On Milestones

Archive from July 6, 2015

While touring around on my lunch break today, a thought came to me: a year from now I will be 30 years old. I know age, and the age of 30 for that matter, frightens a lot of people, but I can honestly say I do not fear ageing or entering my third decade. I can’t wait, in fact.

I came to thinking about turning thirty, and a piece I made in 2011, 25 for 25, because on my ride into work I listened to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast episode on Shifting Time. As I have mentioned, time is an eternally elusive and fascinating subject for me to think about and explore in my work. As with each episode on this podcast, Shifting Time grouped a collection of different TED speakers discussing time as it relates to their research and art, but the talk I enjoyed the most was Dan Gilbert’s, about how we think we, ourselves, are static in who we are after a certain point in time. That is, once we turn a certain age – 30 for example – we presume we will remain the same person that we are at that age for the rest of our lives. When in fact, Gilbert’s research at Harvard has shown that the only constant thing about us as time rolls on is our continual evolution. Like, wow! Let’s think about that for just another second: stasis of self is an illusion! And, Gilbert adds in his interview with host, Guy Raz: “…so is the present. Time is real only when we thinking about it in terms of the past and the future.”

Known as the quarter life, and a milestone year, I was interested in recording an ‘in the present moment’ video of the 25 facts I knew about life from 25 years of living; 25 lessons learned. The inspiration (and the moment) occured at the dawn of a new chapter in my educational and professional life, which of course was affecting my personal life, and so feeling the impact of change, I hastily wrote the 25 points I felt summed up my understanding of life onto a piece of paper and recorded them on my home computer. My computer’s camera and mic are not quality pieces of equipment, but quality was not the point of this piece. It was about that moment, about capturing the feeling of the present as the past informs it and in anticipation of the future. For the most part, the words flew out of me (there’s something about creativity under the right circumstances, hey?). I remember feeling a little rushed with the last three or four points, and wishing while I was recording that I had taken more time with them, but then that would have defeated the purpose of the work. Spontaneity turned out to be key subtext to the context of the piece.

I recorded several takes of me reciting the 25 lessons, each take getting worse and worse and worse as I tried to editorialize my “free-flowing” script. A compulsive perfectionist, I was determined and adamant a clean, one-shot take would do the trick. After several tries (without checking, I think I did 7 or 8) I just had to quit and accept what I had was all I had to give at the time. I left the takes for several months before ever wanting to look at them again.

25 for 25. Image of installation for Apolaustics show, Higher Learning, 2011

Months later, I was putting together works for a show with a group of friends ( we were calling ourselves the Apolaustics) at the University of the Fraser Valley, and I decided it was the right time to revisit the work and edit the content I had. I sat down and watched from the beginning the takes of me reciting my 25 lessons, covering the screen with my hand in preparation for embarrassment. Soon after I pressed play, however, that embarrassment dissipated. This person in front of me was so familiar, and yet, unknown. Her struggle sounded and looked familiar, but it also sounded childish or nostalgic. So in the past! I was finding, with several months of distance between her and I, as much as I sympathized with her pain and frustration, I was more overcome with the awe of transcendence. I was and was not that person in the video. She was I and she was my other. It became very clear that what I had captured was just as much about 25 lessons learned in the life of 25 year old Jennifer, as it was about capturing a moment that was both present and past. I had changed so much since that person I was watching pressed record. Here was someone working through a moment that was seemingly insurmountable, turning its effects over and over in her mind, again and again, trying to get at something but never quite reaching it. The several attempts at a clean take became humorous, and I could laugh at myself fidgeting, adjusting my top, rewriting some lines that after the ‘umpteenth’ take I felt I had a better version of. I could laugh at what I thought I knew then and what life had taught me since.

But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.

– T.S. Elliot

In the end, an unedited ‘as shot’ version was what was installed. I had been working through a collage series, mixing together wall paper I had purchased at a thrift store, and had one piece with a large white space below that worked perfectly for projecting 25 for 25 onto.

The night of our opening, I received a lot of interesting feedback from coworkers, friends, family members, and attendees of the reception. A lot of people wanted to give me advice, saying things like, “Ah, you don’t need to worry about this stuff now.” Or “You’ll find this interesting to look at in another 25 years.” One attendee who had just finished her graduate degree in Lachanian theory was very interested in discussing my repeating ‘patience is a virtue’ to my audience (it’s a lead in to the first lesson I recite, and with my desire to get a perfect take, I repeated it over and over and over). It’s been so long since that night I can’t remember what she had drew from it, but I remember her confronting me saying something like: “Well, hey, hold on here. Patience is a virtue? I’ve been patient listening to you fumble through this…” It was a great night, and thus far the moment of my post-secondary career as an artist I am most proud of.

So what’s next, now that 30 is on the horizon – another milestone ahead! As I build this site, and work through my ideas by looking to the past and reflecting, inspiration is filling my mind. I feel a revisit of 25 for 25 is in order, but whether it will be approached spontaneously or not, I cannot say at this moment. I will have to work through this over time. What I can say is I would enjoy exhibiting this work, and preferably in North Vancouver somewhere, as the relocation to this area has undoubtedly affected me.

Stay tuned!

On Creating “Works” and “Makes”

Archive from June 23, 2015

During the creation phase of this site, I was playing around with several titles for the “Works” and “Makes” pages, and was surprised by what a challenge I found it to agree on which terms to use. In my head, it’s pretty obvious the difference between the two: one page is for projects I have worked on, and the other is a page for items I have made.

But wait… aren’t these the same thing? For me, not necessarily. For others, perhaps, or perhaps not at all. I think each person’s answer is founded in their own subjective views of what constitutes as art, or not.

What is art? It’s a question almost as old and longstanding as art itself. Why is something art, and another thing not? Can something transform into art? If so, how? When? Can it revert from art into something else? Kitsch? Who or what decides? Although there are many examples in history to choose from, I love the story of when Monet put up his paintings for the first time in the French Salon. Although this story is not singularly Monet’s. Often the French Salon was shocked by other renegades such as Manet and Cezanne (where are those guys now, anyways?), but when he did, the art world was transfixed. Our rubric for evaluating art was being challenged! Here were works that were so against everything we understood to be art, and yet they compelled us. They captured our attention. We hated them. We loved them. We were reacting not only to the work but to its creator’s radicalism.

Fast forward some years and Duchamp is placing a urinal with a fake name scribbled on its side onto a plinth. Several years later, Piero Manzoni cans and exhibits his own feces, and in our present century, Jeff Koons is running a factory of workers who produce all his art for him…. the question of what is art? is posed again, but from different vantage points. In the case of Duchamp, he is proposing all it takes is a mark – the artist’s mark, or signature – and anything can be art. Manzoni pushes this further by presenting the excrement of the artist, suggesting if Duchamp is correct then perhaps the concept of art, or art itself, has gone to shit. With Koons and his artistic team, we are left asking who is the creator, really?

What is interesting to me about Koons is not just his concept but how his hand seldom touching the work he exhibits upsets certain viewers. Many contemporary artists come under fire for working with a  team of employees. Damien Hirst will receive the same silly criticism every now and again, usually after he has a blockbuster turn out to one of his exhibits. And it is a “silly criticism” because this form of production has been in effect since the age of the guilds (if you think Michelangelo painted the entire Sistine chapel by himself, you are grossly incorrect). That one man conceived the idea but then outsourced the production of it is no different than anything else mass produced. In our time of hyper consumerism and mass manufacturing, his work could not be more astute. What I think Koons’ work reflects on is how deep concepts of ownership and possession run with people in stark contrast to what they believe art should be. His concept isn’t new. It’s all too familiar. It’s ‘transaction’ and ‘commodity’ on display. No matter how badly we’d like to believe art and consumerism are mutually exclusive, Koons reminds us they never really have been.

So what is art, then? What does this have to do with my “Works” and “Makes” pages? I think I have lost track. Let’s see if I can bring this home.

There was a professor I knew who had a very successful, active art practice outside of teaching that took them all over the world, exhibiting in national and international galleries. What a dream! To teach art and make art, and through which have the means to live. This same professor also worked under a pseudonym making and selling popular wall art for business/hotel lobbies — a lucrative and equally successful endeavour.

I mention that not to necessarily condone this choice, but to question it for my own purposes. I feel the choice to create under a different name is out of embarrassment and I guess I don’t completely understand why. Is it so shameful to be equally successful at making mass produced art? Does it make you a true artist if you only show in galleries? Is it an impediment to one career to be known as well  for a very profitable other? If art is, at the base, a commodity, why does a pseudonym even need to exist? It’s creation whichever way you look at it. Can you make things and create works as one persona? Or must they be mutually exclusive? Can you create as artist and …artisan?

As I have mentioned before, I have so many things to share with the world through different avenues of expression. I enjoying making and creating, and I hope that I can do so from a place of intention that represents me, wholly and completely. I’m not trying to be a purist, and I’ll bet this may be read as slightly smug by some. That is a fine assessment. On some level, I guess I admit I hear it to. I understand that in one circle my works will be accepted and in another, perhaps not, but I have no intention of hiding either. Art is… so many things and I intend to work. And make.

On Journalling

Archive from May 14, 2015

I have been writing in a journal since the age of seven, though my dedication to the craft has waxed and waned over the years. What has remained consistent over time is how the act of journalling has saved me. Even now, when life seems to be handing me too much and solutions far from attainable, journalling helps me find clarity amidst chaos. I journal when I feel myself turning inward and shutting out life and those I love. I journal when emotions cloud my vision and I need perspective. I journal to help my mind tune into the tasks at hand. Truly, the act of journalling is cathartic and grounding.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate and love my method of working my concepts out through journalling. Part of that acceptance and love resulted in the creation of this site, which over time I hope will become a rich archive of thoughts.

When I was in art school, high emphasis was placed upon working  through your ideas conceptually in your sketchbook. This does make good sense: your sketchbook is the map of your ideas. Sometimes, it is the ability to trace backwards that saves you. Rather than gently adopting this practice, however, I aggressively devoured it, taking full ownership with grave seriousness. Yes, I viewed a sketchbook as a valuable place to work things through, but  I also took a severe view, that a sketchbook filled with drawings was empirical evidence of one’s deserving to call themselves an artist. I saw a full sketchbook as proof of one’s level of dedication to their craft, a measurement of one’s seriousness about their success. Success on whatever terms, it didn’t matter to me. If you wanted to go corporate, gallery, craftsman, teacher, or artisan that was your prerogative. What mattered to me then, of myself and my fellow classmates, could be summarized by artist, Joan Jonas: “The answer is the work. To work. To care about the work.” An empty sketchbook  to me said “wanderer,” or “lost soul,” and I wanted nothing less than to be wondering or lost.

I can hardly type these words of admission out now. It was such an unfair, hypocritical rule of judgement. Time, thankfully, allows for perspective if one chooses to look back and reflect. Now I understand everyone creates differently and at different speeds and volumes. Why I couldn’t accept this fact then I can only cough up to youthful arrogance with something to prove. To whom? Myself I guess, but what self I imagined I was proving this to, I still do not know. Truthfully, I hardly ever wanted to sketch my ideas out. I wanted to write them out. I was deeply ashamed of that for a very long time. I had worked in my mind writing my ideas out was antithetical to what a serious artist –a true artist– would do.

I forced myself to do the opposite of what felt natural to me. I vowed to suppress the urge to write, with slips here and there. I worked to fill blank pages (which, believe me, are equally as terrifying to face by someone who considers themselves creative as they are to someone who considers themselves not) with smearings of pastels and mixings of oils, cut outs from national geographic magazines paired with funny drawings, passée wrapping paper found at a thrift store glued onto canvas and worked over with acrylic paint, all in search of something I did not know. All the while, I drooled jealously over the pages of my classmates’ sketchbooks, effortlessly bursting with drawings, collages, paint samples, and photographs of inspiration. I envied their carefree, intuitive approach. Without knowing, I was wondering. I was lost.

There was always a feeling of without at the end of a project, always a feeling of reaching for something within but always moving ever-so out of arm’s reach. For a long time I misunderstood this feeling inside as a form of artist block, even though it was. It just wasn’t the form I expected. I’m not proposing that writing is the key to releasing me from my captivity, from my wandering or my being lost.  Is it really captivity? It’s too early to tell, and clearly, the issue is bigger than the solution of, “Oh, I just need to journal and then I’ll finally feel like the creative soul I know I am.” I  recognize in the past, with a few exceptions near the end of my post-secondary experience, there were  elements of withholding in the way I worked because I didn’t think what I had to say, literally, was deserving. I hope to change that here. Now. I have so much to share creatively with the world, whether through writing, design, or installation. I offer this page and the others as examples of that breadth of creativity.