• Ruthanne Harrison

Tools, Technology & the Story...

The process of artmaking, for me, is always a layering of technique, content, meaning, history, and on and on. Each layer builds on, and informs the next. Where does the initial spark to begin a project start? Occasionally, it starts with technology or tools. A new material. A new piece of equipment to try out. Pushing the limits of that material or equipment. Or sometimes, it may start with a very concrete idea: this is what I want to say, and this how I am going to say it, and this is how it will look. It can start with history: looking at the work of artists or architects that inspire me, thinking about what inspired them, allowing them to “visit” me as I work. It can even start with my own history, my own way of looking at and interpreting the world around me.

In this project, I began with a loose idea about using AR to tell a story about the process of making art. Using various apps and programs, I began deconstructing and reconstructing paintings, creating characters to tell the story, experimenting with turning visual material into aural material. That process has been layered with reading historical and critical material on digital performance and storytelling, looking at the work of others, where it has been, where it is going. But I still felt that I didn’t quite know what the story was that I wanted to tell.

It was the technology that ultimately opened up my story to me. Using Premiere Pro, I began to link together the small experimental AR pieces I had made. Using storyboarding, I could move the content around, try to give it a logical order. I left the project for a week to go on vacation. When I got back and looked at the rough work again, my story was astonishingly clear. Without realizing it, I had begun to tell a story of a three year struggle I had as an artist, and as a daughter, after the death of my father.

My father died in 2014. He was in his 90’s and had lived a good, long life. But in the end there was trauma and loss. My parents were both artists, my mother a painter, my father a glass artist. Both were all around tinkerers and makers, and for as long as I can remember, my life has been immersed in creativity and art. My parents were huge influences.

After my father died, my mother needed to sell the house and move to assisted living. Which meant downsizing a lifetime of stuff. Getting rid of things like furniture and old clothing and household items was easy enough. But the artwork- there was so much of it. All of my father's glass pieces, so lovingly created, so carefully documented and inventoried, all of his tools and supplies. He was also quite a collector, records, turntables, typewriters (he had worked as a typewriter mechanic for over 40 years). This was the hardest to deal with.

After this, I just couldn’t make art anymore. My creative life just stopped cold. I made a few lame attempts, struggled, and for the first time in my life decided that I was just done with being an artist. I started giving away work, throwing away work, just didn’t want it around anymore.


Endure, mixed media, 2014

However, my mother, in her 90’s, through the trauma and loss she had experienced, continued to make art. In her small new apartment, she dedicated most of the space to setting up a studio. She hung the walls with art, and bravely moved on. One of the last things I gave her was a book of Alexander Calder’s mobiles. Even as an adult, my parents still had so much to teach me, about both life and death. In 2017, she followed my father, her partner in life for 72 years.

Then something happened, and I’m not sure how or why, but I was very suddenly freed from the creative block. When going through my mother’s things with my sisters, we discovered sketchbooks and journals, correspondence with other artists, hand made cards sent back and forth, rough ideas and notes for paintings. I saw the very full creative life of an artist that my mother had. I had always seen her finished paintings, but she was a very private and humble person, and I had never before realized her creative process, her total dedication to her work. This discovery freed me, swept over me like a flood. Having inherited her vast stock of art supplies, and many of her paintings, drawings and journals, I set to work. We were two very different artists, but when I used her pastels to draw, or her brushes to paint, or studied her sketches, I knew that everything would be alright.

This is the story that I hope to tell with my project. Subconsciously, using technology, the small AR pieces I was making were trying to tell the story all along. Now I can complete it.

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