I walk home every day past a Catholic school, which is adjacent to a really marvelous church. When I say marvelous, I mean that I always notice something different in the stone art on its front – a gesture, the weird angle of a stone foot. The other day, I noticed that one of the large angels is carrying a fish (his companion holds a sword). Last spring, kids had drawn votive candles, candle after candle after candle, on the sidewalk with pink and blue chalk, and the sidewalk for yards was a long prayer. It made me want to do a project with houses of worship where everyone gets a square of sidewalk and a handful of chalk and draws what they most want God to see.
I’ve been drawing so much lately that my eyes might crack into little pieces. I’ve been participating in Inktober, an international project in which people decide to make one ink drawing for each day in October. That’s one of my sketches up above, and I feel that this one would make an awfully nice tattoo. At least lately, drawing feels like a compulsion. As the days get colder and darker, I want to put on music and just make something. There’s a reward in repetition – finding a technique I like and then interpreting or using it in different ways.
A couple of months ago, I saw the Jim Hodges exhibit at the ICA in Boston. The entire thing was phenomenal – I’m still reeling a bit – but one of the best parts came from a teen girl who explained the work to her friend by saying, “Your body goes into a little mush-mush and then separates.” (This is accurate and should be used in all future descriptions of Hodges’ work.) One of the most striking parts of the exhibit was “A Diary of Flowers” – coffee-stained napkins on which Hodges has drawn/doodled flowers. There are more than 500 napkins in the entire work. They were lovely, really fun to look at, but then I read the description, which said Hodges was doodling the flowers as elegies for friends who had died of AIDS. All that repetition, all those flowers, all that concentration on making something to stand for something else, to speak in a new language, to restore the alone and trampled-on person who doesn’t know s/he’s legion.
I know artists and writers can feel that what they do is useless when so many tragic things are happening. But I’m from the Iron Range, and I know to look for all the broken backs on which most systems and movements are built, and I don’t find a lot of broken backs under art. I told a friend this spring that I had all these ideas for writing and art and dance projects, but that they were all useless. They didn’t place-make or advocate or amplify or assert. They were just the delight of themselves. And I still kind of think they’re useless in their way, but I also believe there’s value in just making work and especially making repetitive work that turns itself into a prayer. My hearts were entirely useless in a functional way (funny statement), but I heard from so many people with heart problems and heart weirdnesses that enjoyed seeing heart as art, as meditation, as beauty, as malleable as anything once you take it in hand.