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.


August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

In talking with Mary Woodall about studio practice, the decathalon, family, and place I am struck by a number of subtle nuances that I am eager to follow over the next few months, conversations and visits.


Perhaps most resonant with me is her relationship to game play(read:competition), and its implied structure of rules, beginnings, winners, losers and ends.  For Mary, though, these constructs run counterintuitive to her current muses: from the mechanic’s garage populated by her and her brothers, to the fluid work spaces of her grandmother and mother, to the rural landscape that run beneath it all.  However, in listening to her describe being instinctively drawn to handiwork, vernacular forms, and indexical records of labor or at the least lived experience I can think of nothing but the Finite and Infinite Games text of James Carse.


In that underappreciated work Carse crisply describes the difference between finite games-those enacted for no other purpose than to provide a rubric for sorting out victors from the pack, and infinite games-which to completely oversimplify are constructed with the sole point being continued game play.  As far as Mary’s work is concerned it is the difference between NASCAR cup standings and that never-quite-there process of getting a vintage engine block running just so.  Or to paraphrase Miley Cyrus, it isn’t about how fast you get there, it’s the climb.


Beyond these infinite game-like concerns I am excited to see how Mary unpacks her ideas about such topical contemporary concepts as anti-art, longevity, and in betweeness.  Stay tuned!