Monday, July 5, 2010

This blog is Ovah

For further musings, please join me at Art of My Mind.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Out of Line" in the press

"Out of Line" is on the Short List in this week’s New Yorker in the Goings on About Town section! Whooooo! Oh, I mean, "I am so pleased."

This Saturday I will be giving an unconventional slide-presentation that will expand on the show.

The presentation is a subjective survey of what line is and has been in visual art and other domains, including sports, war, language and spiritual practice. I travel far and wide from Matisse to Charles Ray, from my bathroom calendar to a chorus line, from vectors to the most delicate grape leaf outlined by Ellsworth Kelly.

Please come.

June 5 at 5pm.
Slag Gallery
531 West 25th St., Ground 10

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A talk with Carin Riley

Molly Stevens: You’re the springy-est chicken that I know, Carin, but in the eyes of the art world, you’re no spring chicken. What do you think about making art after the age of 22?

Carin Riley: Well I started drawing when I was 2. It was just a part of my life. By the time I was 22, I had had some very strong teachers. And I knew that I had a long way to go. Also, there weren’t any women as examples that I could latch on to. There weren’t any women that I could say “Oh that’s me” or that I could emulate. And then, in the 80s, I saw that the art world commodified people in a way that wasn’t going to work for me. So, it has been a winding road. But, I’ve never stopped drawing. It’s always been a language for me, a language that I accept.

MS: Once you said to me that you always thought you’d make your best art at 80.

CR: Yeah. Definitely.

MS: Tell me about that.

CR: Well, sometimes I’d meet a collector who would try and push me into the public eye. But I knew it wasn’t my time. I would just say, “don’t worry, it’ll happen by the time I’m 80.” And I just figured that that was the way it was going to be. Because I was looking for something I wasn’t finding at the time. But I had the hope that I’d find it by 80. I found it sooner.

MS: What makes the time ripe for an artist?

CR: That’s determined somewhere else. A force comes into your life that gives you clarity. I knew in 1992 what I was looking for, but it didn’t come around until this year!

MS: What were you looking for?

CR: I was looking for some kind of strength. I was looking for a Belinda-type force. I drew Belinda in 1992 but I hadn’t met her in person yet. And when I met her last year, she knocked me off my feet. That was it. I found what I was looking for and it was easy. Painting became tangible to me.

MS: So who’s Belinda?

CR: Belinda was – before my father died – the person who came into our lives and really took care of the family. My father was very ill and when she arrived she was very powerful. Her word was her bond. And she would say that, ”my word is my bond.” And she made everything much lighter for us.

MS: So, technically, she’s a home health aide?

CR: Yes, and she was much more than that in the sense that she just took my father to the next level in life. She helped him transition out of life. And she was very confident doing that.

MS: And immediately you wanted to put her into your drawing and painting?

CR: I wanted to be her!

MS: Would you call her a muse?

CR: She was bigger than a muse. She was like a universal force. I’ve never met anyone stronger than Belinda. That’s the truth. Physically or mentally.

(Willem de Kooning, 1950-1952, Oil on Canvas, 6'3" x 58")

MS: Nurses have been a popular subject in literature and art. For example, Richard Prince’s nurses. But Prince’s nurses are pulpy, sexy, flimsy women. And Belinda is definitely not.

CR: No she’s the antidote to Prince’s nurses. She’s an aide and very proud of it. And there was so much honesty and hard work. She had worked since she was a young girl and put her daughters through school. There was nothing fictional about her. So I liked that.

MS: Yeah, Prince’s nurses are fictional.

CR: I mean, I suppose there are nurses out there that are like his nurses. But I wanted something much deeper…There’s one more parallel and that’s de Kooning’s Woman, I. When I was in school they said, “she’s our Madonna, our Mona Lisa.” And I thought that was so unfair to women. I loved the painting but it was so angry.

MS: It was de Kooning who was angry. I’d say it was even hate.

CR: Yeah, so why would that be “our Mona Lisa.” And plus she’s composed of advertising parts. Her mouth comes out of an ad. Belinda has a soft mouth. She’s strong, more compassionate. I was looking to re-visit Woman, I in a way that was not so angry. Hence the liver. With Belinda, the liver is anger and I took the anger out. It’s next to her. When I finished, I thought Belinda is my Woman, I.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Le press release

For Immediate Release:

May 10, 2010

SLAG Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of OUT OF LINE, a group exhibition featuring work by Nils Folke Anderson, Anne-Lise Coste, Elana Herzog, Carin Riley and Molly Stevens, who is also the curator.

May 20 – June 19, 2010

Opening Reception: May 20, 6 – 8 pm

Artist’s Talk by Molly Stevens: June 5, 5PM

The conventional concept of line in visual art is bound to drawing on paper. In this exhibition, however, line is a presence, visible in movement and space, paint and electricity, language and metaphor. OUT OF LINE is a fresh look at a variety of line forms: fresh, meaning vigorous and immediate, but also meaning bold and cheeky. OUT OF LINE takes a risk and speaks its own mind.

Carin Riley
’s large-scale paintings from 2010 are the visual confluence of a personal vocabulary of images. Seemingly disparate elements cohere around fluid line work and a metaphorical logic that struts a bold attitude away from linear narrative.

Anne-Lise Coste
’s tarpaper scroll from 2009 is a bilingual stream of consciousness that is at once frenzied and hilarious. Line is text but also the loopy marks that form handwritten letters and words.

Elana Herzog
’s effortless curtain from 1992 is at once mysterious and plain-faced, solid and delicate, decadent and frayed and, as such, reminds us that lines are not easily drawn. While the piece nods to Surrealism - and also to the Renaissance - it announces the artist’s rich involvement with textiles.

The electric lines of Nils Folke Anderson’s 2009 interlocking neon are bounded by form and released by light. This vibrant orderly disorder provides a model for the show as a whole.

In Molly Stevens’ surging and cockeyed mountains from 2009 and 2010, long currents rise up and down the page, lean into each other and draw apart to form vibrating and off-kilter landscapes.

On June 5 at 5pm, Stevens will present an artist’s talk called “Out of Line,” a subjective survey of what line is and has been in visual art and other domains, including sports, war, language and spiritual practice. The event is open to the public and is free of charge.

Donkey Trail [THAT'S THIS], a year-long blog of thoughts, images and interviews leading to this show, can be viewed at the desk or online at:

SLAG Gallery specializes in contemporary American and Eastern European art and is operated by owner and director Irina Protopopescu.

SLAG Gallery is located at 531 West 25th Street, Ground Floor, suite 10.

(Between 10th and 11th Avenues).

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm.

For press inquiries and reproductions contact Irina Protopopescu, 917 977 1848.

For general inquiries, contact the gallery at 212 967 9818.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What if syndrome

(Amy Sillman, from her current show at Sikkema Jenkins)

One false move and the whole thing could fall apart.

- What if I send the evites too early?
- What if I send the listing to TimeOut too late?
- What if the FedEx containing the piece coming from Detroit gets lost?
- What if I’m watering the plant and I accidentally spritz one of the ink drawings?
- What if my cat decides to try to climb up a wall via the drawing?
- What if I missed a typo?
- What if the fan’s breeze creases the paper?
- What if one of Carin’s painting gets punctured?
- What if the neon doesn’t light?
- What if someone actually does bomb Times Square. Does that mean we’ll still open?
- What if Roberta Smith suddenly dies?
- What if I don’t drop two hundred on a haircut?
- What if it’s actually shit? But I don’t think it is. What if that’s too confident?

Did I forget something?

Monday, April 26, 2010

A talk with Nils Folke Anderson

(Work in progress, Nils' studio, 2010)

Molly Stevens: Would you agree with the following cliché: We approach our work in the studio like we do our lives.

NFA: In art and life my values are continuous—I find pleasure in things like spaciousness, grace, sensitivity, humor. However the threshold of the studio is essential. My studio is a place for action, and a particular kind of contemplation.

There are also things I do, like playing music and cooking, that influence how I work in the studio.

MS: Then there are artists who cook in galleries.

NFA: Discursive food gives me indigestion.

I like how Rauschenberg spoke of desiring a tension between art and life. The two blur into each other constantly of their own accord. By pulling them apart, making each more strange to the other, we make both richer. Then again, art is contained in life—it’s not like apples and oranges. Comparing art and life is like comparing apples and fruit.

MS: I think art should be different too. But there is a certain personality we bring to both. A certain pace. What I mean by pace is a rhythm, a personal beat. For example, there's the stereotype of the dark and depressed artist. I suppose that’s one pace.

NFA: There's a great Ray Charles song called “¾ Time.” That’s a pace I relate to. And polyrhythm is important to me—in the sense of working with multiple paces or modes at once.

MS: Does your work in the studio follow ¾ time?

NFA: It’s different, my brain engages differently with time when I’m in the studio.

But music is an influence. In musical time empty space is meaningful, because those gaps occur within a structure. Something similar happens in visual art, especially sculpture, and music has helped sensitize me to the possibilities that this presents.

MS: I think we can see a slower beat in your work. It's not the same beat that’s in my work, which is set to an alarm clock.

(Molly Stevens, Long Line Mountain II, 2010, 40" x 60")

NFA: I don’t see the alarm clock in your work. Where does that show up? Is that being regimented or just wired?

MS: It’s a bit of both. It’s both a discipline and a panic that I’m up against the clock. I tend to make, make, check email, meditate, do something else, make. I rarely sit in the chair and look for more than 5 minutes. I think you can feel that my drawings happen immediately. I often wish I were more of a planner. Are you a planner?

NFA: I sometimes feel like Robert Burns' mouse – my best laid plans "gang aft agley." So I make plans but also let go of them; or move myself just to the side of plans I’ve made.

MS: And what’s the advantage to your work when you slow down?

NFA: There’s a better continuum between me and the thing I’m making. Going slow allows for making adjustments along the way. The opportunity of all the failures along the way is more available. When I work at a slow pace I also notice that works can come together rather quickly, that slowness can lead to very satisfying moments of effortlessness.

MS: Sometimes I'll work endlessly on something, wrestle with it, and the next piece I make spreads like soft butter. I love that. For me, fast is just more natural. That said, there's fast that’s frenzied and scatterbrain, and fast that’s present and exact.

NFA: The alarm clock.

MS: Actually, the alarm clock is mostly a pain in the butt. It tells me I only have five minutes left. Or it already rang five minutes ago. It’s more psychological than anything else. But, sometimes there’s just an upbeat pace that feels right. Sometimes.

NFA: As far as the alarm clock goes, I had a different image. I pictured going to one's work as being akin to waking up.

MS: That’s an appealing thought. I do think making art raises awareness.

NFA: How does pace relate to the line for you?

MS: Every line has a pace. In drawing there's the fly away line that’s super-quick and uncontrolled, there's the heavy and slow line, there's the loose line. And each of those lines has a movement and a speed and a spirit and maybe we can call that pace. Also, electric light makes one kind of line, metal another.

NFA: In the case of electric light, radiant light, there are multiple directions occurring in the line, of unequal intensities. The path of the light in the directions it goes, and the path of the object producing the light.

MS: That's what I like about your piece in the show. It has contained and uncontainable line at the same time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A talk with Elana Herzog

(Elana Herzog, 2007, Southeastern Center for the Creative Arts)

Molly Stevens: The other night, I met an artist whose sculptures I liked. Then she started talking, using tremendous terms and offering extensive explanations.

Elana Herzog: And it killed it. She lost you.

MS: She pretty much should have not said anything.

EH: That’s a lesson! A word to the wise!

MS: I think there’s a delicate balance you have to strike, between explaining and not.

EH: Do you think she was over-zealous? Or do you think she learned that approach in school?

MS: I think that’s it. I bet she just got out of school. They must have said to her, “Know your position. Promote meaning. Shape the culture.” In any case, all this to ask you my first question: at what point are you thinking when you’re making something?

EH: It depends on how you define thinking, but it’s a bit of a back and forth process for me. I know that over the years I’ve made a lot of decisions based as much on what I don’t want to do as on what I do want to do. For example, I won’t do a certain thing because it reminds me of something else, or because it implies something that I don’t want to imply. And so sometimes I make decisions by a process of elimination. But really your question is how I use thinking. It’s a process, of course. I’m not a conceptual artist in the sense that I don’t start with a concept that is larger than the form that the work takes. Everything I think about it is embodied in the materialization of the work.

MS: It’s in front of you.

EH: Right, I think so.

MS: I have an elimination process too that’s based on “not.” I say to myself that I don’t want to go in a certain direction. But that can turn out to be the voices in my head. “Don’t do that.” It’s a judgment. It can be hard to distinguish between what’s not-wanting to go in a certain direction and what’s a judgment. Sometimes if you find yourself going in a certain direction, you just have to go.

EH: And that can be a really liberating moment. You start realizing that it’s a bias, and not actually a meaningful choice in a good sense. It’s really important to become aware of that and also to abandon the voice on your shoulder that comes from either your teachers or your parents or wherever; and also to abandon the idea of perfection. Because if you’re hyper critical, which a lot of us are, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for you to move.

MS: It’s really a process of letting go. I’m trying to become comfortable with not knowing where a work is going. It’s not sloppiness. It’s that the work is taking its own course. I have control over it, but somehow I’m in the back seat. To me, it’s frightening, but also liberating. And when I can do that – move to the back seat – it’s a moment when I’m not thinking. What I mean by thinking in this case is a certain kind of planning. Control.

EH: When you start a piece, do you start with an image, do you start with an idea?

MS: I always start with something. But the finished work rarely ends up matching what I had in my head. How about for you?

EH: Sometimes I have to go back to what’s in my head when I’m working, but I also have to give it up. Because it can stand in the way of seeing what’s in front of me. It’s really important to be responding to what’s going on, and to not be too attached to the initial idea.

MS: Plus it gives the piece some freshness.

EH: For me there are also certain technical challenges to materializing something. Not because my work is technically complex or highly produced, but a lot of my work is in spirit very much dependent on the surroundings it’s made in. It’s either on the wall or in the wall. It’s contingent on where it is. So, if I’m going to prepare work like that in my studio, and then move it and reinstall it somewhere else, it has to have portability built into it. So the technical challenge of figuring out how to make something works in tandem with the impulse or idea I had to begin with. I have to be thinking actively about both those things, and responding to everything.

MS: Right, there are limits and considerations. In many ways that’s a blessing because when you have a certain structure, you can really go wild within it.

EH: And you also have to be resourceful. Sometimes technical limitations generate important formal decisions.

(Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #146. All two-part combinations of blue arcs from corners and sides and blue straight, not straight and broken lines)

MS: It reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing instructions, when he gave instructions for other artists to carry out. The end result is always different.

EH: Right, I have seen the same LeWitt piece installed more than once and it was different. And at the same time, I know there have been instances where those pieces have been installed wrong. And they get corrected.

MS: In the artist’s talk I’m going to give during the run of the show, I refer to those Sol LeWitt wall drawings and how satisfying it can be for artists to carry out that work even though they’re not at the source of it. It’s like playing in an orchestra, which is how one artist described it in an interview I heard. I can understand that.

EH: I’ll be making a piece for the New Britain Museum, which is in Sol LeWitt’s hometown. In my mind, and also in the museum’s mind, what I’m going to make there is something of an homage to him. Part of what I have to do when I’m trying to work on a piece, or work out a piece - especially when it’s going to be an installation –is to look for reasons to do things that make sense in that context. I look for things inherent in the architecture or in the place that give meaning and life to the project, that tie things together on several levels. It always amazes me how long it takes me to figure out what to do. Even though when I figure it out it seems so obvious.

MS: It’s not obvious at all. If I were to choose the same space it would turn out completely differently. So it is indeed personal. The problem arises when we – or I – try to label things in terms of a dichotomy; for example, obsessive or not obsessive, random or structured, as if one were good and one were bad.

EH: But that’s already random to even think in terms of those definitions.

MS: Right, and also things can be a lot of things at once. When I draw for example, I’d like to be completely uninhibited and uncensored. That’s some kind of goal. I never get there, but I set up a dichotomy between uninhibited and uptight and I try to get away from the uptight. But, then I think that a little bit of uptight is ok. I mean it exists.

EH: And also, it’s possible to be totally uptight about being uninhibited. Which means that there’s a degree of artifice in everything.

MS: True. And it might be important to know that and it might not. Who knows. When I start thinking like this, it’s a good point for me to turn the thinking off. I can think myself into a corner. To me what’s important is to keep going.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It’s true that art is exciting when it breaks through boundaries, pushes the envelope, confronts expectations, challenges esthetic norms. When it’s wild. Not easy to do. Especially every day.

What often ends up happening, is that artists think they’re being wild, but really they’re only making an insider joke. And from the outside, this comes off as pretentious, even uptight.

And sometimes the wilder an artist tries to be, the more contrived it looks. Anyway, I haven’t seen any wild-priority art that holds a candle to Lady Gaga in cigarette sunglasses lately. And those will burn out next week.

So when you have a show that’s called “Out of Line,” many will be sure to imagine the art equivalent of an orgy of stunts and provocation. But, I’d like to refine the notion.

Wildness can be shock like I’ve described. But wildness can also be risk.
Making art involves endless choices; you can go safe – stick with what you know, with the good looking cream-white combination - or you can go out on a limb, leap into the unknown, a leap of faith as my friend refers to it. Such leaps aren’t necessarily mind-blowing revolutions or sparkly, but they are always fresh and brave. And that’s what I mean by Out of Line. Partly.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Until very recently, the buzz-adjective was “performative.” It appeared in countless artist statements and wall texts, and was meant to indicate that whatever you were looking at involved some kind of action or process that should be considered part of (or is actually) the work; that that action or process was a performance, deliberate, and therefore meaningful. While it is true that watching something be made or thinking about how it came into being can be beautiful or interesting, we can’t be surprised that the rest of the world thinks we art people ride on a high horse.

What’s floating around these days is the word “physicality,” meant to indicate that touch, surface, the palpable predominates over idea and thinking – in artspeak the latter is erroneously called “conceptual.” It’s a noun, and I haven’t quite got the hang of using it yet. But, here’s an example, from the blog Two Coats of Paint (re: the Whitney Biennial):
[…] much of the work manifests a rediscovered attention to physicality in various ways.
And here’s an example from a wall text at the Biennial itself (re: a piece by Pae White):
[…] by contrasting an image of something immaterial with the physicality of fabric.”
All this to say, “physicality” might indeed be appropriate for the work in Out of Line. As Ms. Locke, my frightening English teacher in high school, might have ordered: Use it in a sentence. OK, here’s two:
The physicality of paint renders the metaphors in Riley’s paintings human and deeply personal.
In seeing the various surfaces and materials, and even in sensing speed and movement, we are reminded that physicality suggests meaning as much as concept.

Hmmm. I think I may stick to touch, surface, palpable.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A talk with Anne-Lise Coste

(Anne-Lise Coste, all Day long, 2009, airbrush and acrylic on board and mirror)

Molly Stevens: Anne-Lise, in the outside world, I make plans and it works (sometimes). But in the studio, forget about it: Things never go according to plan.

Anne-Lise Coste: No plans in the studio.
I enter the studio and start
with whatever is around
no plans
no projects
no projections
no drafts

what comes comes

MS: So, is that impulse that we see in your work?

AC: It might be

I don’t want any mediation

From whatever it’s called - soul-mind-spirit-conscience-unconscience - through the hand-pencil to the paper for instance

Superquick, no thinking as much as possible, a breath, a scream, a fast construction, a tear, a fuk

A secretion you cannot control

Out of control

In the world of control
Une jouissance aussi [pleasure too]

MS: Do you think that the superquick - which is so fleeting - can last in art? Can it make a lasting impression?

AC: Oui, because everybody knows about fragility.

MS: Well, not everyone wants to know about fragility.

AC: I’m not sure about that sentence, actually. I don’t like to say everybody. I don’t know everybody.

Forget it.

What I mean is that there is no hierarchy for me between a work that lasts 3 seconds and another one that’s high tech, that requires hours of working, a team, a super budget or whatever.

MS: A lot of artists make art to last forever in hopes of transcendence. We could call that macho, I guess. But there’s something very macho in the quick too. It’s brave. In women they call it impulse, I think. In men, they call it boldness, or risk-taking.

AC: You’re right: boldness versus impulse in the vision of what is male and what is female, which ends up being male versus female and then hierarchy again. One thing we should not forget is that it’s also a battle for the poor men who want to be impulsive and not bold.
first of all I believe in a queer progression in the look of the world

And perhaps no more woman-women shows

As soon as you’re a woman and you’re invited into that perspective, you respond. You have to reject this totally passé retrograde vision. That’s over.

MS: Tell me a little more about this: "I believe in a queer progression in the look of the world.”

AC: I mean that it will become clear. It’s impossible to enclose someone in terms of gender and to generalize about a sex. Like this is male, this is female.

Everybody – ha! again - but this time it’s for a joke: someday everybody will laugh when someone says "oh you’re a girl and you like soccer"

MS: I don’t understand.

AC: Funny you don’t understand my example. Yeah it’s so South of France.
What I want to say is that in the normal world, some activities are male and others are female. That’s over in the queer or free world.

It’s the fukin advertising propaganda, which imposes a very narrow world
for commerce
But there’s another world, out of the market, friendship and love.
I say friendship and love to mean that there are spaces of non-conventions, of openness, the bizarre, the ambiguous and out of control again.

MS: To end, what do you think of this image:

AC: Merde. Sais pas. [Shit. Don’t know]

MS: OK. Let's end another way. Just let me think for a second.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The title of this show is now...

(Anne-Lise Coste, installation detail, 2005)

This is a truism: if you don’t feel good about a decision, you always know it’s there, like a sore thumb. Sometimes you can’t treat a sore thumb, but sometimes you can.

Over the past few weeks, it has become clear to me that I’ve been forcing an idea from a previous life (a few months ago) onto a selection of work that has nothing to do with that idea.

What I’m saying is that the name Donkey Trail does not match the work in the show I’m currently putting together. This show, the one opening in May, is off-kilter, looks like instinct and energy, has its own set of rules and is unified, formally, by the line. It’s fresh, it moves, it moves fast. Donkeys? Donkey Trail? Not right.

So, in what has proved to be an act of courage, and also a step towards coming into my own (more), I’ve renamed it.

The title of this show is now: OUT OF LINE.

Name choosing can get wacky. Note the developmental process:

Donkey Trail is a Fast Paced Line
Beast Unburdened
No Dozing Ox
Hook, line and sinker
Electric Ladyland
Electric Skillet
Welcome to the Zoom Boom
Welcome to the Zoom Room
It is I, That I am,
Up, down, all around
The Zoom Boom Presents
Drawing the Curtain
Behind the curtain
Before the curtain goes up
The curtain goes up
Curtains, Kidneys and Candy
Candy Curtain
Certain curtain
The Flow Show
The To and Fro Show
We interrupt this program
Jumping the Fence
Next day, tomorrow, suspense
Walk the Talk
Walk like a Man
Walk the Line
Moving Down the Line
No Easy Walk to Freedom
Zoom Zoom Presents
Bloom Zoom Presents
Vroom Zoom Presents
Moving to Another Groove
Getting the Move On
Leg Work
No Sweat
Ring Up the Curtain
Show Up
The Doozy Show
The Doozy Zoom Boom Show
Behind the scenes
Backstage in Ladyland
Backstage at Pinkrocks
Backstage with Pink Rocks
Backstage and out of line
Up and Over

Friday, January 29, 2010

Donkey Trail, South Africa

(Haggas joins the family for dinner)

Erika Calitz and her husband Hanz have reopened a historical donkey trail near their Living Waters farm near Calitzdorp, South Africa. In addition to facilitating multi-day hikes (with help from pack donkeys), they train local members of the community as guides and donkey handlers. Their website is

Molly Stevens: Do you have more contact with donkeys than you do people?

Erika Calitz: There are those days yes. I certainly wish for more of them.

MS: And why is it that there are so many donkeys in your life?

EC: Besides the certainty that they are the best and least understood animals on the planet, they are a critical ingredient of a community development and conservation project we’ve birthed near the southern most point of Africa.

MS: Least understood, for sure. And so abused.

EC: The first five donkeys brought to us by animal welfare (we have an 800 hectare property with a river running through it - donkey heaven) fled into the bushes from the truck that delivered them. They had been sorely abused and neglected. We didn’t see them for days and decided to start taking our daily lunch in the field closest to where we had last seen them. It took only a few days for their curiosity to get the better of them and within four weeks we were hugging the bunch of them, some more gingerly than others. Scariest thing is that they had thereby exposed themselves all to potential abuse all over again. Does this make sense?

MS: You mean, they decided to trust you, despite the risk and previous experience with other humans?

EC: Yes that’s it exactly. Trust is the key word to describe a donkey. There is something about a donkey - if you get to know them, even just one, as if he were your pet dog perhaps - you would feel that deep trust, beyond obedience. NOT stubborn as they are commonly seen to be.

MS: So the stubborn idea that we have must be mistrust?

EC: Good way to put it. I often marvel at their discernment. Unlike our horses.

MS: Can you describe donkey-ness?

EC: Curious (noses in grocery bags), intelligent, scheming apparently planned escape routes out of any situation on particular days including the entire herd - horses just stay in their meadows. Soft, gentle, understanding, JEALOUS, preparedness, trusting, reliable, longsuffering, patient.

MS: Before we talk a bit about donkey trails, I'd love to hear more about how their jealousy crops up.

EC: They know when we have treats with us when we approach a meadow where they are grazing. This is where we see the kicking and nipping-one-another kind of jealousy. We have won our donkeys over with love and patience and that is what they really compete for. They are equally aware of when there are no treats and this is when they swamp us with imploring eyes, And they are so hungry for touch. We believe even the wildest of jacks would eventually approach a patient enough man for that very touch. They have specific soft spots that just need to be loved. Yet at the same time, I have stomped into a field in a horrific mood and sat down in the grass and none of them approach me. They seemed to know I just need the space. That’s why I say, understanding.

(Goldie introduces her new boy)

MS: That's quite heart wrenching and heart warming. I want to ask you about something you said yesterday: “I have to remind myself I'm not an Ass.” What did you mean?

EC: I have a secret place of escape with the donkeys, my total space of denial. Sitting with them trying to figure them out and wishing I could just stay there. But, hey, I’m a wife, mom, farmer, entrepreneur, and community worker. I have responsibilities. I envy them sometimes, despite their lot in so many countries.

In a different light altogether, I have tirelessly researched donkey art, sculpture, painting, sketches, you name it. I collect ANYTHING donkey. However, with due respect to all those artists out there who have seen the nature of this animal, I am yet to see someone really capture the essence of the donkey. He is a bit like a beautiful landscape that even a wide-angle camera can’t capture. Just too deep to get the whole thing wrapped. Their faces are so tempting so that becomes the subject but there is so much more. I can only do stick figures.

MS: That's lovely. I have a choice here, I can talk about donkey representations - my favorite happens to be the French movie "Au Hasard, Balthazar" - or I can talk about donkey trails. I chose the latter. What is a donkey trail exactly and what's the experience like?

EC: Generally a donkey trail is a hike or walk through a natural area with donkeys serving as beasts of burden. Our trail however adds the element of rehabilitation of a people and their heritage. Our country has only recently been set free from apartheid, there is much restoration to be done on a national basis, but, also on an individual level with regards to young people and drug abuse, and with the donkeys and their previous lives of abuse. What you therefore can expect with our trail is to (for four days) become part of the lives of youngsters who have the courage to change, of donkeys who have the hearts to trust again, and of a nation trying to heal from its wounds. All of this through a UNESCO world heritage site of indescribable beauty. The trail becomes part of you. You leave encouraged, no matter your own private battles. Life is a donkey trail!

(A training session with new recruits)

MS: What about the trail allows for this restoration? What I imagine is that the path itself is an exercise in taking things in stride. And in my mind, donkeys do this instinctively. You mentioned they sometimes seem to plan, but is that a reigning trait?

EC: We believe donkeys are compulsive travelers - they seem to love the journey and perhaps that is the key to restoration. Perhaps that is why, when we approach the meadow at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, Buddy and Saartjie know it’s their day to walk and they approach the gate to be haltered and led to the awaiting guests. To embrace each day with gratitude and expectation; to endure hardship with hope and trust that it can bring healing. Besides the development of people skills and education, which bring restoration to the community, the promise of finding a future through knitting our differences together into a new fabric is very exciting.

MS: It is exciting. Working as an artist, day in and day out, often without encouragement, is a similar experience, one that requires some sense that it's worth it, that the process of making things we call art is a way to become conscious, aware. The work in Donkey Trail, the exhibition, reflects this just by the fact of being there, and also by a fresh, winding quality, that isn't pre-planned (too much).

EC: The similarities are great. Our task, as leaders, donkeys and young guides, to climb a mountain over 28 km twice a week with a fresh group of visitors becomes tedious, exhausting, it becomes a trail, a TRIAL! But it also remains a journey of growth for all involved.

Friday, January 22, 2010

De-fense, De-fense

In writing – and especially in thinking about writing the upcoming press release –every sentence deflects an oncoming attack. I cover my bases, answer to any and all negative judgment, all with the type of a key and all with a smiley face. It goes without saying that this is defensive writing, and yes, it’s something I can talk to my therapist about.

Offensive writing would assume the reader was on your side, interested in, even in awe of, your investigation, able to like without liking a hundred percent. In other words, her judgment might be able to hold nuance, even contradiction. I’m assuming a “successful” person writes offensively.

It is in the vein of defensive writing – but with an offensive veneer – that I’m preparing an artist’s talk during the run of Donkey Trail. Tentatively entitled “Walk the Line” I’ll present a subjective survey of what line is in visual art, and also in language, sports and spiritual practices. I mean thick, thin, fast, slow, shaky, ruled. I mean line as drama, line as movement, line as delineation. I mean Egyptian reliefs, Matisse, Charles Ray, party lines and line dancing.

There, I said it. No turning back now.

I do love lines and what ties Donkey Trail together is, I argue and will argue, the line. Among other things.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's in a name?

(Brice Marden drawing)

We have a date! Donkey Trail will open May 20, 2010.

That said, will the show be called Donkey Trail or will that be the name of its blog only?

This exhibition project began as a proposition: create a show through a process of one-thing-leads-to-the-next, of deal-with-each-obstacle-as-it-comes. The result, it was posited, would be inadvertent, instinctive and therefore a fresh departure from concept-laden curating.

Six months down the line, much has changed - much that I cannot disclose here - and it has become clear to me that everything is inevitably a process of one-thing-leads-to-the-next and I always deal-with-each-obstacle-as-it-comes. And while the art that I am drawn to is often a visible reflection of this approach, I do not think the work I have chosen suggests this first and foremost. All together, it points more immediately to something else (namely the line, but more about this another time). Moreover, although literalness is never a good place for art, the work in the show all has little to do with donkeys.

There are pluses, however. The name Donkey Trail has humor and humility, and it does imply a meandering path that at once makes logical sense and does not, which is in fact a good way to see the selected pieces. Furthermore, it’s the name that exists. So be it.

Stay tuned. Alternatives ahead.