A Personal Matter of Some Account

Michelle Saffran
Spring 2019 Edition

March Madness

Sports references aside, my dear friend, painter and poet Kate Fetherston and I had a month long self-described residency in March at Studio Place Arts in Barre.  We sublet space for the month and set upon the opportunity with energy and an excited focus.  There was something strongly motivating about having a limited amount of time, one month, to work.  Starting out I had no idea how I was going to use the time but knew this was the perfect opportunity to put my mark on three panels of old wallpaper I had found at Restore.  They were too large to hang in my regular studio but fit perfectly on the SPA studio wall.

The wallpaper sheets measured 36" x 72" and, judging from the paint on their back sides, (a hue of institutional mint green) had hung on someone's walls a long time ago.  I spent almost the entire first day sitting and looking at the panels.  

I ruminated on the words of W. J. T. Mitchell, specifically the ideas in his book "what do pictures want?  The Lives and Loves of Images."   Mitchell puts forth, "The question to ask of pictures from the standpoint of a poetics (images) is not just what they mean or do but what they want - what claim they make upon us, and how we are to respond.  Obviously, this question also requires us to ask what it is what we want from pictures." 
Mitchell's well researched examples support a compelling argument that a field of mutual desire exists between image and viewer.  Just as we ask something of images (pleasure, comfort, validation), they ask something of us.  This way of looking and thinking has had a big impact on my practice.

I  approached the panels with my mental rolodex of ideas but the one that engaged me most was that the empty landscapes needed people. These wallpaper panels came from someone's home, speaking to a human need to live with nature and perhaps feel peace from its presences in our lives.  It didn't matter that the nature depicted was a monochromatic silk screen, a highly stylized version of a mountain and river scene.  What mattered was that this mass produced image was something people chose to bring into their homes and live with everyday.  People admire and choose to live with many different forms of landscape art, from the impressionistic to the abstract to the realistic.  Landscapes connect us to the natural world and remind us of our place in that world.  Perhaps they remind us of an escape to a less stressful existence.  I suspect that the more out of control we feel the more a landscape satisfies.    

Shown above: "Dispersed in Time, Absorbed by Place"  found wallpaper and black and white photographs.  Panels 1 & 3:  36" x 59",  panel 2:  38" x 38", 2019

Scenes from the SPA residency, Kate and I with visitor Jay Saffran.
Upcoming and Current Exhbitions:

"He Wasn't A Tall Man" color photographs 42" x 38", 2019
The Front Show 32
opening Friday May 3, 4 - 8 pm

"He Wasn't A Tall Man"  is one of the other pieces I finished last month while at SPA. 

It will show at The Front Gallery Show 32 in Montpelier  (April 27 - June 16).  I have been thinking and rethinking how to access and represent my personal history as a child from an auto worker family growing up in Detroit. 

For a long time I have wanted to make work referencing my family history through the lens of Detroit but couldn't find an entry point that wasn't cliched or superficial.  This is the first work representing my experience growing up as a blue collar union daughter.
 Prabin October 3, 2017
A New American Family
B & G Gallery, Rutland
Now until May 4

The largest group exhibited to date of photographs, text and supporting materials from the New American Family project may now be seen at the B & G Gallery, 71 - 75 Merchants Row in Rutland. 

You wouldn't guess by the scope of the show that my collaborator David French and I pulled it together quickly, in about a month's time, after being invited by Bill Ramage to show the series.  The gallery is open daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm and the show will run until May 4.  For more information:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1993404660963970/

The show was very well received in Rutland and there were many visitors that told us stories about their own experiences of welcoming refugees into their community. 


Listen to the interview between the Rich Alcott of the Rutland Herald and David and I at SoundCloud  https://soundcloud.com/user-314146924/new-american-family-002.

There was also a story published in both the Rutland Herald and Times Argus Weekend Arts Section (Saturday April 20), written by Janelle Faignant.  Link here.

While in Rutland take a walk down the block to the 77 Gallery and see the great "acre of art" show, “70+: GERO-TRANSCENDENCE”.  The show claims to be "Rutland's largest exhibit ever."  Regardless of its size this is an amazing collection of great art and a reminder not to discount those artists who are in their seventh decade of life.  

Scenes from the April 6 opening.  A special thank you to Tina and Dick Valentinetti who made the trip to Rutland from Moretown.
Other News

Art Walk
Sunday May 5, 1 - 4 pm
Johnson Studio Center

At the end of April, I will pack up my studio and move to the Studio Center in Johnson as part of the Vermont Artist Week Residency.  The annual event is a week-long immersion with over 50 Vermont artists of all disciplines. 

Every artist I know who has participated before raves about the experience.  I am approaching the week with a bit of anxiety, all my comforts and touchstones of home will be absent, but I am also excited.  The time is a gift of complete focus on creating.

Call, text or email me if you can stop by.  I would love the company!  All the artists in residence will open their studios for an art walk on the last day of the residency - Sunday May 5,  1:00 - 4:00 pm.  Info:  https://www.facebook.com/events/956428121226517/

Ghosts on the Dry Winds Past  color photograph collage 6 feet x 7 feet 2018

Good Reads

Infinity Net
The Autobiography of
Yayoi Kusama

This is not a new book.  First written by Kusama in 2002 and translated into English a decade later, Infinity Net, is a story of determination, passion and ego. I have seen Kusama's work in several places, most recently one of her phallus covered couches at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth.  If you aren't familiar with her art, here is a good summary: Understanding Yayoi Kusama

My interest in this book was to learn who Kusama is and how her life and mental health influenced her work.  There are many pages on her personal relationships with famous artists and art world icons, such as Joseph Cornell, but they were not as interesting to me as the first chapters.  I was hooked when I read, "My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots - an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net.  How deep was the mystery?"

I will be teaching a two week intensive digital media class this summer at St. Michael's College.    Spread the word to those you may think will be interested.  It is geared towards classroom teachers but has merit for anyone interested in exploring digital photography and Photoshop.  Thank you to the  college for this poster to share. 
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Howes Road, Moretown, VT 05660

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Michelle Saffran Photography · 30 Howes Road · Moretown, VT 05660 · USA

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