Saturday, December 21, 2013

Social Engagement

When someone offers me a stiff one, whiskey isn’t the first thing that comes into my mind. Not Vodka either. In 2005, I was in a relationship with a recovering alcoholic, so I quit drinking -- functioning under the understanding that sobriety doesn’t happen if one’s partner drinks. Also, alcohol was making me sick. Even the couple glasses of wine or beer that I drank at art openings would lay me up. Seriously. 100°+ fevers at least once a month -- that stopped happening when I switched from moderate drinking to no drinking.

I wish I really was magnanimous. I wish I could say that I gave up the drink for love. Well, I did. But I stayed a non-drinker because after several years of swollen tonsils, suddenly not needing surgery can seem like magic. 

But I miss the social-anxiety-smoothing properties of a cocktail. I’m not shy, as such. Nude beaches? Love ‘em. Giving speeches to a full auditorium? You can’t shut me up. But I’d be more comfortable getting a colonoscopy in the middle of Times Square than hanging out at an art opening or an after-party. Maybe I should start smoking? Something to do with the hands.

Art is a drinky profession, sadly. And I suffer through the part of this job that is supposed to be fun. Or, that’s the story that I used to tell myself.

In fact, one of the things that has pushed my work towards a more socially engaged practice is that I was sick of spending the bulk of my life alone in my studio and the next biggest chunk of my life in the purgatory of cocktail banter. The thing is, I like people. I like being around people. Solitude fills me with ennui. A summer’s day in a crowded New York City park -- or even a crowded subway car -- makes me gleeful.

I started walking dogs at the Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition in 2007. Maybe puppies were a good substitute for booze. My boyfriend loved dogs and occasionally walked one with me. But the gratitude of the animals, released from their pens onto the streets of Williamsburg helped to balance the increasing anxiety that I experienced in the art world. Not only wasn’t I drinking, but I had been taking on more and more responsibility -- in addition to teaching and helping to run a gallery, I had also served on the boards of two professional organizations.

The dog walking coincided with two years of studio work in which I made drawings of dogs -- made entirely out of the text of political commission reports. The drawings were not about my experience, per se. But the guilelessness of the animals and my sincere love for them did complicate drawings that were entangled with the contempt that people feel for opposing political ideologies.

I’m not sure that walking the unwanted pit-bulls of Brooklyn fulfills the standard definition of social practice. Dogs may be social; but I’m pretty sure that the “social” part of social practice refers to human society. Though the fact that puppies are bred and thrown away when they pee on the rug seems like an aspect of human society to me. And I’m proud that the four months that I walked TicTac daily, for example, helped to make her calmer, more predictable, and, finally, adoptable. I fixed a problem caused by a human. And the people that worked at the shelter were nice, self-sacrificing. I started to crush on all of them and their righteous lives.

But I finished my dog drawings. I broke up with my boyfriend when he fell off the wagon yet again (and all the hurtful drama that ensued). And saying good-bye to dog after dog got harder and harder as they learned to walk calmly along side me then got adopted. I moved on.

What happened then? Economic collapse. And I decided that I needed to slowly transition out of my day-job as a gallerist. These two things aligned when I made some art about art. In retrospect, helping to run a non-profit gallery can be considered “social practice” as much as dog-walking can. So the studio work connected to my life as much as the dog drawings had.

Then my father was hospitalized. He had days, maybe hours, I was told. He got better. He was hospitalized again. He fell into a diabetic coma, briefly, while I was on duty. I temporarily moved my studio to be close to him and help my mother. I suppose if I was helping someone else’s father it could be social practice. But wanting to spend time with one’s own father is just being human. I produced a body of work that blended forward my concerns with the economic collapse and the collapse of my father’s health.

Over the next year, I rarely attended any art parties. And soon after my father died, (and unrelated to his death) my exit strategy from my day job fell apart. I quit. And years of work came to nothing. Helping to maintain a non-profit gallery had been a huge part of my practice and life. Mourning that loss was almost as hard as mourning my father -- at least on a professional level.

The rowing project that this blog records grew out of this time of loss. But on another level, the project exists as the next logical stage of my work. Each project has progressively been a more integrated reflection of research, experience, and social engagement. When I walked dogs, I wasn’t thinking of that as part of my practice. But that was because I didn’t have an expansive understanding of practice, as such. I made drawings -- and videos, and performances, and installations. Artistic practice can be performative, sure; but I didn’t really consider the research or the life that leaked into my work as art in and of itself. Practice and production were distinct.

Perhaps the fact that I live in commercially-driven New York, perhaps the fact that I was making money on my drawings lead to this schism between research and making. Or maybe it just took time for the ingredients to mingle and dissolve into each other.

Whatever the case may be, I’m now plunged into an all-consuming project in which I can’t tell the difference between social life, recreation, research, making. Now I get in a boat with eight other people and consider the experience as part of my practice. I don’t have to set up a video camera. I don’t have to be in charge of the experience. I just show up to rowing practice and participate. Some parts of my practice leave traces, ephemera. Some parts of my practice result in traditional product (like drawings). But some parts of my practice exist only as my participation in part of a community or as part of a shared experience of which I am not the conductor. These are experiences that would take place even if I had never been born.

These experiences that don’t depend on me or my specialized knowledge have been the ones that have been the hardest for me to get my head around. When I walked the dogs, I did not bring a video camera. I have only a couple of snap shots from hundreds of walks. Most of my interaction was with dogs. And that interaction was bound by rules set by someone other than me (they were set by the dog shelter). But my actions had effects: My own joy. The dogs joy. The dogs reformation into pets. My own stress relief and the drawings that found grounding in the experience. 

Part of the difficulty I’ve faced in understanding my current practice has been that my conception of art-making had always been rather traditional, with the solitary, working artist as heroic figure. I researched, then I made. I researched, then I made. And when I thought about social engagement, I imagined something akin to being a social worker -- in which an artist might be the catalyst for community members having a new experience. That does not interest me.

However, I worked for ten years in a non-profit gallery. How many shows existed because of my fundraising? How may people relied on my press releases? I curated. I designed exhibitions. Just like with the dog-walking, I was part of something that had real effects on me and on others. That does interest me. And the practice of artists like Andrea Zittel or Rirkrit Tiravanija fascinate me. I just never saw myself as approaching their geneology.

Of course dog walking and helping to run a gallery are both experiences that are part of who I am (as is my studio practice). So why consider those experiences to be separate? Why use those experiences as if they were merely references from which I might quote? The easiest answer is that maintaining those distinctions is easier.

Some 9-5 jobs can be left at the office. Even a doctor who might be on call doesn’t perform surgery in her living room. Being an artist doesn’t afford those easy distinctions -- even for those of us with the most traditionally object-based practices. Our social lives are full of openings and lectures. Our living-rooms are covered with artwork traded with friends. Even going to a movie is research and recorded as such for taxes.

The distinctions may be messy, but since I adopted a broader definition of my own practice, things have gotten messier. I worked at a gallery for years before I made any art about art. And dog-walking is hardly the most emotionally fraught of experiences. Understanding those socially engaged experiences to be part of a practice just didn’t click for me.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I wanted to go out and rally a community and spearhead social change as the entirety of my practice. But I love making things. And, to return to the point that I was making earlier in this post, I need a reason to get out of the solitude of the studio -- and still call it work.

Unfortunately, that impulse, so simple in the abstract, isn’t as easy in practice. I joined New Bedford Community Rowing so that I could learn how to row and so that I could learn about the local community. I began volunteering with the Buzzards Bay Coalition so that I could learn about the current ecology and economy of Buzzards Bay -- and so that I could get out on the water in an engaged way (not as a recreational boater).

Joining a local sports club and volunteering at a local non-profit should be straightforward, right? But here’s the thing: I may like being around people, but I have some limitations. As a kid, I was the tiny, faggy kid that got chased home from school. In college, I managed to be sociable, but only when I was drinking. As an adult, I’ve worked either in relative isolation (alone in the gallery, alone in my studio) -- sometimes working one-on-one -- or teaching (with the rule-bound structure of a classroom to frame my interactions).

I’m not unlike some of the abused dogs that I walked at the shelter. They really want to go for a walk; they want to greet other dogs; they want to play with people. But they don’t understand the leash; when another dog sniffs them, they freak out and bite; and when a person approaches, they wonder if they’re about to get beaten -- again. Dogs are pack animals and every instinct tells them to be sociable. But experience tells the abused dog otherwise. These dogs may eventually become wonderful companions one on one. But they can never be brought to a dog park and they shouldn’t be placed in a home with kids.

Starting in second grade, I can’t recall a day at school that I wasn’t anxious or afraid. And as much as I think I’ve learned, as an adult, not to fear people, and as much as I’ve learned how to interact, I have to do so consciously.

Even if I wanted to undertake a socially engaged project in which I rallied a group of people, I don’t have the instincts to do so. I’m too awkward, second-guessing. I flinch before I smile -- no matter how genuine that smile. Even the seemingly easy project of joining a team and volunteering at a local non-profit become fraught experiences. 

A few weeks ago, the rowing team had its last on-water practice of the season. I hadn’t been able to row because of an injury. But I showed up to go out to brunch afterwards. The email invite for the brunch called it “Kegs and Eggs.” A joke, I thought. No one drinks beer for breakfast -- especially after a workout.

I got to the restaurant, opened the menu, and my eyes grew wide. The name of the brunch menu was “Kegs and Eggs.” Irish coffees and mini-Guinesses arrived. I experienced what could best be described as a form of culture shock. The TV monitors placed throughout the place were all tuned to the live coverage of the parade in Boston for the Red Sox World Series win. Half the people in the restaurant were wearing Red-Sox-branded paraphernalia. I don’t drink. I’ve never watched a baseball game. Panic began to rise.

I sat at the end of the table next to the only other artist on the team and talked about her  new studio and the construction of my boat -- which led me into talking about labor and economics. Not good brunch conversation. The rest of the table drifted in and out of conversations surrounding what to drink next, the Red Sox, winter training, club sponsorship, family. I finished my eggs and was the first to leave. As soon as I got out the door, I felt as if I could breathe again.

The rest of the team goes out for coffee or breakfast regularly. They work out at the Y. They meet at bars. Being socially engaged, for most people, means going to bars. Why did I used to think that social engagement meant getting people to register to vote or build a new play-ground, or record confessions? Are all artists as out of touch with what it means to be social?

I started working on my rowing project because I wanted to integrate my studio practice with a wider, engaged life-practice. Nothing in art school prepared me to watch the Red Sox parade without irony. But, unless I can do that, I can’t claim to be socially engaged.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


After three months of doing physical therapy exercises, the severe tendonitis in my elbow had only minimally improved. I was doing physical therapy exercises two to five times a day and icing twice a day.  I don't have insurance that will cover therapy at all, so I was doing the best that I could on my own.

I had a similar problem in my right elbow two years ago. And I paid out-of-pocket to see a physical therapist then. This time, I didn't feel like I could afford the expense. Two weeks ago, I went to see my orthopedist. He said that the best thing to do at this stage would be injections. Unfortunately, the injections were also not covered by my insurance and would cost around $1,500.00 per shot. I had to settle for a cheaper alternative, a cortisone shot.

Not everyone agrees that a cortisone shot helps. Getting multiple cortisone shots does more harm than good. But I got the one shot, and it seems to have helped. I say "seems" because it is possible that the effects will wear off, and I'll be no better off than I was. But right now, my elbow feels okay -- though it has given me warnings when I've been pulling up dead brush in the garden.

The boatbuilding that I did in September was made more difficult by the tendonitis. And it exacerbated the condition. Between that recovery and starting a new teaching job as an adjunct at RISD, I hadn't worked on my boat at all since mid-September. But over the last week, I've hung lights in the barn where I plan to finish working on the boat -- and gotten myself ready. Yesterday, I put in a full day of scraping.

Scraping globby epoxy is a two-handed job. I spent five hours holding a heat-gun with my left arm while I scraped with my right. I need to rest the left arm today.

Friday, September 27, 2013


For the second year in a row, I will be participating in the Buzzards Bay Coalition's "Watershed Ride." I will ride 75 miles around the perimeter of the bay.

The goal of the ride is to raise money for The Buzzards Bay Coalition. To show my appreciation for the Work of The Buzzards Bay Coalition, I am donating a number of a print edition (pictured below). Anyone who donates $50 or more to my fundraising page by October 6 will get one of these prints. The prints will sell for more than $50, so there's motivation to give to this cause now. I believe in their work. I hope you will do so as well.

January 31, 1827. 2013, pigment print on Mylar. 13cm x 13cm, ed. 100 + 1AP, 1PP, 1BAT.

Please note: Getting your print is a two part process. You can pay for postage and/or framing of the print by clicking the "Add to Cart" buttons below. But you will also need to donate on my fundraising page at the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

To donate to my fundraising ride and qualify for a print, follow this link

And select the buttons below if you wish to pay for postage or postage with framing.

Postage Only ->  
($6.00 for any number of unframed prints to a US address)
Framing and Postage ->  
($50.00 for each print to be framed and posted to a US address)
Please note that paying for framing or postage does not include a print.

This print, showing the image of a snow crystal is composed of the entire newspaper account of the death of Gideon Dexter (the text of which I posted on the first entry of this blog). The image of the snowflake is significant because the text recounts Dexter's death by freezing during a winter storm. But the form is also evocative of lace. Images of lace and knot-making make up most of the imagery that I'm working on in the next series of drawings related to this project. In a way, this little piece is a key into understanding one aspect of those drawings.

I, also, can't say enough about the Buzzards Bay Coalition. The coalition does an amazing job of monitoring the water quality of the bay. They provide data about the water quality to the towns in the watershed so that they have the facts that they need when deciding on policy.

The coalition also has a top notch education department. I worked as a docent for them this summer, and I saw first hand the value of experiences that the coalition is providing for kids in the New Bedford area.

I also helped with water testing, going out on the coalition's boat and taking down the numbers that the science department uses to evaluate the impact of development in the area.

I was glad to help as a docent and as a water quality tester. But my time at the coalition was also invaluable for my current artwork -- which centers around my great-great-great-great grandfather, who was a shipbuilder -- and who froze to death during a winter storm in the middle of Buzzards Bay.

The efforts of the Buzzards Bay Coalition have been crucial in reversing and slowing decades of declining water quality. And I want to raise money for the organization so that this important work can continue. But I also want to raise money for them as a thank you for educating me about Buzzards Bay and for giving me the chance to go out on the coalition's boat and experience the body of water that figures so prominently in my family's history and my current work.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Boat Comes Together

As the summer progressed and the daylight decreased, my work hours increased. I was spending up to 14 hours a day with the wood-burning pen clutched in my hand, copying text onto the wood that would become my boat. I couldn't work fewer hours because I was scheduled to go up to Brooklin, Maine and work with master boatbuilder Geoff Kerr and my next opportunity to work with him wouldn't be until April. I finished burning the text with one day to spare (which I used to ride in the Transportation Alternatives NYC Century -- I really know how to relax).

The boat that I'm building for my voyage across Buzzards Bay is an Annapolis Wherry. Its design calls for planks of okoume plywood. It's lighter and stronger than using traditional planks. And part of my decision making process for this project is to use all the technical innovations available to ensure that I don't share the fate of my great-great-great-great grandfather, who died in a rowboat in the middle of the bay.

Plywood is not the most receptive of surfaces for wood-burning. In all, I spent four and a half months copying text onto the wood. As the hours of labor added up, my anxiety mounted as well. I knew that the boat's design called for sections of the hull to be reinforced with fiberglass. In other words, I would be covering my tiny, handwritten text. Before I started the project, I spoke with Geoff, who assured me that the layer of fiberglass would be absolutely transparent. But my text is so small that it's barely readable to begin with. Even the slightest blurring of the text could ruin the effect, my efforts, and the boat as a conceptual object.

I arrived in Brooklin on Sunday, September 15. I was able to afford working with Geoff because he was simultaneously helping ten other people who were also building Annapolis Wherries at the Wooden Boat School. And the entire process of building the boat was squeezed into a single week. On Sunday, Geoff got a head start on the undertaking, by doing the first step on everybody else's boats -- which was to glue the shorter lengths of planks together into the seventeen and a half foot lenghts necessary for the boat. I met him there and watched him glue together the first couple of planks -- and then glued mine together. Here's a picture of the building where we worked.
On Monday, I drilled holes in my planks at six inch intervals (nobody else working with Geoff had to do this because their planks had been pre-drilled), and then I tied the planks together with copper wire.

On Tuesday, I was really grateful to have ten other people in the shop. We all paired up and had a partner gather together the front of our boat, wiring the bow together. I drilled holes in the transom (the board across the back of the boat, and I was again grateful to have help holding the springy, unwieldy boards together while I wired it into place too. What's interesting is that all the wire is just there temporarily. It holds everything in place wile the boat is glued together with epoxy. The rest of the day was spent mixing small batches of epoxy and using a pastry bag to squeeze it in between the planks.
Wednesday, we removed all the wires and cleaned up some of the epoxy that dripped and squeezed out to places where it didn't belong. Then came the moment I'd been dreading: The fiberglass. Fiberglass comes in sheets that look like heavy white cloth. It is opaque. But once saturated with epoxy, it disappears. Imagine a microscopic glass fiber suspended in clear plastic. This is what my boat looked like by the end of the day wednesday:

You can still see the white edges of the fiberglass cloth that needed to be trimmed. But the text was visually unhindered. I had been worrying about this moment since I had decided to use the design for the Annapolis Wherry in the Spring of 2012. I left the shop giddy with relief. Though I did sneak back in right before going to bed to check that it really did look okay.

On Thursday we trimmed the edges of the cloth, continued to epoxy, and glued the rails onto the boat -- another job for which I was grateful to have help. I suppose one could rig up some system of clips to get the rails on with just one other person helping, But, really, three people are necessary to avoid unreasonable stress. With so many people in the shop, we used five people to carefully glue, hold, and clamp the rails into place. And five people did not feel excessive for the job -- especially when the epoxy started to cure mid-install and we had to put twice as many clamps (and a few strategic c-clamps) on my boat.

On Friday, we installed the decks over the air-chambers (which prevent the boat from sinking if it over-turns) and continued to epoxy. A lot of the work we did on Thursday and Friday would have been best spread out over four or five days so that epoxy could have cured between steps. And I was often dragging through gummy, partially-cured epoxy. The epoxy job is really rough as a result. But by the end of the day Friday, the boat was assembled. If I'd tried to build this boat without Geoff's expertise, I would have taken months. It will take me months to sand, re-sand, re-sand, and re-sand the ten coats of epoxy, paint, and varnish that I need for the finished boat. But I have a boat. And my months of labor putting text onto the wood worked just as I'd hoped. I am still experiencing aftershocks of relief and joy.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


As of today $15,303.00 has been donated to my project. Thank you to everyone who has donated -- and to everyone who has contacted me with support and encouragement.

I now have funds to complete and document the first two stages of my project:

First, I will build a 17.5' wherry and inscribe onto its surface the text of John Kenneth Galbraith's book, The Affluent Society.

And second, I will get into that boat and push off into the harbor of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts -- and drift with the tides for eight hours while reading aloud from Adam Smith's seminal book on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations. If I can read the tide charts correctly, I will drift along the same trajectory as my great-great-great-great grandfather when his rowboat was blown out of the harbor in 1827; however, he froze to death, and his body was found off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. I plan to undertake this stage of the project during better weather. I plan to survive.

After I drift for eight hours, there is still a third stage and ...

the third stage still needs funding ...

I am more than happy to accept additional donations, which will go towards the final stage of this project:

For this third stage, I will go to the place where the body of my great-great-great-great grandfather was found, off the coast off Martha's Vineyard -- and I will row back to his home town of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. This will be a voyage of about 20-25 miles through Wood's Hole and across the open water of Buzzards Bay.

A few prints are left from my USA Projects fundraiser. I've posted images of the prints below. If you'd still like to donate, please do. However, these additional donations will no longer be tax deductible nor have oversight from USA Projects.

Please select the donation level from the pull-down menu. Afterwards, click "add to cart"
(update summer 2014: fundraiser closed)

Donors at the $150 level will receive the above print, Acknowledgements (The New Industrial State, part 2). 2013. Pigment print on Mylar, ed. 25. 5 1/8" x 5 1/8", unframed.
Donors at the $500 level will receive the above print, Foreward (The New Industrial State, part 1). 2013. Pigment print on Mylar, ed. 12. 8" x 8", unframed.

 Donors at the $2,000 level will receive the above print, Change and the Industrial System (The New Industrial State, part 3). 2013. Pigment print on Mylar, ed. 5. 13" x 13", unframed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tennis Elbow

After I've built my boat, after I've drifted with the currents of Buzzards Bay, after I've tested water and pumped out poop and greeted visitors for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and after I've spent two years rowing with the New Bedford Community Rowers -- Then I will go to the spot where my great-great-great-great grandfather's body was found and row across Buzzards Bay to his home town.

This will be a huge undertaking. And one of the biggest challenges is building the physicality necessary. It has been and continues to be a very slow process. Last fall, I dealt with tendonitis in my right elbow. Now it's struck in my left. I slowed down my rowing work-outs to twice a week. Then, last week, I reduced them to zero. Again, this week, I can not row.

Unfortunately, my bargain health insurance does not cover physical therapy. So I am using internet research to find exercises that will get me back on track. I have less than a year until my big row. So I am feeling some urgency. These look good:
Rehab For Tennis Elbow: The Super 7
The "super 7” exercises are an important part of treatment for tennis elbow. They are designed to strengthen the muscles in the forearm and increase flexibility through stretching. In most cases te these exercises will help relieve elbow pain in about 4 to 6 week Each stretching exercise is held for 15 seconds and repeated 2 or 3 times. This pattern is repeated 5 times a day.
Exercise 1. Stretching the muscles that extend the wrist (extensor muscles): Straighten the arm out fully and push the palm of the hand down so you feel a stretch across the top of the forearm.
Exercise 2. Stretching the muscles that flex the wrist (flexor muscles): straighten the arm out fully (palm side up), and push the palm downward to stretch. Strengthening exercises are performed twice a day following the stretching exercises. To perform these exercises, the patient sits in a chair with the elbow supported on the edge of a table or on the arm of the chair the wrist hanging over the edge. Use a light weight such as a hammer or soup can when performing the strengthening exercises. Repeat the exercises 30 to 50 times, twice a day, but do not push yourself beyond the point of pain.
Exercise 3. Strengthening wrist extensor muscles: Hold the weight in the hand with the palm facing down. Extend the wrist upward so that it is pulled back. Hold this position for 2 seconds and then lower slowly.
Exercise 4. Strengthening wrist flexor muscles: Hold the weight in the hand with the palm up. Pull the wrist up, hold for 2 seconds and lower slowly.
Exercise 5. Strengthening the muscles that move the wrist from side to side (deviator muscles): Hold the weight in the hand with the thumb pointing up. Move the wrist up and down, much like hammering a nail. All motion should occur at the wrist.
Exercise 6. Strengthening the muscles that twist the wrist (pronator and supinator muscles): Hold the weight in the hand with the thumb pointing up. Turn the wrist inward as far as possible and then outward as far as possible. Hold for 2 seconds and repeat as much as pain allows, up to 50 repetitions.
Exercise 7. Massage is performed over the area of soreness. Apply firm pressure using 2 fingers on the area of pain and rub for 5 minutes. 
If exercise aggravates any of your symptoms, contact a physician or physical therapist These exercises can be used to prevent or rehabilitate injuries in people who play sports or in those who do repetitive forearm work.
Tim L. Uhl, P.T., A.T.,C.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Prints Still Available

I was unable to post an update about my fundraiser because my domain name expired -- and because of a catch-22, I couldn't renew it until 19 days passed and google released it to a third party. Very irritating and a waste of everyone's time -- but mostly mine.

The good news is that my project is fully funded -- and then some. The extra money will be pushed forward into the next phase of the project (more about this below). My full project budget that was approved by USA Projects was for $14,000 in expenses. The fundraising process involved a lot of stress. If the project raised less than $8,000, then USA Projects would have kept all the money that had been donated. That fact really lit a fire under me. I did not want anyone to think that they were donating to my project only to have their money go somewhere else. I was incredibly relieved when we passed the $8,000. mark. This meant that I would receive the money donated -- and it is the minimum amount that I needed to get this project going. However, the bad thing is that USA Projects, at that point, placed a "THIS PROJECT IS FUNDED!!" message across my fundraising page -- even though the budget I gave them states that the project's full budget is $14,000. As could be predicted, donations have really slowed down after they put that message on there. 

As readers of this blog may know, the project that I'm trying to fund is something of a memorial to my great-great-great-great grandfather, who died at sea. The sculptural part of the memorial will be a rowboat that I will cover with handwritten text concerning economics. And since I reached the minimum, I've started burning the text onto the wood that I'm going to use to build the boat (images of the progress can be seen below). The waves of text are starting to coalesce and give a sense of what the boat is going to look like. The idea is becoming a real thing.

The $14,000 will cover all expenses associated with building the boat as well as the expenses associated with a first on-water performance, in which I will drift on Buzzards Bay while reading aloud from Adam Smith's seminal book about capitalism, the Wealth of Nations. I am incredibly grateful to all those who have emailed me with support as well as those who have offered financial assistance.

The next major phase of the project will be to go to the spot that my great-great-great-great grandfather's body was found and to row back to my family's home town. USA Projects is keeping my fundraising page open until the end of the month so that I can raise additional money for that phase. So anyone who is still interested in helping or in getting a print, there's still time.

Donors to the project can choose from several framed prints as a thank you. If you're interested in seeing images of the prints, please visit my fundraising page:

Friday, May 24, 2013


I bought a $20 pair of sneakers last week. And that is probably my shoe budget for 2013. My five-year-old boots will have to last until 2014. My frugality has a missionary zeal because I know that I can get this rowing project done by not spending money on anything but my art. Even so, this project will cost a lot. I've applied for several grants to help me cover the costs. But, so far, I have been turned down by all of them. One of the frustrating things about fundraising is that no one wants to be first. What if no one else funds a project, the budget isn't met, and the project doesn't happen? Then that first funder has wasted money. The second frustrating thing is that as much faith as I have in myself, this project is much bigger than anything I've done before, so I can understand why my proposal has been a difficult sell.

But I have come up with a solution to those two problems. I have broken this large rowing project down into several smaller projects. The scope of each component project is comparable to the scope of a previous project. And I decided to approach USA Projects, a non-profit that helps artists crowd-source funding. I figure that if I can get enough small funders to help me fund the current stage (a.k.a. a smaller project), then I'll have a much better chance of getting the attention of foundations and government agencies when I need funding for the next phase.

So right now I have narrowed my focus. Right now I am just building my boat. That's the project. I am trying to raise enough money to build an eighteen foot wherry, the surface of which I will inscribe with hundreds of pages of tiny, handwritten text. This beautiful, fast, light boat will be a sculptural memorial to my great-great-great-great grandfather, Gideon Dexter.

With the help of USA projects, I have come up with a budget. I need a minimum of $8,000. to get this boat made and to take it for a test run on the water. That will cover boat plans, wood, fiberglass, woodworking tools, woodburning tools, studio rent, the trailer that I'll need to transport the boat, the fees I need to pay for help from a professional boat builder (yes, this boat needs to float and be safe on the water), and updated video editing software. It's a super efficient budget. I'm hoping that I can raise a bit more to help pay for crew and to update my camera -- and to pay for renting a safety boat to use when I get this project out on the water. But $8,000. will get me there and will have the measurable result of a real boat being built.

USA Projects is a non-profit and they have vetted me and my project -- and they've concluded that it's doable and in keeping with their mission. They will require final reports and documentation from me that I have actually spent the money on the project as I said I would. This oversight also means that all donations through USA Projects are tax deductible.

Of course, funders of this project will get more than just a good feeling. I'm making several perqs  to give to people that donate funds, including a video and three new limited edition prints. Everyone who donates at least $25 will be invited to a reception at the first launch of the boat and will be able to download a new video work, along with a certificate of authenticity and exhibition privileges. Donors who give $75 will, in addition, receive a signed and numbered catalog from my recent show (only 25 are signed and numbered). The next three levels of support are invited to the reception, get the video download, and get a framed, signed print. Here's a preview of the prints:
Donors who give $150. will receive the above signed, framed print of a fisherman's knot: Acknowledgments (The New Industrial State, part 2). 2013. pigment on paper, paper size: 5"x5" edition of 25.
Donors who give $500. will receive the above signed, framed print showing a close-up of some lace: Foreward (The New Industrial State, part 1). 2013. pigment on paper, paper size: 8.25"x8.25" edition of 12.
Donors who give $2,000. will receive the above signed, framed print of a Bowen unknot: Change and the Industrial System (The New Industrial State, part 3). 2013. pigment on paper, paper size: 13"x13" edition of 5.

The text in all of these pieces is taken from John Kenneth Galbraith's The New Industrial State. Here are some details so you can see the words clearer:
 detail from Acknowledgments (The New Industrial State, part 2). 2013.
 detail from Foreward (The New Industrial State, part 1). 2013.
detail from Change and the Industrial System (The New Industrial State, part 3). 2013.

Donations of any amount are really appreciated. And, if you're in Southeastern Massachusetts and can volunteer to help me when I launch the boat, that will be appreciated as well!

Here's a link to the fundraising page on the USA Projects website:

Saturday, May 04, 2013


I got a copy of the May issue of ARTnews today. I've been excitedly waiting for the issue because it has a review of my January show. The show presented work that is a prequel to my 2014 row. The writer, Elisabeth Kley, did a great job explaining the show and its relationship to the larger project -- not an easy task. I won't try to put into words how supported I feel when reading a (good) review of my work. All I will say is thank you Ms. Kley and ARTnews.

ARTnews MAY 2013, page 100.

reviews: new york 
Michael Waugh
     Michael Waugh's dense and absorbing exhibition was dominated by a delicate series of representational drawings created entirely out of tiny flowing texts copied from Adam Smith's 1776 The Wealth of Nations. The largest, a triptych, featuring a sinking steamboat engulfed by enormous waves, took nearly 1,200 hours to complete. Other images here included idyllic scenes of rowers in front of country mansions and portraits of handsome young oarsmen. All were visually airy and evanescent in spite of the labor they required. 
     The show was intended as a fundraising prequel to Rowing Back, a future performance inspired by the 1827 death of Waugh's ancestor Gideon Dexter, who froze in a rowboat while attempting to recover his employer's drifting sloop. Waugh plans to hand-build a boat he will row from the place where Dexter died to the site from which he departed, reversing the journey to symbolically recuperate his life. 
     The Invisible Hands (2012), a video documenting Waugh's preparations for this project, was projected on a wall monitor hung over a pair of handmade oars. Shot from a camera attached to the handle of a rowing machine, the film shows Waugh's body moving toward and away from the lens as he trains, with an almost uncomfortable intimacy. Footage of the oars' creation is also included, along with documentation of the unsuccessful maiden voyage in a [racing shell] that immediately capsized, plunging [Waugh] into the water. 
     Another video records one of Waugh's eight-hour readings of Smith's book. Audible fragments of economic theories float in and out of the viewers' consciousness while they look at the rest of the work, enabling Waugh's romanticized Arcadias to dissolve into Smith's impersonal phrases. The arbitrary masochism of Waugh's entire artistic enterprise underscores capitalism's human cost.
- Elisabeth Kley
Michael Waugh, Money as a Particular Branch of Society (The Wealth of Nations, part 17). 2012, ink on mylar, 22" x 28". Winkleman.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Saturday morning was gorgeous. Thirteen people showed up to row at 7:30. We had a slow start, which was unfortunate because we finished late, too. I then rushed over to The Buzzards Bay Coalition for a training/orientation session. I begin as a docent in the visitor center on May 7th.

The really unfortunate thing about getting off the water late was that I missed the "Hi, my name is Karen" introduction part of the meeting. Another rower was at the meeting and had explained to them why I was late. But I never got a chance to say who I am and to talk about my project and explain why I will always have a camera with me. By the time I arrived, we were broken into small groups and asked to present information from the training manual. At that time, I pulled out my camera and was going to briefly talk about my project to just my group.

Before I could do that, the woman sitting next to me got very worked up. "What's That." "What's It For?" "Does [the head of the education department] know your doing this?" Etc. Authority-whispering these things while the docent coordinator was still explaining our task. It got me really flustered and self-conscious -- and then defensive. I said that because I was late, I hadn't been able to do that. I turned the camera on. And before I could explain the camera, the same woman launched into our task. Then, when we were done, she started telling me that I was a bad person for filming. I turned the camera off.

After the presentations were over, I thanked the woman for pressing me about the camera. I tend to forget that some people are unsettled by cameras. So this was a good reminder that I need to be respectful, and, if I run out of time, I can not skip ahead and just do whatever I want without bringing people on board. I told her that I was just trying to do too much and that it was really rude of me to just turn the camera on. She said no, I was breaking the law. What really irritated me is that she never said that she had a problem with the camera. She kept referring to everyone else in the room and legality. She was as presumptuous as I had been by turning on the camera. Who made her spokesperson for everyone else? The fact that I had initiated our conversation with an apology evaporated from my mind, and I began to talk about the legality of taking pictures for private use. Then she began quoting school department policy, which is kind of a non sequitur -- so much so that I realized that it would be better to drop the subject. I thanked her again and restated that I had been incredibly rude. She reiterated that I was a bad person. Lovely.

The staff of the education department then started their portion of the session. One of the segments was about how the coalition uses social media to spread the word about the environmental work that they do. The docent coordinator said that, "I've already Tweeted about this training session and posted a picture of all of us here." She never asked our permission.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Women's Four

I got up at 4AM to meet the women's competitive team at the New Bedford Community Rowing Pod for their 5:30 training. Coach Bayse wanted to get some footage to help with feedback. I had my Handycam in the coach's launch, and I attached two GoPro's on the four that the women were rowing. Anna, the cox, was a good sport and wore a cam on her head. And Georgia let me put the other one on her starboard oar. They made some jokes comparing themselves to the Jamaican bobsled team in the movie Cool Runnings. But they were great. I rowed in the four once last year, and it was not fun. Granted, four is more stable than a single (which I couldn't stay in at all). However, the morning was so gorgeous that I almost wished that I was rowing.
Here's the view from Anna's seat, reviewing her cox's notes.
And my view from the coach's launch.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The best discussion during practice tonight was about a house that sits right on the Acushnet river (Fairhaven side). It's for sale for 1 million. "No way they're gonna get that for a house overlooking a superfund site."
Still, it's got to be the prettiest superfund site around. I started getting blisters yesterday while using the pickaxe in the garden. After tonight's row, my hands look like they've been handling plutonium. Not so pretty.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On the Water

Today was the first time that NBCR was back on the water for 2013. Tendinitis in my shoulder is keeping me from helping to carry the boat down to the water. I should have brought this problem up last season because I continually aggravated my shoulder carrying the boat. This is part of the learning process here. As an independent studio artist, I'm used to being responsible for doing everything myself. It's a constant effort to remember that I'm not responsible here. I can ask the coaches to decide or help solve a problem. And they will. It's kind of a new experience for me.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Out of Storage

NBCR stored a lot of stuff in the barn this winter. On Saturday, a bunch of members came by and we unloaded everything. The biggest thing was the launch, a small, pontoon motorboat. We had ten people lifting it and carrying it out and walking it onto a flat-bed trailer.
The oars were all tucked up between the pontoons and a small dingy was loaded onto another truck. We get back on the water Tuesday. I'm a little worried because my shoulder has been bothering me. But I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


For the past week and a half, I've been afraid that I was going to have to abandon my rowing project. I had finally bought myself an indoor rower (an erg) so that I could train daily without having to go to the gym or get onto the water. No Excuses. It was a big, one-time investment. But it's actually cheaper than a year and a half of gym memberships. However, about a week after getting the machine, I had a problem.

20 years ago, I was diagnosed with bursitis in my right hip. I got a steroid shot and had to give up jogging. Having a doctor tell me that, in fact, I was not as robust as the average person fed into all my gay-boy insecurities. But one moves on. The bursitis has flared up from time to time. But for the past ten years, the flare-ups have been minor. But after using my new erg, the flare-up in my hip was as bad as it has ever been. When it started, it was as if a sword was inserted at my hip and driven down my leg towards my knee.

I immediately started icing the hip twice a day (Ace bandages are a great fashion accessory, no?) and taking naproxin. I limited my walking (bad because the problem coincided with Art Week in New York). I had to miss the most active week for contemporary art. Two weeks later, the popping of my hip and the pain had decreased enough for me to get on the erg for an easy 2000m. It was a moment of truth. If the motion of the erg set my hip off, then the project would be over.

Of course, there was no logic to thinking that the erg had caused the problem. It was the same model as I had used at the gym. The motion is the same as I learned last summer on the water with New Bedford Community Rowing. And I had only used the new erg a few times. Really, I had not increased my rowing activity significantly. But I care deeply about this project; I've invested a year into it; I've got another year and a half to two years before it's completed. And I'm not as robust as the average person. Who wouldn't worry.

The easy work out did not cause any problem. No popping. No pain. So I started to think more logically about what might have caused the problem. And I remembered that on the day the shooting pain started, I'd been having some trouble walking. And, yes, maybe that trouble had been coming on slowly. But walking hasn't been easy for 20 years, so I tend to ignore minor aches.

This winter, when the weather started getting nasty, I had looked around for a pair of boots. I found a pair that my dad had bought a few months before he got sick. He'd never worn them. They fit me. Problem solved. Of course these were $20 boots from Wal-Mart. Great for keeping snow off the feet. Bad for walking all over New York -- or anywhere. One's feet kind of roll side-to-side instead of front to back. The voice of my friend Bob, who is a physical therapist, came back to me, "make sure you keep your feet straight and push off from your second toe."

I put on the boots and walked across the room. It was impossible to push off from the second toe. They rolled such that I was pushing off from the ball of my foot and my whole body was rocking. I had been wearing these as my primary shoes since mid December. They are now in the trash.

I still need to take it easy on the erg until my hip feels stable. But the story isn't over -- though it is for those boots.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


On February 1st, 1827, My great-great-great-great gransfather's body was found off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. He died in a working-class rowing accident having rowed himself to exhaustion against an unexpected storm.

To mark the anniversary, I stayed outside yesterday in freezing temperatures for an eight-hour work day without taking any breaks for any reason. I set myself up on the street outside the gallery where my solo show is being hosted (Winkleman gallery in collaboration with Schroeder Romero). The first half-hour of that time was consumed setting up a camera -- then I began reading aloud from Adam Smith's seminal book about capitalism, The Wealth of Nations. I thought that I might read for eight hours beyond the 30 minutes I spent setting up. But after being outside for eight hours, hoarse, sore, and cold, I read these words, "In the public deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard, and less regarded; except upon particular occasions, when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but their own particular purposes." And I knew that this was the perfect line on which to end.

By the six-hour mark, I had to start doing three to six squats about every five minutes. Activating the large muscles of the legs burned enough calories to keep me from getting hypothermia. I was sure that I looked like an idiot. But even with doing the squats, by the end, I was totally chilled. I couldn't stop shaking for about an hour afterwards. Staying outside longer would have been bad, and I knew that, too. I would have had to have been continually exercising to generate enough heat to stay warm --and if I'd done that, I couldn't have gotten enough breath to read aloud. Panting would have made it hard to be stentorian. Adhering to the eight-hour work day allowed me to get the job done and not need medical intervention.

Thanks are due to my cameraman Christopher Cruzcosa who braved the cold with me.