Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's been a while...

...since I last posted to the blog.  Not sure why exactly, except to say that travel and then the start of school seemed to dominate the daily landscape.  But now, here I am (arrrgh!), having just returned from another bout with surgery, where silence again dominates my day. Hopefully things will be alright, but still...

It all provides cause for some introspection for sure, within the professional, personal, and all other sides of life.  I've made a lot of ceramic work this past year, in a time of ups and downs, confirming for me, at least, that art certainly plays a role in ones day-to-day, allowing it to be the voice when you don't have one, thoughts when you feel worn out, a sense of touch when the hands are tired, or a simple comforting of spirit when things get weird.  I really can't make sense of it all, and as I age I find myself more contemplative than combative.  The high energy of my youth gives way to now older, thoughtful perspectives on what I make, what I do, who I am with, and all other aspects of being fully human.  There was a time I thought I would live forever, but with age I realize that is not a proposition any of us really need.  What we need is to realize the limits of our time and make the most of it.  Being productive in the studio is part of that, and touching the lives of those around us even more important than anything else.  I remember when I was young thinking about my father, who, without a great education on the higher academic level, that he was not that smart.  But as I got older, it was amazing how much smarter he became.  He had wisdom, something no one teaches us except life itself.  He had it, I want it!

So, it's another week of silence, and I hope I can learn something from it, coming from someone who probably speaks out more than he should. Nature's way of saying be still, be contemplative, be reflective.  I'll try to spend the days this week working in the studio (in silence), writing, watching the world around me without offering comment (physical, political, spiritual, etc.), hoping to gain some of that wisdom that seemed to come so naturally to my father before me.  I have heard the saying 'the nut does not fall too far from the tree', but in thinking of me and my father, I feel I am just a nut, not sure when or where to fall, but hoping when I land I am in his shadow.

In the meantime, I'll keep making 'stuff' in my studio, and here's a couple of things I just finished.  The sounds of silence, in me and my work?  We'll see!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Out of the jungle...

...and into another.  Another jungle that is, except this one is paved with concrete and displays billboards at every intersection.  You see, the junlge, the real jungles of the Amazon, are what one might imagine when thinking about jungle life.  Having spent years traveling into the rainforest of Ecuador, I am keenly aware of jungle life.  And while I think many of us think of the jungle as a difficult place to exist, I now tend to think that the jungles of civilization are far more difficult.  Sure, it is indeed a hard life in the real jungles of the Amazon, the least of which require bathing in rivers, eating very strange foods, sleeping on hard floors and trekking through slippery paths that are lined with animals and snakes (and I still, after over 25 years of doing travel and research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, have never conquered my own fear of snakes!).  Go figure, yet I remain committed to returning to a place that, while steeped in daily obstacles of survival, are also steeped in traditions that draw a person back year after year trying to better understand and grasp the very nature of life in such a remote location.

For me, the real struggle of travel within the rainforest is realized more and more as I age.  It is far more difficult to trek up slippery slopes, sleep on those hard floors, and swat away mosquitos at an alarming rate now than it was 20 years ago (and did I mention the snakes!?)...or at least I keep telling myself that.  I am not as flexible as i once was, and each year I tell myself why am I doing this since it seems to be harder and harder, at least physically.  Yet here I am, having just returned from yet another adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, feeling a bit stiff and sore, thinking again of another trip down the road. Am I nuts!?

Well, maybe the secret is not my inability to realize I am aging and this stuff is getting harder, but more so my ability to realize what I am seeing and experiencing.  Making indigenous friends along the way, working with women potters who are in their 80's and still creating pieces that speak to a social and mythological consciousness, and feeling truly alive, something that comes only by living on life's edge, is what seems to provide the fuel to keep me returning. It is indeed a jungle out there, and while it is a very different type of jungle than what I see back home, it is still a place that allows me to keep learning about people, their daily lives and values, and the work they produce that helps define a type of cultural ethos we (artists at least) long to find in our own creative work.  So yes, I am indeed getting older, but the traditions I see in the Amazon jungle are older still, and ones that existed long before I arrived and serve to help me better understand my own place in the world.  For that, and the many indigenous friends I have made along the way, I am grateful.  And with that, I am sure to find more reasons to return.  But still, those snakes...!

For a recent look at an article in Studio Potter magazine (titled 'Preserving Culture...') on our work in the Amazon, go to:  http://issuu.com/studiopotter/docs/sp41_2web_32bf155af6b14e

Kichwa potter Rebecca Gualinga
in the village of Sarayacu

painting a mucawa

sleeping quarters

Cup of the day-101...

Chandra DeBuse

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Saving culture...

...or is it saving the earth?  Not sure, but the 'biosphere' seems to be the hot ticket term people know best, and sometimes care more about, after all, it is the sum of all ecosystems.  But what about culture?  As anthropologist Wade Davis puts it...'ethnosphere'.  By definition, perhaps it is sum of all cultural systems.  Davis says:

"...the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human consciousness since the dawn of our existence.  The ethnosphere is humanities greatest legacy.  It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, and the symbol of all that we have created as a wildly imaginative and creative species.

I am curious about all of this as I prepare for yet another journey into the Ecuadorian Amazon, in quest of recording, witnessing, and hopefully, understanding more fully the cultural diversity of indigenous people as seen through their art, in particular ceramics.  Sure, I care deeply about the biosphere, but honestly, I know far less about it than I probably should.  Beyond environmental issues relating to food and life, the biosphere has always been shrouded in a complex web of facts and ideas.  Whereas the ethnosphere seems closer to home for me.  After all, I have spent many years studying art and it's impact on people and culture, and more recently (if over twenty years can be considered more recent), I have been studying the ceramic works of women potters in the Amazon region of Ecuador (this being preceded by years of travel and study of indigenous potters from Mexico and further south, ending up in the Amazon).  So culture, or rather the study of such, is indeed closer to home for me, and something I cherish as a way to better understand others from more remote places and different backgrounds.

Culture, to me anyway, is the life blood of human thought and existence.  It is the thing that helps us understand how we, as humans, are both similar and different.  Varying ways to live, eat, love, laugh, cry, etc., all help underscore our diversity and similarities.  Watching potters make pots in the jungle can be a most humbling experience, especially knowing they have no formal art degrees, sophisticated materials or techniques.  Yet the products they produce are honest, direct, meaningful and relevant.  They help describe a people in a most unique manner, with little ego entering into the equation.  Awesome to witness, and wonderful to enjoy.  Pottery is my reason (or is it excuse) to be part of their lives.

More thoughts and information on the potters of the Amazon can be found in an article I have written with my friend and research partner Richard Burkett (photos by us and Nan Coffin) in the upcoming issue of Studio Potter magazine.  The theme of this next issue is 'Indigenous', and our contributions to this issue will hopefully add some dimension to the term and all it implies.  A digital sample can be found at:  http://issuu.com/studiopotter/docs/sp41_2web

young Andoan girl

painted mucawa

chicha storage containers

Cup of the day-64...

Minoan / 2200-1900 bc