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
* Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female, and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males. [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.]
https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics retrieved on 8/16/2016
here to edit.
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.
Motherhood is the oldest profession-not prostitution. We blame mothers for all our defeats, mothers are our shortfalls. They hold this blame-guilty or not. Father’s remain somehow in the shadows. The standard and margin of error with fathers is not equal to the accountability we hold for our mothers. It’s not a competition, but it feels that way, and if it was, I wouldn’t win any mothering awards. I feel shameful, believing this to be true of my own mother. At any moment, we all just do the best we can. She survived, and raised us, loves us best she could, wants us to have the world while she toils through it. Her mother did the same. She toiled through a broken marriage, a daughter dying of asphyxiation, my grandfather’s perversions and loss of memory.
Being a mother alienates you like a pillar. You are instantly responsible to prop up, hold firm. It automatically puts you in a special class of people. Where you become secondary to the structure you support. In the outside spaces, there is no way of being helped. You cannot prepare for the breaking away that happens.
Becoming a mother is a death. The process of mothering while your children are young is like managing a chronic illness, you are never the same and require total overhaul of the way you relate and engage with the world. As an artist, this is a particularly painful process. You become split and no longer who you once were. As a young woman in college I was autonomous, second class as a woman, but free to choose. My artistic practice was my lived experience and a deconstruction of those events. It was angst filled, socially engaged. I was critical of capitalism, main stream culture, and power structures that prey on women and children. My voice was subversive and uncensored calling out a culture that looks away at sexual violence and abuse. After all, this is the value of a work of art: to challenge and call out what we see as in need of repair. These attributes and the process of inquiry required to think about them is not a “safe” endeavor while attempting to parent. This is a dirty business, which leaks and spills over, like noxious gas. To ignore the creative practice, through subjugating these concerns, causes a slow suffocating death. To cut off the creative supply completely would certainly kill me. There needs to be an exhaust vent.
I need a synonym for sacrifice that does not carry with it the connotations of martyrdom. Motherhood is not Holy or God like. Artists who attempt to mother, do they serve their children well, or just well-enough? Can they be “good” mothers; protect and foster resilient, emotionally stable people? It is awfully hard. It is hard work for anyone to be sure. However, I think non-artists have better results, but then again, maybe we are too hard on mothers? Expect more from them than anyone else? I am guilty of this as I mentioned before. It’s a shame to be pulled into this mass cultural phenomenon that expects more from woman while not supplying her with the same incentives.
I yell, I yell a lot.
Artist Working: A Year Long Durational Performance on the Visibility of Artists and Their Identity In Community
After taking time off from work to have my second child, I returned to work as a special education assistant at the Sun Prairie High School. I provided educational classroom support to teens with emotional and behavioral issues. In my classroom I had a large white board and every morning I would do a “doodle of the day”. This was a drawing of something that was usually inspired by historical events that occurred on that day, or some current event in the news. Students enjoyed discovering the doodle of the day each morning after arriving at school and were surprised by my ability to draw. More than once I was told that I should be an Artist and then they were further surprised when I responded by telling them that “I am”.
“Artist Working” is a durational performance taking place over the span of one year. Starting January 1st 2016 through December, 31st 2016 I plan to wear a uniform with the words “Artist Working” printed on the back of a pair of white workers coveralls. I plan to wear the same pair of coveralls each and every day. I will only take the coveralls off to sleep and shower. My intention with “Artist Working” is to reveal the intersections of the artist in society. To uncover the role of the artists in our society and make visible the places in which artists are “working”. During the year, while simultaneously wearing my artist uniform, I will also engage in various jobs. I will collect lost shoes I find on the street throughout the year. I will also, work in my position as a project assistant in Student Academic Affairs at University of Wisconsin Madison, raise my children, attend graduate school, and make my artwork. Artists are in fact working among us and contributing in larger ways to the fabric of our communities. The value of artistic contributions to our social fabric is not simply in the production of commodities but in the innovation of thinking and ideas. It is a way of thinking and being in the world. Being an artist is in many cases a compulsion, but in every case, calling yourself one comes with it social and prescriptive expectations. Committing oneself to the vocation of artist has economic and social significance. As an artist that is also a mother of two, I have taken on jobs "outside of my artistic practice" to sustain myself and my family. I have never ceased to be an artist. “Artist Working” seeks to establish a perceptible, and philosophical identity for myself as artist in society. This is a statement that aims to reveal the struggle for creating an affirmative artistic identity outside the gallery and museum, while also asking the question: “what is an artist and in what spaces do we find them”? I affirm that an artist’s value is not only in the success that an artist has selling his or her work but in the act of claiming his or her identity in the realm of society. I cannot remove myself and my artistic identity from any of my daily tasks that I perform; and I want society to see the tasks that I complete in connection to my artistic practice. I am NOT trying to say that everything I touch becomes a work of art. I am; however, always working and always an artist regardless of the art markets economic interest in my work or their approval. Artists are not only in the closed studios making paintings but within the public sphere executing creative concerns.
The images, documents, and artifacts of this research of the intersections of art, artist and public life will be included in an exhibition in 2017 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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