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.