Saturday, September 19, 2009

map of my day

On Thursday, I visited "Aggregate" at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, where the biennial of MFA graduates is on display. I was drawn to the work of Shannon Rankin, who has created amazing installations with dizzying bits of maps. I inspected the above piece for awhile, trying to discern if there might be a pattern in the locations, so delicately pinned to the wall like a specimen.

Also on exhibit is a series of large prints by Cole Caswell.

He gave a talk at Osher Hall that day, describing his methods and manifestations of understanding landscape. He brings a scientific approach, asking questions about where spheres of humanness overlap those of other species. He collects samples, photographs interiors, consults Google Earth, and looks for patterns in the resulting abstractions.

He began by locating spiders inhabiting the interior of his house on Peaks Island, then turned to circumnavigating the watersheds on the island, in search of some understanding of the beaver population's impact on the landscape. The shapes he documented were similar, driving more questions about the larger maps of meaning between the micro and the macro scales of life. Do colonies of beavers bear semblance to colonies of cities, or even mold?

He came upon the mold in his basement and scanned pieces of them, enlarging their scale to reflect his fascination with these mysteries of mutual permutation.

I thought here about Horton, Dr. Suess's elephant character, who believes a whole town can live on a speck. Cole's work invokes a childlike fascination, one in which anything is possible, seen or unseen. As an artist, he pursues photographic methods as a way of understanding the world, but always with wonderment.

From this, I went directly to my illustration majors class, where students brought in their final illustrations. The pieces ranged from childhood scenes of nightmare or fancy, to stage sets of surrealism, lyrically romantic collage, and mythical history.

Afterwards, I headed to Bonobo to meet colleague, Mary Anne Lloyd. We caught up on life, teaching, and raising daughters.

Then it was off to Space Gallery, for the premier of Typeface, a documentary film presented by TypeCulture and AIGA Maine.

Mary Anne and I went largely out of respect for Mark Jamra, associate professor at MECA in Graphic Design, and founder of TypeCulture. Mark was once the designated chair of the illustration department before it became official. We knew we'd be in a crowd of our own species, cohorts in the Media Collective at MECA, as well as any red-blooded fan of communication arts.

The film is a reverent look at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, WI, where vast quantities of wood type lay, sorted and unsorted, fondled with awe by visitors who come to witness the passing of an analog craft. There is great humor, irony, and sadness all at once, as retired craftsmen displaced by the digital age are juxtaposed with young designers impatient with the tedium of typesetting by hand, yet fascinated by the tactile nature of wood, luscious inks, and methodically clunking letterpresses.

In the audience, I spotted two local masters of this world, David Wolfe and Crystal Cawley, partners at Wolfe Editions in Portland. Both are educators and fine artists who practice their range of skills creating distinctive editions of art books, letterpress, and photography. David just won a swell grant from the Maine Arts Commission. Congratulations!

I've had the grand opportunity to take classes with both of them, in paste papers, book making, and chine colle. It's simply a treat to be in the midst of antique cabinets full of dingbats, to slide past inked presses, and absorb David and Crystal's rich expertise and passion for traditional methods.

I worked on this collage, made during a chine colle workshop at their studio, with papers layered using paste made by David from an ancient recipe, and punctuated by a single letter run through the press.

No matter how digitally empowered we may become, there remains an inherent delight in the tangible qualities of materials. Bravo to all artists who keep us aware of these connections in a changing world.

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