Monday, February 3, 2014

Notes, Mutual Cleanse application

Here is the unedited version of my essays for Black Rock Arts Foundation. What an incredible process over the last month, thinking and refining this project. Kind of like art refinement, but all theory. Now it's time to get to work!

Images were a bit of a risk as they are of process rather than finished, polished image.

Process, Without Features

Process, Same Light

1.    Description
How will the project or program manifest itself physically? What will it look like, sound like, etc? Include description of the artworks’ size, materials, construction methods, lighting, sound, electronics, etc. If applying for support for a program, describe the programs activities, goals and outcomes. (3000 characters)

120 Soaps, my heirloom, stored during Communism, are carved and painted into portraits. They are then mailed off to 120 participants and used. Through this use, they fulfill their original function. However, their purpose has a greater significance: that of erasing another, carved into the soap.

Mutual Cleanse is an idea of a shared experience— the same soap, same origin, same representation of a portrait and not at all. Each will have his/her own way, interpretation exploring love/hate and demonstrating one’s direct effect on another.
Through the process 'art' will be erased- no(thing) will remain outside of the experience- memories, recorded only by a digital trace.
I am interested in the question what remains?

I see this project manifesting much like the phrases above. All the pieces are there, but the connections are predetermined. This fluidity is left on purpose. Much of the work is left to the participants or audience, each with their own processes. I orchestrate the skeleton:

Look- the look of sculpted marble- white, off white and pastel portraits, some tainted with paint and soot, stained with the very thing they are meant to clean. Stain brings out the features of the portrait.
Look in process- messing up ‘art’ as thing, using 120 bars- washing, cleansing and erasing artwork
Sound- varies with each participant’s cleanse-from vigorous scrubbing, to gentle touching, perhaps water in the background
Smell- scented (what we deem as ‘pure’ ‘fresh’) to unscented for skin sensitivities- smells can be deceiving. Scent as memory, a trace left over.
Size- portrait in miniature, each bar maximum size 3.25” x 2.25” x .75”
Total Size- 120 bars- 390” x 270” x .75”- 32.5’ vertical line, 22.5’horizontal line
Size as Scope- cannot be predetermined
Packaging and Mail-invitations, instruction,
Digital trace- website documenting soap and its trans(port/form)ation

Participants, Collaborators, Witnesses, so called Audience
120 individuals personified on each bar of soap
120 individuals washing with soaps
Mail staff- at least 120 mailpersons distributing, questioning the soap
Infinite number of online/digital witnesses

It is sculpture, some painting, perhaps photographs and video but more importantly it is an act, shared by many, but remaining intimate—an act of freeing from dirt, defilement, or guilt; purging. What one purges and whether that is physical, emotional or spiritual is left to interpretation.  The action is one-on-one, just multiplied one hundred and twenty times.

Art becomes how we handle things, how we interact with each other- not the physical objects or subjects themselves. It is in the movement and transformation of image into soap, soap into gift, gift into suds, and interaction that art occurs.

Can "cleansing" oneself-- a daily practice most people take for granted-- become a different experience when the face of a loved one is embedded in the soap? Does the function of the soap change? Seeing a familiar face or that of President Havel as I wash my hands and he loses wrinkles and becomes a generic face, creates a pause for contemplation.

Mutual Cleanse is a way for us to continue to touch each other’s lives, quite literally.

Legend says that soap was first discovered on Sappo Hill in Rome when a group of Roman women were washing their clothes in the River Tiber at the base of a hill, below which animal fats from the sacrifices ran down into the river and created soapy clay mixture. Although this is not the true origin of soap, the story is rich in texture— a blend of animal fat left over from a sacrifice and the chore of washing. A gift left over from a gruesome yet spiritual act that gets repurposed for everyday use.  (I imagine there must have been guts, decay and blood intertwined as well. I question soap’s purity.)
Over the course of millennia’s, soap managed to infuse itself into our culture and way of life. Soaps remain one of the most useful and fundamental hygiene tool that mankind ever created. It is this rich material, 120 bars of which, my grandmother passed on through the nooks and crannies within her one-bedroom flat in the former Czechoslovakia.

Where will the work be displayed? When will it occur? How and why was this location selected? Is there admission or other fee to the audience? If no exhibition venue is yet secured, how will you research and select a venue? (3000 characters)
There is no fixed location or time for this project, as the nature of this project is transitory in time and space. However, there are key points and dates for this piece.
All documentation, from soap carving and painting, to participants’ interaction with bars will take place online- initial skeletal launch April 2014
Phase 1- location Swamscott MA., January-August 2014
Swampscott, MA was my first home in the US after we emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1986. As an outsider, of another culture, I gained a perspective of another vantage point: one from the outside and with a distance. It is the place my family and I currently reside.
The project’s point of origin is Swamspcott, a small, seaport, suburban town, located North Shore of the Boston metropolis. Historically, it was known as the first resort town. Currently, there is no town ‘center’ outside of a few, scattered, colonial buildings which include town hall, the post office, the library and the fire station. The next ‘interactive’ spot is Vinnin Square, a couple of grocery stores, a gas station, fast food restaurants within a strip mall setting. Lastly, there is the Tedesco Country Club, a member’s only golf course. The long standing gallery in town exhibits pictures of the seashore and isolated dinghies. The town’s culture reflects this image. People live mostly isolated lives. Soap will be shipped from this location.
There is a more contemporary gallery in town, the Gaga Gallery. It is a much more interactive space with the owner’s studio adjacent to the gallery walls. I have asked the gallery to allow me to do a “sit in” carving soap, July of 2014. I will carve 20 soaps within this context, emailing articles about the project into the Swampscott Reporter. Viewers will be invited into the space for observation and questioning. Soap bars will be available in the rest rooms.
Phase 2- Europe, specifically Czech Republic, Austria, England, Germany, Italy. In South America, soap will travel to Brazil, Peru and Mexico, in Asia to India and Japan, in Africa to South Africa and throughout the United States. August-December 2014
Bound by one everyday object, what will the interpretations be cross culturally? How will artists interpret the act of washing a familiar face away?
Phase 3-online March 2015- all media uploaded

Ethnic cleansing The point of origin, however, is misleading as the history is layered. Swampscott was settled in 1629 but had been inhabited by the Algonquin tribe from whom its name originates. Meaning “at the red rock,” those who were here before, have left their mark. Can we still see/feel it today? What remains of the Algonquin tribe? Do we see their systematic removal by early settlers as ethnic cleansing?

Collaborators, Participants and Witnesses
120 individuals personified on each bar of soap
120 individuals washing with soaps
Mail staff- at least 120 mailpersons distributing, questioning the soap
Infinite number of online/digital witnesses

-look at the people in the description portion – artists, ones who look,observe for a living
Similar to location, there is no fixed audience. There are many people who will participate in the process directly and indirectly.

There are a half a dozen close collaborators, my artistic family, those who have been in dialogue with me over the past decade: Anitra Haendel (deceased 07/23/13,) Jessica Segall, Emily Orling, Fletcher Boote, Angela Rose Voulgarelis Illgen, Jamie Emerick, and Maya Pindyck. They ask the key questions like: Of what are you hoping to cleanse yourself? Isn't dirt beautiful? And, do we cleanse part of ourselves that we hate and fear? How is this cleanse related to ethnic cleansing? Although not listed as ethnic cleansing,  was the removal of Native Americans in fact a form of ethnic cleansing? Can one ever cleanse himself/herself of history, and what are the implications of that desire? Washing one's hands of a matter can mean letting it go, but also giving up, not taking responsibility. Most importantly, through Anitra's unexpected death, I question, what, if anything, do I want to leave behind?

Those who will interact in the project directly serve as active participants. They are 120 national and international artists whom I know from working with the dynamic duo known as Rosenclaire, Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky.  Over the past two decades Rosenclaire have taught international workshops in Italy, the US, and their native South Africa that relate art, science and spirituality. The reason I choose participants from this group, is that there is a certain way they handle material which is related to the teaching philosophy of Rosenclaire.

Next tier and the most important are the witnesses, those who stumble upon the project in their everyday, from the postmen and women to those who read about the project online. They seem most relevant because firstly, they are confronted with the work outside the regular context, the gallery or museum. They see the soaps, up close and personal, handling them in their packaging, and hopefully questioning them. This momentary pause is my main intention. It is not the American, Pow! It is a much more subtle effect- something you see on the periphery, something that catches the eye and creates a pause. It can be momentary.
Possible questions to emerge may be: What does it mean in the US, a culture used to a grand scale, to have an artwork that is 2.75x3” tall? And for it to be a simple handmade, everyday object? What does it mean to have the artwork vanishing? Outside the US, how do the perspectives on the grand and handmade vary?
- benefit- one extra bar of soap to use- pause from their everyday, as mail is, dialogue
1.    Project Interactivity
How is your project interactive? Describe the audience’s experience of the work.
2.    Describe the interaction between the audience and the work. (3000 characters)
When looking at the definition of interactivity meaning (of two people or things) influencing or having an effect on each other, that is the Art within Mutual Cleanse. I would question any artwork that does not involve interaction. If there is no effect, has art really happened? Artwork needs an audience, a place where some sort of understanding resonates.
This project is not complete with carving or painting. Although it satisfies me to practice these techniques, and what I choose to carve are portraits of others that resonate with me, it is still an isolated experience.  The contact needs to continue. I would argue that the work is not complete even when the soap is used by others. Although the participant may feel something through the process of erasure, perhaps even a deep resonance, the experience has yet to have a witness. That role, the role of a bystander, becomes key.  When the work reaches a witness, then art has come full circle and deserves the label of Art. I create art in order to express what I have witnessed.
Much of the experience with the work at the level of a witness will be online. This is the reason to invest into an interactive website that can be easily navigated. People will come to a main page with a mission statement, an explanation of the project and an invitation image of my grandparents. (Images I included with the LOI.) They will then be able to link to all 120 images of finished soap carvings. From each soap, the website will direct them to the soap’s destination and the participant’s interaction with the soap. This may be in the form of a video, photographs, written word, perhaps sound bites. Lastly there will be a contact page.
The interaction between audience and work is subtle. It is soft, indirect; a website one might stumble upon. Few will have direct contact. I’m thinking of the 240 folks who will either handle the packaging or do the washing. But I am hoping many more will see and observe. My aim is to create a pause within people’s every day.
Describe the kind of interaction- not forced, chosen, letters back and forth- much of it is mail
Interactive engagement- letters
  1. How will your project encourage interaction? How will you engage your audience?
    (3000 characters)

Over the course of the year, I will keep in dialogue with my collaborators, exchanging emails, images, processes.  I will publish news of Mutual Cleanse on facebook and on art, life (no separation), a blog that I have kept for the past seven years with Angela Rose Voulgarelis Illigen. I will promote it in the local papers, nationally. With 120 international artists participating in this project, there are that many avenues to promote the experience, without necessarily forcing the experience.
To engage participants, I plan to exchange through gift giving, soap in return for documentation. I find the history of gift economy related to Mutual Cleanse especially from an American standpoint, as it was the main economy in the Americas over thousands of years. In Heather Francis’s article, “Native American Culture of Giving,” she states that a Gift Economy is one where status is given to individuals based on what they give to others as opposed to a commodity or exchange economy where status is given to those individuals who have the most. What a difference in terms of what one leaves behind and how one interacts with others throughout his/her life!

Collaboration- look at audience
  1. Is the project collaborative? In what ways? Who will help you create your art project? If relevant, also discuss briefly the roles of partners or volunteers. (3000 characters)

As mentioned throughout, Mutual Cleanse relies on collaboration. The art is not complete until the soap is used up/recycled/consumed/witnessed. It is very important that no thing remains. Grandmother prompted the collaboration, with the sheer number of bars, as it would take years for one person to use all that soap. Those mentioned in the Audience section of this proposal will all play a role in the creation of the physical manifestation. It is through the dialogue, that Mutual Cleanse will actually take shape. Participants will choose whom they would like me to portray and therefore which relationship they would like to explore. Whether this project will speak more of a relationship to one’s state by depicting political figures, from history or current standing, or whether it will take a more personal feel exploring relationships within the family, is up to the partners. How they choose to depict the washing is also entirely up to them, allowing for any medium as a form of expression. The 120 international artists are also writers, marine biologists, mothers, professors, singers, psychologists, etc. Their role is not fixed and I hope this project allows them to express in any way they feel most natural.
Project Rationale-  one’s effect on another, positive and negative- thirdness
What is the fundamental purpose of your project or program, or your Mission Statement? (3000 characters)
I pay homage to Janine Antoni's Lick/Lather and expand the idea. Where she explores the love/hate relationship we have with our physical appearance, I look at how we directly affect one another through our relationships. I explore the love-hate relationship within nationalistic and familial boundaries. In addition, I value the role of the observer. It is an invaluable perspective—not one of indifference, but lacking in emotional ties.
This value I place on the role of a witness stems from being with my grandfather as he was dying. I thankfully was removed from the drama he cast in his life in relation to my mother and grandmother. I had no 'emotional baggage.' And I felt it was very peaceful to sit with him, letting him be what he needed to be in the moment. Time was irrelevant. There was nothing to do. It was one of the most important moments in my life. 

It is the reason I feel the need to expand the project beyond my process and even beyond the hundred and twenty participants processes. Mutual Cleanse needs to be grounded online, where it can be experienced outside of those familial/nationalistic boundaries.

Mission Statement:
What do you do with one hundred and twenty bars of soap? And what if this collection is one of the few items you have from your grandmother’s life? What then?
Naturally, you want to intervene on this soap as a way to review her story, add your mark and continue it by passing it on. Not in the form of a linguistic narrative, but rather a narrative of touch and feel.
Can "cleansing" oneself-- a daily practice most people take for granted-- become a different experience when the face of a loved one emerges, sits on the soap? Does the function of the soap change?  

Seeing a loved one, a hated one, or President Havel, as I wash my hands and he loses his wrinkles and becomes a generic face, creates a pause for contemplation. It makes it both much more sentimental and much more ‘present’ moment.

Since the seventeen hundred’s soap has been used as a tool for personal hygiene and it makes for a great everyday object.
Mutual Cleanse is an intimate yet interactive project that I hope will create
Because it is:
community, interactive art and civic participation.
connecting community members in creation, curiosity, and wonderment.
engenders meaningful connections between individuals.
invites individuals to interact with both the work itself and with their community at large.
build community and empower individuals.

Community Engagement
1.    How will your project or program engage your community? Why is this work relevant and important to this community? (3000 characters)

There is a more contemporary gallery in town, the Gaga Gallery. It is a much more interactive space with the owner’s studio adjacent to the gallery walls. I have asked the gallery to allow me to do a “sit in” carving soap, July of 2014.( I will carve 20 portraits of Native Americans into soaps within this context, emailing articles about the project into the Swampscott Reporter.-statement not included.) Viewers will be invited into the space for observation and questioning. Soap bars will be available in the rest rooms.

Locally, as mentioned in Phase 1 under Location, Swamspcott  is the point of origin for Mutual Cleanse. But the town as described in the Location section is misleading. Swampscott was settled in 1629 but had been inhabited by the Algonquin tribe from whom its name originates. Meaning “at the red rock,” those who were here before, have they left their mark? Can we still see/feel them today? What remains of the Algonquin tribe? Positioning soaps, especially with portraits of Native Indians, within the American context one cannot help to draw parallels between the systematic removals of Native Americans by early settlers, a form of ethnic cleansing. Mutual Cleanse, will hopefully start a dialogue into the Native American genocide. I find it important to review the past and look at how it shapes our present.
Personally, after over almost 3 decades of living here, I have very few ties with any of Swampscott’s inhabitants. The “sit in” at the Gaga Gallery, will be the first time I establish myself publically as a local artist.
Internationally, I will reestablish contact with artists all over the world. Mutual Cleanse will spark dialogue, but I hope it can do more and help solidify our need for one another.
Describe local community, relationship with the post office, face to face interaction-US engagement through this kind of work
Facebook engagement- digital interaction
BRAF Mission
How does this project or program further the mission of the Black Rock Arts Foundation? (3000 characters)
As I understand it, the Black Rock Arts Foundation sees art as something that engages those around it. It encourages community involvement in the projects’ development and execution. Mutual Cleanse will do just that. It will have over 240 direct participants, 120 of whom will directly shape the project. It should spark creation, as participants handle, smell, feel, and erase the soap. It should raise curiosity as one erases another’s face through the process of cleaning. It should also raise questions for spectators who observe this mutual affect.  The project should be accessible to the public, in that it will be online and not within one gallery setting or within one country for that matter. Mutual Cleanse has already sparked conversation among the first wave of collaborators and I hope it can prompt action as it evolves and expands. I have to thank this foundation for not only taking the time to read about this project, but also it has allowed me to explore this the idea in depth, through questioning, in a way that I could never have conceived on my own.
Timeline- publish news of Mutual Cleanse quarterly
January- initial letters to first wave of collaborators
February- carving begins for people with skin sensitivities (20 bars of bought soap, not part of collection.)
March- invitations go to all 120 participants
                Set up a skeletal website
April- receive images from participants
 first wave of funding- grandmother’s collection of soap arrives from CZ
May, June, July- carving, painting, intervening on 60 bars
                Upload all carvings with their individual destinations
August- mail first 60
                Track/confirm their delivery
                Ask collaborators to document their use of soap by December 2014
September, October, November- carve, paint and intervene on last 40 bars
December- mail last 40 bars
                Upload first 60 documentations
                Ask last 40 collaborators to document their work by March 2015
March 2015
Post all uploads on website. Keep website up as long as financially possible as a record of process.

The bulk of the physical labor for this project is set up in two phases throughout the year. The first half happens in the spring/summer of this year and the last half is set up for the fall/winter season.  Participants will have the same time, roughly one season to complete their intervention and an extra month to upload their documentation. I do not want the work to be rushed but at the same time I want to make sure there is a schedule that we are keeping in order for the work to come to a finish.

How long the work stays online is entirely up to funding. My goal is to find enough funding to keep a trace of Mutual Cleanse online as long as possible, in order for it to reach the most amount of viewers.

The potential of this work for future exhibitions is strong considering there are so many artists participating in it. It also has to potential to evolve into much smaller, more locally defined projects: for example, placing soap bars of Native American portraits, into the toilets of the Tedesco Country Club, and documenting the interaction there. I will have to reexamine the work after the year’s progress and evolution.

-digital help- web designer
Professional Development

Please list your relevant accomplishments. If applying as an arts collective, you may list highlights of your group's achievements, or of the group's members. You may include past projects, your experience with similar projects not your own, corresponding websites or other resources. (1000 characters)
From 2000 to most recently in 2012, I have attended workshops with Rosenclaire in Italy, South Africa and the US on topics such as Just Forming Content, The Everyday in Contemporary Art and Practice, and A Visual and Cultural Exchange. This experience has not only introduced me to artists throughout the world, but is a unique collaboration.  Through working with them I have realized such work as Us, them, 2003 a diptych that reviews the 1905 image from Russia’s Bloody Sunday. It was a direct response to the polarization of Good versus Evil, after September 11th. I reworked the image, after my trip to South Africa, in 2007 titled We Meet, a site-specific piece which allows for a meeting between victims and perpetrators much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid, South Africa.  And finally evolved into the Overlap Series and Bodies Form, To From Mothering Alphabet, in which I explore interconnectedness. The latter series won first prize in Memory Upgrade, a juried exhibition at the Center on Contemporary Art of Seattle.
Since 2007, I have kept a dialogue, a blog, art,life (no separation),  with a Angela Voulgarelis which examines life as an art process.

First, Mutual Cleanse would allow me to expand into the public realm but in a manner that is natural rather than forced.
My personal mission in doing Mutual Cleanse is to expand, not in size or scale, not in gravity, not to have more or want more. The expansion is from taking what I have, small, everyday objects and do my process; a one on one intimate interaction. Then give it away, multiply it, and expand the circle of intimacy. 
For over a few decades I have worked in portrait miniature which satisfied the present craving to create. But in the thousands of works that evolved, the audience was limited to a very small group of friends and family. With understanding the importance of those who witness, I would like to enter a much more public realm.

I need you as my artistic family. 


Project- finishing all unfinished projects- I hear that!

1 comment:

Angela Rose Voulgarelis said...

Incredible! I will have more time to give my full attention to this proposal. Fantastic follow through xoxoxox