Not That

My Zen teacher is fond of saying, “Whatever you think it is now, it isn’t that.”

I think what he means is that we have a tendency to create an idea of what a thing is or will be and then work really hard to contain it in that little box that we just created around it. We do it to people too - you are this and then when you do something that doesn’t make sense within that little box, we get all upset.

This goes for art making too.

I am halfway through my artist residency and it has been so satisfying to build - however temporarily - my whole existence around making this project, Reliquary. I didn’t know if it would really “work” in the sense that I had no idea if these objects that I have been collecting would actually speak to me and tell me what to do…but they have! I tune in, listen and follow.

Then this side thing happened. I am wondering if maybe this side thing wasn’t the point of the whole project only I didn’t know it because I was so busy creating that little box.

One object that was donated was a homemade clown toy that was given to the donor by an aunt when she was born. Although she never really liked it or played with it, she kept it, not exactly sure why but not able to get rid of it either. (Thus perfectly meeting the criteria for the project, I will add!) As I started to work with it, I got this idea to mount a light in its head that moves and have it project…something, I wasn’t sure what. Not really knowing how to do that, I ordered some small LED lights, which turned out to be perfect but then had the problem of how to make the thing I want to project. And here is where I had my revelation.

All my life - from childhood to now - I have had big ideas of making things. Grand schemes of amazing projects. And then when I tried to carry them out, I quickly discovered that I had neither the materials or skills to make them happen as I envisioned. A battle ensued between trying to make something look as grand and perfect as I imagined and the reality of my resources and abilities. I write this in the past tense but it is a battle very much alive in me today. But here’s the thing that happened with Buddy the Clown. I stopped fighting and embraced my quirky, make-it-work with cardboard and string approach.

I will never make slick, polished work, even with all the money in the world. So what if I embrace the claptrap aspect of it? Instead of trying to hide it and pretend that it is something perfectly finished and resolved, I have decided to celebrate this urge to pull together something from bits and pieces, an odd replica of something “machine made.” It’s been very liberating to embrace rather than push-away what comes naturally. I feel almost giddy with relief and excitement!

Think of it as a kind of DIY Olafur Eliasson, only, you know, where everything is made with yarn aesthetic. Catchy, no?

In Residence at Struts!

I am thrilled to have arrived in Sackville, NB, to start my month-long residency at Struts Artist-Run Centre. I am working on a new project titled, Reliquary. For this project, I am collecting well-worn objects from local residents (and you too, if you like) and transforming them; tapping into their stories and energy to create something new.

Do you have something kicking around the house that you have used and loved (or not) and can’t quite bring yourself to throw out or get rid of?  I am looking for things that have a history – they don’t have to be fancy or special, except to you.  You will have the option to have the object returned to you in its transformed state or it will become part of a silent auction at the end of my residency, with any funds raised going to support the Artist Residency Program here.

Send it along! (Should arrive no later than October 10th to guarantee that I will have time to work with it.)

Struts Artist-Run Centre

7 Lorne Street

Sackville, NB

E4L 3Z6

 The beginnings of a transformation.  Donation by A.G.

The beginnings of a transformation. Donation by A.G.

Free Falling, Or: Religiousness in Art

The question that most artists are asked first after admitting? confessing? stating that they are an artist is "Oh, what kind of art do you make?" maybe followed by "are you a painter?"  For a lot of years, I could manage with a vague description, like "I make public art projects with lots of participation from the community."  Or, "I make public art projects that use needlework on a large scale."  Who knows if anyone understood what that meant but it seemed to satisfy.  These days however I really can't say my stock phrases without a sense that I am either lying or woefully out of date.  Those kinds of large, participatory projects are no longer my focus.

As I have noted a few times, the past several years have been a time of change and not a little confusion.  Moving away from such public-oriented work to a more studio-based practice has been strange and difficult.  Perhaps more than that, I have let go of many of my long-held notions about what constitutes success as an artist.  In a way, letting go of that ("that" being the cataloguing of exhibitions, projects, commissions, etc. as a measure of success) also pulled the ground out from under my feet.  When you remove those external measures from the equation, what's left?  Pretty sure that the only thing left is the art itself.  Such a way of thinking, of making art, is both liberating and scary.  

Even with this new perspective, when I see exhibitions happening, or books being written about art or projects being commissioned, I still sometimes think, hey, why wasn't I included in that?  The answer that I work myself back to is always the same - your new work isn't ready yet.  Be grateful for this time of solitude.  If/when it is ready, it will get shown.  When I look back at my early work, fresh out of art school, I remember those many years of feeling overlooked.  I remember the conviction that I had within myself that I was an Artist.  Why didn't people see it?  Now, of course, I am so grateful that I didn't show that stuff.  It was only semi-evolved and would have set me off on the wrong path.  Instead, I worked and struggled and made some very iffy things. Then there came a moment when everything fell into alignment and the work flowed and people responded.  The boom years! 

I feel a bit like I am in those post-art school years again now.  I know that I have something important and big within me but it is still only partially cooked.  I also feel it getting closer.  I had a moment the other day when I thought, "I make religious art.  My objects are magical in a way that comes directly from connecting to spirit."  To be honest, I can not think of a less popular way to describe one's artwork!  Oh dearie me.  (I mean, if I am going to be unpopular, I might as go whole hog and use old Grannie phrases like that too.)  The cynical, calculating, conservative world of the business of art doesn't have a lot of room for such baldfaced sincerity.  And to use the word "religious" is even bolder and more horrifying.  Yet, once the thought was thunk, there was no denying it.  Again: liberating and scary.  But mostly liberating.

I will be artist in residence at Struts Artist-Run Centre in Sackville, NB in about a month's time.  I am hoping to fully embrace this new found sense of where I stand and see what happens.

 

 

Werk It, Girl

Over on Hyperallergic, they recently re-posted an article from a few years ago that proposes that artist statements are annoying and useless.  The author makes a strong case and, as someone who has a perennial struggle with putting my ideas into words, I came to article fully ready to cheerlead for this point of view.  By the time I finished the article, however, the premise felt like a cop-out. 

The struggle to organize my thoughts and make my intentions clear to people who may or may not have experience with art is always difficult but it is also always valuable.  For me, one key to writing a better (I can't quite say good) statement is to give myself permission to wait until a series or project has settled or fermented for a bit.  Solidifying visual ideas into words can be the kiss of death.  Suddenly, the openness and spontaneity of the process has been reduced to a thing with boundaries.  I have made it "this" and when something strays outside of "this," then whatever is happening can feel like a problem instead of an opportunity.  For me, it is better to allow time for my thinking to mature and give myself some distance before I try to have it make sense to a reader. 

There are times when I have to write up a project proposal before even making any of the work.  This too can be challenging since my thinking is often only vaguely formed.  For better or worse, I allow that whatever I am writing in the given moment will change and shift as the project is made manifest and real.  Truthfully, this has never been a problem and I can't imagine any project - art or science or structural engineered - where the initial idea and the finished project are expected to never change.  Real life issues will always come up in the making no matter what you may be doing. 

Even more, I would say that the struggle of making my somewhat chaotic, non-linear thinking about my work fit on a page and be accessible to a general audience has a lot of value.  It is ok to not like to do it because it is difficult but that should not be a reason to flip artist statements the bird and feel justified.  Making art is my passion.  I endure all sorts of discomforts to make it happen and writing a clear artist statement is just one of many.  Perhaps one of the real issues is that we carry all sorts of ideas about a correct artist statement should be based on reading art criticism.  I am happy to challenge that idea any day of the week.  But I vote yes to having to put some words on paper about my work.  It is hard.  Sometimes it sucks.  But it has real value.

One idea that I did like from the article was that artists could video tape a conversation with a curator or other artist about their work and post a short, well-edited version on their website.  This is such a great idea! 

Watch for it....

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