february 19

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.

A History of Errors; erased graphite on assembled paper, silver leaf; 2013

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?

body sized drawing

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.

february 4

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.

Lydia being interviewed for WVIA ArtScene during her visit

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.

For more about Lydia Panas, see her website at http://www.lydiapanas.com or check out my gallery site at www.wilkes.edu/sordoniartgallery.

By Lydia Panas from the Falling From Grace series where I modeled for the piece, Papayas

january 29

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.

still from  plea no. 1: a distant monologue of not leaving well enough, alone II  with poem in morse code

still from plea no. 1: a distant monologue of not leaving well enough, alone II with poem in morse code

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.