Wednesday 22 October 2014

Dialogue: Family Tree

Dialogue: Family Tree

-       I can’t sleep
-       Why?
-       Because I’ve been writing.
-       So?
-       So when I write, I can’t sleep.
-       Why not?
-       Because my brain is too active.
-       So don’t write before bedtime.
-       I don’t. Its just like, I lie in my bed and even if I don’t write anything on paper, I am writing in my head.
-       That’s weird.
-       Why?
-       Writing in your head?
-       Yeah. Like coming up with it all in my head. So, if I don’t write it down its all a waste.
-       I had a weird dream the other night.
-       What was it about?
-       I could go back in time. It ran in my family but the thing is, no one can tell you you can do it. You just have to figure it out yourself. And I was the first grandchild in my generation to figure it out. The first of ten.
-       Why are you saying grandchild?
-       I guess because the first thing I did was go to see my grandfather. He died this summer.
-       Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.
-       Its ok. Thanks. So anyway, I went to see him and I said I figured it out! I was the first grandchild!
-       You wanted his approval.
-       I guess. I guess I wanted him to be proud of me. But that’s not the point.
-       What is the point?
-       Well I’m trying to tell you. So I could go back in time. I found myself back in time in a church or something –
-       But you’re Jewish.
-       It was just a dream… and I’ve been in churches before.
-       Right.
-       So I was in this old marble church and my aunts see me and come running to me to tell me all about going back in time and how it works, how I need to have this bracelet and then think really hard about where I want to go. Almost like programming it in my brain. I think I even saw green digital looking numbers all lit up in my head.
-       Then what happened?
-       So I decided to go back to when I was a kid. I managed to go back. I saw my parents as young parents, which was weird because they weren’t that much older than me right now and looked really young but also really familiar. I guess how I remembered them. I played with my younger self. I guess I was three. Then I wanted to go back to the moment I was born.
-       Why?
-       I think because I wanted to see how happy everyone was that I was alive. I know its a bit narcissistic but I think its human too.
-       Yeah. I think I would want to do that as well.
-       So here’s where the weird thing happened. So I try to go back but I guess because I wasn’t fully alive yet, the whole system got screwed up and I went so far back to Medieval times and I was scared because I was trying to figure out if I was rich or poor and if I was in danger. Then I woke up.
-       Woah.
-       Yeah.
-       Can I write a story about this?
-       I guess.
-       Ok awesome. I swear I won’t use your real name.
-       Ok.
-       Oh great! I’m so excited!
-       You should probably try to sleep though.
-       Oh, now I definitely won’t sleep.
-       Oh god.
-       What?

-       Nothing.

Photos from Fogo Island

I thought in light of my last post, I would share some photos I took during my stay on Fogo Island.

Monday 20 October 2014

Deserted Making and the Search for Solitude

I am wondering what it is about solitude and seclusion that appeals to artists as a vehicle to foster creative activity. Or should I frame my question differently? What is it about artists that they seek solitude and seclusion as a vehicle to foster creative activity?

The frequently quoted line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden comes to mind: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” Is it possible that in the city, deep into the forests of brick, concrete, glass, metal, we have become so wrapped up in culture, in the motions, the movement that we fail to really live on purpose? Perhaps there is some truth to this, that in the midst of all the commotion, the hustle bustle, the shared emotion, we forget how to really be an agential participant in the own making of our lives? There is more to this though. It is not merely a matter of fashioning ourselves, but it is also how we produce creatively and how we add to culture. It seems a bit counter-intuitive that key moments of creation and contributions to culture are facilitated by a removal from it, but not only that, a removal from other people. Why have artists gotten the reputation for being loners?

I am not exactly talking about the way in which Van Gogh is often viewed as a crazed and eccentric kook who spent too much time alone that he cut off his ear. But at the same time, I guess I am not not talking about Van Gogh.

Perhaps more to the point, upon the death of her dear friend and fellow artist Ad Reinhardt in the late 1960s, American abstract painter Agnes Martin, in search of complete solitude, left New York for New Mexico, what would become her remote sanctuary. It was only after six years of not making art that she emerged back into the scene, writing for her 1973 retrospective exhibition, claiming that “the extended periods of solitude that the making of her work required and the renunciation of materialist rewards that she viewed as a prerequisite for an ‘untroubled mind’ were central features of this paradigm”[1]. Is this about matter then, about capital? About seeing nature as matter rather than becoming lost in attachments to products as matter? And Martin is not the only artist attracted by desert(ed) land. I am not only thinking of Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keefe here but also of Donald Judd’s Marfa.

This is all probably most relevant now with the emergence of artist residency programs globally. I first began to really probe this issue during my short internship with the arts organization on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Canada. Fogo Island Arts is just one of many residency programs that offer artists an opportunity to live in a remote area, typically surrounded by nature, and to spend some weeks or a few months creating art in this alternative space.

What is it then about not only removing yourself from what you know but also entering a space of quiet and solitude that leads to creative thinking and artistic production? Is it just a matter of gaining perspective on it all? I think yes, but its more than that, otherwise Martin wouldn’t have needed six years of it without producing anything. Is this kind of solitude sustainable? Or does it need to be considered exclusively a second home, a retreat from something else more central, something more social? Have I gotten this all wrong and is living on Fogo Island in fact somehow infinitely more social than living in New York or London? Maybe its all just an artist thing.

[1] Cooke, Lynne. “…in the classic tradition…” in Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroder (Eds) Agnes Martin (DIA and Yale University Press 2011), 16.

Tuesday 14 October 2014


An excerpt on the ups and downs of creative making from an essay called CIRCLES. I remembered this quote during my class today when discussing the multiple and conflicting selves of the artist Ad Reinhardt. 

“Our moods do not believe in each other. To–day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to–morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.”