14 August 2013

Comfort Zone Giveaway!

During my first summer (of 4) in graduate school this year, I was having a hard time letting go of old habits and making things that I was used to making: colorful, substance-less, flamboyant things. It's only natural, as I'd been making things of this nature for quite some time. So for my last project of the summer, I decide to give away my comfort zone.

I invited people into my studio to do whatever they wanted. They could take things with them, reconfigure things, rip things apart, tie things together . . . Whatever they wanted. The only rules I had were to stay in the room (if they were throwing things around or reconfiguring a piece), or let me take a picture of them with the items they took away from the space. 

I sent out an email that read like this:

Hi there,

I am inviting everyone into Studio 014 for a grab bag style event: take what you want, leave what you don't . . .

I love parties. More specifically, the aftermath. But in order to create some aftermath, I need a little ransacking to happen. And it needs to be authentic. Besides, don't you need some craft items? Something so sickeningly sweet with color that it makes your toes curl? Or maybe a small bag of glitter is more up your alley?

Lots of fun things available, but some of the featured items include:

  • 3 metallic paper crowns, good for parties or playful bike rides around medieval Baltimore
  • brightly colored papers from Thailand made from elephant dung
  • acrylic paint in a variety of colors
  • one wooden door, cut in two for easy maneuvering
  • miscellaneous wood scraps
  • fun metallic papers
  • weird metal venting
  • plastic strips
  • glitter (small bags available, so you can take as much or as little as you want)
  • brightly colored crepe paper, made in Singapore
  • a stool with a fabulous green glitter seat
You decide how the studio is dismantled. I photograph the aftermath.

This project will also include an active blog, showing participants and their finds (upon permission).

Please stop by during one or more of the following times:
Saturday, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, noon - 5pm
Monday, 9am - 5pm
Tuesday, 7pm - 8pm

Graduate Student Center, Studio 014, Lower Level

Thank you in advance for your participation. I hope to see you soon!

PS: Please forward to anyone else who might want to participate . . . Yay!!


During my opening hours, I would put out an open sign and sit across from the door of my studio sewing while waiting for people to show up. On my first day, my friend Susie was sitting outside of my studio on her computer waiting for me to open so that she could score some things that she'd had her eye on (hello, glitter stool).

When someone (or several someones) showed up, I would let them mosey about. I tried not to intervene as much as possible, but sometimes I would get excited about something someone did or an item I thought they should maybe take . . .

Ashby was one of the first people to really use the studio while she was in it . . . She created her own "make-and-take" session. She wanted the glitter stool that the aforementioned Susie so patiently waited for outside of my studio. Since the original glitter stool was gone, she picked up another stool, painted the top of it, swept up several handfuls of glitter, and made her own glitter stool that she took away from the space. It was an incredible activation of my studio, and quite the testament to just how much glitter was on the floor.

Some participants dropped by just to participate in the taking of things . . . I enjoyed making mental lists of what was taken and what was not taken, and how much time people spent looking for things. I ended up taking 24 portraits of people with the items they took away from the studio. I started a blog that I am continuing to update with various studio shop antics. 

At the tail end of the second day of my 4-day open shop hours, I yelled out that there were only 5 minutes left to the day. Jean--pictured below right--came running over from her studio. She walked into the space and immediately began tying things across the room, crumpling wall hung items up, throwing things on the floor, and completely reinventing the space.

About 2 minutes later--as Jean continued to make things happen--my friend Sarah (not in a current graduate program at MICA, but an alumna) strolled up to participate. She walked into the space and Jean began dressing her with things that she found in the space. (She had never met Sarah.) Sarah willingly participated with no complaints whatsoever.

A balloon popped, we all gasped, and Jean left. 

After Jean left, Sarah began playing with the space in her own way. She created a canopy with the plastic sheeting that was once her dress, hanging colorful strands from it. For a brief moment, it was silent in the space as she concentrated on building up the space. The interaction between the two of them--Jean and Sarah--and now watching Sarah alone, was quite lovely and provided for such rich documentation.

My second-to-last day of keeping shop was the day that Amare stopped by and upended everything. It was a glorious comment on power, manipulation, and elements of control. He walked into the space, asked me a question about what he could do and couldn't do, I told him he had free reign, and then he walked back out of the space. He looked at me and said, "I would like the whole space." I responded with uh, okay. (Question marks bouncing around in my head at a rapid pace.) 

Then he turned to the door, took down the paper with my name on it, crossed out my name, put his name on the sheet of paper, and rehung the paper on the opposite side of the doorway. He created a barrier to the doorway with orange plastic, and then he left. I just stood there with my mouth open, staring at my former studio space. It was brilliant. 

On the last day of the project, I was only open for one hour. It was a Monday night and group critiques started the following day. Only two people stopped by. But as you can see in the video above, the engagement between them was beautiful: connection.

I photographed the space after everyone left. Aftermath was what I was looking for ultimately, and aftermath generally takes place in quiet: energy laying dormant, spent. The resulting image was perfect to me. It was 25 people connecting through chaos: laughing, playing, making. It was engagement. It was an accident. It was an explosion of fun. 

I am so thankful to the participants that helped make this project happen. I can't wait to see what's next! 

11 August 2013

Liam Counts!

Hot 20: July Instagram Favorites . . .

My goodness! The summer has come and gone so quickly! And how exciting it was! Looking back at July instagrams, there seems to be a bit of a Baltimore celebration taking place . . . I was so incredibly honored to meet such an amazing bunch of people during the beginnings of my new graduate program. All of the people in my cohort for my MFA program are generous and creative people that I can't wait to see again. And I've never met anyone like my friend David. He almost always has a smile on his face. He's chock full of energy and light. And--I'm almost positive--he is one of the most selfless people on the planet. Enjoy these beautiful July memories!

Re: Readings on Failure . . .

One of the last short essays I had to write for my seminar class this past summer was a response to several readings we were asked to complete. The readings were on failure. Here is my response . . .

When I was 12, the vice principal at my middle school gave an assembly lecture about failure. He said that fail stood for: first attempt in learning. I found this ironic at the time because I was being educated in the public school system of Plano, Texas. Plano is north of Dallas and not known for failure of any kind (except--perhaps--the heroin use in the early 90's due to wealthy and bored youth with large allowances). For most of the time that I was in middle and high school, our football team was number one in the state. Our swimming team was a top team in the nation, spawning biker Lance Armstrong. And more times than not, my orchestra and dance team ranked in the top five in various yearly competitions throughout the state. So failure was not something that most people talked about. However the statement from my vice principal that morning in 7th grade stuck with me forever and I can now be heard chanting this phrase to the young people in my art classes.

"When failure is released from being a judgmental term, and success deemed overrated, the embrace of failure can become an act of bravery, of daring to go beyond normal practices and enter a realm of not-knowing."

Until moving to Singapore, I had never mentioned failure ever in my classroom. My way of talking about failure was to express to students the joy of exploration, experimentation, and "happy accidents". However, moving to Singapore, I had to come face-to-face with the term. Schooling in Asia is quite different than schooling in the United States. Young people take school very seriously. Failure--as the negative connotation of the word exists--is not acceptable at any level, regardless of age. This includes extra curricular activities, i.e. art.

It is a constant battle to get students to try things out, even though they are still in elementary school. "Just experiment", I say. "But what if it doesn't work out", they say. "That's okay, just play with it." [Blank stares.] Over and over and over again.

My students want a template for art: something that is tangible, something that has a definitive answer or can be memorized. So, a large part of how I design my curriculum deals with the idea of failure head-on.

Currently--in my work as an artist and not an educator--I am dealing with the idea of an unfinished work being the finished work. In essence a failed piece being on display. (Failed only because I have deemed it unfinished.) Again and again I come back to presentation: is it okay to look undone? Can this still read as a polished, finished work? How unfinished is too unfinished? Does it look like a failed piece?

Even in my own personal work, I am still confronted with the idea of failure. Although, I don't think I ever actually name it as failure. Like with my students, I disguise failure as: in flux, experimental, process-oriented, chaotic. These terms help me allow space for play and possible future changes, decision-making.

In the end I find that I am more interested in processes like ceramics, fabric dying, costume construction, and performance where the output is always questionable or unable to be perfectly pinned down. I am also extremely laid back in my art making practice. Knowing exactly what the finished product will look like will always add to the possibility of failure. However, if I only have a slight idea of what the end result will be and I don't know what the finished piece will look like perfectly, I can respond to what does take place. This space of not knowing coupled with intuitive response is exactly why I am so drawn to art making in the first place and 
allows me to highlight process, which is my most favorite part.