All original images and text are copyright 2008-2018 Liz Sweibel

Saturday, November 27, 2010

When I returned to the vellum-and-thread drawings today, I saw a note I made last time:  same thing holds them together as tears them apart.  In my Drawing Center portfolio, this got translated to vulnerability and strength seem to come from the same source.  The two are not synonymous, but I think I thought they were at the time and must have been trying to transform the rawness of the first phrase into something more refined.  Why?  There's something self-destructive about my original phrasing, reminding me of Dana Schutz.  It's about being one's own worst enemy and best friend.

Dana Schutz, Self-Eater, 2003

Dana Schutz, Feelings, 2003

Some of these drawings reveal rules as I work on them.  Sometimes it's necessary to use just the length of thread I started with, and stop whenever it ran out.  It would have been a lie to start another.  We can't always foresee what we'll need, especially when we act without a plan; we lose some chances as life moves along, while finding others; and we don't get do-overs.  We make do with what we have, and the limits of making-do press on us to be creative - or at least accepting.

Today's run felt almost wintery.  The wind was up in Prospect Park and the sky was turning that could-snow gray, though it wasn't cold enough.  A few hard-core picnic-ers were out.  The leaves are down; just a few - mostly red maples, I think - still have a substantial number hanging on.  The birds in the lake were all tucked into themselves, bobbing out in the middle.  This year, I noticed a new bird late in the season; I'm not bird-savvy, but it could be a cormorant.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The leaves seemed to fall fast at Prospect Park.  When I went running Sunday it was still quite leafy and colorful; three days later, most trees are almost bare.  The swan family is still a unit; the four signets are almost full size, with only the top layer of wing feathers still brownish-gray.  They wander farther and more independently.  The day was colder, too, and windy, but clear and bright, and the run loosened my mind enough for me to feel - not just know - that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  This was my almost-favorite holiday second only to my birthday; when I turned 50, Thanksgiving moved into first place.

I don't have many traditions in my life (distinct from rituals, of which I have many), perhaps an outcome of losing my parents so early.  Traditions in my extended family continued after their deaths, of course, but I was thrown so far out of orbit by the losses that I lost my sense of belonging.  Thanksgiving was also my mother's last holiday, in 1986.  She was very sick.  I believe she hung on just to celebrate it, because our family tradition had a lot of potency for us all.

In the mid-1970s, my father found a beautiful, small, off-the-path park while motoring up the Miami River in our runabout.  My parents started a tradition of having Thanksgiving there; we'd bring tables with cloths and real silverware (by car, not boat).  We had frisbees, whiffle ball, blankets to lounge on.  All of our Florida family and close family friends were invited.  It was a great time; the spirit of it was just right.  When my father died in 1980, his ashes were thrown in the river by the park, and my mother carved his initials into a palm tree by the shore.  No wonder she hung in there for a last picnic.  Her ashes are there now too.

I was living north of Boston and began my own tradition of ordering Thanksgiving pies from a farm in Ipswich.  The pies were great but it was equally the ritual of calling to order them on November 1 and making the beautiful drive north to pick them up the day before, alone.  I'd wander the bakery, looking at all the jars of things and dried flowers and petting the farm cats passed out in rocking chairs by the fire.  I'd go outside to look at the farm animals, then back in to warm up.  It was a tradition I loved, even though I was always sad doing it.

The first time I went back to Miami for Thanksgiving was in 2003.  I went to the "new" park, which the family had moved to for convenience.  I went to tell them I was leaving my marriage.  It was awful, actually, between the message I was bearing and the strangeness of what I'd hoped would feel familiar.  The new park was not Sweibel-style at all; it had thatched-roof huts, grills, picnic tables, bathrooms, lots of convenient parking, and a crew cut.  People make reservations.  We liked things more unruly.

Tomorrow I'll go to my cousin's in NJ, which has become a much-loved way to celebrate.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just Last Night

Ann Waddell, Sacre Coeur Couple
Ellen Eagle wrote me that she'd found the work of Ann Waddell and the students she teaches (in Beijing), and was so enthralled she wrote Ann a fan note; I, in turn, was so enthralled I wrote Ann a fan note.  The photo above is from her blog, with the post:  "Seeing couples has made me a little sad lately...  It's good there are a number of things making me happy."

Reading last week's Sunday Times last night (how great that it lasts a whole week), I saw Sophia Coppola has a new movie, Somewhere. The review of Stephen Dorff's performance says:  "Without work to fill his days, Johnny is marooned on some inner desert island and has no idea how to get away....  When his exasperated ex suddenly dumps their 11-year-old daughter, Cleo, on him, he seems confounded.  But as he and Cleo spend time together, he rediscovers what it means to be responsible for someone else."

Also last night, I was listening to Sinead O'Connor's Theology (I prefer the London sessions) and reopened God's Silence, a book of Franz Wright's poems given to me by Justin Bigos over a year ago, which I still haven't finished.  Each poem is so full; I read some of it and become saturated, then the rest doesn't penetrate.  I reread and get maybe a line farther along then fill up again.  Some I can't seem to digest.  Something in them pushes on something in me very intimately and deeply; I'm being explained to myself in a new language.

The juxtapositions here, juxtaposed with changes in my family and friends, are asking me to check in with myself about my solitude, and whether or where or when it might become loneliness.  I spend most of my time outside the classroom alone, at least 75% of my waking hours.  I'm not lonely, with rare exceptions, but I am aware of an anticipatory loneliness.  I'm very aware of growing older.  Having God the overt subject of the music I was listening to and the poetry I was reading is so far from my ordinary experience it struck me, and made the question of earthly loneliness suggested in Ann's blog and the Somewhere write-up more poignant.  The role of work in my life is not so far from Johnny's.

While the number of things making me happy is substantial and the loneliness factor low, I'm not sure how I feel about growing old alone.  I love living alone - could imagine being in a committed relationship and still living alone - but am not sure I'll always want to be alone.  At 53 in New York City and not getting any younger, will I have the choice?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The paper attachments that showed up on the drawings last week feel to me like building; they suggest gutters or shelves - something architectural that holds or catches and perhaps clogs.  I'm piling small strips of paper in some of them.

This series increasingly seems like studies for work to be constructed, which is new for me (as is being without a studio ... not a coincidence, I'm sure).  In addition to working with the gutters, I'm making tears in the paper as part of the sewing-and-knotting process; the tears echo the cutting into drywall that I started in 2008 but haven't had space to pursue.

Liz Sweibel, 2010
Liz Sweibel, 2008
I can become intensely aware of my self as I work, and see myself execute these tiny, laborious, precise acts in a dogged, somewhat surgical effort to build a graceful, simple, secure place for valueless shards of paper and leftover thread.  I'm compelled to absurd acts of caretaking that are deeply meaningful for me; all my work bears traces of it.  Sorting through stuff on my studio table this morning, I found some notes from the proposal I wrote for the "Day Job" exhibit at The Drawing Center.

That job came to feel like the hollowest caretaking; no wonder my artwork suffered.  The irony, of course, is that the work I do with discards feels more authentic than the work I did at that college.  My notes say "College Inc.," a reference to a very disturbing Frontline segment.  The DOE's gainful employment crusade may be a too-broad attack on the for-profit industry (LIM, where I now teach, shares nothing with those schools), but if that's what it takes to protect people from being preyed on by scam colleges, so be it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Smack Mellon has a one-year studio program I might not have applied for before the Governor's Island letdown, but some reserve of tenacity asserts itself, without my conscious help but with my gratitude.  I selected work for my application to document the potential of time in a "real" studio, so five of the images were sculpture and installation pre-studio-loss in 2007 and the rest digital images and drawings made since.  In fact four of the five recent pieces are from the last month-ish.  They seem to me to point to real space more compellingly than any of the collage series that have preceded them, and so I didn't fret over their newness.  The four I included are below.

Smack Mellon asked for a portfolio script, which turned out to be a wonderful experience of processing the ten works (in 50 words max per image).  The writing was illuminating as it covers pieces from 1998 to the present and had me making connections among them, while pressuring me for precision and conciseness.   It left me excited about this new work and its potential.  I now have three proposals out - the Millay Colony, Gallery Korea, and Smack Mellon - and feel the demons from the Governor's Island rejection are dismissed.

Liz Sweibel, 2010
Thread, colored pencil, vellum
6 x 4"
Liz Sweibel, 2010
4 3/4 x 4 1/2 x 1/8"

Liz Sweibel, 2010
Thread, vellum
5 x 3 3/8"
Liz Sweibel, 2010
Thread, vellum
4 3/4 x 4