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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thesis Colaboration Idea

Kelly suggested that I have a sort of raise-money-for-charity pledge system as one of my events in the installation, where people pledge a cent per line or so, and collected pledges are brought in and a certain number of lines are drawn (1000 = $10)

Thesis Critique

Critiques went well, very smoothly.  I showed video of chalk and sand pieces, talked about the why, the how etc...  I talked about the project and the exhibit.  I asked some logistical questions about the installation.  We also had a debate about how to raise the money for the widows - should I start a 501(c)3 or look for Fiscal Sponsorship?

10/20 Crit Rehearsal/10/21 Thesis Committee Meeting

What I left out of presentation:

Why 3 million?
Why 3 million squares?
show project manifestations?

Talked with Mel and Paul next day 10/21:
I showed them my presentation and talked about some of the changes I wanted to make including adding more backstory to my project, revamping the video (cleaning up), and showing video at the appropriate times, not at the beginning.

10/24 Jaber Alturfee & Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud

Back at the Jeremy Deller exhibit at the MCA, I was visiting with Jaber Alturfee with Ahlam acting as translator.  I listened more this week, as he talked to people.  He was saying that if the Americans pul out now, they are only half done training the security forces (military, police).  Democracy takes time.  After the 2003 invasion, there used to be meetings of leaders from around the country to talk about shaping the future of Iraq, but they had all stopped before he left in 2008.  He noted that the defense agreement between the US and Iraq was for defense from foriegn invaders - or he might have said that it should be - and that there is a great need to build up a civil society.  He stated that the security now is better than it was 3-4 yrs ago. 

We talked about meeting to see what is suitable, what can be done for widows in Iraq.  He said that we need to sit together and think about who to help and what their need is.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Conceptual Art

Lying in bed this morning, when I should be asleep, I realized that my work has always been conceptual art.  I've done my share of landscapes, architectural and figurative work, but all my series have been conceptual.  It also occurred to me that my thesis proposal is basically an enlarged Cabinet, I just never saw it that way.  Now I have to make a Widows Cabinet.

My mind has been spinning all week with ideas.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10/17: Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud al Al-Jabouri and Beth Ann Toupin

Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud al Al-Jabouri and Beth Ann Toupin, co-founders of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society Chicago, were at Jeremy Deller's It is what it is exhibit talking about Iraq, refugees going first to Syria then to Chicago.  We talked about their work helping settle refugees who know little of our culture, even if they know the language, which about half do by their estimates.  They said that most of our culture they pick up from prime-time TV, so when Ahlam's relatives knew she was in Chicago, they asked if there are a lot of gangs around.

They both explained that when they arrive in Syria, where most of the refugees are because their border remains open to refugees headed to the UN camps, they put their names on the list and about a quarter of them get resettled, with many coming to Chicago, settling in Rodgers Park and Edgewater.  They get one month's rent, a bed (cot) per person, a blanket, a fork, a knife, a plate and a piece of furniture for the living room (can be a plastic chair).  They get a little money, much of which goes to rent deposit and some overhead for the agency that settles them and buys the items.  The Iraqi Mutual Aid Society tries to cook them a meal when they first arrive, and get them donated items they might need like winter coats or sofas etc....

They estimated that 17,000 refugees arrive per year, and about 1400 arrive in Chicago.  There are 2,000,000 refugees in Syria.  As of yet, their group has no funding, just volunteers, and a donated space to store furniture and clothes.   Ahlam said that in Rodgers Park and Edgewater there are about 5 or 6 Iraqi families in a single block.  Beth said that adapting to the culture is challenging.  One of the first things they tell them is not to bribe the police.  If you get stopped for a traffic violation in Iraq, the first thing you do is reach for your wallet, so the police know that you will pay them.  Not such a good idea in Chicago.  But Ahlam said that the police have really helped her twice already.  The first night she was here, she went out to get an item at the store, and couldn't find her way home.  She flagged down a cop who drove her around the neighborhood till she recognized where she was at.

Beth talked about how educated refugees sometimes find it harder to adjust because they might have had a great profession in Iraq, and working sweeping floors for $7 dollars an hour is such a shock to a skilled doctor or architect, for instance.

We also talked about life in Iraq.  In the exhibit their is an actual car, mangled from a car bomb and burnt and rusty.  There are also photos of an historic street market where people come to sell books that they may have read, and to buy books they have not read yet.  There is a before picture, a bombed picture - where one cannot tell that it is even a street - and a new picture of it rebuilt.  Ahlam said that you have no idea when you are told that there was a car bomb, what scale that means.  These things are extremely destructive.  Twice, she told us, she was a block or more away.  First thing is that you cannot hear, and your ears start to bleed.  Then you can't smell or breath from your nose for the smoke.  Then your head hurts like a migraine due to the concussive power of the bomb.

We talked about charities in Iraq and the widows.  Only the small charities and NGO's are left, ones that don't need insurance.  Even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have pulled out.
The challenge is even more acute in the countryside.  Women there are stuck with their relatives and there is no aid or charity working in those areas.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Second meeting with Mel P.

We talked about the threshold between rooms.   Mel recommended Terance Koh's work (a Whitney installation) Brimming from a Ray of Light for its lighting design.  Mel was mainly concerned with the design of the first room which takes up most of the space, but says less than it might.

She rightly advised me to activate the imagery in the doorway.  It will be extremely important as it is the threshold between the two rooms - the two states of mind.  What should its shape/size/texture reference?

Mel suggests that the doorway, if not an arch referring to Islamic architecture, be a direct reference to tombs.  Should there be one, or three openings the size of caskets?

Meeting with Doug Stapleton

I met with Doug S. at the State of Illinois Gallery about my thesis show.

He also saw that it is an architectural environment. that I am trying to create a passage to a liminal space: that the chalk room is referential to the Kabaa in Mecca: that the intention is transformative in nature - moving from death to life, accounting for the deaths, and tallying the living.

We talked about the cleansing fountain idea as a metaphor - not as an actual fountain. What can I use to symbolize the cleansing?

We talked about the use of an invitation to go home and make 3 million lines to commemorate the widows.  A take away if you will.

We discussed the duality.

He questioned weather it was a type of momento mori

Friday, October 16, 2009

Further Ideas - Lines beyond Thesis

In line with the Circles for child deaths in Chicago, in conjunction with drawing real lines of chalk at sights of murders, I will make a map of Chicago and drawcircles where the deaths occur - then paint over the map so that the circles remain. Again one doesn't have to show to demonstrate, and it might be more powerful than pictures of the dead, because the abstraction forces the viewer to contemplate and imagine.

Deborah Boardman visits Art as a Spiritual Practice

Deborah Boardman visited our Art as a Spiritual Practice class, with ideas about her rituals, practices and themes in creating work.  She mentioned that when in doubt or uncomfortable with what she is doing, she likes to sweep her floor, for long periods.  Sweeping is task oriented and gets her out of her knots. 

This is akin to what I am achieving with my chalk and more strongly with my sand drawings.  It's a way to clear ones mind of distractions leaving space for a meditative attitude in which one can find new inspiration.

Meeting with Cliff M.

Met with Cliff on Tuesday Oct. 6th.  He referenced a number of architectural sites, both historical and contemporary.  The Temple at Karnak in Egypt, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin by Libeskind in particular.  We talked about the ceremonial aspect, the transformative aspect of the architecture, the structure of the pillars referencing a processional.

We also talked about the Monument Against Fascism by Jochen Gerz, a column that lowers into the ground and disappears as its surface gets the signatures of witnesses to the monument.

I need to pay more attention to the reasons for creating the space.  I know that I want it not to be a blatant referance to a mosque, an Iraqi graveyard or a Western funeral parlor.  It needs to be a metaphoric space which creates a transformation from the gloom and sadness of the entryway of rememberance (of the dead) to the affimative, healing, comfort of the memorial to the Widows who have survived.  That is the point of the two rooms - it's not just the aesthetic, but the spiritual passage from grief to hope that I wish to capture in the final installation and performance.


On Wednesday, Oct 7th I went down to the 31st St. Beach and drew 800 lines in the sand on the 8th anniversary of the Afghan War.  (see birddenoftruth videos on youtube or in sidebar)

Then I went to Columbia, to the park on 11th and Wabash to join in the Die-In sponsered by the Artists Activists (now Art Activists) at Columbia along with Critical Encounters.
A dozen or more students wrapped themselves in sheets an lay down around the park and on the sidewalk. four of us read names, ages and dates of one hundred selected names from a list of war casualties in Afghanistan. The red carnations symbolized the bloodshed.

Later in Art as a Spiritual Practice class, I showed one of my Night Vision cabinets, I sang and played Kind of Pressure and we all drew lines on chalkboards to commemorate the widows in Iraq.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Too Much to Process

Lots of ideas and avenues this week, but no time to blog yet - maybe this weekend.  After meeting with Paul Catanese again this Tuesday and continuing research, I have come to the conclusion that I need a Iwan (vaulted entry), a Musalla or Prayer Room (the chalking room) and  a Sahn or courtyard (with fountain?) to symbolize mosque architecture.  Hopefully a Mihrab (niche) indication the direction of Kaaba as well?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Two-Room Installation Ideas (After meeting with David Greene)

These are sketches for two-room manifestations of the Widows installation.
A figurative concept would distract form the nature of the piece - focusing on the death of men rather than the need for healing and support for the Widows.

A solution with a path of stone or material to be determined which one must pass in order to enter the chalking (weaving) room seems to be the most elegant solution to the balance of the two rooms and the memorial/ceremonial functions of the separate rooms.

The sticks used to write and chalk the Widows action days may be placed on either side of the entry way, along the side walls of the vestibule, as symbolic remnants of the years ordeal, and emblematic of the tribal nature of contemporary conflict, particularly in Iraq.