October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

This bit of graffiti, that Lee Gainer found near Brick Lane in London, fits nicely with the theme of her decathlon works.  Curious?  Well, you’ll have to come see the exhibition in January now won’t you.

These Things Happen

October 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Shanthi is right, we cannot take things for granted.
we need to be flexible while keeping focused. To be able to continue when things do not go as planned.

One day I walked into my studio and found my graphite pencil on the floor, broken in three places.

It hurt. It upset my sense of order.

I find peace in placing objects in what creates a feeling of balance.

But of course it’s only a pencil…

the result was having to use the pencil differently and also to buy another.

I had to shift my perception.

Conflicts and Resolutions!

September 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have been having conflicting emotions the last few days,especially after reading two news articles. When I read this article about the speed of light being superseded by another elementary particle, I was very thrilled. It was not that the light lost a race with a neutrino. It was just another proof that nothing was for certain in this world, universe or the cosmos or anything beyond or within. Just a couple of days before this article was published,  I was arguing with my three elementary school art students about the speed of light. I had told them that the speed of light is not the ultimate and I believed that there could be something else that could be faster. I jokingly added that my mind was one of them as I could travel anywhere in my mind and could easily beat light. And on a serious note explained to them that just because we cannot see something or be aware of it, it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. In my mind I added another thought that we humans need to realize that we cannot take things for granted and that we need to have humility inspite of all our achievements. Soon there would be a race to find out what is going to be faster than that neutrino?

The second article was a little disturbing to me. It was about scanning the brain and trying to figure out the visual images that come in our dreams. To know that my private thoughts could be scanned is pretty scary. This race to get ahead with technology and mystery breaking makes me feel very vulnerable.

Now what has all this got to do with my weaving project? Even though light might have lost to a neutrino in a speed race, it still holds a sense of mystery no matter what. This weave project means a lot to me personnally and winning or losing this competition is going to have minimal effect on me.

As Karen has mentioned in her comment,” it’s not whether you win or loose, it’s how you play the game”. Life is full of conflicts.  It is up to us to get rid of the complexities and find the simple path. One more conflict with regard to the project resolved today and found a new direction…..

Shanthi Chandrasekar (artist)

“In it to win it” – what’s that?

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Commentator:  Karen Joan Topping

Artist:  Shanthi Chandrasekar

“No pain, no gain”, “all or nothing”, one liner aphorism that cannot be attributed to any specific person or situation?  As I mentioned in my bio, I was a high school athlete and I’ve heard all of these and worse in all kinds of contexts.  After meeting with the artist, SHANTHI CHANDRASEKAR, after her return from a more than month long trip to India, one of these koan like sayings is ringing in my head like a broken bell:  “In it to win it.” What does this mean? 

 In the simple parlance of high school sports coaches, that is what wins games.  When my junior varsity coach, Abby Normile (this is true) was screaming it at me on the basketball court I fully grasped that just because I was in it, did not mean I was going to win it.  It meant I better figure out what the H.E. double-hockey sticks was going on that basketball court and make 110% effort do everything (legally) in my power to either block shots or make shots.  And by the way, I better not waste anytime switching between the two.  In my experience, in situations like the above, logic-mind goes on a vacation and intuition and an auto-pilot-esque practiced repetition of practiced skills moves in.  It can be a real rush.  I’ve even say that there is a similar experience rush that can happen to the artist while working in the studio.  When you shut yourself off to your perceived limitations, remarkable achievements can often result. 

But my studio visit with Shanthi and a chance run-in with this article  about Japanese “Noise Music” have given me pause. 

In this article Matthew Mulane, argues that the Japanese economic bubble of the 1980’s was like “The eager athlete, caught in the hysteria of competition, inject[ing] steroids to ensure victory in the moment, in the now. The future threats of its use are ignored, forgotten, or simply lost in the frenzied pursuit of winning. ”[1]  When you are inclined to focus on the winning rather than the practicing, this steroidal attitude gets dangerous.  And it is not just economically invasive.  And it’s not just in Japan.  Frighteningly, this attitude seems to be able to pervade all areas of life at one time or another. 

To some extent the avant garde will always crowd out the traditional.  But they don’t say practice makes perfect for nothing.  After visiting India with this project in mind and getting assistance from a number of family members, friends and occasional total strangers to record the pictures, videos and sound SHANTHI CHANDRASEKAR says that more than ever before she is feeling a personal responsibility to document and grow appreciation for traditional art forms that she was exposed to while growing up.    She’s likened this new directorial role to “having to learn to drive on the expressway.”  So many images and so many ideas, how to show all the layers and not lose focus?  This picture from her trip is poignant illustration of subtle challenges and changes that occur, without a thought to the consequences:  knots (a type of technology) being replaced by safety pins (another technology) all being made redundant by room-size automatic power looms that electronically weave patterns stored in a digital file.   

Photo Courtesy of Shanthi Chandrasekar.

But the discussion in Shanthi’s studio is always compelling and multi-faceted, and what I am still thinking about this time is her thoughts about the material and symbol of knots.  The simple knot is a reliable tool.  The complex knot is an artistic symbol of uniting opposing entities, or the endless connection of the present to both the past and the future.  Thinking about her focus on the knot and how it relates to The Weave,  I wonder, is it about overcoming disconnectedness that we all feel at one time or another? 

“In it to win it?”  It’s pretty grim if you stop and think about everything it in terms of winning and loosing.   After all this reflection, I’m feeling like there may be no clear winning, no matter what we are talking about, even sports.  As a species we should spend more time realizing that its all really just exercising being able to keep track of it all, past, present and future, at all times.   Or, I guess I could have just said “it’s not whether you win or loose, it’s how you play the game”.

-Karen Joan Topping, 9-23-11

[1]-Mulane, Matthew.  “Hurt Now, Feel Later:  Noise, Body and Capital in the Japanese

Bubble.”  9 Sep 2011.  Art & Education htttp://


1-7.  Page 4.

All Shook Up

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

spun out

Success vs Failure…competition not really talked about…
ideas thought of, plans made, confusion, fear, feeling overwhelmed.
I had a dream the other night…I walked into a gallery and saw the most beautiful weaving hanging on the wall. It used a similar technique to one I’ve been working on but had been taken to a much higher level. The delicacy of my own structure remained but it was more intentional, more of a narrative and less of a free-flowing pattern. I felt sick,
and also curious. So I took this “net weaving” of the wall for a closer look and suddenly i was enmeshed.
I fell to the ground wrapped in it, terrified,suffocating.
Somehow I was upright and unwrapped, trying to get the net back on the wall before anybody saw me and trying to do it without damaging it. I succeeded and the dream continued on.

When I woke i was very disturbed. The competitive aspect of this project is causing me some distress!

And as Shanthi mentions in her post there are always unexpected circumstances. And plans made to go in a certain direction may sometimes take a different turn…


August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Summertime is always a productive time mentally and conceptually for me. It is a busy family time both at my mother’s house and for traveling to visit other relatives. The warm weather brings activities such as weekend cookouts and family reunions. At our summer gatherings stories are told reminiscing moments of our childhood, of my father and the other elder blue-collar men.

But most of all summer allows me to reflect on my own childhood and adolescence. I study my family to jog and clear my own memory. Watching my family allows me to study my three brothers and myself at various child and adolescent stages. My memory is so often viewed through the eyes of the young girl who wanted so badly to be included with the boys it impairs me to see smaller possibly even more important memories or viewpoints.

As I watch my six nieces and nephews, I see my brothers, our friends and myself. My eleven year-old niece speeding around the mountain on her own dirt bike, bouncing down over small hills, reminds me of myself. She struggles between needing to fit in at school as a girly-girl and wanting to be as good as the boys on her dirt bike. My brothers’ children are as attached to the outside open spaces and engine running machines as we were, and still are. Even my “too cool for anything” teenage niece wants her father’s twenty-five year old pick-up as her first vehicle. I see in all of this our neighborhood as it was before we became adults and began chasing the blue-collar, American dream.

The play I see in my nieces and nephews reminds me why I am not so competitive. Growing up our version of sports involved jumping off the diving board for who could make the biggest splash, as judged by the parents who always said things like, “I don’t know…that was close….let me see again.” Competition was not talked about much. Things in our lives were repetitive, from chores and diving into the pool, to jumping our bikes, and racing cars down our street. It just did not feel like competition. There was always a next time to try and prove yourself. It was not about making that ultimate scored win that would get written in a book, but about bragging rights for the day. Making sure you got up without crying when you fell down trying. So your car did not win in the impromptu drag race up the street? You spent a couple months working on the engine and tried again next time. Maybe it is how everything kept repeating itself that competition never really mattered to us. So why keep score?

The summer is not just about my brothers and I though. It is a time of creation and hard work for my mother. Flowerbeds and gardens are her works of art. Vegetables and fruits turn into canned concoctions of jellies, pickles and the like. The picking of fresh tomatoes or blackberries followed by chasing away the groundhogs reminds me that she is turning into my grandmother. I clearly remember the heat and scents of whole summers spent either in our kitchen or my grandmother’s, watching the two women canning everything that came out of their acre large gardens. It fed us vegetables through until the next spring. It was years before I remember frozen vegetables in our freezer.

"Silly Boys..."

"Silly Boys..."

~ Mary Woodall

Success Vs. Failure… A follow up

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment


Karen got me thinking about success and failure this month with her questions. And it was month of success and failure when it came to achieving what I set out to do. I was able collect some raw material to work on. Even though one has everything planned out and all set to go, there are those unexpected circumstances that pop up and change the course of events. And as an artist it is part of the process to navigate through them or go with the flow and eventually arrive at the destination, be it the planned one or someplace that is totally new. With the raw material in hand, I wonder if I will be able to reach the direction I have in mind or find a new one!

Shanthi Chandrasekar

Finding the hidden ramp…

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

I recently visited Lee Gainer’s studio in the Arlington Arts Center and, aside from being impressed with the progress of her work, was struck by her ability to talk about it and even her candor in assessing what she thinks is working and what isn’t. We started by looking at a series of tracing’s Lee has been working on, taking different images and, using tracing paper, outlining contours of them to create an image that is abstract and can be interpreted differently depending on the viewer. From a ballerina or an angel or Lee’s favorite “a Mad Men, 50′s era hair-do”, these works are left to the user to imbue meaning or symbolism, similar to a Rorschach image, as Lee pointed out. Some of my favorite’s from this series are below.

Below is taken from a series that Lee was refreshingly honest about feeling they did not achieve what she wanted them to and didn’t want to pursue them further. The images (collages that combined video screenshots and found images) were inspired by the “white flight phenomeon of the 1960′s and it made me think of Southern culture, which I grew up in, and particularly the Dukes of Hazard…and how in each episode of the show, the good guys would climb in their cars and would always find some sort of ramp and get away. I used that as a sort of metaphor for these white families who would find the ramp whereas the minority familes never did. The more I’ve thought about this series the more it has stuck with me. At the time I don’t think the idea had fully settled with me but, now that it has, I see these works as some of my favorites of what she’s working on. Lee said she’d worked on some of a larger scale but that they didn’t communicate quite as well — I would personally love to see these in a much larger size and wonder if the image of cars leaping from “found” ramps would, in fact, have more of an impact on a larger scale.

File under ‘Ideas in their embyronic form’: Lee brought out a bag of coal that she’d collected. She wasn’t sure exactly how she would use it other than that she knew she wanted to draw with it. “Coal is such an interesting material…extremely raw and unprocessed. You’d think it would crumble in your hands but it has integrity to it’s make-up…it’s solid.” I’m eager to see where she goes with this material next time I visit –  post written by Ryan Holladay.

The Agony of Defeat…Not!

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Commentator:  Karen Joan Topping

Artist:  Shanthi Chandrasekar

As a child of the 1970’s I can’t resist invoking the intro to the TV show Wide World of Sports:  “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”  As well as showing the actual competitions, Wide World of Sport’s interviews and features gave context to sports and athletes.  Our format of engaging with the artists during the whole period leading up to the final show kind of emulates the same ethos.  Our group of four artists will each present ten art works of ten types, but what about the blood, sweat and tears it will take to get there?  Why should anyone care? 

Artist and athlete alike, hours and hours of practice are something you cannot get away from.  And being an artist myself, I think non-artists often don’t understand how much failure it takes to get success in our line of work.  Unlike stumbles, car crashes and ski jumps that go bad, artist’s failures happen alone in the sanctity of the studio (ideally).  For any one beautiful piece of artwork, who knows how many attempts went into the fireplace never to see the light of day. 

So with my contestant, SHANTHI CHANDRASEKAR, literally on the other side of the world where I can’t visit her studio, instead I thought I’d try to get inside her head with an interview.  I emailed her a questionnaire regarding success and failure in the studio.  Below are my questions (KJT) followed by her answers (SC): 


(KJT) – What do you think makes a work of art successful?

(SC) – What makes a work of art successful depends on the intention behind making it.

Personally, I feel that a work of art is successful if I am able learn something from the process of working on it or if the work in itself leads to other possibilities/ideas. An artwork is successful if the viewer is able feel or connect with the work for the same reasons I worked on it or is able bring in a new perspective from his/her personal experiences that is meaningful to the artwork. If the work of art creates an emotional attachment that increases with time, then it is successful. But for all these to happen, it involves energy and time and a number of tries. It is one thing to have an idea and another to successfully achieve it. It is a combination of concept, tools and technique with the emotional component that leads to a successful piece of artwork.

(KJT) – I’ve already mentioned how failure figures in as an integral part of the creative process.  How do your quantify your failures?  A lot?  A little?  Part of the process?

(SC) I feel that failure is part of the creative process. For every single new idea, there are a number of possible solutions. As an artist, one has to make decisions everytime. Sometimes the decisions lead to the intended direction and sometimes not. The creative process is about divergent thinking and convergent thinking. And when you have a hundred possibilities, it is hard to always pick the right solutions on the first shot. Sometimes it takes a number tries to achieve what you are after, and there are times when solutions never happen. Sometimes it is just about going with the flow and following your instincts.  

(KJT) – What’s been your greatest failure?

(SC) I don’t think I have had any greatest failure. To me, failure means that there is more to be accomplished. I seek the process more than the outcome of the goal. 

(KJT) -Your greatest success?

(SC) My greatest success is being able to pursue my dreams.   

(KJT) -As an artist, I’ve often experienced successes in the studio that were complete surprises, what ended up working was not what I was trying to do.  Is there something that was not a success or failure, but a huge surprise that you might tell us about?   

(SC) One thing that I recently understood that came as a surprise and had nothing to do with success or failure was that whatever I have been working on has a deep connection with my early childhood experiences. My series on Slokas, Akshara or the Weave have all been in some way directly connected with my childhood. But what came, as a surprise was the Red Dot series, a series of drawings and paintings based on my dreams. I recently learned about a childhood incident at the age of 6-7 months that led to the dream with the red dots and all the wonderful possibilities. 

(KJT) Bonus question -If all barriers were taken out of your way, you had all the money, all the time and all the help & support you could desire, would it change your art? 

(SC) No, it would not change my art. The artwork I create is result of the drive that comes from deep within. So, no matter what the situation the art would be the same.

This concludes our interview.  Shanthi, thanks for taking time out from your trip to share!   Looking forward to seeing you soon.  

-Karen Joan Topping , 08/22/11

Drawing In Days, Drawing Us In

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the drawing component of her Decathlon project, Lisa is creating a serial drawing that records the passage of days, the development of a practice, and the growth of a body:

It’s a body-sized procession of individual, related cells, united by proximity and function. A piece that starts to define itself in that way, as something like an organism.

The sense of its beauty is a balance of oversignification and understatement. A couple of posts ago, Lisa shared a snap of the working tools of this balance. You can scroll down to see them — a woodless pencil (or graphite stick) and a gum eraser, tools with no handle or infrastructure, a nearly pure augment to the hand of the artist, putting work in, taking work out.

This kind of give-and-take seems to set time free from its linear march onward, and releases a dream time where we viewers can lateralize, get into a back-and-forth, find options. It is a way of working and a work that seeks to include us in it, to find a space for ourselves, more than it says anything about the artist. And that is what it says about this artist and her work, that making room for others matters. In a time of growing total obsession over the fine lines and filigrees of Intellectual Property, the outcome of Lisa’s handiwork is instead an intellectual hospitality.