a Masters of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition & Performance Art Lofts Gallery 111 North Frances St. in Madison, Wi University of Wisconsin-Madison April 21-27, 2018 Performance WED. 4/25 at 7pm
Green shag carpet was in the family room of my childhood home; it represents shame.My showexplores non-linear narratives of power, sexuality and gender development in adolescence. Talking with my own daughter and son about sex and gender, and “touch” brings me back to when I was ten and struggling in girlhood. As a girl, I remember playing “dress-up” with my gender. I would become mother and become father. I would make-out with my teddy bear. Not dissimilarly, my process of art making cycles through a vocabulary of mediums and forms. I incorporate a regular, reflective writing and drawing practice in my process of working through creative impulses and social problems. Often, and in the case of the exhibition of works in Green Shag, the visual metaphors and concepts in my two-dimensional work, translate into my physical body. Simultaneously, I use my own body in performance art to advance conceptual and social concerns in an embodied practice of synesthetic response. I am a kinesthetic learner; physical improvisation in the studio is how I “write” my performance work and also how new images for paintings are developed. Body knowledge is an indispensable part of my development and practice as an artist. The domestic scene allows a simulation of broader social hierarchies. The play-led learning, language, and pedagogy of early childhood and adolescence confronts notions of empowered identity and sexuality and how gender and personhood can be nurtured or violated in contemporary life. In cases of sexual misconduct and abuse, the resulting effects of shame are noted. The images I draw from are sourced through an autoethnographic lens of my Midwestern, working class life as I ambiguously flip-flop through time periods. Images in the paintings depict a subject that could be interpreted as my present day self, my childhood self, or of my children. The people in my paintings are playing with gender and power and rebelling against securely defined roles. These images become a mashup of iconography across time, and a breaching of both public and private space. This rupturing of time and space is a strategy of purposeful maladjustment. A failure to move forward. Working on paper, the sensitivity of these issues is echoed by the material. Iconographic references include present day events such as the Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics abuse as well as private psychological explorations of the artist’s life. Trumpets, Peeps, Easter baskets, and cherry pies have personal and cultural implications. Gold medal flour, which has been a symbol for domestic labor and women in my work since 1997, takes on an expanded sign of systemic sexual abuse. Green Shag is outdated and needs to be ripped out.
Without the encouragement and generosity of my committee this work would not be possible. Special thanks to my Committee Chair, TL Solien. I have a deep respect for your artistic vision and have valued your insight and guidance. Thank you to Nancy Mladenhoff, who has been a champion of my work from the very start, providing invaluable guidance and advice since applying to the program. To Fred Stonehouse whose generous spirit and support is emblematic of the teacher I hope to be. Thank you to Faisal Abdu’Allah who has challenged me and held me to a higher standard of professionalism. I will remember you saying that “an artists’ career is a marathon, not a sprint”.
I feel like I just got out of prison. Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which a captive identifies with their captor. In which they develop a kinship for the person who has held them in captivity. I was held captive by myself. So, am I closer to myself? I can say wholeheartedly that my sense of self is changed. Today, is January 3rd, 2017 and it is the first day in which I have worn something other than my jumpsuit. I made a contract with myself and the world through social media that I would wear the same uniform for an entire year, every day, without washing it. On January 1st, I couldn’t take it off and decided that I wouldn’t until February for my MA Thesis show. On January 2nd, 2017 I stayed in my pajamas all day. Today, I needed to get dressed and at 1pm, I realized that I could not wear the uniform any longer. I couldn’t bear the thought of stepping into it for another day. I achieved my goal, endured my contract. My suit set me apart isolating me but also made me completely visible. I was marking this sense of isolation and visually marking my separation from the world as a result of the trauma in my life. Today, I can see the relationship between my paintings and my durational performance more clearly and honestly than I have been able to see while amidst it. Artist Working was living art, a transformation to seeing my life as a process oriented durational performance. Life as a continual persistent process of self-discovery and becoming. Making myself vulnerable for the time and visible. Brene Brown says that "courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen". She also says that "owning our own story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it". I wanted to be seen publicly and to ultimately see myself. Visibility, and vulnerability were primary interests-and now that I am out of the suit, I realize that my next project is uncovering shame. Exploring the connection my art, life, relationships, and role as a mother is shaped, and manipulated by the shame I carry. The suit was work. The project was research and art, not knowing where I was going to end up, still not knowing where I will end up. John Dewey, in his essay The Act of Expression in the book Art as Experience stated, “The act of expression that constitutes a work of art is a construction of time, not an instantaneous emission. And this statement signifies a great deal more than that it takes time for the painter to transfer his imaginative conception to canvas and for the sculptor to complete his chipping of marble. It means that the expression of the self in and through a medium, constituting the work of art, is itself a prolonged interaction of something issuing from the self with objective conditions, a process in which both of them acquire a form and order they did not at first possess.” (Dewey, 1934)
The End…Durational Performance as Artistic Research
A year, in hindsight, is not a long period of time. It passes quickly when we pass through the days without reflection. How do we become more reflective? How do we change our perception to the quotidian and mark each day? One of the greatest benefits in engaging in a year-long project in which each day’s actions are marked, literally and figuratively on my suit, has been the time for reflection it has offered me. The performance has taken many turns. I had days where I questioned my own intentions and didn’t think that I would make it. But, the mind is a powerful adversary, to all our inclinations. Now, with only 9 days remaining, the morning ritual gesture of stepping into my sullied second skin, has become like clockwork…It happens with ease. I know that the end is near, and will be liberated from this obligation. It has been a contract with myself. Inserting myself into the canon. A daily program to instill a deeper, more grounded sense of worth as an art maker. I have said that the end of the performance on January 1st, 2017 will be like a death. Those who do not fear death, if there is such a person, may feel the same liberation when they know they are at the end of living. Someone has said, “Dying is easy, it’s the living that’s hard”.
Jackson Pollack’s paintings were deemed “action paintings” by the art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952. Rosenberg expounded on Pollack’s process and act of creating his famous drip paintings, dancing over his canvases laid flat on his studio floor. The method of painting becomes as important as the art produced, with the painting becoming the artifact of the gesture. I have been thinking of the abstract expressionist’s in the last half of my project, Artist Working, seeing the buildup of each day pass, adding; paint smears, food stains, filth, blood and other fluids to this second skin. Making the time, and work of my daily life become visible. My Artist Working uniform in this sense becomes a kind of location for the gesture of the work of daily living, and work of life. I have cared for my children in this uniform, tended to them when they are sick, carried them when they have fallen and skinned their knees. I have also cooked, worked, gardened, planted, and painted. Allan Kaprow said in his 1983 Essay, The Real Experiment that there were two histories of western art, art-like art and life-like art. The former, was identifiable as art because it followed the history of what art has looked like throughout the 19th century, it could also be found in the places where art was typically found, in galleries and museums. Life-Like art, in contrast, was not necessarily found in these “typical” art locations, and it was much more difficult to distinguish from real life, because it resembled nothing like the art of the previous century. I work across both these histories, and each method represents the multiple ways that I process and experience the world; through images, words, and action.
Think of a recent day, event, moment when you knew something significant was occurring. Some moments are huge; births, deaths, marriages, diagnoses. But others can slip through your fingers without acknowledgement. Only till the day is gone can we look back to see, and reflect upon the magnitude of the smaller events.
Yesterday was significant. I went pheasant hunting with my father who is 72. I'm the youngest of three daughters. He was born and raised hunting on his family farm and land in South Dakota where his family has lived since the early 1900's. My Grandpa Ray was a school teacher who taught in a one room school house and lived through the great depression. My dad had three daughters and was one of three boys. I have never had an interest in pheasant hunting. I had only shot a shotgun one other time that I can remember. My husband has went a couple of times with my dad and his brothers up to the Kautz homeland in South Dakota to hunt. But I had never hunted, nor did I have an interest. Then, this month, earlier in November while Jacob was gone to South Dakota with Dad, I felt that I wanted to go. Yesterday, here in Wisconsin, we went to a game farm outside New Glarus, Wi and hunted after Thanksgiving. It was a significant event. I hit a few tail feathers and shared a bird (we think) with my dad.
How does ritual find its way into our lives? How do we raise our consciousness of the moments that strung together become an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year? I have marked the last 11 months with the residue of each day. It is normally hard to stay a float, to reflect, to give ourselves the time to think and hold fast to the changing of the seasons. Life is temporally unstable and yet, I may remember this year. I have 41 days remaining. I have worn my uniform for 325 days. 2016 was a leap year, with 366 days. I worry, that without my uniform, that I will not know, see, or feel the passage of days. My talisman has heightened my consciousness of the weight of each day-felt the significance of each week, month, year.
Homestead Festival 2016 in Princeton, IL. I transformed my uniform into a Ghost Buster. My niece was Slimer. Pictured here are the members of my immediate family along with some of the members of my extended family. My oldest sister and her husband own the historic movie theater in my hometown and they are always featured in the annual Homestead Festival Parade. ( I have many memories of the theater growing up, fearfully watching Pet Cemetery, and a first date in 8th grade). The Owen Lovejoy Homestead is located in Princeton, Il and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Lovejoy was an abolitionist that lived in Princeton.
I have completed nearly 8 full months of a year long durational performance wearing the same uniform everyday without washing it. I’ve documented myself performing a range of tasks, but I see a recurrence of images of me “working in the caregiving role”. The work of caregiving is a role that I have filled in relation to my children and now, parents and partners. I have also witnessed the stress and work of caregiving first hand. The economy of caregiving is unglamorous, laborious and yet not financially lucrative, if at all. This role is especially painstaking for those who are doing this work for loved ones that are vanishing physically and mentally in front of their eyes. The 21st century is a time of extended life, and with it comes the need for extended care. This economically invisible work is falling on family members, alz.org reported that in 2015 more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion in unpaid care for an estimated economic value of $221.3 billion. (Alz.org, 2016). The uniform brings attention to the physicality of caregiving, the labor of care. As evidenced in this statement from a member of the public, “Wow, it looks like you’ve been working”
*At $470 billion in 2013, the value of unpaid caregiving exceeded the value of paid home care and total Medicaid spending in the same year, and nearly matched the value of the sales of the world’s largest company, Wal-Mart ($477 billion). [AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update.] https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics retrieved on 8/16/2016
*. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression. One in five care contributors cut back on their own doctor visits because of their care responsibilities. And, among caregivers, 74 percent report they are "somewhat" to "very" concerned about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp retrieved on 8/16/2010 retrieved on 8/16/2016
A few weeks ago I had the intense desire to wear denim and dress in “style”. I wanted to wear heals and tight fitting denim with a flamboyant blouse in bright colors. After wearing the same white work coveralls, that have grown quite dingy with dirt from 4 months of daily wear and no washing, the change would be significant. The moment I put on something new, other than this uniform, there will be a spark of noticeable difference. I will feel the impact of that moment, how long the awareness of it will last is what I do not know. The serious contemplation of prematurely removing my uniform came to me after a studio visit with Christina Seely, an artist and professor at Dartmouth College. I spoke with her about my “Artist Working” project and about the battle for visibility of artist mothers. I explained that wherever we are and whatever we are doing; we cannot divorce ourselves from the ongoing process of artmaking. Art making is not divisible from the lived experiences of the artist. My voice quaked and eyes welled when I spoke about my current paintings, speaking of the residue that builds up to become the monuments of who we are, and grow to become. The evolution of our psychological state is a malleable process of experience and reflection. I at some point, must have disclosed that I am hard myself, because she later agreed that I was. Seely’s verbal response to my visible emotional state and disclosures, was permission to end the project when I felt that I had gained what I need to from the investigation. She stated that ‘I am doing this work for myself’ and therefore, I am only accountable to myself. I can decide that I have done enough, afterall, 4 months is a long time.’
I contemplated ending the project, questioning my intentions again- asking myself ‘why am I doing this?’ I answered myself, and reminded myself that I cannot give-in to the minds interrogation and second guessing. Deconstruction is permitted and inherent to the project, this is art as well as artistic research, and I don’t know for certain where I am going to end up. The mind is a powerful tool. It can both strengthen as well as disempower you. So often we reason with the self, and the rational and reasonable self will attempt to preserve the status and order. I want to unearth and tap into the abject and the suppressed to permit the filth to rise and be evident. Endurance and commitment are all concepts that have resulted in taking on this artistic challenge. I am psychologically contracted to endure this each day and see it through till the end. To abandon this mental agreement that I have made with myself would be to fail.
I know now what I have done-I am testing myself.
On Friday, April 22, 2016 I attended the visitation of Mrs. Deborah Piper. She died recently after a battle of breast cancer. She was the mother of Eric Piper, a longtime friend I grew up with in Princeton, Illinois. I wore my uniform, like I wear every day. I was nervous, because I was fearful that I would offend someone-that my attire was not sanctioned or suitable for grieving. We dress-up to show our respect to the living, so they know we acknowledge and respect the magnitude of the condition of death in which we are witness to. I realized after the visitation on that Friday that this was a transitional moment; I was witness to an event that would have lasting implications for those who were touched by her life. This event and the awareness that resulted, was one of the primary residues that will mark this year.