Thursday, December 10, 2015

Trip to Washington, DC

(Above:  The South Carolina Tree, one over fifty trees surrounding the large, highly illuminated National Christmas tree. Click on any image to enlarge.)

A week ago Steve and I headed north to Washington, DC for the National Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration. It was an exciting trip.  Over fifty small trees surround the one very, very large National Tree that is covered in LED lights.  There's a pedestrian walkway, professional signs, and a great view to both the Washington Monument and the holiday decorated White House.  The official "lighting ceremony" was on Thursday night.  President Obama and his entire family were in attendance.  He threw the switch that turned on all the lights.  The entertainment was grand. Television cameras on long, swirling arms zoomed in on the audience (but not where we were sitting), and the weather was spectacular. Michele Obama read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas with Miss Piggy ... and the resulting television show is being broadcast throughout the month on PBS.

(Above:  The twelve ornaments I created for the National Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration.)

I've receive all sorts of press on this opportunity and yesterday was interviewed for a local television news episode!  I'm not sure when it will air but am thrilled nonetheless. 

(Above:  The reverse of all the ornaments.)

This year's theme for the National Christmas Tree ornaments was the National Parks.  2016 marks the National Park's centennial. 


So ... here's the view Steve and I had for the evening's celebration:  tree, the stage, and the light display.


Here's the First Family ... behind bulletproof glass ...

... and here's me the next day on the fenced walkway around the National Tree, beside the South Carolina tree.

(Above:  White House Gingerbread at the Decatur House.)

Of course Steve and I LOVE Washington, DC.  We visited all sorts of places over the weekend, including the Decatur House which serves as the White House Historical Association and featured a gingerbread creation by a former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier.  

Marzipan is something I'd never eat but enjoy looking at ... especially when shaped like former White House pets.  Who exactly owned the raccoon in front is a mystery! LOL!

(Above:  The Textile Museum on the George Washington campus.)

We also visited the Textile Museum's new location on the George Washington campus.  On the elevator, we bumped into a nice young man who works installing the art.  I introduced myself as one of the artists whose work will be shown in the upcoming Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora.  Because my piece, Cotton: Triangular Trade, is an installation that will be delivered via our car, I asked about the loading dock.  He showed me exactly where we'd pull into the facility.  So ... I'm totally ready!  Totally excited!
(Above:  The circular staircase at the Textile Museum.)

I have no idea where the curators plan to install my work and it doesn't matter to me!  The entire place is fabulous!

(Above:  The Textile Museum, as seen from the circular staircase.)

Steve and I also visited the National Gallery of Art to see recent photographic acquisitions and an exhibit called The Serial Impulse which featured works created at Gemini G.E.L. by artists like Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Serra, and Robert Rauschenburg.  Yet, the most wonderful museum experience was at the Renwick Gallery, an exhibit called Wonder.

(Above:  Janet Echelman's ethereal woven sculpture undulating above the sea inspired carpet.)

Janet Echelman's work is generally displayed outdoors, suspended between tall buildings.  Her work needs lots of space but the grand salon is gigantic!  Bean bag chairs were placed on the specially woven carpet for viewers to use in order to stare upwards.  The lighting changed colors.  It was amazing!

(Janet Echelman's installation seen through the door from the red-carpeted staircase.)

The work was a response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan.  There really was an outdoor feel to space.

(Above:  John Grades Middle Fork.)

John Grade and his cast of assistants cast a 150 year old hemlock tree (without harming it) and then used the cast in order to mold a half million wooden segments into a replica of the original tree.  The tree was selected because it was roughly the same age as the Renwick!  This exhibit runs through July 2016 at which time the artwork will be transported back to the forest, beside the original tree, and allowed to gradually return to the earth.

(Above:  Looking down the trunk of John Grade's artwork.)

(Above:  Steve inside on of Patrick Doughtery's willow formations.)

In all, there are nine stellar installations filling all the exhibition space at the Renwick.  Each one is terrific.  After being closed for a two-year renovation, these installations are a perfect inaugural exhibit to invite the public back into the space.  I couldn't believe how many people were there ... especially in Patrick Doughtery's willow installation.  It really is a perfect spot for photos!

(Above:  Tara Donovan's Untitled installation.)

One small room showed a rotating series of videos ... one for each of the nine installations.  Most included clips or time-action shots of the laborious process of installing the work.  Some were interviews on inspiration and studio practices.  I particularly liked learning about Tara Donovan.

(Above:  Tara Donovan's installation.)

Believe it or not, these stalagmite formations were formed by millions of index cards.  Alone, an index card has little spatial possibilities unless folded into a shape ... or, as in Tara Donovan's hands, piled to enormous heights.

(Above:  Detail of Jennifer Angus' In the Midnight Garden.)

Yet it was Jennifer Angus' installation that truly captured my imagination.  The bright pink walls were the result of using cochineal insects.  To this surface, Jennifer Angus pins thousands of preserved insect bodies in geometric arrangements.  The insects are all real.  Their coloring is all natural.  The artist stores the insects on foam-centered board and reuses them in future installations. 

I'd seen Jennifer Angus' work in magazines but never in person.  I can't imagine how many hours it must take for a team to pin this many insects to the wall.  Wow!  It got both Steve and me thinking.  After all, I'm very compulsive.  Despite the number of hours involved, I'd do something like this!  That's when Steve said, "Why don't you do something with your wrapped, rusted nails? You have thousands of those!"  Now ... I hate copying anyone else's ideas.  I almost resisted this idea ... but why? Why does it matter that a famous installation artist has pinned insects to the wall?  Why would the mechanics of her installation dictate to me that I can't pin wrapped nails to a wall ... in some other formation? 

Well ... one of the reasons why this blog post wasn't written earlier in the week is because I decided to give this idea a go!  Stay tuned to my blog!

(Above:  An antique wooden cabinet in the middle of Jennifer Angus' installation.)

So ... Jennifer Angus' insects have inspired me, but that's not what I expected at all.  I expected to be in some sort of emotion turmoil over the cabinet in the middle of the installation.  I'd seen a thumbnail photo of it on-line before going to the Renwick.  My heart leaped and then sunk to the pit of my stomach.  Why?  Well, I was excited to see something that I really liked and horrified that I was already in the process of making something similar.

(Above:  Jennifer Angus' insect cabinet, detail.)

My ideas seem very close to Jennifer Angus' work ... and yet aren't both our impulses equally inspired by drawers and display cabinets in natural history museums all over the world?  I'm not copying her.  I never saw her work until my project was underway.  Isn't it possible that we are both truly excited by many of the same things and approach work in a similar fashion? 

I once made a piece called The Archeology Project. The idea was to create a giant collection of faux-artifacts, as if some obscure great uncle had traveled the world and collected rare, exotic fragments and odd relics, scraps of paper with indecipherable foreign text, trinkets without known associations, and the stuff one might expect from a yesteryear's traveling circus show.  I stored it all in three vintage suitcase ... the kind of containers that evoked mystery, history, and a sense of wonder.  Isn't that what Jennifer Angus' antique chest of drawers does, evoke curiosity ... borrow images from natural history museum? 

My ideas are the same.  My inspirations are likely similar ... adopting museum-like furniture and filling it with fantasy objects.  Jennifer Angus' cabinet is a real antique.  She filled some of the drawers with insect vignettes.  My project is different.  It will use a unique piece of furniture to showcase a collection of "curiosities" which I started making last summer.  (Blogged HERE and HERE.)

(Above:  The Cabinet of Curiosities, in progress.)

My piece of furniture is also not an antique.  It is in the process of being built ... well ... at least it is in the process of me playing with a collection of drawers, an old clothes drying rack, and odd lumber.  This is how it looked before I went to Washington, DC.  I've been collecting clock cases, cigar boxes, and other "containers" to attach to shelving units within the collection of drawers.  (I have more drawers too!)  I also plan as much "open space" as possible, fewer "drawers" and more interesting nooks and crannies. Stay tuned ... as The Cabinet of Curiosities will be developing over the coming weeks and months.  I don't have team to help me.  I'm just one artist and I still have a full time job outside my studio practice!

(Above:  Lancet Window LXIV.)

Before leaving for Washington, DC, I also finished another Lancet Window.  Seven more are under construction!


Sandy said...

Similar inspiration, but definitely not the same look. You are unique girl!

So glad to see photos of the textile museum. It was really hard to imagine what the space would have been like for the call for entry. Better for someone like you who has done this sort of thing before. But now I have a better idea.

Glad you got media coverage about your Christmas decorations!

Linda Laird said...

Dear Susan,
Good gravy, woman--when do you sleep? Loved hearing about your fabulous Adventures in Art, and loved the bug exhibit. I've seen those pale pink and green locusts (?) before. Here in Co Springs is the May Museum of Nat. History, which has rooms of specimens collected starting in the late 19th century. It's an amazing place, and the insects are so decorative! I wonder where this artist got hers?

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year,

Linda Laird

Wanda said...

I've been waiting for the DC photos! Thanks for posting them. What a wonderful experience and great honor to have not only been there but been PART of it. I also loved seeing all the wonders you had the chance to experience. I think there may be a shortage of index cards now in the United States. Really awe-inspiring work. I can just imagine how you take in all the things you see and how those images mix with your own. No, I take that back, I CAN'T imagine!! Yes, the Textile Museum sure looks awesome! So, I would think that you are in your pre-Christmas mode....I know what that means! Hope everything is going well and you are keeping to your schedule. Your schedule would be an "excel-sheet lovers" dream!!! ha ha

Wanda said...

P.S. What red and black shirt did you have on in DC? Not THE shirt, or????