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?