Tuesday, November 29, 2016

16F-6, "Etude, op. 341 (Windows)" (November 29)

The dream is more of a vivid fragment coming just before I stop trying to sleep and come forth to face the day. Something about windows, and doors, and hiding within. As I awaken there's an echo of a line from Leonard Cohen: "...there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in..."

I'm left with the idea of choice. Cracks may let in the light but they come from abuse, battering, overpowering, force internal or external. We actually have a choice in this? Following God is usually presented as "Follow or else," with the implication of force agains the recalcitrant.

Any hope I've had regarding real choices in life has been forlorn: hung onto because there is no other option compatible with continued living. Oh, it probably started out as a real hope. Powerlessness sapped that, year by year. I kept going by will power and momentum, and the lack of any big stoppers. Any day now, God will show his real hand and the illusion of choice will disappear.

I have leaned on the Brothers-in-Fur for many years. They could be depended upon to perform. Better than nothing, but much like using a Ferrari to haul cement. Patterns grow through the years and become the norm. God doesn't care much for norms and expectations, yet how does he unseat them? By being a constant example, a constant light, a constant cool breeze in the desert that whispers "We don't have to do that any more." Eventually, one whose very life has depended upon never allowing change to be imposed begins to change.

What might the Brothers-in-Fur be doing if they weren't busy fending off attacks and hauling cement? An image grows in my mind, and the tidal window is still open. It will have to be fast.
Build number: 16F-6 (lifetime start #341); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 341 (Windows)"
Date: November 29
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 1200, construction time approx. 4 hours
Size: about 36 inches tall, 21 inches diameter, immersion screened intertidal sand (4 loads, Latchform, Rectascreenus B, Waterscreen)
Helpers: none
Digital images: 15, EOS70D and 24-70 L, site and completion

The beach is a much calmer place on this non-holiday weekday than it was on Thanksgiving Day. The weather is much more inviting, too, with a slow onshore breeze and benign sunlight from a clear sky. It's about noon, and the sun sets at 1645. I set up and get to work.

Click the image to see it full size. More image follow the report.

The beach is a much calmer place on this non-holiday weekday than it was on Thanksgiving Day. The weather is much more inviting, too, with a slow onshore breeze and benign sunlight from a clear sky. It's about noon, and the sun sets at 1645. I set up and get to work.

To give the tide some time to go down I work on the base, shovelling and watering a flat-topped pile of sand. When that's ready I take the cart and go to get sand. Given the wind of the last few days I hadn't expected much but it's actually good. Well, mostly. There are coarse layers. This is why I brought the Rectascreenus B instead of the finder box filter, and packing goes quickly. It takes four cartloads of sand to mostly fill the form. It'd take another load but it's tall enough for the time available.

The title "Windows" has stayed with me as I've thought about the design. Windowed trees, like ponderosa pines, with interlocking branches. Bringing the idea forth into solid sand soon founders but I'm not sure what's wrong. Maybe the wrong starting point. There's also conflict with other potential ideas.

Any sculpture is sand wrapped around space. Which dominates varies by angle and shape. Most recent sculptures have been more solid than space, with broad curving panels around small spaces. The spaces here are larger, but their shapes don't do much for the whole piece.

Time presses as the earth rotates, bringing the sun ever closer to the horizon. I connect the spaces, as per the original idea, but while it does bring light into the heart of the sculpture there's just not much of interest to see in there.

It has some good angles. And perhaps another look will show this sculpture's strengths. At the moment, all I can think of is that it's still standing. I'm disappointed with the design.

Carving this one started with the spaces. Perhaps that wasn't such a good idea. I thought that making the shapes for the spaces would lead to shapes in the solid parts that I liked. Looking again I realized that one thing that caused trouble was the in-construction design change to a big surface at the top. That itself dictated much of the design below it, as heavy pieces require heavy supports.

With about an hour of light left, I do the clean-up and call it good. For an etude it has fulfilled its purpose. Practice and conditioning, too. I shoot a round of photos and then pack up. The walk home will keep me warm; the westerly breeze has cooled quite a bit and movement is recommended.

As I walk north I think about options. Yes, the heavy top was a problem that more taper and more consideration would have alleviated. I think about making some drawings, too, so I can fix a better idea of the desired shape in my mind.

Today's project did leave me with one very positive impression: the new equipment works very well. The combination of the new cart, table, tool tray and the carried over latchform and Rectascreenus B contributes to a smooth efficiency that makes sand sculpture by an aging one-day-beach sculpture more easily borne.

I'm still very tired. Fast work will do that. The walk home is slow.

Once arrived and fed and cleaned up, I send a brief announcement to friends, mentioning the dream and cracks and windows. One of them responds with:

"Yes. There are cracks we are born with though. And others bash us to make more cracks. We can't ignore those but ask God to as you say, touch us and fill those places with his golden touch.

"The whole idea of windows, doors open and shut, conjure up prosaic and cliched responses. 
There are so many ideas based upon 'God opening windows, closing or opening doors ' that I think the original concept has been skewed.

"The real simple fact is that I believe that God's light gets in anyway. He permeates even where there is no access. It's up to us what we decide to do with that. Cracks, windows, doors are very much dependent on our own responses.

"As we begin to notice the light shining through, we can close the curtains, shut the door, stuff the cracks to stay in Mirkwood. I agree with you, it's a choice.

I agree with her on the Christian cliches about windows and doors. I'm tired of them too, and tend to ignore them. God is a good teacher.

2016 November 30

Thursday, November 24, 2016

16F-5, "Etude, op. 340" (November 24)

How much of me is involved in the making of a sculpture? It's easy to see the physical in the digging and the hauling and even the carving. Intellect is harder to see and might require the asking of questions or close watching of the process coupled with thinking about why it's done this way.

Around me are the signs of much thought. Equipment and tools lie on the sand, a large footprint for one man to be making. A lifeguard comments, "I like your style. The right tools, well made."

Clicking an image will bring up a larger version
More images appear below the report

None of this probes very hard into the murk of motivations. A friend asked, within the context of photography, if modern tools and equipment were cheating. My answer focused on my own experience with a tool revolution, when my sculptures became overly complicated because, with new tools, I had the ability.

Early sculptures were carved with basic found tools. Coupled with not knowing much about sand at the time, this produced sculptures that were necessarily simple, and that's the front door to elegance. Later sculptures gained the benefit of better sand, better packing, more detailed carving, and became in many cases jumbles of parts.

I've always had the belief that real artists have not only a plan for each work they make, but an overall plan of progression. Testing, learning, step by step along a well marked path. I wonder where I got that impression. I know from experience and reading that most development goes in fits and starts and happy--or not so happy--accidents. In early 2000 I finally began to get the upper hand on my tools and was able to restrain the excess complexity in favor of complexity-within-elegance.

I still didn't have any plan. I'd think about various forms a sculpture could take, and then go to the beach and make something that often started with that mental image but soon diverged.

It all added up to an undercurrent of frustration. I'm an artist, I've been told; I should be able to hew these things to the plan. The process was enjoyable enough that I kept doing it, but the wide-eyed wonder that led to the early sculptures was gone. Too naive.

There's rebellion in the ranks. Oh, it's a quiet rebellion because other attempts have been quashed mercilessly. A nose many-times-whacked is much less likely to poke out from behind the normally closed door. Real rebellion and change, it seems, are born in a place of some safety. Self-betrayal stops everything and allows for no change. Safety has been growing, or regrowing after being lost after the great success of the new Sand Cart earlier in the year.

Like those earlier sculptures whose excessive complexity led to improved skills in using tools, repeated experiences of self-judgment whose threads can be followed lead to learning. "We don't have to do that any more."

The motives for making art are still mysterious.  There is much talk and more mystery, even when artists meet. To me, with my intolerance for blather, bluster and learned baloney, the truth is a mixture of mystery and application. Does "why" really matter? "Why not" may be more important, as in what stops one who has made art from making more? Sand sculpture is both a betrayal of my well learned principle of being invisible, and a promise to my own desire to be creative. I have, at times, sublimated the creative desire into engineering and toolmaking. There is nothing wrong with that, nor with my belief that it is better for me to make something than to sit and fear judgment. Yet the use of force to overcome judgment has engendered hopelessness.

There has been a slowly growing thread of interest in sculpture for the sake of sculpture, as a time for the Brothers-in-Fur to openly express their creativity and their enjoyment of the process. Rather than drop more rocks onto the new tendrils, I let them be. Let's go make a sculpture.
Build number: 16F-5 (lifetime start #340); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 340"
Date: November 24
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 0930, construction time approx. 5 hours
Size: about 34 inches tall, 21 inches diameter, immersion filtered intertidal sand (Latchform, Box Filter)
Helpers: none
Digital Images: 20, EOS70D and 24-70 L, completed
Photo volunteer: none
Video volunteer: none
New Tools: none
New Equipment: none

There'd been some rattling of palm fronds and sighing of wind through the pines the night before, but the morning was calm. Still, it was clear, and clear days are often unstable. It could go either way: a friendly onshore breeze, or a dry north wind that would terminate any sculpture attempt. When I start walking with my cartload of equipment the conditions are still calm.

When I'm about halfway to the beach, the wind starts to pick up. From the north, again. Not all that strong, so I keep going. By the time I reach the building site behind the breakwater I've worked up a sweat, the sun is hot, the wind is steady and dry. Well, I'm here. Might as well get started and maybe it'll get better.

By the time the pile is made I'm sweating even more and the sun is pounding my back. The wind blows leaves across the sand, but isn't quite strong enough to pick up sand grains. i eat a Force Primeval Bar and have some water, and then remove the form. How far will I get before the wind rises to the point where I can no longer work?

The sculpture dries out as I watch. The best I can do is regular spraying but I could spend all of my time doing that.

The one Idea I have for this is to make it unrelated to anything else. I want a big concave part at the top. The rest flows and changes around that.

Conditions are as brutal as I've ever faced. Very hot sun and that dry, dry wind. I sweat even sitting still. It never gets worse, though, and I can keep working. It is a better day than the one a few years ago, when I was just testing equipment when the wind came up, cold, and I made a sculpture in about half an hour. For this one I just resist the urge for thin elements and sharp edges.

Design questions come to the fore, but my sun-baked dehydrated brain is having a hard time doing much but survive. Carefully, considerately.

What is a sculpture? Does every one have to be a raving miracle of newness? How does one execute that raving miracle when one's brain is oozing away, minute by minute? Feel the sand, carve a line, hollow it out, connect it to the other hollow.

And then... the wind moderates. It has never been hot but it has been dry and the sun has poured down enough heat to make up for it. Maybe I'll be able to finish this.

I continue shaping. A piece that has been left to define the concave's edge is just kind of hanging there, so I work on giving it more shape, and also fitting another piece against it.

Quite suddenly, I catch the scent of the sea and the breeze becomes damp. The flag on the lifeguard's station has shifted around. The sculpture's salvation comes from the sea.

I have done as much as I can. There are places where more carving could be done, but I wonder. Does it need to be done? I look at it and am reminded of some 1984 sculptures that were short on holes but long on elegance. Hollowness has been the essence of most of my sculptures. Technical challenge, uniqueness, a technique developed to support that kind of carving. Yet... what is a sculpture?

I like this one as it is. Call it a study in possibilities, a freedom from preconceived notions and plans. Is it real art? I don't know, but I still think that making something is better than not. Who am I to dictate what my creativity can make? There's some kind of teamwork involved here that I don't understand very well, and wants more study.

I clean it up, sign it, and shoot a round of shaky photos. I'm badly out of condition for this. And hungry. A man jogs past and asks if I made it. "Can you wait a bit while I go get my camera? I live not far away."
"Oh, I won't do anything with the sculpture. You have plenty of time unless someone else objects to it."
I shoot a few more from various angles, and then creakily load up the cart. This seems inordinately hard. I have to stop and think about it. Oh, yes... this first, then that.

By the time I'm done the man has come back with his phone. "The quality of these things is amazing."
"You're right. They're better now than the first real digital camera I bought."
"I have a friend who wrote to me that if I see anything odd or interesting today, be sure to send her some photos."
"Problem solved."

I leave him lying on the sand, shooting up at the short sculpture. It's short because I just didn't have the oomph to fetch another load of sand. Now I wonder if I'll have the oomph to get home. One foot before the other, northward along the beach in the blessed damp air.

2016 November 25