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.

IMG_0299

IMG_0301

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….

IMG_0306
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?

 

IMG_0103

IMG_0123

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

IMG_0121 IMG_0100 IMG_0099 IMG_0116

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.

IMG_0110

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.

IMG_0104

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!

IMG_0113 IMG_0105

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

 

 

Expectations, Monica Cook, Serendipity, & James Elkins…

Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long now…  I’m not joking when I say I barely had time to sleep the last few weeks.

So where did I leave off?  Ah yes.  The performance I am temporarily titling “…expectations lie…”.  You can view a 10 minute video clip of the performance here. The over all performance was about 45 minutes, and I’ve edited the video to reflect that time lapse a little bit. I’m not totally happy with the documentation, but that’s OK.  I plan on recreating this as a video piece in it’s own right.

Anyway, as I discussed before it was my intent for this piece to center around the idea of expectations versus reality and some what self destructive behaviors.  Now that I think back about it, the reason the 500 Days of Summer sequence was sticking in my mind was because it was an example of an internal or mental set up of expectations. Many of my pieces thus far have focused on external physical actions, that didn’t necessarily portray the psychological aspect of what I was attempting to address.  And subconsciously I must  have realized this because as I brainstormed, I began trying to find ways to impede or damage myself mentally.  Well, I came up with the idea to attempt to recite something, flawlessly of course, and for each mistake that I made, I would be forced to take a shot (of vodka).  For me, it was the perfect representation of frustration in action.  Trying to do something, over and over again, but failing each time, and chastising yourself each time, makes it harder and harder to live up to you own expectations.  So I ran with it…even though it seemed like a really bad idea for my liver.  But then again, I didn’t really expect to drink as much as I wound up drinking…

 
I won’t bore you with the exact details, but it took me almost a week to come up with something appropriate for the recitation…I finally settled on an excerpt from a book entitled Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

It’s the tiny bit at the bottom of page 34 through to the second full paragraph on page 35.  To be completely honest, I’m still not 100% happy with what I chose, as it’s a bit too theoretical and screams “Art!”  I am still looking for something more subtle and applicable to all types of expectations, not just the ones that relate to art making.  But it served it’s purpose well.

I also developed this idea about having an on going internal monologue calling out my mistakes and generally telling me how worthless I am.  It worked pretty well… You can see/hear the results for yourself on the video.  Here’s a few stills if your too lazy to watch or you’re like me and your internet is too slow.

Over all, I’m really pleased with the way the performance turned out.  My anxiety level was pretty high as I planned this, and it reached extreme levels as I started the performance (You can totally tell at the beginning of the video…It’s pretty funny actually).

The fantastic thing for me however, was that a few days before the performance occurred, and I was lucky enough to have a studio visit with an amazing artist named Monica Cook.  In much of her work she has this play between chaos and control going on, so I was looking forward to talking with her about that.  My visit with her was completely beyond my wildest dreams!  She was really supportive of the ideas I was using, and liked the performance I had planned.  Her encouragement really helped me get over some of that anxiety and just do the darn thing.  It was fan-tastic.  I wish I would have remembered to record it… I totally forgot to turn on the audio record app thingy on my phone.  😦

I also had this really great conversation with her about serendipity and deja vu.  Just the day prior, all my notebooks that I keep my research, brainstorming, and notes for teaching in got soaking wet somehow and the pens I use are most decidedly not water safe…

I really kind of freaked out.  To say that I was distraught would be an understatement, and I had actually gotten so upset I threw away my notebooks.  I didn’t even know what to do.  But then as the night progressed and I thought about it, there was something to these notebooks.  Even Eric thought I should do something with them.  So I went the next morning and rescued the notebooks from the trash can in the photo lab.  I showed them to Monica during my studio visit and she agreed that I needed to use them to create.  We discussed how water keeps popping up in my work, and this so called destruction was actually serendipity pointing me on my way.  We both look at serendipity and deja vu the same way… that it means you are on the right track and things are good.  Its funny to me though, that water is somehow finding it’s way into my work.  It may sound odd, but I’ve always felt a very definite connection to water, even as a child.  I loved hearing it rain, and being on beaches, things like that.  To go all astrological on you, I’m sure it’s somehow related to the fact that I am a Sagittarius, which is a fire sign.

In any event, I’ve been playing around with these pages for a few weeks now.  But I’m still not sure what they will become.  I’ve shot some photos, and I’m also working on a related video.  Both are still in an awkward, undefined stage, but I’ll share the photos, as the video is completely incoherent right now.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with these, as just photographing these objects seems too easy… I also think I just like the original object more.  But that might be my own biases.

I’ll talk more about this later maybe, but the other happening that kept me from writing, was that James Elkins came as a visiting scholar to FSU.  I was on the planning committee for that and so spent a day driving him around, which was pretty cool.  I also got a studio visit with him, which again was a great experience.  I DID remember to record that one.  🙂

One of the things Elkins said to me about my work was that I needed to find more of a grey area…  Where the topics of success and failure are not so clearly defined.  I think this is really great feedback, but I’m not sure how to do this.  He also got me thinking about how I define perfection, or the opposite of failure.  Elkins pointed out that to understand the failure, I should try to understand what perfection is.  I don’t have an answer for that right now, but it’s something that is rolling around in my head currently.

So… Busy times here in the studio.  Lots of studio visits, lots of thinking, and lots of experimenting with stuff…  Right now, I’m waiting for my committee to come in and do reviews once again.  Although, apparently only one of my committee members is going to be present. And I even showered, put on nice clothes AND make-up.  Yeesh.  Its OK, I get to do it again in a month.  Wish me luck!

Art & Fear belongs to the aforementioned authors.  All of the photos in this post are mine, but the images from my performance were taken by Samantha Burns.

This Will Have to Tide You All Over for Now…

Hey imaginary followers!

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write a post, but many things have taken place in the last few weeks that have gotten in my way.  Like WordPress crashing and my half written blog post disappearing into the digital ether…  But the bottom line is that I still don’t have a blog post ready for you, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a good one…  So in the mean time I present to you a pictoral version of my last two weeks.  Feel free to write your own captions or stories to go along.  It might be funnier/more interesting this way!

monica cook

Ellen Mueller

I swear I’ll get a real post out about what’s going on in the studio pictures as well as my most recent performance… It just won’t happen til the beginning of next week.  There is SO much going on right now!

Most of the images are mine, or are borrowed from the web.  Paintings from Monica Cook, performance stills from Ellen Mueller (except the ones of me…those are mine, fair and square).  Books from respective authors/publishing companies.  Fountain logo property of Fountain Art Fair, Working Method Contemporary logo property of Working Method Contemporary Gallery.  Did I miss anything?  I hope not.  If I did I’m sorry, and IT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME, IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Serendipity and Delicious Morsels of Chocolately Wisdom

After my intense ponderings on Ubu Roi, I present some fluff to fill the empty spaces in your head.

Last week was my first of fall classes.  The preceding week was all that fun orientation/bureaucracy junk that the university likes to put us through.  You know what I’m talking about.  Tedious, brain numbing activities and events that really bear no relevance on the education itself.  It seemed that after a very chill and productive summer, FSU clearly wanted to take my life over again as soon as possible, with paperwork, computer glitches, and financial aid nonsense.  It wasn’t all painful… though a lot of it was.  Like a teaching orientation I wasn’t supposed to be at, but was told I needed to attend.  Or the absolute longest, most difficult LGA meeting EVER.  There were definite moments of enjoyment though.  Getting to meet all the new grads entering the program and seeing their work/hearing them talk about it was a high point for me.  As were all of the food-centric events.  I gained 5 pound during orientation week.  No joke.  I do so love to eat.

But I think the best part about my return to school this year was the absolute pure serendipity of EVERYTHING.  And it all started with this:

It’s shocking how clean my nails look right now.

I came across this beautiful little hug from fate at a potluck toward the end of my week of orientation nonsense.  If you’ve been following me here for any amount of time, you’ll know about my struggle with and against the concept of Flawlessness and Imperfection.  At the moment I found this delicious morsel of chocolatey wisdom, I was poised on the verge of a full blown anxiety attack about my art and returning to school to deal with faculty and fellow students.  I wanted to have complete control of how everything would go down, and obviously couldn’t.  I wanted to hide from all my fellow MFA-ers and live in a hermetically sealed studio this year… And then I found this, as I was having a conversation with my major professor ABOUT my Flawless II installation at my last show.  Clearly I had to smile, and realize everything was going to be OK.  It was like this tiny, tasty omen.   I honestly cannot describe it any better.  It was as if puzzle pieces magically fell into place.  I was told that my GA hours would be spent doing what I love most… Helping students in the darkroom with printing and processing.  Every time I had a conversation with someone, the knowledge or information attained fortuitously linked into a conversation I had either just had, or a conversation that took place later that same day.  (I’m not even joking.  EVERY conversation.  It actually got a little eerie.)  I was easily able to get meetings with everyone I wanted to meet with, and in those meetings, more serendipitous occurrences took place.  For instance, I was out lining an idea I have for an ongoing piece about stopping to acknowledge my obsessive behaviors to a professor, and she had just read a book relating to this idea.  Another professor, while discussing my feminist leanings, had just heard a report relating to a concept I had brought up.  Finally, while discussing an idea I have for a performance, my husband pointed me in the perfect direction for research, where I found amazing material to not only use as support for many of the ideas I’ve been pursuing in the last few months, but that is helping me to extend and define my thoughts.

Ah-mazing.  All from a Dove chocolate.  Maybe I should invest in Dove?  No, I can’t do that.  I don’t have any money to invest.
I hope serendipity makes a visit to all of you imaginary readers soon!  Until then, just because I haven’t mentioned it in awhile (and I’m hoping my serendipity kick will help me out on this front):

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT!

Not my pic…Taken from a random Google search of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

 

If this doesn’t make any sense to you… Go here.