When The Bats Are Away, The Artist Will Play

I’ve written several posts about working ON my new space and what it’s like working IN my new space, but I haven’t yet posted about WHAT it is I’ve been producing.

After spending several weeks building tables and finding homes for my many bins of materials, I resumed work on The Bats. I worked very diligently embroidering the remaining 1,000 hands so that I could continue constructing figures – 500 done so far – half way there!

And then there was a moment when I stopped and thought…

What am I doing?!

Do I really want to spend another 2 years working on this one piece when I am in New York City?!

Do I really want to continue to work on this long-term piece, a piece that, really, I could make anywhere, when I’m experiencing all sorts of new and exciting outside influences?!

And that got me thinking…

What would happen if I packed the bats up for the remainder of the year and worked on something totally different?

Asking myself this question is a bit verboten, almost sacrilege.  Abandoning a piece, even temporarily, feels like quitting…and there’s nothing I hate more than admitting defeat.

As I was chewing on the notion of setting this massive piece aside and negotiating the accompanying emotions surrounding this decision, I received an email notice; a call for submissions for a group show. The theme presented was “The Self”, with a subtext surrounding immigration.  The call specifically asked for work that represented “the complexities of personal identity as individuals negotiate tensions between that which is considered home and that which is away”.

It seemed too conspicuous to ignore, so I applied.

I spent a week knocking out a proposal to meet the deadline but was so excited about the piece that I decided to start work on it right away. Whether my proposal was accepted for the show was a moot point – this piece was getting made no matter what.

Let me tell you more about it [she said, a mischievous glint in her eye].

In 2007 I came across a second-hand book in my favourite Vancouver bookstore, Pulp Fiction. The book, Hoaxes, Humbugs and Spectacles by Mark Sloan (1990), was a compilation of bizarre, vintage photographs (of course I would buy a book like that, how could I not?  It’s mandatory to buy stuff like that if you’re me).

One image in particular completely possessed me.  A photo of orphan girls bound up in sections of the American Flag for a pageant.  The visual was so perverse and seemingly steeped in nuanced implications, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Pageant at the Girl's Orphanage, 1918

Pageant at the Girl’s Orphanage, 1918

It disturbed and delighted me…so I made a drawing based on it.

In my rendition I decided I needed to insert a self-conscious figure wrapped in a Canadian flag being observed somewhat suspiciously by the other, U.S. clad girls.  Strange how a piece made so long ago can suddenly seem so relevant years later.

2-D Flag Girls

2-D Flag Girls, 2008

The piece I proposed for the thematic group show was a three-dimensional interpretation of this drawing.

The minute I began working on the piece I knew I had made the right decision to put the bats into hibernation. It was exhilarating to be problem solving and making choices on a minute by minute basis, something that ceases to happen when you are working on a long-term piece that has so many multiple parts it becomes all about assembly line repetition. When your practice starts to function mostly by rote the fun part of creating flies out the window (or in my case, the bat cave).

I was deriving so much joy from exploring the properties of using various materials for this artwork that I decided I would create at least two versions of this piece, each made with a slightly different focus on the type of materials I would use to create the flag sheaths.

One set of flag sheaths will be made out of painted, and/or appliqued tarlatan, which I love for it’s ghostly, slight transparent quality that allows you to see the shape of the figures through the fabric.

tarlatan test

Tarlatan test over figure.

tarlatan detail

Tarlatan detail.

The second “flag” is more subtle, but no less recognizable as the flag.

Note: this piece is almost completed because I started working on it while waiting for paint to dry and got so inspired by how it was coming along that I powered through and came close to finishing it in a couple of weeks.

Fabric Flag Girls

The almost complete sculpture.

This version is created from a pair of recycled blue and white check Nautica boxer shorts, a red and white plaid Chaps shirt (both fabrics made debut appearances as western shirts in One Horse, Two Horse…), and some generic white with blue pinstripe shirting fabric. I’m especially fond of the fact that this version is created from the fabric of U.S. clothing labels that are NOT manufactured in the U.S.

Canadian Sheath Detail

The Canadian flag sheath that is in progress.

What’s next after I’ve gone back and completed the tarlatan version?

Well, as I’ve been working on these pieces, I recalled another book I bought as inspiration (one on vintage circus posters) and remembered that in 2008 I had created faces for a circus/sideshow piece that are still waiting patiently in a document on my computer. This led to thoughts of the Coney Island Sideshow, which in turn led to thoughts of a whole series of NYC inspired sculptural pieces: Bethesda, Statue of Liberty, Central Park Horse-drawn Carriages, etc. etc. (all, of course, with an aberrant twist).  Working Title?  New York Does Jody.

So many ideas, so little time. I best get back at it.  😉

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