Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Jell-O Art Universe

Jell-O Art show 2017
So much has been happening in my world of Jell-O Art! To get the apologies out of the way, I see that I never posted my after-the-show post in early April...I composed it in my head, collected the photos, and then launched full-on into my parallel universes of Saturday Market, Oregon Country Fair, and all the rest of the duties that fall into my lap. I owe all the artists who participated a debt, most especially the other Radar Angels who put on such a good performance and gifted us all with so much fun and so many laughs. I do hope to go back and do that story...some precious moments and lots of great photos. But here it is August and even more glorious events have now moved from anticipation to completion. And there is absolutely nothing on the Jell-O Art horizon unless I decide to add some into the Kim Still Day at Saturday Market (August 26th) or some other deal. I might bring some down to put on that dreadful chain-linked construction site on the West Block, or maybe not. If you are a yarn-bomber, please organize your network to decorate that new deck...we market people need to make it our own somehow, and art is always our way.

And on the subject, while I'm at it, is it just me, or does the term "arts and crafts" ring dissonantly in your ears, fellow craftspeople? Do you share my distaste for being seen as a "vendor" in a "stall"? I'm channeling our champion of old, Gil Harrison, when I say call us artists, artisans, call us crafters if you must, but please focus on our highest aims, not our commonest? I do not vend. I bring my inspired creations to display for public acclaim and make myself completely vulnerable with the goal of appreciation of my efforts and those of my membership. Selling my wares is a tiny part. Self-expression, creating beauty in our daily lives, sharing wonder and delight, furthering the accomplishments of master craftspeople, creating community: so many other goals are in my mind when I pedal myself downtown. We create our culture, so let's keep trying to elevate it. Arts and crafts is what they do at the kids table. We are a gem on the Park Blocks, a precious and fragile brief occurrence of the moment, different every time, a day that cannot be replicated. I don't want that to be reduced.
Sunday Streets booth

But I did attempt to "vend" at Sunday Streets, in half my booth, while in the other half I brought my best, most delicate and unbelievable gelatin art sculptures, and I'm guessing you missed it. Here you are, a blurred and shadowed facsimile of a display you will probably not get another chance to see. Next April Fools, (probably March 31st, 2018) we will put on our 30th Jell-O Art Show! I brought a bit of a retrospective downtown and in the parade, with the great help of my fellow Radar Angels, and it was a technicolor sight to see!
Ready to go

I always feel like I have to explain the Jell-O Art, but very simply, the gelatin I make (which is air-dried, glued with gelatin pieces made into actual sculpture with meaning and wonder) is an art metaphor as well as being actually art. It's the purest art I do, much less productive than screenprinting and much less consumable (though I have fascinators for sale for the brave and glamorous.) It is technically edible, yes. It is a medium for self-expression and it is the medium that allowed me to be a real artist. We put on our aprons and bring Jell-O out of the kitchen, show how accessible and easy (just add water) art-making can be, and we promote outsider, non-credentialed, un-buyable, non-professional ART in it's purest forms. We say everyone can be an artist, put your creation on a pedestal in a real gallery, and put yourself at the same level as every other artist in the land. You can do this when you are five years old with your gramma, and you can do it when you are eighty-five years old from your wheelchair. We do it so you can do it. All of you.

And this Queen thing is the same: you too can be a Queen in your own self-created universe, and sometimes you can get other people to go along with it, too. When I was crowned in 2012 by my fellow Radars and Jell-O Artists, it was a gift, but I earned it with my dedicated application of a creative process to a silly, uncooperative medium and to the way I built an art life around that. I've been in every single Jell-O Art Show and each year I try hard to be original, to test a boundary, to say something meaningful from my inner and external life experience, and I put it out there for everyone else. As ego-free as I can manage.

My coronation, 2012 Jell-O Art Show
Yes, I like a little appreciation for it, and I have certainly embraced this role of being the chief promoter and the one who can be depended on to dress up, knock myself out, and put my whole heart into it for free. I spend a lot to do that, in time and resources, and it makes me very, very satisfied and full. It's the main focus of my whole winter, when Saturday Market is closed, and the Opening Day of Market and the Jell-O Art Show are dual harbingers of the glorious advent of the creative year, the springing forth of another wonderful series of accomplishments and shared community elevation. I don't do it for myself. I do it for my city and my people. And for strangers. Okay, I do get a kick out of it. It's special!

Load Number One
Being in the Parade and having a booth at Sunday Streets was a peak life experience, even though it went down rather quietly and even humbly perhaps. I got up at 5:00 am on a Sunday after working until 1:00 am on my display, bike and float, (and that was after my 14-hour Market day) and rode my goods and sculptures downtown to set up my booth on Oak Street. I dashed back home to costume, build the float, and get to the parade grounds by 10am. I barely made it. We paraded, I stood in the booth from noon to four and talked art to the few strangers who happened by (and a few friends) and then I schlepped it all home again in two big trailer loads on my bike. As far as I know I was the only human-powered "vendor" on the Park blocks, not that anyone noticed except the guy from HPM who took my photo. (Human Powered Machines at CAT made my wonderful bike trailer.)
Float in the "driveway"

But it's no one's job but my own to promote myself and it seems that the harder I do that, the more it puts me into the "crazy lady who must be ignored" category. Friends took photos, but despite my clear signs and careful presentation, I felt invisible. I know, it seems impossible. But here you have the recording of the historic event, which I do not think will be repeated. I do not believe I am the crazy lady. I will fight that to my last breath. I bring you pure and simple joy and it is not really about me. This is something I repeat almost daily: this is not about me. I represent.

As with any gift, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so whatever you think, you can take it or leave it. Plenty of people do let me know I am seen (like the woman who told me I was quite beautiful when I wear a tiny cocktail dress and lipstick...apparently at other times I am not.) Plenty of people do get the point of the gelatin...the ephemeral nature of it, the taming of the wild medium that rarely does what you want it to do, the inexpensive accessibility of it, the empowerment of the 50's housewife legacy reversal, all of it. Plenty of people encourage me and would be sad to see it end, and I am committed for life to my Radar Angels in whatever form we take. Jell-O Art made me an artist. I can't quit it, but I might take my light back under that bushel for awhile. Until the winter anyway.

But here you can see that we paraded our 30 years right down Broadway, that we were stupendously glorious and talented and determined (despite being drowned out by the boombox behind us) and that we did represent, amazingly, unselfishly, and in full color. I was so over-excited by it all that I went into my usual persona-state that is not really me, not too grounded in daily reality, but in that exalted space of bigger-than-life that attracts most performers, so if I didn't see you in the crowd, or didn't thank you for your cheers and stole your photos without attribution, I'm giving you a lame excuse here. It was a big deal on my day off on July 30th, 2017.
Radar Angels! 30 years of the Jell-O Art Show!

I don't know if I've ever been more exhausted than I was that night when it was all finally stowed away at home again. I don't know if my feelings are always this mixed...I suppose reading back in all my after-show posts the same ambivalence would come through. It's hard to make yourself vulnerable time after time, for me twice a week all season, with the big explosions of Fair and  Jell-O Art Show, it's confusing and draining and exhilarating and gorgeous, and I'm the luckiest person in the world and also maybe the least-confident Queen in the Realms, (though guessing the Slug Queens might include a few on that level).

And yes, we got some recognition at the Coronation of Babosita of the lime-green embroidery. She had to work pretty hard too for those cheers and accolades. I had a bit of Jell-o-sy going when that Knight got all the attention for
driving down from Portland, but I love him too so I will get that put away soon (though it was sexist, just sayin'). I don't have to have all the attention. It is not about me (repeat a few more times.) I am the dependable, put in the thirty years, put on the lipstick (don't do it without a mirror ever again, Queenie) and the fancy dress, get yourself downtown, knock yourself out, and then get up the next day and do it again. I do get my rewards. I'm not complaining.

It's just that I have to write about every little aspect so we can all appreciate ourselves that much more. David has paid his dues on the vulnerability scale. He was glorious. We just had to sit there and heckle, too, not get up and sing and dance and get voted on. We don't have to be evaluated and scored, thank the goddesses. We're the luckiest royalty of all. Talk about no rules. So I certainly don't fault him in making the most of his (mere) 20 years.

In the Realm of  Gelatinaceae, there is only one rule: put your whole, honest and true heart into it. Get up and add the water. Throw it on the compost of society's evaluative critical system and mix it up again. We didn't win the cash in the parade. (We did get runner up though.) I didn't draw the crowds to my once-in-a-lifetime downtown "stall" number +25. I didn't get in the paper and didn't get on TV. Their loss. A loss to our fair city. There were people who didn't even know there was a parade.

only photo I could find of me
But I know I am there in the culture of our town, the real culture that brings us our weird and wonderful and solidifies our quirk. I definitely bring the quirky. And I really do it for you. All of you. And really, I do know you appreciate it. We all need it, now more than ever. Joy is what makes everything else worthwhile.

Plus after all these years, what would I do without it? Watch TV? Write my book? Oh yeah, I might write my book(s). They need to be written. Perhaps that will be my display for the 30th. No one else can write it, after all, the Book of Jell-O Art. The book of the intersection of serious play, real creativity, pure bliss and out-of-time transcendence. Someone could write their version. But the book I would write, should write, might write, that would be all about me. The trick would be to bury that in there so that you couldn't tell. You'd think you got a piece of it, anyway, you could fall into my story and think it was the real story, but of course the minute I finished it, the story would keep going and become another story. So here's your taste, here's the short version from August 2017.

There will be other chapters. A sequel. Or not. We'll see. In the meantime, if you have one of my art pieces, dust it off and think about the value of something you probably got for free. Go find something else at Market and pay the artist for it, and take your place in this grand universe. It can't really happen without you. And do remember how grateful I am, how humbly I thank you for your support. There is no Queen without her public. It's really all about you.

And me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Show Week: Half over!

Crunch time. My sculpture is not finished yet, and this is as late as I have ever been since I started doing the dried gelatin pieces. It's almost too late, but I have lots of parts and a pretty clear vision of what I want, so it's a matter of getting it glued together and dried so it can go into its bell jar and then make it to the show intact.

I may have to take a repair kit, as it is a long way across town. Not a few pieces have failed to survive getting from kitchen to gallery, as many legends will tell. Someone should collect tales about the Jell-O Art Show, before we completely forget our history. Maybe next year for our 30th show we should do that! I'll put it on my list.

My Jell-O Art Show list is long, full of details about things I need to remember for that concentrated day. One year I got halfway there without my that's one aspect. I have three Queen costumes planned for this year, with accessories to swap out and strict timing requirements. When the show itself opens at 5:00, I will have been there for many hours setting up the stage, props, staging details, my t-shirt table, the many headpieces I will bring in case someone wants to own one ($25) and display for those. Sometimes I bring an archival piece or two but probably not this year, since somehow I have to fit a throne into my car. 

Quickly, since many of you are working on pieces or still planning to, I will remind you of a couple of pro tips. It helps to make your Jell-O stronger than the package directions for any kind of stability in your piece, and to keep it from melting at room temperature. Any extra amount of clear gelatin (like Knox) will help. Those little packets have about a quarter ounce in them I think, so you will need a lot of them to make a difference, plus you can decrease the amount of water to help. If you are using Jell-O brand, you have a lot of chemicals and sugar in there too, which you don't need, since you are presumably not going to eat your sculpture. I buy plain gelatin powder online in bulk to make mine, adding only dye, but some artists believe that the sugar in Jell-O brand helps add strength. I use up to 3 ounces of powdered gelatin per cup of water, but you may not need that much.

The other thing is to know that gelatin has to absorb water a little (called "blooming") before it is ready to get to a liquid state. Mix it up in cold water, even though the package directions on the edible kind say to use hot first. Use hot first if you are not adding any extra gelatin, but if you are, let it bloom in the cold water for about ten minutes and then melt the whole mess. I use the microwave but you can do it on the stovetop as well. Stir it a lot. Get all the graininess dissolved and then skim off any foam that forms on top. 

Molds are best for quick work and if you make it strong enough you can pry the pieces out of the mold with your fingers, or try the slight melting technique of sitting the mold in hot water for a few seconds. You can glue broken pieces with molten gelatin but it's best if you plan for intact pieces with few seams, as the pieces tend to separate along their natural lines of formation. Anything can be used as a mold, but flexible plastic might be the best. Scour the goodwills for odd things to use as molds. I've found tons of old molds too, as people don't tend to value them as they used to. You can use glass and harder containers but be warned that gelatin is strong and can chip glass by pulling it that hard. It's truly amazing.

You can also use anything for color, including food coloring, dye, or candy ingredients. Be creative. This is supposed to be fun. As far as making a statement goes, I like to do that, but I don't always connect with the theme. So far my piece does not connect with fools, but it could by the time I finish, and be reflected in the title. Strange artisty things happen when I work on mind flows in directions unknown and sometimes unarticulated. We'll see!

I finished the shirts on Friday and am still working on a few props, plus still learning lines and songs for the performance. I must say this Queen position has been an opening to so many levels of  the Jell-O Art Show that I did not appreciate in the same way before I was crowned. I've always done the art and shirts and promoted the event, but now I have a kind of maternal or benevolent view of the happening. I feel responsible, and the pressure to be clever has been hard on me. 
Those Slug Queens use more glitter than I do

Being able to act from a persona is very helpful, though. I do what the Queen of Jell-O Art wants to do, speak like she would speak, guide like she would guide, and try to empower my public and my fellow artists. She's not autocratic or demanding, unless that furthers the fun of the narrative, and she is a very human queen. She wants to be loved (from a distance) and wants to serve well. She needs no King and never will, in fact she resists power even while trying to use hers for the forces of good. It's a position that is open to interpretation but at the same time somewhat circumscribed in that many things are expected of her. 

This is a Knight of my realm, being far too resplendent.

I do find that when I rise to those expectations through her, the results are generally pleasing. I got to receive an award for the Radar Angels from the Mayor last year. I get to be as royal as I please as long as I ignore those who don't take the whole thing seriously. And I also get the option of not taking the whole thing too seriously!

And it is supposed to be fun! Repeat that when you have gelatin all over your kitchen and your piece keeps slipping away from you. If  Jell-O makes you her fool this year, no matter. It will be over quickly, and you will get another chance next year to be in similar straits. Don't worry about it. Bring your failure and put it on a pedestal, and you will find it looks a lot more successful in context. Art is not supposed to be perfect, it's supposed to be creative. Do your best to open your synapses and let your brain tell your hands and eyes what it sees. 

Here's your chance to do real art,to take it to any level you like. It's all up to you. I will love it no matter what. So when you see an old lady in a funny outfit come to ask you about your piece and your artistic process, don't be afraid. I am not going to make a fool of you, although you are welcome to that option. And don't mistake me for one of those other slimy Queens, the Slug Queens, though there will be several of them there trying to be important in a realm that is clearly that of Queen Gelatinaceae of the Jell-O Art. 

Just kidding, they're not slimy. I am truly grateful to those who show up, costumed in style, to honor our show.  If there were not Slug Queens setting a graceful example, I would not have my own position, very likely, and wouldn't know what to do with it. And anyone who goes around in lime green and chartreuse gets accolades from me. I am lucky in that I get all the Jell-O colors, which I interpret to be all the colors. My slime comes in a rainbow.

We will see what our designated Slug Queen representative, Sitara Slugshine, brings for our delight. She will appear around six to give her Benediction, so come early. It's also best to see the pieces if you come early. At 7:00 when the Radar Angels perform, it is a bit hard to see the art, and at 8:00, the big trash cans come out and everything gets put away. So see you there! 


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Telling Secrets

The Radar Angels have always tried to keep the performance details a secret. This comes from the Olden Days, and at the 29th year we are qualified to have Olden Days. It is not the 29th Annual, to be precise, because one year was skipped, but anyway that's a lot of shows.

The secrecy is from the other big Radar Angel activity, being a part of the entertainment at the Oregon Country Fair. It seems, according to legend, that if the details of the show got out, the Vaudeville people would steal them and scoop the Angels by putting them in their own shows. Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery, but it makes for some lively fun, and probably there were leaks. Leaks are inevitable with secrets, of course.

And details of the performance are fun, and I can't resist. The idea behind the pictured prop came from newish Angel Michael Hall, bless his heart and his aorta too. I loved the idea of Borscht-flavored Jell-O and it works with the theme. I was going to save it for a surprise at the show but then, in agony for a better t-shirt idea, I decided to base my shirt on it.

It won't look quite like this full-colored giant box but the Fool's Jell-O theme makes sense here. Like if Cherry Jell-O was gold, this would be fool's gold. Pretty obvious that anyone who eats it would feel kind of foolish...really, a dessert made of beetroot? 

I don't know why not. I plan to make some for the Tacky Food Buffet, actually, because I'll bet it will taste as good as any of the other flavors and concoctions that people bring to the Buffet. It certainly won't be the strangest thing ever eaten in that room at Maude Kerns. If you are very lucky someone will bring something even more unusual and you will get to taste it. It depends. All the food is supposed to be legally edible which means made in a commercial kitchen with all efforts to not make anyone actually sick. It's fine to gross people out. You know when you see that fake kitty litter with the tootsie rolls you get a little thrill out of eating a tootsie roll. If you like them. People always love biting the heads off the icons, after all. We live for some safe risk.

So yes,  a teaser prop like the pussyhat was, and maybe I'll post more if I actually get down to it and make some. I have a brain full of ideas and somewhat less will to manifest them. I hope I'm only procrastinating because there's a fantastic idea in there trying to find the way to the light. I'm certainly not a lazy person...but I do admit to taking my time to get around to some things. Deadlines help.

And April Fools' Day is fast approaching. It's practically here, really. I have a lot to practice today, songs I am not quite to the harmony on, costumes I have to figure out how to get in and out of. Props that would be nice if I would put in the time to get them made. T-shirt art that must be drawn. There's no turning back though, as the shirts arrived and await me. 

I had to write a post though. I know there is at least one artist out there thinking and stirring. A Slug Queen or two is dusting off a crown and many people are thinking they might attend if they don't have anything more fun to do at the end of spring break. 

It's a fun day, usually, April Fools. Lots of people have great pranking abilities and we all need a laugh. There will be that short window of opportunity to do it with gelatin, and many wild ideas are crossing minds out there. They have certainly not all been done before. Yours hasn't, that's for sure. Do it. Fool us. Fool us twice. No shame will be involved, and how many places in your life can you be sure of that? Not many these days. Plus, you can find out all the secrets and decide for yourself if they are worth keeping. 

That zeitgeist, she is hard to grasp. We're trying to pin it down, but that might not happen until the very last minute. You might want to see it, through the Jell-O lens.