Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 2010 updates

Putting Layers on the Onion was on display in Columbia College Chicago's library from October 9 till March 8. Carol Ng-He's C(l/r)aving and the Stockyard Institute's Musical Chairs were the other two installation pieces which were also on display in the library.

I appreciate the opportunity that the Columbia College library gave to me, so Putting Layers on the Onion could be seen in a different location and to meet the public in a different context. Particularly, Jan Chindlund and Larry Oberc were really helpful, and there were several student workers who helped with the installation and de-installation processes. The library has lots of interesting artwork on display throughout the year, including 2D and 3D works by Columbia students and faculty. A library is an important cultural institution; it's great that students, staff, and faculty can contribute to an artistic experience in a library. (The Edible Book Festival is another example of how people have innovatively explored how the space in a library can be used.)

Now Putting Layers on the Onion is at Bethesda Home. I am excited that Bethesda Home was interested in having the piece move there. Tom Neiman, a teaching artist who has been facilitating art classes with residents at Bethesda Home, worked with elderly art students; Bethesda Home residents contributed several modules to The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago. On March 8th Ruth Werstler, Director of Resident Life and Community Integration at Bethesda Home, helped me transport Putting Layers on the Onion to Bethesda.

I look forward to finding out how the residents at Bethesda Home -- as well as the staff and residents' family members and friends -- interact with the piece. I'm a fan of intergenerational arts programs and the creative aging movement, and it will be interesting to how the Onion develops and changes in this new context.

Tom Neiman and Ruth Werstler, with Putting Layers on the Onion in Bethesda Home's lobby

Here is a selection of recent "onion layer" contributions --

In the city of the beautiful stone,
where ivory towers glow warm in the sun.
I am reminded of an important truth:
Some beauty is born of transience
Some born of epochs past
But nothing lasts forever.
(beige paper, curry)

In between the millions of people
& miles of concrete... it's good
to see plans and flowers and
(yellow paper, sesame seeds)

An all nighter, then a
morning of work.
As I walk down the street --
my eyes hurt -- then I
smell the Japanese restaurant
starting the cooking for
the day -- and I burp
(orange paper, garlic salt)

Listening to jazz
over feeling blue
with the only coconut
I love...
(dark blue paper, coconut flake)

The sewers
(blue paper, sunflower seeds)

February 2010 "onion layers"

Here is a selection of recent contributions --

The various cultures meeting
on the short line on the "L"
My favorite color
I can't share that feeling with
one of them
The scent of this paper, the feeling
of the "L" doors opening comes to mind
(orange paper, mint)

Going to Lookingglass Alice
twice with my daughters
sweet spring
calming blue
(blue paper, cocoa)

"At Least Ya'll Got Love"
Whatever is glued to the back
of this paper grossed me out.
I don't know if it's Rock or Food.
(light blue paper, banana chip)

The skyline of
Chicago against
the North Avenue
beach takes your
breath away
(purple paper, vanilla)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

January 2010 "onion layers"

Here is a selection of recent contributions --

I am at the window of the
first apartment we had in Chicago --
a third floor apartment with a
row of floor to ceiling French doors.
I am looking down the Rogers Park
Street. I miss the pine trees.
This paper looks & smells a little bit
like them.

Life of a busy street

a raisin is a
grape that gets
sweeter under blue
sky -- i'm here 10 years

Friday, January 1, 2010

December "onion layers"

Here are several recent contributions --

Walking home hung over
at 6 a.m. and smelling
cocoa. It made me feel

My sister solves the mystery! We
are under the tracks, rusted & loud.

Does the orange line
rumbling away smell
like Licorice

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November "onion layers"

Here's a recent contribution --

"Rode my bike
down Diversey. A balloon
tied to the back. We met
on the bike path riding south
toward the big building at least
a full hour before sunrise. In
the dark thousands of us swarming
to organize. When the sun came
up we were sitting at
the harbor, the
water calm."

Monday, October 19, 2009

October "onion layers"

the color & smell
reminds me of
one of the many
thrift stores you
can find in the city
(purple paper, banana)

The feel of Chicago
Fall in Chicago
September, October, November
(orange paper, unknown scent)

This reminds me of
when I had
too much seasoning on my food
when I was 5...and threw up.
(vellum, paprika)

A large juicy Grafton
Burger with a nice big
Pickle. Mmm.
(beige paper with patterns, dill)

science beakers, Kool-Aid,
mercury, & Chicago dogs.
Go Rt. 66!
Chicago to L.A.
(pale blue paper, banana)

I took a paper
making course,
and I learned I have
a love of pulp...
(orange paper, unknown scent)

Yummy onions
in my tummy.
Can't eat anything
without them.
They make me cry,
but the taste of
them is always
a delight.
(blue-gray paper, onion salt)

Finding something you've
been looking for in a
place you never thought it
would be, and opening your mind
to a world of possibilities...
(lavendar paper, coconut)

I think Chicago is brilliant.
It is alive + vibrant.
The pulse of the city draws
you in -- a heartbeat of life.
-- Shan
(gray paper, banana chip)

The sun beats on me
every morning like
the bitter taste of
(turquoise paper, pineapple)

Note: the italicized words refer to the colors / types of paper used, as well as the the scents of the pieces of paper on which those lines were written.

The Onion Moves to the Columbia College Library

At the end of May, The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago was installed in the Chicago Cultural Center's Visitor Information Center. It was great that the City of Chicago commissioned SPC, and that we were able to partner with the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Tourism Bureau for that. I really appreciate the help that the City gave us to enable SPC to happen.

SPC was de-installed on Oct. 9th, and parts of the installation moved to both Little Black Pearl Art & Design Center and the Columbia College Library. Annie Heckman, Alpha Bruton, Peter Clark, Beth Wiedner, Tom Nieman, and I worked on that transition. The Stockyard Institute's Musical Chairs, Carol Ng-He's C(l/r)aving, and my Putting Layers on the Onion are currently installed on the third floor of the Columbia College library.

I'm looking forward to seeing how SPC develops, and how the onion "grows legs" -- during this chapter of the installation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

aromas on the papers

Trying to give the papers aromas has been an interesting challenge. The papers were supposed to have different smells and colors. The idea was that when people took the papers out of the envelopes, they'd see and smell those stimuli, and those stimuli could be integrated into what they wrote before they affixed those papers to the onion.

Some aromas remain longer than others. The banana chips didn't really retain their aromas for that long, and the chips contain an oil which stain the papers from the back side. Some aromas -- such as vanilla and anise -- were put on the papers when I dripped drops of extracts on the pages; however, other aromas -- such as banana, dill, and tarragon -- were made when I glued objects (such as a banana chip or a raisin, dried oregano or tarragon flakes, and pieces of clove) onto the backs of the papers.

Here are some aromas I used: anise, banana, black pepper, clove, cocoa, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika, peppermint, pineapple, raisin, spearmint, sunflower seed, tarragon, and vanilla.

September "onion layers"

Here are several recent contributions --

the lake
teal blue-green jewel
pearly grey
deep & dark
(beige paper, spearmint)

The city has
very tall buildings
We couldn't see
the sky, because
they were so high!
(gray paper, clove)

This reminds me of the subway
(beige paper with patterns, paprika)

(blue paper, oregano)

An apple a day
keeps you learnign another day
(yellow paper, pineapple)

Chicago is awesome!
I like Chicago.
I love Carmen.
Summer 2007
(orange paper, sunflower seeds)

Note: the italicized words refer to the colors / types of paper used, as well as the the scents of the pieces of paper on which those lines were written.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

SPC updates

"The Synesthetic Plan of Chicago" has been in the Chicago Cultural Center for three months already. A lot has happened over the summer since SPC was installed -- we've had several pedagogical platform meetings; panel discussions have happened at Faie African Art Gallery, the Hyde Park Art Center, and Columbia College; and SPC modules have traveled to Mess Hall, Faie African Art Gallery, HPAC, Little Black Pearl Art & Design Center, and Myopic Bookstore. In addition, SPC expanded its number of modules: residents of the Bethesda Home, directed by teaching artist Tom Nieman, contributed several modules, students in Maggie Leininger's art class at Roosevelt University have contributed several modules as well.

It's been good working with the talented group of artists who have contributed to SPC, and we appreciate this commission from the City of Chicago. The City has extended the show at the Cultural Center, till Friday, October 9. On that date we will de-install. Parts of the show will then travel to Little Black Pearl and the Columbia College Library. We're exploring possibilities beyond that, perhaps the possibility of SPC traveling outside of Chicago.

It's interesting to see how the show as a whole as evolved. As modules have traveled to satellite locations over the past several months, the main group of modules at the Cultural Center has morphed. The three hexagonal clusters of modules have changed, as individual modules have moved to satellite locations, and new modules have been added. Many SPC artists have been including updates about their contributions, on their blogs and websites. (You can visit the SPC website for links to individual contributors' sites.)

Pictures of SPC can be seen at my flicker account, such as those taken at a module building meeting on May 12th; other meetings on May 19th, May 23rd, and May 25th; SPC's installation on May 28th and June 1st; and some more photos taken on June 3rd.

"Putting Layers on the Onion" has undergone a number of changes. It's been great to see how people have contributed their writings to that installation piece. No one has signed the pieces of paper on which they wrote their contributions, and I wonder who those people are. I've been involved with many artistic collaborations over the years, but this is the first time I've collaborated with people who have contributed to a project anonymously. I wonder what went into contributors' processes, and why they wrote what they wrote. How did the colors and smells of the papers that they pulled out of those envelopes affect that they decided to write?

August "onion layers"

Here are several recent contributions to "Putting Layers on the Onion" --

Being really young
in red overalls
and cranking the gadgets
at the Science Museum.

* * *

The absolute joy
of choosing some
wonderful event --
especially the free ones --
all year long.

* * *

I enjoy Chicago pizza
taste: pepperoni
see: yellow
feel: greasy
smell: p. cheese cheese

* * *

a city reflected
I was the only
red thing

* * *

long wet streets
tap, tap, click
the smell of rain

* * *

The train goes real fast.
Zip! Zip! Goes the countryside.
Get off. End of line.

* * *

A crowded El car with youth
Screaming about freedom.
Bodies pouring onto the streets
Falling under the tires
Of police cars.
"I never knew they hated us
that much."

Chicago in August
the busker in the subway
singin' the blues --
The construction of skyscrapers --
New skyline, New city;
Still, history is on display, and
Chicago remains Chicago.
(grey-blue paper, unknown scent)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

July "onion layers"

Thanks to all the people who have contributed to "Putting Layers on the Onion"! Here are several recent contributions --

Sears Tower is tall,
tallest of all.
Soon comes a taller tower,
the Chicago spire,
a lot higher
than good old Sears Tower.

Looking out over
sandy beach.
Smiling over cinnamon sticks,
wondering when the wave will reach.
Glad to be a Chicagoan hick.

Chicago is a busy, overcrowded,
yet beautiful city. Its roots are
as old and antique as this piece of
paper looks and smells.

I enjoy going to the Lego store in the mall.

They have
good tea
in Chicago.

Remember the alewives
along the beaches? I'll
take spices any day.

Lake Michigan
I think of red & pink
the colors of sunrise
Japanese dishes
just regular
no stinky onions

June "onion layers"

Here are some lines of writing that people have written on pieces of paper, affixed to the surface of "Putting Layers on the Onion" --

I am at the window of the first apartment we had in Chicago -- a third floor apartment with a row of floor to ceiling French doors. I am looking down the Rogers Park Street. I miss the pine trees. This paper looks and smells a little bit like them.

* * *

Chicago is a very good city with very good food, and the streets are very busy.

* * *

Does the orange line rumbling away smell like licorice?

* * *

a raisin is a grape that gets sweeter under blue sky -- I'm here 10 years

* * *

life of a busy street

* * *

Rode my bike down Diversey. A balloon tied to the back. We met on the bike path, riding south toward the big building. At least a full hour before sunrise. In the dark thousands of us swarming to organize. When the sun came up we were sitting at the harbor. The water calm.

* * *

Walking home hung over at 6 a.m., and smelling of cocoa. It made me feel sicker.

* * *

My sister solves the mystery! We are under the tracks, rusted & loud.

putting the module together

building the onion

branches on the passenger's side

branches in the front yard

handsaw, twine, & chicken wire

lashing together the armature's base

the armature coming together

the armature in the hallway

the armature from above

trimming the base

shaping the chicken wire

onion mesh shape

wire onion from above

onion, papier-mached

the onion from above

strips of ripped comics & ads

putting on the first layer of paint

close up of onion shoots

the end of a shoot

the onion from above

It took a while trying to figure out how the onion would come together. One problem comes from the dispute over the origin of the name Chicago. Some historians think Chicago is derived from the Native American word for onion, whereas others think the name refers to marsh garlic. There is no consensus as to which Native American tribe originated the word on which the name Chicago is derived -- from Potawatomi, Miami-Illinois, or another Native American language.

* * * *

Oil paint was out. Acrylic seemed to be the right paint to use. I went to Blick's on State St., and the people there were very helpful. They had those big boxes of mashed up papier-mache, but I decided to go "old school" and just use strips of newspaper with flour.

I wanted to figure out some way to have the "layers" be aromatic, but I wasn't sure how to do that. A friend told me about some international flavor company, and I thought about asking them if I could get some free samples. But apparently they're out of business. I bought some bottles of dill, clove, and other spices at Stanley's, and I bought some bottles of vanilla & other extracts at another grocery store.

* * * *

The first plan was to have the onion hang from an apparatus, and I was thinking about papier-macheing a big balloon (maybe the size of one of those large Chinese paper lanterns), but a friend suggested that it be a floor-mounted piece. That seemed more logistically feasible.

I wasn't sure what the armature should be, and I thought coat rack sawed in half, with some 2"x4"s nailed it might work. I ditched that idea, and I was thinking about bamboo. I went to Home Depot, but they didn't sell bamboo, except for those Tiki torches. Then I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics, but all they had was sharpie-thick decorative branches. It made me wish I was living in someplace where bamboo grows wild in groves. Like last December I was down in Atlanta visiting my cousins, and there was a big bamboo grove down the street from their house, with a pile of dead bamboo in a pile.

I had an epiphany while I was standing in the ornamental flowers & grass aisle at Jo-Ann Fabrics -- I'd gather some branches from some location here in Chicago. I live in Chicago's west side, and there aren't any huge tracts of woodsy areas in my vicinity, but there are some parks. I bought a hand saw, and I went to a local park. I saw a dead tree, and I sawed off some branches.

I came back to my place, and I lashed branches together with twine. The branches for the base are thicker, like logs for a fireplace. Photos of this stage of the process can be viewed here.

* * * *

There's no way a papier-mache onion should or could be completely "anatomically" correct, in relation to the vegetable it's supposed to represent. The onion is pretty lumpy now. It balloons at the bottom, and it's far from symmetrical. You can see the hexagonal outlines of the chicken wire (which I think resonates serendipitously with the hexagonal shapes of the stacked SPC modules (as seen from above), as well as the bee track, which is part of the World Listening Project's "Acoustic Mirror of the World" sound installation piece). Photos of this stage of the process can be viewed here.

* * * *

I decided to make five shoots. Five's a good number, and I remember when I took art lessons from Peggy Ward when I was a kid, she mentioned the principle of using an odd number of items in flower arrangements, etc.

I made the shapes with coathangers. Then I cut strips of text and images from some books about gardening in the Midwest, which I bought at Myopic Books. I wove strips together, then I wrapped them around the coathanger shapes. I wrapped the ends of the coathangers around parts of the armature.

Final stages of the onion's construction can be viewed here.