Created: 
03/27/13

So, I am not an NCECA virgin anymore.  What a great time! It was worth every penny, every minute I have come back with my brain ready to explode from everything I saw and heard, and,there was one over-arching personal theme to my experience. It was words: what are they for, how are they pertinent to me as an artist, are they even necessary?

For those of you who have never been to NCECA or any other conference involving artists, you cannot go to any presentation and escape words. This is, on many levels counter-intuitive. The keynote speaker, Janine Antoni, is a self proclaimed performance artist. She accompanied her speech with slides, in spite of which it  was still all about the words.  Janine is, to quote Wikipedia " a contemporary artist,who creates work in performance art, sculpture, and photography. Her works focus mostly on process and the transitions between the making and finished product. She often uses her whole body or different parts of it, such as her mouth, hair, eyelashes, and brain as tools and with them performs everyday activities to create her artwork." Whether or not she wants the performance to speak for itself, she cannot relate it to us without using words, many many words, some would argue not totally successfully. If art in the dark made you crazy when you were in school, this probably would have also. It was all about her, as I guess it should be, but I felt left out. I was not convinced that Janine herself actually understood what she was trying to tell us.

Following Janine was a performance by Bill Bowers, a professional mime and Broadway actor who performed a one man show about his life, from growing up gay in Montana to some of the outrageous jobs he has held, through acting in "The Lion King" and studying with Marcel Morceau. He incorporates mime, enhancing our experience by interjecting the visual image into his words, and he himself is the image. He drew me in and held  me rapt for the full 75 minutes. It was balance perfected. It was words, it was not words, it was performance, it was art.

I went to extended presentations by Walter McConnel and Getir Grimm, both of whom are sculptors accomplished in their field. Neither of them "need" words to accompany what they do. Both are worth exploring.  And both used the spoken word gracefully to explain and expand upon what he/she was doing. The presentations was three hours long on Thursday, followed by three more on Friday. They were six hours well spent.

Walter's work is an event. He creates sculptures, mini- environents of moist clay, sometimes 2,000 pounds worth, that he encases in a clear plastic enclosure. To quote Walter himself "Moisture, drawn from the clay like a slow fountain, falls in rivulets down the inside surface of the plastic sheeting. The interiors give off an ethereal, diffuse glow. They appear apparitional, suggesting artificially sustained worlds moored to this one only temporarily." His naration was a wonderful melange of experience, aesthetics, and tutorial. While I would never go so far as to suggest that I could duplicate his work, his generosity of intellect and instruction gave me great insight into what it is he does. The words worked, the six hours flew by. Again a terrific balance between word and image. 

Gerit could not have been more different than Walter, but she is equally as successful as a presenter. Walter teaches at Alfred, and Gerit had been his student and assistant while studying there. The two shared the stage, achieving a wonderful rhythm, taking turns talking, both working on his/her piece throughout the time allotted. As much as Walter is philosopher and intellectual, Gerit is focused and methodical as she goes about creating. She was hilarious, whether relating her personal experiences growing up in East Germany, her life here in America, or explaining her process,describing both her successes and failures. Gerit talked a lot about her concerns with the actual structure of her work, shared many of her techniques, and explained much  of what she would not have time to include.

Both artists were open to answering any questions from the audience, and did so lucidly, in an organized fashion that enhanced their presentation.

So, my point? I have, finally,to  admit that words do matter, even to a visual artist. Otherwise, how can you teach, and teaching and learning was what NCECA was all about, and I guess, actually, what I am all about too. I guess I need to live peacefully with them. Words, that is.

PS- Photocredit for this entry goes to my new (and I know) great friend Cat Traen.