fotoplay: end of the horizon

fotoplay: end of the horizon

fotoplay: end of the horizon

The Fotoplay Invitational, What’s On the Horizon?, is now complete. Nine unique works were created in response to my Fotoplay page:

The works were created with a wide variety of materials and methods:

• tissue and contact papers to make bright stained glass windows

• an exacto knife and colored paper to make clever lift-the-flap windows

• press type to design a text based, philosophical piece

• fabric, cardboard, and crayons to construct a whimsical table-top theater

• colored paper to make an impassioned weaving

• an exacto knife and a light table to create a sublime illuminated piece

• the digital darkroom to make a series of photographs of abandon

• a tour-de-force altarpiece of many madonnas

As with the December Fotoplay work, it was exciting for me to receive these thoughtfully created pieces in response to my prompt. And I learned a lot about the things that interest me most: art, artists, creative process, how one’s work can be guided by one’s compulsions, fears and fascinations…

Many thanks to the artists. Perhaps we will reconvene here in This Playground for another Invitational some time in the future…

fotoplay: on the horizon 7

fotoplay: on the horizon 7

This weekend I received an email from my friend Maya, along with photographs of the work she created for the Fotoplay Invitational.  My goodness. Thankfully she wrote a long email which not only fully illuminates the work, but inspires me to turn back toward Renaissance Madonna and child paintings that until now, felt remote, antique, and too deeply iconic and Roman Catholic/Early Eastern Orthodox Christian for me to fully connect with the work as an artist. In thinking about how many times I’ve encountered and contemplated these images (both in person and in reproductions in books and art history classes) I see now (thanks to Maya’s work) that I missed a lot, as a creator of images, as a female, and as a mom. Maybe this is one of the dimensions of the artist’s journey and the daily practice of creating that’s most magical and exciting: You’re a perpetually changing student for life, studying, examining, wondering, taking things apart and putting them together… so you never know when you will break through walls that you didn’t even realize were there, blocking your way.

Here is Maya’s email to me: Hello Marcie. Big news, lots to say, you better get comfortable. This is going to be a long email, and as you can see from the work I made, something big is happening to me. It’s a pretty elaborate piece, this thing I created. I’m calling it “My Annunciation.” And that’s not only because I’m pregnant. OK. At this point you’re gasping. Given the completely fucked up relationship I have with my mother, and given how completely convinced I am that all of my troubles are due to that very ill woman, you know how ambivalent and even scared I’ve felt about bringing an innocent baby into the world. When I found out I was pregnant, after all the drama and vacillation between some kind of new, dare-I-admit-it-happiness and a great deal of old, way-too-familiar-panic, I did what I do best, which is turn to the Old Masters. I went to the Metropolitan Museum, and looked at art. But wait. Don’t think this was a noble gesture on my part. Don’t think you know where I’m going with this. Don’t think I knew where I was going. Being the first class, full-time narcissist that I am, I went to the Met because I thought I’d look at art that I would no longer be able to make. I thought I was at the beginning of some period of mourning. I was thinking about how a baby would completely dominate my days and my brain, so that I wouldn’t be able to make art, think about art, or even see it clearly anymore. What happened to me at the Met was that I fell in love. With Duccio. With Bellini. With Lippi. And I fell in love with Madonna and Child altarpieces in a way that I never ever ever could have imagined. Don’t laugh. You know I’m not known for my generosity of spirit, particularly when it comes to other women. But something profound happened to me when I looked at these paintings. It was like a door opened. A big portal into a fresh, hip, punk new art world. Yes punk. Just wait.

Let me tell you about “My Annunciation.”

So I obviously made a triptych, an altarpiece. I took your perfect-for-me-at-this-moment prompt, “What’s on the horizon,” with all those people watching, and I built an altar, to myself and my baby, up above the horizon. And there I am, behind everyone, in silhouette, standing on a beach, or a stage, or a platform. In the left wing of the triptych, you see six Madonnas that represent moms I don’t want to be. The professional martyr moms. The moms that look lost because of their babies. The moms that don’t look that comfortable. The moms that look put out, awkward, like they’re trying to be the mom that other people think they should be. I know, I know. It’s me passing judgement again. But really. What are images for? You and I talked about this ad nauseam. Images are both mirrors and windows.

These martyr Madonnas were painted by Crivelli, Mantegna, and Boticelli, Perugino, and Bellini. And while I do think they are beautifully painted paintings, I don’t want to be those moms.

In the middle panel I placed moms I would like to be. By Campin, van der Weyden, and Grünewald, Franciabigio, van Eyck, and Romano. They’re loose, easy, loving, joyful, relaxed. Is this going to be possible for a crazy person like me? Will I be able to give my breast to a baby, in public, and look like I’m genuinely granola? Will I be able to be “in the moment” which is what, it seems to me, being a great parent is so much about? Will I be able to let my baby be who they want to be, who they are, without projecting all of my dominating ideas on them? I honestly don’t know. Some days I feel optimistic. Empowered, to use a ridiculous word. But other days my disturbed mother haunts me in what’s supposed to be my own space. 

In any case. When I was making this altarpiece, particularly this center panel, I felt like I found some kind of new guide. But then.

Then I found Jean Fouquet. Whoa. Where have I been?!?! In obsessively looking at Madonna and Child paintings online, I came across this guy. Really. Where have I been? How could I have NOT known this painting. Now you know why I said punk. Painted in 1450. 1450!

I don’t know if you know this painting, the right panel in the Melun Diptych, but I’m telling you, when I saw this, I lost it. It is so crazy modern. So design-y. So beautiful in every way, that I’m going to say what people say in those made-for-bathroom inspirational story books or on Oprah: This painting changed my life.

This is the mom I actually think I can be. Corset and all. I know you get it. But Jean Fouquet. How did he get it? Maybe it’s because he was French. Maybe it’s because he was commissioned by Etienne Chevalier–a knight and French Ambassador to England–to create this painting, depicting Chevalier’s mistress as the Madonna figure. I could go on and on. Perfectly punk, right?

So at the top peak of my altarpiece I placed the baby’s due date. (That’s only three days after your birthday, Marcie.) Oh, and below that you see a compass rose, that for me is like a rose window. But notice my North is askew. This is because I am asking for some kind of guide during this whole crazy new phase in my life. But I know that I’m usually off center, not quite aligned with true north. In “My Annunciation,” my north leans toward Fouquet’s Madonna.

The last thing I’ll point out is how once again I’ve referenced your “Illuminating the Negative” work in my work. You know how I feel about it. It’s a body of work that has meant so much to me. But it’s possible that it’s been supplanted by the work of my new lover, Jean Fouquet. 🙂

I have to tell you that I’ve been reading your blog, and just like your friend Chris, I think that this Fotoplay challenge has led me to a whole new body of work. Altars, triptychs, Madonnas… who would have ever thought? Wish me luck. For everything. xoxo Maya.


So there it is, the ninth piece created for the Fotoplay Invitational. While I do think there is something perfectly modern about Maya’s creation of a digital altarpiece, I would love to see this work realized as a three dimensional piece, unconfined by the virtual world. Maybe that’s On the Horizon for her too… In the meantime, I’m loving her title, “My Annunciation.” Old French, from Late Latin, annunciatio(n), the announcement of something: “My Announcement.”


fotoplay: on the horizon 6

fotoplay: on the horizon 6

The final design of my book is now completed, and I expect to see the first full proof next week. In the meantime, as promised, I’m turning back toward the Fotoplay Invitational, and works created in response to the prompt “What’s on the horizon?”

The work above was sent to me by our friend Markus in Switzerland, whose last Fotoplay creation you might remember. Of all of the works presented thus far on This Playground, Markus’ was made with the lightest touch, the fewest marks added to (or subtracted from) the page. Just as in his last illuminated creation, he chose to cut or punch through the paper (this time with an x-acto knife, last time with the tip of a pencil) and shine light through the page. In his email to me, Markus noted that to photograph the page above, he simply placed it, as you can see, on his light table.

But why the jagged, glowing, electrical line that moves along and beyond the horizon?

Unfortunately, on New Year’s Day, Markus had a mild heart attack. He is feeling fine, and he assures me that he is recovering quite well; on balance, he was left “relatively unscathed.” But it was, as Markus says, “both frightening and sobering.”

You might have guessed that what Markus placed on the horizon was the ECG pattern of a healthy heartbeat. He tells me that when he first saw his arrhythmic ECG pattern (a record of his non-ST myocardial infarction) he found the document to be quite poignant: “erratic up-sloping lines which should have been down-sloping, and concave depressions, which should have been convex.”

It is poignant. That by virtue of our pulsing, pumping, beating hearts, we are, heartbeat by heartbeat, producing a pattern. But we don’t often, or ever see these patterns. Perhaps only in moments of crisis, like heart attacks. I find both the idea of using an ECG pattern and the visual impact of that iconic dynamic line to be exciting and beautiful. An ECG pattern in and of itself is a compelling idea for a prompt, with its obvious musical evocation… the electrical, rhythmic energy that reads at once as driven and self propelled.

Thank you, Markus, for finding strange beauty in a difficult moment. And thank you for creating such a sublime image.

Here’s to healthy rhythmic heartbeats, circumnavigating the Earth’s horizon, pulsating within and without.

fotoplay: on the horizon 5

fotoplay: on the horizon 5

This morning I received an email from my friend Chris,with his contribution to the Fotoplay Invitational. Once again, his email to me was brief: Marcie: In my last email I told you that I was placing Awe and Abandon at the center of my life. Because your “What’s on the horizon” page was already overflowing with Awe, I decided to focus more intently on Abandon. I looked back through my archive of so many years of photographs, and was struck by how many images I had taken that had the spirit of full on Abandon. I guess I’ve been studying it for a long time. Thanks, by the way, for the challenge. It’s led me to this, my new project: “Images of Abandon.”

fotoplay: on the horizon 4

fotoplay: on the horizon 4

The newest pieces to arrive in my inbox for the Fotoplay Invitational were created by my friend Hannah. Remembering her earlier “Pixelated Icon” piece, one can see that she has again chosen to respond to my prompt by weaving. Here is the way Hannah describes her work and her process: I have really enjoyed reading your blog, and am happy to be a part of the Invitational. I have to confess that I when I saw your friend Barry’s work, and read his note to you, I felt a strange jolt. Maybe it was an attraction, maybe something else. I won’t go that deep into it, but I will say that I have not stopped thinking about his “face of love,” with its big blue heart. So I printed out your page and made the first weaving, which I called “Pixelated Cool Blue Love.”

After I made it, I felt that it was too overt and too simplistic, but not in a good way. So I remade it in red, and called it “Pixelated Warm Love.” Even then, I still felt like I missed some mark, so I thought about it for a few days and realized that a projected icon was a forced projection on my part, and that the sun is what everything’s all about.

So I printed a third page and made another piece, for which no title came. This is always a kind of supreme sign to me that I have created something inane. I looked at it for such a long time until I realized the problem. It felt crudely, wrongly bisected.

Then I made a fourth piece which is called “Pixelated God of the Sun.” This is the final piece. And it’s dedicated to your friend Barry.

I’m crazy about Hannah’s “Pixelated God of the Sun.” It’s modern and handmade, abstract and folksy. It makes me think that the big ball of heat and light that we all watch, rising and falling on the horizon, is not on the horizon. It’s not on a distant line. It’s here. Everywhere. In us. It permeates everything. It reaches through our pores, and settles into our cells. It’s connected to the core system of the energy inside of us. Our solar plexus. So What’s On The Horizon is here. It’s not out there. It radiates and pulsates simultaneously, at once from a distance and deep down inside.

fotoplay: on the horizon 3

fotoplay: on the horizon 3

Have you ever, while standing on a beach looking out at the horizon, felt that you were watching a theatrical production? I know I have, but even so, I honestly did not anticipate a creation such as the one above, that was emailed to me this morning for the Fotoplay Invitational. My friend Laura, and her six year old daughter Ella, collaborated once again to transform my Fotoplay prompt into this delightful, quintessentially playful puppet theater.

In her email, Laura wrote: When I printed your Fotoplay page and showed it to Ella, she said: “Mommy, they are waiting for a play to start. We have to make one!” So we did…

We cut out the rectangular space of the sky above the figures, and then mounted the rest of the page to a board cut with a window and hinged to a base. We made a simple curtain which we glued to the top of the window, then set open with ties.

Ella told me that she wanted to make three puppets: “a fish, water waves, and an owl.” She has been fascinated with owls ever since last month, when she first heard, then saw, a magnificent barred owl in a tree by her bedroom window. She believes that owls, with those large, steady eyes really do see everything. She believes that they can see through all walls, which means that she believes “her” owl is watching her while she sleeps.

After the puppets were made, Ella told me to turn off all of the lights, and to take a seat in front of the theater. She then began the show, speaking in the dark, as the owl, who was The Narrator. At this point I must tell you that my daughter, in effect, recreated “Under Milkwood,” and I, her generally cool and collected Mom, fairly burst, astonished but also crazy proud. It’s true that my partner Sophie and I share a strange love for Dylan Thomas. We often listen to our treasured “Caedmon Collection,” so naturally Ella has absorbed a great deal of Mr. Thomas. Especially “Under Milkwood,” which we’ve replayed countless times.

In Ella’s version (like Thomas’), the characters dream of each other. Her Omniscient Narrator Owl told the tale of a fish who dreamed only of the water, of swimming in the water, forever surrounded by the water. And the water dreamed only of the fish, of having the fish swim deep inside of him, forever. Quite quickly, in Ella’s version (unlike Thomas’), the fish and the water get together…and then the play was over. When she reached the end, I told her you were going to love seeing the photographs of the theater and her production. And the moment I said your name, her eyes grew as large as an owls. (She remembered our other project.)

Ella ran into her room, and returned with her two-faced doll, which she placed in front of her new puppet theater as a member of the audience.

fotoplay: on the horizon 2

fotoplay: on the horizon 2

Gallery 2 of the Fotoplay Invitational includes works that suggest (one with more subtlety than the other) that What’s on the Horizon is entirely up to you, the viewer. It’s a matter of choice. In the work above, my friend Nina once again used an x-acto knife as her primary tool. I’m taken by the idea that each door one might choose to open is a door that opens to a place defined by a color.

Would any of us knowingly choose to open a door that leads into a world of deep dark black?

If you’ve been following this blog, you might have guessed that the work above was created by our philosopher friend, John. In his brief email to me, John made a point to say that he created this work (and the last) by using press type.

Unlike typesetting-via-computer, those wonderful, virtually defunct sheets of press type require lots of time, as one must patiently transfer each individual letter onto the page, one-by-one. I’m not a fan of having to know (so that I might “get it”) the ins and outs of how an artist has created their work. But I agree with John that knowing he used press type does somehow deepen my experience of looking at his work, imagining those ideas, those words, those letters, individually pressed into place.

Do you agree that we are always looking out at the world through a filter of our own perceptions? If the power of a sunset or sunrise can’t transport us beyond our limited world view, then what possibly could? And in invoking the name of this blog, has John concluded that a sense of playfulness can transform What’s On the Horizon?

fotoplay: on the horizon 1

fotoplay: on the horizon 1

The first two pieces for the Fotoplay Invitational have arrived, and I have to say that I can’t imagine a more poetically perfect initiation for this new project. The “stained glass windows” above and below were created by two sisters from Maryland, who by now seem to have mastered their medium. The window above, created by 9-year-old Tara, features quite the expressive rainbow, and my goodness, Tara has added a door in the center. Now there’s a metaphor…

The next window was created by 5-year-old Lila. I love how the rainbow’s center fills the space like the setting (or rising) sun. In looking at these works, I couldn’t help but picture these girls, working side-by-side, focusing on same idea of a rainbow. I wonder who first voiced the idea out loud. Maybe there was an argument about who could make a rainbow. Or maybe the idea for the rainbow was spoken, but without ownership. I’m reminded of a rainbow-focused class that came about one afternoon in my ArtLab Studio at CMCA. One young artist did speak her rainbow-making intention out loud, and then all, literally all of the other children began making rainbows. But by the time the works were completed, the idea of a rainbow is really all that the was shared. Where we see the hand and the heart of the artist is in the miniscule details that distinguish the physical piece. Every decision that was made in the process of making the work is there in the final piece. Every tiny conscious or subconscious decision, solidified like a fossil. So that when we look at a work of art, when we really stop to take it in, we see these fossils, and we marvel at how much specific and unique information they hold…

As I wrote in an earlier post, the Fotoplay Invitational will include works by a small group of friends who created work for my December Fotoplay project. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next on the horizon…

invitational: on the horizon

invitational: on the horizon

When thinking about creating a new Fotoplay image for the Invitational, what I wanted, first and foremost, was an image that would pull a viewer deep into space. The image that soon thereafter came into my mind was essentially not much different from what you see above. Like a gazillion other artists and writers, I’m drawn to the sea, and have been photographing the water, the light on the water, and the singular world of the beach for a long time. Perhaps in the case of designing something for the Invitational, I was also inspired by my friend Chris Osborne’s work, and the notion of Awe…

While it took me quite a while to create the Fotoplay image that I posted above, the verbal prompt, What’s on the horizon?, may have taken even longer. I could have said What might be on the horizon?, but this would have been too conditional, too indefinite. I could also have said What do they see on the horizon?, but this would have placed a viewer too directly into the minds of the figures on the beach. I could have said What do you see on the horizon?, but this would have placed too much emphasis on the creator answering the prompt. The verbal prompt I decided to use, What’s on the horizon?, has everything I like in a Fotoplay prompt: it’s open, yet not too open; it requests a solution/resolution that has a point of view, but whose point of view is yet to be determined; it sounds nice when you say it aloud or in your mind. (This matters to me.) Finally, What’s on the horizon? is a phrase with another layer of meaning, perfect for the New Year.

Yesterday I sent this new image out to some of my friends who participated in the December Fotoplay project. Thanks to internet magic, I was able to send it via email to those who could print the image out from their own printer. Others were sent the print via snail mail. In any case, the Invitational has begun, and we are looking out to the horizon. Which horizon? Whose horizon? Stay tuned and we’ll see.

fotoplay : invitational

fotoplay : invitational

It is no longer December, and it is no longer the “holiday season.” As I wrote in an earlier post, I have been surprised, inspired, and sometimes bewildered by what has come to me in response to my December Fotoplay card. But all things must indeed come to some kind of an end, so I am going to break from posting about work related to this project, and any new work that is sent to me hereafter, I’ll post next December. After writing about yesterday’s collage of tears, this feels like the perfect moment to let the project go…

As with all creative processes, this experience has led me into realms both unexpected and mystifying. I’m reminded of a favorite quote by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
~ from “Letters to a Young Poet”

In the spirit of this quote, a new project has come to life: I have contacted some of the people who created December Fotoplay work, and invited them to create work in response to a new Fotoplay prompt, which I will mail out in a few days. I look forward to seeing what my friends will create next, and I also look forward to writing about a new collection of Fotoplay-inspired art.

december fotoplay: gallery 12

december fotoplay: gallery 12

The photograph of the work above arrived by email yesterday, along with the series of photographs that I posted below. I have a long, complicated history with my friend Aviva, which weaves in and out of many phases of my life. In her email to me she wrote: I created this painting/collage in memory of a teacher who had such an influence on me when I was in high school. Mr. Smith was my art teacher, his art room was my refuge, and he was my role model at a time when I really needed a role model. I recently found out that Mr. Smith died of cancer, and it seriously upset me. Through the years, I’ve thought about him so much. But I never told him. I never told him how his spirit shaped my life. I never told him how his curiosity about everything, was completely exciting to be around. I never told him that the way he responded to what I made in his class (with inquisitiveness and a sense of wonder) set the tone for the way I look at my own work and the work of my students. There’s a real feeling of pain that comes with not telling people about the impact of their presence in your life. There’s a strange sensation of energy that builds… I made this collage of tears to send out to sea, in honor of Mr. H. Edward Smith.

Just before dusk, I went to the shore, and placed it on the surface of the water.

The sea was moving very gently, rippling in small waves, in and out, in and out…

after some time, my collage of tears turned and moved beyond my reach

and headed out to sea…

december fotoplay: gallery 11

december fotoplay: gallery 11

Early this morning, on this first bright day of the New Year, I opened my inbox and found this jewel of a mandala. It was sent to me by Beverly, one of my students, along with this note: Happy New Year, Marcie. As you can see, I’ve sent you a mandala that I made from your card. I hope you are smiling. Do you know that I have been making a mandala nearly every day since your wonderful Shake Up Your Art class at CMCA? I’m sure you remember that when you introduced us to the idea of mandalas, and asked us to make one by cutting up our own paintings, I was not very happy. In fact, I left your workshop thinking that the mandalas were the weirdest and most frustrating part of the day. Well lo and behold, isn’t it ironic that the very next morning, I woke up in a sweat after the most vivid dream, where I was swimming in a big circle, swimming so fluidly, with such ease, around and around in a pool that was lined with the most beautiful mosaics, and in a daze, half awake, I went into the kitchen and started cutting up a magazine… I was making a pile of such wonderful shapes, in such bright colors, and I began moving these shapes around, arranging them on the table. And before I realized what I was doing, I had formed a mandala. I actually gasped. It was hypnotic, the process, and so calming. And what I made was so beautiful to me. Thank you again for the workshop. All the best to you in 2012. Beverly.

These last two images were sent to me by a photography friend, Chris, who I met in New York so many years ago, at the rented darkroom space we both used on 19th Street. Chris’s email to me was very brief: It’s a New Year, and I am placing two things at the center of my life: Awe and Abandon. It seems to me that all of my problems come from my either forgetting how Awesome it is to be alive, or my holding myself back from my real impulses, not allowing myself to jump into my life with Abandon.

I’d like to take a moment on this New Year’s Day to thank all of you who have created such imaginative work. Here’s to a truly Happy New Year, filled with Awe and Abandon…