Almost there: Getting psyched for my very first iteration of Shared Spaces in a residency with LaGrange Art Museum in LaGrange, Georgia. I’ve been compiling a really long list of things I need to bring to this first remote Shared Spaces project, finding it a little daunting how many specific tools and supplies (more than 100!) are needed to take this project from start to finish. Remembering them all and getting them to fit into the van for my trip down to GA is going to be my first challenge.
I am going through one last run around the track, testing things out by making a piece in my studio start to finish (Shared Spaces Study #5) and trying to write down all the things I need and use to be prepared for when I am onsite. Picturing myself getting in front of a crowd, on a tight schedule, and then not having a specific tool or supply is keeping me up nights. Particularly since this project involves relief sculpture, there is often only one right way to do it, so advance planning is key.
My expectation is that each place we do a piece will have individualized differences and incorporate new objects, so I’ve been assembling suggestions gathered by the LaGrange Art Museum staff on some objects to locate, source or 3-D print in preparation for making their flag. I hope to work a few of them into today’s study. Also I’m not 100% happy with my last study- the deep waves created in the American flag necessitated deep walls in the shallower parts of the piece, which felt weak and distracting. I’m wondering whether to reduce this or to eliminate the walls entirely. Would it still look OK? These are just a few of the details that I’ve been struggling with leading into this residency.
Finally I need to figure out how to dry the finished piece on a tight schedule – I have a new compact industrial heater and I’m thinking I can place the piece below a table, cover it with a tarp making a sort of tent, and then force the hot air through with the heater and possibly also a fan. (without lighting the whole thing on fire!) In the past I’ve used my kiln for an all-day drying out, which is necessary to bring the plaster to its full strength, but I obviously won’t have that option with me on the road. In addition, the pieces I will be making going forward are bigger than any kiln I own, so I need to figure out a new way to dry the works safely.
Mid-June: The new piece without walls looks great (Shared Spaces Study #5, LaGrange) and the deeper black ink coloring in the ‘red’ stripes seems to work well. After a few failed attempts with the new industrial dryer, I’ve figured out its temperament and got the piece nicely dried out. I put the piece in the van and brought it to Georgia so people could see an example of a finished work while creating the new one. (This is important since we are making an inside-out-and-backwards mold of the piece, as we imprint our objects into moist clay. The finished piece, or right-side-out cast, is not visible until a few days later which can be a little confusing for visitors..!)
I drove two days to LaGrange, arriving just in time for the last plate of ribs at Boys Night Out up at the Cochran farm where I’ll be staying for the week. Sipped a lot of bourbon, swapped some tales and began confronting the complex reality of life in this prosperous, fairly liberal, manufacturing-oriented southern college town. How will the project make a difference here? How will it be perceived by participants? My goal is to give people an opportunity to forge a new understanding of themselves, their American experience, while also helping strengthen bonds within the community. Will it work?
June 20: Finally, Setup Day. We will be doing the actual event around the corner from the Museum, at the Cochran Collection & Gallery, which has the benefit of good foot traffic right on LaGrange’s historic Lafayette Square. Wes Cochran has been a terrific help, and I’m in awe of his and Missy’s collection, amassed over decades, perhaps the largest private collection of black American artists’ works on paper in the country, (along with a who’s who of 20th century art.) And of the deep, supportive relationships they’ve forged with black artists over the years. And also of the fact that the Gallery’s most recent show by Bruce Chefesky had just been photographed for Sculpture Magazine. No pressure here...
I worked with the Museum’s assistants to get everything moved in and set up, including building the box mold, laying in the general clay outlines of the flag so that tomorrow we’ll be able to start placing objects in it when the visitors show up. We’ve been promised a good crowd, but I fall asleep wondering what I’ll do if only 5 or 10 people show up…