The Sculpture that Killed Its Maker

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Whenever my husband and I travel for work, we load the kids into the car and make the drive north and east, past the skyline of Denver and out into the open plains, where the Denver International Airport rises out of the grasslands.

DIA has garnered dozens of conspiracy theories over the years—in part, because of the expense of building an airport,  from scratch, 45 minutes from the city center paired with the failures in construction (such as the underground baggage retrieval system, which immediately malfunctioned and was quickly abandoned, leaving miles of unused tunnels beneath the terminals). But the conspiracy rumors originated from the red-eyed “Blue Mustang” sculpture, nicknamed “Blucifer,” that greets drivers entering the airport. That’s because Blucifer killed its maker. Each time our family turns onto Peña Boulevard, our seven-year-old daughter asks to hear the story of its creation, even as its red eyes, lit from within, shine from the looming sculpture in the median between the in-bound and out-bound terminals.

“Tell us about the horse, Daddy,” she says to my husband.

An artist himself, he first heard the tale as a teenager and has always remembered it. So he says, “Well, a sculptor made the horse. Do you remember what kind it is?”

“A bronco,” my five-year-old son says.

“Like our football team,” my seven-year-old responds.

“Right,” my husband says, “Our city asked the artist to build a sculpture when they were first building the airport. He drew a picture first on a piece of paper. Then he built a full-size model, and he cast it in plastic. Then when he was trying to move it around it fell on top of him.”

“…And then he died.” My daughter finishes.

She’s right, though the first time my husband brought out that piece of Denver trivia, I doubted such a thing could be true, assuming it was an urban legend like the other theories about the airport.

But it is true. In 2006, weeks from the sculpture’s completion, Luis Jiménez, the Chicano sculptor whose work had been shown in the Met and the Smithsonian Institute, bled out on his studio floor in an accident involving the sculpture. (We have not yet divulged every detail of the terrible tragedy to our children.)

Beneath its fiberglass blue skin, three steel armatures support the 9,000-pound, 32-foot-tall bucking sculpture. As the artist shifted its position, one of the steel armatures disengaged from its hoist. When the horse tipped, it caught Jiménez on the leg, severing an artery: a fatal wound. His sons eventually finished the sculpture on his behalf, and DIA installed it in 2008.

~

Once when my daughter was a toddler, I heard a podcast where the host claimed that all children entered either a “sex phase or a death phase” around age five, obsessing over one of the two.

My two children have apparently entered the death phase. The first time we watched Planet Earth together, my children rooted for the wolf hunting the baby caribou. They wanted to see blood, true carnivores.

“Is this normal?” I asked my husband. He shrugged.

Still I was not prepared for my daughter to ask on repeat, “I want to hear how Jesus died.” We often read the Sunday school version of the crucifixion before bedtimes, but even the softened version describes torture and death. Jesus’ followers abandoned Him, He was whipped and hung, and then He asphyxiated on the cross—and He did it to rescue us. “Let the more loving one be me,” his death signals, as in W.H. Auden’s “The More Loving One.” The paradox of Jesus’ loving motivation yet gruesome death puzzled her. It became a mystery she was trying to solve, and the pages of her Bible eventually ripped from repeated use, to be taped back together for the next telling.

~

My daughter has not yet had to say the “long farewell” to a grandparent though both my husband and I have lost grandparents during her lifetime, albeit before what she clearly remembers. But she has lost my parents. She lost them the day I cut them out of our lives with a hard-edge boundary she did not understand.

Here’s why I did it: my upbringing had been an emotional warzone. Trauma layered upon trauma, the manifold consequences had stained generations. From my grandparents to my parents to me, every generation wrestled through abuse and neglect and codependency and mental illness. Myself, I had suffered depression and anxiety starting at age four, younger than my children are today.

While visiting my parents on the East Coast in 2015, the truth surfaced: I had been my father’s favorite out of my three siblings. In front of a room of people, he called me out as his “favorite sister.” He spoke out loud what I’d always known to be true. The illusion broke: his favoritism had been there all along, the radioactivity silently poisoning me.

After I returned home, my therapist and I weeded through the mess. After prayer and a few panic attacks, I came to the conclusion that I needed space from my father, the worst kind of breakup. I emailed him the news six months from that momentous Christmas. It’s not you, it’s me, I might well have said.

But I had tried to stay close to my mother, whom my kids called “Mimi.” We shared tense weekly phone calls. Three months after the falling out with my father, she visited from the East Coast—alone.

On the last day of her visit, we played with the children, and then she laid them down for naps. She told me that she found my actions inscrutable, offensive, just plain wrong. We argued in the kitchen as the children slept. Why wouldn’t I talk to my father? she wanted to know. I had my reasons, I said. Why are you doing this to him? To us? I don’t want to talk about it, I said. Were you ever…abused? No, no, nothing like that, I said—but my voice cracked. I said, I don’t want to talk about this anymore, like I’ve said before. I said, If you bring it up again, I will ask you to leave. What kind of person, what kind of Christian, cuts their father out of their life? she demanded. How dare you do such a thing to my husband? Finally, eyes brimming, I spoke the last words: Mom, get out of my house.

When my children woke up, she was gone. Where is Mimi? I did not know what to say except, “Mimi had to go.”

Believe me, I wanted to tell my daughter–the oldest daughter, as I had been in my family—every single detail. I wanted to vindicate myself: I’m the good guy! I wanted to insist it. But no story is that simple. And any child would be crushed beneath the burden of details, by needing to pick a side. So I have aimed to keep my daughter a neutral party; in the rare moments she talks with Mimi while a relative babysits, she can enjoy her own relationship with her, unencumbered by mine. At least that’s the hope.

~

This July marked three years from my mother’s last visit. My daughter has stopped asking to visit Mimi on the East Coast. More than once, she has confused Mimi for my grandmother, who I call Meema. Which one is Mimi? she asks. I do not know whether I feel relieved by her forgetfulness or heartbroken; the forgetfulness marks one more thing in which my mother and I are separate.

My kids may have lost the specific memory of my parents, but whether they remember or not, my parents were once in their lives, showering them with presents and attention and snapping photos of their every movement—and then they weren’t. I wonder if the “missing” resides in their body, the way the body keeps score of so many wounds. I wonder if, suddenly, my children ever return to the moment of the argument overheard from the kitchen and the absence of Mimi that followed it. I do not know if I made the right choice.

Likewise, I am unsurprised that my children have taken to the horse with glowing eyes on Peña Boulevard. How else do children make sense of loss but by rehearsing it? Yet the rehearsal must satisfy a deeper need that they cannot name—loss as muscle memory. My daughter says, “Dad, tell me again what happened…,” and we relive the tragedy together.

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(Originally published at the Curator Magazine)

 

 

Game of Interpretation: Denver Art Museum’s Audacious Interpretive Beads

[Art: Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock]

Perhaps you’re familiar with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the ones that art critic Craig Brown (a contemporary of Pollock) called “decorative ‘wallpaper.’” My own reaction to one of Pollock’s abstract works, on a first viewing, was disgust – couldn’t a five-year-old do an accurate impression? What made a splattered canvas so noteworthy that a curator hung it on a stark museum wall for millions of people to view on class field trips or high-brow vacations? Why was one of these paintings valued and sold at auction ten years ago for $140 million, setting records at the time for the most expensive painting in the world? (Not to mention the fact that even a fake Pollock painting can sell for 3.1 million dollars.)

The challenge of viewing and enjoying Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings exemplifies the issue that many outside the art world take toward museum art: viewers want to know, what does it mean? And if the meaning can’t be determined at a glance, is it really “art” at all?

Pollock himself responded to the issue of interpretation in a radio interview with William Wright in 1950 by saying, “I think they [the public] should not look for, but look passively — and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for… I think the unconsciousness drives do mean a lot in looking at paintings… I think it should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed — after a while you may like it or you may not —

…at least give it a chance.”

The Denver Art Museum’s recent effort at addressing this question of interpretation is noteworthy. In an email, Danielle St. Peter, the Interpretive Specialist for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum, described to me that she had wanted to implement a similar method for the current (and still ongoing) Audacious: Contemporary Artists Speak Out exhibition, as curators hope the exhibit will cultivate conversation amongst viewers.

St. Peter elaborates: “We were hopeful that visitors would recognize…multiple perspectives… and experience the exhibition as a safe space to explore and discuss difficult, emotionally charged issues that relate to our contemporary world.”

The question St. Peter and the curators of DAM asked themselves was, how do we encourage viewers to give the art the time of day required to engage it thoughtfully?

St. Peter continues: “To me, [viewing contemporary art] is about spending time with an object. At the museum, we often see people stop for three seconds and move on, but art really demands more of your time. I think the trap [of] contemporary art…is that it doesn’t always have a recognizable subject matter that you can relate to or doesn’t look like it took a lot of artistic skill to make (some of the age-old criteria for appreciating art). Maybe it looks too simple, maybe it doesn’t look like art at all. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself not wanting to spend time with a work of art, that is exactly the work that you should be spending time with. As artist John Cage so aptly put [it],

‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not that boring at all.’”

She and the DAM’s graphic designer (Matt Rue of McGinty Co.) came up with their own version (based on something St. Peter had seen at the Columbus Museum of Art): dropping colored acrylic cubes into test tubes beside the artwork.

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[Photo from Denver Art Museum blog]

They introduced it to visitors with a display that explained, “The artworks in Audacious deal with emotionally charged issues. We invite you to share how the work makes you feel. Here’s how: 1) Each of the colored blocks represents an emotion. Select a few to take with you through the exhibition. 2) When you see an artwork with a test tube, drop in the color block that best represents how the work makes you feel. 3) Look at how others have responded. Does seeing this alter your perspective?”

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[Photo from Denver Art Museum blog]

The cubes were either blue or pink, ranging in shade from light to dark, and each signified a different emotion: either empathetic (royal blue), optimistic (teal), empowered (light blue), hopeless (magenta), angry (pink), or confused (light pink).

And just like that, viewers were handed a framework for interpretation: start with your own emotion. Then examine other’s emotions, as displayed in the test tube. Ask yourself, why might someone else see this differently?


I myself participated, a handful of plastic beads clutched in my palm as I walked from piece to piece, drawn to spend more time at the artworks where clear test tubes had been fastened to the wall beside the work. (Initially, only 9 works of art had accompanying test tubes; but within three weeks of the exhibit’s opening, the museum staff added more). It felt like a game. I had permission to decide what each piece meant; the power of meaning-making had flipped from artist to viewer.

St. Peter agrees: “By choosing both positive and negative reactions for the cubes, we are giving visitors permission to feel confused or angry about what they are seeing. I sometimes worry that visitors think they need to like everything that we install in the galleries, that they have to ‘get it.’ That certainly is not the case. Some of my [own] most powerful art experiences have been with objects or installations that I didn’t understand at first, or ones that made me angry.”

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[Photo from Instagram, provided by Danielle St. Peter of the Denver Art Museum]

Their hunch has paid off: the public has loved this game of interpretation. While DAM has not performed a formal study, visitors enthusiastically shared photos of the activity on social media. Visitors also requested that more test tubes be placed by art works in the show (even pointing out particular pieces that elicited strong responses in them). And in the interim, before more test tubes were placed, museum goers stacked cubes on the floor, below the installations without test tubes, so eager were they to share their responses to the artworks.

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[Photo from Instagram, provided by Danielle St. Peter of the Denver Art Museum]

The gallery hosts also had stories to share, like the story relayed to St. Peter about the group of middle schoolers on a class field trip who viewed Marc Quinn’s Jamie Gillespie, 1999, a marble Greek-style sculpture of an amputee. The sculpture made the students “angry” (pink cube), but their gallery host asked them to look closely: how had others responded to this piece?

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[Art: Jamie Gillespie, 1999 by Marc Quinn, from the artist’s website]

But the test tube rattled with teal and light blue cubes (“optimistic” and “empowered”). The students felt perplexed –  hadn’t a terrible thing happened to this man with one leg? Their gallery host facilitated a discussion with the students then and there, reminding them to read the placard nearby, which discribed how the man had participated in the paralympic games. This figure represented an athlete at the height of his physical abilities, even missing one limb.

Perhaps this story alone makes the DAM’s interpretive experiment a success: an entire class of students middle school students, hormone-ridden and self-conscious, suddenly stopped in their tracks and passionately discussing a work of art, a piece that the same viewers might ordinarily have spent a glance on before continuing through the museum. Those walking the halls beside us usually remain anonymous, and their differening perspectives stay private; but here, a different read became obvious, unignorable. Perhaps a test tube full of acrylic beads provides an anathema to the casual or even dismissive art viewing culture that Pollock responded to over 60 years ago, a culture that still persists today –

maybe it can teach us to give the art a chance.

Revivification

Great news: sometimes blogs die. But sometimes, blogs are revived after you have two babies, and remodel and sell your house, and move to a new city  (say, Denver) and buy a new house, and start new careers, and then return to your old love of blogging about Christianity and the arts once again. Such an age-old story. 😂

So, you guessed it: that’s what’s happening with Art in Love! We (Jeremy and Liz) are hard at work, and we’re planning big things for the future, so keep an eye out for the revivification of this little old blog.

We’re excited to reconnect with you.

{By the way, that gorgeous image is one of Jeremy’s recent works – paper collage, encased in resin, and pasted to wooden closet doors. This one is called, “Loading with Obstruction that Threshold.” View more of Jeremy Grant’s works here.)

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Review of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

When it comes to director allegiances, most artists I know will put Wes Anderson on their lists — he’s certainly on ours! Jeremy and I were eager to see his latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” and we were even willing to shell out $20 to see it in the theater — with popcorn in our laps! (We typically wait to see movies until they come to the library, Redbox, Netflix, or our local cheap-o dollar theater.)

You probably already know the story: 12-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), reared in the foster care system, falls in first love with 12-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) on an island off the coast of New England in 1964 during a “Khaki scout” camp. They write letters to each other all year and plan to run away together the next summer when Sam’s back at camp — which is where the film picks up. The rest of the movie involves the couple running away, exploring first love, and being chased by a crew of khaki scouts, the girl’s parents, local police, and social services, with a climax on the top of the spire of a church during a hurricane (a bit of drama for your buck).

As in all Anderson’s films, the cinematography is gorgeous (interesting lens filters and colors, angles, and settings). His characters are dynamic — in every scene, ALL of Anderson’s characters have motivations, desires, and obvious back stories. His writing shows without telling, and the dialogue says nothing more and nothing less than is needed.

Oh yes, and just like every single story he has every made, “Moonrise Kingdom” includes eccentric, dysfunctional family relationships. His characters are true misfits, sometimes painfully so. (Sam is called “emotionally troubled” and has bounced around from foster family to foster family because of his antics, while we see Suzy shoot one of the khaki scouts with a bow and arrow and, in an earlier scene, fight a classmate in the middle of a lecture.)

Sam and Suzy display more self-knowledge than any of the adult characters, however — they are the grown-ups and the grown-ups are the children. They pursue love in spite of family opposition while Suzy’s parents struggle in a marriage without love (it might not help that Suzy’s mother is having an affair with the local police officer).

Yet one of the charming features of this film is watching Sam and Suzy’s puppy love unfold. Even Jeremy found his heart warmed by the loyalty Sam and Suzy display toward each other throughout the drama of their running away (ending with their spur-of-the-moment wedding in a khaki scout chapel by a rogue khaki scout leader played by Jason Schwartzman).

[THIS NEXT PART IS A BIT OF A SPOILER]
And while all these things make the film enjoyable, we did find one element, as believers, that troubled us. Watching two young lovers read library books together at a camp fire and hike across an island as they are being chased by khaki scouts and parents at every turn is truly endearing.

However, there are a few highly suggestive scenes during the time when Sam and Suzy camp together that made us uncomfortable. You saw part of this scene in the previews — Sam and Suzy strip down to their underwear to swim in the ocean. After that, they dance on the beach (still in their underwear), and you cannot help but smile. Then they move closer and kiss, and Suzy notices Sam’s erection and mentions it, saying she doesn’t mind. Then, in the next scene, they are waking up inside their tent to a helicopter and angry mob of pursuers on the beach — and they are lying in the same sleeping bag together, still in their underwear.

Now, initially, Jeremy and I saw this part in different ways. I imagined that nothing happened — they simply slept close to each other in their underwear. It was a (mostly) innocent interpretation. Jeremy, though, assumed that they had sex.

“If the adults in Wes Anderson’s films are children and the children act as adults,” Jeremy said, “then I think it would be safe to assume that they DID have sex. If we saw two adults act out the same scene on the beach and then we saw them wake up together in the same tent, we would assume they had sex.” Point made.

Furthermore, we were concerned with the medium of film portraying this adolescent sexual exploration. Yes, every person goes through a sexual awakening around the age of twelve, and most adolescents explore. The scene is honest in that respect. But is film the best medium to show this? With child pornography as rampant (and as evil) as it is, and without being able to choose the viewers of this movie, are these scenes at all exploitative? We can assume that Anderson did not have this purpose in mind when shooting these scenes, however, we cannot assume that every watcher will view these scenes as innocently as we viewed them.

Our view is, why contribute to the problem in any way? Why even walk the line? There is no need to add anything else to the pornographic imagination. We would prefer if Anderson had either made it more vague or just stuck with the truer puppy love feeling we think he wanted to portray in this movie in the first place.

[SPOILER OVER]

All in all, we found the movie to be funny, engaging, and interesting. In all of his movies, Anderson seems to ask the most basic question: if all our relationships are dysfunctional, are relationships worth pursuing at all? Unlike a director like Woody Allen, who would say that because relationships do not work, we should chuck them and live alone, Anderson continues to say that we need each other. We need relationships, and we need them in spite of (and perhaps because of) how messed up we are. Obviously he has not given up hope that relationships are worth it, even if he cannot put his finger on exactly why.

We find this so redemptive! Personally, we would say it like this, Wes: we are sinners. We are all messed up, and so our relationships with each other are messed up. We cannot help but hurt each other. But Jesus came so that we could experience freedom and forgiveness from our sin, and so that we could live in redeemed relationship with each other (by the power of his Spirit — we’ll explain that more later, Wes). We think relationship is possible only through Jesus, and that’s the answer you’re looking for.

…We are praying Wes Anderson finds his answer soon! In the meantime, see “Moonrise Kingdom” and rejoice in the redemption that can be found in it.

Creative Fires

In the last few days, tensions have built to almost unbearable levels in my city. In case you haven’t heard yet, Colorado Springs, CO, scenic outdoor paradise, is on fire and has been for six days. People have lost their homes even as firefighters desperately defend our city day and night. (We are safe, by the way). The air reeks of smoke and of fear. What can we do?

Living in Colorado, I’ve never tasted the fear and uncertainty that accompanies natural disasters. Along with this week’s fire in Colorado Springs has come a new compassion for the victims of Katrina, Japan’s tsunami, Ground Zero, and the countless other disasters worldwide. At this point, no one has died in the Waldo Canyon fires, and for that I am extremely grateful. Even so, it’s frightening and painful knowing that my parent’s home has likely burned to the ground, along many of my friends’ homes as well.

It’s easy to feel helpless, restless, and angry. I can’t fight fires. What could I possibly do to help?

Two days ago, a friend of mine and owner of a local design firm, sent out an email to a few designers and artists who live and work in Colorado Springs.

“Let’s make some t-shirt designs and give the profits to the relief efforts,” he said.

Everyone was in and “all-in” at that. We worked with feverish energy, fueled by those same feelings of restlessness and frustration. Our creativity burned as fierce as the fires outside. My friend Troy’s design said, “fight fire with fire.” We nodded somberly and kept working.

Within 24 hours, we had three shirt designs and a website. We had hoped we could sell maybe 200 shirts and raise $3000 (much more than any of us could have donated). The site went live the other day with eight shirt designs, and in the first hour sold 50 (my design is below). Last I heard we had made $50,000. I’m still astonished. (UPDATE: we have now raised over $120,000 $200, ooo $270,000.)

My wife Liz is pregnant. During a recent “nesting energy burst,” we rearranged our small house to make room for our little girl who’s on the way. But suddenly, with uncertainty hanging densely in the air, Liz found herself listless and on edge.  What could she possibly do except try to stay cool and out of the smoke? It was simply maddening.

“I need to process,” she said to me yesterday, getting up and grabbing her iPad. “I’m going to a coffee shop to write.”

“Alright,” I said, “try to stay cool and out of the smoke.” We kissed and she left.

Two hours later she returned with a beautiful piece of writing about the fire, about this place we love, and about fear and trust. She submitted it to the arts magazine The Curator, and this morning heard it would be published. (UPDATE: the article can be found here.)

We all have destructive energies inside us. We all have the potential to act out of fear or out of apathy. But there is a better way. We can choose to be creative. We can choose to walk in trust and faith. We can choose to trust in Jesus who was called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.” Jesus who was called “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We grieve as the land around us is turning to ashes, yet even so, scripture says that God creates “beauty from ashes.” He CREATES. And in the single greatest creative act in all history, Jesus turned a horrible and disgusting death into redemption, into freedom from guilt, shame and fear – for absolutely anyone who believes in him. That’s pretty creative.

I can see beauty from ashes. I can see this community coming together to help the helpless. I’ve read about teens buying toys to give to children in the shelters, children who have lost their own toys to the fires. My co-workers have made care packages for displaced employees, and they have donated to Care and Share. And these creative friends of mine have channeled their energies to help raise money with a few t-shirts. We are fighting fire with fire.

Common Humanity: Ben Rasmussen’s Photography

Ben Rasmussen and I knew each other loosely in college. We recently ran into each other in Denver, after which I stalked him on the internet. Instead of digging up all kinds of dirt however, I found his incredible photography portfolio, which I now share with you. Ben has an eye for shots that tells stories. His photographs are artful without being “artsy,” they’re beautiful, humanizing and sometimes haunting. Ben graciously consented to being interviewed, and that hard-hitting exposé follows.

(All images © Ben Rasmussen. You can click on the photos if you’re curious about them, they will link to Ben’s website where you can read about his current projects. It’s definitely worth a look, and a read. In particular check out his Home series.)

Why are you a photographer?

I grew up in the Philippines, with an American mom and a dad from the Faroe Islands, a small protectorate of Denmark in the North Atlantic. And then I married a woman from rural Wyoming. I became a photographer because I loved the idea that through images, I could connect these different worlds to each other.

Growing up between those separate cultures, I learned how there is a common humanity shared between people, regardless of race or culture. And when I began pursing photography, I saw that it had the power to create emotional and aesthetic connections between viewer and subject, and communicate that common humanity.

How do you make a living at this? Do you work on commissions, personal projects, selling prints or books?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure that one out. Right now, I make a living doing a combination of advertising and magazine/newspaper commissions. But a lot of my time is spent on producing personal work and book making, which I lose money on directly, but which end up getting me more work in the long run. And it is setting a foundation for the future, when gallery sales and books will hopefully be a larger part of my business.

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself?

I used to set goals for myself that were concrete and very much based on the industry’s response to my work. Things like winning this competition, being included in that annual, working for this client or getting a write up in that magazine. But the more of those goals that I have met, the less fulfilling they are. And when your goals depend on other people, there is only so much you can do to meet them.

So I have changed my goals and separated them into two categories: promotional and personal.

The promotional goals are the things like winning contests, getting new clients and having my name out there. They are things that I think of in marketing terms, but do not have an emotional investment in.

My personal goals are about where I want my work to go. I know what I want my photography to be and I know the area in which it falls flat. I know what stories I want to tell and what aesthetic tools I want to use and that is where I focus.

What are some goals you’ve met?

I…start[ed] a large project focusing on my personal history that is called “Home.” It explores the meaning of home by looking at the connection people have to place in the three worlds I am connected to.

I [have also] created a series of promo books that both communicate my vision and separate me from the crowd. I started this last spring with my Wanderlust books, which are handmade artist’s book that focus on one body of work created in the last six months and then are sent out twice a year. It has forced me to keep creating work I am proud of and has taught me about what makes books work.

What motivates you to keep shooting?

…I want to see the projects I am pursing develop and grow. They are like children, and my role is to invest in them and nurture them until they are ready to be sent out into the world.

Also, I am motivated to keep growing as a photographer. And this happens through hard work, reading and looking at work, and good conversation. I developed so slowly as a photographer in my early 20s because of not working hard and not surrounding myself with other people and work that inspired me.

What do you fear?

Reaching a creative plateau. Being a young photographer is great, because you are constantly growing and developing. I end each year with work that is so much better than the year before, and so much closer to what I want it to be. But I am terrified of that ending.

That is one of the reasons that I do my Wanderlust books twice a year. It forces me to produce two bodies of work a year that I believe in enough to print, bind, and send out to dozens of people that I admire professionally.

Do you have like ten thousand pounds of gear when you’re shooting? What is the bare minimum you would take on a shoot?

When I shot digital, I used to shoot with just one camera and a couple of lenses. But now that I am shooting more and more medium and large format film, the gear has ballooned. I was just in the Philippines in January and had a huge backpack with a 4×5, medium format, and digital camera, and tons of film and film holders. And added to that was a big tripod and a light with a battery pack, a stand, and an umbrella. This way of working definitely slows me down, but that’s a good thing. I want to make slow pictures.

From the look of some of your shoots (in particular the Faroe Islands and Afghanistan), you’ve met some interesting people. Do you ever write about your experiences?

Nah, I am terrible at writing. I am a bit dyslexic and am much more visual than verbal. Making pictures feels like a very natural and fluid process, but writing is so slow and stilted for me. I ended up in photography because I realized after a year of studying journalism that I hated writing.

How do you choose your subjects (both in a larger sense and also shot by shot)?

I am really drawn to stories about people’s connection to place. It is something that I explored in the whale kill and Afghanistan work, and even more directly in my “Home” project.

Within those stories, I am drawn to people whom I feel an aesthetic connection to. This can be based on they way they look, act, or carry themselves, and is very immediate. When I see someone I want to photograph, I know it immediately. But I am quite introverted, so the real process is not choosing to photograph them, but instead taking the leap and asking if I can photograph them.

Have you shown your work in any galleries? Is that something you’re interested in?

I have done several group shows, which is not something I am very excited about. At its best, it feels like an expression of the curator’s vision more than my own. And at its worst, it seems like just a ploy to get the friends and family of the photographers to go to the gallery.

But I have my first solo show coming up in Washington DC in 2013, which I am excited about. It will be work from my “Home” project, so that is pushing me to finish that work this year.

Who are your heroes?

I am really inspired by people who are creating interesting work and doing it their own way. For photographers, that would include Rob Hornstra, Alec Soth and Richard Mosse. They are all people who are creating powerful and important work, and taking ownership of the process, whether that is through self publishing or creative funding.

Another huge influence is Tom Waits. His music has completely changed the way I think about beauty and place.

Do you ever try to make a point with your images? Or are you concentrating more on documenting events, places, and people?

I definitely want my images to make a point, but it is a really simplistic one. I want them to make viewers feel connected to and gain a value for people and places they have not interacted with. Basically, I want them to make the world a smaller place.

Thanks Ben. Love the work!

RECKONING: Terry Maker Interview

One of my favorite shows of this year is currently at the Fine Art Center, downtown Colorado Springs. Boulder based artist Terry Maker‘s awe-inspiring body of work “RECKONING” is on display now through June 3rd. Maker’s show is full of intentionality, packed with meaning and metaphor and each of the 50 pieces will reward careful inspection yielding surprise, insight and emotion.

I emailed Terry, and she was gracious enough to answer a few questions which I’m sharing with you here.

“Ship in a Bottle,”2011, resin, rope and hand made bottle
12 x 20 x 34 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

Jeremy: Where do theme and process overlap for you?

Terry: I generally have a theme or direction that I am taking and am on the look out for materials that will support this path. Of course, I am sensitive to the the happenstance of the upexpected material discovery that may take me on a totally new thematic course or may be a related off-shoot of that direction.

Jeremy: How/when did you start using resin and casting techniques? Is there a particular significance to the resin?

Terry: I’ve been interested in casting methods and resin for over 10 years now…the resin in particular, has a very appealing, seductive surface and color – this plays into the theme of want and desire that has interested me for some time now.

Jeremy: I’ve read that you keep poems, and excerpts of literature around your studio as inspiration. How else to you stay inspired in art-making?

Terry: My art making is integrated into my entire life and is not a separate activity. This co-mingling makes me aware of every step of the day and how each step can be necessary and integral to this calling.

Jeremy: I immediately noticed an archeological element in many of your works (and later read Tracy Mobley-Martinez’s article where you mention an “intellectual archeology” ) Where does that come from? have you studied archeology, or are you just inspired by it?

Terry: My work is all about the layers – both literal and conceptual. This embedding, unearthing, digging, scraping has been a necessary part of the message. I am very interested in what lies behind and beyond the surface of the piece both aethetically and metaphorically.

Jeremy: Who are people that you look up to?

Terry: Tim Hawkinson, Tom Friedman, Lee Bontecou, Vik Muniz, Sarah Sze …to name a few.

Jeremy: Do you have any advice for young artists? Things you’ve learned to do (or not do) on your journey?

Terry: Go out – travel to the great art centers and see art, lots of it. Try to connect with artists that inspire you and if
possible go to their talks and ask questions…like you’ve asked of me – thank you!

Jeremy: Thanks for making time for me, I really appreciate it.

“The Garden of Nineveh-Bitter,” 2008, resin, plastic, aluminum foil, human bone replicas, bubble wrap, plastic maze puzzles, and shredded money, audio recordings
16 x 20 x 2 Ω feet. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Jaw Breaker Series, 1, 2 and 4,” 2008-2009, resin and jawbreaker candy on panel
40 x 40 x 2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Reptilius Consumerus Devourus,” 2010, Shredded US Currency, various bank documents, and glue
100 feet x varying sized bread slices. Photographed by Chris Rogers

I highly recommend this show. And if you’re strapped for cash, the FAC has a free admission day the third tuesday of each month – the next one is March 20th.

header image:
“S¸ss,” 2011, resin, jaw breaker candy
30 x 19 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

6 Books that Move Me

I (Liz) am often asked for book recommendations when people hear that I’m a writer. “What are you reading lately?” they’ll ask, or perhaps, “What’s your favorite book?”

I read a lot (though not as much as our friend Anthony Ashley), and on a brief perusal of my bookshelf, I’m going to share with you six books I love, books that have moved me and stuck with me though time has got between us.

{Oh, and I should warn you that many of these books deal with characters struggling to make sense of death — I noticed that cheery theme when I was putting this post together. They are simply stories that matter, and so of course they deal with death (though they also deal with happier themes).}

I present to you…
(in order of when I read them)…

1. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2007)

Robinson’s novel, Gilead, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, and if you sit down to live with it for a few months, you’ll find out why. Many people struggle through it on the first read because its pace is leisurely, conversational, and downright slow. Essentially, you’re invited to enter Reverend John Ames’ last days in the rural town of Gilead, Iowa, as he writes an extended letter (i.e. the story of his life, which makes up the novel) to his seven-year-old son.

This stroll through the Reverend’s life is poetic and simple, marked by stunning everyday scenes, like this one:

“I saw a bubble float past my window, fat and wobbly and ripening toward that dragonfly blue they turn just before they burst. So I looked down at the yard and there you were, you and your mother, blowing bubbles at the cat, such a barrage of them that the poor beast was beside herself at the glut of opportunity. She was actually leaping into the air, our insouciant Soapy! …Your mother is wearing her blue dress and you are wearing your red shirt and you were kneeling on the ground together with Soapy between and that effulgence of bubbles rising, and so much laughter. Ah, this life, this world.” (p.9)

I found myself so caught up and in love with the characters in this novel — the Reverend Ames, his son, his wife whom he loves dearly, his best friend Reverend Boughton and Reverend Boughton’s family, who causes Reverend Ames some trouble in his last days.

Not only that, but the Reverend is constantly talking about God. He wonders about forgiveness and heaven and grace, and struggles through extending grace to a man who has deeply wounded him and his friends. Ultimately, love wins, in every way that it should. I often found myself in tears. The words of this novel seeped into my skin and the characters informed my soul.

2. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2008)

“Nine months and five days ago, at approximately nine o’clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death” — so begins Joan Didion’s life without her husband John (pp.6-7).

Joan Didion is a journalist, and it shows; even in this heart-breaking true account of her husband’s death and the year that followed his death, she repeats the facts over and over to herself, as if taking stock of what she knows will help explain the one thing she does not know: how she will live without him. You feel the waves of her grief wash over you like a tide as Didion comes back to same instances, trying to make sense of them in a new way, grasping for understanding and begging the facts to return John to her. This memoir rends the heart, painting a stark picture of death and grief without Christ.

And yet Didion writes strikingly honest prose, facing the facts with courage — after all, how many people write of the days and year following any loved one’s death? At the memoir’s end, Didion writes, “I think about swimming with John into the cave at Portuguese Bend, about the swell of the clear water, the way it changed, the swiftness and power it gained as it narrowed through the rocks at the base of the point. The tide had to be just right. We had to be int he water at the very moment the tide was right. We could only have done this a half-dozen times at most during the two years we lived there, but it is what I remember. Each time we did it, I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. John never was. You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that. No eye is on the sparrow, but he did tell me that.” You are left with a sense of deep loss and deep courage, knowing that to lose someone and choose to live is the greatest act of courage of all.

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters & Papers from Prison (2008)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who lived and wrote during World War II. He and the confessing Christian church in Nazi Germany strongly opposed Hitler, and Bonhoeffer even went so far as to join a group plotting to assassinate Hitler (as you may have guessed, their plot failed, and Bonhoeffer ended up spending the end of the war in a Nazi prison and was killed just before V-E Day). He was a man of great courage and sound theology, as many of you know.

However, when a professor of mine assigned this collection, his essays and letters written to friends and family while he spent his last days in a Nazi prison cell, I found I couldn’t put it down. Bonhoeffer had intimate relationships with his family and friends that mirrored the type of Christian community that anyone would dream of. Not only that, but his theology leaked onto every page of the collection; you saw his theology lived out in his relationships and the everyday words he shared with them. It reminded me of the apostle Paul in some sense, and I found myself intrigued by the thoughts that go through someone’s head when they have decided to die for the name of Christ, or at least to love Christ in the midst of persecution. This book inspired me to follow in the steps of the apostles and martyrs that have come before me, loving Christ with their all: this is our great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12).

4. William Paul Young’s The Shack (2009)

The Shack is an allegory for our time: it describes a father’s struggle to make sense the horrific kidnapping and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy, through the lens of Christ. The tale begins with Mack (the father) receiving a note in his mailbox from God, beckoning Mack to meet God at the “shack” out in the middle of the woods where his daughter Missy was probably raped and then brutally murdered. Of course, Mack thinks this is crazy until he finds himself trekking out to this shack, trudging through thick snow, and then sinking down into the floor of the shack to fall asleep. Then, you as the reader assume that Mack has a vision of the Trinity, who helps him face Missy’s death and who heals him. He leaves the shack a changed man. End of story.

God the Father is portrayed as a large, boisterous, and joyous black woman because Mack’s own father was an abusive alcoholic. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a shimmering woman, never quite stable in your line of sight, and Jesus is portrayed as the brawniest, friendliest Jewish man you’d ever meet. (There’s been some controversy over these Trinitarian portrayals, but I believe the people who are concerned about this have forgotten the importance of the imagination and of theological metaphor.)

During the reading of the book, I started to imagine the members of the Trinity with me in this way– holding my hand in the car, lying on the floor with me during the deep breathing exercise at yoga, walking along a path in the woods with me, ever-present, behind and before me. I have to tell you, I have never felt so close to understanding all the members of the Trinity as I have through this metaphor — somehow telling me that God is like the different forms of water or the parts of an egg is just not relational enough for me.

Not only that, but I believe this story has a powerful message to share about suffering. Why does God allow suffering? How could a good God allow THAT to happen? Why ever? Why at all? I don’t know any of us who have not asked these heart questions of our good Father, doubting His Sovereign care of us.

I should note that the writing, the editing, the dialogue, and the characters themselves are not good… Sad to say. However, I believe that you and I can read this book as a heartfelt plea to know God, not a Pulitzer-prize winning novel. (Swallow your literary pride on this one, friends)

5. Marilynne Robinson’s Home (2011)

http://www.aholyexperience.com/ companion book to Gilead, Marilynne Robinson continues the tale in small town Iowa, but from another angle. This time, we hear Reverend Boughton’s family’s voice, focusing in particular on the Reverend, his prodigal son, Jack, and his daughter Glory.

I wept through this novel. Robinson’s writing is spare in comparison with her writing in Gilead, which almost falls into prose poetry at points, but the point is clear: grace and forgiveness are extended freely to those who will accept them.

You watch the Reverend Boughton and Glory struggle with the sudden return of Jack to his childhood home after a long, silent absence. Jack himself comes home only to remember the years of alienation he has felt from his family because of his immoral choices, which has shamed the family more than once. You watch the family dig up old quarrels and old misunderstandings about each other and their lives, and you watch it simultaneously hurt and heal them. And as the truth about Jack’s past comes out over the course of the novel, a past that was previously hidden from all of Jack’s family, you watch a sweeping grace envelop them as the honest truth sets them free.

(I’m going to resist being more specific simply because the secrets that come out about Jack are what drive the plot forward and keep you reading!)

I’m going to leave you with the Reverend’s beautiful prayer over the first meal he eats with his returned runaway son:

“Holy Father, I have rehearsed this prayer in my mind a thousand times, this prayer of gratitude and rejoicing, as I waited for an evening like this one. But when I think what it is that brings us to our Father, it might be grief or sickness–trouble of some sort. Weariness. And then there we are, and it’s a good thing at such times to know we have a Father, whose joy it is to welcome us home. It really is” (p.41).

6. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (2011)

Again, Ann Voskamp’s memoir begins with tragedy: readers are taken to the day her two-year-old sister died, run over in the driveway, her mother weeping over her small form, blood on her apron. I put the book down at that point — I didn’t want to read a sad story. But I’m glad I picked it up again, because One Thousand Gifts has become my favorite book of 2011.

So why begin with such tragedy? Because it shaped Ann’s heart, making it small and bitter, closed to the love and gifts of God. Yet through the course of the memoir, you watch her heart open as she learns that gratitude, “eucharisteo,” for the daily and ordinary gifts of God is the way to a life of freedom in Christ: freedom from anxiety, freedom into joy, freedom to serve and love like Jesus. Recognizing God and His gifts brings freedom.

I read this book as a daily devotional, soaking up Ann’s poetic words and ordinary moments like I would a sermon. Her daily life as a farmer’s wife and mother of six inspired me. Her decision to write 1,000 thank-you’s to God, in the form of a list, became a mantra for me: I’m feeling unhappy? Give thanks. I’m feeling rejected and powerless? Give thanks. I’m feeling unknown and unloved? Give thanks. I’m feeling joyful and successful? Give thanks! Why? Because of God. Because of who He is and what He gave us through His Son Jesus!

As Ann captures so well, “One lone stem of wheat bows its head before me. Behind it, the perfect backdrop of pure moon full, pregnant with the grandeur.

“I reach out my hand, run my finger up its silk slender shank. This is how. I learn how to say thank you from a laid-low head of wheat. From the wind rustling glory through the dried blades of grass raised, from the leaves in the silver maple hushed awed still. I pay tribute to God by paying attention. I raise one hand high. And another hand high. I bow the head down. I lay the body down.

“‘The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration. It down not grow elsewhere,’ writes J.I. Packer. I am bowed like wheat, raised like grass blades, grounded and rooted to now, and from Him and through Him and to Him are all things and all is His and everything that has breath praises Him and I whisper it again, again, again, remembering, remembering, remembering.

“…All beauty is only a reflection.”

And for that, I give thanks!

Contemporary Sculpture Roundup: Part II

 

 

Shan Wells lives and works in Durango, Colorado. He is a poet at heart, and his work is best viewed as such. Shan writes this about the pieces I’m highlighting below:

 

in the aftermath of the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire in Colorado
large swaths of the land were destroyed by mudslides from the deforested burned areas.
this mud seemed to me like clotted blood, which inspired a work about healing.
the land hemorrhages, and the blood is swabbed up
until the wound is repaired or stabilized.

 

 

“Swabs” by Shan Wells (photo from artist’s website)

 

 

Detail of “Swabs” by Shan Wells (photo from artist’s website)

GEHARD DEMETZ

Gorgeous craftsmanship characterizes Gehard Demetz’s work. A master woodcarver who allows some areas to stay rough while other achieve a life-like polish, Gehard portrays children as the medium for naysayer opinions. The work is beautiful, although pessimistic.

“A Soft Distortion” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

“It’s Warmer Now” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

“Your Fairy Tales Scare” by Gehard Demetz (photo from artist’s website)

Kristof Kintera lives and works in Prague. He seems to follow ideas, rather than a style and craft, and while much of his work doesn’t interest me, there are a few pieces I think are outstanding. The two sculptures here are great executions on particular ideas, and create strong reactions of revulsion and curiosity in their viewers.

“All My Bad Thoughts” by Kristof Kintera (photo from artist’s website)

“My Light is Your Life” by Kristof Kintera (photo from artist’s website)

Basically the Deborah Butterfield of Finland, but four times as large! Yes, the body of that second calf sculpture IS an entire van.
I love artists that walk the line between figurative and abstract and Miina does that beautifully here.
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)
Although his work has a heavy New Orleans influence, Sean O’Meallie lives and works here in Colorado.
His bright and playful forms are all created from wood and hand-painted. I particularly love his series of toy guns, and the deeper thoughts they provoke in spite (and because of) their child-like appearance.
(photo by Troy DeRose)
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)
(photo from artist’s website)


Five Iron Frenzy: A Musician’s Guide to Staying Alive

.

“If you help us raise $30,000 we will record a new album.”

Let’s be honest, that strategy doesn’t work for most bands. Why did it work for Denver based ska-band Five Iron Frenzy?
There’s been a lot written recently about Five Iron’s rise from the grave via Kickstarter. Their incredibly loyal fans are responsible for shattering a “help-us-record-a-new-album goal” of $30K. “Shattered” is not an exaggeration. In the first day they raised $60,000. They finished fundraising with over $200,000.

What inspires this kind of rabid loyalty in fans? To help answer that, come back in time with me to 1999 and let me tell you a personal story.

As a youth-group going, punk-rock listening teen I have two favorites: Jesus and Five Iron Frenzy. I wear thrift-store corduroys and a wallet-chain. I spike my hair and keep a bible in my backpack. My first “real concert” is at City Auditorium, where I see Five Iron Frenzy open for P.O.D. in some sort of stylistically schizophrenic show where the only common thread is that all of the bands are “Christian bands.”

Jeremy Circa 1999

I have carefully studied all of Five Iron Frenzy’s album art, learning every lyric, all the band member’s names and what they play. Because of this, I am able to shout all the words along with the other sweat-covered high-schoolers jumping in time to the pounding music.

When their newest album comes out, I am nervous with anticipation. I tear the packaging off Five Iron Frenzy’s LIVE! Album, and push the CD into my stereo. I lean back, lick my lips and close my eyes, head bobbing. This is “sweet.” I turn it up. Suddenly Reese Roper, the lead singer, screams, “To hell with the devil!”

My face pales. I nervously laugh. I look around to see if my parents heard the loudly screamed profanity. “Well, technically that IS where Satan is destined to go…” I say to no-one in particular.

It shouldn’t have bothered me, but I am a good rule-follower at this age, and it seems to me that it’s wrong to swear. There is no grey area, either you’re saying something positive, or you’re swearing. So, I decide to write them a letter.

Dear Five Iron Frenzy,

You are my favorite band. I have all of your albums so far, and listen to them all the time. Your music is really great.

I was a little concerned, however, when I listened to your live album during the part where Reese yells “to hell with the devil.” I think we need to be careful about words we say. It says in Jude 1:9 that when Michael the Archangel fought with Satan, he did not “pronounce the blasphemous judgment, but said ‘the Lord rebuke you.’”

Anyway, just wanted to let you know, and see what your thoughts were about saying that.

You guys are still my favorite band.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Grant

I push my glasses up my nose, lick the envelope, flip it over and wrote “to: FIF” (with one backwards F) on the front. “That should do it.”

A month or two later, I receive a hand-written response.

Dear Jeremy,

Thanks for writing!

Yeah, sometimes Reese gets a little carried away on stage.

[…]

We appreciate your thoughts. Keep reading and thinking about this kind of stuff.

We’re definitely not perfect. Thanks for sticking with us!

Leanor “Jeff the Girl”

So, why does Five Iron Frenzy have such a loyal following?

-The Act of Listening

Five Iron Frenzy started in a time when listening to music was still “an activity” and music was still “a product.” Growing up listening to music, I had tapes and CDs. There was a different kind of consumption of music, it was about an experience, not just background noise. I would sit down and listen to music; it was an activity. Now I think most of us put on music while we do something else. We keep music on our iPods and computers, we buy it digitally, and there are no lyric sheets.

In a time when the physical product of music is no longer popular, how can you, as a musician, develop a personal connection with your audience? Here are some ways I’ve seen artists build loyalty with their fans:

-Releasing special editions, on tape or vinyl only.

-Creating an experience that goes beyond listening: Derek Webb created an experience with a collaborative album featuring work by a photographer and painter. You could choose to buy their art along with Webb’s physical CD.

-Making engaging music videos: This is a classic way (also collaborative) to keep people engaged in your music. If they cannot do something else while listening, they are more involved in your music.

-Personal Connection

Five Iron Frenzy recently announced that they were reinstating their P.O. box, so that fans could write them. They have always made an intentional effort to connect personally with their fans, as evidenced by Leanor’s gracious and humble response to a self-righteous teen.

To keep from being white-noise in today’s saturated market, you have to make a personal connection with fans. Time, place, and experience are becoming much, much more important. If fans can connect with a band, not just online but in person, like no one else can, they will develop a loyalty that won’t be easily broken.

-Create an amazing concert experience, and you will win loyal fans.

-Write a personal blog: Band members from Mumford and Sons are a great example of this. They each have a different blog that they regularly post to. Their subjects are photography, food, band news and a book club, all things the band members love, and they’re great ways to connect with their fans beyond their music.

-Create one of a kind events: House concerts or impromptu shows are great ways to make fans feel special. And with social media platforms like twitter, it’s really easy to spread the word about an impromptu show. (Incidentally, Five Iron did an impromptu surprise show after a recent Switchfoot concert outside of Denver)

Five Iron Frenzy has really set an example in many of these things, in particular through being intentional with their fans. And those fans have responded, stepping up in a big way to fund a new album. Love it. Good luck Five Iron!

—–

To download Five Iron Frenzy’s new single for free, visit their website here.