Widowsweave is an awareness raising series of performances highlighting the conditions of Iraqi Widows who often struggle to acquire even basic necessities such as clean water or adequate shelter. Through artistic durational activities the artist and public participants mark 3,000,000 lines representing the number of Iraqi widows from 30 years of war, tyranny and sanctions.


Kevin Valentine will have three new pieces in the Faculty Show at North Central College, Naperville. The reception is April 8th, from 6-8

Friday, July 31, 2009

Lines in the Sand - History

Here's what Wiki has to say about lines in the sand:

"A line in the sand is, metaphorically, a point beyond wich no further advances will be accepted or made."

The Spartans used a line in the sand in defense of Greece. The Romans, Maori, and Alamo defenders all used lines in the sand to divide between here and there, between those for and against.

"The phrase may also be used to denote an invisible or implied boundary or rule, which may be easily transgressed by those unaware of its existence. This is precisely because of the ephemeral nature of a line drawn in the sand which quickly disappears however emphatically it may have been drawn in the first place. This means that transgressors are usually unaware that they have "crossed the line" until too late.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Widows’ Memorial

Saturday, July 25, 2009
Widows’ memorial

I woke up this morning thinking of Felix Gonzales-Torres’ candy piece and was wondering about on-line directions for people who make lines in the sand. What if the sticks used to make a certain number of lines were sliced into thin biscuits, then piled up in a corner or on a table. Viewers could take one, apply a stroke of black paint, and keep it. More chips would be added? Or the number would diminish until the pile was gone representing healing?

Also I was thinking about a Widows memorial, like the war memorials in DC, only one in every country. Was widows sacrifice a part of their lives. Where is there memorial? Why can’t we have a memorial with benches, trees and a garden for people to come and contemplate, and remember?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lines of Inquiry

Here's a list of some of my upcoming lines of inquiry. Stephanie Brooks recommended that I make a list of 20-50 things that something can mean/that I want it to mean/that I want to look into -then narrow it down to the best 2-4 or so. Art can mean so many things, can be so expansive that it helps to focus on a few meanings at a time, though they may change, otherwise the message gets lost.

Lines of Inquiry:

Oud - music and instrument
Weaving/Widow's weave
Widow's plight more specifically
Arabic language
"Lines in the Sand" - meanings
Chalkboards - meanings in Iraq
Group action/activism
Activist art
Political art
Durational Art
Grid art
Advocacy art
Repetitive labor as metaphor/symbol
Action Days
Not-for-profits in Iraq

Tuesday: Paul Catanese

I talked to Paul about what I've been doing this summer since David's class, and he asked the big question again of Why?: Because I want to advocate. What can I do to heal?

Also re-shot the Widows media project in the installation room with sound.

Saturday at Marge's

Saturday Mary and I visited our longtime friend and fellow artist Marge Roche, who is an art friend I have known since I first moved to Evanston. A founding member of the Figurative Art League, she has travelled to Nepal, bringing art and conversation to a remote village there on many an occasion, and returning with stories, sketches, and watercolors.

We talked about my project and I shared stills and video of the Widows so far. She likened the chalk lines and the lines in the sand to Buddist monks who carve a phrase into a small bead, the same phrase over and over for 12 years. She also brought up the Rosary as a means, like the monks', not of getting to a certain number, but as a means of meditation, of getting beyond distracted everyday thought into a prayerful, focused realm.

She also asked if she could help. I had mentioned the man on the beach who had calculated that it could not be done (three million lines in the sand in one year). She thought a few of us could go down to the beach and do a few hundred lines. What a selfless and wonderful idea. Again and again, I find that I'm coming to the conclusion that it is not about me, it's about the healing possibility: what can be do to advocate? not what can be done to validate my art?

Still Friday

Friday, after cleaning the studio, we had an open house at Oxbow with up to 100 in attendance. Visitors wandered around the grounds from studio to studio. I had put up the green-white banner on the wall which reached along a-wall-and-a-half. "Widow's Banner" also a print "Widows" and my double flag "Flag for Iraq"

Later at the benefit auction, a "Widows" artist's proof was purchased for $70 to go Oxbow.

Friday Still: Temporary Services Visit

In the afternoon I met with Temporary Services, the artist collective who among other thing does projects addressing prison conditions and reform. We talked about how the number three-million is arbitrary, abstract and anecdotal.

They mentioned what I had been thinking the night before: going to Iraq

They suggested I look into Emily Jacir's work in Palestine
Paul Chan's work
Dave's stories
and a piece
"Talking Stick"

They reminded me to find out what the Iraqi woman need, to talk to organizations who would know what would actually help the widows in Iraq. It was pointed out that my artistic plans might not match up with what really is needed. Sometimes they do, sometimes not, but that if I want to be an advocate, I must be willing to go in directions that I had not even thought of.
Mark talked about how he had to spend an enormous amount of time and emotional effort saving Angelo's roommate from death by advocating for health services. His reasoning (in fundraising) was that the artist/prisoner Angelo needed his longtime roommate for mental stability. So Mark had to organize Temporary Services' support base to raise this money and they pulled through. But he said that it was tough, scary and rewarding.

Temporary Services: http://www.temporaryservices.org/
Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin, Marc Fischer

Oxbow Friday Continued: Lines in Sand Critique

We looked at some excerpts of the lines in the sand video. Many felt that this video was about me not about the content. But then the discussion was about the repetitive labor, the meditation which was going on during the performance. Some thought that the fact that I went in and out of frame until about 300 lines was a mistake, others like this. discussion touched upon the relative value of the three-million number, the interaction with the public, the video documentation itself, the artifactal nature of the numbered sticks. Some classmates would prefer to see still shots of the project than video.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Friday at Oxbow

I've been averaging under 4 hours sleep, but managing it well all week. I got up early and printed eight extra prints on the buff paper, of which maybe five were really clean because the screen is getting old and they have no real screen tape (actually I couldn't find any tape at all). Back for a quick breakfast then off to set up my tent in the meadow, in the wind. I set it up and moved the off-center silk screened banner over off and on all morning till it was centered on the tent. I didn't look like a cabana, but then again it didn't quite look like Bedouin tent either, or rather it didn't look like my impression of an Iraqi Bedouin tent - more like something from western Afaghanistan or Mongolia, but made by an artist - but I don't really know.

Critique was fun and informative. I opened by saying that I had three pieces, two time based pieces and ...Oh, wait, I have something for you.... (rummage in back pack for a while) I can't find it... I'll give it to you later" then I just looked out at the class and waited. People were looking and waiting and finally Allison said, "wait, this is your piece, isn't it?" I waited a little more (later people said I should have milked it longer), and said, has anyone heard these words in the last two days, repeating the prompt" Kate raised her hand, and one by one everyone recognized that this had happened to them. Some wanted what that person had. Some couldn't believe that I know enough about them to know who to ask. Omair said that it was somehow sweet that I had taken time to observe and investigate who would be perfect for each person.

Then we looked at the smile cam, which I find interesting to watch and Stephanie didn't think that it was as successful because of the plain-vanilla quality of the action. Everyone loves to smile. I kind of agree, though it was fun to set up, it didn't entice that many people into participating. Perhaps some more unusual instruction would be more interesting - or I could put a secret surveillance camera on the person behind the camera, and post that instead?

Oxbow Work Day

I'm trying to remember Thursday clearly on Monday morning. Thursday continued to be a work day with my covert/overt projects and setting up the tent, finishing editions and silkscreening. It's a little bit of a blur because I had a list of nine things I wanted to get done, and I just kept finishing as many as I could.

For Overt/Covert I continued to hand out the slips of paper requesting people to tell different people: "I have something for you" ...rummage around... "I can't find it right now" "I'll give it to you later" I assigned a different person to each member of the class including Carson and Stephanie. I tried to find people who would actually have something for them. Roommates, friends, coworkers. It took about two days to cover all bases, but by dinner it was all set up.

For the Overt part, I set up a Smile Cam in the dining room at dinner and left it up through dinner the next day, but I think that it was too much to ask for people to start and stop the camera. Or the directions were too bland. If I had a surveillance camera system, one that wouldn't automatically shut down ever ten minutes like my DV cam, I think it would have worked mu better. Perhaps I will try some combination of these projects again in some form. The instruction was to make your friend smile on camera without using words.

I signed all my prints in the Widows edition, despite the fact that some were varients, with unprinted corners, or slightly darker printing. It was either that or switch to buff paper in the middle. I had ink but no more Rives Heavyweight White paper.

I captured, edited and rendered selections of the Smile Cam, and the Sand drawing. I went to meet with the Temporary Services group of visiting artists, but I had signed up for the wrong day. the sheet had no break in the middle - say Thursday at the top, and 3:30 at the bottom, but in the middle it change from Thursday to Friday. If only I had taught them graphic design:)

Late night I went over to cut my tent stakes down 7 inches to since they weren't going to sink into sand on the meadow. I helped Michelle put together some construct of a miniature doorway. After putting all the tent stuff in my room, I don't remember what else I did; perhaps that's when I wrote the Lines in the Sand post?

I printed a set 25 impressions of the screen print on a two yard long peice of nice cotton canvas (twill?). I came out well, but somehow looked smaller, not larger. I think that it would have to be much, much larger for it to carry the weight of the symbolic number, three million. I know I did this late, but it was probably Wednesday.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lines in the Sand

I drew 1000 lines in the sand, starting with a short, back-breaking stick. I traded up twice to get to two and a half feet - still very hard to draw in the sand. I was making the lines about sixteen paces long.

One family walked by and I asked them if they saw a longer stick on their walk, could they bring it to me.

The guy on the dune buggy rolled up & over when I was at 314 lines. White hair, broad chested man, taking $5 from visitors to the private beach, but Oxbow is free. I told him I was drawing 3 million lines in the sand for the widows in Iraq. He said, "Well... it's about time somebody did something for all we've done to them. Did you know that those teenage girls are forced into prostitution." We talked some more; he said that he doesn't usually talk politics, but this really bothers him.

I get emotional doing these pieces. I almost teared up when I was only in the 200's, thinking about all those widows. That sounds really cliche, but it's true that these meditative explorations into repetitive labor focus the mind and body on the at-hand task in a way that creates a real life cathartic connection.

3,000,000 marks is a whole lot more than the 3500 chalk marks I've been doing, especially if I try to do them one at a time. The first ones I did were about sixteen paces, dragging the stick behind, bent over painfully. It became a little easier when the family came back with a longer stick - actually they brought two. They took my picture, wished me luck and told me they know I would make it and when they hear that I finish a year from now, they'd have the picture from my first day. Emotional again.

At least this saved my back, but my quads and calves were sore by 700 or so. I switched to a side step which changed the gesture from dragging to sweeping - how futile to sweep sand with a stick. Bedouins have sand floors. There are up to 5 million Bedouins of various tribes in Iraq. They were killed in large numbers early in this last war.

I spent about 2hrs. 40 mins. on 1000 lines and 30 more writing so far. As the guy on the dune buggy said on his way back, "I've been calculation and you're never going to make it like that." True. I figure that at this rate it would take 8-10 yrs. But shorter strokes representing other domestic chores will speed ti up. I will try to resist the mass approach (e.g. using a rake), but again as this man said, "It's the gesture that's important."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oxbow Update

Tuesday I took my time getting up after another short sleep. I had not found the Catch Phrase game, so I went stargazing. Earlier Nick had done a fire piece on the dock, lighting two strips on fire and watching them go out over astronomical twilight. Then I talked to Matt from NY, a fellow, about stars, because he's taking astronomy this fall, and because the stars were great, with lower humidity and a later rising moon. Antares was up, but Sagittarius was still behind the hill. I did see two shooting stars. We talked also about sky-art making and I mentioned Trevor Paglen's work. We talked about models of the universe, science and art, and MAX/MSP. Before that I completed the Cube pieces, painting six landscapes looking different directions from the same point of view. I covered myself with clothes all except my fingers and face. The mosquitoes were swarming in the evening woods.

Wednesday I woke up and went out to hang the blank cube in the woods. I'm not sure about the shape or how cliche it is, as I discussed with Omair and Landon, but I had it made and it helped the piece. I think that putting photos of the cube in the woods, in the gallery would help a lot, and maybe a video too. It is too simple a statement to just switch the scene (switcheroo, as Kate aptly put it) - I need to bring the blank cube back inside. Crits went well, with people pointing out shortcomings in the logic of the piece and giving helpful suggestions. I might also try a mirrored shape sometime, hanging on the woods, the problem being that at the height at which had hung it, a mirrored cube could be really dangerous. But it was so satisfying to just go out and paint.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Landscape Cube

I finished the investigation of interior/exterior organic/inorganic assignment. It was fun to do, involved painting six watercolors in the late evening in the woods with plenty of interaction - with mosquitos.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


After thought and discussion I decided not to put up the tent yet as the imagery and references were too muddled. My installation consisted of two banners, each 24 feet long stretched on poles in the sand (at the beach) upon which were printed silk-screens of a grid pattern of strokes - one banner in black, one in almost white (light mint green). There was also a flag for each banner, and a larger flag with both images on the same face.

My ideas included: two sides in Iraq killing each other, two tribes at war; despair and hope, death and survival as two states of widowhood; a game where two sides try to win.
piece asks too much of the viewer, even with the title Iraq, those who did not know my intentions had trouble guessing even the simple metaphoric meanings with or without the title. That being said, I think that it could still be a useful piece if I can make more connections.

The performance aspect of the chalk Widows is powerful for me as well as the audience - this piece may need to be translated into a performance. It would be great if the tent was an actual Bedouin design. If I could learn to weave it would be that much better hand-made. And if I could serve people in the tent with Coffee and pillows and weavings on the wall, then I might have something.

I still plan on putting up the tent to document and see what it looks like. Tomorrow I'd like to go to the beach and put it up to see how it feels, and what I could be doing in there - maybe doing the chalk piece inside?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bedouin Tent

Yesterday my project on a temporary structure, based in an historical movement in art or architecture switched from a Weaver bird’s nest to a Bedouin tent. The nomadic culture, which is in decline, reaches from North Africa to Western Asia. Their tents can be complex, held together with pulleys and ropes have up to five rooms, with movable partitions of varying decorative value. Traditionally the women would weave the tent or parts of the tent on giant looms staked to the ground, up to twenty-five feet long. Strips would be sown together to create the tent, with the most complex weavings on the partitions facing guest and men’s meeting areas. More tents are using purchased white canvas for all but the best partitions and some decorative strips on the walls.

I bought wood for stakes and fabric to make a 2x4 yard tent with low walls about 45” high, with a peaked roof. I have almost finished my decorative strip on with silkscreen prints of a Widows grid or weave. It’s eight yards long on an Army green cloth. But I’m wondering if just the strip or banner of cloth might be more effective than the whole tent. We talked Monday in class about the dematerialized object. Making a tent is literally material, 18 yards of material. Might it be more effective to have the staked poles and just a movable banner?

What I’m trying to capture is the loss and the ability to persevere in the face of that loss. It is a loss of culture, time, and of family. In Iraq, there are up to 5 million Bedouin people, and in some places there were up to 300 tortured killings a day of men in some areas by the militias after the US invasion. Many of the remaining men joined tribal militias themselves to fight the killing. What of the women? One can imagine what unwritten horrors they have witnessed or lived through.

Monday, July 6, 2009

from Ox-Bow

We are working on an assignment to create a structure or residence based on historical architectural or artistic references. I am considering a Weaver's nest in reference to Widow's weaver's guilds created to sustain widows after wars. The best reference I have found is to Jessie Vasey, the Australian advocate who became a war widow herself. She founded guilds in all the provinces of Australia, and worked on housing, pension and legal issues.

The weaver bird creates beautifully woven nests which are entered through tubes at the bottom of the nest which is suspended from a branch. I would create some reference to the woven habitat to fulfill the assignment. It might be some form of installed nest, or perhaps a performance of weaving on location somewhere on campus.

Meeting with Stephanie Brooks brought out two names: Agnes Martin's grid paintings and
Rosalind Krauss a critic who writes about the grid in 20th Century art. I have looked at a little of this, but will continue the research. She commented about how interesting it is to have something reference grid paintings, without being about the grid at all, but rather about this other situation in Iraq with the resigned minister.

Another word for the Widows piece is advocacy. The work can advocate without being about fundraising, but then to what degree is it successful. We talked this morning about what "good" art is vs. "important" art. Is this either? Both?