All the ideas…

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.

A Press Release…

It’s been a lazy, kind of busy holiday… But I’m back and better than ever.  Fired up to finally pop out this thesis and the accompanying arts.  An update on that another time.  Today I just quickly want to share with you all the press release for the Live Amateurs exhibition I’m participating in, which opens this Saturday!  Feel free to share it around.  🙂  See ya kids soon.

 

LIVE AMATEURS at MINT Gallery-Press Release

 

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 6.25.31 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 6.25.47 PM

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.