I have managed to carve out about 2-3 hours each week for arting and art adjacent purposes. That’s an infinitesimal amount of time compared to previous epochs of my life. Almost non-existent to be truthful. But I’m still really proud of myself that I’ve found that time and that I’ve been able to maintain it most weeks. Because it’s fucking hard. I never know from day to day (some times even from hour to hour) how I’m going to feel, and I never know what else the day is going to throw at me. Train delay? Contrary toddler? Late leaving work because I had to put out a metaphorical fire? Have yet another doctors appointment (I have been to the doctor’s literally once a week every week for the last month, with at least another two weeks ahead of me 😤)? They all happen. All. The. Damn. Time.
When I initially started to play around with this set of images, I was concerned that I would lose my place. That, since there were such big gaps in time where I wasn’t working on them, wasn’t thinking about them, I would never “figure it out.” I was scared that I was never going to progress on them. And you know what? Yeah, I DO forget things. I sometimes repeat the same experiment on an image file or print, only to remember half way through that I’ve already done this. Or I find that I can’t always rely on my notes to myself to help keep my place. They’re unclear, contain too little information, or I just straight up can’t read my own damn handwriting. And yeah, it does take me forever to make even the most incremental progress, but it’s still more than I could have anticipated. I’m counting it as a win that I’m still working on them six months later.
Most importantly though, in the time I’ve been slowly crawling forward on this series, I’ve learned that I never know what is going to come out of the printer at the very end anyway. Regardless of how meticulously and specifically I have edited the digital files. Regardless of how methodically I approach the file in the hex editor. Regardless of what the final image looks like on screen when I send it to print (True story… Some of my images are so damaged by the time I get to the print phase that what the screen shows me isn’t actually the information the printer gets 😂). And of course, there’s always the variable of the printer itself. The trusty old 9880 and 9900 I’m printing on have some head issues that lend me even more unpredictability.
Somehow though, working this way hasn’t brought me the expected anxiety and insecurity I’ve come to expect from everything I do. Somehow it’s actually been relaxing and therapeutic to do it this way. It means that no matter how many notes I take and how methodically I approach the creation of each image, I ultimately don’t know what the fuck is going to happen. So then it doesn’t really matter so much if I’m having trouble thinking or focusing on a particular day, or if I’m not being as detailed as I should be in the process. It means that if I’m having an off day physically or cognitively, it’s not going to impact the work in a negative mannner. That’s so very encouraging to me. It gives me such freedom to work at my own pace, in my own way. It has also forced me to slow waaaaay down and focus on right now, as opposed to what might be next. Which, let’s be honest, has always been a downfall of mine. 🤫
Sundays in our house are days of cooking. Sundays, all the food for the upcoming week is prepped and prepared. This is a task that is mainly my responsibility, but Matthew helps when and if I ask, and of course the Noodle “helps” whenever he feels like standing in his Learning Tower long enough to make a mess.
This Sunday practice (tradition?) comes from long before I had a kid though. And from before I met Matthew even. Back during my first year of grad school I fell into doing meal prep, because I couldn’t afford to eat out much (if at all), and if I wasn’t doing the cooking, no one else was. Eventually it developed into full on meal planning, grocery shopping, batch cooking, weekly event. It’s been 6 or 7 years running now.
Understandably, this practice has become more challenging after the arrival of the kiddo, but it has been my health that has impacted the ritual the most. Whereas in the past I found this tradition really refreshing and invigorating, I found myself completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the prospect. I started to hate it. Not only did it take the obvious physical toll, but believe it or not, the mental strain was also pretty intense. So things had to change. Grocery shopping was moved to Saturday mornings, simpler recipes were selected, fewer “extras” were made, naps were added in to the mix, everything else was removed. A leaner, meaner version of Sundays evolved.
It would obviously be very easy to just give this practice of mine up. To either do carry-out, prepared foods, or prepackaged meals the majority of the time. To attempt to do “30-Minute Meals” each evening when we got home. Sure. I could. Might my life be a teeny tiny bit easier? Possibly. Would my stubborn little heart rebel at that level of privilege (and waste), when I can still very much recall times in the recent past when I didn’t know how I was going to pay for my next meal? For certain.
My stubborness aside though, this ritual is important enough to me to continue because it is a routine. I can count on it. Every. Single. Sunday. With my health and it’s associated cognitive problems, routines are important. Predictability is crucial, and the rest of my life? Not so routine. My work schedule changes every day, as do my duties and efforts there. The way that I feel can wildly vary from day to day. Also, Toddler. Doing this one thing (albeit a big thing) gives me one definite check point in my week. It gives me some security and sanity, when I often feel as though I am juuuuuust barely keeping my head above water.
And so, The Kitchen and The Kid finds it’s way back to it’s point of origin, the kitchen. Which is undoubtably the center of my home. AGES ago I brought home the large canvas test prints I made. They wound up thrown on the floor of my studio, right in front of my desk, when I cleaned the apartment about a month ago. Matthew asked me if that didn’t worry me… My knee jerk reaction was neatly roll them up and tuck them away somewhere, to protect them. But then I thought about it, and I actually didn’t care that they were on the floor and that I might step on them. And more to the point, hadn’t I brought these prints home so that I could live with them, and look at them, for awhile? Yes, that’s why I brought them home. Why ignore them? Then a few weeks ago as I was gearing up for Sunday cooking, the idea struck me to put one of them down on the floor of the kitchen where I would be spending the day. Where everyone will walk over, spill on, and generally fuck up, the print. And there it has stayed. How long, I don’t know, but I like seeing it every day, and I’m curious to see what affect life will have on the work.
I realized this week that I might be fighting my own expectations again. While yes, I’ve been in Chicago for two months, it still might be a little unrealistic of me to expect myself to be totally acclimated and to have built a steady routine and become productive. (Especially having added a new relationship into the mix.) It takes time to readjust, to find a solid groove and balance. I cannot expect myself to have mastered that in such a short period of time. Realizing that has helped quash some of my anxiety about getting work done in the studio and feeling overwhelmed by my job. It’s frustrating to me that I still do this to myself… Try to conform to my own unrealistic expectations. Particularly when it comes to the studio. I seem to be able to curb it elsewhere in my life, but the studio man… It always sneaks up on me. The important thing is that I’m trying, and I’m making progress. Even if it is slow.
Despite the minor anxieties, I really cannot, and should not, complain though. I am, by leaps and bounds, the happiest and most content I can remember being. My bills are paid, I have my own apartment, I have a really good (if sometimes frustrating) job that is actually in academia AND pays well, I live in an amazing city with a million opportunities for me, and I’m part of a we with a really fabulous bloke. I’m actually sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, but not enough to let it spoil my joy at this moment. In the last few weeks I have gotten to shoot with an amazing Sigma art lens, learn all kinds of new things about printers, I’ve gotten to see an improv show, explore Chicago’s architecture, FINALLY go apple picking and to a pumpkin patch, eaten all kinds of ethnic foods… I just, I feel very fortunate to have gotten my job and to have things going so well that my anxiety over not making more art, faster, seems really silly. And I think that’s a good attitude for me to have.
I feel though, that my art thoughtz have been coming pretty fast and hard lately and I haven’t been particularly apt at keeping up with them or making steps to make things. Never the less it’s exciting that I’m having these ideas. It’s been awhile since the ideas came so quickly and in any quantity. It’s almost overwhelming, but in the best of ways. I’m excited to get my white board up and running in the studio so I can start sorting through and keeping track of my ideas. That’s something that’s sorely been missing in my practice the last year and a half. It will also be nice to get all those notes out of my sketchbook and into the computer so that I can collate them with my whiteboarding. Super duper excited!
I have several ideas that are really vying for my attention right now but I think are a diverse showing of my artistic interests. Both in terms of media and in terms of concept, and I think it will be interesting to watch them develop. I’m really kind of curious about an idea that I had just the other night, which I envision as being totally photographic. Perhaps even a photo book (totally eating crow on that one, if it happens). I wonder if I’m going to get bored with it as I tend to do with any type of straight photography, and if conceptually, I will feel as if it is accomplishing it’s goal. I tend to be disappointed by straight photography because I feel a lot of it is: Photographer takes picture. Photographer tells you want the picture is about. OR: Photographer takes picture. It is pretty/technically proficient/”compelling”. There isn’t an experience to be had, there isn’t something to interact with or explore. Ugh. Vom. Super boring (TO ME! Let me stress that… SUPER BORING TO ME.) Yes, my Period series was straight photos, but always with the end goal of a massive installation in mind. (Which! While I’ve had no traction on finding a place to make that happen, I have decided I want to print life sized stickers and plaster them around town!)
In any event, this idea for a photo series struck me the other night in the shower. I turned and happened to see a hair on my bathroom tile, which was not mine. Ok, fine, it must be Matthew’s, since he showers at my place a few times a week. But somehow that got the random synapses firing as I was finishing my shower. I started thinking about how I really love living alone, and my place here in Chicago is really the first time in almost 8 years that I’ve actually had a place of my own, by myself. It reminded me that I was in a romantic relationship for almost 6.5 years, most of which we lived together, and nearly 3 of which we were married. Our lives were totally linked and wound together on every level. But then the divorce. It was like a perfect, sterile break that I truly rejoiced in because I suddenly things were always where I put them last, there were no arguments over how something should be done. Everything was the way I wanted it. And I embraced that. But now that Matthew and I are a “we” and he’s at my place and in my space pretty regularly, I think there’s going to be a period of adjustment while I get used to the traces he leaves behind. Stray hairs discovered on my shower tiles, rumpled blankets, extra pillows on one side of the bed, double the dishes… I want to use imagery to investigate these invited trespasses and my re-acclimation to it. I also like the parallel (conceptually) between the fact that I really have no idea where our relationship will/is going and the fact that I really have no clue how this whole straight photography thing is going to play out. We’ll see…
I’ve also really been feeling the need to do some performative work. I have this idea to attempt to walk a straight line down the sidewalk here in Chicago. I need some assistance with this one though because in order to film it, I will need someone to babysit the camera while I do the act. I think I want to try a few different variations of this act. One that is sort of unapologetic and unwavering, where I do not stray from my course, one where I just stare at the ground as I walk, effectively ignoring any potential collisions, perhaps one where I try to avoid any and all collisions… Variety might be a good idea. I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to say with this, but I sort of see some parallels between the act and my anxiety and stubbornness.
The third idea I’m trying to pin down and figure out right now I’m referring to as Grandmother Spider in my head. (I needed some kind of working title I guess…) It’s me reading an essay (Titled, you guessed it! Grandmother Spider.) from Rebecca Solnit’s book Men Explain Things to Me. It’s essentially an essay about how women are “disappeared” from history and society. I think this is an especially pertinent issue right now. Younger generations are rejecting feminism, reproductive rights are under serious attack, and of course there’s this whole thing going on with Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi nonsense. Basically, women are still not on equal footing. My thought here, is to record myself reading the essay, then periodically fade my own voice out (so you only see my face/torso), or fade out my physical presence (so you only hear my voice). I had also thought about having a male read the same essay, with the sound on that channel subtly escalating over my own reading of the essay. But I’m not sure if the male should read the same essay? Or perhaps if he only read the parts that pertain to men? Or changed the genders of what Solnit originally wrote? I think though that there is something nice about the idea of a cacophony of voices trying to be heard. Men often talk over women, so its not like it’s a stretch. There needs to be a visual component that echoes that though… Perhaps split screen with me on one side and the male on the other? And his side slowly gets larger and louder? Not sure, but I like this idea. It’s simple in terms of execution and the visual, but complex conceptually. I shot some test footage for this the other day and I plan on looking over it later today.
I’ve got a few other project ideas kicking around that I’ve made varying degrees of progress on, but I think I just need to let them lie right now. One is Adrift which is the second part of a live performance I did back in May. It’s supposed to be video and photo documentation that calls the veracity of the performance into question, but I’m not sure how to put the documentation together to get that across. Also, I always drag my feet when it comes to video editing. It’s the worst. I’ve also started what I hope will be a massive photographic installation revolving around the birth control pill, but I started to get really frustrated with the images I was getting. The pills are so tiny that getting nice, sharp images of them that are well lit is difficult using the gear I have. But I also don’t want to invest in a single lens or something silly like that JUST for this project. Besides I really only need a handful of shots to make the entire thing happen. I’m letting it sit on the back burner right now until I can resolve the best way to capture those images.
Holy cow. I have no idea why, but man did people blow up my blog last weekend! My phone was literally buzzing and beeping every 5 minutes for about 12 hours. That’s never been a thing before… So thanks to you all who came and checked me out here, and for everyone who also started following me as a result. It’s nice to feel special every once in awhile. I apologize if I don’t follow you in return, but I can’t keep up with everything anymore. Rest assured you are noted.
I’ve been terribly absent recently, and for that I apologize. A lot of things went very wrong back in August, and then my marriage kind of started to… unravel. And I went into survival mode. Which means I was functioning on a day to day, minute to minute basis, just trying to keep my head above water. Seriously. My brain was elsewhere. But now I’m back on track, and that’s happy! I’ve been digging through my “sketch books” (in quotes because I don’t actually ever sketch… EVER), and pulling out all the random ideas I wrote down but forgot about. Then through a very scientific process I am calling The Whiteboard, I’ve been sorting them out, making connections, and basically trying to understand what my thesis is actually going to be. You see, I’ve been theising hardcore. I’ve also been working on a professional website, job applications, teaching, and drinking copious amounts of coffee…Well, copious for me anyway.
Back to the theising… As it stands right now, the written paper will probably revolve around my failure/success research as well as my interest in the way that photography mediates and fails as a tool for documentation. I’ve been reading a really great book about Performance art and archive, Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in Historywhich has helped me to clarify my thoughts as they relate to performance and photography, as well as introduced me to the idea of a viral ontology of performance art. The essay this idea comes from (The Viral Ontology of Performance), was written by Christopher Bedford. He contends that a performance cannot be limited to it’s “originary” event. Rather, he says it “[S]plinters, mutates, and multiplies over time in the hands of various critical constituencies in a variety of media, to yield a body of critical work that extends the primary act of the performance into the indefinite future of reproduction.” I’m really drawn to this idea for two main reasons. The first is that it implies that any document made during the originating performance, cannot and should not define the work. As I feel that photographs fail to capture the performance fully anyway, this makes perfect sense to me. Secondly, the idea of a viral ontology extends the ephemeral nature of the performance. The performance happened within a certain time and space, which cannot be recreated or made concrete outside of documentation. Since these documents are all that exist, and not the thing itself (unlike say a painting), they move forward in time, being constantly re-contextualized, re-interpreted, but never concrete. I’m not sure that makes sense…. It does to me though. In any event, I’m excited about that.
The work itself is 99% likely to be performance and installation based. I’m playing around with some ideas involving playing telephone (almost literally…) and mediating the viewer’s experience of the performance in order to address both the ideas of failure and the primacy of my viewer’s experience in the context of my work. I was considering doing something with handing out fake awards to my fellow MFAs that constantly moved around all night…. Buuuuut maybe not. In any case… This shit is real. It’s happening. In like less 6 months. Crap. I’ve now given myself an anxiety attack.
That Whiteboard thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah… Not joking, it is my scientific process. This is what’s been happing in the studio lately:
There is just something about writing that helps me focus. It is so way better than sketching. 😉 Hopefully I’ll be back on track with the blog posting now, but I make no promises! Have a peachy keen evening… I’m off to eat some dinner and check out a visiting artist lecture here at FSU.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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….
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?
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…
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