Monday, March 30, 2009


Not my picture, or even a good one-- but this is the research I've been doing today trying to figure out what these drawings of backdrop coloration are going to look like. I remember getting the order form during the first week of school and strategizing with Emma Baratta, Melanie Flynn and Katie McNally (we walked home together) over what backdrop each of us most identified with. We understood and were constantly reminded by our parents who paid for them and our teachers who oversaw them that these pictures would be published, making them permanent and how we would be remembered. Ultimately, my mother always checked the "Traditional Blue" box despite my excessive pleading. I'm painting these backgrounds on vertical ovals about the size of a human head-- essentially they will look like portraits of portrait backgrounds.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shrines of Remembrance

I found a slide projector in the back storage of the media center that has a timer feature so that the carousel will automatically forward every 5/8/15 seconds. I've started sorting out a slide show that will be just for Open Studios (next Sunday, April 5th, 12-5pm) featuring cropped and underexposed images, pictures of signs, and slides that fall under the category "The Good Life." I remembered the slide in the image posted, one I was given by Danny Toman, an old housemate. It's of this structure in Australia that serves as a war memorial and monument for peace. The actual image isn't actually very good-- the memorial is back lit, the colors dark and ambiguous-- but the reason I like it is for the handwritten title, "Shrine of Remembrance." The act of picture-taking is motivated by the pursuit of constructing some sort of shrine of remembrance, to record how things are so we can someday look at images of how things were. I'm under the impression that almost all actions are probably motivated by some sort of internal awareness of ones own mortality, and think that maybe all productions (and most certainly art-making!) can be read as a form of shrine construction.

Friday, March 27, 2009

ask for help

Oh gosh! I keep forgetting to report this-- I finally finished A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, which took me 2 1/2 months to finish. This is remarkable because the book is only a 150 page paperback. I got lost somewhere in the middle when school started, which seemed like an appropriate transformation for a book by this title, but actually was the result of some wordy and ambiguous text that I wasn't finding myself particularly moved by. And then classes and work started up again. But I got pulled back in the end-- with a story about a blind man who walked the streets selling chocolates, stopping at every street corner to yell out "Help! Help!" until someone would help him cross the road. I'm abbreviating a story which went on for pages and pages, so perhaps the life metaphor is missing from my description, which is essentially "keep going and ask for help."

some other Shapes

Above, a photograph by Cuban artist Glenda Leon titled Every Flower is a Shape of Time (2001) in which the bows from women's lingerie have been recontextualized. Below, a diagram of the shape of time I found at the business website of a professional hypnotist. I read an art historical text as a college freshman by the same title, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things by George Kubler, which was apparently written during his self-committed residency at an insane asylum. I'm thinking about doing some big diagrammatic drawings of the shape of time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

submission submitted

Here's the text for a recent award submission I handed in today:

Since arriving at CCA to begin work towards my MFA I have initiated a series of projects which use drawing as a vehicle to tell personal stories and initiate conversations about family, home, memory, history, loneliness and mortality. I like how the choice of drawing a specific object or idea invites interrogation of what is missing, a question of how to render the truth in a subjective and objective world. This dichotomy reflects my understanding of identity-- that we are equally shaped by all the things we are as all the things that we are not. In this same way, stories are told with intentional omissions, choice implies the possibility of multiple truths, one of my drawings exists only in contrast to the shape of white paper around it, and existence is contingent upon the ability to be lost or absent. I’m interested in objects and histories that speak of the tension between simultaneous absence and presence, as evident in the wear and breakdown of belongings, the fading and reinterpretation of memory and the conflicting truths of contemporary and historical experience.

The works selected for this submission were executed in the past two months and represent continuing commitment and investigation of three ongoing series. To Have and To Hold reexamines objects by straying from the truth of their source to incorporate personal narrative, emotion and association. This fictionalization of objects invites speculation over the verisimilitude of representational drawing and the fallibility of memory. Similarly deviant in strategy, drawings in the series Instant Relatives use a collection of anonymous school portraits as source material, but estrange the photographic image from the physicality of the photograph. This dissection is achieved, in various ways, through manipulative rendering of the photographs to exclude the specificity and biography of the human face. Drawings in the series, Proof we were there, seek to address the false immortality of photography. In the four pieces chosen, photographs of formal portraits taken in the staged interiors of photography studios were rendered without their posed subjects.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

series of series

I'm working towards a few different deadlines, so I'll keep it short. I'm turning the image above into a card for open studios and I've divided my work into three separate projects, each with a title: To Have and To Hold, Instant Relatives, and Proof We Were There.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

is bigger better?

Someone at school had an extra slide carousel they weren't using so I finally got to project some of the slides I've been holding aside and see what they really look like. Here are some of my favorites from the cropped and obscured ones. Yesterday in one of my classes an artist named Steve Hurd came up from LA to talk to us. I met with him after class to talk about the things I'm working on, since he uses photographic material and projection to make his paintings. His paintings, however, and unlike my drawings, are HUGE and AMAZING. They made my drawings seem piddly and small. He reacted the most positively to my drawings of textiles and the backs of photographs, but not very well to the smaller drawings I've been working on recently. He said he didn't like them because there weren't entry ways by which a person could really get into them. I interpret what he said into "bigger is better." It just might be true. I might just have to go there.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

handsome places

I'm crushing on the foil insignias that photographer's studios used to put on border of their prints. I like how they manage to be both subtle and heroic at the same time, each one printed with a defining flourished script, sometimes gilt or inlaid with paint. Of course, what I'm really crushing on is a form of advertisement, but this form of branding seems less like big-box labeling and more like individual authorship-- I especially like when the photographer includes their own name, or chooses to also print their address, city and state. It would be interesting to track these places down and see what has come of these building that used to house these false interiors. I have been thinking a lot about these fake rooms with their show-offy back drops and handsome furniture and how hundreds of people probably had their photographs taken in each of these settings. These fantastical rooms with their opulent wall hangings, false windows and strategically placed furniture serve to frame a person standing within them. In this way they are some sort of non-space or fantasy space, where ornate rugs represent the opulent lives their patrons hope to achieve and be outlived by, and the sturdy furniture replicate the photographers attempt to freeze the fleeting moment of a persons life into a single and unchanging picture frame.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

beds in many places

I've always had feelings for the places I sleep. This is the reason why I had to move out of my old house, where I was sleeping on a twin size mattress which rested upon a full-size futon frame-- there was nothing to be proud of, and neither of those mismatched components belonged to me. I moved into my new house with Susan and Erin and got a bed frame for free off craigslist and a mattress from Ikea and had my first real bed in San Francisco. It wasn't the pricetag that made them mine as much as the dramatic selection process at Ikea (thanks to the patience of my dear friend, Georgia), the hour it took me to get the bed frame together and the configuring of the bed in my new small room so that I could still access the closet and open the door to the hallway.

In college I did a small drawing project for Leslie Snipes for which I drew each of the beds I had slept in or had played monumental parts in the history of my sleep-- which is saying a lot since we are asleep for 30% of our lives. So I drew my crib, the mini-bed I slept on from when I was 2 until I was 5, the bed with drawers underneath that I slept on from when I was 5 until I was 6, my first box spring bed that I slept on from when I was 7 until I was 12, my first full size bed I slept on all through middleschool and highschool, my reversion back to twin-bed status for the first two years of college, the first bed I bought myself the summer before my junior year. And then of course Beccas bed, Tims bed, and my parents' bed (which I drew twice because my parents sleep at different times of the day).

It was a good project, and I've been thinking about how I might reinvestigate it, maybe by making quilts from those drawings and adding all the beds I've slept in since then. It will be interesting to go through the process of figuring out which ones deserve the status of having been "monumental" and which ones do not. It may have been easier then because most of those beds had been attained through circumstance and not by choice. Since college I've moved eight times and have slept in countless subletted beds and ones of short-lived affairs. This past week was the first time in San Francisco that I let myself sleep in until the afternoon and saw how my room looks during the day, like in this picture. It was lovely, and I predict a long-term relationship unfolding.

Lonely drawings

Friday, March 20, 2009


It's true that today is this blogs half-birthday. It's also true that I looked this up a month ago and wrote it down in my planner. This past week was spring break, and I spent all my days sleeping in and drawing and watching movies while I drew and not writing at all but taking care of myself. I'm glad for school to be starting again-- I've got twelve new small drawings in the works that I'm excited to to get some feedback on and a whooooooooole bunch of deadlines approaching. Last night I met up with Sally and Sean and some of their friends and we freaked out about how it's Spring Equinox already-- where have the last three months gone?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


New project in which I draw false backdrops in from photographs without the person standing in front of them. Haven't decided about drawing the frame or not.... but I'd looooooove your opinions! Spring break begins tomorrow with a weekend of birthday celebrations and recovery.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Two new drawings, each variations of other ones done earlier this semester.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

in which we learn that there is west and east everywhere

After work in Oakland today I went to Emeryville to reconnect with Devon, Kit and Taylor from my time in Vermont last summer at Farm and Wilderness. We beat the sunset to the Albany Bulb, a tract of land next to the Bay that is simultaneously a wild nature preserve and strewn with urban wreckage. We watched the sun set towards the west behind San Francisco and the distant Golden Gate bridge and then frolicked amongst the huge pieces of drift wood and ship steel which had been refashioned into postapocalyptic sculptures of giant people and their animal friends. The moon was close to the ground towards the east, huge and almost a goldenrod yellow. When we came around the northern point of the park it was framed by the hands of huge steel woman who looked to be holding it in the sky. It was one of those moments that we could recognize even in the moment how lucky we were to witness it. Within minutes the moon had lifted above the horizon and hovered above those strong hands, small, bright and white. If we hadn't seen it moments before, it would have been unclear if she was throwing or catching it.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I'm staying up tonight to work on this drawing of shadows so that the lighting is consistent. When I was in college I NEVER stayed up all night, because I was an athlete and because that would have been nuts. This is the second I've pulled and I kind of like it. Conrad and Matt (my studio neighbors) are here too and it feels like some sort of secret society.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

shapes of time

When my grandmother died all of a sudden I realized that she had once been a child like me. I was put in charge of picking out pictures from her childhood for a poster on display at her memorial service. What was amazing about this experience was that my grandmother was herself a prolific scrapbooker and had always taken a particular and somewhat peculiar delight in showing us her archive of things that happened to us not even so long ago. To some extent, scrapbooks of our own lifetimes seemed strange-- while they were meant to help us remember, they encouraged a performative crafting of the part of the scrapbooker (my grandmother) to divert and direct how that memory would be remembered. We remembered, but only within the narrative deemed acceptable by my Midwestern republican granny. And I only ever saw family pictures since my father's birth-- an omission on my grandmothers behalf that seemed to imply that my story did not include hers because we were not nuclearly related.

My grandmother started scrapbooking after my father and uncle went to college when she and my grandfather began the onslaught of senior traveling adventures with other older couples like them. Her notes on these trips (aided by newer/faster/cheaper/simpler photo-taking) are exhaustive. When she started scrapbooking she simultaneously began a record of how things were playing out and how things were long ago. Maybe I'm not making it clear how interesting that is.... let's say she was 50 when she started scrapbooking. At the same time she was recording Age 50 and Onwards, she also began a scrapbook beginning with her wedding and my father's birth (Age 25 to 50). In both she worked in chronological order, but her vocabulary changed, a change that reflected her memory (for example, a memory-based caption of a photo would state "Easter, 1953" as opposed to a contemporary one, which would be more like "Easter, April 18, 1976, in the morning at home. The boys are at college." She also started scrapbooks that begin with her birth (Age 0 to 25) and other scrapbooks about her parents marriage (Age -3 to 0). She also made scrapbooks about my grandfathers childhood, a man she didn't meet until the first quarter of his life had already passed.

It gets even more interesting. Mimi, encouraged by the fixation my great aunt Jean (her sister-in-law) has with geneology, started investigating in her own family heritage and history by, surprise surprise, scrapbooking about it. But because she was scrapbooking about a time she wasn't alive for, and about people she may have not even met, or even have been directly related to, the approach of the narrative is less nostalgic and archival and rather, more sleuthy and analytical. Unlike with her scrapbooks from her own lifetime, the "scraps" of these older scrapbooks were not chosen to tell the story, the scraps were the story-- they were all my grandmother had. These scrapbooks are really interesting because she built them by simultaneously going backwards in time (the investigation) and forwards in chronology (the storytelling). How is that even possible? The obvious dilemma here seems to be, how does someone determine when their story begins and when it ends? Does the story of my life begin with my birth? Does it begin when my parents met? When my parents were born? When my grandparents met? And of course, when does my story end? With my death, with the death of my children? With their children? What if I don't have children?

I think this is why my project is so muddled right now, because like my grandmother attempted with her scrapbooks, I'm telling a story simultaneously forwards and backwards, a story about both family and strangers. I think this is turning into an exercise about how I understand the shape of time. Is it an infinite thread, an expanding balloon, a jumbled pile, a chapter book, an oceanic wave, or something else entirely? Perhaps time has a shape of its own-- it is shaped like time? The pictures of my grandmother as a child were lovely. I loved them. I made color photocopies of them and my father voiced concern that I would lose track of them in my collection of anonymous photographs. I pointed out to him that I had never even seen these photographs before, and my grandmother as a child was a stranger to me. But to some extent he was right too... now that I know that the person in these pictures is related to me it seems to make them different. She looks like me. The knowing changes what this means.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I met with Kate and Tammy Rae on Wednesday, had therapy and a critique on Thursday and met with Colter yesterday. It was a deluge of advice after having gone for a long time just doing my own thing. My concerns about my practice are pretty widely spread-- I'm surprised how little I've ventured outside of drawing as a medium, though I think I still have a lot to learn and try still. I'd like to figure out ways to work with photography and film and sculpture as a way to investigate ideas past where drawing might fall short.

I'm also concerned about the commodity of 2-dimensional art and was shaken by the Holland Cotter article, "The Art Boom is Over: Long Live the Art!", which my mother sent me in the mail. I realized that the format in which I have been working has been unconsciously driven by a capitalist vocabulary-- drawings with borders that aren't too big, with pristine and archival paper, which can stand alone from the others (read: be bought, framed and put in someones home). This realization was sort of like the epiphany of realizing that you don't have to go to bed at a certain time or that you don't like wearing a certain style or piece of clothing, but that you always just have because it's what everyone else was doing and it seemed to make sense.

I'm really excited by the work of some of the students here-- there are a few people who are stumbling across really new ideas and methods and I feel so lucky to be able to see how they derive and activate these transformations. Spring Break is coming up in a week and I am excited to be here and working on things with some punctuative ventures out of the city-- maybe up to Portland, or to visit some farms to the south (there's a huge organic peach farm about an hour south of the city that I'd like to go see and a mule farm further down near Santa Barbara).

I picked this photograph for today because I thought "the road trip" seemed like a good summary of what I need to do within my practice and outside of the city. When I was scanning in the photograph, I was surprised by the simple caption on the back, oddly poetic:

My house used to stand at this spot when I was a child. (Mom)
Jim Falls, Wis.
Sept. 1978

Friday, March 6, 2009

pity, pity.

Here's the label I made for my jar at the Pity P(art)y, which opens on Monday and will be up through the rest of this March.

My name is Mara Baldwin and while the idea for this show was mine, little else has been deeply considered by me because of my complete disinterest in following through with this project and my recent ambivalence towards art in general. I apologize in advance for it’s shotty outcome despite the fact that I take no responsibility for however pathetically it may have turned out. When I was getting ready for grad school, I envisioned big things for myself, not crapshoot displays of “creativity” like this one. It seemed that all my ideas would be great just because I was spending the 30,000 dollars of tuition and 80 hours a week in my studio. I realized, sometime in December, that I’ve accomplished surprisingly little in my time here. I resolved that if I started getting involved with things outside of my studio production that I would make more friends and maybe even meet “that special someone.” A couple of months ago I told Justin (one of the organizers of PLAySPACE) about an idea for a show I had. I thought it might be interesting to do a show called Instant Relatives, a show bringing together artists whose work focuses on the anonymous family snapshot with the idea that a photograph of stranger can feel like someone very familiar. Time passed, and then a couple of weeks ago Justin asked if I still wanted to do it. I said there wasn’t enough time to pull it together. He said he thought there was. Somehow it was assumed that I really wanted to put something together. I didn’t. Then it was 2 weeks before the show and Justin, curiously, was still holding a place for me in the upcoming PLAySPACE show and seemed to imply that he was depending upon me. It felt good to be depended upon, but I still didn’t want to taint the Instant Relatives idea by rushing it together, and so I came up with this idea, Pity P(art)y, inspired by the rising tide of my own self-pity in regards to this situation. I told Justin the idea, and wrote up a press blurb to advertise for it. But then no one seemed interested in making pity jars (myself included) or persuaded me that they didn’t have time to make one and I became insecure about having my name associated with something that seemed like it was going to be a big fat failure. I’m not good at convincing people to do something they don’t want to do. I’m also not good at being bad at things. I also am sympathetic for people who are stressed out by the clusterfuck of deadlines approaching, as I am too. In the last two weeks I’ve actually tried to back out of doing this show a few different times. At first my strategy was to tell Justin in passing that I didn’t think anyone wanted to do it and that it would be horrible, hoping that he would realize the gravity of the situation and would reassign the gallery space to a different and more deserving project. But he didn’t really seem to hear the panic in my voice or understand that I was totally and completely serious. Justin seems to feed off of serendipity and relying on things just coming together whereas I am a basket of nerves. I probably should have expressed these concerns to Brandon (the other PLAySPACE organizer), who seems to have a more nervous personality like me, but Brandon just doesn’t really talk to me much and I’m afraid to interrupt his silent intensity because it seems like he might explode or something. I think that also, perhaps, no one else was interested in using the space because they’re too busy working on actual projects that won’t suck like this one. So I’m still in charge of this show that I don’t even want to be associated with anymore. I probably won’t come to the opening because I have class from 12-7pm on Monday and a then a lecture that I am required to go to. At this point, it seems like the only way the Pity P(art)y can be salvaged and my pride restored is if you make a pity jar like this one for yourself or some other cause and tell me when you next see me that you think this was a good idea or that you find me blameless for how awful it turned out. I’m sorry. Every time I tell this story or one similar I’m struck by how pitiful I sound and how there seems to be so much more needy need than my own, which makes me wonder if there is some sort of celestial algorhythm to determine which needs are more important than other ones. I’m under the impression that “need” implies that you’re missing something that you once had before, and that whining is just a way of getting attention for your loss. For me, hearing about what other people need makes me feel less needy because when people talk to me, the hole of my loss starts to fill up with something else. So make a jar, and please put money in this one. My free CCA therapy sessions with Peter Silen run out the second week of April and I want to keep going, but they start being 10 bucks a pop. Thank you!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My big Little

Today, 20 years ago, my brother Willis Patrick Baldwin was squeezed into the world in Somerville, NJ. We moved into this house about 10 blocks down the street not too long later, and there we are with matching haircuts and tall white socks on the front steps, teeny tiny us.

Let's talk about this picture-- there's a lot to see and say. The Nissan, known to our family as the Denissan (my mom's name is Denise! We are so clever and funny!), is eclipsed by our family's first hedges. We never quite got a hang of how to take care of those hedges-- they always looked either really over-zealously shorn or we would allow them to ravenously grow until our first floor windows were completely eclipsed by abundant hedgery. The fancy window upstairs leads into what was my parents room-- I was always so jealous of that window. It seemed like that window should be the atmospheric gateway for the Baldwin family resident princess, clearly me. My parents resented my jealousy because that fancy window had only the smallest openings to let air in and out-- consequently, their room was like a bathhouse during the summer, while I langourously slept in front of my large (albeit, totally un-fancy) and open breezy windows. Will and I loved to pull up the dandelions and onion grass that proliferated in our yard. We dared eachother to eat small constructed salads of those small measly onions and crusty dandelion leaves, served on overturned frisbees. Delicious. Now we are both big and never do such foolish things, unless we are constucting a "garden salad" for Dennis, our 15 year old brother and officially the last Baldwin teenager standing.

like with like

Two advisor meetings today-- I am so advised. It became clear with both that I need to start thinking more about how I want different projects to relate to one another-- this requires some strategy. Kate suggested that I'm limiting myself by separating them by subject (pictures, textiles, words) and I agree. I love this picture-- it's like a mixed-media installation got lost in someone's aunts house on the Cape. And the aunt loves birds, clearly. Tomorrow I have a big crit with my Dialogues and Practices class and I'm thinking about taking everything down except the things I want to talk about. This could be good. I'll report tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Things we shouldn't talk about.

There is at least one person besides myself who will know what this picture is of. When we lived at 3525 SE Belmont, Kaitlin Gaffney and I were horrified to find that a rag that had been thrown down the laundry chute into the basement was growing long 3-4 inch long tendrils towards the small jaundiced window above the dryer. But then we let it grow bigger and took this picture to capture the freakish mold that Portland winters help cultivate. In my current San Francisco apartment, however, there have been recent mold sightings to give this furry little pile a run for its money. Our bathroom ceiling has been home to a constellation of malignant mold, stymied only by Erin and Susan's honorable attempts to bleach it out of existence. I am half-heartedly capturing these wild oscillations of mold/no-mold/mold with my camera.

I'm really interested in these moments where the domestic meets the organic-- stains, rips, residue of all sorts. In Queer Theory yesterday we talked briefly about how when we don't talk about things, we at some point become successful in erasing their memory. This is interesting to think about, especially in the urban landscape where a huge disparity exists between the people, families, buildings and neighborhoods that get attention and those that do not. I think that the intentional investigation of any sort of silence, divorced from any association with sexuality, is an inherently queer conversation. James confirmed this last week in our meeting when he looked at the towel I refabricated (see posting from last week) and said it was the queerest thing I had ever made. I thought about it over the weekend and decided that what he was saying was essentially this: queer art begins a conversation about how usefulness dictates value by questioning the scale of how value is measured, of objects, ideas, histories and people.

hey, baby.

A good friend from high school, Elizabeth Sholtys, popped one out of the oven a couple days ago and El Facebook has been TEEMING with pictures of this new small female bundle named Ariana. It would be embarrassing if she wasn't so shockingly good-looking. There was a while when I was exclusively collecting pictures of babies because I thought they were so funny-- here are just a few from my own generation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

more & more

The company just keeps getting bigger... here's a picture before I dash off to class.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Started a new drawing today, jamming out to Otis Redding. At the monster drawing rally I only drew the silhouettes of a school portrait because I knew I wouldn't have enough time to draw the actual image in less than an hour. But then I kind of like just drawing the space around them-- it seemed like a reference to shared time and spaces and history. So what was at first a strategy of cutting corners gave birth to a new investigation which I plan to exhaust. It is raining and cold in San Francisco, which seems like such a waste of California.