Sometimes it is just too hard to maintain production of my own creative artwork. Not for lack of ideas, but rather from too many good ones that involve other people and other creative choices. That has definitely been my problem for the last year and a half, as I have put my efforts into other initiatives and goals.
I have embraced offers to do work with community arts, and teaching skills that are fundamental to our society if we are truly to make a positive change in our environment and slow the pace of climate change. And I have been working collaboratively towards building an organization that can offer so much and bring so many together to share skills in upcycling and reclaiming of materials.
It has been a slow and often stressful and difficult process to get it up and running, but finally Creative Reuse Toronto is incorporated as a Not-for-Profit organization, and we have a beautiful space in which to offer classes as an Arts & Environment Learning & Resource Centre at 68 Abell Street, in Toronto.
Sue Talusan and I have partnered on Creative Reuse Toronto as the Founding Directors. We have had others join us as an Advisory Board, some of whom will choose to be on our full Board. We have even more plans and strategies in the works. Sue and I have discovered that we have a great combination of skills, we work really well together, and we are completely dedicated to the success of our ideas. And there are so many skilled and concerned people that we meet who share our goals, ideas, and values, and who are helping us with advice and the heavy lifting. It will take a community of like-minded individuals to make this work, but our little community is growing.
The Centre has had three major delays since September 2019. First, I developed a life threatening illness - and am thankfully now mostly recovered. Second, there were some contractual and organizational delays. And now, two weeks after finally signing the lease - a pandemic has shut us down once again!
Will it stop us? No.
It will give us time to pause, to reflect, to get our paperwork and programming set up, our organizational ducks lined up and ready to swim. I see this as an opportunity, a way to truly test our creativity - particularly my own ability to be creative and strategic. In spite of the bumps along the way, we know we will be a success.
Creativity is not just related to my individual arts practice, for me it goes far beyond my own artwork and into a philosophy and approach to arts that includes everyone, that is collaborative. It is an approach that is process and play driven, but with an underlying belief that we waste too much in our society - both material and human resources - and that art includes beauty, expression, craft, and utility. A basket made from reclaimed materials can be both beautiful and practical, it can make a statement, and it can stem the tide of landfill by influencing others to change their consumer habits.
And how is this new challenge - the Covid-19 Coronavirus - going to affect my thinking, my work, my teaching? How will it affect others in the Arts? How will it affect those around me and our determination to make a real and positive change in the way our society consumes and wastes?
Much is unknown, but that in itself is a challenge to creativity. I know that I am very high risk for serious illness, due to several factors, but I will adjust my habits, my work, my communications, to adapt. I know that others, especially those in the Arts will suffer real financial hardship, and that the way our community interacts with each other may change. Hopefully much of the change will be to embrace difference and social interaction, rather than the distance and stress that has been visibly exhibited in the last few years.
The Board and Advisors of Creative Reuse Toronto - a small but dedicated group - will be able to help me - and others - give people a new challenge within isolation and quarantine, using new technologies until we are able to once again convene face-to-face programming.
We are living at a really fortunate time in the history of human civilization. We have the skills and knowledge to heal, to save lives, in spite of this new viral threat; to communicate with each other and build community and strengthen our social connections through technology, without spreading the virus sweeping the world. We have the knowledge and ability to change the direction of our societal goals and reaffirm or adopt community-based and planet-based values that can make a better future.
In the meantime, I am challenging myself - how many samples can I create? What ideas can I come up with? How can I fill my days in self-imposed isolation? How can I contribute to positive change from behind my closed doors? And how can I find more time in the day to be creative? There are so many wonderful possibilities for my creative work, and so many unfinished projects to complete.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of showing and teaching my recycled textile crafts at the Maker Extravaganza, held at the Toronto Reference Library - the perfect place for it.
The Maker Festival itself is a month-long exploration of traditional craft/new technology, and invention in Toronto. It is volunteer-run. The event at the library was fascinating; there were more than 100 displays and hands-on activities - everything from robot wars, 3-D printers, a drone cage, and all kinds of new uses of the computer technology, including 3-D printed topographic maps, to recycled craft like mine, pottery, model train clubs, model ship clubs, paper craft, puppetry, innovative uses for LED lighting, jewellery, and so much more. An event for everyone, it was really well attended. A huge inflated silver jellyfish was suspended two stories high from fishing line attached to weights. I had watched them put it together Friday night - they lost a grip on one of the tentacles, and it floated to the ceiling high above the main floor. When I arrived on Saturday morning the makers had been able to recover it and attach it to their piece - but I am still curious about how they managed to get it back down. Throughout the show two puppeteers swam a giant blue whale through the aisles. The movement of the puppet was astoundingly realistic.
My daughter set up my display of finished products for me on Friday night. She has quite a talent for display. My friend Kate, an amazing artist, helped me demonstrate the techniques on Saturday after I showed her how to do the cutting. Volunteers were sent around constantly to check and see if any of the exhibitors needed a break, a snack, water, or anything else. One young volunteer, Chris, sat down and learned to cut the yarn and tried the finger-knitting - and he and Kate helped draw in a crowd of fascinated people, while I got a chance to stand back and observe for a little while.
A very small girl who looked to be perhaps five sat down and tried to show me a really complex pattern of finger-knitting that she knew, but she could not slow down enough for me to figure it out! Now I will have to rise to the challenge and fumble my way through the learning process!
I was so busy teaching people to make yarn out of old T-shirts and clothing, and finger-knitting and needle-felting recycled felt scrap, that I barely had time to eat lunch - never mind get to see the rest of the exhibits or chat with friends who dropped by my display. What I did get to see has inspired me to further explore the ideas and possibilities of using some of the technologies - light, sound, movement - working them into my gallery art in the future. I would love to find a way to animate and light sculptures made with recycled and repurposed materials.
And it was so much fun with the T-Shirt yarn-making and simple finger-knitting - I felt like a magician on stage, pulling scarves out of ears, rabbits out of hats. I loved the surprise of showing people that an old T-shirt with a stain or hole can have a different use, can magically turn into something totally different for at least one more "life" before it is given to a recycler to break down the fibres. And all you need is a sharp pair of scissors, your hands, and perhaps crochet or knitting needles. You can make a rope with your hands. No other tools needed.
Being part of this event was a great way for me to explore the market for both sales and teaching of new/old skills! One of the outcomes was finding that there is definitely an interest in classes for learning new creative ways to recycle household stuff that would normally go into trash. I am now working on finding a location to teach the classes, and all of the other logistics that go with that. Hopefully I will be set up and running these by the fall.
It also gave me a chance to talk about one of my other passions - the environment, waste management and diversion, and ways each of us can make a small practical difference. So many people are concerned, and looking for ways to make a difference in their own lives. If we cannot stop climate change, perhaps the ripple effect of individuals changing their own consumer habits, and attitudes, will at least slow the speed of the changes.
I arrived home afterward, thanks to Andie and her truck, (she got me there and back!) she stacked my bins in the living room - and I have been so busy since that I have not had time to unpack and put things away.
Next - an Art Exhibition
Two of my piece of mixed media sculpture were accepted for a juried show at Propeller - an artist run gallery in West Queen West. The opening of The Politics of Art was last night.
I arrived at the gallery to find that the pieces were all beautifully displayed - including the fact that my piece Trafficked was hung from the ceiling on a chain by the window - allowing her to sway and move and come to life as people touched and read the tags that make up her skirt (I had added a sign that said people were encouraged to interact with the piece). The other piece - Detained - was centered on a large white wall, and given lots of space.
I was very moved by the interest in both pieces, the time people took to observe and take in the meaning, their supportive comments.
Both pieces are very hard to look at and absorb, speaking to the hardship and violence and suffering that refugees and other vulnerable people go through. The interconnected issues of human trafficking and the refugee crisis in our world are something I cannot ignore, and I am striving to help people take in the meaning, the despair, the appalling inhumanity of the situation and the heart-breaking treatment that people go through - treated as other, as alien, as less than human, a problem to be solved, dangerous, and in the case of Trafficked - as commodities to be bought and sold. In creating these works, I am also working through the disturbing emotions the issues bring up in myself.
The show continues until July 30 at Propeller, 30 Abell Street, Toronto.
Next on my agenda: a multi-cultural, community grant proposal application. More on that later.
Photos by Diane Slawych
After years of considering, pondering, dithering, and otherwise delaying, I have finally managed to cobble together this patchwork of my artistic endeavours.
Much is missing and I still have to dig images and photos out of boxes and type up hand-scribbled poems and notes, but I have begun. And through this process of designing my website, I have come to realize how rich and productive my life has been, although it has often seemed to grind to a screeching halt. I am grateful for everything that has made me who I am as a woman, an artist, an animate being, including the dark turns on the path, the high brick walls, locked doors, and the exceedingly embarrassing moments.
I hope that you enjoy exploring these pages on my website, as much as I have enjoyed the creative journey - a journey that I hope to be able to continue on for many more years. I have many injustices left to challenge, and beautiful moments to experience. Life is far too short for any more fear of social restrictions and angst that I spent much of my life fretting about.
As I age, I am finding that my ability to create, to develop ideas, and to bring them into an expression that challenges or delights is increasing. And I love working in community, in collaboration, and in collectives. I have discovered an immense and boundless future full of light and energy and amazing human beings, and fascinating visions that draw me in.
I would like to nurture and encourage my readers and viewers, as I have been encouraged and nurtured by others. I may even indulge in a rant or two... or twenty. And I will definitely say things that need to be said about the state of our world. But I will always come back to the joy I feel in being alive, with so many opportunities ahead of me, and places to explore.
Please share your impressions and reactions with me. I would not have posted this if I did not want them.
Be aware though, that there are some modes of expression I am quite happy to censor, including all of the "isms" that fall under our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a few that should be there. And insults and obscenity are also not particularly welcome. Save those for your FaceBook and Twitter friends who have not (yet) cut you off.
So. Welcome to a corner of my world...
It has long been a dream of mine to set up a not-for-profit social enterprise in Toronto to assist people to recycle, reuse and repurpose materials with creative potential that would otherwise become part of the waste materials going to the dumpsites. That would just be the beginning.
I envision a warehouse/store setup filled with industrial cut-offs, scrap fabric, scrap lumber, unwanted art materials, bins full of red shiny things, pop-tabs, threads, gears, cogs, strange bits of unknown hardware and electronic waste, leftovers from basement inventors tool rooms, craft rooms, and junk drawers.
And it would be open to all to explore and purchase bits and pieces that are sometimes hard to come by - especially when you need them for a project you envision making. And all this without individuals needing to keep collecting the bits in their own over-packed homes and studios where they tinker and make things. Or without community groups needing to find and store all the necessary materials for projects.
People could donate things they do not want, for a store credit. buy things on a cost-recovery basis. And then - a gallery and shop of maker objects and art; tables to work on, tools to work with; repair lessons; technique lessons; workshops on repurposing and the environment; idea jam sessions. In short, it will be an intercultural, intergenerational program and facility that crosses all social and educational boundaries and accessible to all.
I have started to explore the practicalities of this idea, this dream. I need energy skills and lots of help to set it up and to keep it running. I have taken the first tentative steps - asking what people think and received an overwhelming "what a great idea, we need that in Toronto."
The next step was exposure at the Makers Festival August 1-2, 2015. Complete with a 20-minute talk, a laptop presentation and sign up sheets asking for input and volunteers to help the idea get lift-off.
After that? We shall see...