THE BACK STORY: In January 2016 I launched "Well Used, Well Loved" (WUWL)a long term community art project that explores age, beauty, impermanence and attachment through a hand woven dish towel and reflective writing/drawing. Eight households from England to Oregon "adopted" a hand woven linen towel to use however they wish. Every other week I sent a prompt for reflection to be recorded in a small journal that I provided. The response to my initial call to participate in WUWL was overwhelming. Over 50 households expressed interest in taking part in the project and I only had 8 towels.

So I created a secondary project that dovetailed with the first one. This second group of ultimately 38 households (Maine to Arizona) wrote and drew on kozo paper (a special Japanese paper) to record their response to my prompts. Thru a hands-on workshop at my studio I taught local folks from this group how to spin their kozo paper into thread using a Japanese technique called Shifu. I created a video tutorial for those who wanted to learn to spin their paper from afar.

Prompts to both groups were the same. For example Prompt #6 was: "The materials for this project are hand woven linen and Kozo paper. Both are created from plant fibers, known for their absorption qualities. Absorption can also been seen as dissolving boundaries. In that light what parallels or connection do you observe between your own ability to absorb, to soak up, to empathize? What connections do you perceive between your linen/paper and the action of union, of dissolving boundaries, connection? What value do these actions have today.

In September 2017 I began to collect the 8 towels, the kozo papers and the journals to wrap up the project. The journals, the used/loved towels and the completed four panel piece woven from the community threads combine to create an installation that honors and reflect the spirit of this project.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

From text to thread

SHIFU is the process of spinning Japanese paper into threads. This ancient technique of making thread allowed Well Used, Well Loved participants a way to safely and secretly share their responses to the project prompts.
beautifully decorated kozo paper
Fold and Cut
The process begins with the writing and drawing on kozo paper.
The paper is folded and cut into thin strips. Then it is torn at alternating ends to create one long, continuous strip of paper.

Kozo paper is all cut

Each place where this continuous strip makes a turn needs to be pre-spun. Using a little moistness on my fingers, I give this corner a little twist to make the spinning process more smooth. This turning juncture in the paper strip makes a small "seed" and gives Shifu threads their unique character.
Tearing the edges to make a long continuous strip
Once all the seeds have been pre-twisted I begin to spin the paper into thread - either with a drop spindle or on the spinning wheel.
I will upload a video of spinning in the next blog posting! Happy Shifu!!
From paper to thread

Monday, October 3, 2016

The list of prompts

A Community art project that explores age and beauty

Through the vehicle of a physical object (a hand-woven towel, a journal and kozo paper) over 30 households explored questions of age, beauty, value and attachment.

From later January to late September 2016, we explored together and alone the following questions. Some of us wrote in journals while others wrote on kozo paper.

Prompt #1 on kozo paper
Prompt #1 - Hello
Introduce yourself and your household.

Prompt #2 - Old and beautiful
As you look around your life and home -
What or who do you perceive of as "old"?
What/who do you perceive as "beautiful"?
Do you have possessions that feel too precious or special to use?
Prompt #3 - Will I be loved?
What connections do you see between being attractive/beautiful and being loved?
If I feel beautiful/attractive/appealing to others - will this mean I will be loved?
Prompt #4 -  Demonstrating Love
What actions, words, or attitudes demonstrate love?

Prompt #5 - Sorting
Prompt #5 on kozo paper
Spring cleaning: Attachment to objects, people, attitudes.
How do you sort, let go of these thing/ people that are no longer serving you?
How do you evaluate the need/desire to keep stuff?
Response to prompt #6
Prompt #6   Absorption
The materials for this project are handwoven linen and Kozo paper. Both of these are created from a plant material, a bast fiber - both known for its absorption qualities. 
Your towel, your paper has absorbed much in the last two months you've been together. Absorption can also been seen as dissolving boundaries, union.
In that light I wonder what parallels or connection you observe between your own ability to absorb, to soak up, to feel to empathize? What reflections do you perceive  between your materials (linen, paper) and the action of union, of dissolving boundaries of connection? What value do these actions have today?
Prompt #7     The Dark Side
For two months we have examined and reflected on different aspects of using and loving.
This week I would like to explore what might be considered the dark side of this topic. It’s a place that some might shy away from – with all good reason.  And yet, to know and understand something – we must be aware of its opposite.  In this case, what might be the opposite of “Well Used, Well Loved”?
In yoga class, sometimes my teacher will have us exaggerate the opposite of a pose – for example if she wants us to relax and drop our shoulders – she asks us to shrug them up, way up to our ears.  And then we dip our shoulders back down with new awareness of both positions. As many philosophers query – how can we know sunshine without knowing shadow?
These opposites are an integral part of Yin/Yang philosophy, Bali Hinduism and many other spiritual traditions.  Perhaps the deeper we explore both sides, the less obvious is the line between “black and white".
Prompt #7 in a journal
Do you see an opposite to Well Used, Well Loved?
Do you want to explore this opposite side?
If so, what do you see is the opposite of Well Used, Well Loved?
 As always – there are NO right answers to these prompts. And they are very personal.
To share them is your choice – not a requirement.

Prompt #3 response in journal

Prompt #8  Beauty, Economics, Well Being
Beauty is temporary - right??
You pick a beautiful flower and know it will fade, wither and die.
How is it then that I struggle to accept this?
How is it that I resist the inevitable aging process of my own body?
This is a normal, natural process.
For over 15 years I have colored my hair (in reaction to school children commenting that I reminded them of grandma.) I did not want to be like grandma while in my late 40s. So I took to coloring my hair.
Just this month I made the decision to "go gray".  In sharing this decision with a friend who is still active in her career  ~ she remarked  she could not choose this option. She feels obligated to keep coloring her hair while she is actively employed. "It's just a fact" she said  "To be valued in the work place you must appear vital and youthful. Gray hair does not fit."
My mind quickly queried about the connection between economic survival and our cultural attachment to beauty. Thus Prompt #8 is ~
  • What connection do you see in your own life between your economic survival/well being and your age/beauty?? Are you in a profession that requires a certain maintenance of image/beauty?
  • What connections do you see in our culture between economic survival/well being and age//beauty?
Prompt #9
Soft matter: vulnerability and love
Both our towel and our Kozo paper are soft materials - allowing them to show evidence of wear and tear - or use and love. Our physical bodies are similar.
  • Examine your hands - what signs of use and love do they illustrate?
  • What connections to your perceive between soft materials, vulnerability and love?

    Playing with color and language on kozo paper

Prompt #10 "Saying Goodbye"
My most successful public workshop is the Mandala Community Weaving. To introduce this project I sit and talk with students about Mandalas - especially ones of sand  made by the Tibetan Buddhist Monks. I guide them thru the story of how the Monks take a long time (a  week or so) to make these Mandalas, using colored grains of sand that just lie on top of an outline.
I talk to the students about how the monks make the Mandalas over and over again -  as a practice and a lesson. I show them photos to show how after spending days working on the Mandala, the Monks sweep it up into a brass bowl and then with great ceremony they pour the sand into the closest body of natural water.
After sharing this story I ask them: "Why do you think the Monks spend a long time making something beautiful and then pouring it into the water? What lesson do you think the Monks are trying to learn?"
I have asked this question to hundreds of young people - and invariably I get an array of beautiful answers. The most memorable response was from an 8 year old in Maryland last spring.  He said "I think that they are trying to learn how to say good bye to something that they love."
Yes, exactly.
Isn't this the most difficult lesson we as human beings must learn. Whether it is a beloved flannel shirt that is just too tattered to wear anymore or your elderly mother who is frail and failing - it is very hard to say good bye.
Letting go and saying good bye is hard.
This will be my last official prompt for the project - we will be saying good bye to this effort in a month.
Prompt #10 - How do you say good bye to something or someone that you love?  Do you have a ritual for saying good bye? Can you share a story?