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!

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