In process – on trust, new endeavors and the pull of magma
Hey guys! Another non-traditional material feels episode right here, I have some announcements and some exciting developments in both audio and art!
Associate producer Elizabeth de Lise and I are hard at work creating an interactive installation, titled Conversations with the Material World, which will be on display at Sound Scene, an audio festival in D.C. The festival takes place at the Smithsonian Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, we are so honored and excited!
The interactive piece is a tactile invitation and features four materials, four sculptures and four makers. Viewers and visitors can explore each sculpture, touch it, interact with it, all while listening to a narrated soundscape designed by Liz and myself.
If you are in or near D.C. in early June, we’d love to see you at the festival. It’s free and only for 2 days, June 4th and 5th, and it’ll be so cool to meet some material feels community while we’re there!
I’ll also be posting a special episode after the show in June, featuring the four soundscapes so you can hear them even if you can’t be there to touch the art!
In this episode, I’m going to share a few stories from five different creative categories of my life right now: audio (working on the Sound Scene piece), construction (transforming my garage into a studio space), performing (exploring the world of audiobook narration), clay (going deeper with clay alongside my students at Waveform Ceramics) and adventure (I want to go on a trip.)
Before I share, I also want to point you to the most recent episode of Shelter in Place, a podcast by Laura Joyce Davis, another Bay Area producer. Laura and I became fast friends as soon as we look a listen to each other’s shows; Shelter in Place is a wonderful show to listen to: it features “open hearted personal essays and intimate interviews;” as a host and creator, Laura “escapes into life” and explores the beautiful and poetic in the everyday. The most recent episode on her feed features a conversation we had about why we create, and how working on our shows has impacted us over the past few years. Have a listen and definitely check out Shelter in Place if you love Material Feels!
Okay, story time.
Here are the details on the Sound Scene project: we dive deeper into wood, fiber, glass and clay. The theme of the festival is “trust,” and I wanted to make a piece that encourages people to rebuild trust with their creative impulses as well as their tactile experiences. The piece features sculptures by woodworker Dominique Tutwiler, glass blower Deborah churrasco, and fiber artist Selena Loomis. As well as clay sculptures and narration by myself! And music by Liz, of course.
Making this piece, I have gotten to visit Dominique in there studio where I got to film them making a piece. I’m also visiting hot shops in the Bay Area and filming glass, Deborah is making her peace in Brooklyn this week with someone filming her as well! And Selena has been creating their sculpture as well. Filming is HARD. Oh my goodness. I’m borrowing a very nice camera from my friend and talented artist, Chibueze Crouch. Shout out to Chi, whose creative endeavors include and are not limited to singing, writing, filming and dancing alongside the side of a skyscraper with incredible dance group, Bandaloop. Anyway, borrowing this camera from Chi and using it to film for the first time feels like I’ve just gotten my learner’s permit and been handed the keys to a Ferrari. I feel gleeful and slightly terrified using the thing, and OMG the visuals, you guys, they are nuts. Did you know that if you make something go in slow motion it’s automatically sensual? People always comment on my clay classes, or pottery in general, with a joking reference to Ghost. You know, that scene where Patrick Swayze is behind Demi Moore on the wheel, his hands all in her business, i mean her clay, and he like, messes up her super phallic vessel in a flirty cute way? Every clay artist has been reminded of this reference nearly everyday they tell someone they are a clay artist / pottery / ceramicist. And while I brush off the reference with an eye roll, rewatching some of my recent slo mo footage of my friend throwing at Merritt Ceramics, the studio down the street from me….. I mean, it hits.
A lot of people ask me how I choose materials to feature on the show. And seasons 1 and 2 we explored clay, wool, would, liquor, time, sound, paper, glass, pigment, the body, and storytelling. I chose these materials because I feel that they are very close to the natural world, they are thousands and thousands if not millions of years old, and creative cultures have cropped up around those particular materials in cultures all across the world.
I’m also drawn to materials that are squishy. Materials that I can touch between my hands or that appear squishy like glass, which you cannot touch while it is squishy that would hurt a lot haha. I think when something is squishy it feels like it’s responsive, it feels like it’s in conversation with me. Maybe it’s because parts of my body are squishy it feels fleshy it feels alive.
In addition to working on this collaborative installation for sound scene, I’ve also been exploring the world of audiobooks. I favorite thing about all this, other than getting to know fellow creatives and learning about the science of various materials, is speaking into the microphone and reading life into the written words of my thoughts communicating with you guys. And so I thought, I wanted to explore narration as a possible other side gig, (gee I don’t have enough of those!).
I’m making my way through an introductory course about audiobook narration with a school in San Francisco, and I’m already learning a a lot of fascinating things. There are some crossovers between audiobook narration industry and the podcasting world, but there are also some big differences. One thing that I’m getting really into is the analysis required and the theater background that so many people have in that industry. Being a narrator is more than reading out loud, it is about forming a relationship with the text, and inferring what the author wanted to come to life. It is embodying a sort of lifeline between the content on the page and the dreams of the creator.
Next category: construction. I have transformed my garage from a dark art-cave with a single bare light bulb swinging ominously above a dusty wheel into a bright, light, inviting studio, complete with a logo of beachy colors that make you feel like you’re in a surf shop.
I share the garage space with my housemate Dylan, who is a guitar teacher. We’ve got a bit of a Renaissance space going. His side is sort of like a classy living room with audio equipment, soft black floors, comfortable seating and framed concert posters on the wall. I invite my students to walk across his side on a plastic White tile trail, to the messy side. My studio has two pottery wheels in it , and a counter where I’ve wrapped canvas around the wood for wedging, hand building and drawing work. I also have a pegboard where I have my go-to tools, I hang aprons and I’ve got shelving where I store student work and they can pick it up a month after their class.
I feel so grateful that I have this space and that I have the time to transform my dingy side of the garage into a bright inviting art space. My housemate Dylan and I spent time together arranging the space, talking about agreements and flow and coordinating our schedules. It’s been really fun not doing it all alone.
My favorite part of the process was when I decided to make a re-circulating sink. I started out giving classes to three friends as a trial, and discovered that I really needed a sink…but there is no plumbing in the garage! I watched a YouTube video about how to build one (they go for $2500 if you want to buy a portable one for your studio), and an hour later I was wandering around Ace Hardware with a scribbled list of things that I didn’t know what they were. Do you know how hard that is to shop for items that you have no knowledge of!? Needless to say, the two Ace Hardwares in Oakland got used to seeing me nearly everyday in March. One guy was so helpful I went back just to show him a picture of the finished sink! Learning about plumbing inspired me to learn about electricity, construction in general, and empowered me to continue to build things myself.
One thing I’ve learned again and again from starting to teach again and having students is that turning off one sense really does heighten the rest or at least change your relationship with whatever you’re trying to do. Centering on the wheel is intimidating and can feel really frustrating, because the clay is literally jostling you around physically bumping you around.. add in the pressure and expectation that you will be good at this even though it takes months sometimes years to master this, this makes for a very unpleasant experience. It’s hard to follow instructions with all of that weighing on you and distracting you. Throwing on the wheel is not particularly visual actually you really just need to feel the clay. And so I find that whenever I suggest that a student closes their eyes, something changes. Their face relaxes, and I think I see some of their thoughts dissipate. Their hands start to do things without being told, they start reacting to the clay based on feeling rather than thought.
I’m fascinated by this phenomena and trying to apply it to other aspects of my life as I often do when I make a discovery about the material world.
A lot of the world feels like too much right now on a micro and a macro level we are bombarded with sensations, information, thoughts and feelings. If you were to shut off a sense just for an hour or a minute what would you shut off, and how would that change that hour or minute. Maybe it’s noise canceling headphones like that, maybe it’s closing your eyes But continuing like my students.
Lately I’ve been doing so many different things my schedule is always different sometimes it’s really full and sometimes it’s eerily quiet. I find that taking 45 minutes to an hour we’re treating into my room drawing the curtains taking off my clothes jumping in the shower and then laying down letting the water dry closing my eyes and my ears it resets me it feels like how clay must feel when you wedge it you reset it you redistribute all the moisture, Clay is through topic which means that it settles into the form of the container with which it’s held. When you take it out and gently turn it pressing on it rhythmically redistributing all the particles and pressure, it’s easier to work with. Smooth and circular it sheds the memory of the former container.
Another beautiful thing that I’ve learned is that clay originates from igneous rock, like granite or feldspar. These are rocks produced by volcanoes, and over millions of years water erodes them until the tiny particles can slip over one another and water can creep in between the particles, creating a clay body made up of alumina, silica, and chemically bonded water. A clay artist takes that clay body create something with it and then puts it in a kiln, mirroring the geological processes the material went through millions of years ago, transforming that wet clay back into stone. That is so cool.
I’ve been thinking about going on a vacation, or traveling just doing something not for work and not to visit friends or family. I haven’t done something like that since I was in my late teens and early twenties when I studied abroad. I feel a pull towards volcanoes. I want to go to the source of the material that I have spent decades with. Perhaps I can find a volcano next to a lake and I can be with the minerals and the organic compounds all at once.
That vacation dream is not really a vacation but a fantasy of where I want to place myself and what I can learn from the environment around me.
Questions I’ll leave you with today:
Where do you want to be right now?
How do you reset after being stuck in a container for too long?
What do you learn when you close your eyes for one minute?
Thank you for listening to this non-traditional episode of material feels. If you’d like to listen to the episode featuring wood with Dominique is making a sculpture for our show in June, go back to season 1 episode 3. I made that episode the first month of the pandemic. If you’d like to learn more about glass and Deborah, who’s also making a sculpture for sound scene, check out episode 5 of season 2.
I’m still working on season 3, where I will eventually return to the classic sound rich documentary style episodes from Seasons 1 and 2, once I have capacity and I don’t know when that will be. I’ll keep recommending other shows, updating you and celebrating the material world until then! If your local to the Bay Area I’d love to see you in the studio for a clay class, if you can make it to the show in DC in June wonderful. And wherever you are I hope you take an opportunity to close your eyes, reset, and reconvene with the material world in a way that makes you feel seen and alive. Love you byeeeee