It’s nearly 2020. In 2007 I started a blog where personal writing, poems, and other reflections would live. Since 2016, when I moved to the Netherlands, it has been mostly dormant. Over 9 years I reflected on my family, deaths, spiritual practice, changes in my city (NY) and posted the beginnings of my journey to another life, first as a nomad, then as an art student in Europe, trying to start my life over. But now it feels like that journal needs another home, where randomness fits. I’ll be archiving all of what came under “Leanander” (after a great-grandfather) at Tumblr and starting a new site here at stjenkins.com. Stay tuned.
October 2, 2016
These days I am in Utrecht, the Netherlands, enrolled as a Masters student at the University of the Arts (HKU). A collaboration of logistics malfunctions and too much perpetual motion has stymied my attention to this venue…however it is still where I think out loud from time to time, and conduct experiments.
A metal ball – visiting or bouncing? in the pinball machine
it is mating season, after all.
The ball rolls down, slows, then kisses off a bumper
sometimes it pauses for a moment, testing gravity
feeling for magnetism
then drops off, strikes another place,
or is flipped back to the starting point by the
realisation there is more to look at
no rest until it catches the “bard-hole”
That’s the problem with being round.
Since last writing I’ve been on a deep dive into studying art-making, studying myself as a student again, and studying myself in NYC again…
Intense, wearying, joyful, painful, sad, insightful, fattening, irritating, depleting financially, and overall very worthwhile.
I found a living situation that is at once incredibly fortuitous and awkward, and have had plenty of opportunities to watch my irritation and resistance get triggered by someone else’s irritation and resistance. It’s returned me to bodhicitta practice, which is the only way I feel able to short-circuit the churning mind that is reacting to situations instead of letting them go.
I also did further training as a dharma teacher (also helpful in the live situations), so I might be able to support the community of meditation practitioners wherever I land next year.
As far as the art-making goes…I love my mixed-media class, where I work on my own projects. Started slow, and have been working at a fury pace the last week or so to finish one large piece, and a few smaller ones. Meanwhile, I studied drawing full-time in October and part-time in November, which revealed a lot of limitations and pedagogical frustration. Perhaps after 3 years of drawing classes I might be producing things freshly, and as enjoyably as when I am making assemblages, painting, writing or singing, but it’s not feeling any more natural than before I came…in fact, less.
My first instructor had me focus on how I use line to describe the figure…so I gradually developed a bunch of beautifully-outlined figures, but no volumes, expressions, environments, etc. Then I switched to part-time and that instructor disdained the outline altogether in favor of structure, vectors, responding to the movement of the pose, including the background of the studio and how one uses the page. All useful things to think about, but now I had to completely rewire myself and produce very unsatisfying results, instead of building on what I’d spent a month developing. Like learning to play music, or speak a foreign language, the process of becoming masterful at drawing is mystifying.
What I confirmed through this process is I am interested in drawing as a way to capture human expression, the face, the experience of lives intersecting with the world at a given moment, and the qualities that make a beautiful drawing in general, whether realism or abstract. I made some advances in exploring these aspects of drawing, but realized finally that I have to do more work on the street without the formality of instruction shadowing me.
You can see some of the other drawings I liked in my sketchbook.
Back in the US for a month, at a studio in Stockbridge. Instead of boxboard I thought I would try to form wire mesh for the armature. I want to get to the point where I have the majority of the suit fabricated; then will respond to that with the surface decoration. The clips of windows from NY apartments taped on the helmet in the last entry are one idea – to have the symbolism of windows and light, especially on the head area, seems intriguing. But the overall suit, when complete, may call out a different scheme for its surface…
So, another beginning. This process is one of constantly being out of my league – I never studied sculpture and feel myself fumbling around trying to get my vision to manifest through my hands communicating with metal, paper, material. Both frustrating and thrilling when something finally works.
It began before I ever knew I would move to New York. It was a strange necessity, the unsettled disease. Except there was never any cure it seemed. Or more to the point, the cure was depicted, weekly, monthly, illustrated, described in detail, but obtaining this cure seemed elusive.
The story of ‘home’ has been weaving through consciousness my whole life – never any more intensely than the 20 years I lived in New York City, always finding a gap between the life I imagined and the life I experienced. In NYC especially, the story of this gap, fiercely felt by so many, finds itself told in the pages of the New York Times Home & Garden and Real Estate sections. Which recently were merged. Home is no longer it’s own story, but has been subsumed into Real Estate.
Examining my experience of ‘home’ as I’ve traveled nomadically the last two years I’ve felt that sense that it’s very hard to imagine the home without the environment – i.e., the home within one’s own basic being. Realized individuals in the different spiritual traditions have a strong ability to be at home anywhere, but speaking for myself, environment – home, town, community, earth – are entwined deeply with my sense of well-being. I’ve begun to parse some of the feelings of what the obsession with the material trappings of home both celebrates and obscures about living on this earth, at this moment – and have moved into mixed-media explorations to further this inquiry. Below are some images of work I began making during a winter 2015 retreat in Margaree Harbour – a small village in Cape Breton Nova Scotia.
In the many ways we think about “home”, I realized a strong yet subtle aspect is protection, armor. We armor ourselves through creating a home environment that protects us from the world. Or we armor ourselves through creating a home that supports our engagement with the world. So often the impulse (for me anyway) is to augment and tinker with the physical environment of home – to be in the ideal apartment, ideal neighborhood, with the objects that most reflect back to me some sense of accomplishment, or wisdom, or brilliance. It becomes a materialistic pursuit very quickly. Hence the easy, troubling alliance with shelter media – images of some ideal just out of reach, yet seemingly accessible, ‘if only’.
In making armor I’m exploring what it means to create a shield between myself and the world through a form that can display these images of desired “ideals”. I’m also interested in resurrecting the connections with the history of this armor and seeing what if any parallels there are between its function in Renaissance society and how I’m appropriating it now.
I arrive in Margaree Harbour at a cottage with sweeping views of the Margaree river delta and Cape Breton Highlands. The arrangements were made in the fall so my firewood order (about 2 face cords) is “green” – meaning it’s not cured/dried for a year yet, and will not burn well. I begin to think about how to relate with this wood pile and come across the holz hausen, a European wood-piling technique. It creates beautiful conical or beehive masses. Some argue it dries wood faster. I decide immediately it will make a relationship with the land I am visiting for the next four months and embark on building one.
One of the downsides of “sweeping views” is there is little protection from the wind, which is extraordinary here. Many days have steady winds with gusts of 40-50mph from the west, and at least one day a week the winds are gusting 70-100mph from the southeast. They call this wind “Les Suetes”, which evolved from the Acadian French for “the southeasts”.
The holz hausen works best at drying if placed with maximum exposure to wind and sun. I find the place where my driveway forks into the field. There is a natural bend that embraces the side of the cottage that receives Les Suetes, and is also exposed to sun throughout the day. Because the wind can feel like an aggressive force when it shakes the house, this location feels like a guardian spot.
The dimensions for my holz hausen are to be 7ft diameter by 7ft high. This is described in the research I find as being approximately 2 cords of splits. I think initially that I have 3 cords to work with, but later realize that I actually only have 2 cords of wood to stack, and am burning about 12 sticks a day as I go as well, to keep the house warm.
I have no wheelbarrow; I carry the logs by hand, 3-4 at a time. The time I have to work on this is also limited as I spend my first 10 days in the cottage in a solitary meditation retreat. Also, the elements are wearying. As I carry the logs, local crows and a squirrel observe my progress. I feel also that the valley is watching this gesture take shape.
My body becomes achy and I am tired each morning. I also notice my strength increasing. I buy a maul (a kind of axe with a sledgehammer thickness) and enjoy swinging the flat head into the sides of splits frozen hard in the ground. The feeling of creating something physical outside, placing each log carefully, feels purposeful and satisfying.
After I have been working for almost two weeks, and also burning my wood for heat, I realize I won’t have nearly enough pieces to rise to 7 feet. Since I have already placed the center pole, I feel a pang of disappointment as I know this will now be sticking up instead of hidden within, making the sculpture look like a caramel-dipped apple. I had been thinking “minaret.”
The wood supply ran out quickly. This morning (January 24) I took the maul and a crowbar and whacked out the last 20 pieces from the frozen ground and finished the roof. I added some of the old wood rounds on the property to close the hole at the top.
Tonight, the completion date, we are expecting 170km/h gusts (100mph), the heaviest since I’ve been here, as a big storm is carried in by Les Suetes across the Bay of Fundy. My friends who used to live in this cottage tell me to make sure to push all the glassware back on the open shelves, since they can vibrate off and break during these winds. Will the structure’s dome shape receive these winds easily? I sleep restlessly as they begin to pound the house around midnight, rising at 2am and again at 6 to check the stove. When light arrives around 7:30, I look outside. We’ve had inches of rain that washed away all the snow and filled the furrows with water. The air is damp and warm – almost 50 degrees! The holz hausen stands intact, undisturbed.
I have about 4 day’s worth of wood set aside to heat with, then I will begin to dismantle and burn the logs in the holz hausen. It will be gone by March.
Some workshop (& other) explorations.
Collage & Textile Workshop Wave Hill March 2014.
Observing Vermont, December 2013.
Mixed-media Collage Workshop Wave Hill October 2013.
Shadowbox collage, September 2013
Wave Hill Sculpture Workshop February 18, 2013.