17 April 2020

Report in Times of the Pandemic

I am grateful that John & I are relatively secure in our "art compound", with our home studios, my pension, John's abilities to cook, fix anything, and keep me on my toes. He has been so vigilant, sewing face masks for hospitals and friends, cooking up foods to freeze, and yes, awaiting the garden and spring plantings. I'm grateful I am retired and have had my period of adjustment to nurture a solitary creative practice. I do not have to teach my courses on-line, although I imagine I'd accept that challenge like thousands of other teachers and actually enjoy it. We have no children or aging parents to tend to; we have our hands full taking care of each other and learning to step aside or away when we are driving each other crazy in such constant proximity. The TV (Netflix, Amazon) is our nightly entertainment. We take two daily walks looping through our neighborhoods, then we retreat to our studios. We'll do a grocery run every few weeks, wearing masks and gloves, and communicating with friends & relatives via Facebook, e-mail, phone.

My gigs (What is "mine" in this situation if there are no venues for sharing other than social media?) have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. I just made it into a gallery show in Flint Feb.-March before everything shut down. My 6’ x 12’ mural, “Naraka”, (Buddhist hell), was placed behind an extraordinary sculpture of a male nude by U-M colleague/art prof. Lou Marinaro. A perfect pairing, down to the red stain on the figure’s hands. 

My video, "Seven Elegies", was recently screened via live stream at the Ann Arbor Film Festival  when the festival figured out a way in a week's time to do the entire screening live stream. I've done video interviews as pandemic programming for all sorts of non-profits, including the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, where I was booked to see the premiere of my "Winterreise" with live music in late June. WinterreiseThey have asked all the performers if we would be available late August for a re-scheduling... I doubt that will happen. I have a lecture lined up to give in Bay View for late July but we'll see. I'm giving on-line tutorial to a young video maker in Petoskey, and I just made a video for a friend and her church of a 12-part bell choir with 12 separate videos of each part sent to me to combine on one screen. I also made a studio visit walk-through video for a new series on local artists’ studios by the Ann Arbor Art Center. 

The Martha Graham Dance Company has been featuring “Martha Matinees” on YouTube with chat lines alongside screenings of rare footage and multi-generational surveys of the repertory. I’ve been invited as guest to provide comments from the old guard. 

In my first week of exile, I went on a creative binge shooting & editing a new video to a score I'd been considering for a decade: Benjamin Britten's "Les Illuminations".  I shot much of the more in-place scenes in my backyard studio (hung greenscreen and improvised multiple roles) then dug into my archives of movement improvisations I've filmed over the past decade against the university's stage-sized greenscreen. Stealing from myself, rummaging through my past, like "Krapp's Last Tape". (Les Illuminations  password: Rimbaud)  It felt like a desperate affirmation of life force, an "I'm still here" but with an elegiac ending, like a farewell to this parade of a life. I'm now working on a frieze (I think of Klimt's Beethoven Frieze in Vienna) of 7 standing figures that move in sequence right to left pivoting on the body access right to left. I have no idea where or why, other than the fact that it grounds me, projects my need to be visible in this weirdly disembodied world, and gives me the pleasure of putting paint onto canvas.

It is my solace... as the body grows older and calcifies! Speaking of... I have just enough floor space in my studio to do a floor stretch and then barre. I feel like I'm a detainee or in a prison cell or on a desert island. (Cornered (The Detainee’s Lament)   password: Henry) But I'm happy and grateful when I can move, even in confined quarters. 

I think about the moment John and I were driving the Ohio Turnpike with his sister Donna in back seat on an icy, blizzarding night returning home from visiting his family in Cleveland. We hit an icy patch and the car went out of control, spinning multiple times while we watched the headlights of cars crawling behind us rotate around us. Everything went into slow motion. John was hollering, panicked, Donna was screaming, and I just sat, repeating, "Everything will be alright", as if I could calmly ride it all into some resolution. We slid off the road, through a fence and into a corn field, then stopped. The point being, I think I "go calm" and become resigned, maybe a bit fatalistic, maybe a bit in denial, during such times. I certainly prefer avoiding ever having to experience such moments again. As the world reels...