I’ve been meaning to sit down and write a post, but many things have taken place in the last few weeks that have gotten in my way. Like WordPress crashing and my half written blog post disappearing into the digital ether… But the bottom line is that I still don’t have a blog post ready for you, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a good one… So in the mean time I present to you a pictoral version of my last two weeks. Feel free to write your own captions or stories to go along. It might be funnier/more interesting this way!
I swear I’ll get a real post out about what’s going on in the studio pictures as well as my most recent performance… It just won’t happen til the beginning of next week. There is SO much going on right now!
Most of the images are mine, or are borrowed from the web. Paintings from Monica Cook, performance stills from Ellen Mueller (except the ones of me…those are mine, fair and square). Books from respective authors/publishing companies. Fountain logo property of Fountain Art Fair, Working Method Contemporary logo property of Working Method Contemporary Gallery. Did I miss anything? I hope not. If I did I’m sorry, and IT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME, IT BELONGS TO YOU.
In a little over a week I am supposed to be doing a performance here in town. I voluntarily opted to do this, thinking that it would be a great motivator to flesh out some ideas and get the ball rolling for the semester. And then I decided to double it up with a required performance for my Performance History and Practice course, still foolishly thinking I would be fine. But I am not.
I still have no idea what I am going to do…
Well, technically that is a lie. I have a general idea of the themes and concepts I wish to address, but I’ve got NO clue exactly what the performance will be. And I’m fending off an anxiety attack because of this. I swear I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. Before school even started actually. I’ve been doing research, and brainstorming… I haven’t gotten anywhere.
My intended concept for this performance revolves around reality versus expectations, using the themes of failure, futility, and anxieties that I have been dealing with over the last year or so. I was thinking about how hard I often making things for myself, frequently choosing the most difficult or involved manner of performing tasks. This in turn made me reflect on the way that my expectations are often drastically unrealistic, and that disconnect between expectation and reality is very likely the source for much of my anxiety. Additionally, for me, there is a factor of repetitious, and sometimes destructive, behaviors, because I refuse to give in, or to do something in any other way than I envision it. In a word, inflexibility.
In it’s original iteration, the idea for this performance was a video of me running and jumping for a tree limb, just out of my reach, over and over and over again. Until I was exhausted, possibly bruised and/or bloodied. That then evolved into a performance of me attempting to jump over a limbo stick that was placed at a height which I could have easily walked under. Again, repeating this same pointless and destructive action, refusing to admit failure or adjust my behavior to a more appropriate course of action. But the reason neither of these ideas came to fruition, is that I see them as a bit to literal. Like one liners that will cause a laugh, but not provoke thought. With the limbo stick idea, there was a factor of physical technicality too. The performance is talking place in a space which I cannot permanently alter, making it difficult for me to construct some type of structure which would allow me to repeatedly throw my body against it and have said structure still remain standing.
And that brings me to my current quandary. I have no idea what to do…
So I am going to continue to write about this and hope for one of my magical moments where everything connects and finally makes sense.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks doing research into Matthew Barney, specifically his Drawing Restraint series. I will wax lyrical about my love of him in another post, but there are a number of things in his Drawing Restraint series that parallel some of the things I want to do or am thinking about in relation to this performance.
The thing about all of Barney’s work, is that it is informed by the practice of hypertrophic training. Briefly, this is the way that athletes train their muscles at increasingly difficult levels in order to build up strength. According to Nancy Spector, the chief curator at the Guggenheim (or The Gügg and The Husband and I sometimes refer to it) in New York, this informs the fundamental tenet of Barney’s practice: Form cannot materialize or mutate with out struggle against resistance in the process. In the grand scheme of Drawing Restraint, Barney willingly puts himself in ever increasingly difficult scenarios, using extreme lengths to create a mark or create form. It’s really pretty fascinating. Thinking about that, you see the desire to make a mark, or more basically to create, and then you contemplate the accompanying restraint and training required of creating. So in this really beautifully, and mildly absurd way, Barney is challenging himself, level by level (a theme also seen in his other major body of work The Cremaster Cycle, to make a mark. Barney is also a proponent of using art to overcome psychological division and conflict, which is very much right in line with where my thoughts are these days.
I’ve also spent some time looking at an artist, William Lamson, a fellow student recently brought to my attention. In his work I see so much of what I want to convey. There is this sense of tension and self-defeat in his work that I find completely compelling, particularly in his Actions series. He very carefully choreographs events in his videos, expending tremendous amounts of time and energy in the process of creation, knowing that the moment he initiates the plan, he is actually pressing a self destruct button. When you watch these videos unfold, you hold your breath with this feeling of anxiety and anticipation because you know exactly what is going to happen and that it is all going to be defeated. You are watching self imposed failure. The scary thing is, I can completely relate to the train of thought. I can understand and predict the outcomes of my actions or behaviors, and see the possibility for failure. In fact, no matter what, there is always a possibility for failure. But that version of events is totally overshadowed and out weighed by the prospect of successfully executing something to my exacting expectations. So really, it becomes about this tension between the reality of the situation and the expectation, about the inevitability of the out come.
Which brings me full circle back to the expectations versus reality thing. And for some reason I keep thinking about this scene from 500 Days of Summer, one of my all time favorite movies, and possibly one of the most brilliantly filmed scenes ever.
I just keep watching it over and over again. Obviously the content is not what I am trying to get at, but there is something in the format that really intrigues me. The whole movie is brilliant really (and it doesn’t hurt that Joesph Gordon-Levitt is in it, or that there’s a lot of Regina Spektor’s music), but this scene has stuck with me since I first saw it back in 2010 or so. And no, I didn’t go out of my way to find a JGL connection here. It was a totally organic happening!
I think the question here is how do I put this all into the meat grinder and distill it into something? Can some one answer that question for me? Is that like asking someone to do my homework for me? Nah… We can just call it an artistic collaboration. 😉
So, no magic moment yet, but maybe it all just needs to process?
Oh, and of course, the video clip is not mine. I wish. If it were I wouldn’t be in the position I am!
So my friend and I have made a calculated risk: we’re taking back vaginas.
Or we’re bring vagina back?
I don’t know. But the point is we’ve dedicated our lives to making vaginas funny and awesome again. I mean, they don’t need any help being awesome, but I’ve realized that some people are uncomfortable making vagina jokes or recognizing that they can be as empowering as cocks. I not only reserve my right to use the terms “c lown hole,” “baby cannon,” “hooha,” and the like, but I will abuse that right (only in appropriate settings obviously). Why? Because guys talk about their cocks all the time! Boyfriend and his bromance have 20 minute conversations where 50% of the words are “hard” (or as they say “hcchhchhard!”) as they erect their fists in symbolic penile glory. It’s funny. It’s fucking hilarious and I would never take that away from them…
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, at least not on this blog, but here goes:
I FUCKING LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY!
There, I said it. And I even dropped the F bomb…
Sorry if that offended anybody.
But really. I mean it. If I could, I would divorce Husband and marry Photography….
Only, somehow I forgot that I love it. I didn’t even think such a thing was possible, let alone suddenly remembering that you’d forgotten you loved something… And then I walked back into a darkroom after a year long absence. So how did it even happen that I forgot I loved Photography? Well… Let me share with you the epic tale of my journey. Sit back, relax. Maybe pop some popcorn?
Once upon a time there was an artist named Courtney. She had already received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in what was so fancily called New Media, but really, it was Photography. She loved everything about photography…except maybe all this digital craziness that everyone was starting to rely a bit to heavily on. But even that was still cool… It was just a different way of doing things. Ultimately, to Courtney, photography was this magical mix of science, art, and expression. It was like alchemy. It was addicting. Everything in her world was based on, in, or around Photography.
As her work progressed beyond her undergraduate degree, she started trying to push the boundaries of photography, twisting it’s building blocks to suit her own purposes. Experimenting using the processes she knew like the back of her hand. Everything was going smoothly, until she decided it was time to go back to school and get her Masters of Fine Arts, to help her push her experiments further.
Suddenly nothing about Photography or her art work made any sense to Courtney. She fought the thing that she had so dearly loved, eventually deserting it… Abandoning her beloved equipment in a corner of her studio to collect dust. This frustration was compounded by an enforced leave of absence from the Photography Department itself. Courtney had some how found herself assigned to work in the Printmaking Department, so she wasn’t even around other people working with photography. It was all very sad. It was a grey, desolate time for the kingdom…
OK. I’m done being melodramatic. But essentially, it’s what happened to me. I spent a year away from photo. Unthinkable! I am partly to blame, I got frustrated with photography and decided to take a break. That’s OK. I explored (with varying successes) other media and outlets for my work. I discovered Performance. I challenged myself and grew as an artist. However, I had NO grounding in what can be considered my comfort zone of photography. I either let go of, or was forced away from what I knew. I spent the year working in the Printmaking Department, I was told not to fall back on what I did best. Between GA hours, studio time, and classes, I didn’t even have time to hang out in the photo lab, or spend time with photo faculty. It had a profoundly negative effect on me, and I didn’t realize it until it was too late. Then I, for lack of a better term, fought my way out of Printmaking and into Photo. And oh what joys it has brought to me. I am excited to the point of giddiness about just being in the photo lab and sitting in on a photo class taught by one of my classmates. I makes me beyond happy. I didn’t even know it could make me this happy. I didn’t even realize I’d missed it.
I absolutely geek out hearing about reciprocal relationships, f-stops, shutter speeds, depth of field! I adore discussing cameras and advances in photography with co-workers. I find myself grinning as I watch Keynote presentations of the historically relevant photographic works (or really any photos) that first drew me into photography. I delight in the smells of the darkroom and enjoy mixing all the chemicals up to make fresh prints, like some crazy old mad scientist-artist. I plain old love it.
All it took for me to see how much I missed and loved photo was walking back into a darkroom. And of course the point was driven further home when I sat in the back of an intermediate photography class to hear what, to others, might have been a mindless rehashing of basic knowledge relating to photography, but to me recalled the alchemy that is photography in my mind.
So kids, the moral of this story is don’t forget. Don’t forget what you love, what drives you, what defines you. Don’t lose sight of these things, even if your priorities change, or you face challenges beyond your control. Always remember what you love. And if you can’t figure out why your life is sucking at a particular moment, or you don’t understand why things just aren’t the same anymore, chances are you’ve left something important behind in the dust you kicked up while you so thoughtlessly moved ahead.
After my intense ponderings on Ubu Roi, I present some fluff to fill the empty spaces in your head.
Last week was my first of fall classes. The preceding week was all that fun orientation/bureaucracy junk that the university likes to put us through. You know what I’m talking about. Tedious, brain numbing activities and events that really bear no relevance on the education itself. It seemed that after a very chill and productive summer, FSU clearly wanted to take my life over again as soon as possible, with paperwork, computer glitches, and financial aid nonsense. It wasn’t all painful… though a lot of it was. Like a teaching orientation I wasn’t supposed to be at, but was told I needed to attend. Or the absolute longest, most difficult LGA meeting EVER. There were definite moments of enjoyment though. Getting to meet all the new grads entering the program and seeing their work/hearing them talk about it was a high point for me. As were all of the food-centric events. I gained 5 pound during orientation week. No joke. I do so love to eat.
But I think the best part about my return to school this year was the absolute pure serendipity of EVERYTHING. And it all started with this:
I came across this beautiful little hug from fate at a potluck toward the end of my week of orientation nonsense. If you’ve been following me here for any amount of time, you’ll know about my struggle with and against the concept of Flawlessness and Imperfection. At the moment I found this delicious morsel of chocolatey wisdom, I was poised on the verge of a full blown anxiety attack about my art and returning to school to deal with faculty and fellow students. I wanted to have complete control of how everything would go down, and obviously couldn’t. I wanted to hide from all my fellow MFA-ers and live in a hermetically sealed studio this year… And then I found this, as I was having a conversation with my major professor ABOUT my Flawless II installation at my last show. Clearly I had to smile, and realize everything was going to be OK. It was like this tiny, tasty omen. I honestly cannot describe it any better. It was as if puzzle pieces magically fell into place. I was told that my GA hours would be spent doing what I love most… Helping students in the darkroom with printing and processing. Every time I had a conversation with someone, the knowledge or information attained fortuitously linked into a conversation I had either just had, or a conversation that took place later that same day. (I’m not even joking. EVERY conversation. It actually got a little eerie.) I was easily able to get meetings with everyone I wanted to meet with, and in those meetings, more serendipitous occurrences took place. For instance, I was out lining an idea I have for an ongoing piece about stopping to acknowledge my obsessive behaviors to a professor, and she had just read a book relating to this idea. Another professor, while discussing my feminist leanings, had just heard a report relating to a concept I had brought up. Finally, while discussing an idea I have for a performance, my husband pointed me in the perfect direction for research, where I found amazing material to not only use as support for many of the ideas I’ve been pursuing in the last few months, but that is helping me to extend and define my thoughts.
Ah-mazing. All from a Dove chocolate. Maybe I should invest in Dove? No, I can’t do that. I don’t have any money to invest.
I hope serendipity makes a visit to all of you imaginary readers soon! Until then, just because I haven’t mentioned it in awhile (and I’m hoping my serendipity kick will help me out on this front):
It’s been a crazy busy two weeks. School is now in full swing, as are research and art making. I’ve got loads to share about all of that, but first I thought I’d share some thoughts about a play I’ve just read for a class, Ubu Roi, by Alfred Jarry. It prompted a lot of thought and a little bit of research on my part, and hopefully it will do the same for you. The translation I am using is from 1961, with a short preface or forward by Barbara Wright, and accompanied by two essays by Jarry. It was published by New Directions Publishing Corporation, and is the “Twenty-Seventh Printing.”
Until about a year or so ago, I had never even heard of Ubu Roi, which the more I think about it, the stranger it seems, as I’ve taken at least 3 art history courses that covered the time period in which it was first performed. The first time I came across Ubu Roi was reading Roselee Goldberg’s Performance Art from Futurism to the Present. I remember being intrigued by what was described, as well as the cultural/historical events surrounding it. I felt that I should probably read Ubu Roi, but I was wary of doing so. For whatever reason, the way it was described in Goldberg’s book reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Several years ago, I made a valiant attempt to read Catch-22 and found it’s bureaucratic absurdity so painfully difficult that I couldn’t even finish the book (an extreme rarity for me). It left a really bad taste in my mouth that made me hesitant to read Ubu, which come to find out was completely unnecessary. I really enjoyed reading Ubu Roi, and found a number of parallels to our current social, cultural, and political ideas/events.
In the forward/preface to the play, Barbara Wright mentions the comparisons to Shakespeare that Ubu has faced. Even with this forewarning I did not expect it to so obviously and blatantly follow the plot of MacBeth. It’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve read that play, but the prodding and abuse of Père Ubu by Mere Ubu in Act I, Scene I, instantly reminded me of the portion of MacBeth, where Lady MacBeth urges her husband to “screw your courage to the sticking place” and do what needs to be done. At that point MacBeth has essentially thought himself to a standstill in regards to the prophesy delivered by the three witches. Lady MacBeth’s assaults imply that her husband is too weak of will and clearly not manly enough to advance in the world. As Ubu Roi opens, we see Père Ubu, too stupid to see the possibilities that Mère Ubu has clearly already considered, thus the verbal attacks, once again rousing the spouse into action. Reading Ubu Roi reminded me of what a dark, violent play MacBeth is, and how it really reflects the inherent evilness of man kind, in much the way Ubu demonstrates the crass commonness of humans. We always want what others have, we can never be satisfied with what has already been achieved or earned. I think given Jarry’s aims in creating Ubu, a better choice could not have been made, especially in light of what he writes in Of the Futility of the “Theatrical” in the Theatre. In this essay, Jarry asserts that there are two things that can be done in order to make the theater more accessible to the audience. Firstly, that they are provided with characters who think like them and are relatable/understandable. Secondly, that the audience is given a “commonplace sort of plot.” In other words, people, places, things, events, with which they are familiar. In using, nearly word for word, the plot from MacBeth, as well as placing Père and Mere Ubu in the roles of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, Jarry provided a ready known, familiar plot line.
A second thing which crossed my mind while pondering this connection to MacBeth, is that Jarry had created a piece of art that was postmodern long before anyone could grasp the concept of postmodern. He appropriated, with out apology, material from Shakespeare’s work, twisting it and adding to it, serving his own purposes. Part of this “borrowing” pushed his ideas about making the theater more accessible, as I stated previously, but I think it also stood as a sign of things to come, whether or not Jarry intended for it to do so. The idea of Ubu Roi being before it’s time is hinted at in both the forward/preface and the essay Questions of the Theatre. In that essay Jarry uses a really lovely metaphor for the idea of time and the evolution of ideas, writing: “Light is active and shade is passive, and light is not detached from shade, but, given sufficient time, penetrates it.” He goes on to discuss the idea that people who have lived a long time have lived among a specific group of works and concepts. Essentially stating that what these elders are familiar with, is what becomes the accepted, and therefor normal, mode of thought and artistic creation. He notes, however, that one day “We too shall become solemn, fat and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely classical books…And a lot of other young people will appear, and consider us completely out of date…and there is no reasons why this should ever end.” I take these two quotes to mean that something, such as Ubu Roi, may be put forward, but it may not be understood until it has experienced the test of time, so to speak. It brings to mind a sort of wave of understanding. However, these works will eventually be pushed aside the same new understandings and continually advancing tide that brought about it’s initial understanding. It’s my opinion that humans in general seek that which is familiar and comfortable to them. When something comes along, as Ubu did, and challenges or mocks the known, all thrown in to disarray, which is something I think is a very prominent goal in postmodernism. This is underscored by Wright in the forward/preface, when she reports: “It caused an uproar, was violently booed and violently applauded; it was compared with the work of Shakespeare and Rabelais, or dismissed as insipid nonsense; it was called the inspiration of modern youth, or dismissed as a rather poor joke.”
The idea that Ubu Roi was dismissed as a poor joke also brought to mind for me Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. I watched that movie about six months ago, and still find myself wondering exactly what it was meant to convey. Was it a farce? Was it a documentary? Was it only a joke? Is Banksy making fun of the sudden popularity and profusion of street art? Is he questioning the value of the artist and art in our current society? Is he challenging the art market and collectors yet again? Is it all of the above or none? I sincerely wonder. Exit Through the Gift Shop is alternately described as all of the above, depending on who you ask and their personal experience of it. I feel as though this is much the way Ubu Roi would have been received, at least by those in the world of the arts. In the same way Exit Through the Gift Shop is so unbelievable unlikely and absurd, so too was Ubu in it’s time. You are left unsure of whether or not to take it seriously, and it causes to to really question your perceptions of the surrounding ideas, events, and even the culture. While frustrating, and I’m sure confusing for those who experienced the first appearance of Père Ubu in 1896, I feel the lingering questions are a positive thing. It continues to force you to think, long after your initial experience of the thing. While Ubu Roi (as seen through the lens of modern culture) is not as shocking or offensive as it was once considered to be, it is clearly the first of its kind. It asked its audience to view itself with out a filter, and therefore reconsider themselves.
Finally, as I was reading, I saw an incredibly strong parallel between Père Ubu’s behavior and that of today’s culture and politics. Père Ubu is a selfish and immature person, acting with out thought for consequence to himself or others. For him the ultimate goal is self gratification at any and all costs. It doesn’t matter if he has to kill hundreds of nobles, or refuse advancement to those who aided him, he will have what he wants. Ubu Roi examined the entirely too commonplace occurrence of those with power and money to wind up abusing that power and money in the quest for their own success. I think this is still true of American politics. Politicians lobby for, and enact legislation that benefits themselves, forgetting their duty to their constituents. Often times, laws are passed in knee jerk reactions to specific events or situations with no thought of how they might affect future generations. Politicians work to better their own situations, to make more money both privately and for their reelection campaigns, saying whatever it is they need to say along the way. This short sightedness is also a very common theme in today’s popular culture. We want everything, and we want it now, we have become a culture of instant gratification. We continue to talk on the phone and text while driving, even though we have been warned that it may result in fatal car accidents. Our iPhones are much more important than common sense or safety. Americans currently find themselves in financial crisis because they borrowed money with out a true thought as to how we would pay it back. The prominent thing in our minds was the McMansion, the giant flat screen TV, or the giant SUV that we really had no need of. Much like Père Ubu, we are too ignorant to even take responsibility for our behaviors, instead we point fingers every which way, blaming others for our misfortune. We blame the banks for bad business, the economy for high unemployment, and the government for spending too much, but we never stop to examine our own behaviors or think for ourselves, something we have in common with Père Ubu.
Analysis paralysis, grass is greener syndrome, longing for the road not traveled: How the success of the women’s movement has left us stumped in the face of limitless options -- and how to get over it.