Saturday, February 28, 2009

monsters, and drawings, and rallies, oh my.

Yesterday I participated in a fundraising event called the Monster Drawing Rally for Southern Exposure, an artist run non-profit gallery here in San Francisco. The rules are like this: starting at 6:00pm, on the hour, thirty predetermined artists sit at tables in the middle of a ballroom and have an hour to make at least one drawing which will be sold for $60 the same night. Now, I know this may seem pretty straight-forward, but now add in a kajillion people and a dj and people fighting over drawings and all of the sweat from these kajillion fighting people and it turns into one of the most stressful spectacles I've ever taken part in. It's hard to start with a blank piece of paper and just make something happen while people are watching and with the second-hand of a clock wildly spinning, while sitting inside of a growing atmospheric cloud of human perspiration.

So I made a drawing, using the photo above as the premise, and the drawing was mediocre, and the drawing sold. And it sold to someone I know, so I imagine I'll have to see it again, at the very least to sign it, which I forgot to do. It was the first drawing I've ever sold, though I didn't actually see a penny of the profit and though I am unsure if it even deserved to be traded for legal tender. Though the experience was harrowing, I've already been telling people that I want to do it again next year (I hate being bad at things! I'm determined that I can do better!).

faster, but not harder, and perhaps stronger

I met with James yesterday and I showed him the "drawings" of mules I had been "working" on (read: I pushed watercolors around on a piece paper while looking at internet pictures until I got bored). He suggested I just print out pictures and collage them. Genius! And so I made this drawing today. I might make the blue pile bigger.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

knots from thursday

Top, a drawing I worked on and finished today. Bottom, a picture from the surrogate towel I posted yesterday-- I can't seem to get over how amazing this pattern is.

Tomorrow I am participating in the Monster Drawing Rally at Southern Exposure. Essentially this means that I show up at 8:00pm to a ballroom, and then sit amongst other artists at tables where we draw for an hour and drunken gallery goers attempt to distract us or buy our drawings from under out pens and pencils. The drawing I make tomorrow night could be the first drawing I will ever sell.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

wednesday lesson

impostor or imposter, n. One who engages in deception under an assumed name or identity.

surrogate, n. One that takes the place of another; a substitute.

sunday torrent

Last week I went to go see director John Cameron Mitchell speak about his films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus. During his conversation about his own two films John Cameron Mitchell at one point said that to some extent he could identify with each of his characters. I’m fascinated by this idea—the vehicle of storytelling transcending personal experience to include other narratives. In January I went to see novelist Jonathan Franzen read and answer questions about his work. In response to one question he said that the danger of telling someone else’s story is not that you will tell the story wrong, but that you are taking away that person’s ability to tell it for themselves. This has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially in respect to my own storytelling and drawing practice. What are the limits of what stories are mine to tell?

I asked this question at the end of the Queer Aesthetics Symposium of Rob Epstein, Susan Stryker and Cheryl Dunye, all queer film-makers who make films about queer stories. To some extent, all spoke of a responsibility they felt to represent queer narratives in film because of an absence in the genre. But I wonder to what extent they feel this obligation—how appropriate would it be to both Epstein and a lesbian audience for him to make a film about lesbian experience? To further complicate an answer to this question, how do other identities of race or class fit in to this feeling of obligation?

It seems that an important distinction to make is the difference between “identifying with” and “identifying as.” Rob Epstein spoke briefly about an experience he had interviewing gay men who had been imprisoned for their sexuality by the German Nazi regime during WWII. In many cases his identity as a gay filmmaker felt at odds with his identity as a Jew, especially in cases where the men he interviewed could not speak beyond their persecution as homosexual men to sympathize with the millions of Jews who were similarly persecuted, enslaved and executed. I think it is significant that the main characters of Cameron’s movies, and moreover, of Epstein’s, Styker’s, and Dunye’s films too, have shared racial and queer experiences with their directors.

I think that, obviously, most directors choose to tell stories which, through self-discretion, seem both important and appropriate for them to tell. In my own work I am interested in the navigation of this boundary line- between truth and fiction. The very telling of a story, which is similar to the display of gender, is a performative act—any storytelling, in this way, is always 'untrue.' But this definition of truth excludes the fluidity of chronology—that events are understood and reevaluated in endless variations after they happened. Once the moment is past, its memory and the interpretation of that memory become moments in themselves.

Last semester I was working on a projects in which I was rendering the front covers of books that I felt strong associations with in my childhood, rewriting the author’s name as my own, the idea being that stories are performances for a public world, and when they are given to that world, they lose their specificity as a single narrative as the story is experienced by others. I was torn, however, when considering what it meant to draw The Diary of Anne Frank—a book which certainly shook my core when I was young, whose story I identified and sympathized with. Somehow the transcendence of personal experience stopped short, however, as I questioned whether or not the story of Anne Frank could really belong to me, a WASP, in my twenties, nearly 70 years later. Who do our stories belong to? What are our stories to tell? What are the limits on identification and appropriation?

Eats, shoots, and leaves

Well friends, I took almost two weeks off from really doing much on this bloggy blog. I was incredibly ill and then incredibly disenchanted and then incredibly busy. But I resolved last night that today would be a day of bloggy rebirth-- and as with any revival of ritual, begun with uncontainable/unimaginable/undeniable ferocity.

like a girl who i once knew

I looked through two boxes of studio portraits today, most of which are mounted in folders which make for a different picture-viewing experience than the straight-shots I prefer. When it's in a folder there's a certain level of anticipation and almost always inevitable disappointment. I'm considering selling this part of my collection for this exact reason. I also realized today that the portraits I once felt connection to are often just not doing it for me anymore. I think that perhaps I used to have some ability to see someone I missed in the faces of these strangers, and either I am resolved or have relinquished the role of that person in my life now, so the photos have lost their charm.

I have several photographs that seem spitting images of people I know today and when I look at them I can do nothing but think about that person. Once I made the mistake of emailing an image of one of these photographs to their contemporary alter-ego, someone I briefly entangled myself with in college (a relationship that ended so strangely that it's hard to say if I'll never really know what happened). She emailed me back, thanked me for the image but disagreed that it looked like her at all, though "winsome." Now I don't really think about that person when I look at the photograph anymore... I think about that last email exchange and how strange and disappointing it was to realize how maybe I had never really known her.

It's hard to look at a portrait and not recognize anyone. By this I don't mean a literal sort of recognition, but a more fluid one. The photograph above looks like no one I have ever known, but I recognize her middle-parted long brittle hair and her wide thin-lipped smile. I also recognize the tautness of the elastic bands holding the picture in place and the sandy feeling of the paper undergoing slow decay. This may be a visual relationship that is impossible to articulate through small black marching text-- this recognition of someone who isn't anyone.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

pity p(art)y

I'm putting together a show in the small room at the PLAySPACE of pity jars, all kinds.
Here's the open call:

We want to talk about pity.

Open call for philanthopic investors, environmental worry-warts, self-invested whiners, charities of all shapes and sizes. In the current economic crisis, the concept of need is being swiftly reevaluated. This is an opportunity to investigate pity as a vehicle by which need gets attention. It will occur in the small room of PLAySPACE simultaneously with a show about Bling. Both shows are invested in a complication of need outside of material value. See attached pictures for general concept.

Here's what you can do to get involved.

1)Think about something that you think deserves pity (ie. your loan-ravaged future, the fish in FIShSPACE, the ozone layer, Hillary Clinton, MFA students in wheelchairs named Doron)
2) Write a testimonial plea for this something, describe your compassion, convince us of its need.
3) Find a jar
4) Tape testimony to an appropriate-sized jar (what does 'appropriate' mean? I guess it depends on how much pity you're expecting)
5) drop off in Mara's studio (Hooper 3, #6)
6) bring spare change to the opening

Every cent counts! All donations, no matter how meager, will be distributed to their appropriate reci-pity-ent when the space gets deinstalled. We'll also set up a pity-jar construction table at the event. If you have extra jars, pull 'em out of your recycling bin and bring them to CCA! Out-of-state participants can send their testimonials to my home address and we'll find a jar for it. Oh, and you can make as many as you want. The concept was born recently, so it's still getting figured out. Write to me with questions or concerns, tell me what you think about need, and together we'll try to figure out what it means.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mules, glorious mules

Above: Ben Black and Buster Brown, Milton Burro

male donkey (jack) + female horse (mare)= "mule"
female donkey(jenny) + male horse(stallion)= "hinney"

the rare fertile female mule= "molly"
there are no recorded cases of male mule fertility

Common colors are sorrel, bay, bay-brown, black, and grey. Less common are white, roans (both blue and red), palomino, dun, bright-bay, piebald, appaloosa and buckskin. Least common are paint mules or tobianos.

Geldings are male equestrian animals that have been castrated. It is important for mules to be gelded since they are extremely active sexually. Even after gelding, they remain sexually active, especially when not working.

Mules exhibit a higher cognitive intelligence than their parent species - horses and donkeys. This is believed to be the result of hybrid vigour, similar to how mules acquire greater height and endurance than either parents.

Mules are highly intelligent. They tend to be curious by nature. A mule generally will not let the rider put it in harm's way. However, the stereotype of the mule as being stubborn is somewhat unfair and inaccurate.

Mules come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from minis under 50 pounds to maxis over 1000 pounds.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

jill and jane, buster and jim

I'm going to start doing some small fun watercolors of mule pairs. Mules, in case you don't know, are the children of mixed parents-- one horse and one donkey. This means they have a weird number of chromosomes, making it nearly impossible for them to have babies. I say nearly because sometimes they do, and when they do their farmers write blog entries about the pregnancy with a passion equal to the church pageant rendition of the Immaculate Conception. When mules are paired for draught they're usually paired with their own gender, and they get named the most adorable couple names ever-- like Ben Black and Buster Brown. So then they live on a farm with their same-sex partner, eating and working-- it's a like a rural Boston marriage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


What does it mean to belong? Objects belong to people. People belong to people. People and identities belong to one another. I have always been interested in the relation between people and the things they owned. But this became complicated when I started thinking about ownership in relation to memory, history and human mortality. The question is simple: Who and what are we for? The answer takes longer consideration. Robert Olen Butler wrote that all good stories have characters who yearn. I think that this yearning is the same thing as longing, and I think that what we are yearning and longing for is the feeling of belonging, because to belong is to exist among others and to own things is to exist in the world.

love happens

A few days late, but nevertheless appreciated. My mother sent this picture to me today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Remember to remember.

I'm going to write a book this summer. It's funny to tell people "I'm going to write a book this summer," because that makes it sound like its not a big deal and that I'm a seasoned writer. I'm not. The longest thing I've ever written was a really horrible paper about educational strategies in museums. It was 18 pages long. But anyways-- I'm going to write abook this summer! And here's what it will be about:
grief as a vehicle of self-knowledge
temporality of photographs
memory as evidence
identity narrative and performativity
queer time and space
ownership, responsibility and mattering
family and inheritance
loneliness and home
drawing as storytelling
quilting as collection


Two months have passed since I finished this drawing for the first time. I finished this second incarnation this morning before coming to work at 9:25 am. I feel pretty good about it and am thinking about how it will help me organize different focuses of work this year for my open studios layout in the beginning of April.

Monday, February 16, 2009

we come undone

I made this drawing last week and finished it yesterday. I had been drawing from a picture of the screens in the windows above the couches in the living room of my parents home in Ithaca, NY. During the summer, when these windows are open, the cats perch up onto the back of the couch and dig their claws into it as if they're going to get somewhere.

So basically, I've made another drawing of another ruined thing. This past weekend I read some Judith Butler for my Queer Theory class in which she writes how grief enables us to consider and respect one another. She suggests that we only understand some of our relationships with people once we are grieving them-- as if grief is an emotional window to climb through in order to get somewhere. I'm considering this.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Summer, 2005

These pictures are all from the same moody summer between my junior and senior year. I was focused on being as alone as possible, nestled in a craigslist apartment of strangers between Porter and Davis Square in Boston. I took a lot of walks, a lot of pictures and a lot of naps in a "bedroom" that was, in the winter, a porch.

Friday, February 13, 2009


It was sunny today, so I took pictures of my work and submitted some pieces to the upcoming THREADS show, part of the National Queer Art Festival in June. I'm still so incredibly ill, but on the upswing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Drive carefully

A lot of my peers, eerily, have been getting into bicycle/car accidents. Doron has been wheeling around in a wheelchair for two weeks and I overheard 4 people in my drawing practicum talk about their own collisions, which all occured in the past year. I got hit by a car once, my senior year of college. I was biking back to school to take a midterm for Clare Rogan's History of Prints class after working at Robin Price's bookpress for the morning. I got sideswiped and clipped and I wiped myself all over the parking lot of a Shell station. I was lucky enough to just get some really bad scratches but I couldn't stop crying because it had been so scary. The worst part is that the guy who hit me was an illegal immigrant with no license, no car insurance and a small baby in the back seat. I remember calling Clare Rogan, sobbing, to ask if I could be excused for the day from taking my midterm (god, college was so weird!). I'm trying to drive more carefully these days on a lot of different levels, but sometimes it's so hard to go slowly when I'm just trying to keep up with everything else.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

do's and dont's

Some suggestions from Anna Whitehead.

big bad wolf

James Gobel and I met today and he said to me, "Mara, sometimes I can't really figure out if you're way ahead of the art world or way behind." I started laughing and he backpedaled, "No no-- I mean-- that's a good thing... I think."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

emergency exit

I messed around in my drawing practicum yesterday and started drawing textures from the pictures I took in Ithaca when I was home for Christmas. I'm exhausted today after almost pulling an all-nighter at the studio last night. I had gone home early and was in bed by 10, but was so sick and uncomfortable that I couldn't fall asleep. A couple of times I came close and actually started choking because my throat was so swollen that I couldn't breathe if my head wasn't propped just so. So at 11:30pm I got on my bicycle, biked to the grocery store and bought a gallon of orange juice and 3 cans of Chicken and Stars soup and returned to CCA. Surprisingly, I didn't even run out of steam until around 5:30am this morning-- got a lot of drawing done, listened to a lot of music and wrote a lot of emails I've been meaning to get around to. I fell asleep on a couch around 6:30am and woke up at 8:00am. I don't know why this posting has turned into such a confession/digression-- maybe to prove how tough I am? Really, I just want someone to be taking care of me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Great Wall of Love Letters

Tonight was the opening of a show I have a drawing and some love letters in called Sweet and Matchless, curated by my friends/peers Elisheva Biernoff and Adrienne Skye Roberts. I didn't really think much about what it meant to be submitting them when I submitted them, and by the time I second-guessed myself it seemed too late to ask for them back. The second-guessing included questions like: Why do I even still have these? What does it mean to be showing something that was once to personal to a public audience? Do I owe the authors notification of their unknowledgeable participation? I guess I wasn't really sure who some of these letters belong to now, years after their emotional wells went dry. And I guess some of the wells aren't even that dry at all.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

hard work & tough love

I went to a panel conversation on Friday between Ted Purves and Randall Szott, called "Let's Talk About Love: How to Succeed in Art Without Really Trying" which turned out to be a depressing way to slide into the weekend. Their conversation basically digressed as follows: Artists work really hard. Who are they working for? They are working for the art market. Their art-making is a job. Jobs aren't fun or expressive. What's the opposite of a job? Leisure is. So is love. You do what you love in your leisure. Leisure is free-time and relaxing. You cannot make art for an art-market simultaneously with leisure. You cannot love your job. So the best kind of art is when you don't try. The best kind of art might not even be art. Art is made to serve a purpose. Leisure is time spent without purpose. Therefore art cannot be genuine. Only leisure is genuine. (and on and on and on)

So somewhere in there I became pretty disgusted because, well, my work is all about love and I love to do my work. Apparently Randall Szott went to grad school for two years and intentionally made nothing during this time. I kept raising my hand because I wanted him to talk more about the intersections about love and work, especially within the context of CCA, which was founded as a craft school. I also wanted to know if he thought a woman or a non-white person could get away with going to grad school and making nothing. To his credit, he kept denying claims that he was an artist and that he was making art by making nothing. I guess, in some twisted sort of way, I found what he was saying funny because he was self-deprecating. But I think that what I was feeling was just a reflection of the recent unfortunate excitement over contemporary white bad-boy artists who make art that is poorly made and poorly concieved-- as if apathy was the smartest thing ever. It is not. People have been apathetic in America generations-- as a graduate of small Ne England liberal arts college, I have met many of them.

Ironically, I had brought a small drawing to work on while I was there, and wound up leaving early because I found the conversation distracting from what I was doing. I'm not sure if a white guy with a college and masters degree should be able to talk to a room full of students about leisure without talking about his race and gender and how they afford him that opportunity. I grew up in a middle-class white family, and accredit the ease of continuing my education to that upbringing. I also witness my parents struggle over their finances and work really hard in order to make everything possible. I think a big part of my work ethic is this insurgent feeling of guilt-- that I owe something to my family, my community, my world in return for the luck I've been afforded so far. I question this guilt sometimes, but for now it keeps me going.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

lost in translation

A new friend, Claire Kessler-Bradner, went to the same college as me (though we never met-- she was a senior when I was a wee freshman) and now we are enrolled in the same graduate program together. We also make very different art about very similar subjects: grieving, family, home, love, community, identity. Our fathers are both editors, too. A couple of weeks ago Claire told me that her father has a theory that the concept of a perfect translation is impossible-- that there is no way to translate a text without losing nuances and motives of the original. Her father translates poems and texts, while my father edits ecological manuscripts, so I hadn't really thought of editing as a process of loss, but more as a process of bettering and a pursuit of coherency.

I realized, that to some extent, even the translation I practice daily, of the visual torrent in my head to a coherent one on paper, is fraught with inevitable failure too. I can never make things look as I see them in my head, just as I can never tell a story exactly how it happened. But of course, I'm talking about a failure without the negative baggage the word generally implies-- failures, I'm learning over and over again, are critical to the process of learning. I recognize that this is probably reading like some sort of silly art-school epiphany. The concept is really quite simple: there exists a divergence between reality (the subjective lens) and truth (the objective lens).
I love these pictures-- two of many chemically distorted Polaroid images in my collection. Polaroid has discontinued their film, and a small company in Germany (I hear) has publicly promised to pick up the films manufacture. I like how the ruin of these prints simultaneously frames and confuses the composition. Also, the colors of those stains are just really rich and lovely and early 1980's-- chemical hazels and violets like you see when car oil floats in rain puddles.

Friday, February 6, 2009

my words, my weft

I made this today. I'm thinking about making pillows.

coming soon: Sweet and Matchless

I have a piece and some love letters in this show at the PLAySPACE (@ CCA, 1111 8th St., SF, CA), opening thiscoming Monday, 6-9pm. I, however, will only be making my cameo appearance after 8pm, since the CCA queer aesthetics syposium is scheduled at the same time (with Cheryl Dunye! and Susan Stryker!).

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I'm thinking about starting some drawings, of literal baggage. Let me know if this has been done before, because if it has, I ain't interested. Two months until Open Studios, let the countdown begin.

red rubber ball

This morning while biking to school a melon-sized red ball flew over a fence into the road and I stopped to pick it up. I have no idea how these small pipsqueak 3 1/2 foot tall children managed to propel this ball over the 18 foot chain link fence between them and I, and I was reluctant to throw it back to them-- I knew that I wasn't going to make it the first time. The only other person on the sidewalk was an older woman, hunched over and carrying a newspaper. I asked the kids, "Okaaaaaay, are you ready?" and they all said, "YES! YES! YES!" So I threw it really high but not quite far enough-- it may not have even touched the fence before whistling back down and landing 4 feet away from where I was standing. So the next time I put my bike down on the sidewalk, really wound up and slung it over my shoulder. I was pretty determined this time-- at this point the entire morning recess gang was watching the spectacle of this white girl in a yellow helmet, throwing. And I made it. The small older woman yelled "What do you say to the nice lady kids?" but they were already chasing down my poorly directed throw. I told her, "Oh, they don't need to say anything-- that's probably the most important thing I'll do all day."

I met with Tammy Rae Carland for the first time today and we looked through my photographs from Colma-- I still don't know what I'm going to do with them. How do I resolve the feeling that digital photographs don't imply enough of my narrative or voice? How do I get over my romance with analog technology and craft to include new vocabularies with which to speak? I went to therapy this morning and Peter seemed to think that all of the questions I was asking were "very interesting" but couldn't help figure out answers to them. I'm so frustrated with the noise of working in building with so many other people-- it's hard to really feel alone enough, even when I'm being by myself. When I first saw San Francisco from afar, a little over a year ago with Holly when I was visiting CCA, I was dismayed by how it looked. I told her that it looked like a heap of trash-- all these white angular boxes piled on top of one another. I thought it was funny then, as I guess I still do now, but am feeling antsy to find some more secrets outside of the Mission-- maybe making a ritual of my Saturday mornings to roam around new parts of the city where I haven't been before, which is most of it. My smallest brother, Dennis, was for awhile OBSESSED with the Simon and Garfunkel song, Red Rubber Ball, which I looked up after throwing one today-- the lyrics seemed appropriately uplifting. And yes, that turned out to be the best thing I did today.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

my three sisters


My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of black obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent lady
and all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed entirely,
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea.
Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.

-Adrienne Rich

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

World Hysteries

I misspelled the word "history" while taking notes late last night for my theory class. In my sleep-deprived haze I stared at it for awhile before figuring out what was wrong with it-- and then once I did, I thought about how all the permutations of this misspelling (history/hystery/mystery/mystory) are interesting. Forgive me, it was late, as it is now, and time to hit the sack. But I like how the word "hystery" omits the his and implies the mystery. I also like how the spelling of "mystory" combines the confusion of truth with that of personal narrative.

This picture seemed appropriately historical for this post(hystorical? hysterical?), a stereograph of frosted rocks in a cave. Colter taught me how to cross my eyes so that you can get the image to pop without the special lens. The geologic subject matter of this particular image made me think of a place my father took me to once when we lived in New Jersey. After a long sticky car ride we got to a parking lot and took a trail to a big field full of boulders which had been left piled on top of one another after a glacier gave up the ghost and melted into the ground. If you climbed up onto the top of the pile and hit a hammer against boulders that were suspended above the ground only by other rocks, they would ring and hum like great big bells (this being because they were mostly comprised of iron/steel). I remember being kind of scared of this rocky field full of ringing rocks. I wonder what this place would be like now, after having been processed by my whirring hystery-making machine of a brain for 20 years.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bio is boring as is to be expected.

I went through my love notes last week to submit some to the Sweet & Matchless show about love opening at the PLAySPACE next Monday. Here is one of them, originally found in my locker in 11th grade. I'm drawing it, but larger (about 2 1/2 feet wide and tall). I've been getting all sort of conflicting feedback about it, which probably means it's a good drawing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

our enduring raggedness

Here are the last two paragraphs of Jonathan Franzen's essay, Scavenging. I read this essay today and was excited about a lot of passages-- it was hard to pick what to post. He writes about thrift and the obsolescence of objects in the same way that Solnit writes about the ruins of cities, at one point explicitly stating that, "Obsolescence is our legacy." The following section reflects in a memory in which Franzen and a friend find a decrepit wooden chair, broken and covered in plaster, on the side of the road in New York City:

After years of depression, I didn't care how forgiving of myself I sounded. I said that what mattered to me was the rescue. I could probably afford a new chair; that I prefer to live among the scavenged and reborn is my own private choice.
A sponge bath, a scrap of sturdy ash plywood from a dresser drawer abandoned at the curbside, eight scavenged brass screws to attach the plywood to the underside of the seat, and a black magic marker to mask the splatters of white paint: this is how the chair was rescued.