95…94…93…92…

I am at the 92 Day, 23 hour, 58 minute and some odd second mark until my thesis show opens.

 

And I am struggling.  But what’s surprising about that?

 

You see, I have once again gotten myself into the difficult situation of having come up with this insane idea, but of having no clue as to how to pull it off.  Aren’t I nice to myself?

 

My initial proposal went something like this:

 

For my thesis show, I would like to create an archive of a performance through documents and artifacts.  The performance which is evidenced through this archive may or may not have taken place.  There is potential for the archive could be created out of found objects, repurposed materials, etc.  These materials would then be presented to the audience in such a way that they are then required to piece together the “narrative” of the event.  Conceptually, I see the performance revolving around the themes of failure and success.  Preferably, I would like this to take the form of some type of universal failure or experience with failure, something which would compel the audience to invest time and energy into discovering the story.  The main idea behind the archive and its manner of presentation to the audience is that, while it documents and shares an experience for which the audience was absent, it also mediates and distances them from that same event.  This inherently creates misunderstanding, miscommunication, and potential meandering in meaning.  In this way the archive in the traditional sense, fails performance art, in that it cannot provide a clear or concise replication of the principal happening for posterity to experience.  Nor can it hope to truly preserve artist intent or meaning through time.  As our cultural references and understandings evolve, the documents  themselves remain stagnant.

The contents of this repository will be as wide ranging as possible, but operating within the traditional confines of an archive.  I intend to include photographs, video, sound recordings, writing, any props or objects used for the performance, as well as any artifacts created through the performance itself.  These documents will be incomplete in someways, forcing the viewer to use all parts in conjunction with one another in order to obtain the “full picture.”  These various parts will be displayed throughout the gallery, almost in “stations,” to both explain and mediate the performance for the audience.  I also anticipate providing the audience with some sort of takeaway which could function as a map, a treasure hunt, or something which would help them to tie together the various pieces of the performance.  This takeaway could then become an additional piece of documentation.  Photographically speaking, I am considering two options.  The first is having images which change periodically, and the second is presenting images that were supposedly printed with disappearing ink.  In the first option, images could be rotated on a time table, or a small group of images could be displayed on a screen or projected for a finite period of time before changing, never to be seen again.  In the second option, the images could be printed in disappearing ink, or just be stated to have been printed as such.  The audience would then be forced to rely on written captions or titles, or another individual to describe to them what was in each frame.  Similarly, the video component would be designed so that it could not be relied upon to share the narrative in its entirety.  I see it as either taking the form of a soundless video, projected or played on a screen.  Or it could also simply be a glitchy video which periodically drops out, or becomes pixillated so visual information is lost as well, similar to the way that Digital TV received via antenna is unreliable. When it comes to any objects included in the archive, I’m anticipating these being presented much as traditional art objects or historical artifacts in a museum.  Moreover, I plan on incorporating some type of sound or written element to supplement the object.  This could take the form of an audio track variously describing the original object, the history of the object, discussing the use of the object within the performance, or maybe just the sound of the object being used.  Alternatively, this could also be accomplished through a written placard accompanying the object. As a final piece of the archive, I intend to have an audio feed that provides audience members with a general interpretation of what the performance and show were about.  To accomplish this, at some point during each viewer’s experience at the gallery, they will have the opportunity to enter a sort of “confessional,” in which they can share their interpretations, impressions, or experience of the performance.  This will then simultaneously be recorded and broadcast into a “listening station,” where others may go to hear this second hand audio archive of the performance.  As with the presentation of the objects, this could also take the form of a written archive if the audience were uncomfortable with speaking or being recorded.  Additionally, I would somehow like to incorporate other audience generated archive materials, such as pictures they took, or social media posts they made relating to the show.  This could then be incorporated into the presentation of the performance in the museum after the opening….

 

And then it goes into discussing research routes and technical challenges.  Sorry if you read all of that.

There are several problems with this idea, despite the fact that I am so excited about it and have the support of my committee to take this risk.  The first of which being, I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT THE PERFORMANCE IS GOING TO BE.  And I can’t piece together anything else until I nail that down.  Frustrating!  Like I mention in the proposal, I want it to related to failure, but how do you make failure completely universal?  It’s pretty crucial in this situation I think, to make the performance something that is relatable and understandable in terms of theme and content.  Otherwise I feel like there would be NOTHING for the audience to grasp since there are several layers happening here, and I’m not 100% certain that everyone in attendance is going to understand that as I look at it, archives are failure…  Something, something, something, something?

I submitted that proposal in December, and have approval to attempt this madness, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about what my performance might be, if it were going to be live, or take place before hand, how I might engage the audience in piecing together the archive…On and on.

For quite sometime, the only conclusion I had come to was that there had to be a live performance (the night of my opening at least), so that the distinction between experiencing the archive and having a first hand, potentially participatory experience could be made for my audience.  But then, how do I make sure that ALL visitors to the show can experience that contradiction?  I can’t perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  I can’t afford to pay performers to perform in the museum the entire time the show is up.  Do I make my audience become the performers?  And how do I keep the performance hidden, secondary in some ways, so that the audience could experience everything else first and THEN discover the live performance?  Should I make some sort of scavenger hunt, where the performance becomes the pay off in the end?  And how do I ensure that my audience complies?

Then over the last few days, I’ve started to think that I’m attempting to combine too much into this show.  Trying to use too many ideas simultaneously, and that I should try to simplify where possible.  This also made me think that maybe I should try to really simplify my intents for the performance itself, and maybe attempt something on a smaller scale…  But I still didn’t know what it would be.

But I think I had a small break through today.  In one of my posts from November, I talked about how I was thinking about playing telephone (almost literally) for a performance, and shared my discovery of  an essay titled The Viral Ontology of Performance Art.  Something else I read today (also out of Perform, Repeat, Record) started to make me think about performance telephone and Viral Ontology again.

  “Documentations magic lies in its explosive power, it shatters the reclusive planet inhabited by the once-lived into a radiating galaxy of astroids.  Each astroid carries some memories of the once-lived, each in turn extends, renews, or replaces the vitality of the once-lived; each has the potential to grow into a different planet.  Thus, the once-lived lives again and lives on not as itself per se, but as itself altered: dismembered, redone, augmented, partially replicated, diminished, burned into ashes, or consumed as legends.”

Suddenly I remembered a game a member of my cohort taught me and that I would frequently play with the kids at Lafayette Art Camp.  It’s called Telephone Pictionary.  To play this game, you sit in a circle with the other participants (as with traditional Telephone, the more people, the better), and each player has a stack of paper or note cards.  On the top card, each participant writes a word or phrase.  They flip it over and hand it to the person sitting next to them.  That person looks at the word or phrase and attempts to draw it on the back of the same piece of paper.  The drawing is then passed to the next individual who looks only at the drawing, and writes out a short phrase or word that describes what they think the drawing is of. And so on and so forth.  The pay off obviously comes once the cards have made the full round of the circle and come back to the original owner, where the evolution of their original word or phrase is seen.

And I thought… Why can’t that be the performance?!  It’s so perfectly simple.  It doesn’t require anyone to constantly be performing.  It’s wholly participatory, but un-agressively so.  It creates it’s own archive by default.  It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t make a spectacle of itself and could be taking place in a self contained room…  It’s so flipping simple and perfect, it’s brilliant.  It embodies the very idea of viral ontology and audience centered experiences I’m so keep to explore.  It is also sort of the very definition of failure, and I don’t even have to manipulate the situation  to create the failure!  Why am I so obtuse sometimes!?!

I’m not entirely sure how this all fits together into my crazy scheme yet, but I think I’m going to test run this idea at the 621 Cabaret in a few weeks.  Every year 621 Gallery does a fundraiser in which local artists and performers create an act and then put on a cabaret style show, and since I’m sitting on the board this year, I got suckered into performing…  But I think it might be a good venue to explore this idea, if I can make it happen with in a 10 minute time frame…  Always gotta make it hard on myself.

 

More soon.

Have you seen my shoedas ?

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WMD_NEW_0100 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0054 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0025 as Smart Object-1 WMD_NEW_0105 as Smart Object-1

 

 

Alright. In several places on this blog, I’ve mentioned in passing about my shoes. My stupid shoes. The flipping Converse that I’ve been wearing incessantly since mid-January. I hate them.

Basically these Converse are a durational (Thesis vocab, what?!) piece I started back in January. When I began the project, I had this idea that it was going to be something about being worn down by anxieties and the fear of failure, but the fact that the shoes would be damaged by my wearing of them was not a failure, but rather a success on the part of the shoes in protecting my feet and doing their job. A work about letting oneself get caught up in small trivialities that eventually exhaust you. My intent was to wear them all day, every day (no smart asses, not to bed, and not in the shower… And yes I really did have cohorts ask me that), any time any one might normally wear shoes. I planned to wear them until it was unsafe for me to do so any longer (ie the bottoms completely wore through and I couldn’t wear them while riding my scooter without shredding off the soles of my feet). I planned to photograph them every week, once a week, more as documentation than anything else, and that was as far as my planning ever got. I figured that I would decide on display and what not later on down the line.

So I started the project. Mind you this is out of the ordinary for me to start something without having everything planned out or answered (at least for the time being) a head of time. But I was trying to just “go with it” as they say. Well, whew, what a hot mess that was. I got distracted by the photography aspect, starting thinking that it was a photography project, got a lot of silence and strange looks when I talked about the project in studio visits and reviews. I got very lost along the way.

In any event I’ve been photographing them every week since I first put them on in January. I only missed one week, when I was out of town in Chicago. I’ve watched them deteriorate. I’ve noticed small changes from week to week that one would not normally see in their shoes. I saw the first bit of rubber fall off the heel of my shoe, watched the backs break and the supporting plastic erode away. I’ve been watching the laces slowly unravel and stain, the tread wear away… I’ve been hiking in them, wore them to the beach, went camping in them. I wear them on my scooter, doing yard work, going dancing with my friends. I wear them with completely unlikely outfit combinations (like my black lace cocktail dress)… I’ve witnessed drastic alterations that happened quite literally overnight, like the pink spray paint incident. I have 60 gigabytes of images. SIXTY GIGABYTES. I am hyper-aware of my shoes. And maybe it’s because of this hyper awareness I think about the aims and intents of this project daily, and I’m coming to realize that it’s something other.

 

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I will spare you the majority of the drama that ensued around me trying to figure out that my visuals (the photo documentation) didn’t really do much for me, that my initial concept didn’t really make sense, and that I never really did resolve how to display this project in it’s original conception, and my general confusion about art and instead give you my resolution:

In a very loose, round about way, this project is still related to ideas about failure and anxiety. I see it much more as a meditation on the constancy of change and the idea that maintaining the status quo, or rather the inability to do so, is not failure, so much as the way of life. Evidence that one should not fight the inevitability of change, but accept it rather than wearing oneself ragged. Also, if I should ever exhibit this anywhere, it will be just the shoes and a brief statement about the piece. Forget the photos (blasphemy!). Forget making an installation. Forget anything but the point, which is the shoes.

The only problem is that now I’ve figured that out, I’m sort of over the whole thing. I pretty much just want to chuck the project and get on with life (and start wearing other shoes again), but this point in the project, I’m too stubborn to give it up, even though it’s driving me nuts. All this actually having to go to the studio and to photograph something. It’s like I actually make art or something. I think I need to keep going though, until my original stop point of un-safe-ness. And yes, continue photographing them. Gah. I never want to edit all of those RAW files… SIXTY GIGABYTES PEOPLE! And I’ve got more on the way. Sometimes I’m not as smart as I’d like to think…

While I’m pretty certain that this project will never be exhibited, it has been incredibly useful in allowing me to accept my conceptual-ness, and in helping me to see the connections between failure, anxiety, change, and life.

Anyway, I’ve also reflected on several other things in relation to this project. Most boringly of all, consumerism. I’ve worn the same pair of shoes for six months people, with only the notable exceptions of the gym (because my body cannot withstand exercising in support-less Converse), two days when I was in Chicago (due to snow and my extreme dislike of wet/cold feet), and a handful of days where my shoes were just too wet to wear (again, my total hatred of wet/cold feet). And for the most part, NO ONE HAS NOTICED. I’m not joking. I was expecting funny looks and comments when I started rolling up wearing my Converse EVERYWHERE with EVERYTHING, including to the beach with my swimsuit. But no one has said a thing up to this point. Interesting, in light of our consumer driven, external appearance focused culture.

 

And sorry for the ridiculous What’s Eating Gilbert Grape allusion, but I kind of love that movie (Johnny Depp before he got weird and Leonardo DiCaprio before he got hot!) and I do frequently refer to my shoes (any of them) as “shoedas”.

To Be or Not To Be (Conceptual)

Not wholly applicable...but still funny.
Not wholly applicable…but still funny.

More years ago than I really care to admit (or at least it seems that way), a professor asked the students of a photography course in which I was enrolled, whether we defined ourselves as photographers or as artists.  I have no recollection of what context this discussion was happening in, nor what anyone else around me said about the matter, but I do remember shooting my hand up in the air instantly, declaring that I was a photographer.  Of course.  Duh.  When my prof asked me why that was I also recall being a little confused and somewhat defensive as to why I was being questioned on this point.  I said something along the lines of:  Well, I am a photographer because I take pictures, and use a camera, and it is easier to explain myself as such to other people because they always assume I mean painter or sculptor when I say artist, and I take pictures damn it.  Such a rock star answer from my brilliant 20 year-old self.  For whatever reason this moment has stuck with me for a long time, and I’ve thought about it frequently in recent years.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that at least one draft of my letter of intent for grad school applications involved this story.

For all intents and purposes, I am still defined as a photographer by some people… Like my family.  Try all I want, I cannot seem to make them understand what I do.  And since I frequently teach photography, my students assume I am a photographer.  But thats sort of par for the course I think…  I also just sort of love photography in a totally nerdy way, and so people just sort of assume…  My point here, if I really have one, is that I think I’ve fallen on the other side of my own argument, despite what others think, and despite my love of photo.  I am not a photographer, and in fact, despite my ridiculous, undying love of the photographic process, I’m beginning to believe I never was, at least not in any traditional sense of the word/occupation.  Which sounds super weird coming out of my mouth, but if you think about it in the context of the photographer versus artist question, and a few other things, it makes absolute sense.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this blog a time or two about how much I. F*#$*@%. LOVE. PHOTOGRAPHY.  And that I have a deep, nonsensical adoration for being in the darkroom.  This is all completely, 100% true.  But that love has also, in some ways, been my undoing since I graduated with my BFA.  While all of my work has been conceptual in some sense, my training has always been to turn my concepts into a tangible object.  It has also instilled the rather rigid view in my mind that in order for one to be productive, one needs to be constantly, physically making things.  Obviously my realization a few months back that I just didn’t want to make objects any more completely contradicted everything a good deal of my notions on art making.  Talk about  cognitive dissonance.

The really funny thing here though, is that looking back, I never really cared all that much about the physical photographs themselves.  I rarely printed more than 1 copy of any image, and frequently found ways to get around matting or mounting them (because to quote a professor, my mats were always “caddywhompus”).  I will take my cameras just about anywhere and do just about anything with it, meaning they get the crap beat out of them.  My negatives… well let’s just say they’re not really kept in archival or secure conditions.  But I persevered in my quest to be a photographer-artist person.  My work became photographically based installations and objects.  I tortured myself finding ways to turn experiences and ideas into a traditional art object.  I struggled in stupid ways because I refused to step away from photography.  I had allowed it to define my practice and myself.

It wasn’t until I got to grad school that it even occurred to me that my practice could be entirely conceptual, and that I needn’t rely on photography.  But I kept fighting that, trying to turn ideas in to something tangible, trying to make emotions and experiences concrete.  Attempting to find excuses to make photographs.  I’ve also felt a great deal of pressure (whether real or imagined) from various sides to be less conceptual and perhaps more intuitive.  Most of my peers here are very materials based and object focused,  offering critiques and ideas which lean in that direction, because that is how they think and what they relate to.  Even faculty has been trying to prod me into making things.  That’s what all of those material experiments and photographs were all about.  But I feel more and more disinterested in all of that…   Because even if I’m taking my old negatives and damaging/altering/manipulating them, they are ultimately still a thing and will be displayed as such.  Yuck I say.  Yuck.

There’s also this entire guilt aspect to wanting to make objects… I mean, as I said before, that’s the way I was trained (for lack of a better word).  So not only do I feel badly for ignoring what I was taught by some amazing people, I feel super criminal about not using my studio, if that makes sense.  I mean, I’m not building things, or painting something, or what not…  I spend more time thinking, reading, and experiencing things than I do actually making.  Its probably like an 80/20 split.  Thinking versus making.  I keep thinking to myself:  Shouldn’t I be making better use of the facilities?  I don’t know about any other programs, but its kind of like a mini contest among grad students around here as to who spent how much time in the studio doing what.  It’s like this silly reverse peer pressure thing where I feel like since other people are spending hours upon hours locked into their studios, I should too.  Even if there is no reason for me to be in there.  And on top of that, there is some serious guilt tripping thing that goes on when the faculty talk about how amazing our new studio facilities are and how we should be making better use of the space….  Ah.  It’s like a really great recipe for an anxiety attack.  And we all know how good I am at doing that.

In any event, I think a huge part of my graduate school journey thus far, has been coming to terms with the fact that I am, in actuality, a conceptual artist.  Not a photographer.  Not a photo-based artist, but a flipping conceptual artist.  Acknowledging that the object holds little importance to me other than as a record of the experience…  And it has been an insane struggle.  Especially in this last semester.  I don’t know why I keep fighting myself on this.  I don’t know why I can’t just ignore faculty and cohorts who try to aid and abet me in my self defeat.  But in the last few weeks I’ve become much more comfortable with this idea… Ideas.  I want ideas and experiences to be my art work.  I don’t want to make things anymore.  And if I do make things, they will be in support of a performance, or an installation, most likely completely ephemeral and not meant to be turned into an “art object.”

So while I will most likely always love photography like the big nerd I am, even though I will probably never again be a “photographer”:

I AM A CONCEPTUAL ARTIST, AND IT’S TOTALLY OK TO NOT “MAKE” THINGS.

As my friend Sunny would say:  D. U. H. Courtney.

D. U. H. Indeed.

Whoops.

Hi.  I’m going to tell you a secret… I’ve totally been putting off (AKA avoiding) writing a post.  Which is why it’s been two months.  TWO MONTHS!  Whoops.

Whoops
Whoops.

By the time the semester was over (two weeks after my last post), I was completely brain dead, between thesis writing, grading my student’s work, final projects, etc.  As such I never got a chance to write a post before my final reviews (which went pretty well, just in case you were curious), and then the joyous month of May came.  This is actually probably a pretty good thing, because knowing me, I would have posted excerpts from my ridiculous thesis draft… *Shudder*   Anyway, May is my favorite because there is literally NOTHING that I HAVE to do.  There are always things I want to do, and probably should do, but no pressing deadlines, no anxiety inducing readings to complete, no meetings… So I kinda took a vacation… for the whole month of May.  Whoops.   I went camping with friends, spent entire days on the beach drinking, went hiking, cooked and baked up a storm, sat in my backyard reading…  It was pretty swell.

 

Sunset on St. Joesph's Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete's sake!
Sunset on St. Joesph’s Peninsula. I saw dolphins here for Pete’s sake!
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I mean seriously… Who’s going to do important, grown-up things while there is this?!

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And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
And who wants to be in the studio when they can be exploring this!?
Different day, different beach... This is why I <3 Florida.
Different day, different beach… This is why I ❤ Florida.

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Some how this is the only cooking I photographed...
Some how this is the only cooking I photographed…

 

But here’s the thing… I was in the studio a few hours (like max 4… Shhhh, don’t tell my faculty!)  for most days, putzing around, but not actually doing much.  I was also doing some seriously voracious reading.  In fact in the month of May I read more books than I have in a long time, and they weren’t all for fun.  Bet you can’t guess which ones were for fun and which were for research!

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/The Chamber of Secrets 

Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography 

Photography Changes Everything

The Antidote:  Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

After Photography

Photography: History and Theory

The Unphotographable

The Great Gatsby

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Photograph 

 

 

Aaaaand, on those camping trips, hiking expeditions, and beach days… I spent a lot of time filming somethings which one day I will post up here, as well as talking and thinking about my work/practice.  But I kept avoiding writing a new post, because a) it had already been a long time, and b) that meant it was time to put my thoughts into words and to admit somethings.  Also I’ve been having serious guilt/anxiety attacks about NOT being in the studio.  And if I’m not in the studio, how could I justify spending time writing a blog post?  But you know what?  Not being in the studio has been the best thing ever for me lately.  My month long vacation has allowed my brain to reset and I feel like I’m in a really good place.  I’ve got tons of stuff I want to research, and a few ideas for work that I’m pretty excited about.  

In any event, I’ve got somethings on tap for the rest of the summer, even though I haven’t started most of the things on my to do list, like start the job application/hunt process.  *sigh*  I should probably talk to one of my committee members about that soon.  New posts soon with actual thoughts and art in them.  Even though I’m back working at Lafayette full time this summer (which is awesome but exhausting), the next six weeks should be pretty productive.  The husband got a residency for six weeks at the Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside in upstate New York, and he’s leaving Wednesday.  And everyone else that I hang out with is either going on vacation or moving away :(…. Sooooo, I’m on my own, which is a great excuse to lock myself into work mode and ignore the wider world.  Love it!

Now, I need to go photograph those shoes of mine… Yes that’s still a thing.  We’re on week 19.  And I hate it.

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Public Critiques are Somehow Less Anxiety Inducing…

Another thing that has kept me from posting recently was a visiting artist event in which I was involved.  Although this one I didn’t know I was participating in until nearly the last minute…

FSU brought in Stuart Horodner as part of our visiting artist lecture series.  He’s the boss man in charge at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and just recently published The Art Life:  On Creativity and Career (Which was a really good book by the way), and one of the faculty arranged for public critiques to happen.  Four grads were selected to have their work reviewed by Stuart, but we didn’t get told about it until a week before it was supposed to happen…

As I’m sure you can imagine, that was a little stressful.  I was less worried about the actual critique then I was about figuring out how to install my work in the gallery.  It was chaos for a little while… I had to go buy TVs and export videos several times, battle difficult projectors, paint things, oh and I had to read the book…  But it turned out just peachy keen in the end.  I showed an updated version of my Bending the Break/Breaking to Bend video, with a new audio component, and Fairy Tale Logic.  Bending the Break/Breaking to Bend was pretty much installed as I had it installed at Working Method back in January, but I finally got to install Fairy Tale Logic the way I’ve always wanted to… On two monitors!

Fairy Tale Expectations, Video Installation, HD Video, 2012
Fairy Tale Logic, Video Installation, HD Video, 2012

As a really awesome bonus, Craig Drennen, who is currently a studio artist at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, an instructor at Georgia State, aaaaaand the dean at Skowhegan, came down with Stuart to participate in the critiques.  While my peers may or may not agree with me, I had a really great experience.  The main thing that I wanted to get out of the crit was that someone, outside the hermetically sealed environment I have here at school (yes, that may be a little bit of a dramatic way to describe it), related to or understood the things I was addressing in my work.  Between all the doubt and frustration I had been experiencing lately, this was really the best thing I could hope for.  And I feel like I got that, as well as just positive feed back in general.  For what ever reason, I found this process much less anxiety provoking than our usual reviews…  Which I told to my committee head.  The way that Stuart ran the reviews was critical, but constructively so.  I sometimes feel that our committee reviews are not so constructive…  But again, that’s my opinion.

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Me being critiqued… Rocking the bright pink blazer my friend convinced me to buy and wear to the SPE conference last month. Her logic for the pink blazer? No one can forget the girl in the brightest, pinkest blazer that ever existed!

 

For some more pics and info you should click HERE!

 

In any event, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in grad school.  It came pretty close to the Guerra de la Paz collaboration last spring…but not quite as awesome!  Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to show you how the battle scar I acquired during that installation looks now:

Not to terrible, but you can still see the three distinct scars from falling through a chair!  I love it :)
Not to terrible, but you can still see the three distinct scars from falling through a chair! I love it 🙂

Why can’t grad school just be awesome experiences like these?!

On that note… Adios!

Camera Lucida Gave Me an Anxiety Attack (Or How I Always Have My Artistic and Personal Revelations at Inappropriate Moments)

I’m going to give a disclaimer right here, right now:  This post might very well go to the dark side of incoherent ramble and there’s a possibility that no one will follow my train of thought.  But that’s OK, what’s important here is that I follow my train of thought.  Toot toot!

Not mine.  From a website featuring brain related comics.  Still funny... Or punny, whichever.
Not mine. From a website featuring brain related comics. Still funny… Or punny, whichever.

A few weeks ago, the grad photo seminar I’m taking was required to read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.  I wasn’t so concerned with this, as the book is super short, and I had read bits and pieces of it as an undergrad.  I was looking forward to revisiting it actually because  I remembered loving what Barthes discussed when I read it at UT… This idea that photography is a reminder of our own mortality, and his concepts of the studium and the punctum.  For realz.  It was a very… romantic… discussion of photography, and when I was first exposed (Ha!  Unintentional photo pun) to Barthes it just made so much sense.  But upon reading it again, I found myself increasingly  irritated by what he wrote and by the way he presents (presented? since he’s dead?) photography.  Now granted the book was written in 1980 before digital gained it’s foothold, and before photography became so completely accessible to everyone, but I just wanted to throw up all over the book.  Or punch Mr. Roland Barthes in the face.  Something.  I know, totally inappropriate reaction, but I was disappointed and frustrated.  It no longer made any sense, and instead of rediscovering something I thought I loved, I realized I hated something that I thought I loved.

I don’t know why I was so surprised and taken aback by this.  I have been struggling for the last two years with photography (before I even started grad school!), trying to figure out why it wasn’t working for me anymore, trying to understand why I love it but am so flummoxed by it.  Coming into this current semester, one of my goals had been to re-introduce photography into my practice on some level, beyond documentation of my performances, because I really missed it, and because it seemed stupid to me that something I had once loved so much, and was such an integral part of my practice, was something from which I had completely walked away.  And this goal was part of the reason I enrolled myself in the grad photo seminar.  I thought it would give me some space to address this goal.  In certain ways, it has allowed that, and has given me a lot of food for thought on the relationship between photography and performance art.  So that’s good…

But then we read Camera Lucida.

And then we discussed it in class.

And I had an all encompassing anxiety attack during that class discussion….

I’m not even sure how to plot the trajectory of this attack in order to explain it, suffice to say I came to class prepared to discuss this, and see how others had interpreted Barthes romantic vomit.  But then, as we began the discussion, I started to wonder about my own reaction and interpretation of this text.  I mean, somewhere, down underneath all the crazy, behind the performance art, I’m supposed to be a photographer, or a tiny part of me was at one point, right?  Shouldn’t that mean that while I may not agree with what the author had to say, I should on some level appreciate it?  That I could at least see it from a different perspective than my own.  But I couldn’t.  I just straight up hated it.  And that got me thinking about a) wether or not I really loved photography the way that I thought I did, or even at all, and b) if I should even be an artist if I hated a theory so much.  I mean, I felt like a fraud in so many ways.  I keep talking about why I love photo, I made a point to teach photography here, I’m going to the SPE conference in March… But I wanted to run screaming from one of the books on photo theory.  It was a big, hot mess.  I worked myself up to the point where I could barely follow the conversation, let alone participate in it.

Voila, anxiety attack.

I’m so good at that.

Anyway.  I was really upset over this.  And I actually cried on my way home.  I was that impacted.  So, I’ve been thinking this over a lot in the two weeks or so since it happened, without much progress.

In the intervening time, I had reviews, and several studio visits.  Each of those caused me more and more frustration and anguish, because not only was I questioning the entire foundation for my artistic career (photography), I was seeing this widening disconnect between my ideas and my actual work.  I had developed all of this work that visually and emotionally had no connection to the ideas and stories that were supposedly their basis.  “Cool” art as one of my professors dubbed it.  A clean, slick, pretty aesthetic, and yet nothing I am trying to address is anything but hot and messy.  The two are most certainly not jiving, if you’re picking up what I’m laying down.

I wanted to leave school.  I wanted to stop being an artist.  To be clear though, it wasn’t the faculty’s fault I was in this mind set.  The studio visits and reviews I had were actually very helpful to me in terms of clarifying and understanding the disconnect that I intuitively understood to be there, but could not quite grasp in reason or put into words.  It was me, feeling very much inadequate to the task I had set myself.  In short I was feeling like a failure to myself.  Ah… my old friend, we meet again.  Hold this thought because it’s important…

Well, so that’s how everything was sitting for the last few weeks of my life.  I was pretty much at loose ends.  I didn’t really touch anything in my studio, instead I just sat and stared at it a lot.  I dragged my feet on teaching related things.  I avoided people in general.  It sucked.  I’m sure I was a peach to be around.  And yet I kept having these strange moments of serendipity and deja vu.  Which had to mean I was somehow on the right path…

I’m sure if anyone ever reads this blog more than one time, they’ll figure out I’ve got a few psychological and emotional problems.  No, I’m not just “crazy” because artists are supposed to be crazy.  I actually hate that I’m “crazy” and that I’m an artist, what bad luck to be a stereotype!  I actually hate the word crazy, it’s a far to unsubtle and general a descriptor.  But that’s my issue…  What I’m trying to say here is that clearly I have a lot of things that need working on, and work on them I do.  I do both individual and group counseling, and it’s really helpful for me.  For instance, in my individual sessions, we talk a lot about how my psychological and emotional behaviors often play out in my art work, often times with out my realizing it.  I point this out, because I had this huge, amazing moment of understanding (which is where the subtitle for this post comes into play) that relates to my art work.

In my session yesterday, my counselor pointed out to me that people who struggle with expectations tend to deal with them in one of two ways; either become a perfectionist (which in some ways I fall into this category), or they develop avoidance issues (which I had never considered in relation to my own behavior before).  She suggested that I might want to think about how I avoid things when I feel that I can’t achieve my own expectations or goals.  I agreed and then went on about my day.

Several hours later, I was sitting in a lecture hall, listening to one of the many job candidates that FSU has been bringing in recently (FSU has something like 4 job searches going on in the art department), and I found my mind wandering.  I started thinking about situations in which I don’t deal with things, and I was trying to determine the reasons why I may not have dealt with whatever it was.  In most cases it’s because I feel like I can’t succeed in my aim, or that I assume the worst  case scenario in terms of outcome and I just gave up…if that makes any sense.  Then suddenly it hit me.  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I DID WITH PHOTOGRAPHY.  I started a series about a year before I went back to school, around the same time that my work started to shift toward more interior, psychological and emotional issues, and I got frustrated with it because it wasn’t conveying my intent.  I was failing in my aim.  And then when this failure (in my perception) continued when I came to FSU, I completely walked away from photography.

Holy Crap.

Giant. Fucking.  Exclamation Point.

So right in the middle of this job talk, I have this moment of clarity.  And of course I’m freaking out, and can barely sit still, which I have to do for another 45 minutes.  Terrible.  I felt like I was going to explode or something, because once my mind started racing along about this, there was no stopping it.  Almost right away I realized how this idea impacted the rest of my work too.  This “cool” art I had started making.  I was avoiding the emotional content because I had been unable to incorporate the visual and emotional in previous experiments.  This was why I had stopped halfway through so many projects…  My mind was blown.    This is what my notebook page looked like:

See how insanely disorganized this page is?  Terrible handwriting...
See how insanely disorganized this page is? Terrible handwriting…

So this is a good thing I think.  I went into my studio and cleaned it, took everything off the walls, and put all of my stuff away.  Time to recalibrate and reconsider.  It’s a good point in the semester for me to do that too, because I’m headed to Chicago in a week for SPE, but I’m staying a week so I can go to museums and galleries and just look at some flipping art that isn’t my own.  I feel much more focused now for some reason, it’s strange.

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So now I’m culling through my ideas and the projects I started this semester in order to get some perspective on them.  Writing notes to myself and deciding which I will continue in the wake of this epiphany and which I can discard as a means of avoidance….

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The pink ones are my ideas, the blue ones are my questions or considerations. I’m slowly considering each one. I have a feeling this will turn into an explosion of neon colored pieces of paper soon. Color always happens.

A January/February Grab Bag of Rambling…

Words are failing me lately.  So I haven’t been posting.  I’ve slowly been working on this one for about a week.

 

I’m still struggling with exactly what I mean when I say I don’t want to make things.  And I’m still a little unclear on the specifics of some of the pieces I’m working on.  I know I should just sit down and write until my hand falls off just to get it out of my head and onto paper, but honestly I just haven’t had the time.  I rarely get more than an hour to work on any one thing at a time right now.  This semester is just hectic in the sense that I’m bouncing back and forth between VAST and campus a lot, I either teach or have class every day Monday through Friday, and I have a lot of home work and prep work to do in general.  The weekends are my only uninterrupted studio time, but those are also the only days I get to see the husband because we are running on completely opposite schedules this semester.  Yuck.  I’m hoping though now that the first set of reviews are nearly over, and I’ve settled into the rhythm of this semester things will calm down and I will find some uninterrupted time to sit down and write out the art thoughtz.  It’s about time for me to start the thesis anyway…

 

As always, I have several things in the works, and I’m considering adding a few more.  I had a studio visit for one of my classes last night and my professor suggested that I do some more quick, sketchbook type things using the video camera, just so that I don’t focus so much on some of the other things I’m working on, but frustrated with.  I think that’s probably a pretty good idea right now because I’m finding myself just repeating the same thing over and over like the outcome is going to drastically change…

 

So I have two video pieces I’m working on.  They might become one, who knows.  One is an extension of the Bleed videos I was working on in the fall.  For me its about destroying something and that destruction creating something beautiful.  I’ve had a pretty fitful start with this so far.  First I was shooting tests with my iPhone, then I had to build a table to shoot with, then once I started shooting again, I had to stop and troubleshoot the water that was leaking on my camera, I’m trying to master (or at the very least be adequate at) shooting video with a DSLR… It’s like this crazy new ball game to me… and so I’ve been having problems with focusing and depth of field, and then of course just to make it a little harder on myself, I’m learning a new video editing program, Adobe Premier (not that I really knew Final Cut that well…).  Oh and I’m shooting something that can’t be reshot.  Sometimes I can hear my mind laughing hysterically at me, saying:  “Figure your way out of this one!”  I’m thinking that once I do win this battle, the video will become one component of a large installation, but we’ll see.

 

The second video I’m working on revolves around the idea of communication and self-defeat.  I’m really not certain where it’s going or what form it will take in the end, but the idea popped into my head last week and I ran with it.  And that’s that…

 

I have a couple of performances planned revolving around the idea of saying no and setting oneself up for failure.  I’m kind of keeping the details of those under wraps until I actually do them because I don’t really want people to know I’m doing a performance until after the fact.  I’m concerned that if they do know, they are going to react or behave differently, and I want genuine participation, which means I may not be able to document them…  I also am still really unsure of how I’m going to actually do these performances.

 

Speaking of documenting performances, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on that subject since the fall.  I really go back and forth on it for various reason.  I have a blog post I wrote for one of my classes all about it… I’ll post it on here for your edification.  But basically I don’t know how I feel about documenting my performances anymore.  In fact I kind of don’t like the idea, because no documentation can ever fully express the experience of that performance/happening/action/installation/event…

 

I don’t know.  My brain is working overtime.  Both on ideas and school work.  Again it gets back to the idea that I need some uninterrupted time to sit down and write/think/enjoy silence.  But right now I need to go update my artist statement, and maybe eat something.  Why don’t you look at these pictures while I do that?

 

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I some how magically made the spectrum unintentionally...
I some how magically made the spectrum unintentionally…

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Messy, messy lady I am...
Messy, messy lady I am…
The studio, cluttered and busy because I've been working.
The studio, cluttered and busy because I’ve been working.

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I'm sort of fixated on my iPhone's capability to take panoramas.  It's fun to mess with.
I’m sort of fixated on my iPhone’s capability to take panoramas. It’s fun to mess with.
Documentation from shooting some video... If you look carefully you can see my colored water leaking on to the camera.
Documentation from shooting some video… If you look carefully you can see my colored water leaking on to the camera.
Some documentation from an ongoing piece.  I've committed to wear these shoes until it's no longer safe to do so.  For me this piece is about unnecessary worry, and the idea that just because  something isn't perfect or precious, doesn't mean that you've failed.
Some documentation from an ongoing piece. I’ve committed to wear these shoes until it’s no longer safe to do so. For me this piece is about unnecessary worry, and the idea that just because something isn’t perfect or precious, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.
One of the resultant graphs from my January FF performance.  There are a lot of them...
One of the resultant graphs from my January FF performance. There are a lot of them…
Sometimes reflections can be cool... but only sometimes.  And certainly not when you don't want them.
Sometimes reflections can be cool… but only sometimes. And certainly not when you don’t want them.

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My most recent contraption for shooting video... I've solved the leaking problem.  Yay caulk!
My most recent contraption for shooting video… I’ve solved the leaking problem. Yay caulk!

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A still from the video about communication and self defeat.
A still from the video about communication and self defeat.

 

 

“I don’t want an art that points at a thing, I want an art that is the thing.”

I’m sorry for any typos or nonsense in here today… I’m tired and in a rush, but wanted to finally post something.  Please don’t grammar Nazi me right now!

While it’s been some time since I’ve posted on here, rest assured it was an intentional silence. I needed some serious time to decompress and recover from Fountain, and to process all the millions of arts I saw while I was in Miami for Art Basel. Also I’ve been experiencing what I am going to call an existential art breakdown, so the last couple of weeks haven’t exactly been the best for me to be writing about my work, or really any art in general. I was doing a lot of thinking about it, but my thoughts have been all over the place. Also I need to put my blogging pants back on because I have to contribute to blogs for two of my classes this semester.

Now if you can stretch your minds back to the beginning of December/end of November-ish, I am sure that you will recall (or at least I’m going to pretend that you recall) that I was going back and forth about my video works (specifically Bleed), and the artifacts created therein. I was also struggling the same way with my waterlogged notebooks and the images I had created of them. Well right around the time I left for Fountain, I realized that while I really enjoyed making things, like those photographs and prints, I just didn’t give a crap about them once I was through the process of creating them. So then the entire time I was down in Miami for Fountain and Art Basel I had this thought kicking around in my head as I looked at art, trying to find some inspiration to move forward in my work. After two days or so of this, I had another realization. I hated walking through these huge fairs and seeing painting after painting, sculpture after sculpture. I was profoundly disturbed to see video art presented as paintings, in frames, hanging on walls. Photography was boring me… People, PHOTOGRAPHY was boring me. I felt no connection to, and very little interest in these objects. The work I saw that I was most compelled by were live performances or all encompassing installations. Environments and situations where I could have a reaction to the art that was happening in real time. In short, I think I hate art objects. Which would explain SO much about why I’m not satisfied by the photographic prints I create anymore, and even why much of my video work isn’t sitting particularly well with me right now. This also really goes a long way in clarifying why I liked the random detritus that comes out of my performances and videos so much more than any intentionally created objects.

So after spending a week in Miami, I came home, finished my semester, and started to freak out. I see this realization as a rather powerful indication that I need to focus, and focus hard, on my performance and installation work, however I feel extremely uncomfortable about this. It is my process to work in a very organized manner, going from point A to point B in a methodical, intentional manner… And I don’t think that approach is very appropriate for creating performances especially. When it comes to performances, it seems like no matter how hard I try, I cannot control nor plan for every aspect of what willor even might happen. And as we all know, out of control is not a place I like to be… So I find myself in this completely self-created predicament… Completely confused and flipping terrified to move forward.

Stupid art objects, ruining my groove.

Well… OK, it’s not the object’s fault. Let’s be honest here, my work has been headed in this direction for some time, and I think I’ve been fighting it with out even knowing I was doing so. But it makes me feel less like an idiot if I can blame the inanimate object. Because I spend a good portion of my time feeling like an idiot lately.

I’m coming to believe that the experience that is created via performance or installation is so much more meaningful than one created by a passive viewing of an object. Performances and installations are often interactive, requiring a much more active experience, one that won’t likely slip out of your mind so quickly as a painting on a wall. To my mind this is a much more meaningful exchange. Call me crazy (and I most like am the spitting image of the crazy artist stereo type right now) but I think an art should stick with people… Kind of bug them, or pop up in their minds every now and then as they go through their daily lives, giving them something to think about or process for a long time to come.

The only piece I’ve done since I last posted was for January First Friday at Working Method. I had the entire front gallery to myself, and after having forgotten about the fact I had the January First Friday show until a week before, had to figure out a way to use the space. Several anxiety saturated hours followed my recollection. I didn’t want to just show old work because that would be silly. But I didn’t really have any new work. So what did I do? I did a performance. I set up a “fake show” of some large photographic prints from my High Tide performance and projected the video from Breaking to Bend/Bending the Break BUT my “real” show was to act as a survey taker, asking gallery patrons to fill out a survey about the gallery and art in general.

Here it is:

Final Questionnaire

Why did I do this? Probably because I’m insane. But the answer I’m sure my committee would prefer to hear is as follows: I was thinking about how it would be so easy to just have a show of old work… Prints, or videos I could project… and how most people would know. But I would know. That got me thinking, of course about failure. If I took the easy way out and threw some crap up on the wall that I didn’t care about, or that was not my best, or was kind of old, I would be being lazy, and subsequently my show would be a failure in my view. That in turn got me thinking about how shows can be categorized as successful or failures etc which led to the re-contextualizing failure thing and blah blah blah. To give credit where credit is due though, it was my husband’s suggestion to use the survey and we fleshed it out from there.

Now what I’m doing, is taking all of the responses and quantifying them so that I can use the numbers to skew the perception of success or failure for the show/ gallery itself. I must say I’m preeeetty proud of myself, I’ve made a database and have figured out how to use that database to calculate results and create charts/graphs from. I feel very business like while I’m doing this. Too bad I can’t do this for my taxes…

 

Here are a few images from the show, but I’m waiting to get the rest from a friend who helped document. I’ll post some more later.

 

BendBreak_0002 BendBreak_0029 BendBreak_0069 BendBreak_0094 Breaking to Bend poster

I think, regardless of how much this actually fits into success/failure, it’s a project that still has some potential. For instance I could base an entire show around what type of art was highest rated, or what a specific age demographic found appealing. I could also continue to create surveys to gather data about more specific aspects of a show or a work of art… It can also become this hugely collaborative on going performance. Making art with strangers! However I’m not sure how many of my participants got it… Thats ok though!  There’s also a certain amount of absurdity in this whole thing, which is only increased by the people who don’t understand it to be a performance or art…

Now I need to go do some work! More images and new things soon, I swear!

 

PS The quote in the title is from artist Tania Bruguera.

Take a Look…It’s in a Book!

I’m feeling a bit…disheartened recently.

I’m in flux, which is a place I hate to be.  I’m frustrated because I see things I like in my work, but I don’t like the way in which they are appearing, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to make it “right.”  It’s also not helping that the MFA studios are moving to a new facility and so I won’t have access to my things or my studio until January, and that I’ve been focused on planning Working Method’s trip/exhibition at Fountain Art Fair… I feel so discombobulated, disoriented, and distracted!  It took me two weeks to write this post…

To sum up though…Basically, I don’t know the next step I need to take…

So, as always, when in doubt, I’m reading books and looking at art. (Art Basel Miami is this week!)  Remember that list of books I posted awhile back?  The one I said I wanted to have read by reviews over two weeks go?  That’s OK if you don’t, because I almost forgot about them too!  Yeah.  I only got through half of those books.  F in the research category for me. But those are what I’m reading now, so that counts for something right?  The two I’ve found most interesting thus far areComplete and Utter Failure by Neil Steinburg and The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.  (Here’s a link to a TED Talk that pretty well summarizes a good portion of the book…Watch it, it’s really good!)  They both bring up some really compelling issues that seem to dovetail quite well with the direction I’m headed.  They also re-contextualize the concept of failure, pointing out that what we view as failure may not actually be failure depending on the circumstances.

In Complete and Utter Failure, Steinburg proposes that most of what we consider failure is self-assigned and therefore an interpretation open to debate.  He goes on to say that failure is mostly a function of time, framework, and perspective.  This is something I think is very valid, particularly in relation to looking at the quiet, personal failures in which I am most interested.  These perceived failures (say ceasing your climb up the 50 foot rock wall half way, even though you set out to climb to the top) do not carry the consequences of true failures (your harness snapping halfway up the rock wall).  And yet those perceived failures are perhaps more emotionally devastating, carrying added weight in our perceptions.

Something else out of Steinburg’s rather entertaining book that stuck with me, is a discussion of failure to match your past performance in your most recent endeavor.  He framed this conversation around a mathematical principal known as regression to the mean.  Basically, as I understand this, if there is an average level of performance, then a person who exceeds that average is more likely to perform closer to the average in their next attempt in order to help preserve that average.  The example Steinburg uses is Michael Jackson and his phenomenal success with Thriller, and then his subsequent (still successful) records that did not sell as well as Thriller.  I would really like to use this concept in a performance somehow.  I think its very relevant, especially seeing as our culture seems to be laboring under the impression that each outstanding achievement must be succeeded by yet a greater one, and so on, ad infinitum.  I feel like I’m on the verge of making an artistic break through with this idea…. But who knows.

Now, in Iyengar’s book, she talks about the psychological idea cognitive dissonance, which essentially means having thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes which are inconsistent with your own actions.  She writes:

“For most of us, though, it’s not so easy to reconcile the multitudes with in us.  In particular, problems arise when we experience contradictions between different aspects of our selves, or between our beliefs and our actions… Admitting either alternative will threaten some of he most central elements of her sense of identity as a reasonable and authentic person…. [I]t can lead to anxiety, guilt, and embarrassment.”

Again, I feel like there is something there to be used in my work.  When we strive for our extreme expectations and fall short, the emotional disturbance felt is that of cognitive dissonance.  It then becomes a matter of how we justify this disconnect to ourselves… What story we use to explain away the difference.

So close to something, so far from something.  I’m finally going to post this now…

Grad School 1, Courtney 1/2

Well, it’s that time again.  Re.Views.  Friday morning.  10:30

Despite my stress level the last few weeks, I’ve been kicking grad school’s ass, and I’m totally ready for this.  For serious.  I’m on a roll.  I’m focused, I’m getting things done, I’m constantly having ideas, making connections, researching.  I’ve also been working my butt off for the gallery, submitting work to shows, and just generally feeling pretty good about stuff.  So I’m not so worried about how my reviews will go.  I finished everything I wanted to finish for them, plus a little, and I know that I worked as hard as I could.  All I want to do before Friday is relax a little and get my thoughts together so I have good questions for my committee and good answers about my work for reviews.

These are the first, official reviews for the year, the ones that actually go into the binder of doom with my name on it, that resides in the department head’s office.  Ok, so it’s not so dramatic as that… But there really is a binder with each grad’s name on it, into which all of our review pages go.  And they do live in the head of the department’s office.  According to those pages the score lies as thus:  Grad School: 1, Courtney:  1/2.  Yeah… I didn’t do so well in most of my reviews last year, and I think I’ve covered what a hot mess I was…  I pretty much kicked it in the last review, but there were 3 others that I sucked it hard.  After Friday, I fully intend for that score board to read Grad School:  1, Courtney:  2 (at least)!  This is the face I will give to my committee:

This is my “Bitch, please” look. I will not be intimidated dammit!

Also, I had a deja vu moment today.  That’s always a good sign!