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!

Making a Mark

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

This image is from Day 1 of the Deacathlon…now it’s Day 40. Where does it go? At first my focus was the threads that hold us together and the connections we make. It’s gotten more complex as the days have gone by.

Documenting memory…mark-making…this is the beginning.

Getting started!

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment


Shanthi Chandrasekar

July 30, 2011

Now that I have succesfully completed my first show in India, I am ready to move forward to The Weave project! Actually, I was already gathering ideas and making plans for the latter while working on the India show.

For generations my family has been into weaving.  I am planning to visit my extended family to videotape both handloom and powerloom weaving.

A few artists who came to the show here have been working in the handloom and weaving industry and have invited me to visit their offices. I plan to visit the Weavers Association here in Chennai to learn more about weaving.  I am also planning to visit a couple libraries to check out the history of weaving in Tamil Nadu and if possible, about any historical information that relates to my ancestoral occupation.

Once I have enough background information, I will be able to start the artwork.

As Karen had mentioned, I will be starting with the video and audio pieces.  These are the two media I have not worked with previously.  So, it is going to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, I have been taking photographs of the weaves of different fabrics with backlighting from the sun.

Marking Time: Counting and Recollecting with Lisa Rosenstein

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

After visiting Lisa K. Rosenstein in her O St. Studio, looking at a couple dozen of white-on-white paintings, and talking for a few hours, I think the odd but absolutely right word for her work is lifelike.

If, like me, you’re not driving a car these days, the trip to 52 O St. puts your feet right in the middle of D.C.’s ongoing struggle to create what it wants while it deals with what it is. This studio has been a pioneer space in a shifting neighborhood for years, while attempts to develop NoMA and Eckington have fitfully crept along.

But there’s the arresting profile of the ATF building at New York & Florida Avenues now, and development that has come in to support it. Brand names like Harris Teeter and Five Guys have moved into what is known today as Constitution Square, and the enclave feels downright affable, if a little fabricated.

But warehousing has been the main thing that has gone down in this part of town for at least a generation, and as you walk north and west, you can still see it all its varieties: the Fed Ex yard, individual blank-faced distributors and wholesalers, a gamut of private and public treatment facilities. Inventory is the deal; what you got, where’s it from.

Inventories of time and space pass through and sometimes affect the trajectory of Lisa’s paintings. Dots and lines, knobs and whorls can correspond to days, weeks, or seasons. But time’s arrow is not one but many, and even implacable time takes a time-out sometimes. The meticulous plan of conscious control gives way, and a sudden beauty comes to nest in a skein of marks, carving light and shadow in white paint.

So is this life? the plans we devote ourselves to, until something better comes along? Sanity does not come from control, the paintings quietly insist, but from curiosity. Your ideas about the world do not account for every possible case, and changing your ideas to embrace the world more fully happens frequently in Lisa’s canvases.

This is an art where realism has split off from representation — to find a “deeper truth”? Perhaps — Lisa’s insistence on slight differences in depth seems to understand that the depths of art are all navigable. In a frank reversal of artistic self-sacrifice, the work here is made for the benefit of the life lived.

Chandrasekar Going The Distance

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Commentator:  Karen Joan Topping

Artist:  Shanthi Chandrasekar

In the past she’s been inspired by her dreams, nature, science, philosophy, and tradition.  Recently she’s fallen on a metaphor about weaving that she just can’t shake.  In retrospect she can see that it’s been recurrent in her art investigations as well as her process for a very long time.  SHANTHI CHANDRASEKAR is diving into the DCAC Decathlon with an idea she’s given the working title “The Weave” as her goal post. 

“The Weave” is an angle on exploring philosophy and life experience through the metaphor of fabric and the process of weaving.  Chandrasekar’s thinking before starting works is complex and multidisciplinary.  She often works in series, researching ideas and experimenting with materials to get closer and closer to understanding what it is she is after.  Doing new research and having new experiences is how she generates excitement and ideas for new projects.  She says recently she’s been showing a lot of work, working the presentation side rather than the creation side of the studio, so she’s ready for some unfettered research. 

So, Chandrasekar’s off on a more than month long trip to India where she will be showing some art works, but also plans to dive head first into her proposed idea for the DCAC Decathlon with research on weaving:  taking pictures, hearing family stories and maybe even shooting video and recording sounds if she can get around some looms.  She’s excited, and sure that these experiences will “recharge her batteries” for the coming months of working with challenging new materials. 

Chandrasekar admits this project hits a little closer to home than some of the other series she’s been working on.  Weaving and the production of fabric is a part of her past.  The area of India where she was born and her parents grew up in is known for cloth production.  She grew up surrounded by family who made cotton cloth on hand-looms.  She still has extended family working in the industrial production and merchandising of cloth.  Chandrasekar says in her proposal:

The weaving of thread has always fascinated me. How the warps and wefts can hold and reinforce each other to form a fabric has been a recurring theme is a number of my artwork. I have used the weave as a symbol to convey philosophical concepts. The ups and downs of the weave represent the ups and owns in our life’s journey.…  The warps and wefts hold my thoughts and dreams and the threads have to be unraveled to enable me to retrieve them. 

After speaking with her about her trip it seems that investigating the sociological impact of industrial production on hand-looming skills might end up figuring into this project too.  Chandrasekar’s past work that I’ve seen does not seem to address social issues so directly.  She talks about her work in very poetic and philosophical ways.  But intense and overlapping patterns, like in this work from her “Red Dots” series belie an intensity of observation in this

Red Dots, Mixed Media Drawing on Paper, 20”x16”

artist that is deeply analytical.  The mandate to use processes that she has not used before, specifically sound and video, is definitely making Chandrasekar think about the potential of these materials to document as well as express.  I am really impressed that it is with these new materials that she will be starting her work for the DCAC Decathlon show.  Chandrasekar defines herself as a self-taught artist and clearly has a lot of facility with painting, drawing, printing and sculpture, having taught herself to use materials through research, trial and error.  I have no doubt that she will rise to any challenge when it comes to using new processes. 

What I am most impressed with though, is the enlightening things Chandrasekar has to say about the ultimate challenge of this exhibition:  THE COMPETITION ASPECT.  Here, Chandrasekar reaches back to her past again to point out to me that as a self-taught artist, she was sure that art competitions had been motivating her and helping her developing her artistic skills almost from the beginning.  According to Chandrasekar, art instruction is only provided in primary schools in India.  In India, past the U.S. equivalent of middle school, all art instruction stops and all art becomes an extra-curricular activity. 

For Chandrasekar, annual jurisdictional competitions for the winning painting, drawing, water-color, etc. were not just a chance at winning, but a driving force to make new work.  Being in these annual competitions were the best opportunity to meet new artists, see how other people used their materials and even observe new ways of thinking and seeing.  In her words, “The interpretation seemed to be more important in most competitions, especially in the school and college level competitions during my growing years. Being meticulous did not always win. Since it is the interpretation aspect of art that has always interested me, …I have continued focusing on that aspect as I have been trying out new media and techniques.”  Looking ahead, when it comes time to vote for the best DCAC Decathlon artist in January and February 2012, I think this is one of the most important things to consider.  Being the best at something is as much about striving to understand it as it is about the skill you develop to do it.

-Karen Joan Topping, 07/28/11

July 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

They are neither the fastest nor the strongest, yet decathletes are recognized by peers and laymen alike as being the best all-around athletes. In the decathlon, the athlete’s focus is on developing the most efficient balance of speed, strength, technique, and endurance, embodying the classic idea of what it means to be an athlete.

If the best all-around athlete is one who most efficiently balances speed, strength, technique, and endurance, then what defines the best all-around artist?  Is it mastery of craft?  Is it clarity of idea or emotion?

After centuries of specialization in art that has relied on labels like painter, sculptor, photographer, etc., the District of Columbia Arts Center has asked individual artists who work or reside within a 100 mile radius of Washington, DC to submit proposals that explore the significance of what being “unspecialized” means to being a working artist today. Do certain disciplines express some ideas better than others?  Does training or talent determine success?  Does mastery of a variety of media make you a better artist?

The semi-finalists will exhibit their works at DCAC mid-January to mid-February 2012. The exhibition will culminate in a medal ceremony, but only one artist will walk away with gold.

During the six-month run-up to the exhibition, commentators will “cover” the progress of the decathletes as they create the work for the show. Each commentator will be assigned an artist and visit that artist once a month. After each visit the commentator will post on this blog, interviews, commentaries, photographs, and/or video. Artists are also encouraged to document their progress on the blog.

By hosting this good-natured competition, DCAC hopes to spark debate around the issue of what it means to be the best all-around artist, challenge individuals to try their hand at new disciplines, and give exposure to artists who already embrace working in various media.


Exhibition Dates

Installation: Wednesday-Thursday, January 11-12, 2012

Opening: Friday, January 13, 2012

Closing & Medal Ceremony: Sunday, February 5, 2012

Deinstallation: Sunday-Monday, February 5-6, 2012

Panel Discussion: Date TBD