Sunday, March 25, 2012

The brain project comes to a head…

I was completely immersed in my Brain project this week. The good news is that I can see the end approaching! Early in the week I attached all of the butterflies on to the brain and secured the vines. With help from Joe LaMantia, I created an elaborate mechanism to anchor the vine’s main stem through a hole I drilled in the brain. Connection points for the branches and the brain were made with hot glue, and the overall structure is very robust and almost ready for travel and display. My work on the euphoric side gave me the mental fix I needed to move over to the dark side. I have been working on creating three lithium citrate structures to suspend over the depressive side, much like the butterflies float over the euphoric side. I got some excellent support from the Poynter Sheet Metal Center to bend metal rods to create the citric acid molecule. I can’t say enough about how helpful and constructive they have been in helping me on the project. I discussed my metalworking needs with them before I left for Michigan, and when I returned to Stone Belt on Monday the structure sat gleaming on my workbench. It was like Spring Break Santa made a delivery. I was envisioning using tennis balls as some of the atoms in the structure, which was another suggestion from Joe. Between my own supplies, and scouring Opportunity House, I managed to find all but a few of the balls I needed. In fact, the majority of my Brain is made with reclaimed and recycled materials, a fact that I feel very good about. I had been humming and hawing over how to paint the tennis balls white, and I ultimately decided to drill a hole in them and insert a brazing rod from Grandpa’s welding supplies. I used a two-part epoxy to glue the metal rod to the ball, then I dipped the balls in some old sealing paint that we had in storage. I took two coats, but even the blue balls looked white. I needed red paint for the Lithium, which burns red in a flame, so I went to Kleindorfer’s hardware. I figure that’s as close to reclaimed and recycled as you can get if you have to buy new stuff in Bloomington. I was trying to decide between Massey Ferguson Red and Pioneer Red (you’ve got to love the old red tractor colors!). After they were coated with pain, I let them dry like chocolate dipped lollipops on the veranda. When they were dry I spent a few days wrapping yarn around the brazing rod and the carbon backbone to get the color and feel I wanted, and now all three structures are attached. I just love the symmetry that is created between the floating lithium citrate structures on the dark side and the growing vines and floating butterflies on the green side. Many thanks to Robin Ripley, another Brain artist, for so many of the great pics!!

One of the great bits of fun at the end of my week was the Bloom Magazine photo shoot at Stone Belt on Friday. I was delighted to see Steve the photographer again, who did my photo shoot in the last issue of Bloom. He staged the brains to create the compositions he wanted for pictures. The three fiber artists were clustered together, but comically he wanted us to pick up paintbrushes and pretend to be discussing paint colours for the brains! That bit of silliness got us all going on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon. The atmosphere bordered on giddy as we all laughed and talked, to the point where we were reprimanded for not staying on task. Everyone just had a good time. I shot a short movie of people milling about to give you a sense of what it was like. It reminded me of my days as a grad student when we’d all go to the Grad Club on Friday afternoons after an intense week of research to laugh, have a beer and just chill.

I promised last time to provide information about the brain project as it moves forward. I learned that all twenty-two brains will be together for one time only in the White Auditorium at Bloomington South High School on the 28th of April. More details will follow, but I can’t wait to see all the pieces together. It’s just an amazing project. I had a chance to chat with Jill Bolte-Taylor, the person who conceived and organized the project, and we both marveled at the diversity of the brains. They’re all identical in size, but they’re as distinctive as the artist that created each one. The overall effect is otherworldly. I was also very pleased to see Malcolm Abrams, the editor of Bloom, enthusiastically participate in the shoot.

My other big project from the week involved the Girl Scouts. I had a dozen girls from a local troupe, plus a few siblings and a half-dozen parents or so, all jam-packed in my kitchen. The event had a lot of energy and it was such fun. It felt great (no pun intended) to be able to introduce them to a completely different medium that none of them had played with before. They made wet felted balls to begin with and transitioned into other shapes. They just ran with the idea, making cats and other creatures. I got my bead collection out along with some silk thread so they could embellish their creations. Along the way I had them dyeing with Kool-Aid. They were amazed by how effectively the wool exhausts the color in the dye pot. There was some concern about the dyes transferring to clothes, but once it’s in the wool it isn’t going anywhere. At the end of the day everyone went home happy with a bag of merino noils to make more art. It took a while, but when things got quiet again my two boys slowly emerged from some corner of the house where they were hiding and things returned to normal.

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Giant butterflies in the garden…

This week carried me away from my brain and my weekly routine. My family and I spent a delightful week in Michigan, complete with a rhubarb pie (sorry, no picture—the camera was on holiday as well). The weather was unusually warm in Michigan so we got to do plenty of outdoor activities without ever needing our snow boots. Jacob did some archery and worked on training with his three-sectioned staff, while Tommie and Jim went fishing off the pier at Tawas. They came home with a cooler full of small perch that made a very tasty fish fry. Jacob, Gramma and I had a delightful afternoon scouring the local consignment shops for wool sweaters. I’m stocking up now for making sweater petals and other fall season art pieces, and I was fortunate enough to come home with eighteen sweaters over a range of colors. I felted them in the washing machine and put them into storage to discover again in the fall. We also got to do a plenty of family things, like bowling, ping pong and a nice dinner with the Gibsons and Aunt Lois.

While it’s true that I spent a week apart from my brain, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still chipping away at my art projects. If you’re not up to speed, I’m working on one of the 22 giant brains that will be part of the brain extravaganza project, spearheaded by Jill Bolte-Taylor. They will be on display around town before going on tour next year. I learned that mine, which depicts bipolarism, will be on display at the Herman Wells library on campus sometime after April 7th. There will first be a big extravaganza where all the brains come together for a conference before splitting up. I don’t know where that will be, but I’ll post any new information on my blog and on Facebook when I know more. My brain is coming together nicely, and on the trip to Michigan I completed all the artwork for the euphoric side. On Monday I’ll head to Stone Belt and attach the new butterflies.

The drive home from Michigan was really amazing this year. With a week of unseasonably warm weather, we left winter behind and drove into spring. When we got to southern Indiana we started to see forsythia and magnolia trees in full blossom. Magnolias remind me of my father, who liked to say that they always bloomed (in the Czech Republic) on his birthday, which is April 30th . The magnolias do have a certain flair for the dramatic and colorful, which fit his personality very well. While Jim drove us home I started working on couple of turtle shells that will find their way into my next weaving. I’m not sure if it will have a painted or a box turtle, so I made one shell of each shape. I’m planning on having elm branches hanging over the turtle, which might be because when we were in Michigan I was thinking about the emerald elm borer. I’ve also been thinking about mushrooms, which will make it into a weaving, but might not make it into the turtle piece. I do know it’s time to let go of the brain project and start making art pieces for the summer shows. With a week of eighty degree days ahead it should be easy to get into the spirit!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Bipolar Brain Project…

I spent a lot of quality time with my Brain last week. I have been gluing and gluing and gluing objects onto the “depression” side of my brain. The best news is that I can finally see the light at the end of the very black tunnel. That’s important when you spend hours upon hours gluing black painted objects into a sea of black felt. Now I finally have everything affixed to a first approximation on the depressive side. And so on Friday I did a little victory dance at Stone Belt. I still have to make another pass with my fine-tip glue gun to tighten all the connections and test that everything is securely attached, but oh does it feel good to be approaching done on that part of the Brain project!

The most exciting (and somewhat concerning!) aspect of my efforts this week involved crawling inside my brain. I need to attach some 18” butterflies and the structure of lithium citrate to the surface in a way that lets them float above the brain. That involved projecting rods (maybe picture bolts) from the surface. To secure them I needed to be inside the brain to add the washers and nuts and secure everything with epoxy. That’s when I called upon my two Joes (usually it’s Toms in my life). Joe from Stone Belt drove the forklift to pick up the brain, while Joe LaMantia, public artist extraordinaire, helped me position the brain to raise it safely. It’s hard to watch the art piece you’ve invested hours and hours into creating being picked up by two big metal tines that don’t have much respect for felted flowers. When it was safely lifted onto a raised shelf I crawled inside and held the bolts in place while Joe LaMantia added the washers and nuts on the outside to secure them. I have uploaded a short movie to load so you can live the moment with me, thanks to my iPhone.

Once inside the brain I realized how interesting it was, mostly because of the textures. It was too dark to get good pictures, but the fiberglass material has kind of a cotton candy look and feel to it. Of course one dares not touch it for fear of picking up glass splinters. I certainly loaded up on personal protection, donning glasses, a mask, a balaclava, and full artist body armor (OK, a turtleneck). Bonnie Gordon-Lucas was there to snap a picture of me for posterity as I entered. Once inside, I found surface features of mountain rows opposite the furrows on the outside, so it has a silent landscape all its own.

Back on the surface of the brain, I created a second vine and attached both of my vines this week. I really like the effect it gives. I feel like it adds more dimension to the piece, with more visual interest. It accentuates different parts of the piece that I’ve already created. One of the interesting aspects of building up the surface features of the brain has been working in the community of brain artists at Stone Belt. I was getting pretty wrapped up in my own thoughts because I work with the brain so intimately, trying to develop my original vision. It can be hard to pull yourself back and look at the composition critically. I’m fortunate to have friends like Bonnie, who gave me some important advice about not overworking the piece. It’s easy to get so physically and emotionally close to the piece, especially as you work on a deadline, that you forget to step back to look at the whole of the creation. Bonnie and Robyn helped me decide that my plan to put three vines on the brain would have been too much. With two vines you get to have a little peaceful meadow on the green side. That brought back a conversation I had with Dawn Adams recently about incorporating regions of calmness in art pieces as you fill up the space. You just need to have some mental breathing room in some areas. I’m just really happy with how it’s turning out! Next week I should be able to complete the butterflies and chemical formulas to complete the floating elements. I’m really happy to have the support and help of the Poynter Sheet Metal Center in town for creating several of the steel structures I’m using—they are an unexpected and very helpful support group. Now I finally feel like I’m on the other side of the process, where I’m beyond the creation stage and the feeling of being overwhelmed - that it will never come together—it definitely will. I’m in the home stretch, and it feels great!!

In family news, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who had big projects coming due. Jacob participated in his classroom’s county fair project. He studied Lake County, Indiana. He created an elaborate, three-dimensional sculpture of the county courthouse. That went along with his poster and write-up about county features. We even baked a recipe for ‘plain cake’ that he got from the county historian of Lake County. We baked three big, BIG loaves, which I cut up into small pieces and brought in on a big serving dish. They were very popular in the class. It’s cool to bring in cake! The only leftovers were a set of handmade bookmarks that he printed in color, cut and decorated with a ribbon to be used as prizes. If you have use for some nice bookmarks let me know! Tommie had his own big project as part of the sixth grade class studying aspects of World War II. It’s a huge event where they all make posters and projects, and they bring in veterans who served in the war to tell about their experiences. Tommie studied the Manhattan project, learning all about the development and use of the atomic weapons used at the end of the war. He made and painted elaborate sculptures of the two bombs, which drew in a lot of students to ask questions about the project. I’m just super proud of both of them for carrying themselves so well during the expositions of their work, and for putting so much effort and dedication into their projects! Good job, boys!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pie, brains and Shakespeare

My week started out on a high note—Jim baked me an apple pie! Who knew! It was really good, too. There’s nothing better than a fresh slice of pie to go with my morning espresso after an hour of Zumba in the morning. The Mutsu apples freeze nicely, so it’s on my summer list to make sure Jim freezes lots of them when he’s done with peaches. The even better news is that I’ll probably get another pie next week when we see Jim’s mom. We bought her a beautiful red deep-dish pie plate for Christmas and she’s planning on a rhubarb pie.

Most of my art week efforts were focused on my brain project. I’ve been gluing lots of dark objects on the depressive side of my brain to showcase facets of the disease. I’ve got clocks that stand still while you’re depressed, black roses and birds, and black pill bottles, all spray-painted black on the veranda. I made a trip to the Recycle Center to pick up black wine corks and beer caps to connect the abuse of alcohol with depression. To balance my efforts on the dark side I’ve been needle felting giant butterflies to float over my flowers on the euphoric side. I also began creating the giant vines that will be growing from the euphoric side to the depressive side by wrapping bailing wire with green yarn that will eventually transition to black. The giant green tendrils have engulfed my art studio and me—it’s a little out of control. The last major project has been to assemble the superstructures that will elevate the butterflies and other objects above the brain surface. I’ve been drilling holes in the brain to embed steel rods that are secured by bolting them at the inner and outer surfaces. I managed to secure some spring steel rods, thanks to Poynter Sheet Metal, to attach the butterflies. I’m excited about using the rods because it will give them a little bounce and movement.

I’ve also had a busy family and social calendar this weekend. Friday night we went to watch a black belt test at Monroe County Martial Arts. The boys have trained with Phoebe, the youngest girl ever to receive a black belt there, for as long as they have trained. She did an awesome job with all her kicks and techniques, and when it came to the grueling sparring rounds at the end, she still had enough left over to get in some kicks to the head of her black belt sparring partners. After a busy Saturday we went to see a production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, put on by the IU theater department. I’ve seen the conventional version so many times, but this version promised to be lighter and more accessible. I persuaded my family that it would be fun, so off we all went. Puck was played by a woman, which was something new for me. She did such a fabulous job that it quickly erased my stereotype for the role and gave a whole new flavor to the performance. All of the characters were so vibrant and well developed that the story just came to life. I just love the Shakespearian English. The dialogue is at once powerful, colorful and poetic, evoking such vivid images. It was just an amazing performance, and everyone enjoyed the night out.

Until next week…

Martina Celerin