Posted tagged ‘Princeton’

Some art from last semester

February 11, 2010

As a visual arts minor, I’m expected to do independent work as well as class work. Here’s some of both. (The colors in the photos look better in my Windows Photo Gallery than on WordPress for some reason.)

I had an about hundred fifty square foot white box of studio space all to myself – all VIS minors and majors get their own studios on the fourth floor of the art building, where only we and faculty are allowed to go!

Justine's art
One of my first drawings from fall semester

We had an assignment in my drawing class to do a self-portrait each week on an unconventional surface. This was my first:

A sort of greenman-woman. It lived as a pet on the desk the my carrel that went along with the studio.

Just before Halloween, our student center had a Jack-o’-lantern-carving party. I still had to do my self-portrait for the week.

We had an assignment to do a self-portrait on a different unconventional surface each week. Our student center had a Jack-o'-lantern-carving party and I had an idea.

A light-bulb went on in my head – literally. We’re not allowed to keep candles in our rooms, so the organizers of the event provided all pumpkin-carvers with electric candles.


I left the pumpkin in my carrel over fall break, and when I returned, as I had hoped, it had shriveled and sagged:

It continued to shrivel – a nice reminder of mortality and, since it was a self-portrait, maybe a sped-up version of my own aging process (though I hope that one side of my face will not cave in so soon before the other). As it aged, its expression seemed to convey increasingly disillusioned feelings toward the admittedly bleak and bizarre world around it. I don’t think it approved of the rest of my art in my studio, at which it had to look every day:

I did this one directly on the studio wall, making it impermanent, but in an appropriate way - it was about topography - the California topography I miss when I'm away - and the assimilation/naturalization of its inhabitants (Irish and Chinese railroad workers in particular), and eliminating the distinctions between the organic and the inorganic, and civilization patterns, and maps, and lots of of other things I could go on about, or maybe about nothing to begin with. It's easy for me to give things meaning as they go along - maybe not a terrible philosophy.

Through the semester, I found that I can produce “abstract”-looking art as long as it doesn’t seem abstract to me. I needed to find some story for it, and as long as I had that, I generally didn’t feel the sinking feeling of futility that some abstract art (the work of suprematists and minimalists, for example) makes me feel.

The one I’m working on above was better in the in-process photos than it is now because the fixative kind of dulled down the pastel.

This one was not-abstract for me on the micro-scale because I included various designs from my mind, sketches of things around me, and other tidbits; and on the macro-scale because I saw the spiral as the “sweep of history” (the good thing about art is that it can’t be cheesy in quite the same way as phrases like the “sweep of history” can be). Treating it as a historical spiral, I worked on it from the initial, primeval center to the modern outer rim. As I went along, things got bigger and brighter, but less dirty and fun.

The problem with it now, post-fixative, is that because the pastel on the black part is most faded, the sweep of history is too clear and unambigious. Pre-Hegelian even. The antitheses, which I had intentionally included in the form of the lines running outward from the center, perpendicular to the lines of the spiral, are too weak to help yield any sort of synthesis, as is the “dust of the ages” that I’d made sure to place between the spiral’s coils and under the contrary lines. I’m especially sad around the perpendicular lines, though. I tried this semester to force myself out of my “natural” way of doing art – making everything “swirly,” as people always describe my art. I don’t want such a weak non-concept as “swirly” to be the chief characteristic of my art. So I tried adding a little more rigor; where my impulse is to make everything go with the flow, I instead put lines directly orthogonal to my impulse, and to the existing lines. But now…

The problems of memory, documentation, and preservation – history again.

Below is another example of an assignment (we had to create an entirely abstract drawing) where, after hours of struggling, I finally forced myself to go against my Art Nouveau-ish instincts to make everything swirly and organic – everything amenable to everything else – and to create forms that were solid, geometrical, and hard-edged.

I don’t like the result very much in some ways, but I feel connected with it in another way – I respect it for being, I’ve been told and I think I can tell, well done. It’s just well done in a style I don’t much like. But it has a decent sense of composition and space, objectively, or as objectively as art goes, I think. That’s what the art faculty thought. It helped give me artistic backbone, I think, certainly in creating space – the problem with naturalizing and assimilating everything to everything else, as I did in my wall-piece above, is that the impulse is to not put anything harshly divergent on top of something else. Even when working in my natural, nonconfrontational style, I do enjoy contrast, but it usually occurs through the slow darkening of one area until it has reached an appropriate level of intensity, or through the filling up of a blank space. Suddenly (though after careful consideration) covering up a large part of the paper with white gesso, as I did in this drawing, was refreshing.

A drawing more in my “natural” style – the style both more natural to me and more organic:

Inspired by a picture-filled book about the Anglo-Saxons I'm reading for one of my Oxford courses

More to come on my site-specific art-ing from the fall, in addition, maybe, to some non site-specific stragglers, some non-art catching up from the fall, and Oxford.


Fireflies and mexican wrestling masks

February 8, 2010

My first post in a long time – fall semester was quite busy. I meant to post this in October and just never did. Please read it as if it were written back then:

While a lot of things have happened, two relatively insignificant events are probably two of the most interesting – to me, anyway.

1. I saw fireflies for the first time.

When I say I saw them for the first time,  I don’t know how literal I’m being. I’ve probably seen them before, given that I’ve been at Princeton for two years, including during times when it’s been hotter than it’s been since I’ve been back this year.

What I mean is that if I did see them before, I never realized what they were. It sounds ridiculous, and I’m someone who prides herself on observing the world very closely as an artist, etc. Maybe I didn’t notice them before because I didn’t realize that fireflies flash – I thought they emitted a constant glow – and I didn’t realize they were so bright and neon when they were “on”… Anyway, somehow, if I did see them, I didn’t realize they were fireflies. Maybe I thought I was just “seeing things” and dismissed them as those random flashes of light that everyone just sees from time to time. (I’m not crazy, right?)

All I know is that when I did see them, it made my week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to linger outside while it was still warm enough for fireflies, nor did I particularly want to be fed upon by the other insects that also like to come out at warm dusks. I last saw them just before a thunderstorm a few weeks ago. Even though it was completely black out by that point, and I’d noticed that generally they tended to disperse after dusk, that night, they were still flashing over any clumps of grass they could find, as if heralding the storm… it’s easy to get poetic about fireflies, which is one reason why I love them.

Another reason I love them is that if I managed to overlook them for so long, then maybe there are more “things in heaven and earth” that I’ve been overlooking. As someone who always hoped she would stumble into another world like the Narnia kids did, suddenly discovering fireflies almost give me the hope that there’s still the chance – though if everyone else had always seen them, then maybe I’m just oblivious. But it’s true that the people who pointed them out to me are the ones who had grown up with them, and, to take nostalgic sentimentality along another line, I wonder how many of us would see fireflies if we hadn’t grown up knowing to look for them.

It would be fun to have a firefly party. Cocktails by bug-light. Except you would end up with a room full of dead bugs. Maybe they could be displayed in jars, rather than loose. Or maybe there could be a party game to catch them all again.

2. I wore a Mexican wrestling mask to lawnparties. Lawnparties are a grand old Princeton tradition where everyone dresses up as preppily as possible and parades around the eating clubs, listening to rather bland live bands and drinking. Boys in pastel polo shirts and loud plaid shorts, girls in summer dresses and large sunglasses. It is an exercise in testing the boundaries between irony and pure, genuine enjoyment of Princetonian privilege. “Oh my gosh, you look gorgeous! I love your dress! How are you?” Masks are on. The mask metaphor is a cliche, but it’s a fun one to exploit when one’s good friend happens to have given one a Mexican wrestling mask over the summer.

monster me

I’m happy to say that I turned a few heads.

Coming up: More overdue thoughts and my recent adventures in Oxford!


June 8, 2009

I feel like I’m already betraying the spirit of this blog with this post, even though we didn’t give it any specific type of spirit. It just seems like cheating to post about something that happened a few weeks ago and that I’ve already told some people.  But it was one of my more exciting-in-a-way-you-can-tell-a-story-about recent experiences, so I’m posting it anyway:

At about 11:30 pm, the Friday before last, I decided to go for a run around campus. “Dead Week,” the week before Princeton’s Reunions, when campus is nearly empty, has been an odd few days for me both this year and last year. With so few people around, I sing more words than speak them, and float around in a generally spacey state.

That night, I ran more slowly than I felt I should have been going and wished I had something to galvanize me, some goal or even past memory that would make me sprint until my calves ached. Thinking about this made me run a little faster, but it was no substitute for the actual idea that something cool was happening and that everything was turning poetic and that I could think of my running as “swift” rather than just “fast,” making it worth doing…

After about half an hour, I ended up in front of the chapel, out of breath. One of the big wooden doors stood open, so I went in. From the narthex, I scanned the nave. Most of the lights were off, but it was bright enough for me to be pretty sure the church was empty. I got excited. Ever since I’d sung my solo at the Chapel Choir’s winter concert and heard the way the echoes expanded and carried my voice for seconds, I’d wanted to sing there by myself again.

I walked down the central aisle, trying to think of something to sing, and feeling out of place in my t-shirt, running shorts, and tennis shoes instead of the black robe and orange stole I wear for Chapel Choir. A velvet rope barred off the choir’s seats and the altar, so I stopped on the steps on the nave-side of the rope and turned around to face the empty pews. I’d decided to sing “Am I Born to Die?” It was appropriately religious, a song that I love, and one that I can sing well.

I was still out of breath from my run when I started singing, but my voice sounded enormous.

“And am I born to die? To lay this body down?

And must my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown?

I had to slow down my tempo so one phrase wouldn’t bleed too much into another. My singing wasn’t perfect, but it was eerie and loud and good enough to make me pause to smile.

As I started the fourth verse, I heard shuffling from what seemed like the back of the chapel. Embarrassed, I rushed down the steps, across the transept, and into the foyer at the side of the chapel.

As I hid in the dark, it was hard to hear whether the shuffling continued. I waited there a few minutes, feeling idiotic for singing, and idiotic for having been caught. The movements stopped echoing in the sanctuary, and I was about to come out when a man started singing. His voice seemed to come from the back of the chapel. It was husky and rich in a way that members of my a cappella group would describe as “soulful.” It didn’t take me long to realize he was singing “Angel” by Sarah Mclachlan, which was both appropriate and out of place, especially when sung by this deep male voice. Coming after my own song, and a little out of tune, it felt a little cheesy, but poetic. I stepped back into the transept, but I didn’t see anyone. I took a few more steps toward the center of the church, but I still couldn’t see him.

As he finished singing, I inched down the transept a little farther until I could see him. He was standing not in the nave but in one of the choir’s pews, on the other side of the velvet rope. He was tall and blond and wore a green shirt, but I couldn’t see well enough at that distance and that dim light to tell much more.

“You have a nice voice,” he said.

“You too,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said. “I used to sing a lot, though I don’t much anymore.”

“How long have you been in here?” I asked.

“About half an hour,” he said. I raised my eyebrows. I had assumed he had come in when the shuffling started. I’d also thought the singing had come from the back of the chapel, not behind the rope.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

I looked at my watch. “Less than ten minutes.”

“Are you going to do anything?” he asked.

“What?” The way the chapel echoes is good for carrying songs, but less good for clearly transmitting speaking voices. I also didn’t know what he meant.

“Are you going to do anything?” he said.

I shrugged. “I just thought I’d come in here, because I’d always wanted to sing in here alone. I’m in the Chapel Choir. Sorry – I can’t see you very well. I don’t know if I know you.”

It occurred to me that he might be in Chapel Choir – except that he’d said he didn’t sing much anymore. Then again, we have a lot of slackers in choir. I couldn’t see well enough to be sure.

He tilted his face mysteriously, in a melodramatic way that might have irritated me, except that the situation and my mood were unusual enough that it seemed appropriate.

“Do you come in here often?” I asked, realizing it was an odd question to ask about a church.

“Sometimes,” he said.

After a few moments, he sat down on one of the choir pews and clasped his hands together as if in contemplation or prayer.

“Well,” I said, “I’ll let you get back to it.”

He nodded. He started humming lightly as I walked slowly back down the aisle. In the narthex, I stopped and looked back. He was probably there for prayer, and I had disturbed him. He clearly hadn’t been singing when I came in, so it seemed “Angel” was a response to my song.  That and now his humming seemed signal that he didn’t mind being disturbed.

As I waited there, stopped humming and said something. I think it was, “Are you still here?”

“What did you say?” I asked, but he either didn’t hear me or just wanted to start humming again.

I left through the heavy wooden door I’d come in and had no problem inspiring myself to run at full speed back to my room. (I think only part of the reason was that I’d had time to catch my breath.)