Several months ago I was invited to participate in an installation project for the Conagree Vista Guild, a downtown Columbia neighborhood association in the city's arts and cultural district. The project was part of Artista Vista, an annual spring art crawl. It was curated by Michaela Pilar Brown. I jumped at the chance.
After all, I've been part of Arista Vista for over thirteen years because, up until this January, I had a studio in the cooperative gallery space located in this section of town. So, I thought I'd not be part of it until this opportunity presented itself. Micheala selected a loose but uniting theme: Considering the Revolution. This is the simple statement I wrote for my performance installation called Nike's Advice.
There comes a time when the “old” must go … old paint, old oil sticks, yards of old fabric. There comes a time when long empty surfaces need to be filled. There comes a time to face personal demons who say one cannot accomplish a new goal. For me/Susan Lenz, the time for this revolution is during Artista Vista. At Kaminsky’s, 928 Gervais Street, bolts of off-white material will be transformed by mark making and documented through a time-lapse video by John Allen and Barry Wheeler. As the fabric is changed, it will be suspended from the ceiling, transforming the interior space.
This is how the interior of 928 Gervais Street looked last week before the event.
I loaded up our mini cargo van, hauled all this "stuff" into the space, covered the pristine wooden floors with a heavy paper from a local hardware store, and covered the paper with one of the bolts of long neglected, off white fabric.
Then Steve and I suspended the largest, heaviest, longest bolt from the ceiling.
The bolt flowed nicely onto two tables borrowed from One Columbia, the city's arts and tourism advocacy organization.
I marked the first twenty or so feet along the edge ... and continued measuring/marking through the weekend as the bolt was filled.
I also wrote the title, dates, event name, and my name on the very end.
I thought I was ready to go ... until I realized that I'd set up my supplies in such a way that I'd be working with my back to the door.
These were the boxes of paint, ink, brayers, wooden fabric stamps, brushes, crayons, pastels, and oils sticks.
I moved almost all of the supplies to the back of the tables ... and then wrote on the fabric covered floor! It reads: Join Our Email List! We'll let you know when the time lapse video goes LIVE! Arrows point to the table on which a sign up sheet and pens were positioned.
Then, crayons and pastels were placed on the floor near the doorway ... and more writing went onto the fabric covered floor to encourage public participation.
Right before the Thursday evening start, Lee Snelgrove of One Columbia came and hung the installation's sign. On Saturday, Lee and his staff conducted tours through all the installations.
Also on Thursday, Barry Wheeler set up his camera ... filming the project. He and his business partner John Allen will be making a time lapse video.
By 5:00 PM on Thursday, I had started.
Often, I simply tossed excess paint onto the suspended roll. I learned a lot about painting (something I'm not known to do ... making the public act of doing it quite "revolutionary" in and of itself.) I learned that I hate paint brushes but love using a brayer. I learned that I can't prevent myself from using my hands.
Soon, people came and started adding their marks
More people came as the evening progressed. It didn't take long for me to start hanging the finished end from previously positioned wires fitted with safety pins ... hanging the marked fabric up to dry ... hopefully making the upcoming time lapse video appear to have a growing form of colorful fabric.
My mentor, Stephen Chesley, stopped in ... even though he was supposed to be in his studio back at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. I was happy to see him and also my friend Linda Strassburg. Stephen encouraged Linda just the way he has always encouraged me: "Only you can make your own original!" Stephen Chesley's best advice to me has (and always will be) ... Just go do the work! Hence, Nike's Advice. Just like the shoe company! Just do it!
On Saturday morning John and Barry were both ready to continue filming. By this point, there were about eighty feet of fabric on which paint had been applied. It is hanging in the background.
For the video, John and Barry wanted to try capturing the discussion when one of the tour groups came. I was wired with a microphone.
I talked about the project, the unified theme (Considering the Revolution), and invited people to revolt with me by "making their mark". Most people smiled, laughed ... and then gave in to the temptation to draw some sort of flower, abstract design, or simply add their name.
By Saturday afternoon, I was experiencing another prediction made by Stephen Chesley. Stephen said that if I simply abandoned my own preconceived ideas of "painting", I'd find my own, natural way to make marks, gestures that feel right to me and make me happy. I was quite happy with several of my own "drawings" ... and found that I do have an approach of my own.
One of these guys came on Thursday evening. He was so excited that he brought a friend back on Saturday. They stayed for at least an hour while I continued to hang all 130 feet of marked material.
The view from the top of the ladder was amazing.
I have no idea what I'll do with this fabric. Many people made suggestions ... like hang it across the Gervais Street bridge for the next art crawl or drape it from the fire tower. Others suggested making a garment for next year's Runaway Runway fashion show featuring recycled material. Everyone seemed to response positively to the idea of this performance art installation and to the bright colors. To me, it simply looked all a "hot mess". Then, I took a closer look.
There are areas that have all sorts of possibilities.
I could imagine putting a 3' x 3' section together with a piece of industrial felt ... and adding self-guided, free-motion machine embroidery. Such an approach might be my own, unique way to combine "painting" and "quilting".
Long, skinny strips could be applied to cradled boards with gel medium ... truly non-objective paintings.
I could over dyed it, distress it, or do anything else with it. I have 130 feet!
I add more paint or cut it into small squares to applique on a black background.
On Sunday morning Steve and I packed everything up, cleaned up the space, and went home. The last few feet weren't entirely dry. We unrolled the last few feet and spread out the tarp I'd placed on the two tables. They fabric might be my favorite ... a totally accidental piece made by the excess paint soaking through the bolt above. There's a line down the middle that corresponds to where the two table met. The tarp almost looks like a Mark Rothko painting! LOL!
After a few hours in the sun, it was all dry. We rolled it up, wrapped it in plastic, and put it into the garage. Even my husband Steve said, "You did it ... but now, wait. Let the colors stew in your mind. You'll know what to do with it when the time comes." In the meantime, I'm excited to see what John and Barry do with the many hours of footage they shot. I don't envy their job of condescending it into a fun, short video!