…and we’re back!

Posted by on Jun 23, 2009 in Blog | One Comment

I’m back in Calvi!!! After 6 months in San Francisco, I’ve returned to the fold with a swanky new MFA in tow. You may call me Mistress now. It was a strange and wonderful thing to be back in the States for so long: the distinctions clearly illustrated between Italian & American bureaucracy, rural & urban living, historical & experimental studio practices.


The results of my own studio practice was a video piece called “Practice.” Using footage from my underwater headcam worn during synchronized swimming practice, the piece investigates the connections amongst contemplative practice, studio practice, and swim practice. Juxtaposing the  breathing of the swimmer & dizzying movements of the camera with a kaleidoscopic mandala composed of the same footage, the piece asks if it matters what the goal of your practice is. Pick your action, imbue it with meaning, and do it again. Again and again and again. Practice is about repetition. Practice is about reshaping the practitioner over time. Practice is about building a system and then turning it inside out, crossing over, feeding back, renewing. The system generates something new, an expression of a regimen of disciplined cadence that might take place in a studio, on a cushion, or in a pool. Wherever it happens, practice is a commitment, repetitive and prolonged, a structured and sustained effort that yields perspectives that are undiscoverable any other way. The monk goes to her mandala, the artist to her studio, the swimmer to the pool – what is the distinction amongst them? Here is a one-minute excerpt from the 3-and-a-half minute whole. Imagine it really enormous—the ideal mode of experiencing this piece is projected 15 feet wide.

In preparation for what we hope will be the inevitable donation of a historic printing press to the Art Monastery, I seized my final moments of higher education by taking a printmaking class. Here are some etching investigations of peacock feathers.

I worked really hard this semester. After weeks of staying at the studio late into the night, I lugged the materials to build a room in which to house my video projection to Fort Mason, the waterfront site of San Francisco Art Institute’s MFA thesis show, affectionately referred to as Vernissage. I had a team of volunteers lined up to help me (thank you so much you guys!) and finished the installation early. Unheard of. It was enormously satisfying to work so hard, to put in so much time, to plan so relentlessly, and to have that all come together into a seamless final moment. It created some perspective for me around how hard we work at the Art Monastery, the long hours we log, the moving targets, the comically chaotic environment. We do so much and, mostly because of the much larger arc of the project, the moments where we lean back in our chairs and say, “Aaaaah yes!” and bask in the glory of the fruits of our labors are few and far between. It is with this perspective that I return to lovely Calvi dell’Umbria. I arrive here with a new understanding that if things don’t feel like they are running really smoothly or that the future seems a tad hazy, it isn’t because we aren’t doing everything we could possibly do and it doesn’t mean the project isn’t either on it’s way to becoming or presently already a great success. It also speaks to the gargantuan hearts of the people who have dedicated themselves to this project. Who are these people who work so much with so little pay back? These are some serious work-your-fingers-to-the-bone dreamers. These are some people who are willing to do what it takes to find out what happens when you GO FOR IT. These are some people who set out to live their lives as complicated, rich, unending works of art. I am honored to be back amongst my people, the otherhood of art monks, back in the studio that is Italy, back in the throes of a shared masterpiece in the making. Hello Art Monastery Project. It’s good to be back.

To see my other work, I invite you to visit https://www.artmonastery.org/betsymccall.

1 Comment

  1. David Hanson
    September 27, 2009

    I feel wonderfully connected to this article. I know the sister hood would be so proud
    to have their tradition carried on by someone so alive and such a good writer.

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