Ira

on my way home i toss the bottle filled with messages off the back of the ferry to victoria

nuclear apocolypse ­— the neighbors had a bomb shelter we didn’t    no need to worry chimes dad    i begin digging    dad grabs a pick   together we dig until i gave up

dad calls spence at 6am to play chess not 6pm 

dark secret ­— shh    “what you see here stays here”    edwards Air Force base    area 51    29 palmslate    50s early 60s  dad’s engineering air conditioning systems for multi story underground cities    exclusive for officers only    he will not be left behind ­— humanitarian 

edema ­— ankles the size of tree trunks

hercules ­— builds our house from the foundation uplifting 4’ x 8’ x 1” sheets of plywood onto one shoulder   hammering it in place with his free hand ­— always building something­ when he’s not leaning over a drafting table cabinets   house   boat  a-frame    cabin    truck console   sanctuary for me    aviary    barn another house    green house    another house   another cabin    another house 

i move dad and his dog from his island home 38 years    British columbia ­— august 2011    he needed my care­   i adopt taylor

“animals are good citizens”

grand hotel—10 minutes away    assisted living    roomy studio apartment.  six meals a day  cruise ship like activities ­— i use his furniture artwork    recreate the home he left

brooklyn tech high school    aeronautical course    weight lifting clubwater polo    class of 1946 honors

dad’s weight is up c h f ­— congestive heart failure­    clouds increasing in weight retaining fluids cardiologist dr kaku 

usc archimedes circle    rocket propulsion engineering    civil engineering    class of 1952

he got lost i took his car keys     i draw dad’s wrinkles while he sleeps ­— which did i create ?

mathematician    6 of 1 half dozen the other    a pint is a pound the world around

we play 21 for ruler of the universe he counts his own cards ­— loses so I will win

designs and engineers specialty air conditioning systems   scientific testing laboratories    Northrop   las vegas casinos

huge bandage on his head ­— fell no complaints ever    post polio syndrome I buy a walker he wants a space ship

vounteers to man the space station    eyes closed designs fuel-less spaceships

memories vanishing clouds mesmerizing    looking up searching for memories   draw clouds wrinkles with graphite

plays piano guitar concertina his mom played piano in carnegie hall

can’t remember my name     eyes tear when i hug him

eyes tear when he hugs me

telepathic bonds fill the void left by words

studies biomedical engineering online monitors the hcv virus i hosted for    40 years ­ ­— killed in 2016

dad struggles to climb stairs with his walker forgets there’s an elevator

“the bigger picture is made from smaller things ­— pay attention”

we play 21 for ruler of the universe    i count his cards ­— he wins every hand

Terra ­— remarries love of his life savior mom 

can’t breath c o p d ­— oxygen tank wheelchair    good day bad day i am less sad more sad    silence speaks volumes

gives back educator energy management conservation vancouver island university 

i mark my awakenings each day thoughts become words on paper 

“everything is never the whole thing”    “life is not meant to be easy”

proof of life ­— questioning life ­— in my journal i begin the new year makeing a room sized evidence boardstrings criss-crossing like wormholes connecting unsequenced events physical proof of time marks we make marks we leave    wordless calligraphy    why should art be archival everything expires

“a door not meant to be opened is not the same as a wall”

hash marks counting days 31755 ­— 87 years    january 17 2015 too tired to open birthday cards    i am too tired to get out of bed 

hitchcock movie ­— ducks fill dads pond packed  wing to wing   his congregation grew each year    buys two 100 pound sacks of bird food each week to feed his ‘persons of aviary persuasion’

i imagine the “game of life” spinner navigates me into the world we sit in the garden eyes closed working on projects 

athlete ­— dad walks across the room on his hands   swims one mile during lunch m t w t f     plays four wall handball

hospice — legs to heavy to move    dark crushing skies i marvel at the complexity within a narrow grayscale    i draw clouds wrinkles every chance i get 

“give more take less”   “buy high sell low”

a caregiver calls him grandpa   he blows her a kiss     i draw dads wrinkles every chance i get

draws cartoons    makes wooden giftboxes     handmakes birthday cards 

we play 21 for ruler of the universe    dad sleeps — i play both our hands

“you can do anything — choose something that gets you up in the morning”

april 14 2015     dad wakes in a great mood wearing a huge smile   caregiver takes a selfie with him

breakfast — nap — lunch — nap

“here’s to tomorrow whether we’re invited or not“   tepper saffren [grandson]

i rest my head on his warm body as it turns cold    clouds overhead are not childlike icloud icons    the covers on my bed are too heavy to lift — i runaway from home

“throw my ashes off the back of the ferry”

i treasure the materiality of dad’s ashes — heavier than expected    i make small urns for my siblings    mix ashes with cement    pour it into a large bottle    family friends caregivers write notes      label — hello friend i am traveling the ocean after i have passed away   please toss me back into my beloved waters

eternally yours

i engineer paper boats to carry dadrun experiments tensile strength     tests    buoyancy water seepage flammability reliability in a swimming pool     paper specs : 30” x 30” cotton rag somerset 300gsm    saturate with melted beeswax    fold each square into a vessel   insert wicks at bow and stern    our family of seven fly drive ferry to salt spring island

dad has many good friends

we set sail into the pacific ocean from ganges marina    the sun kisses the endless horizon    clouds filtering golden pink violet light     we scoop dads ashes into the candle boats    lower them into the open waters   light wicks    flames and wind bury dad at the edge of the earth

forever my muse

 

Muriel

“upon my return you  must not wait” muriel

waiting decades confident we will be reunited she will need me to care for her ­— love

treat mom like the baby ­— denise normalizing mom    a parent at age 3    spencer worshipping her    i igniting arguments for my obstinence ­— middle child

deity ­— she has followers and worshippers    no time for a husband and demanding children her chosen disciples ask for spiritual guidance    clairvoyant wisdom ­— we ask what’s for dinner and please pass the salt

first contact ­— i just came back from venus    my astral body traveled    venusians wear long robes and communicate telepathically   barbara and i sat listening   we were 13 barbara told her mom   she responds NO ONE CAN GO TO VENUS ­— how can you be so sure?

beautifulborderline ­— wild shopping sprees   violent fights   the lighted way   magnetic sunshine sincere warmth    days holed up in her bedroom   sleeping in a chair to keep chakras open commune in topanga canyon    channeling the master djual khul    conversations with god   correcting her name to her past life self ­— egyptian goddess isis

celestial ­— i can no longer have physical contact with human beings    declared    mom   i was 15  ­— divorce

longing ­— research   therapy   maturity   acceptance   empathy    admiration   respect   time   love ­— nowhere to be found  

ethereal ­— the phone rings    the voice responds    identified her body    neighbor complained of smell     dental records    30 days postmortem    decomposing body    stacks of composition notebooks filled line after line page after page book upon book ­— if i stay awake i will be taken

 

detachment 

there is a journey which i must make;

it goes beyond yon garden gate;

over the meadow and over the lake;

and upon my return you must not wait!

muriel isis, the testament of the light, 1967

 

Letter

Dear Marika and Brendan,

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the relationship I have with caring, motivation and my work. Questioning—do I care about my work, do I only care about the process of making of the work, can I care about—still be engaged when a work is finished, does anyone else care about the work and do I care if they don’t, or if no one does. 

This letter writing assignment led me to a work that keeps me engaged and questioning—“When Faith Moves Mountains” by Francis Alÿs, Lima Peru, 2002. I only know of this work from it’s documentation—along with everyone else except the artist and 500 participants from the area. These participants cared enough about an artist they had not heard of, to perform hard physical labor under a blistering hot sun, while the wind blew sand in their eyes and scraped against their skin—work that was not visible and literally changed nothing. Laborious and futile like sisyphus’ bolder.

All 500 participants formed a straight line on one side of a mountainous sand dune and shoveled in unison, one scoop of sand at a time, up the mountain, over it’s plateau and down the other side. At the peak of it's plateau, they could see the entire city below. I wish I could know the motivation of each participant. Unfortunately, I can only assume all of them had faith in the importance of the work.

This work surfaces thoughts of my own concerns with earths spiral downward. Most of the “earthworks” I am familiar with—alter the earth to conform to the artists vision—contrast earths natural hues with highly saturated monumental swatches of intense color or—create a physical object from the earth that is here and gone with time. These artists earthly creations become photographic archival objects. This work goes beyond leaving no mark on the earth because it was never here. No finished image or even a temporary visual outcome. Its’ selfless nature, one that leaves no visible trace of itself or of the artist, supports my opposition to Kant’s anthropocene—and the power of invisibility feels akin to my birth order as middle child.

Alÿs’ democratic use of creating with only a shovel and sand reminds me Joseph Beuy’s elevating statement “everyone is an artist,” and my optimistic idea that this could elicit feelings of social empowerment. It also validates the ability of a community to accomplish what would be impossible for one—simultaneously contrasting the overarching uselessness of the effort—perhaps a metaphor for life. 

Occasionally, I am caught off guard admiring an artists mastery over materials or a technique—almost always followed by boredom with the actual work. In comparison to "When Faith Moves Mountains," I think of Sisyphus’ punishment for his self-aggrandizing craftiness. I need personal intanglement with philosopihical concepts to sustain my attention.

Writing to you, I realize this work sounds magical—it actually never materially existed. It doesn’t proclaim questions or announce solutions—speak of color, objects, context or perception—and yet it stirs universal and timeless thoughts without speaking a single word or leaving a trace.

With all my adulation, I can only have faith, the passion it triggers will percolate into my own work—visibly or invisibly.

I wonder if stories surrounding the artist and the 500 participants who moved the earth have evolved over the past 15 years in Lima—and what memories are left in its wake. 

Warmly,

Joanne

 

Tangled up in Blue

My date is a great listener and attentive to every shadow and highlight of our first conversation. It’s white gessoed surface showers me with endless possibilities. I am monopolizing the conversation but there is no judgment about my nervous chatter and awkwardness. Only I seem to notice how out of sync and incompatible we are. I stab at idea after idea, each time hoping it will take wings but instead falls silent. 

Am I a fraud? Who am I to think I can paint? An endless stream of questions rise up from nowhere and chatter spews the familiar language of self-doubt. Can I take that back? Can I white that out? Can I go back to the beginning?

Lost in my own world, tearing up the Sunday comics into little 1/2” pieces and gluing them to a white board in the shape of a horse rearing on hind legs. An image created a half century ago — lost long before the grammar of genealogy and methodology. Was it similar to Laura Owens horse print she made at Crown Point Press? Snapped down to earth by screams firing back and forth coming from the dining room. My big sister Denise isn't home to protect me. I wish I had a stash of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so I could run away. The dining chair is thrown to the ground and I hear the sound of wood splitting against the tile floor. 

Denise stared at herself in the mirror admiring her strong jawline while I, her audience, sat attentively tracing her features on the cool glass. I did not want to be like her — I wanted to be her. Older and confident. Singing in talent shows. Carrying her guitar on her back. She was 16 and our group would circle around her at the Griffith Park Lov Ins while she sang “The Times They are a Changin’”, “Eve of Destruction” and other songs to show our solidarity against the Vietnam war. Denise was fierce like a lion — born under the astrological sign of Leo. I hear her voice through my sons', who coincidentally will be singing the folk song “The Water is Wide” in an off-Broadway production next month. Should I leave this out or expand on it? Would these old folk song lyrics sound like rap today?

As the new sun rises I awake excited and hopeful — filled with new ideas and better topics of conversation. The stains and marks left from our first encounter remain behind it's thin white veil and make today's conversation easier — looser and less restrained. We are still awkward but some of what’s being said is interesting and optimistic. We are going somewhere. I listen attentively to the surface and we begin a telepathic discussion about negative space and color theory. 

My brush is loaded with color and I push and pull the logical and illogical — fulfilling it’s demands for my attention to be given fiercely. We are finally bodiless and timeless — lost in the same intense conversation. Complements intensify each hue, contrasting large and small, pale and brilliant, crowds and open space. Only a shadow of our early awkwardness and hesitant stabs remain.

A loud sigh from the next room jolts my feet to the floor — grounding me back to my physical self with the sudden desire for coffee, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the house all to myself.

I worked for my dad in high school. I was as he put it “low man on the totem pole” and tasked to answer the phone, make blueprints and write the engineering specs 3/32” high in pencil on the large vellum drawing plans. I apprenticed under his assistant who was deaf and used sign language to communicate. I thought a deaf assistant engineer would make things difficult but I never said anything. They worked together in silence for two decades. My dad loved silence — time in his head spent to engineer a better world — his legacy.

I am not certain but in this moment I believe the newly created work is not questioning it’s selfish purpose or concerned with it’s future consequences. I feel obliged to answer it’s questions of inconsistencies, reasoned intentions, clarification and historical references. I work like a repairman, fixing, patching and tying up the loose ends. It is the end of a long day. My dad would say, “when the work is done the mornings are sad."

Looking back, I wish I had walked away when we were still full of potential, tripping over each other in the dark, fumbling through awkward conversations and feeling obsessively connected. Next time.

Art Advice 5¢

I arrived at the empty cavernous building not knowing what to expect. Dampened by the chilling cold and pouring rain, I found discarded objects rusting and covered with years of dirt and grease behind the structure—calling to be included in my first installation. Perhaps if I had photographed what I was seeing—others might have felt the same. 

I did not realize I hoped my installation would be appreciated until it wasn’t. Dark saturated hues of ArtStreet’s murals and installations overpowered the rescued objects that commanded me to give them an aged pastel palette. The nightclub audience chatted through the single folk song—played amongst a set of hard rock and rap.

Ianna is an artist friend who travels to shows like ArtStreet with a hot pink painted booth modeled after Lucy’s booth in the Peanuts comic—instead of “psychiatric advice 5¢”, her sign reads “art advice 5¢”. Art advice sounds like a paradox but artists line up waiting for a critique. 

My dad loved to spew clichés and rhymes that included math and numbers. He would say things like “six of one, half dozen the other” and “a pint is a pound the world around.” I would argue—not if it’s a bakers dozen—not if it’s a pint of molten led. Absolutes like advice, beg for defiance—an easy task when the numbers don’t add up.

Ianna said I should not have added the drawings to the dimensional work because they are too different—it makes your work appear inconsistent. Adding, this disconnect lessens each disciplines apparent value. It hurt to hear and sounded like good advise.

Jan and I met in lamaze class and remained friends until she moved 400 miles away. Dr. Jan Manov was also a pain management specialist. In her 50 minute sessions, she guided her patients to verbally describe their pain as precisely as possible—not the speedy 1-10 pain scale used by most physicians. The result of this language based specificity makes the pain tolerable. Hmmm… I wonder if a world without labels would look like a chaotic navigational mess where everyone got along and cared? 

Perturbed by Ianna’s advice—I spent days defining as specifically as possible what she meant—looking at it from varying perspectives—grateful for the thought provoking questions it surfaced—along with the defiant smile that appears thinking about the noticeable inconsistency I created. 

 

 

If you ride your bike—you need to wear a helmet

August 17, 2000

Squeaking sounds of folding chairs came from behind as rows were added to the stationary seating, muffled greetings oated in the air, polished shoes and crisp white shirts. Not wanting to look like the outsider I felt inside, I searched all morning for something to wear and almost arrived late. What was the dress code? When was the last time I had been inside a synagogue? Decades have past since my mom founded the new age religion—The Lighted Way.

Boys dressed like business men lined one side of the room while next to them whispered giggles came from a pastel color wheel of dresses. A box of hats at the entrance demanded to be worn—a reminder of our diminutive stature in comparison to the grander world above us. On this Saturday morning, over 100 guests joined the congregation, traveling great distances to witness my husband’s grand nephew read from the Torah and be pronounced a man at 13 years of age—after years of preparation, he was ready to be responsible for his own actions from this day forth.

I had forgotten the prayers or maybe I never knew them. I hummed along reminded of a rabbi who said humming was fine—we are all just trying to do our best. I pulled out a pencil so my six-year-old son, Joey, could draw on the program—hoping it would stop his dgeting.

July 20, 2002

My head floating and unconnected to my physical self, working in my home studio, I was startled by Joey’s footsteps racing down the stairs and even more stunned by his announcement, “You need to join a temple—I can’t learn Hebrew online—I want a Bar Mitzvah.”

I had few relatives growing up. My Jewish grandparents immigrated from Poland and Russia before World War II. I learned later in life that all my European relatives were killed in the holocaust. In Brooklyn, my parent’s newspaper was in Hebrew and the language spoken was Yiddish. They moved to California for a fresh start. I did not learn Hebrew or Yiddish and my European heritage was erased so as not to encumber my childhood.

Moses parted the Red Sea, freeing the Jews to begin their Exodus from Egypt, wandering the desert for two generations—forty years—the time needed for the slave mentally to die and the children born in freedom to settle in their promised land.

My dad and son entertained themselves for hours without exchanging a single word. Noises and facial expressions, sounds tapped on a table, sharing a unique synchronicity. Familiar minds possessed with a gentle kindness, philosophical world-view and a desire to do no harm.

Rabbi was a woman and the congregation was open-minded and unprejudiced. The services were long, even when they weren’t, except when a philosophical debate erupted over the interpretation of the weeks Torah portion. Rabbi encouraged debates—believing it equal to prayer, and it was okay that I was agnostic.

November 26, 2005

Saturday morning, the sun was bright without a cloud in the sky and the air was crisp and fresh. I squeezed my carefully honed and typed speech in my hand, worrying that all would go well as Joey added himself to this 5,768 year tradition. Dressed in a gray striped suit, my son looked handsome. Joey was excited for his Bar Mitzvah debut. At 13 years of age he had spent years of preparation and felt ready to assume all responsibility for his actions from this day forward. Rabbi took a seat behind Joey, watching him lead the service, sing and speak the prayers, and persuasively discuss his interpretation of this weeks Torah portion. The giant Torah scroll, removed from its arc, lay on the podium for Joey to read. Passing the scroll from my dad’s arms to mine, to my husbands and than to Joey’s. My dad projected a warmth that ignited the room, his gaze focused on his grandson through tear lled eyes.

July 22, 2014

Joey chose the hiking Israel adventure for his Birthright trip. Forty, eighteen to twenty-one year olds met for the rst time at JFK airport for an all expenses paid adventure gifted to every Jewish youth worldwide. The excited anticipation melted as the bond of familiarity was felt and joyful laughter lled the plane. Joey played guitar and sang folk songs. The mood quickly

became dark when the ight attendant announced a bomb had exploded only a mile from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, and the plane was being rerouted. The parents were immediately noti ed, extra protection was added, Joey would not see Bauhaus’s white city. Kidnapped children ignited air strikes and ground invasions at the cost of thousands of lives. I wish Yoko Ono’s White Chess could resolve real con icts?

November 12, 2015

“Hey, Joey. How’s Paris?” “It’s beautiful and dense with history, I want to live here some day.” He repeats these words today while learning French online in his Harlem apartment, despite the ear splitting sirens, bombs exploding and 130 deaths only minutes from the dorm he was staying in during the terrorist attack.

February 5, 2017

Tepper (aka Joey) is busking in the New York subway to raise money for planned parenthood.

“‘I guess this is Trump’s America,’ said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever.”

Democracy?

Democracy?

For the second time in recent presidential elections, we have lost great leaders to our out-dated electoral college. While I feel sick over the thought of this horrific president elect... 

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Proposals for an ephemeral site specific project

Reading and researching site specificity and forensic architecture inspired me to submit a proposal to ArtStreet, an M5Arts project. While the location is undisclosed, the application is to make temporary work in a 55,000 square foot building. The project will be open to the public for three week before the building will be demolished. My work was to focus on the writing of the proposal, since I have never done any work resembling this.

I envision an institutional museum-type space, in the center of which I will construct a 10 foot square defined by a white picket fence protecting a living bright green lawn whose scent fills the air. I will execute this concept after investigating the space, painting the walls and ceiling bright white, adding artificial daylight, constructing the white picket fence and the padlocked gate, and placing sod on an inch of soil. On one wall, a decorative frame with a photograph of the building itself will hang and a freestanding mailbox near the entry. During the construction and exhibition period, I will use a portable sprayer to hand water the lawn, 3 times weekly or as needed. 

I want to visually communicate and raise questions on a multitude of levels through the placement of this impenetrable fenced bright green lawn growing in an institutional space, and the mailbox reference home within the ephemeral ArtStreet context. I am stirred by thoughts and feelings of exclusion, loss, inequality, the American dream, neighborhood, community, place, history and water shortage along with wonder and appreciation for lawns’ green beauty and the life supporting breath they gives. I am questioning and honoring this idealized greenery by intentionally placing it in this context with its authoritative inherent message—this is art, this is history, this is worth preserving. The photograph of the building mimics this message and reminds me of the here and now.

The Dump

In 2008 Maurice Benayoun submitted his blog, The Dump, a dump of undone art projects, as a doctorate thesis entitled: Artistic Intentions at Work, Hypothesis for Committing Art at Université Paris 1, la Sorbonne. The Phd received the "mention très honorable" (the highest distinction in the French academic system).