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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the day itself was lovely.  Leading up to and following from the day has been really, really hard, and I want to understand why.  Nothing has happened to drive these days to such a profound tiredness, and I have given myself hours upon hours of sleep and naps.

At Thanksgiving, Colleen noted how getting older brings cynicism; we have too much experience (and perhaps bitterness) to maintain an open sense of possibility.  I offered skepticism over cynicism; my idealism may be aging but I am not wired for cynicism.

What I am noticing more than skepticism is a growing remoteness.  My day-to-day emotional life is a vague internal jumble that I co-exist with more than examine.  (Remoteness is built into that sentence, like my emotions inhabit me rather than are me.)  Only an event seems to elicit raw, insistent feeling.  What was once an internally driven process now often needs an external stimulus, something to catch me off-guard and penetrate.

A parallel lull is emerging in the studio.  My interior life is not driving the work as it did.  Outside events tap the same internal concerns, but need to find fresh forms.  A search for the next way to work seems to be opening.  It's inevitable, but brutal.  It is being in the studio with no ideas, moving from place to place, doing nothing or doing anything, and (actively) waiting, for weeks or months.  It is finding reasons to avoid the studio to avoid the lostness, yet knowing I have to be there to catch the next shift.  Was it Picasso who said that inspiration exists, but she has to find you working?  I detest the word "inspiration" (I can be a cynic!) and think Picasso maybe did too.

My work from Memphis is on its way home, and I look forward to seeing it.  Timmy's remains came home with me yesterday, and that was very hard and sad.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A huge pile of tree debris sits in Prospect Park, part of the clean-up after Hurricane Sandy.  The park people keep trucking it away yet the pile was no smaller when I was by a few days ago.

Yet thousands of trees in the park kept their leaves.  On my block, tiny peppers still hang from their branches.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

During a Brief Outage from Hurricane Sandy
I am still trying to approach writing about Parts to the Whole, and slowly, stupidly, realizing that under the circumstances - loss of Timmy, arrival of hurricane, ongoing-ness of the exhibit, a difficult semester - I am giving myself an excessively hard time about it.  Quel surprise.

The response to the exhibit was kind of ferociously positive, with visitors from Memphis College of Art, Rhodes College, the Medicine Factory studios, and Maysey's huge network of family, friends, and contacts.  In terms of conversations, the word to begin with - and maybe end with - is monumentality.  I had expressed to Maysey a fear that these tiny pieces would get lost in the cavernous exhibit space. (Maybe "passing insecurity" is more accurate, because I know my work can - exists to - activate a big space.)  So to have the word monumentality come up again and again left no room for doubt.  (Hmmm.  No space for doubt.)  People simply got it, viscerally and intellectually.  And so, in this vast space that in itself was far from neutral, there was small me with my 29 small sculptures experiencing the purest kind of visibility.  It defied the scale, or filled the room (space).  Most important to me personally, is that it came of its own, as a result of me just being me.

So there's the personal aspect:  the working-through that fuels the work, consciously or not, but is fatal if the work doesn't reach beyond itself to create a recognition in the viewer that is the start of a dialogue.  As much as I dislike writing artist statements, after a million iterations (or more), I see that the statement I have been using for a long, long time is actually acceptable.

My pieces are intimate records of activity that draw attention to attention – given, received, withdrawn, absent.  The visual and visceral impact of each tiny point of contact, overlap, or disconnect are what the work both reduces and expands to.  It matches my experience of the world as the accumulation and juxtaposition of small decisions and acts that seem simple but aren’t: they reveal us, define our relationships to each other and our environment, and open to possibility, stasis, or pain.  It is slight work with a big agenda.

I suspect this one will always be relevant, because it so fundamentally addresses what is important to me as a person and as a person in this world at this time.

Enough for now.  Here are three pieces and another detail from the installation views in my last post.

Wood, paint; 2012; 4 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 1"
Wood, paint; 2012; 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/2" 
Wood, paint; 2012
Left:  3 7/8 x 2 7/8 x 1 3/8"
Right:  4 1/8 x 2 x 1"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I have been hesitant about coming here to write, worried whether I could invest the time and mind.  But things keep building up, and it only gets more intimidating.  I have to thank Melissa Dunn and her Accordion File for helping me approach.  Hurricane Sandy has given me time, so I just need to come up with mind.  But first I have to air that I lost Timmy Saturday; it is coloring everything.  He was a big, gentle, funny boy.  There's more on my Glenwood blog.  I am trusting that having a cat blog - the cliche of it - doesn't compromise my seriousness in anyone's eyes (other than my own, evidently).

Timmy, 2000-2012
Not yet writing about Parts to the Whole seems like a disservice to myself; the response has been so positive it should be captured for the ages.  I have to assume I've not been ready; I have to confess I'm not sure I'm ready now.  Perhaps because the exhibit is still up?  I think the most I can do is share some installation views.  The heaviness of losing Timmy is preventing me from focusing here now.

At the entrance:
Left, sculpture, 4 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 1"
Right, drawing by Ben Butler
Installation view, with Ben's sculpture in the foreground
Installation view
Below are six close-ups, taken from left to right

Another room, with six works on a 48"-high table
Left, Untitled (Sendai Port, 3/11), 2012
Right, drawing by Ben

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ben, Maysey, and I began installing Parts to the Whole yesterday and got the majority up.  I went for a long run this morning in a beautiful Memphis park, and am waiting for Maysey to get back from yoga.  We'll head over to the Medicine Factory and finish it.  It looks very, very good, and I feel very, very good about it.  Images to come.

On another note, my family lost one of our dearest and oldest friends last Saturday, Joel Chinman.  It was sudden and hit us like a storm.  Rest in peace, Joel.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We (me and the work) leave for Memphis Thursday afternoon to install and celebrate Parts to the Whole.  Back in August, as I was sending Maysey images of the sculptures, I got this comment from her on the work and want to share and preserve it.

I know they are tiny, but they have a monumentality.  The ones toward the end that are starting to spread horizontally are really interesting, and a nice foil to the ones ... which are more clumping or dense.  It is like there is a magneticism happening, a way they are drawing themselves in, because, they don't feel singular.  Each piece feels like a gathering.  A gathering of fragments, of little souls, of voices, ideas, perspectives.  And each one presents a different conversation/outcome.  I'm SO excited about this show.

Well, me too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GO Brooklyn

I am On The Other Side.  GO Brooklyn was a thoroughly positive experience.  Having real people walk into my real studio and engage was affirming beyond anything I could write.  I needed this more than I knew, and got more from it than I anticipated.  What a gift!  A circle of people who are motivated to experience and understand what I am doing and talk with me about it!  My confidence in this work is confirmed, and my understanding of the necessity of this studio is complete.  These sculptures have been waiting a long time to be made.  Next week they (and others, plus three drawings) hit the road for Memphis.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My God, the anxiety - about the work, GO Brooklyn open studios, the Memphis exhibit, other demands present and upcoming.  It feels like a full-time job to manage it.  No wonder I keep constricting the studio, to try and keep from being overwhelmed.  While I managed to overcome the last spasm and have been letting each piece evolve on its own terms, I've simultaneously been holding the expectation that I would "turn the pieces into something," that I would use them as material for more complex work.  I've translated having the large space in Memphis into a requirement to make site-based installation, and have been trying to force-fit these small sculptures into a collective form they don't want to have.  I saw this today, and gave myself permission to have a sculpture show.  These sound like small things in the writing; in the living they are exhausting and upsetting.

I need to become intimate with these works individually, not treat them as puzzle pieces.  That's the only way I will be able to see what each needs and how each should be presented.  The relief in this is terrific.  I have about 30 pieces, and each reverberates for me without any help from the others.  There may be more work on some of them, but that's their individual evolution.

I love this one.  It's like a hinge.

Wood, paint, about 2 x 1 1/2 x 2 1/2"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

After my run this morning I went to the Brooklyn College fish and turtle pond to cool down.  It's my latest ritual, and makes running on the street when I can't get to the park more palatable.  It's peaceful and intimate.  This tiny baby turtle was sleeping on the back of another turtle, and a toddler-size turtle was hanging out on a lilypad.  They have no concept of body space, just march all over each other.  The ridges on their shells serve as footholds (flipperholds)?

By the time I got to the studio my anxiety was up.  After I worked through the procrastination and started, I saw how many more rules for these new works I'd made than I'd realized; they were stifling.  The initial works (most are in the posts below) had been really satisfying, and I was trying to sustain that; it backfired.  In the limited choices I was allowing myself, I'd stifled the work's becoming.  Seeing that was like the clouds parting.  I started taking each piece on its own terms, and the work is moving again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm battling this tightness.  Try as I might to forget the Memphis exhibit and just accustom myself to working again in a dedicated space, September is not far away and my time will tighten well before then.  I've made many of the small wood pieces and continue to be in love with them, but have been narrowing my options with them and, knowing that's not a good idea, trying to be expansive without abandoning them (to what, anyway?).  It's hard to put into words, and it's certainly hard to experience.  I have to get so frustrated in the studio that I do something/anything, and then I start to work in earnest.  It can take hours.  Right now the key is to get there every day, or as close to that as possible, to give myself less time to tighten up again.  I like to leave the studio when I still want to stay.

Wood, paint, about 2 x 3 x 1"

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I'm settled into, and loving, my studio and between-semester studio practice, and again see how long, long, LONG it has been since I have been engaged this way, whether for reasons of time, space, or mindspace.  And now that I am, some fundamentals are changing and I'm working to process them as much as to make work.  It's exhilarating to be struggling for the right reasons.

A basic rhythm in my practice and work is the same but different.  Now there's a zooming out:  the context is expanding into a thematic shift and things have come out of focus.  The new space and time are catalysts; the Medicine Factory show in September is another.  The exhibit space is vast and active and a long-awaited chance to make site-based work.  Yet for now I'm trying to stay more focused on the internal changes than the exhibit.  I need to make some preliminary sense of them for new work to have a footing; I just know that focusing on the exhibit prematurely risks the semi-resolution of May 24, 2007.  I don't want that.

Five years later, processing the weaknesses of that piece is one of my starting points for figuring out how to move forward.  The relationships among the collage fragments were too arbitrary and illustrative; I couldn't resolve them (though I was trying; thank you, Susan) because I wasn't ready to see or explore the very basic tensions the work was alluding to but not confronting (and even avoiding).  Now, allowing myself to spend time in the studio writing, looking, and just thinking are starting to reveal those tensions.  They're familiar and new:  the same but different.

Realizing this shift is disorienting and anxious-making, and at first raised fear that I have to change everything to accommodate it.  That high-drama moment passed, thankfully, now replaced by a sense that it's the credibility and depth of the work that will change, and what that looks like in practice is simply unknown.

Wood, paint; 1 3/4" x 3" x 1/2"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The positive trajectory continues.  The new studio is an incredible opening.  I spent the first five weeks patching, painting, schlepping, and organizing, and all that prep evolved into the start of new work last weekend.  I share some new pieces below.

I began reading and working with Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work, by Anne West; the book was edited by Katarina Weslien, who directed the Maine College of Art MFA program when I was there.  Maysey introduced me to the book and let me carry it around when I was in Memphis; I've been waiting for the right time to dig in.  I'm in.  It is powerful.

On another note, starting in July I will be full-time faculty at LIM College, where I've been an adjunct since 2005.  This development has several long stories behind it, but what matters here is this sea change at exactly the right time.  I've not wanted an employer until now; now I have one.  To enjoy stability in a community I know and love and that makes the right demands on me and gives the right things back is a game-changer.  My semesters will be fuller than full, but my off-time will be plentiful.  Residencies will be possible.  I need to continue freelancing to make it work, and even more to keep the studio.  I don't know how it will roll out, but what is rolling out is a keen awareness of a long-term change.  My work at the College feels different, and surely my work outside the College feels different.

I don't want to say anything about these new pieces yet.  The first piece is from last weekend (a dark cell phone shot), and the next four are from this weekend, in the order in which they were made.

Wood, paint, fabric, thread
About 6" x 3"

Wood, paint; 2 3/8 x 3"

Wood, paint; 5 x 1 1/2"

Wood, paint; 2 3/8 x 1 1/2"

Wood, paint; 2 1/8 x 1"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Liz Sweibel, Untitled (Draft), 2012
Wood, paint, wire (Maysey's studio)
About 1 3/4 x 3/4 x 2 1/2"
I so often want to write here yet am so pressed for time that priorities often have to lie elsewhere.  Still, I want a record of how things are unfolding, for myself and for whoever checks in on me here.

The breakthrough I wrote of five weeks ago continues to evolve - not as a sudden production of latent work, or noticing that work was being made to my left while I was focused on my right, but rather through productive experimentation.  It continues, spurred on by a series of openings and opportunities.

  1. In mid-February, I went to an artist event initiated by Heather Cox, where 20 strong artists talked, ate, looked at each others' work, and talked some more.  It was terrific.  A second event is in the works.
  2. When I walked into Heather's space, I saw a studio was available.  No longer!  I will have space in the Gowanus area starting April 1. It's a big stretch (understatement) in financial terms, but I can't afford not to take it in every other way.  All signs point to this being a good decision for now.
  3. In mid-March I visited my dear friend from grad school, Maysey Craddock, in Memphis, and spent some of our time together working in her studio.  It was exhilirating, and my new studio came through while I was there.  Maysey introduced me to her friend Melissa Dunn and we visited her studio, where nine paintings destined for a museum show and the Golden Mean are in full force.  I also met Terri Jones, whose work feels like extended family.
  4. I'll be exhibiting at the Medicine FACTORY in Memphis in September.  This invitation to do site work propelled me into a way of thinking and looking and ruminating and being that I have so missed; it infects me like nothing else.
  5. A practice that melds with my teaching and other responsibilities arrived.  I have a subway drawing series underway.  When one thing opens, it seems the fences around the rest give way.

Liz Sweibel, Untitled (Draft), 2012
Wood, paint, wire (Maysey's studio)
About 1 1/2 x 2 1/2 x 3/4"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The being and thinking and doing are opening up.  A breakthrough.  Protecting my time (and 24 million other things) has opened up to new ideas for work.

Saturday I visited  the Reanimation Library Midtown Branch at MoMA.  I found I used it like a library rather than a workshop, and settled into The Rural Studio, a book on the architecture of Mockbee.  His work and impact were (and are) profound, how he integrates creative work with layers and layers of helping.  Paired with The Power of Limits, architecture has come forward without any real intention on my part, and helped me push through.

I know what to do, and it feels like it will absorb and move everything important I've been struggling with, hurt by, and pissed off at for years now.  Thank God.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I'm uncomfortable with how I left this journal, as I've muscled myself out of that flatness (no exaggeration), largely thanks to daily writing - using pencil on notebook paper.  It suits me better in some ways, including and maybe especially the physical experience, and of course the privacy.

Daily writing is impossible with the semester under way, but I've set better limits to protect weekend time from student e-mails and, to the extent I can, schoolwork.  I start my Saturday mornings with my paper, pencil, and coffee.  Today I want to capture my handwritten words here, exactly as written on page 41, and align my public self  more closely with my private self.  I wrote:

Just opened my new book, The Power of Limits.  Scanning, flipping through, I arrive at The Greatness of Little Things (p. 123).  Of course I stop, and in reading, "bump into" Zen Buddhism, Golden Mean, music, haiku (this, in two pages).  Drew me back to Introduction to Architecture at UF, where I learned about the Golden Mean and have never forgotten that (or recalled anything else from the course).  I have been telling students about carbon paper.

My trajectory has felt so meander-y, and to the extent it has been, I pay the price (e.g., no PhD).  At the same time, the patterns and connections all point to something coherent (or at least coherent in its vagaries).  My struggle, which has become increasingly clear in and since art school, has been to locate ways to integrate in my life what is integrated across the universe.  Or, to find an existing coherence (which I seem to be doing) and get it out of me into the world.  It's so subtle, yet I'm wanting to make it powerful.  The subtle mark is too easy for me, even though it does everything I want.

Some backstory:  Last weekend I took a keyboard apart (thanks, Mo and Adrian) to make a collage for my nephew Daniel.  That opened the floodgates (mine are small, of course), and the ideas that started coming are very much about integration - not in the universal sense of the journal references but in the possibilities for my work, which should connect with the universals if the work achieves what I'm after.  (I'm sure I'm drawing distinctions that don't exist, in my endless restating of the obvious to get to what's just beyond my reach.)  I've been researching and attempting haiku.  My other new book is The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (thank you, Justin); her stories have the economy of haiku.  All this to say that I keep bumping into a collection of objects, ideas, and processes that is all the same, or leading to the same.  It is a relief and a comfort, and explains my frustration at making work that gets at what I'm after.  I do have ideas, so now I'll turn to them and hope for the patience, the time, and the tenacity to pursue them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The flatness of last night's post troubles me; just as my work escapes flatness, I seem to be embodying it.  Despite my self-cajoling, I'm struggling to summon enthusiasm for much of anything and instead am acting as if.  It's more or less successful in that I'm meditating, running, in the studio, and accomplishing the necessities.  The imposed structure of teaching may command my time and attention, but it also helps me stay psychologically organized.  With less time to slosh around in my own thoughts (or slosh around at all), I seem to have more energy and a more positive outlook.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The semester finished before Thanksgiving, and once again the break has enabled me to get back to work.  I'm making new sculpture for the first time since 2007, before the Troutman Street loft vacate.  I'm using painted wire discards from 2007, which is a nice piece of continuity.

Liz Sweibel, Untitled, 2011
Thread, wire, paint

(It must be said: I gave it away last semester - gave too much of my time - and am resolved to set better boundaries.  Reading and answering college e-mail on weekends is self-sabotaging, and something I entirely inflict on myself.  The experience of being needed is so seductive!)

Liz Sweibel, Untitled, 2011
Thread, wire, paint

My friend Lisa Tubach visited last month and posed the right challenges.  Much of my work, including the pieces above, cuts right to it rather than remains in question for long.  It's opened and closed in a single session, avoiding extended uncertainty and discomfort.  So I began a more open-ended exploration:

Liz Sweibel, Untitled, 2011
Thread, wire, paint, paper, graphite
It doesn't feel so pat and I'm not even sure I like it.  I know I don't recognize it in the same way as I do the two above.  Extending the materials (even just to paper and pencil) opened the process to more possibility and anxiety (I'm so easily overwhelmed!), but I see that willingness as a good sign.  I'm not dead yet.

Also important:  the most authentic, realistic strategy is for me to prioritize exhibition opportunities outside NYC and residency opportunities around NYC.  It's a relief to see that clearly.  I've again made my home studio more functional and engaging.