Thursday, February 27, 2014

Filling the Dance Cards

The proper formalities have been exchanged and the raining Slug Queen will give the benediction at our Jell-O Art Show. We do this all by Facebook now instead of sending our well-dressed pages and squires and jesters, in those carriages we had to give up for lack of sufficient horsefeed. This was our recent epistolary fast-fiction (it does not seem that epistolary is commonly used as a noun, though it should be):

Esteemed Colleague,
Please consider this your official invitation to appear at the ever-loveable Jell-O Art Show on March 29, 2014. If, at around 7:00 pm, you could favor the gathered crowds and the art with your benediction, we would so appreciate it.

Thanking you in advance for the great honor of your company, I remain,
Queen McWho
Queen of Jell-O Art

Your radiance.
I will be there in all my finery.

The Right Royal Gastropod,
Siren of Science,
Truly Mad Genius,
Queen Professor Doctor Mildred Slugwak Dresselhaus

I do like being recognized as radiant. The Truly Mad Genius Queen Professor Doctor Mildred Slugwak Dresselhaus will be very busy this month (she always seems to be concocting something spicy) as she is holding her Gala on March 15. Find it here on Facebook. There will be a pie contest! They will be auctioned off, so some might presumably be eaten. Of course this is a benefit and not just a ploy for her to buy more lime green accessories, so be generous with your support. By the way, you can always bring pie to the Tacky Food Buffet, and it is not required to include Jell-O as an ingredient (in fact, feel free to use actual food in your pie.)

And because I can, I will also plug the Babes With Axes Reunion concert which will be at the WOW Hall next weekend, March 8, and it will be another one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances as so many events are these days. Not many choices there, go or miss it. I made the t-shirts, so buy one while you are at it.

Save a few bucks for the Jell-O Show shirt, too, which will only be available at the Jell-O Show. It will be a cute one. I will give you an important insider hint about the show we are writing: this will be Jell-O Celebrity Jeopardy. Don't try to guess. You may know we have included portrayals of such important figures as Paula Deen and Sarah Palin in the past, so we could include anyone by the time we are finished.

5:44pm Feb 25

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Behind the Scenes

This will be my second year working on the show behind the Jell-O Art Show, and it has me excited. It jiggles parts of my creativity that aren't always in play. I love to write, and have a sharp sense of humor for double-entendre, puns, and satire, not that my jokes don't fall flat a good part of the time. Writing the script is a hoot. We do it in a group, with a few of us recording the ideas and putting them in sort of an order, which is refined every time we meet. At this point in the process we meet at least weekly, probably twice, and we do email exchanges as well. It's terrifically entertaining.

Brainstorms with creative people are so surprising. It's not easy to be a person whose divergent ideas hop all over the intellectual map, but when you get a lot of us in a room together, what is "normal" changes and the atmosphere opens up. There's such a fine line connecting creativity with wackiness, and being able to bring your wackiness to the table makes it all so much fun. I'm having a blast.

The Radar Angels use costuming a lot to express the wackiness, which is what makes the act so perfect for Oregon Country Fair, another venue where the Jell-O songs go when they are not being used for Jell-O Shows. I've never performed with them there, since I have a booth and last year had a wedding and a booth, but here is a clip of what it can look like: . I'm actually thinking of taking quick breaks from my booth to appear with the Radars this year, just dropping in for a song or two within my retail madness. We'll see about that. I used up a lot of my booth capital last year during the wedding activities, so I need to be more focused this year. That's not until July, though.

Such a huge group! We don't have quite as many for Jell-O, and that's good, because the stage is not that large. Many of the songs, however, serve for both events. We will also be performing at a benefit for LILA on March 21, at Cozmic. That's a week before the Jell-O Show, so some of it will be a sneak preview.
I myself, as a performing newbie, am pretty intimidated by the bigger public stage, but planning to work up to it. Quickly.

I am practicing my songs at home and having a blast thinking about my character(s) and how they might perform. I can tell you that the theme is Jell-O Jeopardy, so will of course include elements of the game show, which I watch every day so will easily be able to write in the little details that matter. I can also tell you that since this is Jell-O Jeopardy, the similarities will quickly diverge.

Our crowds don't hold us to anything, though, in fact, I think the Jell-O Show more than anything else celebrates divergence. It is all about revolutionary social change, from within, starting with the most mundane life activities, such as eating. I have been a Jell-O Artist from the first show in 1988. I admit I was not there when the idea generated, but knowing the generators, I always assumed it came from radical feminist politics. I don't think that was just me. We had to step out of our kitchens and kick down the last artistic barriers for women and bring all of our sisters and mothers and daughters along with us. Okay, men and boys can come, and probably need it even more than we did, but I grew up in the 1950's, when liberation of women was just gaining a little traction after millenia of trying. I saw how deadened we were supposed to be, how good. (Does it matter that I was also raised Catholic? Yes, very much so. But that is a big subject we can't get to here. You will notice it on the Tacky Food Buffet, and the pagan scheduling of April Fools/Easter/Spring.)

So there has always been an educational piece, a liberation, and a mentorship and empowerment for others. It has never just been putting on costumes and flouncing around in public. That is just one of the benefits. The shows are actually carefully written and constructed to apply a wacky finish to real social issues and real, cosmic change. There has always been an element of bringing out the angel and princess and queen in each other, and anyone who happens into our circles. We want you all to get your wings and fly higher than you dreamed.

Life is participatory, although it is difficult to engage people from these selfish, protected environments most of us construct for our personal comfort and safety. Jell-O Art as a vehicle for liberation has some essential qualities that just make it natural. It's so gorgeous and mystical as a substance, so jewel-like and perfect. The transparency and jiggle are qualities that just beg to be used. It matters some that it is both a simple and an uncooperative art material to work with. It can be a real artistic challenge to make a statement with Jell-O, but of course, in our world it matters not if you make a statement. You don't have to. You can just play with it.

Elevating it on a pedestal and calling it art is also quite revolutionary. Even after 26 years it is seldom taken seriously, or at least a tongue is planted in a cheek when the art is viewed. I personally have always fought against evaluation of the art, erecting a critical structure like other types of art, because I feel so strongly that making that level of good or bad Jell-O Art will just drive people away and miss the point completely.

I do plenty of internal evaluation of my Jell-O, and take it very seriously in terms of challenging myself with technique and execution and meaning, but I don't want any of that coming from the outside world. I don't want there to be any rejection in the world of Jell-O Art. It creeps in, of course, and some comes with my ego attached, but I really try hard to stomp on those impulses and prideful thoughts that separate artists and cause them to compete. Life is hard enough. Art should be easy to enter, easy to explore, easy to grasp from whatever place you are in, and ought to stick with you and make you think and expand your own life.

Other arts can be otherwise, but Jell-O Art is in its own category. This is an outsider category and the rules are continually discarded if possible. There are no rules. Express!

So if you do get a chance to participate in the show, I want you to know that there is a deep history and political perspective behind your fun. This is important to me, as I look at my life and see my Jell-O Art as my premier life expression. It is the place I have been able to take my inner artist and really give her the full stretch of her wings. Sure, I can make any t-shirt or tote bag or hat that I want, and I am free in so many ways in my life and my work, but Jell-O is my essence.

When I was crowned in 2012, in the surprise "Queen for a Day" skit the Angels had planned for a year, my eyes were opened to a whole new realm of the show I had sort of ignored. This reveals how fear works in the art world...I had always thought of myself as someone with stage fright, who could never perform in a public setting. I don't quite know where that came from...a lack of imagination perhaps, because I don't remember a traumatic incident or anything. I just had that sense that even though I could sing and dance well enough, I would clutch on stage and croak voicelessly to my humiliation. I was aware of the fear and kind of wanted to shed it. One time I won a prize at a Babes with Axes show and confessed that I had always wanted to be on stage with the Babes, so yay, but I never pushed to get there.

You know how those inner messages persist. Fortunately for me, Indi and the other Angels also persist, and when they got me up on stage in 2012, and I sang along with them, and babbled an acceptance speech, and cried in front of strangers and felt that pure joy, I got over myself a little. In 2013 I joined the writers and performers and they propped me up enough that I sang a song, into a mic, and I guess it sounded okay. I didn't get to see a video, and maybe I sounded awful and no one will tell me, but I'm guessing my fears are speaking there again and I was just fine. At any rate, it was such a rush! I was over the top with excitement, which was of course disturbing in its own way, but I certainly survived, didn't croak (conveniently I was in a frog costume, so it wouldn't have mattered), and had a blast.

At the same time I was singing a bit on Saturdays with the also persistent and empowering Rich, (the two of us visible at the very end of this eclectic clip advertising the uncontrollable and amazing,  SM You-Tube,) so over the last two years I have relaxed and gained a little confidence about participating in music, just as I did over the last 26 about participating in art. That is the way the arts are supposed to work, at their best.

I'm almost sixty-four years old, and despite never taking a real art class except for a month-long calligraphy class in the seventies in NYC, I have based my entire life on artistic expression. This is powerfully profound to me. I didn't sign up to get the credentials, the student debt, the critical permissions: I have always been an outsider. That was the hippie way and it worked for me. The qualification for all that is that there will not necessarily be money attached, but one of the tenets of the hippie way was that we don't put money at the top of our personal hierarchies. That particular type of power comes with so many complicated compromises.

Of course poverty is limiting in a profound way, so compromises have been made, but out of those came Saturday Market, LCFM, and OCF, and they were fruitful and important compromises to make. They have benefited millions of people. And although the Radar Angels don't make a lot of money when they perform, they do get paid and are therefore professional. I admit I have made money from Jell-O Art, not much, but I sell the shirts every year and at least break even most years. Part of the reason money is attached to parts of our expression is just for survival. Those glittery costumes are not always free (though I will always look in a free box just in case...I have a sewing machine.)

So to get to a point, I invite you to try a level of participation in the Jell-O Art Show, for whatever reason appeals to you. I discovered the "flow state" of deep artistic immersion when working on Jell-O, discovered my creative process, and declared myself as an Artist, but for you it just might be a little bit of fun in the kitchen outside your usual activities. It's a personal walk through the art world, so do it at your own pace.

I urge you to do it, though. Within the Jell-O frame or not, if there is something holding you back from true expression of your desires, your delights, your passions for change, even your political stands, I urge you to kick out the jams and add some jiggle. Try it. This is your perfect opportunity, and your Queen demands wishes for you only the best, the richest artistic life you can live. You have nothing to lose but your clean kitchen.

Jell-O can eventually be scraped off your floor and dug out of your carpet. You can throw it in the compost and walk away if you feel the tinge of failure, or take it to the show, put it on a pedestal, give it a title and see what happens. One angel's garbage is another angel's lift. We all want to sit on a cloud. Let me lend you a little puff of hot air.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What to say about Jell-O?

February is more than half over and nothing is as far along as I thought it would be by now. Maybe there is plenty of time; probably there is just the right amount of time as the art will expand to fit the time. I am definitely feeling the pressure, though.

I've made a few more pieces for my heron, but haven't really gotten into it in that way I love to immerse. Every weekend I expect to, so maybe the next one. I did get the idea that maybe peacock feathers would make good bird eyes, so I encased a couple of them in clear gelatin. Oddly, one lost all of its color. Oops, Science. The colors on feathers are a quality of light and reflection...and the gelatin spoils that. I assume that one has gelatin that is too thick, because the other one worked okay, and the gelatin seems thinner.

I also learned that I can reduce the foam that forms in the jar if I remelt the gelatin twice, for short times, just enough to melt it but not enough to get it boiling. It settles down and relaxes and there isn't as much to throw away. Just a tiny point of interesting data collected by doing something over and over again. I'll probably quickly forget that I learned that and continue just skimming off the foam.

The Jell-O Show performers are well on their ways to having a show. Just today the narrative came together into something more or less coherent, and soon we will write the jokes and learn the songs. I wish I could tell you about it. I told a few things to my Mom and got her laughing. It sounds pretty crazy out of context.

You might remember more shows than I do. Most of the time I failed to get up front to actually see and hear the show and busied myself with selling t-shirts in the back room and missed the fun, or most of it at least. Add to that a pretty poor memory for performance and such, and that sent me on a You-tube search for Radar Angels and Jell-O Art Show videos. There are a few, some snippets and some pretty long clips. Not nearly enough of them.
I love this one: It really has it all. Even great harmony!

I'm so new to the show production that I'm still in awe of how it seems to magically go together. Really, of course, it is a step-by-step bunch of work done by a few people, or in some shows a lot of people, and the mystery is that they can keep doing it so wonderfully year after year.

And yeah, t-shirts. I have to make some. I'm getting an idea or two...we'll soon see! Just about a month and a week to go. Aargh. No wonder I can't sleep.