My problem as an artist has never been lack of ideas or even crafting skills. The real skill is deciding what is most important and when, what not to do, what to sacrifice, what to put the most time and effort into. Drawing itself is an act of selection- what line to place, what line to ignore, what line to emphasize, tweak, or ghost.
So right now I have a good problem for an artist- two shows at the same time. One I committed to months ago, but without a specific piece. Since I knew I could have more space for that show I prepared to spread out and create a larger installed environment. Then I was invited to be in a show in a museum just outside Zurich, Switzerland. They wanted a specific piece, and it is one I have to be there to put together. And they open two days apart.
Now that the Switzerland one is confirmed I’m turning back to the first one. Suddenly I have more constraints. Something that can run itself. Something smaller and easy to install. Still something interactive. In the case of this show, something both contemporary and Dada. I was intimately familiar with Dada before I left high school and I loved it then, but two more advanced art degrees have actually put me at more of a distance. So I dove back to the source. I re-read the manifestos, looked back at the beginnings and what motivated them. Suddenly an entire new interactive, small, easy to set up artwork burst out of my head. And it will work. And it comes right out of the unconscious pool of all the ideas I am constantly exploring. Better still, because the process of Dada involves some randomness, it will be fun and surprising to make. I’m excited.
When I have enough time and resources to do whatever I want without a burning idea starting in my mind and a place to put the result I do very little that gets finished. Give me a place, a time, and a single constraint or direction and suddenly my mind is on fire and my hands itching to create.
I’ve been away from being public about my art for a little while now. I’ve only applied to a single program, I’ve written no blog posts, showed no work and even turned down a few shows. I needed a break where I could think my thoughts without offering them to the world.
Years ago I might have pushed on, and possibly had a breakdown. I’ve learned better. During the course of my recently completed MFA program six people I love died. Three of my four grandparents, one of whom was like a second mother to me. Two mentors. One friend and fellow artist to suicide.
Just on their own MFA programs are difficult, intense cauldrons of emotion and ego and challenge and intensity of ideas and beliefs. They are the crucibles that forge us… those of us who don’t crack. The ones that did crack were measured in the bulging mailboxes and empty studio spaces at the end of each year, and there were more than a few. We put ourselves on the line, our ideas, our thoughts, our work, and those of us who are willing, our loves and lives and beliefs too. Of course, the current fashion is cynicism and snarkyness (which doesn’t call on people to put themselves out so far) but for me it is part of what makes the art have a soul, and while Soul doesn’t matter to some, and there is some good purely intellectual/aesthetic art, it matters very much to me.
After the thesis show I had immediate offers for shows and commissions- wonderful opportunities, but not the breath of air I needed. For a full year after it I was busy, during which there was another death, the final grandparent. They all lived full lives, all died over 94, but the loss is ours and never easy. The situation of being in constant physical pain was one factor I had throughout all three years, as was being the main caretaker of my young daughter during a period where my husband was so busy he rarely even got weekends. There were other significant pressures I won’t even list. It was a hard three years. It was also intensely productive and important. At the same time I was incredibly fortunate. I didn’t have to pull my hair out over money. I had love and good friends and whether I wanted a break or not I got those commissions and shows dropped into my lap- nearly every vacation as well as after the program. I didn’t have to look for a single show after I graduated- I didn’t have time for any more, but when I saw the pause in the stream, I took the break instead of hunting for more. I shut down the blog and set out to take care of everything in my life that had been held together with sealing wax for three years. I did things for the fun of them, I saw the people I love, I experienced new things and got new ideas.
Like many artists, I have depression. I have anxiety and panic attacks. It is almost a cliche that artists are tortured souls and some of us think we can’t work without that (I disagree, but it is different). Chronic pain adds it’s own layer to one’s process. Most people looking at me would have no idea about the first two and many would never know about the pain either. There were many classes and critiques where I was clenching my fists not to scream from the physical pain in my back and concentrating hard on keeping a normal face. I have many strategies for dealing with it all. I kept on, put one foot in front of the other, did all the things I needed to do and held everything together… and when I had an opening I did the sane thing I would not have done 10 years ago, and rested.
You see two other people died during that time, acquaintances, but each with a compelling message. One was a suicide from depression- someone who worked himself into the ground and didn’t acknowledge the care he needed to take of himself, he pushed on too far. The other was a car crash, a terrible random thing that could take any of us at any moment. When I resurfaced they reminded me again not to take a moment for granted, and not to put taking care of myself last. I even discovered something to help my back and for the first time in seven years I’m having multiple days without serious pain. I’m breathing again.
So here I am, back at work. My mind has been plotting new art, my hands have been busy, sketches and ideas form. It’s time to step back in to show my work and share my thoughts again. I leave you with this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius and depression.
***Addition: Wonderfully, when I moved on to check my email I found an invitation to include a specific piece in an exciting museum show in another country waiting in my inbox. A well-timed confirmation to stepping back in indeed.
The San Francisco International Arts Festival and curators Hanna Regev and Matt McKinley present:Bearing Witness: Surveillance In The Drone Age
May 21 – Jun 7, 2015 Fort Mason Center SF, Ca
Convene in the Fleet Room at 1pm for viewing and discussion of works in this location before heading to the Herbst Pavilion and Cowell Theater Atrium where the tour concludes with a performance of Latifa Medjdoub’s ‘Conversations With The Root’ in the Cowell Theater Lobby at 2pm; free event
Convene in the Fleet Room at 12pm for a special performance of Kinetech’s ‘Mirror #1, Time Bubble’ followed by a viewing and discussion of works in this location before heading to the Cowell Theater Lobby and Atrium. The tour concludes at 1pm with an encore performance of Igor Josifov’s ‘Wit-ness’ performance in the Herbst Pavilion; free even
“Bearing Witness: Surveillance in the Drone Age” is a comprehensive look at the wide reach and capabilities of technologies that trap us under a complex umbrella of surveillance technologies consisting of drones, phones and ubiquitous cameras and tether us together in unprecedented ways thanks to social media and the Internet at large. This exhibit is an opportunity to engage in conversation about the potential benefits of surveillance technology as well as the threats posed to fundamental rights of personal freedom and privacy.
The idea that as individuals we watch and, in turn, are watched on a local to a global scale within groups we self-select and by ‘eyes’ we will never see is the greatest source of angst within our current milieu of evolution toward a globally wired community. The prevalence of digital surveillance combined with ‘analog’ surveillance makes personal privacy a diminishing and prized commodity. The by-products of digital surveillance (pictures and video) immortalize both personal and public events and this documentation is readily accessible thanks to cheap memory and social pressure to network and share digitally. Easy access to information capturing devices and storage allows for unprecedented documentation of all types of data, innocuous to important, in massive quantity, which not only leaves behind the greatest footprint of a single generation’s existence, ever, but poses real threats to our identities, rights to privacy, and unique ways of experiencing life.
Shay Arick, Alex Benedict (1030 Art Group), Tana Lehr (1030 Art Group), Yoni Mayeri (1030 Art Group), Teddy Milder (1030 Art Group), Jane Norling (1030 Art Group), Lanny Weingrod (1030 Art Group), Anna Kaminska (1030 Art Group) and Michel Bohbot, Matthew Silverberg (1030 Art Group), Lark Buckingham, artPaul Cartier, Irene Carvajal & Alex Shepard, Justin Hoover & Rachel Znerold, Phillip Hua, Philippe Jestin, Igor Josifov, Ali Kaaf, Pantea Karimi, Jonathon Keats, Scott Kildall, Mary March & Christopher Saari, Kara Maria, Latifa Medjdoub, Wes Modes (Co-related Space), Lanier Sammons (Co-related Space), Brent Townshend (Co-related Space), Daniel Newman, Maya Smira, Melissa West, Weidong Yang (Kinetech), Daiana Lopes da Silva (Kinetech), Lisa Blatt, Tayeb Al Hafez, Antoine Kem, Trevor Paglen
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and artists Phillip Hua and 1030 Art Group members in conversation with curators Hanna Regev and Matt McKinley; free event
About the Festival:
The San Francisco International Arts Festival (www.sfiaf.org) celebrates the arts by bringing together a global community of artists and audiences. The organization presents innovative projects that are focused on increasing human awareness and understanding. SFIAF’s curatorial priorities include developing collaborative projects led by Bay Area artists working with their national and international peers and presenting world-class international artists who often do not have US representation and whose work is rarely (or never previously) seen in the United States.
The work for the next show I’m part of is on the topic of surveillance for Bearing Witness: Surveillance in the Drone Age curated by Hanna Regev and Matt McKinley as part of the SF Art Festival at Fort Mason. For the first time my husband Chris Saari and I are doing a truly collaborative piece. He’s helped me with tech before, but this is the first time we’ve both been in on the concept from the very beginning and it’s exciting. Over the last year or two articles about advances in tech have prompted him to say “hey, we should make art about this”, leading to conversations about what that art might look like. When I was invited to a show on the topic it seemed a perfect time to realize some of those ideas.
For this project we will be tracking the movements of people throughout the gallery space using the signals from their cell phones. Department stores and malls are already buying and using systems to do just that. Unlike them we aren’t saving any IDs or using any of the data in any way other than to display it in the gallery. Your local mall has no compunctions about that though. It was interesting to both of us because often what people are terrified of (drones, the NSA, Google Glass, etc.) isn’t what is the greatest threat to their privacy- it’s what we are complicit it. We voluntarily carry tracking devices around with us all day every day (cell phones) that broadcast our information. We post our pictures and private lives on social media. We use email and search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) that make a business model out of selling our data. It seemed the thing to draw attention to.
I also brought back a project I had put on the back burner while I did a series of larger installation works for shows and commissions. It involves creating a portrait of people using the targeted ads that appear throughout the day on their computer. These ads are the result of collected data on what we do online: searches, purchases, what sites we visit, and even the content of our emails and social media posts. Some of them are simply targeted at the audience of specific websites rather than being as personally tailored, but they are all targeted. Together they present an image of what those corporations think we want and who they think we are based on our online activity.
I’m excited about the show, and it’s part of a much larger collective SF Arts Festival, so if you are in the area, please come by. The opening is next Thursday for the festival as a whole, with a special event for the Bearing Witness show on the 27th.
Tomorrow night is the opening reception for Living With Endangered Languages in the Information Age! We are also having a panel discussion centering around the role of technology in Languages and Art on the 15th. Please join us!
The “Living With Endangered Languages in the Information Age” show at Root Division is opening on the 7th! I will have my new mixed media sound installation Cultural Fabric Breathes Still there waiting for you.
Much thanks to curator Hanna Regev, the participants (who chose to remain anonymous), to technical collaborator Dan Garcia.