“My Gondola”: “The Piano Roll Project”

I’m honored and delighted to have work (“My Gondola”) in “The Piano Roll Project” curated by Kristin Malin and Gail Skudera for The Bates Mills Complex, a former textile mill, in Lewiston, ME. For this project, I was given a player piano roll and invited to “alter it,” with words, paint, cloth, and/or anything else I could think of. My piano roll was about forty-feet long; working on it in my apartment in Chicago was an interesting challenge. I stitched it with embroidery floss, drew on it with marker, crayon, and colored pencil, and bound it with lace and netting. I am not a trained visual artist, so for me, it was special–and perhaps intimidating–to contribute work to a show with so many accomplished and renowned visual artists (including my parents, Gail Skudera and Dan Mills).

I wasn’t able to attend the opening reception, but here are images of my work installed in the space: 

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And here are a few details of my piano roll (“My Gondola”) from photographs I took of the roll before I shipped it to Maine:

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Here is my artist statement that was included in the exhibition:

“’My Gondola’ started as an investigation of a twentieth-century song by Bud Green and Harry Warren. (I listened to a 1926 recording of this song performed by Ted Lewis and His Band on YouTube.) The lyrics are at first fun and light-hearted, but as I unrolled the player piano roll and read them, I thought about the male gaze and the “you” that the song addresses: the courted woman. While I was working, the piano roll ripped at the part of the song where the singer threatens violence if the young woman is disinterested in him. In making the roll, I echoed the words “if”and “you” from the song in and around the netting and lace I glued to the paper. The notches in the piano roll have been sewn into and drawn over to entangle the song with the body of its subject. The altered piano roll becomes a canal that carries through it the darker, coercive undercurrent of the foot-tapping, jazz band tune of its early twentieth-century gondola song.”

I worked with blue netting as water imagery, and I used lace to evoke a deconstructed garment. I disrupted the song by stitching up the player-piano notches and crossing out (and selectively repeating) some of the words printed on the roll. I remember feeling a moment of sadness that I was making this song unplayable. But as I continued working, I instead felt like I was pulling forward a subtext that the object had been holding for a hundred years.

Here is what my work looked like rolled up into a kind of scroll before it was boxed and shipped:

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The paper was so fragile that even rolling it and unrolling it was a challenge. I found that it wanted to tear–and I ended up letting it. 

Here is a panorama shot of the installation taken by the artist Chris Protopapas (and borrowed from The Piano Roll Facebook Page):

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As you can see, the space itself is enormous. The works in themselves are between thirty to fifty-feet long. The space holds them, suspends them, and drapes them with so much room to spare that they almost appear as ribbons unspooling through the cavernous mill building. It’s a beautiful exhibit. I recommend that you check out details of the other artists’ works.

Here is the showcard for the art installation:

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And here is the full press release, which includes information about the exhibit, the names of contributing artists, and information about when the show is open. If you’re traveling up through Maine this summer and looking for a place to stop for lunch, you might want to consider Lewiston! 

About The Piano Roll Project (press release):

“Over thirty artists working in Maine and outside of Maine have been invited to participate in “The Piano Roll Project: Shared Sensibilities,” from July 16 through October 30. Each artist responded by altering a vintage piano roll, some as long as 40 feet, with their own artistic expression. The artists were encouraged to paint, draw, cut, tear, collage, write, sew or weave with the continuous roll of perforated paper and accompanying word scores for songs. This exhibition, organized by artists Kristin Malin and Gail Skudera, is on display at The Bates Mills in association with Museum L-A’s “Power of Music” Exhibit. Originally built in 1894, the Bates Mill served as a textile manufacturing company that produced woven coverlets of high quality and design. Malin and Skudera organized this exhibition to reflect a community of artists with a shared sensibility and immersion in contemporary practices. Highly valued was how each artist would interact with the inherent beauty and pre-digital language of the roll. Piano Rolls were in mass production from 1896 to 2008. Each perforation in the paper represents a note control data when fed into a tracker bar. The visual evidence of this language is shared with the Jacquard Looms which can still be seen at Museum L-A. The looms used a system of punched out cards to facilitate the weaving which became the precursor for modern computers.

Participating artists in this exhibition are:

Mary Armstrong, Krisanne Baker, Lucinda Bliss, Kimberly Callas, Jim Chute, Stoney Conley, Alan Crichton, Gayle Fraas/Duncan Slade, Nancy Glassman, Paula Heisen, Stew Henderson, Jung Hur, Joël LeVasseur, Amy Lowry, Heather Lyon, Dan Mills, Tyler Mills, Judy Perry, Jan Piribeck, Jim Provenzano, Ellen Roberts, Pam Smith, Barbara Sullivan, Kathleen Sweeney, Byron Tucker/Tarra Rosenbaum, Catherine Talese, Jeanne Wells, Kristin Malin, Gail Skudera.

The public is invited to an Opening Reception on July 17, from 5-7 pm. Please enter at the main atrium at 35 Canal Street in Lewiston, and take the elevator or the stairs to the Second Floor exhibition space. Hours for visiting the exhibition are every Thursday and Friday from 1-5 pm, through October 30. This exhibition is free and open to the public. There will be a Closing Reception on October 30 in the evening.”

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