Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jell-O Studio

The studio is open.I resisted but now my kitchen and living room are committed.

Pretty simple. I use the formula of 6 dry ounces of gelatin in two cups of cold water. Let it bloom for ten to fifteen minutes and then melt it in the microwave (mine takes about 3 minutes, but go slowly as you do not want it to boil.) Skim off the foam, pour into smaller jars, add dye, spread thin and let dry.  If you are going for jiggle and not making the dried gelatin I like so much, you will not need to concentrate it so thick. The regular Knox packets are something like a quarter ounce each and seem to get smaller every time I buy them. Buying in bulk is definitely the way to go if you want to really explore the medium, but if you are just wanting to play with the actual Jell-O brand, just follow the Jigglers recipe, maybe making it a bit stiffer if you don't want to refrigerate it. I've found you can get it so you can pry it out of the molds without breaking, but it's a bit chewy if you plan to serve it. These instructions are just for the dried kind.

Every eight to twelve hours flip it over or form it into whatever pieces you are planning to use. It will stretch, fold, and do any number of magical things if you want it to, and sometimes if you don't. I have a set of dishes I reserve for non-food use, as the really dry gelatin is incredibly tough and has taken chips and shards right out of the Pyrex, making it dangerous to eat out of.

If it gets too dry, get it wet and wait a minute or two, then it will become flexible and can be manipulated like paper to make flowers or whatever you envision. You can remelt it many times, as well.

It can get moldy, so dry it as quickly as you can in a warm location such as atop the furniture in a heated room. Glue pieces together with molten gelatin.

Photographs really don't show the shapes and nuances of the floral pieces but they always look very beautiful as you turn them and view them from different angles, as the light plays through the colors and combinations.

Certainly you can make more things than flowers. I may make a bird series this year if I can get myself to stop rolling roses and lilies. I may never get tired of making magical botanicals, but have made life-size birds and many other items, including a couple of pairs of wearable wings and lots and lots of fascinators. Store it in a container if you don't want to dust it all the time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jell-O Waves

Yes! We have a title and theme for the 2016 Jell-O Art Show. It took us two brainstorms to get there, with a lot of discarded ideas which had their great aspects. The synergy of putting ten to twenty creative people in a room and telling them to open their minds is stunning to experience. I was trying to take notes and I could not follow the bursts of laughter, the outrageous images being described, and the wild synapses that crackled
as we all tried to connect Jell-O Art with what is trendy, what is funny, and what will foster a good art show and performance.

Jell-O Art is unique in the balance between the serious and the ridiculous. When you take such an awkward medium and try to shape it and express a concept with it, you depend on happy accidents and discover what you love about it as you go. The transparency and color is obviously what attracts me, with the way the colors can work together and create new ones in a shifting display from every angle. The performance is kind of like happens and envelops spontaneity with careful planning and a desired outcome, but unknown results. Any joke can fall flat or be rendered not funny by April. Using the militia (Jellitia) and the birders fell right off the list this week and it's unlikely that we will land on anything political, especially locally, for the same reason. It would be a shame to polish a skit and learn music and moves to have it be really in bad taste on April 2nd. So the show theme has to be broad in scope in the beginning, and gradually narrow as we all choose our parts and refine our characters and actors' business.

Any sculpture can slide off the plate and become a mess on the way over the railroad tracks to MKAC. It felt almost like cheating when I settled into the dried gelatin because it is so much more stable and long-lasting, but after so many years I've gotten over that. I've been able to do so many more things with it that I don't really miss the jiggle. And as an old angel, I've gotten over the need for glamour and prefer the intellectual aspects of the performance. Not that I am a seasoned performer. Even though I am a Radar Angel and Jell-O Artist from the beginning, I only really started being part of that wing of the Angels in 2013, so I am still a newbie and somewhat in awe of the process. But I do want the jokes to be clever so I try to keep stimulating everyone to think of silly things, which they all seem quite good at and did for years without me. Okay, really I just try to keep up.

It's truly collaborative and run by consensus and that helps. Everybody gets to choose their characters, costumes, write their own lines, and find their own way to fit into the mix. That can be hard, but if you can tolerate the chaotic part in the middle, that kind of divergent thinking can certainly converge into something wonderfully together. You may not agree from the viewpoint of an audience member. You can go to the Radar Angels Facebook page and view the video of last year's performance to see for yourself what was successful and what was not. Like the page while you're there, please. Keep in mind that most of us are enthusiastic amateurs and it's rare that we have professional talent, though we generally do have some. Everyone has their strengths and as an ensemble it is both supportive and challenging. I wauv it so much.

So we settled on Waves with a list of possible interpretations and thought it would be conducive to lots of possible sculpture ideas, from the obvious water ones, through tsunamis to ripples, and of course waves travel through sound and air and other areas of science. Sine waves, ultraviolet waves, standing waves, and so on will work, not to forget permanent waves and 40's Navy women. If you want something really amusing, go read urban dictionary and see what else is in the culture. There's plenty to draw from. I have a lot of faith in the Jell-O Artists who continually delight me with the myriad ways they can bring fresh ideas and techniques each year. I know we will get some great pieces and you will want to come and see them as well.

As for the performance, for it to be the maximum fun it has to stay secret. If you read previous blogs you know I can't help giving hints and I will no doubt reward you with that this year in some form. I will tell you now that because we have the present Slug Queen, Markalo Parkalo, Your Queen and Mine, in our group, he will be appearing in lots of ways and you will want to see them for yourself. I don't feel that my position as Queen of Jell-O Art is threatened by this in any way, in fact, I am still taking lessons on Queenliness so hope to gain some skills, even if just in waving practice. You never know when you will be asked to appear in a parade (it could happen) so I need to make sure my wrists are flexible enough and my fascinators are dusted.

So you can start thinking now about your piece. I am going to order more gelatin as I'm on my last four pound bag. I'm not inspired yet, having been doing a lot of meeting stuff and thinking about really dry and political and academic topics, but this weekend I plan to sweep the papers off the table and get some pie plates filled with color. I don't really need to have a concept at this early stage. Just starting to play will stimulate me to think that way, to step into the flow and let it carry me. I'ma gonna wave, and if it doesn't feel like a wavegasm yet, I'll just wave it off as a Wavavirus and catch the next one. Surf's up!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jell-O Art Doings

Piece I donated to the permanent collection
I've gotten over my bitterness about Eugene developments and no longer want to lance anyone in the show, which is good because we will definitely not have those emotions in those short three hours, which are all about colorful fun and sweet indulgences. The Radar Angels met for the first brainstorm session and got very close to deciding the theme and rough outline for the performance part. You'll hear it here as soon as we actually agree on something.

The trick with the theme is to choose a word or phrase broad enough to inspire lots of interpretations in Jell-O Art, but also something cute and funny and memorable and pronounceable and also something that hasn't been used before. We got some great ideas and lots of fairly good ones, and as always a few we will not choose in any year most likely. (cough cough Fifty Shades of Jell-O) There are some things that won't be funny, like Bill Cosby. Fortunately he was included in an earlier performance, back when he was still loveable, so we can ignore him now. Nobody ate pudding pops anyway.

Kesey may or may not appear. He's in the news now and in fact today's paper showed a giant mural of him as part of a projected development on what is called Kesey Plaza, which made me laugh. To those who met him and know Pranksters, he was not quite the hero that outsiders think. He's respected, but we have stories...I'd love to tell them and will someday, but the Jell-O Show is not the place for it. That battle for the space is heating up and will be fought politely at the City Council but while I oppose the development, I'm not at all sure it isn't already a done deal. Another blog in another place, though. It would still be fun to have him appear in some form and we might just do that.

I did start making Jell-O and thinking about my piece and writing down crazy ideas in preparation. I've resisted going full-on which means taking over the livingroom with art, but it will happen soon. Reminds me my sewing machine needs a tune-up too. We're having a little harmony workshop today to elevate our singing skills and learn a little about singing in a group. It's a challenge sometimes to find angels who can sing, dance, dress up, and still do art as well. I'll keep leaning on these new people to try making some Jell-O. To me it can't be separated from acting in the show...but then again, I've been making the Jell-O far longer than participating in the performance.
Prop from 2015's performance

So quickly, in case you are new to Jell-O Art, it's a three hour show, April 2, from 5-8 pm. Entering is simple, you bring your piece to MKAC earlier that day and pay a couple of bucks to register it. You put it on a pedestal, give it a title, and then hope someone takes your picture standing next to it to put in some obscure blog or newspaper article. You try to have as much fun as possible stretching your art wings while doing something silly in a serious way. I suppose you don't have to be serious at all, but the medium is a little demanding so you could probably use some pointers. I will be writing here with lots of details of my art as I go, although the performance is more-or-less secret so I'll just be giving tantalizing hints about that.

I work primarily in dried gelatin, but even if you make the jiggly kind there are a couple of things that will make your explorations easier. I just use pure gelatin, like the Knox kind although I buy it in bulk. It's not cheap but way less expensive than the boxes. If you mix it strong, with less water, it will be more firm and won't need to be refrigerated to keep its shape. Mix it in cold water first, let it bloom for at least ten minutes, and then melt it either in the microwave or on the stove top. If you mix it in hot water you get lumps which you will have to remove, and it's much harder work. That took me at least fifteen years to discover, even though that is how the package tells you to do it. I thought that was to dissolve the sugar, and I don't use any, but it's to let the gelatin absorb water, which it does slowly at first. So, start with cold.
Great piece from 2015 by Kari Berg

I use pyrex and canning jars as a burst jar is dangerous and extremely messy. Hot gelatin sticks to everything and in fact that is the glue I use to put my components together. I use dye that I have from dyeing projects but you can use many things to color your Jell-O. If you like the traditional colors you can still use part prepared Jell-O if you want. It's hard to duplicate some of those colors, like the Berry Blue, and sometimes those are important to your piece. The four little bottles of food coloring are cute but mostly a waste of your money if you plan anything substantial. I still use them sometimes but if you aren't going to eat it you don't need to use food coloring. Cake decorating and candy making supplies have lots of Jell-O Art uses, and plastic molds are the easiest way to go for shapes. You can use any kind of thing for molds but sometimes the gelatin sticks. I've heard of using vegetable oil as a release but if you make the stuff thick enough it is like rubber and you can pry it out of the mold if you do it carefully. Sometimes you will have to remelt it and start over, so be prepared to operate within the limits of the medium.

Over the years people have tried a huge number of techniques and you'd be surprised what has appeared. Every show is different and I am usually pleasantly surprised. A good theme will provide so much latitude that artists think of references that speak to them and of course it is always the case that you don't have to work to the theme at all. Many don't, especially artists like David Gibbs who do it all year round. Do what is fun. That is the first rule, that you have to amuse yourself.
David Gibbs will be entering for his 20th year

And don't forget to think about the Tacky Food Buffet. If you do like to eat it, or other related food-like substances like Cheez-Whiz and Kool-Whip, and Spam, they can be served on the Buffet table to delight everyone. There is seldom anything left over although real food appears rarely and is quickly eaten unless it is far too weird. In today's foodie world some of what we thought weird doesn't seem so now. Chocolate-covered Brussels sprouts are a good example of this...tasted fine. The sushi made with gelatin inside was pretty edible and not that far-fetched. The Buffet is a real crowd-pleaser and the kids go wild with all those things their parents cringe and try to limit consumption of. Feel free to bring your favorite junk food if you don't have a clean enough kitchen to risk preparing anything. It all has to be legally edible.

You can message me on  Facebook with your questions, and put any of your ideas there on my page too if you like. I created the Gelatinaceae page for my Jell-O Art although it is also my business page so there will be other stuff there as well.

I just created an event page on Facebook as well. If you can't post things there send them to me and I will make sure they get posted. You can still find previous events if you search and there are often many photos and interesting side articles about the art and science of our most beloved medium. Okay, like feelings about the icon Bill Cosby, we have mixed feelings about the "beloved" part, but we couldn't do it without the Jell-O product, even though kids in Eugene have never heard of it in the same sentence as food. That's okay! We don't need heroes, and we don't need purity. Everything goes in the world of Jell-O Art, everything fun and quirky and silly and colorful and shiny and resplendent and glorious, that is. No hating or trumpery allowed. Save the date!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Getting Close to Theme Time

I was a little over-excited when I wrote the last post. I stay in my bubble too much and when I go out and see people doing big things that scare me, I get far too anxious and forget the big picture. No one is ever out to get me and in fact has barely noticed me, so it's really not about me, those big things. I can have a little voice. Mostly I just need to find ways to work around the big things and use them as fuel for my art and passions, which is kind of what I was doing.

The Radar Angels are meeting next week to talk theme and get started on planning the performance. It's my job as Queen to remind them that it is first the Jell-O Art Show, which is central to the event and can't be overlooked as we get so excited about the performance. We tend to veer wildly off any set course as we develop the show, so I have to expect some chaos and not get too flustered by it. 

But getting together with a bunch of creative people is very juicy. I expect to laugh a lot and that very few of my ideas will go anywhere...but there will be plenty more opportunities to have more ideas. 

My fantasies have been all over the place about what will be current enough in April to still be funny, but won't be settled and out of mind by then. The developments downtown will really need to be a part of it somehow, but one thing we really try to do is find the good and beautiful in what we satirize, so it might be tricky. I have a fantasy about asking our Mayor Kitty to play herself (or someone else even) in our show. When she gave the Angels our award on the 4th of July, I completely missed the chance to get her to wear Jell-O, which I think she might enjoy. 

Obviously the 4th of July. Mayor on the right.
I was thinking of having our characters be Eugene stereotypes so we could tell some broad Eugene story without lampooning actual people. There are plenty of candidates for such stereotypes from the travelers to the millenials to the developers but above all we must be kind, so I was thinking that they might all say the same thing in different words. Really it does all boil down to "I love Eugene, and this is the way I love it." Everybody sees the nouns in a little different light, and works the verbs in sometimes wildly different actions. So this might be a solid base to start from. But I am really just exercising my own exploratory thinking here as in the three years I have been involved in working on the performance, I have been surprised at just about every meeting at how many and how creatively the ideas flow. True brainstorming happens where one idea turns into another and there is almost no such thing as a final result. 

The stage is set
The Jell-O Art Show itself is always a joy as new people and experienced people bring their sculptures and interactive pieces and interpretations of theme and just jell. The take a concept and Jell-O-ize it. True art ensues and true artists are born. I would be dismayed if no kids came with legos floating in pools of Berry Blue. I would be surprised if some of the regulars skipped the show. It's like the advent of spring to my artistic life, with just the right amount of silly amidst a lot of serious effort. 

I love getting the costumes and props together and look forward to the singing and whatever choreography we manage to fit on the stage. In last year's show we had some elements that were supremely hilarious and really the first rule is that we amuse ourselves, so if we forego something serious like Kesey Plaza and just do something purely joyful that will be fine. We don't really need to mourn anyone though a few Bowie songs might be so useful as illustrations. We rarely sing the original words, but we can do a lot with Under Pressure and Let's Dance without a lot of changing. Maybe we'll end up on the moon. Maybe we have to talk Harry Potter or some superhero. We may or may not interface the ideas from Jell-O with those more suited to Country Fair. 

We have a Slug Queen this year who is a regular member of our crew, so we might have to use him in some important way. We still have an Old Queen or two we could draw on, and of course my regal presence is required and available. I was thinking of some kind of battle of the Queens but since that is the opposite of our actual interactions, it might be funnier to change the battle paradigm completely to illustrate the challenges of cooperation instead. In simple terms, how do we all make a bowl of Jell-O? There isn't really one right way. That might be fertile metaphor territory. 

So watch this space, all of you who love the Jell-O Art Universe. I'll keep giving you hints about what we are doing and will definitely post the theme as soon as we choose one. If you have any ideas, we're looking for a phrase we haven't used, one that can be interpreted widely for all of the artists, one that conveys some of the joy of the event and the medium, and if it makes a pun or alludes to something mysterious, all the better.

You can't really have too many ideas. They all get stirred together and more emerge anyway, so don't fight it. If it isn't right it won't get wings, so don't be attached, but let your imagination run. Pleasure might follow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why I Do It

Boy do I need Jell-O Art right now. The downtown developers just played their cards today and revealed their plans...they want to talk everyone into remodeling the Park Blocks in order to get to trash Kesey and put their shiny building on the town center. I was puzzled at the City Council meeting, but now I feel like a chump. I don't think all the City Councilors knew the plan, so some of them are chumps too. The manipulators are laughing and making their big money plans.

I doubt I can do a thing about it. I'm glad I feel like I saw through their thinly veiled machinations, but it won't change the outcome and they'll soon play me again. I feel like I did when my teenage son told me I really ought to read Machiavelli because I was never going to win a power struggle with him if I didn't. And I didn't, I just figured out a way to stop having the power struggles. I changed the game. I told him I had only one rule that he had to agree to: we both had to be honest.

So we learned to be honest and he grew up and is a good and honest man, and I had a little bubble of life where at least two people were honest. I think that's what I love so much about craftspeople and my world with them, that generally they are honest. It comes with the territory when you work with your hands and heart. Turning raw materials into beauty by using your imagination is just a straightforward, true and lovely reality that has given us a wonderful place and time to thrive. We don't lie much and we don't manipulate much. The people that do don't fit and they don't last long.

But outside our bubble we sometimes get to feel like chumps, because the worlds of power and politics don't run on honesty. They spit on it. They lie while looking you right in the eye, using their powers for their own gain at whatever it costs. They don't care what it costs. They are takers.

So I have Jell-O Art in my bubble. My honest artist friends started this joyful party and we've kept it hopping for twenty-eight years. You take a product that is pure artifice, a pretty shiny jiggly concoction of chemicals that represents the worst fake food ever, and you transform it completely into something meaningful and right. Something deeply expressive, something from your pure imagination and curiosity that you put on a pedestal and worship.

For only three hours on a day when you might rather be with your family of crafters (it will be Opening Day of the Saturday Market but I'll be at the Jell-O Art Show, sigh...) I'll be high on gelatin. I'll be wearing costumes and singing and talking to artists about their seriously silly art, and I'll be the Queen of that transparent Berry Blue and Cherry Red Realm. It will be grand despite the sacrifice of one of my other favorite and seriously fun days.

And in the intervening months between tonight and April 2nd, I will be a Jell-O Artist. I'm starting tomorrow. I already made the first batch, so I'll pour it in the dishes and start the pieces of whatever will be my art for 2016. I'll take my angst about the Park Blocks Pawn Job and my grief at this latest chumping of Poor Little Gullible Eugene and I'll use Kesey and the Pranksters to inspire me. I'll ride my personal Furthur into my personal world of Art with a capital A and I will heal this hurt these Princes are going to deal out. I will heal this bitterness with the sickeningly sweet substance that dries to a tough, gorgeous and ever-lasting beautiful orchid or rose or bird or whatever my heart desires.

They can't have my heart and soul. They can take my Park and tear it up and ruin my income for the season and they can kick me out of my space and do lots of things I fear they might, but I am a Jell-O Artist and I have my tools to fight them and save myself. Really they can't touch anything important and maybe that is what makes them so bankrupt in their suits. Fuck them and put them in a joke. This ought to be a great Jell-O Show. I can hardly wait. We meet on Monday night to pick the theme and rough out our ideas for the performance. I think we might be inspired. I know we will skewer someone, if only in one of those quick jokes you might not get. We'll see. If the mood I'm in right now holds and I can get anyone to go along with me, some people are going to be sorry they messed with the awesome power of Jell-O Art.

Or not. At least there will be Jell-O on a pedestal, and that's enough.