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February 26, 2004

work in progress

For one of the shows I have coming up in April, I think I might do my first performance piece. It's not so much a performance, as it's just taking the next step in the progression of complex instructions and situations that I create for participants interact with. I plan on becoming part of my work. I seem to be skipping the step of becoming an operator. As that, I would function as an initial facilitator in these situations and let the participants experience the work with no more input from me. I thought that might be a middle ground before becoming fully part of my piece. If I can get past the anxiety in my head, I will take the higher role of a coach.

In a large gallery, the group show will be held. The space is fairly open and most pieces will be wall based. As the crowd of people mingle and view the work, I will watch. I'm looking for somebody I'll feel comfortable with, someone who, on the surface, looks like they could go with the flow. Stranger, or acquaintance; it doesn't matter. Dressed in no special outfit, I will walk silently through the crowd. I approach my chosen participant and ask essentially "Excuse me. I was wondering if I might be able to show you something, teach you something for a minute?" In my hands, I hold a chair. This chair appears just as any ordinary chair. It lives up fully to its appearances. The only thing I require of my chair is that it be much like a typical kitchen chair, with the vertical supports of the back extending individually above where the horizontal element ends. I need that extra length of post or knob to do the action.

I wish to teach them a trick, a motion, something you can do with a chair. To get the action you have to tilt the chair up on to one of the front feet. You hold the chair from falling by placing your palm on the top knob that's on the opposite side (L,R) from the foot on the ground. You then have the chair in a very dynamic position. Your palm sits directly above the foot on the ground. Just by moving your hand in relation to the chair's center of balance, you can make the chair spin. It does not necessitate any twisting, rotation, or assistance from your other hand. When you get good, you can literally hold your palm completely flat and keep the chair under control just by the tilt of your hand. It's very important to be aware of how the weigh shifts to spin the chair. Higher rpm's come from practice.

To share this with people takes that level of participation that I'm not used to. The action dictates that I be there. Written instruction would not be universal enough for this complex situation. As I'm teaching this, I always watch. I observe the progress, what mistakes are being made, what goes well. The action is not hard to do. As they progress, I stay aware of my immediate surroundings. With my participant, I watch for that one moment, that one spark in their eyes that tells me that they got it. They feel the weight. They can spin it at unforced will , now. At that moment, with a snatch, I take my chair and run away.

The effect is to leave faster than they can process the sequence of events. There is no slow let down. This gives them a trigger, in their mind, for a snap shot of this moment and the previous experience. This will lead to future contemplation. This will lead to the participant wanting to go some degree beyond that level of learning by trying the spin at another time, in their own environment.

This motion may seem simple, like everyone can do it. Why do this particular action? There's nothing specific to that action, other than I respond to it intuitively. I've been spinning chairs longer than I've called myself an artist. It's a level of comfort coming from a deep study. I know this movement. I want to raise people's awareness and understanding of movement. I liken it to teaching art at basic levels. The goal of finger painting for first graders has nothing to do with doing it right or completely. Any exposure to the processes of art increases your visual vocabulary and ability. It helps to change what you see at the logical and intuitive level. You start to notice details, relationships, and feelings you haven't experienced before. This is what I want for my participants. I want to give them something that, while not life changing, adds to at least a small degree, to how they can appreciate movement. By studying how my prescribed actions take place and how they are interpreted in full play, I gather more knowledge that aids in my own appreciation of the minutia of the movements around me. Blah blah blah the world is a better place if you just look for it.

Posted by cliff at 03:24 AM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2004

short sketch of future piece

Meditation on Movement: Eccentric Rotation


Small box of questionable dimensions. Box , Glue and tack construction, with proportions roughly that of a cigar box, hinged lid, nice hardware. Inside, velvet(-ish) covered, specifically made cushion insert formed to hold one allen wrench (first object) and one socket wrench socket (second object). Instructions on inside of lid.

First draft instructions:

1. Insert the short arm of the first object fully into the six-sided opening of the second.
2. Hold the second object upright, as to allow the first to rotate freely in the opening.
3. Use small stirring actions to twirl the first object around.
4. Count the revolutions. Do only ten more than you ever have before.
5. When done, replace the objects, close the box, come back to it another day.

Surface, decoration and screenprinting:

At the moment the outside should have a line drawing of some sort, echoing a hand carved surface. It should be ornate and the top image should incorporate representations of the individual objects inside. One side might incorporate the title. Prints on all sides but the bottom. Some finish and/or stain. Screenprinted instructions in similar style on the inside of lid but with an eye to readability. One pictogram on inside illustrating the proper holding of the objects, maybe with an arrow to imply movement.


When the objects are twirled, they produce a ringing sound. This sound is much like a bicycle bell, tiny ringings in fast succession to create a sustained sound. I find this clears my mind, covers other audible distractions around and gives an audible cue for visual and mental focus. The limitations on rotation count encourage reflection. You might want something more when you can't have it. But this, like other forms of meditation is dependent on self-discipline. Counting focuses attention on the full rotation and hand action of the movement rather than just going for a limit on time, which would have people watching the clock. The instructions ask the participant to come back another day. I want this to get away from the isolated incidents of my previous pieces in some respects. More performances of the meditation by an individual breeds greater knowledge, higher levels of observation, and greater levels of tactile, and kinesthetic acuity. The compact kit form combined with these other characteristics allows the participant to have any level of privacy that they wish. They don't have to be inhibited by feeling as if in a performance. It's all in the wrist, baby. Imagine a stuffy, stereotypical french maitre-de with a thin, pencil line, handlebar mustache. Imagine the mildly insulting hand movement he would make while making that french "hunh-hunh" sound. That's what I want. The movement, not the maitre-de.

Posted by cliff at 03:54 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2004

maps vs. instructions

Maps and instructions function very similarly on the surface. They can both show you the way to go. Maps tend to be full of detail. The amount of this detail depends on the map. You may have just the outline of the states in our country. On the other hand, you may have tiny details like place names, roads, rivers, topographical designations, populations, etc. Maps give information with out being terribly limiting on how you use that. While instructions lack this broad base of information, they do provide specificity. They can tell you exactly how to get some place. What they don't have is the spatial relationships of maps. Maps represent where places are compared to other places. This provides an added level of implied detail. Instructions have a potential to become more informative by adding more information and displaying it as physical relationships. The form instruction general take implies nothing but order. Likewise, a map can gain specifics through personalization. A map showing two places with one particular route highlighted moves closer to being instructions.

My preferences are for maps. I'm much more attracted to maps as compact information. I just like the idea of so much information being packed into such a small package. The ways maps hold information is much different from my other favorite information format; books. Maps can imply information through visual components as well as clearly state things. They can also use symbols and colors to abbreviate other facts.

But alas, in my own work, I use instructions. Written directions are much easier to refine for me. Instructions have to be refined to a concise state to be broadly effective over a number of users. Instructions have to take into account the results of unbiased test subjects, not just the mental experiment of the writer's head. Instructions have a set of formal elements (i.e. words, phrasing) that lend themselves to being more easily edited. Mmm, no conclusion.

Posted by cliff at 02:33 AM | Comments (0)


A few days ago I receive a letter saying that I had passed the preliminary review for my application to MFA sculpture at Yale. That means I get an interview. While I haven't heard back from any other colleges, I decided that this might be a good catalyst to get me writing again. I stand no hope of making it through an interview if I can't clear my head of all this anxiety and static long enough to put my ideas down on paper.

On the day I received the letter, I was in the focused-rush mode for a project due that evening. I had gone into work at the studio earlier and had returned to pick up my Polaroid camera for a project. The mailman had come by in the interim. After picking up the letter, I found my self in a frenzied state of analyzation of the size and thickness of the letter, and trying to make predictions based on that before I could even get a chance to open it. I sat myself down and took a deep breath before tearing the edge of the envelope off. I could see more than one page, which gave me my best clue that I might have gotten in.

The letter basically says that I passed the preliminary selection jury and that I should call to schedule an interview on one of three dates. It says I should bring any more documentation with me that I wish. I'll bring in more recent slides and some extra video if I can get my hands on it. I called toady and spoke with the assistant for the art department who handles these things. She was nice. It surprised and calmed me a bit. The only perspective on Yale that I have is the snooty, stereo typical, Ivy League school thing. I've read things to the contrary, so I'll look forward to experiencing it myself.

My interview is scheduled for the afternoon of March 29th. Between now and then, I would like to direct most of my conversations with my peers towards preparing for it. I don't plan on bringing up Yale at every opportunity, by any means. I expect myself to be more humble than that. In order to speak well at an interview, I should practice. So I will be seeking out more intelligent conversations than I do normally. Any topic will do. I just need to be better at expressing myself on the fly, verbally. I feel more comfortable sometimes writing. That's not going to help me nearly enough.

I'm a little scared of the whole thing at the moment. I think it will pass, but for the moment I am fairly unconfident in my self. I have plenty of friends and professors who take the much opposite view. I just need to sit and talk with more people who are smarter than I. I want this to go well. I need to calm myself with knowledge. I'll have to call back the assistant at some point and ask her some more questions. I think I'll be fine, just as long as the people there don't interrogate me from some raised, hardwood, judge's bench with really contrasty lighting. That would suck.

Updates will come as they happen. I will write.

Posted by cliff at 02:11 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2004

newish things

If I can't write, at least I can do a half-ass job of picking through some photos of recent work and post them. Your guest password: "express"

Posted by cliff at 03:00 AM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2004


i can't write.

Posted by cliff at 01:10 AM | Comments (0)