Hospitalfield represents their residency program with a Pamphlet series featuring their residents. Mine was most recently complete so I thought I’d share so you can check it out.
Hospitalfield represents their residency program with a Pamphlet series featuring their residents. Mine was most recently complete so I thought I’d share so you can check it out.
a nice discovery
As mentioned in my last blog post, I performed the burden of this for the last time about a month ago. I traveled the London to do so at the glorious Tempting Failure Biennial of Performance Art and Noise. I was there alone and therefore was unable to collect my own documentation of the performance. On the off chance that there might be something posted online about it, I googled myself (yes, that sounds pretty ego-y but I'm eager to see since it was reported me that people prayed [PRAYED!] over me while performing).
What I came across was a lovely blog post about the performance of this piece at Ohio University. This was a much shorter performance of this work but I was thrilled to be there nonetheless. I thought I would include this blog post here by Quinn Hunter. For the rest of the blog (about the show), click here.
Through the cold and budding snowstorm, Heather Sincavage drug her body weight, in manure, through the parking lot and into the gallery. Her heaving, groaning, and the dragging of the bag the only sounds. As Sincavage pulled the bag over the door frame and into the space she left behind her a long trail of stained ground through the building and eventually space. Sincavage talks about the piece, The Burden of This, a physical manifestation of “struggling between embracing our vulnerability or abandoning it in fear that one might not have the strength to carry the weight.” What I found to be the most compelling of the work was the representation of self in manure. There isn’t a smell but we know what’s in the bag. The tension between in what we widely see in this culture as a negative or degraded object and Sincavage is potent and raw. There are moments in the struggle that you are sure that Heather or the bag cannot anymore. The bag will rip or she will collapse. Neither happen. At the end of the performance, there was a moment that they existed together in the same space quite and symbiotic, before Heather severed the tie.
A big thank you to Quinn and Ohio University Art Galleries for sharing my work.
I haven't written here in a while. I hadn't planned on writing here tonight. I have a long list of "things I should be doing" that is currently overwhelming my anxiety levels and I had intended to chip away at that mound a bit more this evening. As I'm looking ahead to the school year that is fast approaching, I feel the days are slipping away too quickly. And I feel like this film of anxiety crushes all the really lovely things that have happened and are to come.
You see, I cram things I want to do or things I am honored to do in between the list of things I have to do. It's not optimal however I don't know how else to operate. I was thinking about it earlier today and I was almost resentful that's the routine. I was reminded then that even though that's how it is, this situation does afford for me to take advantage of opportunities.
In a few short months, I have had so many amazing experiences and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude came over me. Not to sound corny but it is really wonderful luck or a blessing or whatever you want to call it. I thought I would reflect on a few of those things for you here.
HOSPITALFIELD; Arbroath, Scotland
At the beginning of May, I returned to a place where I traveled to in my very first international experience as a student at Tyler School of Art. I had so wished to find the photo album of my 1994 trip but no luck.
I was accepted into this short Interdisciplinary Residency with a dozen other artists at the Patrick Allan Fraser estate of Hospitalfield. My favorite thing about this was that the residency, like many others I have attended, was not comprised of just visual artists. I shared my time with writers, curators, architects, and academics.
Being the shortest residency I have done, I didn’t expect to get too much completed, but this was ok. What happened, however, is a tremendous amount of writing and processing where I ended completing a piece (I think) enough to document.
I think often I feel isolated. I wish to relate with artists in my general location but then I wonder if that is the beauty of residencies. The coming together. I could easily talk about the things here as I do there but instead, choose to mull over to do lists and what to make for dinner. Take those things off the table and maybe that’s the trick (Candidates to be my house staff, inquire within).
The work I started has me itching for more (figuratively, and in doing so quite literally). I am enjoying breaking new ground with my work as I focus more readily on the “trauma experience aftermath.”
I had a conversation with an artist visiting the gallery this past Spring who asked me about my work and then responded to me about how it must be so cathartic. That stays with me a bit because I don’t think of it that way nor aim for it to be. It is work to exist after trauma- I don’t care what your trauma is. It is an analyzation of that.
My time at Hospitalfield had a good portion of that work. In fact, I joked how I was the resident scullery maid for the amount of cleaning I did. A fellow resident recognized how much that needs to be a part of the work… and I agree. Stay tuned.
ITINERANT; Queens, NY
While many residents left the residency to do some traveling, I hopped a plane back to the US and prepared to do my fourth performance of ‘the burden of this.’ This is the first my work was being seen by an NY audience and while I was performing at both the Queens Museum and the Flushing Meadows Park (location of the 1939 World’s Fair), it was a virtual downpour that day.
It’s funny to ‘reperform’ work. It’s also funny to reperform it in a place you have never seen. While I did a ‘fine’ performance in the museum, I was very excited about dealing with the outside space. I learned a lot from that and aside from not realizing how much weight damp ground would add to my bag, I experienced something so beautiful.
The piece is about how we are always contending with our “shit” no matter where we are or what we are doing. We often grapple with these things in private while sometimes the struggle is too much to bear and it creeps into our public life. There are many incidents where that struggle becomes a spectacle, but there are fewer times where we experience empathy.
The performance in the park was a very hard one. I was incredibly tired and my body just worn out. As I continued through this, something happened that never happened. Someone picked up a side of the bag and helped me. For me, it made the performance perfect and beautiful. Thank you, guy.
It’s not every day where you get an envelope in the mail and it holds a check and a letter as powerful as this.
Art extracts a price. It demands that you open yourself, listen, see, learn, be both adventurous and willing to fail. It asks that you venture toward what is not known but is there and reveal it to the community which needs to know but not able to make the journey. Art extracts a price from the artist. One's personal life, family life, home life, and income pay the price.
In recognition of your achievement and dedication as an artist, the Tanne Foundation is pleased to award you $X to aid in your pursuit. This money is an unrestricted award, not a grant or fellowship.
We warmly thank you and welcome you to the Tanne Foundation family.
I feel somewhat undeserving. I feel as if I need to have done more for it. I also feel that it is exactly right. Art does extract a price and it is all of those things. But bottomline, I did not apply for this award. In fact, I had not known what it was. I do owe the trustees a tremendous thank you for believing in me, when sometimes I even question myself.
TEMPTING FAILURE; London, England
A week ago today, I boarded a plane back to the US after a hot, busy 6 days in London (Croydon). I was invited to participate in the Tempting Failure Biennial where I did my last performance of ‘the burden of this’ (and why not go out with a bang by using very smelly Queen’s manure).
This is 2-week event of performance art and noise that made me feel like I was eating at the big kid's table. You have to remember, I am not around many performance artists and I am somewhat new to the performance world. I wish I was able to attend the entire series and would like to make a point to do so in the future.
This final performance was meant to be pretty long, however, we shortened the route for many reasons. (I kept thinking about how hard the April performance at Wilkes was and was terrified). Little did I know that the pavement would be incredibly slippery and the manure grade would take up more volume in the bag- so really the performance (most of the time) was far easier than it had ever been.
I feel a bit bad that it was easy. I mean, heading through a market of unsuspecting people was a new challenge and pretty wonderful, but not having to struggle as much as I had in the past, strangely feels appropriate. Perhaps maybe this was the right time to end it. This aspect of the trauma resolved (although not saying all is done). It’s a good lesson. As the piece is re-performed, it too goes through its phases.
This all was such a wonderful experience. Earlier tonight, I watch my “Travels” highlights on Instagram. I started while I was at Hospitalfield so it doesn’t have everything but it has so much. I can’t believe that it was a short time ago that Laura drove Ben and me to the train station in Arbroath; and I slept mere hours before debuting in New York; and was recognized for this short phase of my career; and, just a week ago, attended the incredible masterclass in my field of which I was so fortunate to be included. This. has been a beautiful two months.
Last Summer, when I was walking to my office, I came across the organizers of the Women and Gender Studies conference who had the idea that we should arrange the conference around art & activism and bring the Guerrilla Girls as the keynote. Of course, it was a no brainer to me and I asked how I could be involved.
The Sordoni Gallery, the gallery I lead, hosted an activist poster making workshop with Aphra Behn in what was a great way to get out of my head and into something other than classes, to do lists, gallery programs, bills, or how tired I am. I left invigorated even though I was tired.
But I had also asked to perform at the conference and I proposed to do memorial [luzerne county]. It's really hard to move from one thing to another- meaning it's hard to be in a performing headspace while at work. While I wanted to share my artwork with my colleagues and students, I also was scared. Scared of the judgement, being laughed off, showing vulnerability, being discredited etc... I'm not going to say all my fears were unwarranted because some of that actually happened but much like I had hoped, there were supportive and stimulating conversations that emerged from my participation in the conference.
I performed memorial [luzerne county] for two hours. I really went to another place. I struggled with lightheadedness which honestly is probably because how mentally and physically worn out I had been from other work stuff. A big OTHER part of that however is that I am constantly reminded of what I am doing. I am standing for victims killed by domestic violence and I believe this is an issue that still flies under the radar. I can't help to recall all of THAT- what happened to me in my life. And it's heavy shit and I ,at times, still struggle with it.
So while I performed memorial [luzerne county] it felt so weird to be sitting in a student union building outside the mail room. It felt weird that I am doing this and people are upstairs having lunch. It felt weird to struggle in front of people who are going about their day. But then again, I wanted to do it, because it is weird that I should have to do this. 70% of college students face abuse. I SHOULD do this in the student union building outside the mailroom.
I'm in a different place now than I was when I was abused. I think I would be able to recognize the symptoms if I were faced with them again. I still can be a bit of a doormat in certain situations which I also think it progress that it is only *certain* situations but I can stand up for myself as well which at one time was not the case.
Sidenote: One thing remains true, I AM REALLY GOOD AT BEING SILENT SO THAT NO ONE NOTICES ME, ASKS ME ABOUT MY THOUGHTS, OR QUESTIONS WHY I THINK THE WAY I DO. I'm working on that but calling me out and putting me on the spot is my honest fear. So lately, I am really trying to button down how I am channelling my efforts. I remember how annoyed I was about the local tv station seemed to exploit me during my recent solo show which seemed to tag me as the "domestic violence artist," which I utterly hate hearing.
I am trying really hard to get to the root of the work when I speak because I think WHAT the work is is authentic. It's not just about one thing and it is exactly about one thing- meaning it is everything I have said before (in previous blog entires, interviews, artist statements, lectures, and conversations) yet much more. I truly hope that one day I can articulate it better.
The second day of the conference, I performed the burden of this. I'm not sure why I asked to do two days. I was zonked after one. But one of my work study students asked me way back when if I would do burden instead of memorial because she knew that piece and wanted to see it. The people pleaser in me agreed and I pitched it to the conference.
This [third] performance of the work was the furthest, most difficult haul I've done (which included crossing two busy streets). From the get-go, it was controversial. Someone called the campus police who thought the bag was suspicious. I had to talk her down and let her know it was just an artwork. After I got that cleared up, I could begin. The bag full of my body weight of manure was in a fragile state but I never expected that by half way, it would have been split completely open.
Two observations, I wanted to give up. I really didn't think I could do it. It felt so daunting and hard and scary. I was so raw from the day before. THIS felt impossible. This piece is how we carry our trauma everywhere, no matter what the trauma is. This piece was about how hard it is to function with our traumas. And this piece was displaying it for all to see and deal with MY trauma that I am often forced to tamp down and hide.
Recently, I realized that my work explores power dynamics. I could be completely silent and anonymous about my trauma but who does that serve. I would again be this victim of this horrendous ordeal that I endured and felt so much shame. I wanted to give up but I kept thinking how I had to be strong. I don't know who for, maybe just myself - prove that I could do it- but I thought my weakness was shameful.
I almost gave up but I stood in front of the student union building. The girls opened the door and I thought, how can I stop here. I dragged it inside and made everyone deal with my shit.
It's been a long time. While this year has been a whirlwind that has proceeded in more than a breakneck speed, I am finally at a very-oh-so-very short lull before becoming very busy again. My show, a measure of, is winding down and I had hoped to reflect on it a while before it going away.
Shows are a lovely thing. You get consumed with the anticipation of it. You install and you are just immersed in decision making and evaluation. You then swing between emotions of proud and doubt until you realize its almost over and you question, where did the time go?
During the anticipation of my show, artist Lydia Panas interviewed me for the catalog that was made for my show. While that interview was edited for space in the book, I thought I would post the full interview here.
Interview with Heather Sincavage by Lydia Panas
September 4, 2017
Artist Lydia Panas sits down with artist Heather Sincavage to discuss Sincavage’s upcoming exhibition, a measure of, at the Ronald K DeLong Gallery at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Each artist explores common themes of ‘longing’ and ‘vulnerability’ in their own way. In this interview, Panas talks with Sincavage about her studio practice, inspiration, and thoughts behind her work. The two artists are currently collaborating on a piece that investigates the emotional stains of shame and desire.
Lydia Panas: One of the first things that interest me about your work is the way you transform your own longing and feelings into an action. For instance, the idea of a heart with a stone. You recreate feelings and match them to objects so they become literal. There is a transformation between the literal, metaphorical, and emotional- I love that.
Heather Sincavage: One thing that struck me a few years ago was how real all of our experiences are to us and how we might encounter them in different ways. For instance, we all might witness the same car accident but each will have their own account of it, their own reality. For me, emotions/experiences are so real and have great impact on our lives but it is odd how ephemeral that really is. It is real but I want to make it tangible.
LP: You are referring to the feelings?
HS: Yes, because those thoughts, those emotions are so present in life yet, they can’t be confirmed as existing as one can with an object. Emotions are entirely made by us, like any creation, yet even more important because they impact our way of being. I want others to understand the ‘real-ness’ of it all. So, the act (emotion) has already happened then putting metaphorical significance to the act and re-performing it allows me to show its tangible presence.
LP: Right. I’ve known your work for years but I never realized that it’s not just the notion of what longing feels like- but for instance, the stone [in reference to a transfiguration of longing] was actually the weight of the human heart – which brings a poignancy to it. Like the rapping, and how the stone slowly broke into the wall. Those little details you bring up are great. They bring a depth and 3- dimensionality to the piece. The heartbeat becomes something we can see. You bring up things in such and show us how we feel. In my work, feelings are transcribed onto a piece of paper- you seem to re-create the acts.
HS: These experiences have impact in our lives; they are, actually, happening yet the emotions tied to them cannot be touched. The most important thing is not a thing at all, it is an experience to be emotionally processed. With that piece [a transfiguration of longing] the loose ‘narrative’ is the building up of anticipation, the tearing back down in disappointment, the abandoning the situation- there is so much of that experience that happens that is so real.
I made work for many years that was very focused on the physical object. Between building or drawing, it didn’t seem to get at what I was trying to convey. It was too much about the object I made, not the concept. When I started to think about allowing the work be the ‘act’ rather than a representation or depiction of an act, that changed my work. I embraced the ‘act’ itself, abandoning the ‘image of the act.’ I came to performing through drawing because I considered levity of mark-making. Performance, especially with the Transfiguration of Longing is how the mark is made and what it leaves behind.
Furthermore, the ‘numbers’ in my work all have a purpose. They aren’t randomly selected. They either relate to the body or passage of time. [In a transfiguration of longing], each mark made over those seven hours marked experiences over seven years.
LP: When you say the “simple sound of yearning into the destructive element of longing”, I imagine you mean that it is destructive to yearn for the same thing without moving forward. I suppose by taking hold of it on some level you are “un-destroying” it. You take the destructive element of longing and make it positive. Beautiful.
HS: I definitely think so. There is yearning and longing- there is hope that emotions/expectations will be reciprocated or met and there is the realization then that it may not happen. It is tough to put yourself out there and it can be alienating when the situation is one-sided. We all have our obstacles we are overcoming, and I think there is an aspect of taking alienation and creating inclusiveness. We all experience this. We can’t expect everyone to be at the same level of development as we are, no matter how disappointing that is.
LP: So, through the ‘act’ you give yourself a constructive answer.
HS: I think so. I spent many of my younger years as destructive. Not necessarily in forms of abuses but more emotionally destructive centered around not meeting expectations that I believed others had for me or I had for myself. There comes a realization that that’s life and it’s what you make of it. I decided to embrace that experience and move forward, instead of destroy myself.
LP: Like a leaky bucket - it can never be filled until you fix/patch it yourself.
HS: Right! I am reclaiming agency. There is an aspect where you feel helpless and you then reclaim your power, in a way. It is really embracing a lot of the complexity of longing that is empowering because what you are acknowledging is the nature of life.
LP: What you are doing with these acts is what art does best, bring recognition to our lives. Make us feel less alone and recognize we are not the only one going through this. We feel the feelings with you and a response to our own alienation- longing for closure, longing for love. Ultimately, loneliness is the human condition. Your performances speak to that.
As I look at all the different ideas, the burden of this, the pleas, the weight of these decisions- each one is another burden we carry.
HS: I definitely hear you. I am certainly a ruminator. I tend to evaluate all of my actions and there is a certain toll that all takes.
As we go about our day- average ‘living’- there are all these other things that are subconsciously present. We are experiencing emotions at all times and they make themselves known in different ways. I can often say that when I experience emotional pressure, I can physically feel it. It takes a physical weight that is recorded in the body.
There is the transition that I am trying to illustrate in the work- the mental to tangible/physical. We are experiencing it therefore its presence is validated. It is not as ephemeral as we think. There are clichés- “butterflies in the stomach” and “lump in your throat”- that all illustrate to how emotions manifest within the body. They are truly part of us.
LP: Yes. The psychological and the physical. That brings up the piece you called plea no. 1: not leaving well enough, alone. I find it interesting that so often we hesitate to say something directly. There is the hope that you will be understood and you won’t have to directly put it out there. Except that in general, you are not understood. I find your pieces are so much about the small personal feelings that people have and keep hidden but you put them out there in a tangible way. I like how you translate one thing to another- the consequences of your decisions.
HS: That’s a good way to put it- “the consequences of your decisions.” A lot of the time, it’s how comfortable with ourselves we truly are. With the plea pieces, it is addressing difficulty with being your vulnerable self and being understood- and I am not referring to just romantic situations- but truly on a human level. It’s a wonderful feeling when that happens and extremely disappointing when it doesn’t.
The pleas overall, address not directly expressing yourself, even though you know it’s not good for any situation. It is setting up a situation that relies on noticing body language, which is just another form of communication. It essentially creates politics to the situation.
In any group setting, I hang back and listen. I’m not comfortable being the center of attention in that way. In fact, I hate group activities. Watching body language, or hoping to be noticed, can be a rewarding or impossible situation. The pleas are about exactly that- they communicate, using English, but present the message in a way that changes the politics of the situation. It forces the other to prove their desire to participate in the situation. In these pieces, it is learning the Morse code. I know it’s manipulative but it’s a way of creating power when you feel you don’t have any.
Frustration of One (plea no. 3) focuses on not getting out what you want to say and how frustrating it is to be misunderstood. I was doing Morse through blinking and through blinking I began to tear. That frustration is overwhelming at times. I want the viewer to understand that sense of being misunderstood and empathize with the vulnerability that creates.
LP: I think that’s what you’re doing. Exposing your thought process. You show us how afraid we are of being ourselves. Afraid to sit with vulnerability. When you do this, you expose yourself as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ and you say ‘I feel this and it is a very human thing.’ Everyone wants love, closeness and intimacy. You educate us to understand ourselves, which makes us more tolerant and in turn we treat others better.
The beauty of your work is that it transforms feelings into poignant performances, deep, sad and beautiful and communicates frustration, alienation, and shame elegantly.
HS: Thank you. Certainly, communication has changed so much over our lifetimes. I mean with the prevalence of texting and social media, the constructed identity we create for ourselves, that “our life is so great!” It’s not often that we show ourselves as ourselves.
And I feel like it is important for us to recognize ourselves in totality- the good, the bad, and the ugly. We aren’t just all living a wonderful, happy, jet-setting, ‘beautiful food’ life. We hit the rough patches and experience moments of self-doubt and frustration. I think it is important to acknowledge that all of this is part of the human condition. Of course, we see a lot of the beauty and happiness, but there is this other side that is important to show.
LP: There have been studies about how Facebook makes people more depressed because everyone else’s lives look better.
HS: It’s so true! Even though we are more connected, we experience less closeness. In that respect, I feel as though it’s not at all a real construct. The REAL experience of love and empathy and closeness is what I’m really for here. I’m not looking to create the Facebook illusion. I am acknowledging the difficulties and in doing that, I think the difficulties are more beautiful.
LP: Recognizing the fullness is more beautiful! I have had people say that about my work - a certain level of difficulty confronting the faces in the portraits.
And someone said to me they were surprised that I was so happy and smiley because knowing my work they expected I would be more serious and ‘down’. That you can’t be happy and at the same time recognize that the world isn’t strawberry shortcake. I think in fact, it’s the opposite. By acknowledging depth and the ‘less pretty’ side- you have more ability to experience joy. Because you are not held superficially together by hiding your deeper feelings. The ability and strength to go both ways, to see the bad and ugly, frees you to feel and be better.
HS: That was exactly what I was going to say. I think the matter of really working through a lot of difficulty makes space in your life to know joy as well.
A lot of people say that about me actually- like “I never would have thought this is in you!” Yes, I am smiley and I tend to come across as pretty joyful. I have a lot of happiness in my life. This other stuff, that is not looked upon in our society as acceptable to publicly express, I think is FINE to publicly express. I am going to do that so people feel less alienated.
LP: I think it’s important and what art is meant to do. Discomfort lives side by side with joy and the ability to see them both connects you with other people.
HS: That’s true connection. That’s not Facebook connection. I like Facebook and all but it’s true connection I’m looking for.
LP: Exactly. To see one another’s reality, which is not all sunshine. We all experience alienation. We all experience loneliness. This is the human condition- the universal question
is how to resolve the loneliness? How do we feel seen? or loved? or CONNECTED?
HS: I think that is important too. That is the only way to really know someone. I think that is the only way to understand empathy and express that towards others. Embrace the difficulties and the less desirable kinds of experiences- that’s a real knowing of another person.
LP: And the ability to feel and understand your own anguish is the only way to feel empathy for anyone else.
LP: The inability to deal with one’s own pain results in destructiveness.
HS: I completely agree.
LP: So Surrogate: a measure of your absence- tell me about that.
HS: This is definitely about alienation- not ever feeling a sense of closeness ever- with the community I was in at the time and with the people I left behind. It was trying to create companionship with something that wasn’t going to reciprocate. It was an impossible situation.
I decided to make something that might provide me with the illusion of closeness or creating surrogate for closeness. The performance occurred in three stages- making surrogate, being with surrogate, and leaving surrogate behind. I dug soil out of the ground where I was living and filled a human-sized sack with it. I laid with it and tried to create the closeness that would only end without fulfillment.
Leaving the bag behind to deteriorate was the long-term result of the ‘relationship.’ I had that act of making and laying within a day but the piece continues on back where I was living and deteriorates.
LP: Again, I am intrigued by your dialogue with yourself which you translate into gestures. You fill in the silent spaces. You take what is not said and show it through performance.
I like the notion of burdens- [reference in the burden of this], “the act of dragging the artist’s weight in manure.” You hold your/our burdens and act them out so they feel lessened for a moment. You close the gap between us and make us feel less lonely.
HS: Silence is a big part of it. I don’t like to bog my work down with excess noise. I incorporate Silence to the work so you can focus on what I am presenting to you. I want the viewer to be focused on the action. There is a “work” aspect to it all so I want that to be what is considered, without distraction of words or superfluous sound.
With Surrogate and Burden, both are me in relation to a sack of some sort. Surrogate, as I said before, I’m filling the sack with the environment and realizing that I am not getting nor will ever get anything in return. With Burden, the sack filled with manure equivalent to my body weight is me struggling with myself and literally “dealing with my shit.” There is a lot we need to cognitively do to be able to function, day to day. Like I said earlier, these emotions have repercussions so I embrace the notion of what it takes to work beyond them or work with them.
LP: And by “work” you mean the knocking into the wall?
HS: Yes. Exactly. I almost approach a performance as if I were punching a clock and the pieces take a real physical toll on me. Soreness, tremors, or like at the end of Burden, dizziness and whiting out, occurs. I do not necessarily show that but I do want people to see the metaphorical, cognitive work at hand. Duration of the performance is important no matter the physical toll it takes. I think we need to all recognize the work that we do in order to live our lives.
LP: Wow, this blinking eye one (plea no. 3: frustration of one), holy moly.
HS: In that one, I recorded it and then I re-recorded it. I recorded the recording to create movement so there was this level of being watched or evaluated- a voyeurism to it that elevates how uncomfortable expressing yourself can be especially while feeling unsure of what you are saying.
LP: These are small gestures which often go un-noticed, unspoken, unremarked upon and yet they are the driving force of where we go and who we are.
HS: It’s so true. We don’t live our life in these grand gestures. They are these small little moments that we are constantly reflecting what is going on subconsciously. I think it would be a bit intense to expound upon everything with a huge level of depth but paying attention to the small things really allow us to understand the individual and what is really happening.
There’s more to be understood.
LP: Right, you understand a lot when you watch and pay attention.
So, the exhibit will be a performance or a documentation of past performances?
HS: a measure of is the title of the exhibition and it will primarily show past performances however I will debut a portion of a new performance I am working on, entitled Memorial: I Live in Your Memory.
This piece is a bit more political than the other very personal pieces. The entire performance is a 102-hour durational performance. Again, I won’t be doing the piece in its entirety at Penn State. It is a performance installation that is a response to assault and violence enacted in the home. In 2016, the Lehigh County had 6 deaths as a result of domestic violence. My piece is in reflection of those lives lost.
There is this notion that we are living our lives in measure- we count birthdays, inches we grow and that is supposed to add up to a well-formed life, full of experience. But there is this aspect of these situations we find ourselves in and then we long for something different.
For 102 people last year, in Pennsylvania, their lives were cut short due to domestic violence and this is something I feel really passionately about because it is something I experienced years ago. I’ll contend with it the rest of my life but it definitely is not something that defines me. I’m very sensitive that this is an ongoing problem and happens every day for many, often choosing to remain silent.
I will do a performance in the gallery where I will count my breaths during a 6-hour duration- essentially an hour per victim. I’ll be breathing against a glass- a symbol of living. To check if someone is breathing, you place a glass or mirror under their nose and mouth to ensure they are alive. So, I’ll be breathing against a glass and counting those breaths throughout the hour.
LP: So, you’ll do it six different hours on six different days or-
HS: No. On the opening day of the show, it will be six consecutive hours that I will do that. The way I will represent each victim in the space is by light. I will have six lights in the gallery. They will begin with all the lights on. As I count breaths on a sheet of paper each hour, I will then take the paper, post on a wall, and turn out the light. I will then move onto the next sheet of paper and so the same sequence, symbolizing the next victim.
A few years ago, I began to count breaths, every day. I didn’t have any piece in mind. I just counted breaths. I have pages upon pages of counted breaths. It was one of these things that became a meditation and a mark making drawing-performance exercise. I wasn’t doing it with any outcome in mind.
But I did question why was this so important to me- I mean, I did it for a year and a half. I had to sort it out in a way. When I was assaulted in my relationship, I was strangled so I think that subconsciously, I am responding to the act of not being able to breathe. Each breath since then is evidence to my existence and my life.
I am facing what had happened to me. It is always underlying my practice, my life really. I never thought I would be this woman to experience violence. Acknowledging that it happened and how I didn’t necessarily value aspects of myself is the lesson. I think now, in what I make now, it’s all in response to that lesson. The success is overcoming and valuing the things I felt were less desirable about myself. I have embraced my vulnerability and I have embraced my imperfection and really all of the things that one might deem as undesirable about oneself.
LP: I’ve been trying to more specifically pinpoint what I think your work is about it and that’s it. The sense of the breath- valuing something that you almost lost. Or even the nylon rope (the length of my infinite love), there’s something about taking something potentially destructive and transforming it into something positive. Embracing things that make you, you. Rather than hiding ignoring, or pushing things aside, you hold them out in front of us. Your breath for instance and how you are holding onto it.
The work seems to be about embracing things you may not have valued before. Things we don’t speak about. You reconstruct the conversation. You turn the unspeakable into treasure. The stone, for instance, or the nylon rope, and the breaths- you turn them into jewels. To present them in a public space like this, gives them value, like gems.
HS: I agree. They are valuable. And obviously, the work is relatively simple. There is not a lot of flash to it. I mean the rope piece is literally a rope but there is power to its simplicity.
I spent a lot of time over the past number of years thinking about what I was doing. Breaking down my intent, what I am making, and what is being learned in its existence. I realized there was a discrepancy between my intent and what was learned by the viewer. I decided that I was going to pare back and strip down what I was doing. Get rid of the clutter. I became very intentional about every little thing about the work so every little decision I made was purposeful. It comes with a lot of editing and becoming comfortable with what is being left behind.
But you are right- everything I put there is valuable to understanding what I am trying to say. I am giving you exactly what it is I want you to know without any other clutter.
LP: It’s like you’ve made the stuff that is cast aside, very special.
HS: Often I have felt cast aside but I have come to believe I am quite special.
LP: You wrote, “102 lives cut short due to Domestic Violence. Those experiences extinguished” and it’s very much like that. You make experiences such as ‘burden’ or ‘longing’ valuable. In your work, meaning becomes so much more beautiful than the object.
HS: That’s exactly right. And it’s funny that I started my career actually making beautiful objects. Using objects in my work, most of the objects are either found or made without any flourish by me, they become the total embodiment of meaning rather than just the object. I am not at all concerned with the aesthetics of the object’s physicality, I am more interested in what they convey.
LP: A total transformation. You’ve taken something ordinary, discard-able and turned it into life, showing us that life is experience. That’s the beauty.
HS: That is certainly it. A lot of people put emphasis on ‘things’ and that’s what makes our lives full but I think really it comes down to the experiences and valuing those experiences and that’s what makes our lives full.
LP: And not just like “climbing a mountain” types of experiences. The experiences that are a culmination of all those breaths, and stones and impulses- all those fears and longing and yearning and that’s what makes humans beautiful and human. That’s the fullness.
HS: Absolutely it. I think that is what makes us all beautiful- and unique as well. I have my experiences and you have your experiences and that is the beauty of us living in this world together and being in each other’s lives. There is so much beauty to that. That comes with a lot of experiences- not just climbing the mountains, but also within the smallest of breaths.
LP: You encourage us to look at our own breaths and silences. You bring us closer to ourselves. You show us, us.
HS: Absolutely, that’s what I am hoping to do.
Words. Words. Words. I really enjoy words. In fact, I am quite particular in my use of words when it comes to titling. Same goes for punctuation. I can probably attribute this to my early love for e.e. cummings. Not only was his work visual but the spacing of the words on the page pushed us as to how to read them. Pacing. Pauses. I just love that the reader was forced to an experience of words. One could not be passive. Sometimes, it even took a few readings to really get the flow of the piece. All in all, this was an early influence as to the importance of words.
can dy lu
greens coo 1 choc
tive s pout
It has been one week since my surgery and recovery seems to be going well. There are ups and downs but marked improvements every day. I panicked the other day to be home all this time and not use my time more productively. I guess that's rather silly because productive use of time at home really is resting, sleeping and healing but I'm not one to sit idle often and get anxious if I think I'm wasting precious time. This would apply to my job which I can easily shoulder weights of feeling responsible for but also the show I am working on for later this year.
I had tentatively named the show a measure. I've been referring to it as that for the past year almost year since I booked the show. Soon, I'll really need to commit to that which has brought me to think more concretely about the title.
When I have really thought about the works coming together, where once I thought I would use my body as a measure for my human-ness, I now considered that many- if not all- of the works were about these aspects of longing. The anticipation, the expectations, the insecurity, the joy, the comfort, the disappointment, the devastation, the alienation. I decided to commit to this to tighten up the direction. It's a small space after all. I started to favor on longing: a measure or a measure of longing. Yikes. They aren't great titles.
Often when I don't like something, I try to simplify. I began to favor on longing, which really was the name of a show that I submitted to a few years ago that never materialized into anything. I have always loved that title but felt a bit guilty to steal the words. When I googled whether the show just ended up elsewhere, I came across a book of the same name. Oh man. I remember seeing this book in my subconscious somewhere but totally forgot it existed until this google search. The reason why I remember is because of the Ann Hamilton piece on the cover. Who could forget that? One never forgets Ann Hamilton.
So now I've bought the book and now I am falling in love with new words. Appurtenances. What a word. I'm not sure I've even heard someone speak it before. When I look it up on webster's dictionary, the definition is hardly as interesting as Susan Stewart's passage about it.
Man. That's just the preface.
(I almost feel foolish that I'm only discovering this book with any seriousness now)
But it draws me no closer to my show title. At this point, it mostly requires maybe more reading and lots of word mapping- all of which are able to be done bedside as I rest and recover. If emails are any indicator, it seems there is no shortage of work waiting for me when I return to my job.
Strength: Asset or Liability? (A History of Errors)
I have been thinking very much about strength, physical strength. I feel as though I've had a many of conversation about my body over the past number of weeks- whether its about my upcoming surgery and recovery, or what the nature of my performance work is, or just merely what it feels like to be in my body in all it's tiredness and tightness.
I had a massage yesterday and it was a huge reminder about how crunched into myself I have become. It's an understatement to say that I am stressed. I'm not entirely sure that i am the most stressed I've ever been. That could be because maybe I manage stress better than I had in the past, or that I am not addressing the axis of where my stress stems from. But I am stressed and it was never so apparent than when untangling the muscles in my neck, shoulders and back yesterday. I cannot believe that I didn't miss the space that has opened up in my body all this time.
I am thinking a lot about my patterns as of late. Believe me, it relates to what I'm talking about. I tend to cherish my strength and wear my stamina or 'stick-to-it-ness' as a badge of honor. I tend to 'stick to it' for much longer than what could be thought of as healthy, in some people's opinion. I question if I lack confidence that I should deserve anything better or if I am way too optimistic that I can turn a situation around with my proven dedication. It's an on-going pattern in my jobs and relationships. The funny thing is, I figured this out in my studio work once I nearly had the ability to make work taken away from me (due to an accident). My 'come to Jesus' moment had its impact, fast and swift. I spent months evaluating what path i would take and I came up with the decision that my work need not be limited by medium (much like many artists who call themselves either 'painter' or 'printmaker,' 'potter' or 'metalsmith.' Funny, sculptors don't define themselves as medium oriented like the others I just mentioned). When I allowed myself to call myself 'sculptor' instead of 'metalsmith,' a huge window of opportunity opened.
As I think about how my work evolved over the past 20 years, I sometimes question if it is an asset to allow the concept to drive the medium or does it just indicate a lack of discipline? Those are probably the moments of self doubt I frequently have. Today I don't think that- even though I am frustrated on my lack of studio progress. Where I am questioning my patterns is in my life choices, as of late. It's been a tough few weeks- I've been down this path before and I used my strength and stuck it out. It didn't result in much because some situations are a sinking ship much bigger than I. Regardless, there are so many aspects of what I accomplished that I miss.
My pattern always starts off with a boat-load of optimism. It's a wonderfully creative place. I act with that optimism and eventually run into roadblocks. I work through road blocks- many times to come across more road blocks. The more road blocks I work through start to wear on me. Clearing road blocks don't feel like accomplishments the more I encounter them. I feel sour but not hopeless. I take ALL the responsibility, even though it probably doesn't all belong to me. I keep going, trying to remember the big picture. Then there is the point where the big picture starts to seem like a pipe dream. I lose hope. The responsibility of failure begins to weigh on me. As I have aged, the weight has its impact- I feel it in my body. It manifests there and feels like an albatross of a reminder. I've been down this road before- is it silly to let it run its course again?
A few years ago, I tried so hard to embrace the mistakes and all the things that never went right. That the beauty was in the journey, not the result. I really REALLY felt that while I made my drawings, the drawings that led me to performance. I think I now hope for a similar epiphany- or at least an understanding. You know the phrase "art imitates life"- well, in this case, I am looking for life to imitate art. I. am. not. cutting. myself. a. break. I am trying to figure out the path and as I wander, it becomes more and more painful. I feel guilty to be sick even though part of being sick is probably a result of trying to be strong. I truly believe that emotions impact our physical health. I am desperate to realize the lesson in this experience.
I pictured a History of Errors (2013) in this blog. I love that drawing for so many reasons. It was the drawing that reawakened my body; it was the meditation that allowed me to honor the beauty in my flaws; it was the beginning of seeing a body less as an object for things to happen to and more as a body that experiences the world its in.
It's sobering to realize that one has so much still to figure out.
The Challenge of Communication
I explore aspects of the Self through drawing, sculpture, and performance. Using the body as a form of measure, my studio practice is focused on how the actions of the body can imply more about the internal monologue. We often communicate more than what we say through functions of our body. If one pays attention, one could learn much more about another beyond language. It is in one’s posture, the color in one’s face, the beat of one’s heart, etc.
Much of what I have been exploring has been this space between longing and alienation. It's a place of duality because of its tenuous nature that can tip to either fulfillment or isolation. While these pieces are very much self-exploratory, I am keenly aware that there is much control I relinquish due to a lack of articulation. These works challenge 'the other' to engage while proving their commitment to do so- and the pay off is an utter honesty that one would not divulge if the commitment was not proven.
I know it sets up a situation of disappointment most of the time. I know that I struggle with expressing myself in this way. I also know that personally, I am far more articulate in my writing than I am speaking. It's probably my INFJ personality.
But I've really enjoyed studying this about myself within my work. It is something from my personal relationships that I pass forward to my relationship with the viewer. In my morse code videos, I wonder if anyone actually takes the time to decode them. I'm not sure that anyone has- and to me, that is telling, and reinforces all my messed up expectations of feeling rejected, or not being good enough to hear what I have to say. Talk about all those coming of age insecurities that were never resolved!
So while I explore the morse code pieces further, I recently sent a residency proposal off that uses semaphoric gestures. You know what that is- it's the waving of flags you see lifeguards at the beach wave to other lifeguards in the distance. I'm very interested to using the body in these visual gestures to divulge the depths of our thoughts. Part of my proposal suggests that written word should be performed within a close space, suggesting the distance one must travel emotionally to truly connect with another, even if they might be right next to me.
I'm semi-concerned with learning the language. My memory is terrible. My penchant of learning other languages is terrible! While I think I can memorize the gestures to a poem, I think if anyone would choose to respond, that it would be difficult to me- fitting, yes? Because in all reality, I can be overwhelmed by a dialogue and then doesn't that put me back to square one?
Last week, I mentioned a big part of where my thoughts are, which aren't really with my studio work. I am only trying to have some faith they will work themselves back there eventually but for now, i trust that this is part of my 'research.'
I strongly believe that emotions have a strong impact on illness. I also think that illness creates a perspective that many people would struggle to find just on their own. I don't know, I could be wrong about that. I've watched, mostly from afar, as a few friends, family members, and acquaintances succumbed to illness over these past few years. Often I feel there is a spiritual awakening or at least an awareness that emerges. Perhaps it's a shift in priorities. I am waiting for my awakening. For now I continue to remain fearful and helpless when I allow myself to think about it. At most times, I work. Not in the studio but at my job. If I worked at the studio, I think I would have to face the emotions I am trying to tamp down in order to function. I am aware how messed up this is and that it does me no service except that my fall later will be from a much higher elevation when I decide to face my fears.
My day job is as a university gallery director and this week I hosted the artist Lydia Panas to campus for her exhibition. It truly is a delight to spend time with another artist for such a concentrated amount of time. Often, people have so much going on that we hardly have time for one another, but my job requires me to invest my time in other artists. It's a treat really.
I've known Lydia for many years and have always respected her work. I however learned so much more about her work, dedication and process during her visit. While her work is more pictorial, I find that our themes within our work are closer than I originally realized. For her, she photographs others to feel closer to them- but in reality, even though it is a portrait of another, there is much of herself in the images. The vulnerability, love, and longing are things she desires and the model becomes the means for expression.
What I find remarkable is the piece that is the relationship. While my work is rather one-sided, Lydia takes on the image of another, channels perhaps their internal thoughts and struggles, and uses that as a basis for their 'relationship' within the image. It is a striking way to work because you begin to see several approaches, ways of managing a certain concept- such as fear. And this might provide Lydia a better understanding of how that concept can be experienced or manifested. This seems to create a point of reflection for the artist while still treading a fine line of being one degree removed from the concept while simultaneously interpreting the experience of it. It's tricky!
This brings me back to evaluating my studio practice. Like an archaeologist, I tend to dig into the depths of my Self to pull forward more things to learn, such as now. Can I learn more about my fear from others? I read often about others who have had the treatment I am about to undergo. While I think that may alleviate my worries, it doesn't really address my fear. And I am not sure that I feel brave enough to handle the fear of others. It is a brave thing to take on another's image, pulling from them all their vulnerability. Perhaps in my next life, I will come back as Lydia Panas 2.0- braver, stronger, and willing to invite others into my life in this way. I think at this time, I still have much to learn as an archaeologist of my Self.
Reality and New Realities
Attending an artist residency is probably the dreamiest thing an artist-who-has-a-day job can do. You escape your day to day life, explore your practice and new surroundings, and your job is to create new discoveries within your work. Iceland is truly one of my most favorite places I've been to and when I am there, I feel as though I am just surrounded with like-minded folks who embrace the magic of life. It is in the landscape, music, architecture, folklore, neighborhoods, people, and needless to say, art. The events of the past few days here at home are nothing but dumbfounding. I fail to understand the leadership in this country or the people who put him there.
While I attended my residency, I was able to let go of the surreal reality about the incoming transition in our country. I also was able to set aside some anxieties of my own. However when returning to the states, the sobering news emerged that I have cancer. Now, I have a cancer that is very treatable and I am in good shape to have it removed. None the less, I have entered into this phase of my life where my mortality is staring me back in my face.
The past month I have been all business. See the doctors, do the tests, get the plan together, get my job in order, arrange who will take care of the cat while I'm in the hospital, who will take out my trash, who will help me get dressed when I am unable to pull a shirt over my head. It's pretty much all set and now I wait.
This allows for much time to be alone with my vulnerability.
I have spent so much of my artistic career finding strength in being able to recognize my vulnerability. I mean, there are those who never address this part of them and it eats them alive. I can tamp down my issues with the best of them but this weekend, I feel the anxiety of it all starting to slowly unthread the seams from my perfectly composed plan. I begin to wonder, have I really ever known vulnerability before? I mean I thought I knew but maybe I didn't.
I cried through the biopsy I had in December, not because it hurt but because it was too close. When the doctor goes to check my throat, it's hard to for me to handle. Now that I am aware of why it feels that way, I can feel the infected area every single day. I say I am ready for surgery, mostly because I feel my mind is running away with my fears.
But I am terrified. Mostly because I feel helpless. I can't wish, diet, pill pop or exercise this out of me. I'd like to put my head in the sand and ignore so it will go away but I know that only makes matters worse. It's staring me in the face- my body will be open at the hands of another and my survival is completely dependent on him. I sometimes feel silly and melodramatic to think that- I mean, I have a completely curable kind of cancer but there will be a day where I will face down my eventual death and that is my biggest fear.
In my current work, I have been attempting to measure so much of my humanity through body portioned performances and objects. I come to find that none of these pieces have taken on fear-perhaps because I do not want to face real, true fear or maybe I just have not known fear like this before. How do you make work about fear when you are fearful? How has that been measured and processed through my body? Is it the cancer itself? If you really think about it, the idea that it surrounds my throat symbolically reinforces how inarticulate I am about what i really think. I am scared to speak at times. I am scared to say something I will regret. Or embarrass myself. Or sound stupid. I hold a lot in.
But really, if I can make work about my sadness, my contemplative nature, my isolation, my longing, what does work about my fear look like? How does fear manifest itself in me? I have spontaneously cried this weekend- hell, I spontaneously cry at work sometimes too. My breath is shallow, my chest is tight. I know this is in response to my fear. People tell me I have nothing to worry about- at times, I believe that and in my heart of hearts, I KNOW that- but I accept knowing that i don't have anything to worry about and feeling uncomfortable with my physical vulnerability are two different things. I know I will be ok but I can also be scared. As it will emerge in my work, we have yet to see.
I guess for now, I should consider this research- the tight chest, the short breath, the full, red eyes, the mind that runs away with my thoughts, the pendulum that swings from having it all together to feeling helpless that there is absolutely nothing I can do. I say that my residency allowed me a break from my day job, was a place to explore my practice and make new discoveries in my work. I'm somewhat thinking I'm coming up on a similar experience. Cancer, a new kind of residency.
I wasn't sure if I would continue blogging after I returned from Iceland. I used to blog. I like to blog. It requires me to reflect on my work and be firmer about things I'm thinking about. So it's a good thing. Now will I blog every day, as I did in Iceland? Well, no. I think regular life will not allow me to keep up as I did, but for now, I'd like to make it a weekly occurrence- much like I used to assign my students in their capstone.
A friend of mine gave me the book, Bluets, by Maggie Nelson in response to my Iceland blog. It's wonderful. Nelson is a professor at CalArts and begins the book by confessing that she tells people on her hiring committee that she is writing a book about the color, Blue, yet she had not started it. And this went on for some time. When people would ask how her book is coming, she would say "Great!" yet would only have a few bulleted lists.
The book is broken into a numerical list, which at first, seems hardly a narrative but it progresses into almost a journal, both of self confession and discovery. It's been such a wonderful suggestion by one of my new friends here at my new job/life in Wilkes Barre, PA.
Yesterday, I had done some work in the studio, an experiment really (that I have all my fingers and toes crossed will work), and then went to lunch at one of my favorite local haunts. I took the book along because I found that I am WAY TOO tied to both my phone and computer lately and it's making me feel brain numb.
I read passage 100.
100. It often happens that we count our days, as if the act of measurement made us some kind of promise. But really this is like hoisting a harness onto an invisible horse. "There is simply no way that a year from now you're going to feel the way you feel today," a different therapist said to me last year at this time. But though I have learned to act as if I feel differently, the truth is that my feelings haven't really changed.
It's funny. Since last year, I have dedicated a majority of my studio practice to a type of measurement, certainly counting has been part of this. I actually began this whole thing by measuring my arm span (Length of my Infinite Love), then I counted present breaths- almost as evidence that I could be not bogged down in my insecurities and sadness. I did that for 200+ days and then seemed to lose interest when I couldn't be still and present anymore. Maybe that is part of this too.
A friend of mine and I had a conversation a while back about how similar our work is yet how different. I remember defending myself about all this record keeping I seem to be doing about my existence. I told him that I almost want there to be proof to my living, thinking Self. He argued that isn't that really what all artists are doing? Good point. It really is (and really we weren't having a disagreement, he is just so good to play devil's advocate)- but I really wanted it to be completely dialed back to the operation of it all, not necessarily the cause or a visual diary per se.
[I have somewhat grown weary of artists trotting out their stories of suffering for all of us to see- somewhat of a "Look at me and all my suffering. I have suffered far more than you have. Pity me." This could also be because maybe I was once one of those artists and although I didn't think I asked for pity, I got plenty of it. It just was NOT a way to move on. In fact, it just perpetuated the grief and was way too difficult to feel as though things could progress. Of course, the feeling for viewers that "you are not alone" isn't a bad thing- but as an artist moving forward, nope. It kept you locked there, drowning in quicksand. And I don't want attention for drowning, nor surviving, just being.]
I realize that my work is somewhat navel gazing. I have always felt that once I get this Self thing understood, I could move onto the bigger problems of the world. I also have always felt that if we understand the Self, we can understand others. I think I even state here, somewhere else on my website.
So I am documenting this existence which has been riddled with the internal struggles of being OK. There are so many frustrations that being OK creates because once you get to this place where you can state "I am OK" then you want to move on and be completely OK with others. Once you realize everyone else is not on that same timeline, or better yet, not even thinking about this timeline, then it becomes an even bigger question "Am I really OK?"
Herein creates the problem, and this is when I question every aspect of "OK-ness." In some respects, I pay tribute to the sadness I have felt; in others, I stand with my emotions and celebrate them- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I am working on a show for later this year (I can't believe I said THIS year). It is tentatively called A Measure. I am chipping away at my longing, my sadness, my presence, my destruction, my stillness, my alienation... my OK-ness. I do want to remind you that I am not necessarily re-counting events of my life, more the effects of it. I think however that even though I have spent this past year doing this and anticipate spending this next (almost) year doing this, that Nelson might be correct. I don't know that I will feel any different, in fact, I probably won't feel much different, but I do think the mere recording of OK-ness might allow for others to get on the timeline. Perhaps maybe then I tackle, "but am I REALLY OK?" Who knows.
Nelson mentions that she got really good at seeming like she had a tremendous emotional growth yet maybe felt just the same that year later. I suppose if one looks at their wounds, the pain starts off as sharp and quick but eventually dulls and fades off. Sometimes we are snapped back to it if we torque ourselves the wrong way and it is a quick reminder that it was once there... and perhaps to remind us how we don't want to go back there (or makes us yearn for more depending on what it is and what we want from it all).
Am I OK? I'm OK on a a level where I once was not. Am I really OK? That is debatable. Current life events are certainly dredging up things I am really scared about, but that is for another day. OK on one level opens up for more things to be OK about. Life becoming endless things to count.
Our show opens....
I'm writing to you later than usual today because today is the day I travel home. Right now I'm sitting at the airport (one of the most lovely ever) and waiting for my flight, which is currently delayed two hours. My guess is that we are delayed due to a huge storm coming our way but who knows really. I hear roads north and south of here (exactly where I was traveling last week at this time) are closing.
But I'm sure I'll make it out of here.... if not poorer because this well styled airport has a lot to resist. I'm totally chilling with some beet, carrot, and ginger juice for exactly 1 gajillion krona. And I am surprised I'm not being accosted with Christmas music, although when I transferred buses at the bus terminal, they had little girls caroling as you moved through the (not so big) building. Kinda cute- and they were decked out in their Reykjavik Excursions sweaters (jumpers) so we didn't question who sponsored them or where they came from.
The airport is about an hour from the city. You cross through desolate lava fields which are pretty cool- today they were snow covered, as we have been getting a good amount of snow over the past few days. It makes the city all the more charming.
Yesterday, I went downtown one last time finished up christmas shopping, finally had a famous Icelandic hot dog (because apparently it's what one should do while in Reykjavik) and after spilling weird sweet Icelandic hot sauce into my hair, I when and sat in my favorite coffee shop with my cappuccino (sprinkled with chocolate pieces) and lavender shortbread. I also ran into the grocery store one last time to prove I am brave (not really- I was buying chocolates for my housemates). I'd like to report that in the end, I maneuvered the store like a pro- so much that they started to speak Icelandic to me first rather than just jumping to English like the stupid American I am.
So not to bore you with the details, after finishing up with the day and vowing to get a good night's sleep, I turned in early. I was interrupted though by my housemates so I checked out the hullabaloo and came to find that the Northern Lights were putting on quite a show last night. After pulling myself together and fussing with my camera, I went out and took some photos. It was impressive last night, but being without a larger tripod and with my hair wet from the shower, I ended up shivering so much that I had to go in. Regardless, what a way to go out!
The holidays are here and of course, I'm going to take some time to celebrate, but there is also a lot to reflect on, which I hope to do in the next few weeks. I will blog so I hope you wish to follow me however I don't think it will be on a daily basis (maybe weekly).
For now, I bid my housemates, fellow artists, and friends adieu. For more information on them (not everyone have websites but I did what I could to find an online presence on them),
There's doing figural art work and there is using the figure in art work. I, at one time, created figural art work but I now consider my work as using the figure in/as art work. I do this not to sensationalize or titillate, despite how some outside the art world have thought about my work. (In fact, I don't think I'm at all controversial or ever have been).
I use the figure as an exploration of Self- the same investigation I was making when I created figural art work, except I made so much of itand still struggled to create the appropriate conversation around it. In the end and what encouraged me to rethink my approach is that the figure, no matter what movement or gesture I tried to use, still felt like a passive object that one applies marks to or around.
This hardly felt fitting. I spent many years building my work from the innocent or fallen archetype to the empowered. And yet it seems cliche for me, as I sit and type this. Believe me, I had the best of intentions. I have always told students, ALWAYS, that one needs to make everything they have made (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in order to know how to make what one makes today. I love when they say it back to me. But I digress…
I am winding down my time here- all too fast- and I just told someone that I wish I had made more. I'm not sure why I decided to learn new software. I'm not sure how my job took up so much time- but again, I know I would not be here without the support from it. All in all, there is no going backwards. Only forwards.
But I do think about the why of my work. I think what it all boils down to is how uncomfortable i am in my own skin. I mean, I know I have strengths but I am conditioned to dwell on my weaknesses. This is most likely because of my own making, but I don't discredit that this may very well be a symptom of gender.
I always liked to think that I rose up beyond the conditions of gender, asking the larger questions. But I come to realize that it is not just the questions we ask but also how we respond, isn't it? The two pieces I am showing in the our exhibition next week are entirely about response. When I was thinking about them last night, I realize I am working with a gendered response and these works are entirely back to square one- the fallen archetype. The one who feels without her own agency. The one who's thoughts are disconnected from her actions. One who suppresses rather advocates.
It's somewhat frustrating but obviously a pattern of mine. Doesn't the saying always go, "we repeat things until we learn from them?"
I had a critique last year with an artist- quite a positive one. I had made a piece (or exercise) that came from pure joy. It felt so different and he noted to try to work from different access points. I do think about that often however I begin to think that in order to "widen the lens" one must understand the source. Thoroughly.
My life swings between moments of empowerment dashed by crippling insecurity. Is this something I admit to on the internet? I guess to make my point this is exactly what I do. Let's rattle off all the phrases that women hear: Lean in; Personal is Political; "A woman is like a tea bag—you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water." (Eleanor Roosevelt); "I'm tough, I'm ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay." (Madonna). You'll love to know that I was reminded of those last two quotes from Bazaar magazine's article entitled "30 Empowering Quotes from Women Who Dare."
I'm so sick of hearing stuff like this. Women are so over-saturated with these messages of empowerment and strength that we say we hear it, we give it a "like" on social media yet we (the collective we) don't change the game. We continue to cope with a horribly skewed playing field (2016 Presidential Election, anyone?). We are "making it in a man's world” (gag) and while girls are being encouraged to love themselves for who they are (and I think this is great), there still is a huge current to swim against to get the same things as some others.
I'm almost angry that I have chosen to work from a place that reinforces a lack of power- Instead of "leaning in," one should sit this one out. But this is a frustrating reality of our gender and perhaps I grapple with wanting to be an outspoken, articulate warrior however remain authentic to my own experience. Perhaps this is a different kind of warrior, who knows.
As I reread what I have written here, I know that perhaps it is important to voice the conditions of gendered response. How many other women exist this way? Just a short few months ago, I swam in my confidence and possibility. Now, this moderately accomplished woman, can hardly advocate for the simplest of requests. Why the change? Perhaps it is because I had a huge life change this year and life changes always stir up questions of our self image but I tend to also question, are there other factors here?
As the residency comes to a close, we all have started to think about the title of our exhibition. Because many of us have different working and sleeping schedules, we tend to communicate via a Facebook closed group page. I know, its funny, considering we live in such close quarters.
It seems a few of us really like using the word, "eternize," as our title, which was yesterday's word of the day. The definition is "cause to live or last forever." I realize that a residency is incredibly special- not just for the place it is but for the gift of time it gives one to devote to their studio practice. This time in Iceland is finite but the impact will be ongoing... a cause to last forever. Anyway, while I don't know at this moment that this will be what the name of the show will be, I liked thinking about what this all is.
I also was downtown for a good part of yesterday to run some errands. I had lunch at the falafel shop and read the "Iceland Grapevine," which is a weekly free paper that discusses culture and current events. I read a book review for "Land of Love and Ruin" by Oddný Eir. I liked what I read so much that I wanted to buy the book to read on the plane however I didn't find it at the bookstore. When I looked it up on Amazon, it has some questionable reviews but it seems its because people expected a linear narrative. I'm ok with it not having one... I mean, it is endorsed by Bjork, for god's sake.
The review was peppered with quotes from the book- one reading "Surely beauty must be in motion. Or be motion." This really struck me, as I have replaced the word beauty with art. Not only does a residency eternize the art practice but it creates/is the motion that Eir suggests.
I sometimes really struggle feeling good about working across so many disciplines/mediums. I judge myself harshly as if it implies my practice lacks discipline. I've done that here over and over again as I have been bumbling through learning this video software. My studio is next to another artist who I tease because I never see her unless I catch her when she comes out to eat. She must have piles and piles of work while I know I have spent piles and piles of time trying to figure out Adobe Premiere.
I do try to come to terms with dumping my small and precious time into learning software instead of doing what I know. That quote I came across I am trying to hold onto as a validation- that perhaps learning something new and coming out of this residency with a few minutes of video is a practice in motion.
I also can't neglect the environment of the country. Yule Lads and Christmas Cat aside, I am still so moved by the glaciers. This breaking off and floating away as a concept is still so striking to me- the ice caps as this crust that covers over geothermal activity, violent even, quietly break away with environmental pressure. The relationship brittle.
For more info about the book I read about, check out this link: https://www.amazon.com/Land-Love-Ruins-Oddn%C3%BD-Eir/dp/1632060728/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482246870&sr=8-1&keywords=land+of+love+and+ruins
On a lighter note, if you want to know what Yule Lad you are, you can take this quiz.
I am Stekkjarstaur
English translation: Sheep-Pen Clod. This is the first Yule Lad to come, on 12 December. He likes to harass sheep but is slightly impaired due to his peg legs.
Yesterday we had Icelandic Christmas Dinner which the staff of SIM came to the residence and cooked for us. It was so nice, especially since the group of residents have become a pseudo-family. Doing a few residencies now, I really value this because people really make all the difference in these situations. This group is particularly special.
So the menu for the evening was:
Hangikjöt (smoked lamb)
Uppstúf (similar to bechamel sauce + potatoes)
Laufabrauð (leaf bread)
Malt & Appelsín (drink)
Coffee and Icelandic chocolate
Needless to say, it was all delicious. A number of us talked about our traditional Christmas meals from our own countries. I shared that my family is cooking ham this year and some of the residents asked if we would have turkey too. It seems the one protein at the Christmas table was surprising to them! Swedish Christmas is chock full of fish, mostly salmon and herring (pickled); Polish Christmas has a cabbage soup; Korean Christmas isn't too much of a big deal because New Year's is what they celebrate; Japanese Christmas is lots of little foods (it was hard to hear her at the table because of all the chatter) but New Years is also the bigger deal there; Scottish Christmas seemed to be pretty straight forward like ours, having turkey.
I leave prior to Christmas but the rest of the residents will remain. They will be celebrating Swedish and Polish Christmas on Christmas Eve- traditionally the bigger event of the season for them. The Swedish and Polish residents will be cooking dinner. There have been beets pickling on the counter all week. The next day the Americans are cooking. I hear there will be homemade pecan pie (YUM). They decided to not work on the holiday and borrow the projector from the SIM office and project Christmas movies that day. It all sounds lovely.
I should also note, we do have a Christmas tree here. And advent candles so the residence has been quite festive throughout the month.
On the homefront, I hear that Kiki has declared a reign of terror on Christmas. From how it is described, I expect to see a Charlie Brown tree from once a beautiful spruce. Angels better watch their back!
If you haven't already noticed, I tend to write these posts every morning about the previous day. So this morning, which is December 19, Reykjavik has snow on the ground! Despite what one might assume about Iceland, this month of December has been full of wind and rain, but no snow (although we can see it far in the distance). Just in time for our Icelandic Christmas dinner that is happening this evening at the residence! The SIM staff will be taking over the kitchen to make us the true Icelandic meal- I'll have more to report on that tomorrow.
Today's post is broken into a few fragments as I re-group from our trip and look at wrapping up the residency.
Now for yesterday's thoughts- Being out on the road the past few days, I had a ton of grading to wrap up and post finals. I did spend a lot of the day doing that however I did take advantage of the beautiful light coming through my room to re-shoot some footage that I had been frustrated with prior to leaving for the coast.
Do you know what that means? I'm taking another stab at the last morse code piece with a slightly differently approach. What a difference a few days make. And what seems completely ridiculous is that the resolution to some of my major frustrations was the quality of the imagery. So I'm re-shooting it (and re-shooting it because even yesterday wasn't quite right). Funny how the most obvious of solutions are not obvious at all.
But what I am also contemplating is their life beyond youtube. I'm now considering what their life would be as installed in a gallery. It seemed to be another piece of the puzzle that I had not been thinking about and now I feel I should be so that is on the docket today. Plus it begins to start to feel more like something that I might make and not this somewhat left field "now I use video" nonsense.
We'll see what happens.
Thoughts on Glaciers
I hadn't mentioned what happened when we pulled into our second lagoon (Jökulsárlón of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier) the other day. Friday was an utterly overwhelming day. I mean, so was Thursday and Saturday, but Friday we visited glaciers in probably the most perfect weather ever. I mean it was damn cold but the light was stunning.
We talked a little bit in the car about what actually is a glacier. Have you really thought about it before? I mean I have always just been like "it's beautiful chunks of floating ice" and while that is true, there is something far more poetic about them.
We were at the largest ice cap in Iceland, Vatnajökull (which is a national park of the same name), which covers 8300 kilometers. So we started to discuss that the ice cap rests above volcanos (the largest being Grímsvötn in that region) and in the depths under the ice is geothermal activity cause by the volcano. It's mind boggling to think about the coldness of this ice and the stirring heat that it covers. Over a gajillion years (accurate measurement), the moisture freezes and heats up and freezes over and over again which causes what we see in glaciers. Then, from time to time, volcanic eruptions happen to release pressure the ice caps create.
We saw two different types of ice- bright blue pieces and shimmering clear pieces. The pieces that break away from the glacier and float in the lagoon is a process called 'calving.' The blue pieces are the oldest and have that color due to its density. This is many, many years of accumulation which results in extremely compacted crystalline structure where all colors of light pass through the ice, except for blue, leaving it the color we see. The clear pieces, well, they are the babies of the group.
This is a pretty generalized explanation. If you want more on glaciers, click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier
Now, I had to research some of that for you so I could explain it properly. When we arrived on Friday, I wasn't thinking of any of that (or at least with any amount of depth). At risk of sounding melodramatic, we got the first glimpse of the glacier calves and my eyes welled up. Then we pull around to the lagoon and my eyes bubbled over with tears and to my surprise, I just started to cry and cry. I have no idea how or why it happened like that. I would have thought I could control myself over a bunch of floating ice in a lagoon.
But think of it, it has formed over a thousand years. It's what we based our metaphors on- and oddly correlates with the videos I've been making here- the composure and stillness on the outside that covers over the intensity of turmoil on the inside. And these pieces break off, calves, as children of the glacier and cast away into the water to melt and fall away forever. And with climate change as a reality, it falls away without hope.
I feel as though I watched these pieces of ice, as beautiful as they are, as these tragic figures in their swan song. That, is overwhelming.
I completely get that I am personifying an inanimate object (but as artists don't we do that sometimes anyway).
I wanted to write a bit more today but I'm afraid this took much longer than anticipated so I need to move along. More tomorrow, including a report on Icelandic dinner, menu and all!
I just spent a beautiful few days on the south coast with 2 of the other (lovely) residents. We had a tremendously moving experience together. The three of us traveled without having to speak a word; we often had a hard time articulating the impact of what we saw; and we were moved (a word that hardly sums it up) by the power of the landscape. I have never had an experience such as this. My photos hardly capture the essence of this incredible place.
It's a short post today because I am going to let the photos do the talking.
(Some photos turned slightly blue at the second lagoon, due to fading light and camera settings, but other than that, I tried to keep the color as accurate as possible.
Photos are in order of the trip we took so you get a sense of how fast the day passes due to light and the weather. I will also try and add locations to the photo caption as I can locate the spelling of them.
Click the image to enlarge. Not all photos are square- as much as I would like that).
Oh man, it's a whiney post:
I woke yesterday morning thinking that it was today. The days really run together- it's dark so long and light so short that we end up feeling like we are in this everlasting twilight. And on top of it, it's been so rainy.
But today a few of us begin our adventure to the south coast. We expect to see lots of snow, some glaciers and general otherworldlyness that is Iceland.
In studio news, there are a few things at play here. I tend to have to see something through to the end just to feel as though I've worked through a project to the end and not allow myself to abandon it when it gets hard (a really good metaphor for my life). I have been messing around with the second plea video that it was becoming just stupid to me. I did have some issues that I was trying to address in post-production- such as tremendous camera shake due to wind, even though the camera was mounted on a tripod. The program I am using (Adobe Premiere) is pretty awesome and has infinite capabilities that maybe, one day, I'll be proficient on, but I guess the fact is, I get frustrated trouble shooting less than stellar footage.
So part of just laying something to rest is that I require myself to export it to youtube. I finally did that and am sharing here. I don't know. I'm not enjoying this video stuff. Although parts of it satisfies the ocd part of me, I find that i don't feel as though I start with strong enough imagery that gets me excited as I work on the idea. Lighting is bad and it is so hard to film myself. While I like the way the neck and shoulder pieces were framed, I have numerous other pieces of footage that are just not good or what I feel are too cliche.
And I always think a break might be useful. I took a break to grade for a day and came back to video work, still not feeling refreshed and mostly just feeling stressed. Now I'll be on the road for a few days and maybe that will be more time to contemplate these works. We'll see, but I am thinking that it may be time to ditch this idea. I guess, time will tell.
A quick update to yesterday- While I spent most of my day grading, I did cap the evening off with a truly Icelandic experience... going to the outdoor pool. Pools are a very big thing here and are open year round. It seems like it is where everyone goes to just meet, hang out and talk. Another resident and I agreed we would go together on day one (or so, but who's counting).
The pools are geothermal so they are heated and around the perimeter are "hot pots" which are hot tubs heated to set temperatures. While I loved being in the hottest one, my friend needed to moved to the next one down. I eventually did too and we spent the evening discussing foreign languages and places to visit next. We befriended an Icelander who was hilarious and great to have in the conversation mix. Conclusion: we are going back! Soon!
PS. One does not take their towel outside. One dashes from the locker room to the desired pool or hot pot and jumps in. It's a cold dash but I came to find you don't need it after time in the water.
As a break from grading yesterday, I decided to write a bit more about drawing.
A definition on drawing:
My recent performative work really grew out of the act of drawing and my early work in my studies that responded to the body through adornment.
I view drawing as an act of mark-making and anyone who has ever taken a class with me knows that I value the power of the mark. Three years ago I began to make drawings based on body proportions and measurements. I considered them figural works, although not obviously the figure as we know it. I had grown tired of depicting the figure with marks applied to its image. I grew to feel that the overall imagery seemed disconnected- that the figure was still a passive object to which the artist applied marks to and around.
These newer works were meant to be more psychological and ontological. They embraced error and the interdependence of the artist to drawing. The artist creates the mark, intentionally, methodically while the drawing expresses the narrative. While the drawings became more satisfying to make and felt less objectifying of the figure, the thing that emerged as most important was how it felt to make these works.
The ACT of making the drawing I noticed to be physical. I had the same feeling creating a drawing as I did after a class of yoga. It either cleared my head or drew attention to parts of my body I hadn't thought about in a while. While this was invigorating, I soon grew bored of working on paper, not matter how many different ways I thought about making marks that reference the body.
It grew into more drawings that were based on the body proportion while also involving the body. And then there were drawings that happened just on the body. This further grew into sculptural work- which also is quite physical but one doesn't lose oneself in a sculpture like they do a drawing (or knitting for that matter). If my wrists weren't such a mess, I'd knit night and day.
Last winter, I made a piece that was a simple object oriented around the body. It was rope and it used the same proportions as my circle drawings but the rope came to mean so much more. Length of my Infinite Love is the length of my arm span but made from material that is meant to bring things together, secure them from falling apart, yet it can go too far and have a destructive quality to it. I struggled with making other art pieces with this material that were as potent and meaningful as this one.
In the Spring, I was challenged by my advanced drawing students to the "Obstruction" assignment. This is an assignment I base off of Richard Linklater (more info here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0354575/) to my advanced students- to each write a "rule" to consider when remaking what you consider your masterpiece. I worked with the Length of my Infinite Love and if I remember correctly, I had to 1. use a personal item, 2. no circles, 3. no cats, and 4. use watercolor (the one that threw me most for a loop). It wasn't a great piece (a sandbag made from a mattress casing hung from 2 ropes, watercolored) but it opened the door to a small performance I did carrying seven 3 pound weights around my neck. The piece ended up as The Weight of These Decisions. Three pounds is the weight of the average human brain and I wanted to mark the physicality of one's decisions- emotions that we feel in our body and know as real. Seven of these weights represent a finite amount of time around these decisions.
While THIS wasn't a great performance, THIS was a great drawing. This is what I wanted drawing to tackle for me- authenticity. Why draw about something when you can draw with and on it? I wanted a visceral connection to the work. And this is very different than drawing ON my body a few years back. The marks are felt. The weight is carried. The message is engrained.
Drawing is a vast modality. It no longer needs to be matted and framed on the wall. For me, my experiences can be recorded in the skin of my body, using that as my medium. And our life is carried in that body; we express our individuality in our body, why not use our body as the source, medium, and product.