August 13, 2011

The launch of Virtual Kindred

I have finally launched the Virtual Kindred website which comprises a number of different parts some public and some private. These include a virtual pilgrimage that Max and I built in collaboration; a series of private Ancestor pages that represent 5 generations; a (growing) body of  private 'Kinfolk' pages for present family members who want to collaborate on the project; and a number of public pages that explain the project and contain examples of and writings about my work and ideas.
I am most interested in comments and feedback, so please have a look around and let me know what you think.  To view the website, go here

February 28, 2011

More new(ish) works

I have just returned 'home' from a quick trip 'home'. And, in case the inflection is unclear, what appears an unusually clumsy sentence is, in fact, a clarification of my new way of perceiving the concept of belonging (and non-belonging) here and there. I am home - both in Australia and the USA - and this most recent trip has cemented (for me) that concept into fact.

For some reason I can't fathom, I have been forgetting to post new artworks to this blog - so here to begin are some beaded pieces completed in the last year or two.

Now the push is on - to finish my thesis/artworks in time for submission in August. Amazingly, it all seems to be coming together.

More Ancestor Dada

The Image
The Words

Ancient shape-shifters
haunt the cellar of my dreams
and whistle and irresistible ambition

These radiant shadows
approach from the borderline
to tell a tribal story
of starry-eyed adventure
and the perils of forgotten hope

These divine witnesses
prowl from beyond history
to awaken a terror of sumptuous thoughts

and weave their proud lessons
into my boundless banshee

July 30, 2010

It begins in earnest

I have begun a kind of countdown: one year from now on July 30, 2011, my doctoral exhibition will open, supposedly marking the end of a journey and an accumulation of knowledge. I say, supposedly, because I have come to realize that what defines my life - and more importantly - what defines my place of belonging is that the experience of each moment marks a point in a continuum that tells my ancestral story. That I am here is testament to that continuum and locates my story within a narrative that stretches back to the beginning of time. Mine is not an original insight, yet the profundity of it's impact on how I perceive myself to be connected and related - how I belong - is so great I can't help but wonder why it is something I have not always known, but had to learn.
     I have been on a search for belonging for as long as I can remember. For so much of my life I have envied Dorothy her ruby slippers. How wonderful it would be to click my heels three times and say "There's no place like home" then suddenly there I'd be - back safe and snug in my own bed - surrounded by the concerned and attentive faces of those who love me best. Inherent in that desire was always the sense that while this might not be the place I belonged, that place (or those folks amongst whom) I could settle into belonging existed somewhere else.  The problem was that I could never quite imagine where that place was. While some felt wonderfully compelling or familiar, no particular landscape drew me entirely in; while some memories offered the relief of a safe harbor, a part of me longed for the unknown and for the wanderer's life of freedom; while freedom offered the exhilaration of  adventure, part of me longed for the security of home and tribe. Much of what I yearned for seemed mutually exclusive. How can I belong here, if I am forever drawn to wandering there? How can I belong if no one place claims me, if no one clan claims me, if I cannot choose between this or that? There have been many times when  I have thought that a more apt title for my travels might be "A 21st Century Knucklehead's Search for the Improbable".
     And then it dawned on me - perhaps it was a slow dawning - that I might experience belonging just as I do states of grace, flushes of love, or the cyclical movement from happiness to sadness: that both connection and alienation, belonging and non-belonging are present in every moment. All it required was a shift in perspective: from one in which I experienced the world according to binary distinctions - the either/ors of here versus there, self versus other, belonging versus non-belonging - to one where the distinctions - if they exist at all - might coexist in the same moment. I began to recognize that my deepest sensation of belonging happened in the alert moments of presence I experienced while I was literally lost: when I had no idea of how here and there related to each other. It was from within this experience that I began to recognize that my place of belonging was defined by movement - rather than from place to place and moment to moment  but across places and through moments - and that those movements, not only write my own story, but weave themselves in and out of the stories of my ancestors, picking up threads of their longings for adventure, their drive to create and their love of words. At one point in this adventure I said that I felt as if I represented the pivot point between the past present and future. Yet this defines what we all are: the culmination of all the people and events that have converged to bring us here, lived though our own stories and continued through the legacies of offspring, philosophies and deeds we pass on. It makes every moment important if only to highlight the question posed by Drew Dillinger (Angels and Ancestors):
                  "What kind of ancestors are we?"
     There are still times when I experience moments of alienation, but they are quickly followed by the thought that even my experiences of alienation define how I belong within our collective ancestral story.
     These days I am more likely to say, "I am already home - here, now, as I am, in this moment".  It may not seem like much but to me it has made a world of difference.
    July 30th is the anniversary of my father's death. I chose it as the date of my exhibition opening as a way to honor him.

February 28, 2010

Mom would have been so proud

I'm not one to spend much time thinking about (or watching) anything to do with the Olympics but this spate of Winter Games brought something that would have thrilled my mother to the tips of her toes. None other than the Norwegian Men's Curling Team and those fabulous pants.

     My mother was inordinately proud of her Norwegian heritage. I say inordinately, because it was not based on any direct experience or connection - she never managed to travel to Norway, nor did she keep up a correspondence with any of her Norwegian family. Nonetheless, her Norwegian-ness was a source of deep pride and every now and then this would manifest in knickknacks, odd foods and bits and pieces she would bring into the house: yet another bit of Viking-style pewter, a set of Akavit glasses or a Norwegian-print tablecloth. Her sense of Norway had never encompassed the sport of curling, but if she were still living, it would now.

     My mother was one of the least athletic people I've ever known. She swam with her neck craned to keep her hair dry and well out of the water, she avoided most any activity that would have caused her to break a sweat. My father and I would arrive home from a game of tennis beet-red and sweaty and my mother would look at us like we were quite out of our minds. There were only two times that I know of when my mother felt inspired to take up a sport. The first was in High School when she joined the skeet shooting team (and  earned a Varsity letter for her efforts). 20 years later a new sport would flame her interest - curling. I suppose it should be said that we were living in Canada when she took up curling and did so because a group of her friends asked her to join their team, but at the time and for many years afterwards I thought of curling as the most ridiculous of sports; the sport of ice-bound housewives; 2nd only (in ridiculousness) to synchronised swimming. The height of absurd without any semblance of cool.

     That is, until the Norwegian Men's Curling Olympic Team hit Vancouver and captured the world's imagination with those fabulous pants. Over half a million people are signed on as fans of the pants (and incidentally the team that wore them) on Facebook (I'm one of them). Matches featuring the Norwegian team drew celebrity spectators - everyone from the King Harald of Norway, to Donald Sullivan and Pamela Anderson and tickets for curling finals were being scalped for $500+. Suddenly the sport on everyone's lisps was not ice dancing or aerial skiing, but curling and though the powerhouse Norwegian team didn't win the gold (they lost to the Canadian team in the final), they won silver and lifted their sport from embarrassed obscurity into proud and stylish prominence.
Mom would have been so proud.

* pants photo from
* medal photo from The Norwegian Olympic Curling Team's Pants Facebook page

October 4, 2009

A Call Into the Wilds (of Norway)

My friend Sharon sent me a link today... an invitation to participate in Norwegian sound sculpture that involves (simply) calling a telephone number and speaking your name, which is then projected (via loudspeaker) into the Norwegian countryside. I immediately felt driven, not only to say my own name, but also Magnus' - as another means, I guess, of reconnecting him to Norway.

The same could be said for Louise Tolstrup's parents Gustav Moller, and Emma Lorentzen...or any of the 1st generation of Tolstrups born in America and who never got to visit Norway - Louis, Ling, Emma and Doris Tolstrup ( especially Louis because he was supposed to go once when he was a child, but at the last minute it was decided that his older brother Paul would go instead). I think my mother would enjoy the trip, too.

So family, how about we all take a telephonic family holiday to Norway...and let's take the ancestors with us! If you are interested (or inspired as I am), just call the number below, say your name...and maybe the name of one of our Norwegian-blood ancestors - and let it be broadcast over the wilds of Norway.

And if you do participate, I'd love it if you'd post a message about it here - what you said, how it felt, which ancestors name you chose and why - whatever you like.

Here's the details:
Call +4790369389 to have your voice blasted into the luscious lands of Norway through September 20th, 2008
[Telemegaphone Dale is a 23-foot-tall wind-powered loudspeaker sculpture that picks up incoming calls and projects them into the nearby surroundings. This Telemegaphone is located on a mountain overlooking the village of Dalsfjord in Western Norway. When you dial the Telemegaphone’s phone number the sound of your voice is projected out across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale below.]

oops. my bad.

Just noticed that the final date for participation was Sept 20....2008

Deary me but I'm STILL inspired to do something similar as an aspect of my final dissertation. All along I've felt inclined to speak, sing or chant a 'song' to the ancestors. Lately, I've been thinking about recording family members as they speak their names and the names of ancestors to use as a part of the installation piece that will form the art component of my doctorate. I'll take this (missed opportunity) as a push in the sound direction, though I must say, I didn't need much of a push.

September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

Yesterday would have been Dad's 82nd birthday and he would have gotten a kick out of this one 9-09-09. He loved oddities of numbers - so, I know that we probably would have been hearing about how this birthday was all made of 0's and 9's. It's also entirely likely that Dad would have mentioned this wonderment numerous times over the entire year leading up to the event. I guess he figured that if it was interesting enough to say the first time, it was interesting enough to repeat. (Never one to waste a joke, he told the same ones over and over again - always making himself laugh - which, of course, made us laugh)

Based on his affection for repeated numbers, Dad even had a favorite time. He'd always say "Look Marge, it's 11:11!" and my parents would both sort of stand at attention until the time ticked over to 11:12. When my sister Suzi's 2nd daughter Wendy was born at 11:11, it took on a whole new, deepened and almost mystical significance. I once asked Dad why 11:11 was so important and he told me that it was the only time (On a 12 -hr clock) where all the numbers are the same - occurring only twice out of the 1440 possible minutes in a day. On a 24 hour clock, it was one of only 2 times where all of the numbers were the same (the other being 22:22), occurring only once out of the possible 1440 minutes in a day. All I know is that since Dad died, it's a time that has taken on special significance for me. Whenever I look at the clock and it reads 11:11, my parents come to mind and it feels almost like they're reaching out to me. It always makes me sit quietly and listen attentively until the minute passes.

But there have never been any clear messages.

I did have a dream about my mother once - about a year after she died. In the dream, I was sitting alone in a high mountain cave and my mother came to me. Mum was standing in the mouth of the cave, backlit by a very bright light and from where I was sitting - well back in the cave - I could barely make out her features. It was clear that she was urgently trying to tell me something essential, something of vital importance. I was straining to hear her, but the wind rushing past her drowned out her words and I woke feeling that something I desperately needed to know was just beyond my grasp. I still don't know what she was trying to tell me. She's never come back.

But back to Dad. My relationship to him was different. whatever we had to say to one another, we said while he was still alive. There's no sense of an urgent message I never got to hear, nothing unfinished so I can celebrate his birthday with a clear - if bittersweet - heart. My Dad was the one person who's ever made me feel safe in the world. I miss the feeling. I miss him.

Last night, I laid out a feast of his favorites: Whisky, sharp cheddar, sour pickles and olives, blueberries, caramels and black jelly beans. Everything was gone this morning except for the black jelly beans and the olives. I'd like to think they were eaten by the fairies, or a neighborhood cat...not the rats that live in the shed next door.

If Dad was here now, I'd ask him the numerical significance of a birthday of repeated 0's and 9's.
And I'd tell him I love him. And Thanks.