Love This: Yayoi Kusama

Among other things, I’ve been doing some research into the artist Yayoi Kusama recently. I am currently reading her autobiography Infinity Net, which is fairly cut and dried, but has a few fascinating insights into this rather prolific artist’s work and mind.

To give you a little bit of background, she is a Japanese artist, who grew up during World War II, and eventually found her way to New York city in the late ’60’s, where she played a crucial role in the avant garde scene. She came to America to escape not only her family and the oppressive social structure of Japan, but to help over come and escape her anxieties and neurosis. She stayed in NYC for almost two decades, finally choosing to return to Tokyo, where she currently lives in an open ward mental hospital.

What is compelling to me about her work, is that she uses it as a sort of catharsis for her anxiety and fears, from which she has suffered since childhood. Kusama’s mass production of phalli, and subsequent covering of objects such as chairs and boats with them, is an attempt to confront something that terrifies her and turn it into something amusing. Her manic covering of herself and all things with polka dots, an attempt at “self obliteration” and an outward manifestation of her diagnosis of dis-personalization.

Fascinating stuff, you should check it out imaginary reader…but I’ll get to the point of this post now. As I said, I’ve been reading her autobiography, and toward the end is a very…apropos bit to some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to my own work. And so, I wanted to share:

“I have been painting, sculpting, and writing for as long as I can remember. But to tell the truth, to this day I do not feel that I have ‘made it’ as an artist. All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes. But by the power of my spirit and my single-hearted pursuit of the path, I have clawed my way through the labyrinthine confusion of the world of people in an unstinting effort to approach even one step closer to the realm of the soul.

If you think about it, there is nothing inherently distinguished about the occupation of the artist- or politician, say, or doctor…

An artist is by no means superior to others just by the virtue of making art. Whether you are a labourer, farmer, janitor, artist, politician, or doctor, if you have managed in the midst of a society awash with lies and madness to get one step closer to the awe-inspiring brilliance of your own life, the footprint you leave behind is that of someone who has truly lived as a human being.

Today, many people take the path of gluttony, or lust, or greed, flailing and floundering as they vie for worldly fame. in such a society, seekers of truth find that their burden is great and the road steep and hard. But that is all the more reason for us to seek a rosier future for the soul.

Many people seem to imagine that Vincent van Gogh must have been great because his paintings now fetch enormously high prices, or because he was mentally ill. But such people have not really seen van Gogh… My view is that in spite of whatever illness he may have had, van Gogh’s art overflows with humanity, tenacious beauty, and the search for truth. His real greatness lies in these qualities, and in his fiery and passionate approach to life.

For an aspiring artist like myself, to triumph over an unjust environment is to triumph over the pain of feeling cornered and trapped. I see it as a trial or test attendant upon having been born a human being, which is why I continue to fight with every fibre of my being. This is my own peculiar karma and destiny in this world…

I intend to intensify further my search for the truth that leads to the light. I want to lift my heart towards a brighter future, with some sense of reverence for human beings…I have chosen art as the means to accomplish this. It is a lifelong task. And even if only one person in the next hundred years were to comprehend what is in my heart, I would continue to create art for the sake of that one individual.”

-Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net

 

 

Etiquette Lesson

Shortly before the end of the semester, I did one final performance at 621 Gallery in Railroad Square.  Every year 621 does a fund raiser called Art for Dinner, where artists are offered up on a menu to do some type of brief performance or explanation of their art work.  It’s a little hectic, and a lot of crazy, but it also turned out to be a lot of fun.

I basically went in with only a very vague idea of what I would be doing…an etiquette lesson…for any tables that ordered me.  Again, I wanted to address ideas of control and futility, but I knew that if I tried to prepare too much for a situation in which pretty much anything could happen, I would probably go crazy.

I lead my table in a “polite dinner conversation,” telling them that I would make small notes on how they could improve and then give them a grade at the end.  However, true to the obsessive compulsive character I am, and that I was playing up, I continually interrupted the diners with flaws in their etiquette, coaching them on how they could improve.

I don’t think I was one of my more successful pieces, but what can you do?  I think it was pretty well received regardless.

Photo credits to Craig Ryan

My Grass is Always Greener…

Continuing my quest to get this blog up to date on my work…I present to you images from my performance in early April, My Grass is Always Greener.

The majority of the work that I’ve done since I’ve come to grad school, has been about my issues with anxiety and control.  I’ve been attempting to inject a sense of humor into it in the vain hope that I will cease to take myself so seriously.  While this performance is very much about being and doing things perfectly and in a extremely prescribed manner, it does so in a farcical, humorous way that can’t possibly be taken seriously (at least I hope not).  My Grass is Always Greener also starts to touch on the idea of futility as it relates to expectations of oneself.  It is all well and good to have goals, how ever once your own expectations begin to exceed reality, feelings of futility and failure (and by extension, worthlessness) are unavoidable.  This is something I personally struggle with every day.

For this piece, I painted the grass at a local alternative space, SMALLS.  I painted it green…blade by blade, using a very specific brush in a very deliberate manner.  And as I did so, I lectured those around me or those that questioned me, about how not only was this the right way to paint your grass, but the correct shade of green as well.  I had a little spiel about the color of green was a specific Pantone green that was used to paint the White House lawn, and this clearly meant that ALL lawns should be this green.  The performance lasted about 2 hours, in which time I painted a spot of about maybe 12 inches square (in addition to the large splotch I painted earlier in the day so others could see what my intent was…).

 

Yes, I know…Painfully white (both the outfit and the skin).

Surprise! The Parents Did Something Right!!!!

Isn’t it always shocking when you realize that your parents in fact DID do something correctly in your up bringing?  I had one of those shocks this morning about 2 AM when my insomniac brain was racing away, while my not so insomniac body was trying to sleep…

I’ve been reading some feminist writings lately because at every review I’ve had in the last year, faculty will insist on asking me what feminist “stuff” I’ve been reading. It has always (even in undergrad) irritated me to no end, when, in my opinion, people start forcing a feminist perspective on to my work.  In only very rare occasions has feminism been content and concept in my work.  It’s just not how I roll.  (I’m sure I’m getting eye rolls from my imaginary readers right about now.)  The story that my work addresses is much more of an internal personal/psychological one  Please don’t take me wrong.  I am by all means about equality and believe that women should have the choice to do whatever they damn well please in their lives.  To me, that is the point of feminism, yes?

In any event, feminism has come up in my reviews on multiple occasions, and I’m always a bit puzzled as to where those connotations come from in the majority of my works, or rather how others interpret it into my work.  I won’t get into the nitty gritty of it right now…that’s something for another day, BUT my overactive little brain was pondering on this in the wee hours of the morning today.  Suddenly it occurred to me that my failure to recognize feminist content in my work is largely a product of my upbringing and childhood.

Sounds negative right?  In this case not!  My parents actually accomplished something quite wonderful!  Shocking, I know.  Anyway, while my parents did/do have their failings as parents (and whose parents don’t?), the one thing that I think they pretty successfully accomplished was a childhood in which gender roles were amazingly non-specific, and fairly fluid.

Growing up, my three sisters and I had “boy toys” (ie Legos, wood blocks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff, etc) as well as “girl toys” (Barbies, paper dolls, tea sets, etc), and we played with them equally.  We were also, for the most part, allowed to dress as we pleased, and played with other girls, as well as boys.  Our father wrestled with us like we were boys, our mom did crafty things with us, and we were encouraged in all of our interests/pursuits, regardless of whether they were a “girl thing” or a “boy thing.”  My youngest sister did taekwondo and basketball, and was a Girl Scout for years.  I took Home Ec as well as Shop in junior high.  As I think about it, I don’t ever remember being told that I could or could not do something based upon the fact that I was a girl.

The other remarkable thing, was that between my parents, the gender roles were not strongly adhered to.  Both of my parents worked full time outside of the home, but as I understand it, my mom actually had the higher paying job by the time we were in high school.  On the other hand, my dad was the one that cooked dinner daily, and the one my sisters and I ran to when we were crying, needed help with home work, or just wanted some plain old cuddling.  He also gardened and built things in his workshop.  My mom sewed, but as a hobby that she truly enjoyed.  She was the one that did the grocery shopping, but my dad was in charge of making up the menu that she would be purchasing.  They both shared the responsibility of shuttling us back and forth for extra curricular activities, and both volunteered as Band Parents (two of my sisters and I participated in marching band and color guard).   We were ALL responsible for household chores, and we were encouraged to be independent as girls as well as human beings.  (This is something that my father takes great pride in to this day about his daughters…That we are all fiercely independent, probably to a fault…)

In short, what I saw growing up was feminism in action, without ever knowing it.  To me that was life, the way that everyone lived…it was normal.  So in my mind, there is no politic behind who does the dishes, despite the very real fact that there is.  In this way, while my work may allude to battles taken up by feminism past and present, this is not how I view it, and that’s where I get myself into trouble I think.  I don’t necessarily directly relate to what some of these faculty members are bringing to my work (hence the obsessive reading and research).  So thanks to my parents for most awesomely bringing up four daughters with out forcing them into the society prescribed gender roles.  I will leave you all with this quote that no doubt triggered my realization last night:

The ideas for this book began to unfold around that table, and the questions that came up at these gatherings confirmed its premise:  that feminism is out there, tucked into our daily acts of righteousness and self-respect.  Feminism arrived in a different way in the lives of the women of this generation; we never knew a time before “girls can do anything boys can!”  The fruits of this kind of confidence are enjoyed by almost every American girl or woman alive, a radical change from the suffragettes and bluestockings of the late nineteenth century, and from our serious sisters of the sixties and seventies.  We also have the benefit of knowing from recent history that consciousness-raising must precede action, just as research precedes a breakthrough.  In exchanges with one another, women learn that we are the real experts–often more so than the paid experts, who have studied but not experienced the subject at hand.  If a woman has gone through a divorce, for instance, researched the best way to get an abortion, asked for a raise, or is having sex at the age of sixteen, she knows something that could help another woman.  For these women, and for anyone born after the early 1960s, the presence of feminism in our lives is taken for granted.  For our generation, feminism is life fluoride.  We scarcely notice that we have it–it’s simply in the water.

– Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future

 

 

First Friday…Seriously!?!…

The MFA gallery at FSU (Working Method Contemporary) is located in a  place called Railroad Square Art Park.  Every month, on the first Friday of the month, RR2 has a sort of festival called First Friday.  Every First Friday there is an opening at WMC by a group of the MFA students.  Well, March First Friday was my turn, along with three of my friends.

We decided to have a little bit of fun…which turned into a LOT of fun, and a GIANT mess, but it was totally worth it in the end.

We had been talking about how we are required to take ourselves so seriously, and that we can never just do something to do something.  There always has to be an underlying reason, with back up research, and yadda yadda yadda.  We just wanted to have some fun.  Enter a reading that we had done for a class last fall.  It was a Dave Hickey writing, from Frivolity and Unction…

“So, I’ll tell you what I would like.  I would like some bad-acting and wrong thinking.  I would like to see some art that is courageously silly and frivolous, that cannot be construed as anything else.  I would like a bunch of twenty-three-year-old troublemakers to become so enthusiastic, so noisy, and so involved in some stupid, seductive, destructive brand of visual culture that I would feel called upon to rise up in righteous indignation, spewing vitriol, to bemoan the arrogance and self-indulgence of the younger generation and all of its artifacts…   And it is going to happen, is already beginning to happen. The question is whether or not we will recognize it when it catches our eye..”

An extremely long story short, we decided to be stupid, destructive and enthusiastic.  We painted the quote on the wall, built forts, we each picked a color of paint, and essentially had a paint war with Mr. Dave Hickey. We engaged the audience by leaving out piles of candy taped to a card in each of our respective colors.  The card had a copy of the quote printed on it, and as each person walked up to take the card and candy, that person ran out of their fort and attacked the wall.  It pretty much turned into a free for all at one point, but oh what an amazing free for all it was!  By the end of the night, nearly the entire gallery space was covered in a mix of blue, green, purple, and orange tempra paint, my friend Sam had chipped her tooth, and we were all painted from head to toe.

Now for some pictures!

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AAAAAAAAnnnd…a brief video clip to illustrate the insanity.

As always, full disclosure:

The promo flyer was designed by Samantha Burns, AKA It’s not Easy Being Green.  The images of the installation were done by me, and then the group shot and image of Sam with her busted teeth were taken by Cynthia Hollis.  The video was shot by the most amazing  Mr. Jay Corrales.

When We Last Met…

The last post I wrote before I fell off the face of the earth was about the collaboration FSU’s grad students did with Guerra de la Paz and how I risked life and limb in the process of installation…Well here are the pictures of the final installation, Thicket!!!!  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

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Now, for some absurd reason, while I have literally hundreds of pictures of the installation process, I have none of the final product, SO, I borrowed these from the Guerra de la Paz blog, http://www.guerradelapaz.blogspot.com/.  I did not take them, they are not my images, blah blah blah… I would never dream of stealing anything from those wonderful gents!  There is also more information on their website, http://www.guerradelapaz.com/index2.html.

The opening that Friday was fantastic, and I got the opportunity to go out to dinner with them as well as a few faculty and other MFAs that night.  Totally awesome.  My husband came and met up with us as well, and he took the chance to pick their brains about found materials and the like.  He was completely excited because in his words “They validated everything I had been doing.”  Super sweet!

*Extended Awkward Silence*

Hmmm…

Well.

No use pretending I suppose.  I fell off the face of the earth for three months…

I start this blog, and then I abandon it.  I FAIL.

BUT I do have good excuses for why I never posted after my three angsty, bipolar writings…I got incredibly busy.  First, I had the Guerra de la Paz project and opening.  The following week I had a show at the grad gallery with three friends that required immense prep.  After that I had spring break, when I had my mother in law, grandfather in law, and his wife in town.  After spring break I hosted a visiting prospective graduate student for a few days, and had several meetings peppered in through out the week.  The week after that I had a collaborative performance with one of my classes, a performance at a local alternative space, and then I had a performance at a local gallery for their fund raiser…The week immediately after that, I had my final reviews for my first year, revolving primarily around an installation I had been working on for almost a month.  So yeah…

By the time that was all done and over with, it was April 20th, and I was exhausted.  I spent a week on the couch sleeping and playing video games and just generally being a lazy ass, and it was GLORIOUS!  And since then I’ve been catching up on a lot of things and mulling over questions posed to me in my reviews.  Oh, I also found a full time summer job that starts in a few weeks, and slowly started packing up my studio, because the department is moving the MFA studios to a new facility sometime this summer…

And now, it’s time for me to get into the habit of blogging a bit more often.  I have tons of images and thoughts to share, so here’s to three more months of summer that I hope to make productive and positive!

I promise to make up for my three month absence with so many posts, so many pictures, and so much jabber that you, dear imaginary reader, will wish I never came back!