I meant to write this (and partially did) back in the summertime, but hey, stuff happened. Nevertheless, I’m happy to be breaking the seal on this email series finally, and the beginning of the new year seems appropriate.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what happened this past year in my life, and what I’d like to make happen in 2022. A couple of my resolutions for 2022 were directly informed by what happened this past year: set and maintain boundaries around working time (less work), and give my own ideas and artwork time and energy (more artwork). And I’d like to share those ideas and findings with you in 2022, in whatever form they take, through these letters and other online places.
This theme of sharing and gifting– giving gifts this holiday, giving time to the things you care about– has me thinking about one of the first chapters from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (which I still haven’t finished 😳 ). Robin recalls finding wild strawberries as a child, growing abundantly by their home. She says, “Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning.” (thought it’s hard to consider this if you’ve been in a mall within the past month)
But she also clarifies that “In the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.” To this end, “A gift creates ongoing relationship…’a feeling-bond between two people.’”…or between the strawberry and you. Robin wonders on the reciprocity of what she could give back to the strawberries: perhaps expressing the joy of eating a ripe berry, or clearing a bit of ground where one of its tendrils seeks to root, or occasionally planting a strawberry. She asks, “can we behave ‘as if’ the living world were a gift?”
Isn’t that a lovely thing to ponder on? Thinking about the world as one of gifts creates both a desire to reciprocate and a sense of abundance that supports those reciprocal actions. I think at its core teaching is very much in line with gift-giving: treating knowledge, time, resources as abundant and sharing them generously, creating reciprocal relationships of learning with students– ✔️check, ✔️check, ✔️check. And so I wonder if art making could be a practice of giving, too.
I created a piece back in 2019 called Light as a Gift that was a collection of objects that filtered light in different ways, set up on a shelf that people could watch and interact with. I wasn’t sure it was entirely successful– the idea had been done before, there wasn’t any showy technical aspects to it, and there wasn’t any urgent social or political statement to it. But when I exhibited it, I received a lot of comments from people about how calming it was to watch, or how it made them recall a quiet memory of their own. So in some ways I think it was a successful offering, to the people there.
One last thing, to wrap up my musings on gifts: If the currency of a gift economy is reciprocity, what does it mean to give yourself the gift of art making? Time to make something which, most-likely, won’t result in financial gain or market value? And finally, what does it mean to be in reciprocity with yourself?
During December I managed to finish a project I had been wanting to make for a long time, a calendar. I was wondering, “What does a year look like?” During my research I found some examples of visualizing time that I loved, such as a spiral calendar (hugely influential), diagrams from the 1700s from BL King’s Topographical Collection, and mobius strips. But I always imagine it as a kind of ellipse, with December at the bottom and June to the right, then somehow the summer should be the whole top half. (It doesn’t actually work out like that, but that’s how it feels to me) The ellipse reminds me of what’s actually causing the passage of time and the seasons: the journey of Earth around the sun.
Here’s the end result, with twelve loops for each month (roughly), getting longer as the daylight hours extend up to the summer solstice at the top, then shrinking until we reach the winter solstice at the bottom. It’s hard to believe, but they are indeed getting longer, currently. The phases of the moon are marked, including the two lunar eclipses we’ll be able to see in Canada. You can see more of the reference and documentation of making this over on the project channel. And you can grab a copy for your computer / home printer here.
So, cheers to a new year! And if you’d like to send me a reply about anything I’ve mentioned here, you can just hit reply and write!