Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Unsettled Landscapes, a new take on the biennial at SITE Santa Fe

I had the great experience of attending the opening festivities of the new biennial at SITE Santa Fe. This was a "radical rethinking" of the biennial model, and a rebirth for the show after a 4 year hiatus. The process of re-evaluating the biennial model was instigated with Irene Hoffman's arrival in 2010 as the new director and chief curator at SITE. With this change in leadership, there was a critical re-evaluation of the institution, and the concenus was that a change was needed in the biennial exhibition. There have been umpteen other biennials that have sprung up around the globe since the first Biennial show at SITE in 1995, and these shows have become just another venue for the commoditification of the arts. SITE's leaders wanted to find a way to create a more sustained engagement, a more art (and artist) centric, engaged platform, a furthering of research in the creative arts of our times. It was a collaborative curation, with the involvement of Janet Dees (SITE Curator of Special Projects), and two other guest curators, Candice Hopkins (from Canada) and Lucia Sanroman (from Mexico). The idea of focusing on the Western Hemisphere was hatched and the ideas for the show percolated from the artworks.  The structure of the biennial was changed into a six year process, a tri-biennial, if you will, with the next three exhibits over six years exploring the ideas behind the new title, "SITELINES; New Perspectives on Art in the Americas".
This year's theme, "Unsettled Landscapes" came from the artists' ideas, and the works, and it became apparent after much discussion and dialogue with experts and other consultants that there was a a changing idea about landscape. "Landscape is not neutral", Hopkins says, and the idea of "landscape as a form of alibi" was raised by Sanroman. There are many political and social ideas in our perceptions of landscape, including occluded histories, native issues and ongoing imperialist and colonialist issues. The curators did not want the show to be yet another colonialist gesture, and much "deep time" was spent with the works, the show and the place. This slow contemplation is balanced with the current state of urgency that is needed in the arts in all parts of the Americas. There currently may be inclusion in the art world for many artists coming from non-traditional locations, but there still needs to be an equalization across the board, an up-ending to conventions and an unsettling of ideas. This will bring the arts into the future. It's an Unsettled Landscape for sure.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fort Collins Studio Tour - Part II

Non-Object Art

I am so happy to be sharing a studio space with Loretta Cummings. She is an artist who works conceptually. "Use attention, perception and time as your art materials and the world becomes your studio," she has said. Her gallery is often found on Twitter, or nowhere, or in her own presence during the action, a moment made art, through its ritualized recognition of the action.

I remember when I met Loretta. She and I both were students of Jennie Kiessling, an amazing Front Range Community College teacher. We were enrolled in a summer session of an art appreciation class exploring contemporary art. It was a fun learning experience, with an energized group of folks, and involved much traveling around our regional area on field trips seeing lots of great art. There was much discussion about the works of contemporary artists, including Piplotti Rist, Bill Viola, Marina Abramovic, Cindy Sherman, among others. This was my first time experiencing many of these artists, and what I learned in this class still impacts my work today.

After the class was over, there was a group of us that continued to meet. Our discussions, and museum and gallery field trips were just too enjoyable to discontinue. To this day, they are my biggest resource for support and inspiration in my art practice. They are my critique group, my educational resource, and my back up. I can count on this small group of fellow artists to keep me on the right path.

I remember very clearly the first group critque session we had after the class. This is something that can be difficult to find once an artist leaves the educational institution. A good critical discussion about the work is needed if an artist is to grow and expand in their work. Needless to say, seeing Loretta's work for the first time blew my mind. (See her piece she shared with us, "Post Cleaning Me - 7 hours of not cleaning" below.)She was working in such a way that I had rarely experienced in the past. Her ideas are the work, her actions its manifestation. The objects created, or documents of the project are secondary bi-products of the work - NOT the work. This was totally new to me, but I was intrigued. I too, have my reservatons about making objects to sell. Art as commodity is not really what I am interested in. To create work and sell the work for large dollars is not why I am an artist. The art market is daft, as I have said before, and I am not very interested in it as a creator. It is the creative gesture, the expresive actions that motivate me to return to the studio.

For the Studio Tour, Loretta will be performing a new work that involves the audience, a decision and a documentation. Intrigued? This will be an opportunity to actively participate in an art work's creation, to become the medium, and express your ideas in the action. Where do your values lie? What do you value more, experiences or acquisitions? It is sure to be a sweet or rewarding experience, so stop in to our studio to experience her art for yourself. Don't delay, supplies are limited. (Download the map from the Lincoln Center website.)

Post-cleaning me – 7 hours of not cleaning
 Loretta Cummings

In this artwork I spent consecutive 7 hours not cleaning anything. From 10am to 5pm I did not pick up after anyone, even myself. I did no scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming, ironing, washing, bill paying, or financial organizing. I did not play support services to any family member.  If the phone rang and I thought that my help would be requested I did not answer it.

I wanted to induce helper mentality deprivation in myself.  What would happen if I allowed myself the sheer luxury of not feeling compelled to help anyone for a short period of time? How would I feel if I forced myself to drop that sense of “obligation to help” that defines how I unconsciously think of myself, what I regard as my reason for being here on the planet. This sense of obligation has been part of my life forever.  Every moment of every day I scan to see what I can do to make life run more smoothly for those around me. Not doing this requires minute by minute resistances to my habitual reactions to what I observe.

How would I really feel if this obligation suddenly disappeared? Empty? Worthless? Purposeless? Would I begin to scan for something different instead? How would I use my time? Was 7 hours enough to even get a sense of this? What if I could really live a life in which I felt more empowered to act on my own ideas and less obligated to take care of the needs of those around me? In my life (my perception of it anyway) everyone needs my help all the time and it is simply easier to take care of all those needs rather than doing my work. What if I gave myself the gift of all the time I wanted to pursue the ideas I have?

This is an on-going artwork that I intend to remake often.


·       I noted that the toilet was developing a pink ring. I did not clean it.
·       After I ate a slice of toast I placed my plate in the sink. I did not load it into the dishwasher.
·       I noted that the bathroom sink was dirty with drying toothpaste caked on it. I did not clean it.
·       I noted that the bird feeder was empty. I did not fill it.
·       I noted that the cat was begging for a treat. I did not give him one.
·       When it crossed my mind, I did not go online to look at Christmas presents for anyone.
·       I made a pot of tea but I did not offer any to anyone else.
·       I saw that the plants in the kitchen needed watering and trimming. I did not do this.
·       I noted the kitchen floor was full of cat hair. I did not sweep it.
·       I noted the kitchen counter was covered with crumbs of toast. I did not wipe it.
·       I noted there were tea bags in the sink. I did not put them in the compost bucket.
·       There were two phone calls I needed to make to arrange appointments for others. I did not make them.
·       I noted the frames on the pictures in the front room very dusty. I did not clean them.
·       I noted that Mick’s gloves and keys were misplaced. I did not move them.
·       I remembered I needed to make a grocery shopping list but I did not do this.
·       I wanted to make crackers because we didn’t have any but I did not.
·       I noted that our bed was not made. I did not make it.
·       I noted the cheeseboard was left on the kitchen counter. I did not put it away.
·       Our dog was whining. I did not feed him.
·       I noted that the toilet seat on the downstairs toilet was loose. I did not fix it.
·       I heard the doorbell ring. I did not go to see who had arrived.
·       I was worried about my children but I did not call them.
·       I noted that the bathtub was dirty and the shower stall was covered with soap scum. I did not clean it.
·       I heard people downstairs. I did not check to see who it was.
·       I noted that drawers and cupboards were open in the kitchen. I did not close them.
·       The phone rang and Mick answered it. I did not check to see who it was.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fort Collins Lincoln Center Studio Tour

It's that time again, for the Fort Collins Studio Tour. It looks like it will be another full weekend with lots of great local artists opening their studios, and allowing you the visitor to see all the fine details that go into making works of art.

Valhall Arts is pleased to be sponsoring three artists on this year's tour, Jennifer Davey, Loretta Cummings, and myself, Laura Cofrin.

Last year I was sharing my studio with my friend, teacher, and fellow artist Jennifer Davey. Since that time she has quit her 'Day Job' to commit her energies full time to her art practice. She is now in her own studio full time, and already, the commitment has paid off. She has a new exhibition at a new gallery in Denver, the Pointe Gallery, in the Santa Fe district. If you are unfamiliar with Jennifer's work, they are large abstract oil paintings, with many layers, added over time, some works with collage, others changing dramatically through their creation. Her website is a window into the mind of this artist, as she fearlessly shares her deepest thoughts, and ideas about her work with her audience. Visit her site to learn more.

Order, Oil and collage on canvas, 48"x48"
Be sure to stop into Pointe Gallery if you are in Denver, and see the exhibition. It runs through June 17th and the gallery is open Tues-Sat 11-4.

The Studio Tour Exhibition is at the Lincoln Center and opens Friday June 13th, with a reception from 5-7pm giving you the perfect opportunity to decide which studios you will want to visit. The Studio Tour is June 27-29th, with a few studios open on that Friday night. Our studios will be open Saturday June 28, 10-5 or Sunday June 29th 11-4. Please stop in and say hello!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A New Hat

Rene Magritte - A Pilgrim - 1966
Being an emerging artist in these contemporary times means one has to tap into many different skill sets to run one's business. There is the creative maker side, who makes the work, finds and taps into the inspiration. There is the analytical archivist who catalogues and organizes the work. There is the curator who, well, curates the work, considers the presentation, and directs the audience. The list goes on, marketing, website management, logistics, etc.  To do it all is a momentous feat, as each job requires a different skill set not often found in the same individual. To transition between these roles in my working arts practice, I envision myself donning virtual caps, to delineate the particular job at hand. There are also the other personal 'hats' in life, each with their own demands, taking time and energy away from the creative making part of an artist's life.

Well, I have a new 'hat' -- Teacher. I just finished my first teaching job. I was doing a community outreach project through the local junior college at a private arts focused school, teaching pinhole photography to some local middle schoolers. The experience was terrifying, energizing and fun. Being a huge history buff, and wanting my students to understand the historical precedents, I started the class out with "The History of Photography in less than 15 Minutes",  showing Photography's evolution from Mo Ti's observations in 400 BC, through the 1800's chemical discoveries with Daguerre and experimentation by Henry Peach Robinson, continuing through the early 20th century with Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, onto the Bauhaus, and finally showcasing a few contemporary photographers.  This was a lot of information in a very short time, missing entire epochs, and important figures, but this severe edit was necessary. I had to make it just short enough to keep these adolescents engaged through the entire narrative. They were a bit overwhelmed after our first hour together, but the fires had been lit. That spark was evident in their eyes after experiencing being inside the camera, in a camera obscura I'd built in the schools copy room.

The students went on to make their own cameras, spent several hours in the darkroom, creating lots of great pinhole photographs and experimented with placing objects directly on the photo-paper, creating photograms. After selecting their best images, the class concluded with an exhibition at  a local arts center.

To share my love of the craft with creative young souls was expansive. It was energizing to my own creative practice, and I think they taught me as much as I hopefully taught them. It's a new hat I am proud to wear.

Man Ray - Photogram - 1941