As a performing artist, my visual art practice is a refuge: it’s a non-performative, contemplative part of my creative life. The showing of art work may be infiltrated by performativity, but the creative process itself is free of the presence of The Internal Judges and unencumbered by outcome expectations.
I have a longstanding, decade-plus acrylic-on-canvas painting practice, and although this work is also contemplative and cathartic (sometimes shown, sometime not), the technical trappings of the process don’t provide for spontaneous creation. So, a few years ago, I started playing with the fast and wily world of watercolors as a way to get unstuck, creatively. I spread small watercolor paper pads across my kitchen table and every time I walked by, I spent thirty seconds or so, creating an impulsive, playful, uncensored, abstract watercolor. Then, I’d walk away until the next one.
This practice grew over time into many, many dozens of paintings, and ultimately, into a solo watercolor installation, audio environment and performance piece, Transparent Vulnerability, at CAMIBAart in Austin in summer of 2016. For the CAMIBA exhibit I chose the “best” works from amongst the many, many dozens of works spanning two years of practice, and curator Troy Campa choose the finals. The impulsive, playful, and uncensored work, never even meant to be seen, made its way into the world, seemingly of its own volition.
The many, many dozens of watercolors in my collection— the flotsam and jetsam of Transparent Vulnerability— are unlikely to ever be shown, but they need my care and attention, nonetheless.
I’m in the midst of organizing my home studio, partly from necessity, and partly because organizing, tending to, and readying my creative space is a form of energy movement, and are ways to keep energy flowing when I’m in-between projects or when a big performance project feels too quiet. The tending-to work, however small, however few baby-steps taken, staves off— nay— wards off, creative stuck-ness. This one-grain-of-sand-into-the-bucket-at-a-time tells Creative Self I’m listening and I’m serious.
To care for my many, many dozens of watercolors is to honor and respect their energy. This tending sends a message to Creative Self that I’m deeply respectful of the work we do together. Tending-to shows that all my artistic endeavors, no matter how I may judge them or how they’re judged by others, are deserving of my respect, honor, and gratitude.
I made several trips to Texas Art Supply to acquire the right storage means for the watercolors, and I spent an afternoon devoted to looking after these Wee Bits of Me— these ephemeral, thirty second commitments; works which stretch well beyond the two years of initial experimentation at my kitchen table.
I was delighted to discover some pieces which I thought quite beautiful but I’d previously discarded as “not good” or “not good enough.” I also found “ugly,” messy, incoherent, clumsy pieces, beautiful in their stumbling, honest, unselfconscious way.
I’ve shared a few of these secret-never-seen works, below. At first I planned to label which I felt were “ugly” and which, “beautiful,” then I decided against that... you judge or suspend your judgment...
Celebrate tonight's full moon in Leo and the penumbral eclipse!
How will you Enchant the World?
"This is our universe" (Woolf 22)
Edges where opposing worlds meet:
Sea and sky. Land and sea. Sun and cloud.
A not this
A not that
An in-;betwixt place
Voice and body
Notes on staff lift off of paper: changing states in an alchemical rush
A Something Else emerges
Virginia Woolf's The Waves haunts me (at least a little bit). Her 1931 novel came into my world when my first collaborative monodrama, Selkie premiered. Selkie is rooted in my experience of the wilds of British Columbia's Vancouver Island, and the pull of its liminal landscape where spidered rainforest fronds meet the raging Pacific, and seals bob their heads among frothy waves. Traditional stories of selkies belong to the other side of the world, to Scotland's Orkney Islands, where tales of the vulnerable half-human, half-seal creatures originated. I've since been to Isle of Skye in Scotland, the setting of The Waves. The island is stunning with it&rsquo;s remote and unfathomable expanse of beauty; it's an untamed and moving place like Vancouver Island.
Woolf&rsquo;s words connected to my Selkie libretto, firstly, in poetic ways and then more compellingly in the tragedy of Woolf's real life drowning. In a return to her novel, years after the Selkie monodrama, I began working with fragments of Woolf's text to develop a new project, This is our universe. Imagistic snippets of Woolf's words caught hold of something deeply personal, yet inarticulable and not-quite-able-to-;be-touched: a sadness? a longing? a lament? an experience of a threshold between the present and a beautiful never-was past— themes recurring in much of my work. I interspersed my words to hold her text together with mine&mdash; my voice joined with her voice in an interplay of images.
The Waves follows a group of children';s inner monologues from their carefree island play into an adult world of unexpected hardship. Stream-of-consciousness images offer scenes of singular, fleeting moments of everyday life. The world of The Waves feels mundane, magical, and simultaneously starkly important and painfully trivial, as it unfolds in sunlight and shadow: little bare feet running on sand and backs pressed to grass, "if we curl up close, we can sit under the canopy of the currant leaves and watch the censers swing. This is our universe" (22).
I experience the same mundane-sacred and ephemeral quality in the music-making and devised, semi-;improvised, collaborative process of the live/not-live performances of This is our universe. As musicians, we touch each others' sounds, like a wash of pigment sprayed cross paper and absorbed in unexpected curves and forms: bow on strings, fingers on keys, notes loosen from instruments, and breath low in the belly vibrates membranes in connection and response. Piano. Double bass. My voice, my words, Woolf's words. We are three (Virginia makes four), "ever translucent" (my words, not her's) to each other: "even my body now lets the light through" (45).
I reach back to 1931 and s Woolf reaches forward, nearly one hundred years later. We combine to make something new, surprising, precious, and un-repeatable.
Woolf, Virginia. The Waves. 1931. 20th Century Fiction Series. Edinburgh: Capercaille Books, 2012.
Notes from the Mat
I like hanging out with MaryBeth Smith, she's a master educator, nurturing supporter, and her energy exudes insight. She teaches the movement modality, the Feldenkrais Method (she is also the director of The Feldenkrais Center of Houston).
Feldenkrais. Funny word. If you clicked that link, it'll tell you (a lot!) more. Feldenkrais, among other things, is an awareness development tool rooted in somatic practice. Intrigued?
Recently, I attended one of MaryBeth's group Feldenkrais classes, and afterward, as always, my body felt long and light, and the work filled me with ideas and insights.
On the Physical Plane
Creating a mental picture of the body is an integral element of the work. I love Feldenkrais body scans. Each class begins laying supine on the mat and taking time to note how my body rests on the floor. What parts are touching? What parts are away from the floor? What's going on with my feet? My calves? My low back? Shoulders? My neck? What feels heavy? Light? What feels clear? What seems ambiguous? This mental image is one potential map of the body.
The lesson continues with additional movement suggestions, including incremental, small movements to bring attention to the body. For this lesson, on all fours with my hands in fists, my arm bones acting as pillars from shoulder wrist. My knees are under my hips. It takes a few slow moments to arrange myself, eyes open, eyes closed, so that the picture in my head of what I&rsquo;m doing resembles what my body is actually doing in physical space. (Intention is everything!). I continue to work with small movements that shift my weight from my knees to my hands: from right hand to left hand, from right knee to left knee, from left knee to right hand, and so on. In between sets of the micro movements, I rest on my back and see if and/or how the experience of my body laying the mat has changed.
My favorite part of a Feldenkrais class is the final mental after picture of my body as I rest, supine, starred-out, on the mat. I feel more fully in contact with the floor, my body feels held by gravity and spacious. When I bring myself to standing, I feel long, light, and effortless. The support of my skeleton feels solid and flexible.
Marybeth suggests the idea of my skeleton. Wow! I have a skeleton and I never even think about it! My internal structure. My Eiffel Tower! I spend a lot of time committed to my fitness routine, focussed on my musculature. When I include my skeleton in experience, my body radically transforms. I feel stable and supported from within. I'm not armored against exterior forces, but supported by inner solidity.
What else is available to me that I'm excluding from my life? What do I exclude that I'm unaware of? What do I willfully exclude? What am I unaware of that I might integrate? What am I resistant to incorporate?
There is a richness in my life experiences that I will miss if I parcel out, or section off, what I've decided doesn't "belong"?
What if all of me "belonged"?
Awareness is central to many, if not all, wisdom traditions. I've spent a good deal of time on the yoga and mediation mat developing breath and body awareness, watching my thoughts float by and bringing that quality of attention into my daily activities. The cultivation of awareness quiets habitual inner narratives. What is habitual for me? What are my got-to patterns?— not only in my body, but my mind? When my mind drifts, to what thoughts and stories does it attach? What do I tell myself about myself, about others, and the world?
I started this Feldenkrais lesson by simply and gently shifting my weight on hands and knees. In standing, I felt an expansion and a weightless length to my spine. As good as my body feels off the mat, the work of Feldenkrais leads to ideas, to the ever-opening awareness of broader and boundless possibilities.
As MaryBeth might say, "Change one thing and everything changes."
The Captured Goddess a poem by Amy Lowell (1914)
Over the housetops,
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
At the far end of a dusty street.
Through sheeted rain
Has come a lustre of crimson,
And I have watched moonbeams
Hushed by a film of palest green.
It was her wings,
Who stepped over the clouds,
And laid her rainbow feathers
Aslant on the currents of the air.
I followed her for long,
With gazing eyes and stumbling feet.
I cared not where she led me,
My eyes were full of colors:
Saffrons, rubies, the yellows of beryls,
And the indigo-blue of quartz
Flights of rose, layers of chrysoprase,
Points of orange, spirals of vermilion,
The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals,
The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas.
And watched for the flashing of her wings.
In the city I found her,
The narrow-streeted city.
In the market-place I came upon her,
Bound and trembling.
Her fluted wings were fastened to her sides with cords,
She was naked and cold,
For that day the wind blew
Men chaffered for her,
They bargained in silver and gold,
In copper, in wheat,
And called their bids across the market-place.
The Goddess wept.
Hiding my face I fled,
And the grey wind hissed behind me,
Along the narrow streets.
Amy Lowell (1874 - 1925)
Fiery flames and smoldering vapor plumes
Wildflowers and wild grasses
An elemental goddess at the mercy of humankind
American poet Amy Lowell's 1914 prescient and haunting poem, The Captured Goddess, is told through intense imagery: from Houston's Memorial Drive wildflowers to the blazing flares and glowing smoke plumes of our city's ship channel. A seven minute mini-opera, The Captured Goddess illuminates contemporary urban life and our ever-pressing forward, ever-changing world.
Music by Dominick DiOrio
Misha Penton, soprano
Meredith Harris, viola
Kyle Evans, piano
Toni Valle, dancer and choreographer
Misha Penton, director
Raul Casares, director of photography
Cliff Davis, editor
Audio recorded by Todd Hulslander at The Geary Performance Studio, Houston Public Media
An experimental voicescape work: a setting of the luscious poetry of Petra Kuppers recently published in [PANK] Magazine; my audio is the second audio link on the page, with other audios being Petra reading her work.
I'm pleased as punch to lend my singing to this beautiful piece.
"Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities. We must share in other peoples' suffering; even if you cannot help with money, to show concern, to give moral support and express sympathy are themselves valuable. This is what should be the basis of activities; whether one calls it religion or not does not matter [so much].”— Dalai Lama XIV. Kindness, Clarity, and Insight.
ravens & radishes is an operatic song cycle composed by George Heathco. George set some of my re-tellings and re-imaginings of fairytale poetry to music for soprano, electric guitar and cello.
We wrapped up a thrilling world premiere performance on April 27, 2014. Many thanks to all the wonderful friends and supporters who shared the experience with us.
The project launched nearly two years ago and has culminated in a music video and digital recording release (as well as the live concert).