Wednesday, September 3, 2008

at long last

Something most people don't know about me is that I have two master's degrees. The first one is in Art History, and my thesis was on Marion Mahony Griffin, a woman who was one of the first to finish architecture school, and who worked in Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School studio in the early 20th century. Wright gave her the job of designing motifs for detailing and such, but also she was an exquisite draftsman and my thesis maintained that she did many of the beautiful architectural drawings that are attributed to Wright. I published an article about this back in 1974, and now it's common knowledge that this is true, although many (male) historians of Wright's work don't give her the credit. The Wikipedia entry does point to her important contribution of drawings.

Anyway, I've never been to Wright's Fallingwater, the Kaufmann house in Pennsylvania, and friends in Santa Fe suggested I go, since it wasn't far from Pittsburgh. There comes a time in your life when you start to think, will I ever be here again? And I thought: no. Furthermore, I will not do another cross-country car trip, because while it was fun going out, it was way less fun coming back. I kept imagining that I was having a stroke or something, but it was just headache from muscle stress and tension. I mean, if you're driving in hilly territory and you've got double semis bearing down on you on the downhill, you get a little tense.

So I did go to Fallingwater on my last driving day, and it was well worth the long but beautiful detour on one of Pennsylvania's "scenic auto tour" roads. There were lots of people there and you have to reserve a spot on a tour. On Labor Day they had over 60 separate groups of 10 or 12, but Tuesday was quieter, if still quite briskly busy. The house is wonderful, really interesting and lovely. What a crazy commute it must have been back when the Kaufmanns spent weekends there. It's all open, lots of glass, eclectic furnishings that include the built-ins that Kaufmann the younger designed, as he was an apprentice in Wright's studio; but also Diego Rivera paintings, several Hiroshige prints plus a Hokusai, Southwest stuff, Picasso prints, books galore (I spotted a Vincent Scully, wondering when that would have been added.)

There is often a little waterfall inside the house, but it's been a tad dry, I guess. You can see from the photo that there is a stairway that goes right down to the stream from the living room and of course the sound of rushing water is everywhere. I bought a few gifts, grabbed a sandwich, and left at around 2:15 to continue my drive home.

Construction and road painting in the area caused traffic to stop. Then, I missed an exit, feeling too confident that I knew where I was going, which caused a severe delay as I wended through cornfields, praying that I would once again find the desired route 78. Once I did, I was again delayed as an accident stopped all traffic on the highway. Needless to say, it was ridiculously late by the time I got home, having practically propped my weary eyes open and going around 55 mph in the right hand lane because I couldn't see all that well at night.

And so, dear friends, my blog comes to an end for now. I'm back in Brooklyn, amongst the Poles, hipsters and pizza by the slice. Have I reached the enlightenment I sought? No, not really. But it was a great summer and life has shifted- not sure where, but as Rilke said, "Live the questions and one day you will live into the answer." Or something like that. Thank you to everyone who commented or emailed me to say they enjoyed it. Now we turn to the entertainment that is called electing a president. Check out Huffington and Kos.

And until the next time- Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


I drove through miles and miles of Oklahoma today, finally reaching Missouri. You want to see red state folks in their element? Pull into a truck stop on a Sunday. Is it rude to keep your cowboy hat on during lunch? I guess not in Oklahoma. The place was packed with families. A parade of moms with babies in carriers and an odd assortment of young and old grizzled cowboys. Why did I stop there, you might wonder? A very sweet old guy, at least in his 80's, suggested it. I had chatted with him outside another truck stop in Texas. He lived in Amarillo and was driving a brand new Prius. He was tickled with it- wanted to retrofit it somehow to plug it in so he'd never have to buy gas. He said he'd been an engineer and thought he could do it if he could get the parts. I said he could probably find the info on the internet. How life has changed. The car of the future, he said.

When you sit at the counter, you hear the wait staff complain to each other. There were some nasty women at the truck stop. One was telling another how when people don't get their check quick enough, they just leave money, and they never count on the tax, so she had to make it up herself (tips aren't even expected, I guess.) The other one said, "oh, I'd never pay it myself, I'd just change the amount on the check." An overweight blonde in a ponytail she was way too old to wear was particularly rude to me, but super friendly to some old coot who came in and ordered soup and a grilled cheese.

Can these people tell I'm from New York? And do they hate us that much? Here's a really weird thing that happened. I pulled into a rest area and was distracted by another Prius in the lot- thus running over a bunch of glass. Shit, I thought, and got on my hands and knees to make sure there wasn't a piece that could be smooshed into the tire. While there, a car pulled in that had a horse trailer behind it. Young-ish guy gets out with his son, motions to him to watch out for the glass, looks over at me, and spits on the ground. SPITS. What am I to make of this? Not one person spoke to me at any of my stops, except to say "excuse me" when opening the ladies room door and almost smacking me, just behind it.

As I have often said, all New Yorkers should have to make a trip cross-country. Big reality check. In my experience, past and present, Texans are rather friendly and helpful. Okies, other than those in Ok City, are useless.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

ain't that America

Oh, what a strange, wonderful country we live in. I say this from a Fairfield Inn room in Amarillo, Texas, after a fairly decent mini-dinner and glass of wine at Olive Garden. I did NOT want to stay in Texas and had a reservation in Oklahoma City. But I had a sleepless night, probably still from altitude sickness, and I'm amazed that I got this far, about 340 miles, compared to the 500 I had intended which would keep me on schedule. But there is NOTHING between here and OK City, and that is 4 hours away. I lost an hour with the central time change and I decided to stay in Amarillo and try to make the time up in the next two days.

Now, Amarillo is hardly an interesting or beautiful city. I-40 runs right through the middle of it and if you want to get to something on the eastbound side, you need to go under the highway to get there from the westbound side. Olive Garden was crowded, since it's Saturday night, but I was able to order (appetizers only) food at the bar. There I met and chatted with Sunny, who has rather tepid dreadlocks (Sunny is a white girl,) a button that reads "One Love" (when asked about this, she pointed to her dreadlocks- Bob Marley fans take note) and an intention to get a PhD in "Positive Psychology." I asked her what that was and she explained that there's only one program, at UPenn, and it was meant to concentrate not on the dysfunction, but on the positive nature of things. That was before I saw the bill that had her name on it, and I said, a little incredulously, "Your name is Sunny?" Sunny also is a poet and told me very animatedly about the poetry slams and how she goes to Albuquerque for culture. Since I had just driven from there and was exhausted, I was surprised at this.

Amarillo has an iconic art piece, Cadillac Ranch. I had wanted to stop and take a pic, but I was distracted and noticed the exit without having enough room to get off the highway. Since I have just passed through the town called "Bushland," (I swear I'm not making that up) and the first car I noticed in the lot has a McCain sticker, I was surprised when I turned on the TV and the show that is on is called "Not Just Another Cable News Show," and is skewering all politicians, particularly W., playing the famous clip of him trying to dance on "Malaria Awareness Day," and the equally wonderful "Fool me once, shame on can't get fooled again" clip.

Friday, August 29, 2008

tape cactus

It took me hours to take down the wall piece. Each tile had a piece of masking tape looped on the back, so as I was peeling them off and sticking them together in a ball, I decided it might be fun to make a sculpture out of it. I've been thinking about cholla cacti, and a friend here cut a couple of pieces of one for me to take home. He came into the kitchen pulling stickers out of his hand. When they dry, they make a sort of pattern, and I have no idea how long it will take for them to dry. I put them in a bag with my other outdoor treasures- a stone from India (I bought that one) and a pine cone from my hike.

Today Ellen and I went to see Georgia O'Keefe's house. We drove out to Abiquiu and were picked up by a shuttle that takes you to the house, as if we're going to some secret location or something. As it turns out, the house can be seen from the road if you know where to look. You were not allowed to take anything with you except keys and a bottle of water. No purse, camera, pencil and paper to sketch, nothing. It was lovely there, just as I imagined it to be, or as it is seen in photos and films of her. VERY spare. Everywhere there were spectacular views of the valley and mountains, framed by windows and doorways. It really was beautiful. I wish I could post a photo.

Instead, am posting a photo of the landscape in Abiquiu, in the mountains on the way to Ghost Ranch, where O'Keefe had another house, and which is now a conference center.

Tomorrow I am to leave here. Right now I feel dizzy and am hoping it's altitude and anxiety.

farewell lunch

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

getting high

Nope, this post isn't about what you might think from the title. I thought I was used to the altitude, but after hiking up at the ski mountain in Taos (9200 ft at the base) I spent the next day with all the signs of altitude sickness- headache, dizziness, ringing in my ears, general queasiness. Gatorade powder to the rescue, and I drank a bunch of the foul stuff (actually, it tastes like melted jello, sort of) and felt better the next day. We had a New Orleans night on Monday. The writers from there each did a reading, Gabe, the residency director who lived there for a while made gumbo, and there was music and merriment. No alcohol for me that night.

I feel like the reality of my life at home is rapidly seeping into my consciousness. I'm planning my drive, thinking about what I have to do when I get home, and whatever I've accomplished here is fading away. I need to take down the work and pack things up, since I'll be heading out on Saturday.

I've set up a "mobile me" gallery online with jpegs of the work. If it doesn't work, someone email me and tell me. I'll be putting some of this on my website but I have no idea when I'll get to it, so this will be the only place to see the finished work for now. Wael (you remember him, the artist from Egypt) pointed out that I could do the piece with real tile somewhere as a public art installation. Something to think about. Meanwhile am posting my work table, with pieces of work in progress.

More philosophy and existential thoughts to come.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

second largest art market in the usa

Well, I don't know if I believe that particular claim, but yesterday, in the doldrums from open studios being over and not feeling like working, a few of us ventured off to Canyon Road, where most of the galleries are. It was hot, but it was also depressing. So much of the same kind of work, lots of gold leaf, lots of landscapes, which one would expect, lots of color, lots of mixed media, lots of bronze- oh, and horses, horses, horses. Horses without legs. Two headed horses. Rearing horses. And those were just the big bronze ones.

I wanted to see the Judy Pfaff show which was at Bellas Artes. They also represent a Korean photographer, Jungjin Lee, who just had a show here of photographs on Mulberry paper (using liquid light.) The couple who run this gallery are an interesting pair. The Pfaff show was terrific, I thought. But then with all the cutting, burning, paper twisting and shellacking, it's right up my alley and made me wonder why I'm so timid with my work. I need to get in there and mess up a little.

None of the gallery people I invited to open studios showed up, but there were a lot of people there who had nice things to say. I had photographs shot of the installation- I'll post a few next week when I get them from the photographer, Jamie Hart, who's a friend of Jim Prez back in Brooklyn, the curator of the encyclopedia show.

I'm a little at loose ends now. Going up to Taos tomorrow, I'll see what I want to spend the last few days on when I get back.

By the way, I was wrong about Richardson's companion the other night. A friend sent me a photo of him with his wife and she's a blonde. I think it might have been a sister or relative. Certainly wasn't an intern or a "paid escort."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

not the next vp

We went out after open studios tonight to a restaurant near the statehouse and Gov. Richardson was having a party. He goes there a lot, they say.

On the way out, we saw him at his car (Black Cadillac Esplanade- get a hybrid, Bill!) I called out, "Hey Governor!" He smiled and waved. I don't expect him to be named Obama's running mate- for one thing, he wouldn't be hanging around here in town. And what's up with that, anyway? I thought Obama was going to announce it yesterday.

I couldn't take a photo but am posting one. He still has a beard, nicely trimmed. Brown suit, wife by his side. She's a petite dark-haired woman, pleasant looking.

The pol's are swarming in New Mexico. Today John Dean made an appearance at a shopping center. Barack was here the other day, and McCain was in Las Cruces yesterday. Lots of political TV ads, for McCain mostly, but they show only Obama in them. Strange marketing strategy. I have been watching almost no TV- just the Olympics for a few nights.

Monday, August 18, 2008

autumnal spirit

Last night you could really feel the change of seasons begin, as it's gotten chilly and that feeling you get when summer is over is in the air. The days are a little shorter, too. I've gotten pretty close to finishing the tile piece. Just a bit more on the right side and the top edge and I think it's done.

I'll be spending the next week and a half making some drawings and making more cyanotypes on kozo paper so I can colle them on large white sheets. The image is not too great, as I haven't lit things and the paper is a little warped on the wall (it is SO damp in the studios) but it gives a sense of what they look like. They're very pretty, I think. There's something about that blue. People ask if it's indigo- it has some of that sense of organic pigmentation.

I had a nice weekend with friends from CT. Ed Wright and his son Ben played a guitar concert at a cool little nonprofit performance space. (Click Ben's link for the MySpace page for one of his bands.) So the Rowayton crowd from Taos came down and we all had dinner and enjoyed the show. I lost my keys in the process and when I came back and called the RA, I had to wait for her to drive here from wherever she was, then the master key didn't open my room door. Luckily there was an empty room I could sleep in. I was worried because we have a $150 deposit on the keys (and room damage I suppose) but in the morning I called the restaurant where we had dinner and they had the keys. Small drama ending happily.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

sun sets on the city different

I can't imagine that you'd ever get tired of seeing the sunsets here. Last night, driving back to sfai after a storm, the sky was spectacular. I didn't have a camera with me, so I looked in google images for "santa fe sunset" and found a bunch, but this one came closest to what I saw last night.

I found a few images in an online article called "How a Visit to Santa Fe New Mexico Just Might Change Your Life." Then followed one story after another of people who have found their bliss here. It's becoming a cliche, really. The traffic is horrendous and development spreads further and further, connected by really ugly commercial roads. I don't know how this will continue, as it seems the city is stretching to its limit. When I came back one of the writers from New Orleans was ranting about Santa Fe- he doesn't like it at all, and thinks it's the most racist place he's ever been. White, Native American, Hispanic, each thinks they've got The Answer and looks down on the others.

I've been enjoying it, but the Santa Fe I loved from 20 years ago doesn't exist at all. Every weekend there is another shopping opportunity. This weekend, the ethnographic art fair. Next weekend, the giant Indian Market. Hold onto your cowboy hats.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

groundhog day

The days are starting to feel routine. I get up, maybe go for a run/walk (still haven't quite gotten up to speed on that) eat breakfast, make cyanotypes, work on the computer, cut and paste, maybe make a drawing, read, do a crossword puzzle. I'm getting into a rut. I think I'm almost done with the tile piece. I'm sort of sick of making cyanotypes for now. Maybe a few more.

Each person that looks at the piece comments that the spaces are important. This is a good thing, not only visually and for the strength of the piece, but for my sanity. If I had a few assistants we could cover a wall easily, but if I'm going to enjoy myself, this piece will stay somewhat fragmentary. Which I kind of prefer anyway.

There is a poet here from the UK, Dominic McLoughlin. He has written a bit about art and we've talked about art and literature and how the writers and artists here might interact more. He had some interesting things to say about the tile piece. He saw writing and water, and pointed out that there had just been a review of a biography of Keats, and that his epitaph reads "Here lies one whose name was writ in water...." Keats died so young, age 25. It struck me that a great title for the piece could be "My name is writ in water." People could get the reference, or not. It gives a whole different reading to the piece, because I was ready to call it "Leaving Babylon" (after the Bob Marley song, "Exodus") or possibly just "Babylon." The Rastas view Babylon as a place of sin and idolatry, and the name comes from Babel, as in, Tower of. Illegibility, confusion of language, destruction of the temple, all that is in my mind. But the ephemeral nature of the piece suggests the fragility of life, something that is on my mind now with several friends being ill or their spouses being ill. I liked the elegiac quality of Dominic's suggestion (although he didn't suggest it as a title.)

We projected youtube videos on the wall in the courtyard last night, a la Cinema Paradiso, and laughed our heads off at Monty Python and SNL sketches. (The good ones.)

Here are the words written on Keats' tombstone:
at the malicious power of his enemies
desired these words to be engraved
on his tomstone
FEB 24 1821

Sunday, August 10, 2008

dog hike

In continuing this day which started on a freaky note, I came across two dogs while hiking, both of which (both of whom? don't know the proper word) had different colored eyes. They weren't border collies, they were Australian Shepherds. While I huffed and puffed and hung onto the switchback path for dear life, chihuahuas, elderly ladies, girls in sundresses, and runners passed me by. I found that a walking stick is essential, especially for those of us with FEAR OF HEIGHTS. It was beautiful today- I could appreciate the scenery while hyperventilating.

When I came back, I passed a policewoman coming out. Turned out a resident's car was stolen last night. I wondered if a Prius can be hotwired, but I don't want to find out if it can. Poor guy. What a nightmare.

to sleep, perchance to dream

I have very vivid dreams here. I don't always remember them in the morning, but this morning my room phone rang at 6:45 AM. I was in the middle of a dream about some lawyer showing me an eccentric old lady's apartment in a very rundown building that had been an old hotel. It had red trim, and it was crumbling on the outside- inside, it hadn't been cared for for years. I was trying to pushpin something to the wall and it was crumbling plaster. It was a very large 1BR apartment, and I remember thinking that there'd be room for me to put an air mattress down for Lorin to stay over if he visited. The rent was something like $800 and the lawyer told me it was better for me to rent out my apartment and live in this one. Maybe he was an accountant. He had two different colored eyes, but it was sort of attractive in the way it is in a border collie. He took me to dinner and that's when I woke up. I thought, "I don't deserve to live in a crumbling old building."

Now, you may be wondering why my phone rang so early. This has been a regular thing, usually on Sundays. When I first got here, it rang at 7 AM three days in a row. No heavy breathing, but I got a sense of an actual person on the other end before I hung up. I asked them in the office about the phone calls and they said they'd talk to the college switchboard and see if there was a problem. But the other night Jenny from the office told me the whole place is haunted and it was not unusual to have crazy dreams here. There was an army hospital on this land at one time. Maybe someone is calling from the other side.

Back to the dream: it's pretty obvious that I'm starting to see myself as an eccentric old lady, and Lorin is in fact planning a trip to NY. Oh, and there was an old empty swimming pool in the apartment (I commented that it could be filled in and made into a dining room) and there was sort of a communal patio with a bunch of old people sitting around playing cards. So is this my future? Rundown, playing cards, no swimming, border collie? They say when you dream about a home, it's your own body you're dreaming about. It all doesn't surprise me, and the symbolism is right out of Freud. It didn't really weird me out. It was sort of pleasant, actually. I'm off for a hike in the mountains. I need to get out of here for a while.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I'm more than halfway finished with the tile piece- good thing, since we have open studios again in two weeks. I had an unhappy revelation last night when I figured out how far I still had to go, but I can make the cyanotypes pretty quickly now. It's the cutting and arranging that takes time.

I settled on this configuration for the repeating break in the patterning. I don't think it looks like a quilt anymore. One of the new residents saw it and immediately got the tile and mosque reference. There will probably be close to 2000 of the 2" tiles by the time I'm done. It's very specific to that corner, with those angles, but it could be refigured somewhere else. The grid conquers all! It's also about pixellation, about destruction, and even a little about mold.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

a treat for the girl-lovers

Last night Rulan Tangen performed a dance in the courtyard. She is quite exquisite. The day before, she was rehearsing out there under the shall we say "admiring" eyes of some of the girls here. The female gaze.

The dance was about her battle with cancer and she had decorated the medical mask they had given her when she had radiation. My mother had the same mask, and at the time I thought it would make an interesting art piece somehow, but it was too charged an object for me to do anything with it. I was happy to see it discarded, as for me it stood for illness. But for Rulan, it stood for recovery.

Today was a sad one, very quiet around here, as Kaili left. She had been here three months and had really blossomed. Her work is wonderful and it was great for her to get out of Hawaii for a while, as she's had success there but its isolation kept her from wider exposure- the cages she made said it all very eloquently. She understood where my work is coming from and spoke to me about it with intelligence and grace. She was a party girl for sure, but her smile was always contagious. We will all miss her.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the great divide

They're tearing down the buildings at the Indian school. It's odd the way it's partway done- there's plenty of protest about it, but the school is on Indian land and the city can have no say in what happens there. From what I've read, there's confusion as to why this is happening at all, and it's a big mess over there.

We drove over on Sunday to try to take photos but we got chased away by a very serious looking and burly security guard, so we parked across the street and took some pictures from outside the fence. It's a massive deconstruction and it seems very sad. Also, there's so much construction material just lying in big piles- it's like they just tore into everything all of a sudden. Wrought iron railings, columns, curtains, window screens, tons of brick and concrete in a twisted wreck.

We've had so many residents from New Orleans. Today one of the new residents said he'd lived in 12 places since Katrina, and we watched a rough cut of a film last week that was heartbreaking. It makes the images of the Indian school more affecting somehow- to think this was done on purpose. It seems like they should be able to reclaim more of the material. But maybe I just think of them as being more ecologically aware because that's what I expect of that culture. And as we all know, expectations are dangerous and lead to disillusionment.

Which is a good segue to What I Did Yesterday, which was to go to Feast Day at Santo Domingo pueblo. Thousands, literally, of pueblo residents, probably past and present, doing the corn dance for St. Dominick. It's an interesting mix of Christianity and Native religion. The plaza at the pueblo is quite large- at least the length of a football field (here I'm going out of my experience range somewhat, since I haven't been to a game in many years.) The dancers ranged from about three years old to just below elderly (as in, my age probably.) It was so hot and sunny, and the dancing went on for hours. There were two groups and each danced for over an hour while we were there, and I guess traded off throughout the day.

The men and boys wore a cream colored loin cloth with a fox tail fastened to the back, with a belt of bells and cord, that held pine branches in place. The women wore black dresses with a red belt, and a headdress that was turquoise painted wood that looked like a stepped pyramid. They carried the pine branches and wore either moccasins or were barefoot. A group of maybe 100 men chanted and the dancers hopped from one foot to the other and moved in a line and a formation all around the plaza. Seeing so many of them was quite astonishing. They all wore beautiful jewelry and most of the men (and all of the women) had beautiful long, long hair. There were also a few elders completely covered with white mud, head to toe, with dark mask-like features and a corn headdress. They seemed to keep people in line and help the children when there was a wardrobe malfunction. All were shaking a maracca-like gourd (I have no idea how to spell that) and that plus the drum plus the bells made a pounding rhythm. An interesting thing I noticed is that they all kept their eyes cast downward, or even closed.

Of course you can't take photographs or even sketch. We got a great spot to stand that was shaded and right behind some of the tribal elders, next to the altar of St. Dominick, and all during the dancing women came with food. This was laid on the ground by the altar, which was in a tent that had moose heads (also wearing turquoise jewelry) on the front. I wondered what St. Dominick would do with bottles of Starbuck's frappucinos, but I guess he would distribute it to someone who wants it. He had a lot of food there, that's for sure. Tamales, soups, fruit, sandwiches of all kinds, cake, pastries, and of course bread. All of the pueblo's houses, even the brand new ones in a little subdivision, had outside bread ovens.

The Franciscan monks came along and wished the elders a happy feast day. There were lots of booths with stuff to buy, but they were all people from elsewhere- the people of Santo Domingo were all busy with the real doings of the ceremony.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

lucky seven

Tina and I went to the Biennial today and we were both surprised at how much we enjoyed it. You really have to make the commitment to spend some time, because there is a lot of video showing the artists and their processes, and we came away with the sense that Lance Fung accomplished what he set out to do, which is do a biennial that was inclusionary rather than exclusionary, create a community amongst the artists, and that was very specific to Santa Fe. Some work is far more successful than others. We loved a video that was a diptych of a close-up of a local person talking about their favorite place here and beautifully shot footage of the place, or something having to do with what they were saying.

I found a video of Rose Simpson from the panel I wrote about last month (see "the local and the global" under July postings) It's short, worth watching- especially for those of us who really don't have contact with an indigenous community and only see them when trying to buy stuff from them. I'm thinking of one person in particular, but that person wouldn't be reading my blog anyway. I think you'll see what I was referring to in that post by watching this little piece.

the good the bad and the ugly

I went to the opera on Wednesday with my dear friends Rob and Gary. We saw a new opera, "Adriana Mater," which was written by a woman, Kaija Saariaho, and I believe she is from one of the Balkan countries. The opera was about civil war in an unnamed place, but the set design suggested the Middle East. Doesn't sound very appealing I suppose, but aren't all operas about some kind of conflict? It was really wonderful, rather minimal, but quite affecting. As it happened, the husband of the woman who plays Adriana was sitting next to me and he gave us some insight into the structure of the music and the text. They are Finnish and the opera was first produced in Helsinki- this was its American debut.

The Santa Fe opera house is beautiful. It's built into the mountains and is mostly open, like an amphitheater, with a semi-circular overhang. The stage faces the sunset and the operas start just before sunset so you get this almost 180% panorama of the sun going down in the mountains and it's just exquisite. I felt a wave of joy to be there and to witness that in the context of wonderful music and theater.

Rob thought my tiles look like a quilt and I don't want that reference. I made some changes but I'll post about that when I take more photos.

Meanwhile, residents have left and new ones have arrived. Mike packed his truck with his assortment of junk and dead animal parts and headed back to Colorado. I can't imagine anyone whose work and process is more different than mine. He would drive out to the countryside and pick up whatever interested him, or buy things from tag sales. Lots of antlers. He also bought from a county sale a bunch of discarded animal parts- skulls with skin and fur still on them, hoofs, things like that. I found it upsetting to look at (and smell, though I suppose that will eventually subside) but that was part of his intention. Putting them together in an interesting way to make something new, and to expose the beauty in what was discarded and dead. I'm just too much an animal lover to connect with that work, although I did spend some time talking to him about it. He apparently never connected with mine, either, as he never said a word to me about what I was doing. Chaque a son gout. He was interested in creating a visceral response- it was very physical, far different from the cerebral and aesthetic nature of my work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

sad news

I was, and still am, so out of touch with news that I didn't know till yesterday that Bruce Conner had died three weeks ago. Only 74- that seems so young to me now although when my mother died at 72 it didn't seem unreasonably young...

I saw "Gonzo," the movie about Hunter Thompson a couple of weeks ago at the campus movie theater. I thought it was great, and in my mind his life is a little connected to Bruce Conner and all those crazy "beatniks." But Conner's work on paper was so beautiful and spiritual- it revealed something in him that was not self-mocking or nihilistic at all. Anyone familiar with his work and mine would see the influence. He himself claimed some 3000 plus artists who influenced him. But I would stare at those pages of tiny blots in wonder and amazement. I saw a show of them quite recently, and he is in the Carnegie International even now with his "angel" series of photograms.

I saw Dennis Hopper at MoMA last year, being escorted through the galleries. I feel like that generation is disappearing. Ride easy, Bruce and Hunter.

Monday, July 28, 2008


I did get a chance to talk to Wael Shawky for a while the day of open studios. He's a very pleasant, open person, with an engaging smile. With all the success he's had in the art world so far (I had not realized he was in the Venice Biennale five years ago, and he's only 36) he doesn't take any shit from anyone, but at the same time, he's quite willing to talk about his life.

We talked about Sufism. This is something I never gave a second thought to- but after he described it to me, it stuck with me a little, because he said it was related to mysticism and Kaballah. Then in Sunday's paper there was one of those Deborah Solomon interviews with Doris Lessing, and she said she practices it. Of course, this was an opportunity for Solomon to pounce on the Islam thing. Wael is very religious. He said it all "makes perfect sense." I would love to go to Egypt and see some of the things he was describing to me. Maybe this will happen. It's so wonderful having this time to experiment- I've got four different things going on and I switch around depending on what interests me that particular day. I can't let go of my hand being in the work, no matter how much it's mediated by computer imaging. I'm learning a lot about what's important to me in my work.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the interview, redux

I'm not sure if I can upload the shortened interview from santacaferadio to the blog- Alana made an mp3 file with just the three of us on it, but it's still pretty big (maybe I upload as a video?) I'll look into this.

Meanwhile, I posted just my part of it on my website.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

around the compound

Something I notice whenever I'm out doing errands or whatever is that there are a lot of big cars and trucks here, as well as a lot of Prius' like mine. The trucks take up a lot of room in the parking spaces, and I've already gotten a little dent on my car from someone opening a door on it. I do not feel sorry for these people who are moaning about gas prices. You really see the smackdown in communities here. There is so much stuff to buy- today I went over to the Plaza and meandered around the Spanish Art Fair (like the Sono Art Fair in Norwalk, but with 80% of the artisans showing religious art.) But where we are located on campus, we're closer to the Walmart and the Smith's grocery store is indicative of local tastes, not those of the newcomers'.

I'm posting a few photos that I took before open studios of my studio, all cleaned-up like. I can see that requiring artists to take part in the open studios is a major motivator for some, since all of a sudden everyone's studio had finished work in it. The next day the residency director, Gabe, took some photos of me for their files. This weekend there is no hot water and this is the third time it's gone out. We may not get it back till Monday. I'm going to try not to sweat, but a cold shower is better than none.

Friday, July 25, 2008

video killed the radio star

You can hear the interview on the radio here

I'm going to get one of the residents who has an audio editing program on her computer to cut it down, but for now if you want to hear us, we're in the second half of the show so you have to move the slider down halfway...and I'm at the very end so if you want to skip the rest, move the slider at least 3/4 of the way down. I didn't sound too bad, just a lot of "ums" as I was trying to think- since I had no idea what she was going to ask. I'm sure I do the same thing in my classes as I try to think of a word. For instance, in the interview I started to tell her about when I showed one of my book pieces to Louise Bourgeois. (That link is one of many about her.) So I was saying, "here's a little....." then I stopped, because I wanted to say- what? vignette? anecdote? I settled on "story" which certainly could have popped out of my mouth a lot easier than it did.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

one less artist

I found a dead mouse in the trunk of my car last night. It must have climbed in there before I left and died when the car sat in the sun at the airport. I noticed a horrible smell in the car, but I thought it was my cooler with maybe some old food smell. In fact I said to someone, "my car smells like something died in it." It was an expression! But when the smell didn't go away, I had to look and there was the poor critter in an empty Trader Joe's bag.

While I was away the troublesome artist was asked to leave. I won't go into what pushed the staff (and us) over the edge. We got an email from him that was a lot of "poor me" stuff, and I hope he doesn't cause problems for people here. He was here as a "refugee" artist- sfai offers studio space and a place to live for people who have lost their homes for one reason or another. I was told today that of 140 applicants, 29 visual artists were chosen, and some very interesting people looked at the work, so that made me feel good about getting accepted.

So we now have 7 artists and 4 writers: Adria Pecora, David Bratton, Jen Dohne, Michael Brohman, Jessica Maloney, and Kaili Chun are the artists; Ellen Schnepel, Nikki Louis, Christian Champagne and Alana DiGiacomo are the writers. I notice as I post these links that I'm one of the only people I know who couldn't get my name as my website domain name. And that other Donna Ruff doesn't even use it! (Grr.) It reminds me of Larry Miller, the Fluxus artist. His website is

The documentary we saw last night was -eh.- It was an interesting subject, the dances of these indigenous people in Mexico, and the most interesting part was when people were interviewed. They are dancers for a period of three years and it's a major commitment to the community to do so. As is the case with Native American ritual dances, there is a lot of repetition of steps. I found myself trying to stay awake but I chalked that up to my vestigial Chicago fatigue. Then today several people said they had dozed off. I felt bad for the artists but really they could have done a more interesting film, it was such a rich subject- but then I think it was the first one they've done, and they did so much good work for the community that I have a lot of respect for them.

This morning three of us were interviewed for a radio program that will be available as a podcast- I will post when I get it. I think I sounded non-idiotic, but when I hear it I'm sure I'll cringe.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lorin took this photo with his iPhone

time out

I was in Chicago this past weekend for my cousin's wedding and came back yesterday in utter exhaustion. I will say this for Albuquerque airport: it's civilized. I parked my car in a long term lot where there is a van that meets you AS YOU ARE PARKING YOUR CAR and a friendly driver who puts your suitcase in the van and takes you immediately to the airport. You are given a card with your space number on it, so when you return you give the driver this card, and the process is reversed. Fee: $4 a day.

We're having open studios Thursday night which has me in a slight panic mode. Everything I've got is in process, the encyclopedia has taken many hours of my time here, so I'm trying to get a lot done in the next three or four days. There's a lecture on campus tonight by some ethno-videographers (I made that word up.)

More c-types, on Japanese paper today just for fun to see how they look.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

maybe getting somewhere

I had an aHa moment when we were at the panel last week. Since I was struggling with the cyanotypes, I decided to cut them up and cover the wall with them as if they are tiles. This kind of builds on something I thought of before coming here, which was to use the cyanotypes like bricks to build something that would be reminiscent of the Gate of Ishtar or one of the many blue mosques.

I've now become pretty adept at making the cyanotypes. I've set up a low-tech darkroom in my bathroom- since I've got the disabled suite (one of two) I don't have a skylight in there and it's very roomy. I brought in a table to coat the paper with chemicals and I can close the door with the vent on inside while they dry. They are not super-light sensitive anyway. I can use a 75 w. bulb in there while I work.

My studio has some angles in it so I'm working from the corner out. It's in very early stages- maybe there will be some dimension to it other than the wall angles. It reminds me of my blot series. The blues are quite beautiful and I'm trying to vary exposure and coating so that different shades result. Conceptually, it's very important that the images are all made by the sun.

I'm also working on my encyclopedia project and some small works on paper with sliced book pages. Today a few of us went to a gallery to see a show by Barry LeVa. The gallery was on an unpaved road in a very industrial area, and it was a wonderful space. The gallerist formerly ran a foundry in the building and did multiples for many blue-chip artists. He very generously showed us his living area and his collection of art. At one point he pointed to a group of very small works on paper that seemed very similar to what I'm doing with the book pages. I had sort of a strong reaction, which kind of amused everyone. Well, not the first time I've seen something that is related to what I'm doing. I loved the LeVa show. The gallery and the gallerist were so different from everything else going on in Santa Fe- it was a great pleasure to talk to him and see the show. He and his wife are hopping in their airstream trailer and going up to the mountains this weekend.

We had a lively game of charades last night. I highly recommend charades for a lot of laughs. Sometimes I think I would do just fine living communally like this. Meanwhile. the heavy rains come and go. We had major leaks in the studio last night.

Monday, July 14, 2008

when the going gets tough the tough go shopping

Saturday one of the other artists and I went to the Folk Art Market. This takes place every year at Museum Hill, where the Folk Art Museum and several other museums are located. They charge to get in but we managed to sidle along the side at the entrance along with a slew of other people. We spent plenty of $$$ there so we didn't feel at all guilty.

The other artist, Kaili, is from Hawaii and is a native Hawaiian. She was a little irritated at the way artisans from other countries were trotted out to be put on display at their booths. There was beautiful work there, though. I bought a few goodies for Christmas gifts and two scarves from an Indian artisan who ties tiny string knots on silk in a pattern, then dyes the silk and takes out the knots, which are done with one long piece of string.

We ran into the artist I had seen on the panel, Rose Simpson (she is the niece of Nora Naranjo Morse.) I got a little flustered (as I often do) telling her how we enjoyed her talk. She looked bemused. She's a beautiful young woman with a small silver spike going through her nostrils. It's quite striking, but for me, with constant nasal leakage, it would be a nightmare that would result in a lot of shredded tissues.

I wanted to talk to Wael Shawky, the artist from Egypt, who was with Rose and another guy. I've met him a couple of times, since he stayed here and knows Kaili and a writer who has been here for a few months. He's Muslim and did a performance piece once where he read the Koran in a church, so he's thinking about cultural and religious overlap. I'd like to see the Koran read in a synagogue, ha. As if.

I took out my pen and a card to write down my cell phone and the pen started to drip ink all over the place, getting on my shirt, my purse, and the ground. Wael took the pen from me and threw it away. Staples special, they work for a while but this isn't the first one that has leaked. Anyway. Today Wael is supposed to come over here for something, so maybe we can talk for a bit.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

3 AM

I have a habit of sometimes waking up at 3 AM and not being able to fall back asleep till 6 AM. It's like clockwork. Last night there was a lot of noise outside at 3 AM- like someone vacuuming the entire campus (usually it's very quiet here.) So I decided to go online and poke around.

I googled my name and discovered that the other Donna Ruffs were moving up in the google standings, but my website was still the first listing. I also discovered something really great, this blog entry.

Gotta love the internets!

Friday, July 11, 2008


Most mornings I go for a walk around the College of Santa Fe campus, where sfai is located. It's a pretty campus, not in the Princeton ivy kind of way, but it's open and nicely landscaped, with some sculpture scattered here and there. You'd have to like the adobe style architecture to be happy here, because that is all there is. Even new buildings like the one we're in refers to the vernacular, and everything is low-rise.

This morning the clouds are low. They're sitting on the mountains and seem within reach above me. I always see rabbits on my walks, and lots of birds- robins mostly, but also some little wrens (I assume) and big black birds- crows, maybe, or grackles. I've seen one prairie dog so far- they're cute little fellas, bigger than a meercat but in that family. At least I think they're bigger, since I've never seen a meercat.

We were told last night that there were 8 comped tickets to the vernissage of Art Santa Fe, and that there was a dinner, so the 8 visual artists got to go hobnob with the art glitterati of Santa Fe (free food!.) There was no dinner, unless you consider a tray of maybe 20 tiny crostini of various sorts being brought around on a semi-regular basis and a glass of champagne dinner. A few of us decided to loiter where the trays were coming out, but the waiters caught on and started taking a swift turn in the other direction. Not being a regular at these things, I wondered why anyone would pay $75 to go see what they could see for $8 on the following day, but obviously it's not about economy, or I should say it IS about economy, but in a very different way.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

the local and the global

There is so much going on in Santa Fe in the summer. This weekend, for instance, there's the Folk Art Market and Art Santa Fe, an art fair, in which the gallery that I'm in for the summer show will participate (not with my work, though, only their signed on artists.) I haven't even thought about visiting Chimayo, Abiquiu, Bandalier park, or any of the places I've driven through on past visits, nor have I gone to Museum Hill to see the wonderful Folk Art Museum again. If I hadn't been here before, I'd never get a bit of work done.

Last night we went to a panel discussion at Site Santa Fe, where the Biennial is now in progress. It was curated by Lance Fung, whose process was a little different than most Biennials. Read about it here.

The panel was very interesting and inspiring-three artists from Santa Clara pueblo (mother, daughter, and niece, the Naranjo-Morse family) who participated in the Biennial, and an artist from Bulgaria. The discussion was about place, identity, and community. The women were so articulate, thoughtful and aware; not only of their place and function as the "tour guides" in a sense to the artists who came from elsewhere, but aware of the changing nature of indigenous communities, especially in Santa Fe. So many artists live far from where they are from, whether they settle in Berlin, New York, or wherever- but these women have been in the same place for generations, and pointed out that wherever you go, you take your sense of place with you. Their work in the show is a collaborative piece- an adobe "line" that snakes around the city, looping onto buildings, going through trees, being buried, then emerging from the ground. Santa Clara is famous for pottery, yet one of the women said "we don't 'own' clay as a material- many cultures use clay." She talked about how the many stories of her people get "put in a box" for consumption- i.e., Indian Market.

I haven't had a chance to see the exhibition in detail, and a lot of it is off-site, in various locations around the city. My first impression is that it's a mixed result. I'm really glad I went to the panel, because the dialog that took place was so sincere and generous, that it made me glad to be an artist in fellowship with other artists.

I couldn't get any photos off the Site Santa Fe website to post, because it's all Flash animation, but if you're interested in seeing some of the work and the artists, it's at

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

the group conscience

It's always a changeable dynamic when you get 12 people (especially creative types) together in a community that isn't self-selected. There's often a scapegoat or an outsider who got that way by being difficult. In our case, there's a guy who has been provocative and argumentative at best, and truly offensive at worst. We're not sure if his CV is fabricated- his work is awful and he doesn't seem to work much anyway. He will be receiving a written warning today- honestly, he scares me a little and his studio is next to mine, all the way in the back.

Our group is a pretty friendly one, very active. I managed to dodge a volleyball game yesterday but I might be pulled in today later on. They don't realize how hideously bad I play volleyball and most other sports that involve contact with a round object.

One thing the difficult man said amused me- they call Santa Fe "City of Enchantment," but he said it was more like "City of Entrapment" because so many people come here for a short stay and then never leave. In my usual way, I peruse the real estate section. Rents here are low. I met a guy in the art supply store (paper department) who came here from San Francisco and said that his rent, internet, cable and phone were $650- about what he paid to park his car in SF. I've already met a number of people who came for a residency and decided to stay.

I worked on my encyclopedia project all day yesterday. I'm cutting the pages and there are over 1000 (but that's only 500 something actual pages) I might not do all the pages, though, because the way I'm cutting them I'll only get about halfway through before I reach the outer edge of the book. I thought at that point I'll start adding to the pages, but I'll decide that when I get there. I just don't want it to look like I was too lazy to do all the pages.

Speaking of pages, there was a nice review of the Philadelphia show in the Inquirer over the weekend.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Feeling the space

I've never blogged before, and I figure there's not much I can say that is worth putting into the blogosphere- but this is a good way to keep track of my progress and let people know what and how I'm doing. That is, if they're interested enough. So here goes.

This is my third day here, not counting Wednesday, when I was completely overwhelmed with the newness of it all. This is a beautiful place, as photos show. The weather is wonderful- sunny, sunny mornings and so far a shower every afternoon. The clouds build up over the mountains in threatening dark masses, then the rain comes, but usually the rain is sporadic and the heat makes the sidewalks dry instantly. We've had a few constant rains- it's what they call the monsoon season here.

Everyone says New Mexico is so dry, and I guess it is, but the swamp cooler in this building keeps things rather damp. It shows in the paper I work with and in my hair, which frizzes like I'm in Florida. It's cool inside, I often need a sweater.

I'm feeling a lack of energy today. I've tried making some cyanotypes with the patterns I use for the burn drawings, but so far I'm not too satisfied that they'll add up to anything interesting. Cyanotypes are a kind of contact photograph that is made with the light of the sun. Because the chemicals cause the image to print in cyan blue, they're called cyanotypes. I've printed out transparencies from the computer to use as "negatives" for the prints. I put them outside on top of the coated paper, then wait 10 or 15 minutes, bring them in and wash them out with water. It's a very simple process. In fact, you can buy "sun print" kits for kids to use.

There are 12 of us here- 8 artists and 4 writers. It's a very mixed group. Last night we had a barbecue and most people were downing margaritas like mad. Those people do not feel well this morning. Anyway, apparently there was an altercation between a writer from New Orleans and an artist from Montana. I'm glad I went to bed earlier and that I didn't drink margaritas.