A disclaimer- eventually this post will be about art- I promise…
I am finding myself overwhelmed quite often here- overwhelmed by my inability to communicate with any ease, by the beauty of this place and by the generosity of the people I am meeting.
The mind reels.
Julia just stopped by to give me both a sample of crocheting she has done and a ball of yarn- spun ixtle- she also imparted the information that the red ixtle we have begun working with- a gift from Eric, is actually Agave, not ixtle- which explains how hardy it is and difficult to spin- twisting more accurately describes the process of putting twist in it.
THIS yarn is soft and beautiful and I try and figure out what would be worthy to make with it-and wonder if it is possible to find more- I ask Julia if she spun it? She did not, I wonder if she can show me where to buy more? She says it was a gift from one of her students (she teaches at the university here) and that it was spun by the students grandmother. The value of this gift suddenly escalates. Time is a precious commodity here that people are more than happy to share and giveaway- Since arrival we have all joked about the difference of Canadian time- (where 10 am is 10 am)- and Mexican time-( where 10 am could be anywhere from 10 to noon.) Something is beginning to perhaps reveal itself to me, that perhaps Mexican time ideas are more fluid then what I am used to partially because people here are more willing to put down their own work and help others- there is less stinginess about clock watching and more flex in just enjoying the moment and being present where you are- not worrying so much about where you are going to.
I can learn a lot here.
The collective of artists and our FRONDA hosts have had several conversations about differences in our cultures- but more importantly- in our similarities and in what joins all humans in our basic needs, and in what makes for happiness. ..We have been talking about the gross national happiness index (GNH)– an alternative to the gross domestic product model of measuring a country’s wealth. It is a way of measuring the standard of living that includes environmental practices, good government, sustainable development and consideration of cultural values.- we came to this conversation by noticing that the people around us work 7 days a week, often also at nights- but are surrounded by their families and seem genuinely happy in what they do- quality of life is an interesting thing to begin to analyse and contemplate especially in a place that does not have things I take for granted at home-like clean drinking water flowing from taps or central heat that can be turned on in a second.
I am reminded of a talk I went to about a year ago by John de Graff a green economist from Seattle who talked about Bhutan’s happiness index- it was the first time I heard articulated by someone else values that I have designed my life around- it’s not about how much we make, but the quality of how our time is spent. He went on to talk about the core things required by ALL humans for happiness, based on the responses to the GNH questionnaire that was formed for measurement purposes. In simplest terms he broke it down to 3 main things- a relevant place within our community that allows time with loved ones, shelter with enough food, and security in our health. Of course we can always desire more- but happiness I think often comes partially by being able to recognize what we have and being happy with that- not always seeking more as advertisers would have us do. This makes me question the wisdom of too much motivation- motivation is a good thing, and I am the first to admit I always have my eye on the horizon for the next project while my head is down immersed in the current project- but it does make me pause.-We -North Americans-are conditioned to be ambitious, and taught this is a good thing. But is it? And how much? At the cost of what? The answers are different for all of us- but my mother’s words, “moderation in all things” come to mind… And I think I can learn much here in slowing down, being more aware of my time in the present and less focused on the future.
Now, about the art- and thanks for your patience!
I have realized there are 3 installations I wish to realize in my time here- time that is now passing much too quickly- but hey, this is me being in the present, right?.
Community Wall Repair:
if you have been reading these postings you will know this piece as being referred to as my security blanket- something familiar I could attach to technique-wise when I first arrived and workshops started in 48 hours. Repairing stuff is an increasing fascination of mine- and something becoming very trendy through the maker community of ‘young-urban –hipsters’, I have noticed. For me, it is a pragmatic “performance of necessity” ( a term I have learned working alongside Victoria Stanton) but also a way of connecting to my grandmother – she was a depression-era women and so a mender by necessity, and then later in life by habit.
I have been mending a sweater while I am here that she knit for my dad, likely about the time I was born. I have strong memories of my dad wearing it on weekends when I was a kid- kind of his “Mister Rogers project sweater” I nabbed it from him a few years back- and when I wear it I have both generations with me- it is here with me in Mexico and keeps me warm and my family close.
I am glad mending is becoming trendy- it is important that people know how to fix the things they own and use- we need to return to this way of thinking, and I am aware of being in a place right now where the habit of mending was never lost- Anyway, having folks work here with me side by side crocheting, weaving and mending a wall repair for where the stucco has broken loose to expose the adobe and rock beneath just feels right- and has the sense of community participation to it that brings back to mind one of the three principals of the GNH model for community wealth- a place to work within the community and time with friends/family.
self-explanatory really, but responding to the vista from the studio of the red corrugated aluminum roofs brings to mind the second need for all- shelter and food. I am in the very early days of making a simple lean-to with the invasive Tule harvested from Tucucomulco Lagona. I am doing my best to not get frustrated by my lack of experience with it and lack of a good working space to weave without making my back sore.
The perfect place to work happens to be in the hot sun where the Tule dries out too quickly and I don’t have a good long soaking tub to keep it fresh- so am working out the technical challenges- but I really want to get this right (whatever that means)- the material is seen as a weed with no value here, in the midst of a strong weaver culture- meanwhile it was a mainstay in weaving of traditional Japanese tatami mats and also used by the First People along the west coast for walls and mats. I feel a pressure to get this right to perhaps open a door to thinking differently about the plant and its potential for the community…
this installation may be quite delicate and subtle, or grow large- depending on how it all goes in the coming weeks but is inspired by Jose Daniel’s delicate crochet, the red agave from Eric, the Nopal cactus skeletons we found on a walk and a book on plant cellular structure ( in English) I found on the book shelf of the house we are staying in.
The work involves crocheting the agave and ixtle fibers around the Nopal into a branching formation that will hang on an outside wall and mirror cracks that emerge on concrete surfaces, the branch formation for me is a strong link of how we are connected to our planet- the veins beneath our skin travel in pattern formations that match rivers flowing across a landscape or the roots of a tree.- life force in all things- we are not separate, but a part of the same system. The materials we are using are all the things that are life sustaining in this culture- the ixtle from the maguey of which so much is made, and the Nopal is a food staple for everyone.
A wonderful side to this project has been working with Jose Daniel, teaching him how to knit while practising Spanish.
Of note I think worth mentioning- this time last year I told a friend I was setting two goals for myself for the next decade- to learn how to knit and to learn Spanish- how strange life is sometimes, who could have predicted that a year later I would find myself in Mexico- fairly competent at knitting( thanks to Penny and Billy!), working on my Spanish vocabulary while teaching a new Spanish friend how to knit? There is no question- knitting came much easier for me then a new language is, but the two go amazing well together and is once more proof of the joy of shared common- work as a bonding agent to connect with someone – even when that someone does not speak the same language- or maybe especially then.
So, what I hope for my new friends here in Mexico, my friends in Catalunya who today go to the polls and all those at home in Canada is good governance that includes long term environmental thoughtfulness for future generations, time with family and friends, meaningful work in our own communities, the security of shelter and food in our bellies and good health… What more really can we ask for?