Chance and Excellence
So Wednesday night I learned that not getting my piece into last week’s firing was actually a blessing in disguise. The temperature regulator on the kiln broke, and so what was supposed to be 500 degrees became over 1200. Oops. I never did like electric kilns. I like to see the cones. Everything in there died, including the flower pots used to hold the glass that flows into the molds.
An element of chance indeed.
I have what many people would consider diametrically opposed methods of being. Anyone who knows me outside of any work I do knows me as a bit forgetful, messy, whimsical, bizarre, playful… while people who know me from any work I do or classes I take (same thing really) will tell you that I’m a perfectionist, always planning, exacting to a degree, always double-checking, assessing, always on time, etc. Except when I’m experimenting… and then the feathers (or wax or dye) tend to fly and one had best stand back.
On the one hand I want things to work the best way possible. I want to know how everything works and make it work better. I want to do the best job I can… and I take it all VERY seriously. Doing anything by halves? Forget it. …and so generally most people look at me like I’m insane when I describe an idea I haven’t yet done or they are watching a piece in progress. In the case of some pieces, if they are looking at a finished work and they understand what went into it, doubly so. “Do you torture yourself on purpose?” I feel that one must always pursue excellence as much as possible. People of similar mind seem to be the only ones who don’t look at me like I’m mad.
At the same time, I’m a believer in riding chaos, and that one must let go of the work as one is working. Holding on too tight to work either stunts it or kills it. As precise as one can be nothing is certain and the flexibility to allow the unexpected creates space for new things. There are things one can learn from chance that one can learn no other way. Letting go, getting messy, throwing things at the wall to see if they stick. How else to expand oneself but to explore the unknown? If the entirety of one’s work and process is too safe, too understood I feel that it dies.
I best love work that is a response to something outside myself- it becomes an exploration of understanding. I best love processes that I am discovering as I go. I love the challenge in not knowing what is coming next and knowing that I will have to deal with changes. I do love visceral work, but it almost feels too easy no matter how lovely the result- like singing or improvisational dancing (most of the Sculpted Canvas series are very much that). I could do many such pieces in the time it takes me to do one of the other sort of piece… but I somehow I am most caught by the work that really pushes me.
At the same time, I do tons of tests in discovering a new process, try to think of how things can go wrong, and overbuild on the careful side. In the case of the face that is now in the kiln (and may never come out of alive) I did a backup mold weeks ago (not a complete copy, but a good start) because my ceramics experience taught me just how fickle kilns can be. Experimentation is perhaps the line between chance and excellence. In experimentation we are exploring the unknown, but also cataloging what we learn in order to pursue new levels of excellence (as well as all kinds of other new things).
Again- I best like the combination. The Scales piece included over a thousand small, fast paintings as part of a larger, more methodical work. The Identity Tapestry involved experimenting with color- dying several hundred different colors of yarn and learning as I went how to produce specific color variations. Both pieces also involved the viewers as participants in creating the work; which took whatever order I have laid out and submitted it to the changes of the audience. It is amazing to watch your artwork finished by hundreds of people. The entirety of the Exquisite Corps Project was a study in chance, response and interaction. And since Dada “Starting From Chance” is nearly an official process… one I make a point to do when I feel too methodical.
As always, I believe in a fine line between seeming contradictions- tightrope-walking a paradoxical line between methodical order, experimentation and chance.