So what IS this Obstruction Project anyways?
The Obstruction Project
The Five Obstructions is a 2003 Danish film by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth. In the film, Von Trier gives Leth, his friend and mentor, the task of remaking The Perfect Human — one of Leth’s seminal short films — five times, each time with a different ‘obstruction’, or constraint, given by von Trier. For example, in one obstruction, Leth must remake the film as a cartoon. The film provides a way to look critically at one’s process and to break out of default modes of making.
I used this film as inspiration for The Obstruction Project, where I remade The 50 Card Project 12 times (well not exactly). The number 50 loosely combine things. I celebrated my 50th birthday in October 2019, so my edition size is 50, I examined events from 1969, and made paper out of my 50 year-old baby diapers, plus lots of other things!
I began in November 2018, as I started my 50th year, and ended in the month of my birthday, October 2019. I used ‘obstructions’, or constraints from family and friends who know my work well, making something that reframed the divisive events occurring in our country at that moment. This same sentiment motivated The 50 Card Project, where I made a limited edition letterpress card every week from the 2017 Inauguration Day until the end of the year. In The 50 Card Project, each card was printed with vintage letterpress type, cuts and/or other printing matrixes like linoleum blocks and the occasional polymer plate.
With The Obstruction Project, the resulting creations range from traditional letterpress prints to handmade paper, outdoor sculptures, wall drawings, sculptural objects and more. Most ‘obstructions’ or constraints pushed me out of my letterpress comfort. As a result, some of these items are impossible to edition. For those months, I create companion pieces that complement and extend the experience of the original works sometimes using letterpress, other times creating stickers, and digital prints on rag paper.
I will donate all profits from the sales from The Obstruction Project to the following organizations: Multicultural Bridge, Campaign Zero, Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Southern Poverty Law Center, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Civil Rights Museum, Black Women in Visual Art, The Sentencing Project, and Black Women in Politics.
Below is a description of each month with a picture of the final work. All are available in the shop.
My husband challenged me to make something that clearly expressed anger, something that is very difficult for me. I chose to respond to the 1000 Oaks shooting. I want to return to this work – I never felt it was complete, and if the events of this past week indicate anything, gun violence may never be a thing of the past.
Handset metal type and polymer plate letterpress print. 7″x8″
Text: “…if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.” -Fred Rogers, U.S. Senate Statement on PBS Funding, May 1, 1969
My sister and brother-in-law challenged me to create something from five different perspectives: Democrat, Republican, Evangelical, Atheist, and Libertarian. I call this project “I am not what you think I am. You are what you think I am.” These pieces were in response to the government shut-down. And while you may think you know who said what, the piece itself has the different phrases printed on different figures to indicate that we may think we know what someone thinks, we really don’t.
This is a variable edition of brayer painted papers, linoleum prints, and handset metal type. 6″x8″
Each set includes one of each of the sayings plus the title card printed on a variety of body types. These are the sayings, see if you can guess which one goes with which perspective.
My long-time friend and former assistant challenged me to create something to go into our new house. It could not use black or white, and had to be made from “natural” materials. Bonus if it was inspired by a piece of text or book or something. I decided to respond to standing on the equator and making a map that orients the earth differently from what we are accustomed. What if we weren’t America-centric? What would happen if we looked at everything from a different point of view? I wanted this piece to question status quo.
The actual piece is 48×24 inches, and was painted using natural inks from The Toronto Ink Company.
Moo printed digital print on cotton paper. 3.67″ x 8.5″
One of my colleagues challenged me to create something that did not use an abstract word, that asked a question, somehow connected to my birth year (1969) and included some form of defacement. While the words are from 1969, they feel relevant today, even if they are coming from Richard Nixon.
Hand set metal type, defacement. 6″x14″ (I think…)
What you cannot see is the blind embossment: “Why aren’t you f**king listening?” But without the asterisks.
My siblings channeled my father for this month’s challenge. He was born on March 10, 1939 and died March 23, 2018. I often ask myself when I print if my father would notice whatever imperfection I was noticing. So they channeled me to create something with an element that my father would notice. Can you guess what it might be?
My father loved lighthouses. A couple of months after he died I picked up someone’s discarded tea bag and this saying was on the tag. It felt like a gift from him. This is also a call to action, how do we become lighthouses for each other?
Hand sent metal and wood type. 4″x9″
My brother and sister-in-law chimed in together for the April challenge. From my sister-in-law “use materials that are not paper, printmaking, or otherwise associated with The 50 Card Project. From my brother: “reference a song from the 1980s” I LOVE the song Mediate by INXS. I pretty much know all the words and as a teenager and still do, this impressed the heck out of my little brother.
The original one is quite large, 12″x40″ and is pen and ink on board. It hands in our kitchen.
What I have for you here is one of those groovy stickers that all the cool kids put on their computers and water bottles that is about 1″x4″.
My friend Karen Arp-Sandel gave me the challenge for May.
I was to find a box, gather some items and then make something. I made the box, and then I made a letterpress card to document the month and share with 50 people.
The box: The Butterfly Effect. The card: Go where the FEAR takes you–4″x6″ letterpress handset metal type
With The Butterfly Effect, I used items from my own “future plunder books box”. Every material is at least 50 years old: Kelsey printing company paper samples, an old sewing machine drawer, silly butterfly ornaments, golden thread from my grandmother’s stash. The text came from my writing from this past year. They are questions I am asking of myself and my country during these turbulent times. Do my actions actually make a difference? Whatever it is, I must Go where the FEAR takes me.
These are the questions included in the book.
They go low, we go high! Michelle Obama inspires us to soar. I look to her words day after day. Although at this writing, in June 2020, I’m leaning more towards Malcolm X:
What to do with 18-gauge wire? And make it look weightless? That was the challenge given to me as part of this year long project I’m doing. Every month someone gives me different parameters. This was the instruction for June: 18-gauge wire, weightless. Finally finished this weekend, here it is.
Moo printed digital print on cotton paper, 5″x5″
This month challenged me beyond belief. It had to be abstract. It couldn’t use ANY of the motifs that I often use–birds, the figure, etc. My friend Addy Gale really knew how to stump me. I was also to use lectio divinia. But I knew my inspiration.
I was responding to the joint letter Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump issued by
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde recently wrote another letter, this time as an opinion piece published by the New York Times in response to the awful way that Trump retaliated against peaceful protestors and used the church and the Bible to somehow try to support his actions. Again, Trump’s actions outraged and horrified me. And the Christ I have known, studied, and followed all my life would never act that way.
WHAT DID I MAKE? Time will tell. I plan to FINALLY finish it in the next week or so. It involves wood letters, and this quote from Tupac:
We gotta make a change
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes
Let’s change the way we eat,
Lets change the way we live, and
Let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
What we gotta do, to survive
-Tupac Shakur from the song Changes
Lots of different elements were part of this month’s challenge from friend and collaborate Holly Wren. The color white, less rather than more, it would engage with the concept of listening, and partially be informed by a Tarot Card, The Ten of Pentacles. So what is it? This is a piece that really needs to be handled for the full experience.
To me this is all about my white fragility and how I cannot let fear of making a mistake, or the shame (my white fragility) I feel when I do, prevent me from continuing to try to be an ally.
Handmade paper from 50 years old diapers, letterpress handset metal type and polymer plate. 8″x10″
My friend Suzi Banks Baum challenged me to “take note of your first thought each day, and take action.” This was during the month of September 2019. I was practicing immersing in very cold water that month in a swimming hole near our home. I was and still go into cold water specifically to make myself get comfortable with being physically uncomfortable. That thought was on my mind most of September, and often the first thing I thought of when I woke up: will I go in the water today.
I also was drawing a circular scribble in my sketchbook, a scribble of what the energy in my head felt like. I printed that scribble and the words FIRST THOUGHT, BEST THOUGHT onto a coaster.
Handset metal type and polymer plate letterpress printed onto a thick coaster, 4″ diameter.
My best friend Andrea gave me this month’s challenge. I had to use straight lines and edges, there had to be movement away from circles, and I could not use a bird. She really wanted me to draw my inspiration from outside the natural world. Which, if you follow my work at all, is a bit of a stretch for me. She encouraged me to listen to the song “Machine” by Anne-Marie.
There was lots of talk about impeachment and Elizabeth Warren was the clear winner in the October 2019 Democratic Debates. This print plays with color and line, trying to get at how our differences can overlap, we can move around obstacles, and find our way.
Multi-colored letterpress print with polymer plate, 6″x8″.