what Bente was doing is a kind of storytelling too-- one about mortality and fragility in which she extended the life of plants beyond the limits of their green. And certainly her drawings have extended her presence beyond the limitations of age too.
Bente's illustrations of plants, existing somewhere between art and science, were also rendered without context, organic objects drawn against the blank white of paper. This makes me remember something John Paoletti used to hammer into the palpable minds of his art history students at Wesleyan-- that at one time art and craft were more closely linked-- that artists like Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned to do things like design weapons and flying contraptions, and that they studied cadavers and biological specimens, and recorded the way that water travels over rocks and grass blows in wind and anything else they needed to in pursuit of mastery of their craft. This kind of inspection and tireless inquiry is pretty inspirational. Less than 100 years ago barbers would also inspect your teeth and perform tonsillectomies on the fly, bridging fashion and function. I can only aspire to be so many-faceted. In the mean time, I like that drawing is a skill that lets me get in between these two places (of science/craft or fashion/function) and visually interpret the things I see, that it leads me to all sort of new inquiries and that it informs all aspects of what I'm still (and always) trying to figure out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Parapagua, January 1973

My mom, Denise Elston Costich, was born on October 13th. She grew up on Long Island, where my grandparents owned a horticulture consulting firm and had two siblings, Merilee and Mark. The first thing she purchased with her allowance was a rock pick, which she still has (it's in the lab desk in our basement). My uncle once shot her in the butt with a bb-gun, maybe by accident. She was really good at Latin and wanted to be an archaeologist when she was in grade school. She and her best friend Jane Donahue once heisted a rowboat to smoke cigarettes secretly. After high school she went to Brazil for awhile with a Quaker exchange program (where this picture is taken), and then Cornell, where she enrolled in the ag school. She saw Joni Mitchell sing once, and lived with a boyfriend during her sophomore year in Varna and didn't tell my grandparents. After two years she took leave from college and went to Kenya to do an ecological study of the baboons living in the Masaii Mara, a place she stayed for 5 years. Upon return to the states she finished up and received her B.S. and applied to grad school at the University of Iowa. She met my father, who helped fix her bicycle and they moved in together. They got married and then had me a year later. She received a Fullbright to do research in Spain and my parents decided to move to New Jersey where my father and I would live while she was abroad. Her first plant she studied was Silene Ecbalium and the second was a squirting cucumber. When she came back to the New Jersey for good she got a job at Rutgers, where they had small frogs and banana trees in the greenhouse. Once she cut her hair so short that I couldn't recognize her. When I was 5 she had my brother Will, and then when I was 10, Dennis. She started studying Wisconsin Fast Plants and used to come to my school and plant them with my class. When I was in middle school I found a sketchbook of hers and brought it to school to brag to all my friends about what a good artist she was (actually, first I told them that I had done the drawings, but they didn't believe me). She started teaching at Trenton State College. When I was sick or had a day off from school I always chose to go to work with my mom over my dad's office. We moved to Ithaca New York, where she started working at Cornell, and then doing research at Boyce Thompson Institute. My mom made my breakfast (toast!) every morning and picked me up from practice everyday. My brother and I used to fight over who was a faster runner in the car and she once pulled over and made us race up the hill. We had a hard time getting along when I was in highschool. I went to college and then Portland and then Vermont and now San Francisco and she has always remembered to call. She's the first person I came out to.
Many things in this story are probably wrong, and if I wrote it yesterday or tomorrow it would be a little different, I'm sure. My mom has always been the one in our family most committed to cataloguing and holding on to things that will help us remember how it used to be some day, because a lot has changed for us. My mom gave me this picture of her which she found at my grandmothers house this last summer, and I like it because it's taken before I was born, but I feel like I was there and knew her then. She'll probably be embarrassed about this posting. She also thinks you should vote for Obama, and today is her birthday.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Old toys learn new tricks

Hooper Three had a special 4-year old visitor today, so the animals were pulled out and made their come-back. They're pretty great things to play with, with some exceptions (the combat soldiers, pro-life foetuses and warring Cowboys and Indians). On that note-- remember to celebrate Indigenous Peoples day tomorrow and celebrate like it's 1491!

TTFN, slide-wall.

The slide wall came down today, the first thing I finished here in San Francisco. Now it's rolled up in paper on top of my cabinet, taking a break. The California sun through those windows beat it up something bad, but I like that some of the images have started to fade and discolor. Here's some pictures of its last day up in Playspace.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"It's good to be alive in Colma"

Where do I even begin to explain the city of Colma?
Here's what I wrote in an email to Lori:
" 1902 it become illegal to bury any more people in the SFcity limits--residents were worried that disease would leech into the ground water and that all the cemeteries were hurting the SF real estate market. No one wants to live next to a cemetary. Then there was a HUGE disasterous earthquake in 1906 and most of the cemeteries were turned to rubble-- bodies moved to the wrong places under tombstones, tombstones rotated, all sorts of crazy stuff because of the earth shaking. To make things worse, many of the records of who was buried where were burned in fires as a result of the earthquake. So after recovering from the Great Quake, the city decided to pull everyone out of the ground and move them to Colma in the 20's and 30's. The city, just South of San Francisco, was founded as a necropolis. Currently 1,200 people live in Colma and over 1.5million people are buried there-- there are 17 cemeteries and even a pet cemetery too."

Alice and I were doing pretty much opposite research, which was funny-- she took pictures of big marble figures and I took pictures of lichens growing on the headstones. This could be the beginning of new series of small drawings which use these botanical constellations as their source. We went to Holy Cross Cemetary, Cypress Hill Cemetary, the Hills of Eternity, the Serbian Cemetary and, of course, Pets Rest.

One Lorraine Ct., San Francisco, CA

I took the bus for the first time, apple fritter in hand, to the San Francisco Columbarium where I met up with Alice. The Columbarium is a place where, instead of getting a headstone on a lawn, you purchase a drawer with a glass front to put you and some of your stuff inside, called a niche (as in, niche in history). It was actually pretty amazing, and it made me feel all sorts of things. I appreciated the brevity of a life explained in a diroama, but ultimately felt like it was falling short of reality. Alice and I talked about it while walking to her car afterwards-- the quest for immortality seemed sort of escapist. The staff was eerily cheerful-- we were met by a woman who gave us all this literature about grieving and offered us coffee and tea. Alice and I swiveled around in huge comfy beige chairs in a conference room where a display of available urn types was advertised in cocktail menu format while she told us about how to go on a self-guided tour. Then the woman showed us where Carlos Santana's dad was located-- it was sort of sweet and very weird how excited this 45 year old white woman with dyed red hair was about proximity to a celebrity. I wonder if she's claimed her own "niche" yet-- I should've asked. Maybe it's next to Papa Santana.
Anyways, Alice and I walked around and ooed and ahed at all the things to see. She liked the pretty set ups and I loved the chemical reactions interred ashes were having on the copper urns they were inside (look at the picture!). Some of the drawers had condensation sweating on the inside of their glass, which was sort of repugnant. As Alice pointed out, the entropy kind of threw the immortality angle out the window. The columbarium was hosting an open house event today for baby-boomers and their parents because the main building is almost sold out (gasp!). Don't worry though, there are plans for more buildings with more niches, but it's not like there's going to be one for everyone, so hurry-- this is San Francisco afterall.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This cat agrees

Today I had my first peer crit at CCA with my Dialogues and Practices class-- which means that I nervously fussed around on my feet and chattered on and on and on. But it went well and I got some good feedback, mostly things that supported what I've already been processing. For example, that the trophy drawing, the maps and the combs are not so much I want to be doing right now, and that some of my other projects are much more interesting.
Alice and I geeked out about artmaking being an inherently fetishistic and exhibitionist preoccupation: artists produce objects because they're obsessed with ideas and the possibility that other people might be too. Kaif expressed concern that I'm wrongly appropriating other people's things-- I disagreed. I think there's a distinction between, with the photos for example, me drawing up fantasies about the lives behind them and me wondering/identifying/relating to them. I also think about objects in a very sacred way, which is why I make drawings of them instead of changing them directly. But I think the fact that I'm still feeling a little bit defensive means that I'm not totally sure-- so I'll have to think that one out for awhile.
Ericka liked the textile drawings and I like her textiles, so that was nice. Tonight, I went to the opening at Triple Base and was understimulated, so Maggie and Ericka and I went to St. Francis and I got overstimulated by a chocolate milkshake. Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day for me-- a field trip to Colma, the necropolis just south of the city with a population of 1,200 above ground and 1.5 million below. It's going to be a slap in the face to my fear of death, but could be a high-five with my understanding of magic and mortality.
I've been waiting and waiting for a perfect day to post this picture, but I doubted that it would happen, so here it is.

Fetish, (fĕt'ĭsh, fē'tĭsh), noun.

In one of my classes we read about a piece by Mary Kelley called Port-Partum document in which she self-describes her work as relevant to the "cultural fetish of motherhood." Basically, she makes little dioramas with pieces taken from her kid's childhood-- the first pair of baby shoes, transcribed dialogues, locks of hair and clothes, etc.. Yesterday Michele came to visit my studio after she got out of work and we talked about what I had up on the walls. I was surprised, at first, that the words she was using were reminiscent of Mary Kelley's vocabulary-- implying an erotic and fetishistic undercurrent my work. So I looked it up:

fetish, (fĕt'ĭsh, fē'tĭsh), noun.
  1. An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.
  2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality.
  3. Something, such as a material object or a nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.
  4. An abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.

We talked about the word in my class with Jordan Kantor as well, and concluded that it's one of those words whose definition has DRASTICALLY changed with the evolving social climate. Kantor gave the example of the expression"mission accomplished:" where the expression was once connected with victory and the moon landing, it has changed to be connected with the Bush war and our involvement with another country's affairs, and now it is connected to the shame of having failed at that mission and the failure of the current office. "Fetish" is a word that was first used commonly in the 1600's by Portuguese explorers to describe the relationships some tribal groups in Africa had with objects believed to have spiritual presence (I think it's pretty important to point out that they probably neglected to realize that the word could also be applied to the Catholic idolatry dominant in their own nation).
Today the word is used for objects that possess some sort of sexual aura for a person, a theory backed by our good man Freud. Here is his theory for the formation of a foot fetish: a kid is crawling around, looks up his mother's dress, realizes that she doesn't have a penis, looks down, sees her foot, and kablammee! Foot fetish.
I'm critical of the etymology of the word, but am starting to understand how a fetishistic relationship is in my work. I do believe there is a spiritual presence in objects, which is how I choose which ones I'm interested in. I do believe that my connection to objects comes out of a desire for connection to something, fueled by a little bit of loneliness. I also agree that the spiritual presence of objects could just be a perception of mine-- I like this picture I've posted because the mother is feeling terribly proud of being a mother, but her kid is totally out of it and obviously wont remember this day. The experience seems to be a relationship between two people, but it's really just the staging of one of them in what she believes to be true.
I would describe my interest in objects, my method of drawing them, and their occupation in how I perceive my world as a fixation. And I think that this is all terribly romantic and possibly problematic bias that I'm working with-- the marriage between me and the objects I own.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

D-a-n-c-e spells dance

My head's been in a very bookish mode-- all the unfinished zines I've started are coming back to haunt me, begging to be completed. My (unfinished) first zine was one I was working on in Portland that lists all the roommates I had while living there (27!) and some of my more favorite roommate interviews. It's interesting for me to think about the lists of people in my life and all the different ways they can be categorized. It happened unconsciously when I was writing down people to email about this blog-- I thought about one person and then listed all the people we both knew... and then I picked one of those people and listed all the people that we both knew, and so on. It seemed like a good way to not forget anyone at the time, and it turned into a ridiculous catalogue of people from my past. I'm thinking about working on a new zine about all the people I've been in relationships with by talking about how we danced together (or didn't). I think a project like this needs a motivating prop or consistent undercurrent or else it could seem too nostalgic or unfocused and mushy. And I think it's really interesting-- how I danced with each of these people says a lot about the comfort, connection, and context of those relationships. Becca and I danced in her room, but obviously never at our high school dances. I remember the first time I hung out with Tim we were dancing at a Sim Redmond Band concert with our best friend, Seth. Moxie and Randi made me shy for some reason. Margaret and I were silly and Dave made me feel small and taken care of. I could include friends too-- there is no one more fun to dance and make eyes with than Sarah Cordelia Lipkin. Hannah loved to lead in our swing dance class. Maggie's face lights up in this really inspiring way. It could turn into a disaster kind of project, but everyone around here at CCA keeps talking about how it's good to make bad art sometimes so that you're less likely to do it again-- so that seems like reason enough to try. I have no idea what kind of dance these folks are partaking in, but I love it (look at the cigarette!).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

utopia? u-ugly

Yesterday Georgia interviewed and tape recorded me talking about utopia for thirty minutes as part of a new project she's working on. I'm not exactly sure what I said, but I remember mentioning wanting to own a farm, applying for foodstamps that morning, feeling selfish about being a student, raising children and recycling. It was probably pretty embarassing. I've been working like crazy these past couple of days to get some new things on the walls for my first peer crit this Friday. Today I'm exhausted and feeling like the kid in this picture, so I think it's time to go home to my bed and my bathtub and to write my precis for Art History. Hopefully utopia will wait.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


My parents and I have been talking about what we're going to do for Christmas and whether we can foot the bill of flying me 3,500 miles across the country. Things are tight for us right now, but everyone's trying to not worry about it so much. I was looking through my pictures to pick one for today and these two reminded me that it might be another year without snow for me. Interestingly, these pictures are from Portland, during a snowstorm during January 7-8, 1980. Interesting because it NEVER snows in Portland-- just rain, lots and lots of rain and sometimes sleet. I'm pretty sure my chance of seeing snow in San Francisco is even slimmer, but we'll see. I'd like to go home and spend some time with the family that I think about all the time as I embark on new memory-driven projects in my studio. I'd also like to go to Indianapolis and Center Moriches to record what's there before both of those grandparents bundle up and move to new, smaller and more sensible places. Here's a poem I once wrote about my grandmother (Mimi) and the things in her house:


I am told I have her nose
And don’t I have her eyes
Her figure, her stature
Her dress size.

And look at my shoulders—
The way they are that way.
The color of my skin
Is like hers and so are my freckles.

And my name is like hers,
My hair is like hers was—
I never saw it before
She was already old—when I was born
She was 60, a pretty old dame.

Did you know she was born
The day after Christmas—
And did you know she died
On Valentines Day—
That it was her way.

Oh, and how can I catch the patterns
Off her wallpaper— with a lasso of twine,
With a drapery cord, with the drapes.
And what would she think of me now—
With a damn and a tumble down the stairs
With a comb, with an oh-Mara.

Did you know that when you are old
You don’t need to sleep so much—
That your nights are sleepless
That your days are wakeful and dreamy things.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wreck of the Hesperus

I talked to James about a new drawing I've been ruminating about for awhile trying to figure out if it is too silly to even admit thinking about. He said it wasn't. After seeing the new Keith Haring documentary a couple of weeks ago at the Roxie I thought about what my symbols and semiotics are. Things like the orange foot popsicle I ate in Spain after almost drowning at a pool with my parents(my first memory, I was 2), or a packet of Marlboro Lights (the cigarettes my dad smokes), or milkweed bugs or silene ecbalium (the subjects of my parents' dissertations) all come to mind, all symbols from the visual vocabulary of my growing up. So I just made a drawing of 135 combs and it's making me think about my relationship to them and why I decided to draw combs beyond the fact that I found one in the street while walking down Valencia with Sally. Before moving to Portland, I always had really long hair. Mimi used to send combs to me in the mail while I was in college-- whole packs of them-- begging me, pleading me to groom periodically. My camp counselors during the summer would have to bribe me to take showers and brush my hair before going home. My mom would sit down with me for mutually frustrating sessions of detangling. I should clarify, at this point, that it's not like I was even that opposed to being combed-- I just didn't like that people were bugging me all the time about it and seemed like they should be able to love me asa raggamuffin if they really loved me at all. During these one-on-one preening sessions my mother would use an expression that my grandmother had apparently used on her-- that my hair was like the Wreck of the Hesperus. It was just one of those things my mom would say all the time, and it was only in college that I actually had the thought to look up the etymology. The Wreck of the Hesperus is the title of a poem written about a tragic shipwreck where the captain of a ship ties his daughter to the mast during a storm in an attempt to save her from being blown off the deck. I'd like to collapse all these layers of the story into one drawing of a shipwreck in a seascape of hair. It's a new kind of project and I'm excited about seeing where it might go.

Crash crash bang bang

Today I hit a car on the way to school-- my first accident ever. The dumb part is that I didn't even want to drive to school today, but I had forgotten to bring my bike home yesterday and I didn't have time to walk. So I hit a car and got sad about it and then went to school and my watercolors almost spilled onto a drawing I'm working on-- which was interesting because my reaction to the second event would merit it more cataclysmic than the first. My relationships with objects and my understanding of what worth means is warping daily. This photo seemed so perfect for today, but let me just say that if I could drive to school down a huge paisley carpet and under giant armchairs that my commute would be way more entertaining.

Petersen's Rock Garden

This is a place called Petersen's Rock Garden somewhere near Bend, Oregon. It's a picture from the 50's, but the place looks exactly the same in pictures today. This past spring I was delegated the responsibility of figuring out something to do with Randi for a day off we had somehow both wrangled from our jobs-- it was a fierce tossup, but I eventually decided that we should go to Richardson's Rock Ranch in Madras instead. The Rock Ranch was a good choice-- Randi chiseled and licked thundereggs for hours and I took photographs of the ridiculous gift shop and peacocks running all over the place. But Petersen was truly a man of my own heart-- look what we missed!

"Petersen, originally from Denmark, came to the U.S. in 1900 and settled in the Cascade Mountains. He collected rocks from an 85-mile radius. The colorful rocks included Oregon agates, obsidian, petrified wood, malachite and jasper. He began building with them in 1935. At first, it was just a small rockery near his home in Bend, OR. But he kept on building on his four-acre site until his death in 1952. He mortared the rocks together into miniature buildings, monuments, lagoons and bridges. The Gardens also have concrete flags and a replica of the Statue of Liberty acquired from a local sculptor. In front of it rests a bronze plaque which Peterson had emblazoned "Enjoy yourself: it's later than you think.""

Truer words never spoken.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Everything= under control

Today I cut apart two drawings that had been coexisting on the same large piece of paper and started to address how they relate to one another now that they aren't married by proximity. I'm examining this idea with other relationships in my life too-- with friends in other cities, people I'm not dating anymore, family I don't see very often. I decided to post this photograph because its notation articulates the relationships between objects. Listmaking pursues order. Listmaking is how I've been trying to process my own relationships to the people and places I miss. I think that this pursuit of order through repetition and pattern is what a lot of my recent drawings are alluding to. An impossibly large trophy, a 12 foot long friendship bracelet, 135 combs organized by color, a field of lego texture. I hope that these drawings will eventually weave themselves together as representations of how things seem through my own intentional, memory-driven and completely fallible human lens.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Some spectacles from October 4th, 2008.

There's a great store called The Magazine in the Tenderloin on Larkin St a few blocks from city hall and the library. Conrad and all the students in Keith Boadwee's class told me about it. It's primarily a used porn store-- I know, potentially sketchy, but it was actually sort of lovely. I met up with Michele who was doing research for a new book project she's working on of pop-up porn. We walked in and the owners were all of these 50-year old moustached and smily gentlemen-- they sort of looked like they could have been in a barbershop quartet. The store was small and cramped with high ceilings and these beautiful tall wooden bookshelves and those fun sliding ladders. I was told that they had a lot of old photographs-- boxes and boxes for cheap. The ones pictured here are just a few I went home with.
To get to the store I had to walk through the Loooooooove Fest. Michele used the right word for it: a spectacle. Picture thousands of 20-year old white ravers in downtown SF. Horrifying and fascinating. I mean, really, I could write on and on about it because it was a total sensory overload-- similar to the head spin I was left in last weekend at the Folsom Street Fair, except instead of thousands of teenagers in fairy/furry/flourescent costumes it was thousands of hairy older men in black leather. Michele and I split a horrible apple fritter from a Chinese cafe on 9th and talked for a long time about being new to such a ridiculous city. It was a great day after hanging out with Emily last night, having breakfast with Georgia and finishing a huge drawing of 135 combs.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Right after moving here I made a decision that I was going to do some drawings about trophies, having worked with them briefly before. I went to some thrift stores and was horrified at how overpriced even the smallest little pipsqueak trophies were, usually around $3 a pop. I went to a trophy distributor early one morning to see if I could buy raw materials and was refused pretty outrightly-- the company will only sell you pieces if you commit to quantities that could furbish a little-league team, or several. So I put my luck to craigslist and was surprised at how many trophies people were desperately seeking to get rid of. I mean, maybe I wasn't surprised-- trophies are by the nature of their parts, cheap, breakable, and not incredibly personal. If you're lucky, you'll get one with your name on it-- but usually the trophies are produced before the event even happens. But I guess the fact that trophies signify and celebrate accomplishment and being the best at something, or at least pretty damn good, seems like a good reason to keep them around. The usual stories from craigslist trophy-burdened individuals were things like "my kids moved out," "I don't want to pay to bring them to the dump," or "our ex-roommate left them here." But one email I got was from a real estate agent who was in charge of cleaning out a house that had just been repossessed. Apparently the family had broken into the house and trashed it afterwards. The neighborhood, Bayview, is whispered by many to be 'dangerous', which means 'black,' 'ethnic' and 'poor.' When I arrived, the real estate agent carried out huge boxes filled with about 50 trophies. There are about 7 different sports or activities represented, all from 1976-1998, and the labels have the names of 5 different family members. This was a family that was good at stuff. It made me feel a mixture of things-- sad that a stranger (me) was going home with them, perplexed that they were some of only a few things left behind by their owners, glad that perhaps the memory behind them transcended their material worth.

The trophy pictured here is one from a community reuse center in North Oakland called SCRAP. I thought there was something interesting in how the couple on top has been rendered so that the man is the center of attention from one vantage and the woman from the other. Interesting also that it was constructed so that the male-dominant side was facing the front. This is the trophy I've been using for my first (maybe last) impossibly large trophy drawing about the way a trophy feels. It has a blue plastic gem on the front that I love and in the drawing it has 7 asymmetrical tiers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Acquisitioned by T.A. Emmet Mosely, IV

I'm not particularly proud of how I got this picture, but I was thinking about my friend Emmet today and he is the motivator behind it's acquisition. Last spring Emmet and I had a friend-date at a small Italian restaurant in SE Portland. I ordered exactly what I wanted and Emmet ordered decidedly the opposite of what he wanted, so we wound up sharing mine. In the bathroom this picture was scotch taped into a small junky frame on a side table and when I told Emmet about how much I liked it, his inner-anarchist, infused with discontent from an unfortunate meal, stole it for me and put it in his pocket. It was such an irresponsibly selfish and wonderful 20-year old thing to do, like when Sarah and I walked out on our bill when our waiter was ignoring us and we ran to the playground down the street and hid in the tire swings. I'm thinking about starting a group for girls to write zines with each other and think that this kind of anti-establishment naughtiness that's also behind zine culture will be perfect to introduce to a 10-14 year old female audience. Hooray! And really, Emmet knows exactly how to drill a soft spot in a girls heart.