Do I create meaning by contextualising and exploring work I’ve made in written form or by having imaginary conversations with someone who is asking questions about the work? Am I adding something new or created to the work or am I unearthing, excavating not only context but also meaning that is already here just hidden?
Do I trace my original thoughts, or better impressions when making or perceiving a work back to arrive at some pure intention or meaning even though I can never be sure if it is indeed the initial layer or whether it was again created? By tracing back these steps it feels as if there is a threshold where perception ends and the transcendental starts. Somehow it seems difficult to be aware of whether that threshold has been traversed.
It was Sunday and every Saturday and Sunday we did not speak. In the evening we made a fire outside to celebrate the new moon. Surrounding the fire pit, we stood – watching the flames. Many thoughts tumbled and screamed inside my head – random, anxious, hateful chatter and all I wanted was for it to stop – I was prepared to be violent. Then my body bent down, breaking through what felt like an energy field surrounding my upper body, picking up a piece of wood and then, by sort of activating my mental capacities placed it with absolute care and precision onto the burning fire. There is a method to placing wood on fire – it requires attention and concentration. Enough space between the wood pieces allows oxygen to circulate. Estimating the fragility of the already charred logs prevents them from collapsing when new chunks are added. Every fire is different. Fire changes continuously. I repeated this action of bending down and placing wood multiple times (with minutes in between) and every time the same happened. By exiting the upper energy bubble the thoughts stopped and I was able to experience the perfect merging of body and mind being one. After a while I stopped because it became funny, it just worked every time – like clock-work.
And new beginnings are set on the horizon, waiting to dance like the siluettes of trees, like ducks, one after the other. After a day of not saying a word I fill my ears with plastic pieces that utter comforting noises. Walking, breathing, reading, I ponder on my productivity. Coming here to dive deep, to write letters to all of you that I hold so dear, and to work through it all, to see what happens. And I get scared the moment I am the executer, the moment something is known, the moment it loses its magic. I stop. Breathe, walk, do. Reminding myself of who I am, of becoming, returning to the balanced I. How awkward to be in the same space as others without communicating. Going into the wild, is what I do art? Is my search to discover who I am an artistic practice? Auto-ethnography. New Materialism. Discovering over and over the same patterns when drawing. Primordial waves or imprints that come out slowly if I wouldn’t always put them off as doodles. And how belonging gets me excited like a child that has just been praised for good behaviour. Shadow work. That’s next. But if I don’t dream. Will it work then. It’s 10:30 in the evening and I just set an alarm for 7:30 in the morning. At 8:00 is mediation time. Meditation time. Calm down. There is no need to compare yourself. We are all agents with different missions. And will she always be my shadow? Will we always be split by food, material, spirit, mind and culture… there was one more. I should not forget to simply ask, what would she do? My dear sidekick. And then there is her. She is a victim and wants to be saved. And then there is her who constantly tries to solve some assignments both in life and work, blind of her shadow, or so it seems. Being told what to do frustrates me. Having to adhere to rules or arrangements makes me anxious. What is contained in the rule and what lies outside of it? What is a silent day? What is allowed within its boundaries? I feel like I can so easily make a mistake and then be punished for it. Or rather expelled. All the new encounters and how they manifest. Some are locked into familiar joined experiences and probably will struggle becoming more than that, others, and I am grateful are based so it seems in some sort of lighter, more humorous understanding of simply liking one another. I am reminded of what Tanja said, of me being an adrenaline junkie… the first few days were full of it and I felt alive…and now slowly the days start settling and routine kicks in… the realisation that things are what they are… non-commitment, being unreliable, making big promises but unable to deliver, being good at presenting but lacking execution… probably another shadow side of mine… Or an insecurity. Am I prude? And my inner critic reminds me of my arrogance and self-importance. And the monkey mind. And how the long walk today was great. 7km or something I remember her saying last time. And how sensitivity is really a thing. And I’m in bed, under the top layer blanket which is grey and looks like the sort you would give to dogs to sleep on. It is now quarter past eleven and I’m almost at the end of the playlist. And I hear the heater click, I want to laugh as I expect it to burst into flames at any second, it has been heating for almost four days straight. Do I get pleasure out of destruction? Of forming or moulding, of forcing or doing something to something or someone? That’s my shadow I think. Because trusting the mystery, the not knowing, the unknown is scary but natural, even though I lock myself between my thoughts and first have to fight through layers and days of anxiety to come loose again. I work and work and then stop once I discovered a conclusion. Commitment-anxiety. The fear of owning my works. Of taking responsibility. But are they truly mine? And let’s end with the River Man, and other metaphorical characters that make up our psyche. And my resistance to having to believe it somehow, even though I know it feels true. Stupid ego, you, don’t be so cruel.
I am still looking for the switch. How can I be honest again about the things that bite me and itch like sores. How can I play the blame game even though I want to kill fast. Burning away ideas and behaviours, violently and with crushing jaws, leaving behind sand of teeth. I wonder if I would save you if you would choke, maybe wait a little. I wonder why I always become sick in your presence – oh wait, you forgot to mention that the needles of your judgement hook themselves in flesh, burning themselves into openness and play. I feel captured and my stomach is full of bats that can’t find their way out of the cave. Fuck you for what you have done, even though you don’t even know or care as that is your nature, officially. Oh I wish I could just be loving and kind, but forgiveness is hard if the one forgiven is watching you still.
After months – now – I understand. I am the one watching. And grateful for that insight.
Bring me to the water little friend, please give me a glass that I can watch the liquidity of transparency. Again I ask, again I forget, it is me who sits here with shoulders of drift wood holding everything together after the endless ride on the river. And now I ask myself why this here has to be so poetic again, no need to use words that relate to a supposed theme or topic that I found. That I need a metaphor to describe what is actually going on here. Well I have no idea what is going on here. All I know is that the roller coaster of reducing everything to its common denominator will eventually go into the loop of questioning even itself, for as we seem to be equipped with senses of steel. If consciousness is a inhabited by all, then we are caged by perception, perception becoming our spiderweb. Perception becomes the hardware that plugs into consciousness to connect. And I cannot decide. Everything is .fluid. A topic floating, ready to be grabbed for immersive pleasure to change yet again the perception of perception. And I hope that there I was. Silly me, scared of judgment, scared of being misunderstood, scared of my self-caging tendencies. Building my own glasses of fear while I look away. Don’t think. Receive.
It’s just easier to complain, isn’t it. With all the tasks and things, or the lack thereof, but all that is needed is to not interrupt the flow, of breaking it up again. I feel my eyes glazed and my head disillusioned and stiff, the bags under my eyes weighing down my cheeks and my jaw, pulsing. And all these ways of doing things are subjective assumptions, as they influence our perception of reality. I guess I’m just throwing words onto this lit up space, the words the words the words, contrast between dark and light, shapes, the shape of the word shape, and now I dare analyse it with my brain, to find reason and use meaning, funny one isn’t it. I want to jump out of my eyes, free myself from the barriers of perception leaving learned habits in the dirt. What is out there? Observing the ones that have to come out of themselves, to free themselves but are stuck, observing them drags all the heaviness out of the watcher, becoming aware of the lightness of their cage in comparison, not realising that by doing so they turn back into their safe cave of otherness.
So there was a time when I realised that all will be broken into wholes, standing next to me on the playground waiting for the sun to come up that we don’t hurt ourselves hugging cold steel beems covered in frost. It was cold, deep down it was cold and the hair on my forearms tingled and jumped across infinity and then my chin lifted and my eyes started feeling black and silver marching into my brain like soldiers. Soldiers that you noticed too late. When you can’t stop anymore, when the mind’s giro collapses and spins and spins and spins. And I feel sick, so there is then a link between the upper and the lower, between the body and the mind, or has there always been and I’m just so confused about my perception of being, again. I become fuller and fuller and rounder and rounder feeling the warmth of distraction creeping in, and as has been said, in between things are always not. Blackness, leave me, leave me alone in light. Don’t hunt me like a lion hunts an antelope, hunt me like it does not matter, as if nothing ever did, as that is what scares me most. Oh there I said it, you evil witch. But wait, vulnerability should be my asset, so let me open up even more, share with you my fears that will only give you comfort.
Loop of making
- experience of a push/pull to make or explore something
- the doing process (almost meditative)
- evaluating what has been made and adjusting it to be more coherent with and in itself
- exhibiting it in a way that again is with and in itself coherent with the work and the space
- reflecting on perceiving the exhibited
- creation of meaning and context
- reevaluation if work is itself and in its context in and with itself coherent
- potential reevaluation of phases 4 and 6
- then repetition of phases 8 – 11
- potential repetition of phases 12 and 13
a = raw (pure) state
b = repaired state (adjustment phase 1)
c = polished state (adjustment phase 2)
d = assessed state
Is not everything past state a inauthentic? It seems this could be where being and thinking splits, where authenticity becomes a virtue of being (subconscious?) rather than conscious acting, as conscious acting can never be pure. I hesitate to continue past state a. If I want to get closer to where a came from, why would I move in the opposite direction towards b, c and d in the direction of an end, a finished work? Why finish it? Is it not already complete in state a? Or is it me not wanting to take responsibility for it, take responsibility for my consciousness?
Over the last weeks I have realised that amongst all the matter (thought and ‘real’) there is an almost hidden but subtle chasm between how making is approached.
On the one side a definite end goal is known and thus is the starting point of the making process. A train of thought leads to a vision that ‘pops up’ in ones mind of a home baked bread for example. Now research is done, ingredients are gathered, measured, mixed, tested and baked, resulting (even if only after a couple of experimental attempts) in a home baked bread. What happened was the effective and rational translation of an idea into its material or physical form. The aim here was to find and determine the most suitable and accurate material or method to bring the idea into reality. The maker is the driver knowing his or her final destination, even if this is via a detour. The focus is the end goal.
On the other side of the chasm things are a bit less fixed. Here the making process seems to be rooted in discovery, which leads step by step into the unknown. After a thought or thing is discovered, for example a bag of apples, the question now asked is ‘what do you (bag of apples) want done to yourself’ or ‘how do you want to be developed?’. This repeating process of doing something to or with the bag of apples and then re-asking the same question after something has been done with or to the bag of apples, leads step by step into no-mans-land. The tricky but also magical part of this way of making is that sometimes it is unclear when you are done, or rather when the cycle should be ended. This is where the non-rational elements of feeling or intuition come in. Within this making process one is the passenger in a taxi in an unknown city on a never ending site-seeing tour, not knowing the amount of sites around. The final destination is determined by a mere ‘feeling’ that compels you to exit the cab, only to hail the next one. The focus is the process.
I am a bit nervous to write this because this is such a heated and sensitive matter but I am very close to understanding the first, goal driven way of making as design and the second as art, not elevating one above the other. I associate design-making with problem solving, structure and an assignment- and outcome-based approach, indeed very similar to writing an academic paper. Art-making, on the other hand reminds me more of discovery and play (I use the word ‘play’ here but I don’t mean for it to detract from the potential intellectual and philosophical value of the process). Both ways of making are inevitably rooted in the cultural, social and economic circumstances of the maker, and the final product can thus be regarded as a mirror of both the person and his or her environment (good old nature vs nurture). What is interesting is that design-making allows for a work to be knowingly (consciously) created and placed by the maker within the art historical context, the maker thus actively engaging and contributing to the (art historical but also cultural) discourse through a specific reaction or statement. Contrarily, considering that the maker following the art-making approach does not know the outcome of his or her work (sometimes not even the start of it), there is no conscious aspect that aims to integrate it into the art historical context. This is typically where curators or art historians (both art history experts) would come in, I would imagine, to ‘make sense of it’ as in place it within the appropriate context. It reminds me of what a South African curator said recently, namely that “there is more art being produced in South Africa than ever before. As such there is not only a need for new museums, galleries etc… but folk like me to make sense of what is going on…”.
This leads me to a suspicion that I have which is that there seem to be two different entry points to art or the art world (even though I’m presenting this divide as black and white, it’s rather grey and overlapping). The first starts with a person liking art, artists and its discourse and thus the desire to be part of it which leads them to enter the art world for example through going to art school. The second is a natural, childlike tendency or urge to make and create, independent of what has been made before, realising later that this action or activity is referred to as making art and that there are more people doing it ‘professionally’. I have the feeling that the first (inspiration driven) entry point links to or naturally results in design-making as the preferred creation method as it allows for the conscious participation in the art world’s discourse, whereas the second (intuition driven) entry point has its foundation in the creation process itself, which thus connects it to art-making.
At the moment I am very confused where I stand, swinging between design-making and art-making, looking at my past and my future, and my now, recognising phases of each. I do notice though that design-making gives me an ego boost. Art-making frees me.
So I wonder today why I’m resisting making things. Is it about making them? Or are they a by-product of my thinking and contemplating and if I don’t have anything that needs to get out there in that language I don’t make anything? Because this is ‘what I do’, I should be doing it everyday, or at least that is what I assume is expected from someone like me. Good old social pressure. But at the same time I am slowly coming to the conclusion that pure living, being, if you will, is already perfection in itself, consciousness in its base form, the beginning of everything, the thing that lies at the core, the thing that is signified, to what everything points to. So where does art come in? I have a suspicion that I first need to believe my own words, accept and then start building up from there, to be open and receptive to what will come, not resist. This is all good and well but I forget and get distracted from this deep knowing, for example by having to go to the shop because we have no more butter. This constant moving between what is real and ‘what is real’ or rather what is perceived as our normal world is quite strenuous and distracting in itself. It feels as if I bounce around without having any input of where I am at any given time (time – also one of those). It scares me sometimes. But what scares me the most is the thought that I have lived a life untruthful, ignorant and blinded by superficiality, posing to be the real thing, and I don’t mean superficiality in our ‘real world’, but actual depth. That our depth is superficial. I am scared to go all the way to find out, but at the same time I’m dying to know, literally. But again, where does that leave me with regards to my profession? I don’t even know what it is anymore. What I see for example in galleries or museums, what I am told about what I see, what I perceive, what others around me make and what I make all seem to be one side of a pentagon, not coming together. And I hope you understand how even that experienced confusion seems so small and futile when shifting between versions of ‘real’ that suck you in. At the same time I am afraid to start something, a painting for example, because I feel judged and unworthy. Welcome back to the ‘real world’.
So now that I’m back from visiting Jess, I feel recharged and more connected with existence. I am eager to start, to paint, to make, to write, to talk. But it does feel like I’m going back into my little cage even though I know it’s my attitude and perspective of my surroundings. I really wonder why I struggle so much with embracing what is, but always want something that takes me deeper into myself and tickles my stomach and heart so that I have the courage to know that what I do is not wasting air. Also, after having seen lots of work by the heroes of the field, I feel small and overwhelmed and am wondering if we would have anything in common? I would love to talk to them and ask, being incredibly awkward and shy sitting there star-struck, but they are dead. The only thing we have is their work and what others have interpreted it to mean, which is also so tricky. Art historians invent and categorise. I don’t know if I want to trust them, knowing that the source, the reason, the intention for making something can never be exposed, only signified.
I bought a book on notes and texts by Marlene Dumas and it helped me to read authentic words, to also see that paintings (in her case) are not all there is to her, that her visual language goes hand in had with her written word. I am starting to think that visual work is what lies in between the lines of text, but the two together, maybe not on the same surface though, seem to help each other out, to open up more. And again, what is more. It might just be that these little blocks of fear that need to be faced and conquered and dissolved are in fact all created by myself, the self with the whip. It is actually all good, as the universe is neutral.
Woke up, looked at some stuff on my desk, scanned the news for the first time in months and asked myself what it means to create out of my own capacity or being led by something bigger, the latter bringing me into the moment of just doing, not thinking. So now I feel blocked because I ask myself whether I should only work when I feel ‘inspired’ for it to be an authentic piece of art or should I play around with materials to link into the flow of inspiration, risking that it might not come? I don’t want to illustrate. I don’t see the point in taking something and putting it in paint for example if I can say it with words? I would just be translating an idea or feeling from one medium, from one form of expression to another. I don’t want to be a translator, I want to be a creator. And now I ask myself if I can just be that, or if it is something I have to allow, not block, to not resist. Even writing this takes time out of the fear of starting with something that means nothing anyway.
For a long time already I’ve been wondering about what I got myself into. I am a person who feels inspired to express myself and what comes out feels like it was something that was flowing through me rather than originated in me. The universe, for the lack of a better word (I don’t want to use the word God because of its associations with organised religion) seems to be the creator of my creation. If work has in fact been created from this inspiration, from being literally inspired by something and it felt like the channel to the all was wide open and flowing while making it, how can such a work be judged? We are dealing with an almost (thank you Mondrian for making that clear) pure product of the all, so how dare we criticise its creation? How can we teach making art? Today I was arranging and drawing things on paper and after three attempts I stopped. I felt totally disconnected from the work, it felt like labour, like something I just do to get time by and not feel bad for having wasted it. I feel really confused about what the things mean that I make, both for me and for others. It felt like today the channel was totally closed and why? Because I didn’t allow it. My first thought was that I wanted to rather have my own work criticised than exposing the universe, but you know that is just fear, fear of what is real and what is the truth because in the end nothing matters anyway as it all already is.
I think that we are all somehow searching for something, being pulled by an invisible force, all choosing different approaches to this urge. Sometimes there are clear moments of peace and we feel invincible and grateful, hopeful that the ones around us who are submerged will find their way which for us is so clear to see. Then slowly we drift back into murky water, fighting the currents and only when things become overwhelming do we paddle up for help, to gasp for truth.
And what does all this wisdom and stuff help if I question my purpose today. What have I contributed, how have I in fact honoured and appreciated what I have, what I’ve done? I know that I have to be open to myself to be able to tune in to the universe, even though I hate how esoteric it sounds. I have to accept that I live in a country where showing emotions, fears and insecurities is considered a weakness. I have to realise that I try to fill myself with arbitrary stuff to feel whole in a place that is empty. I have to stop feeling disappointed that art school is just art school dealing with themes, nothing more nothing less. The same goes for the humanities faculty at university which only teaches us how something is to be studied, not what it is about. It all stays superficial and I guess that’s because one cannot put the things in words that are underneath it, one can just create symbols for them. But seeing the symbol itself as the thing that is desired or appreciated is not enough for me. I want to go deeper. I hope that I will have the courage to fully express myself to feel the signified rising in my being. I hope that expression will lead me there. I hope that there is actually something there. I long for the real.
This is a piece of a text that I wrote on the 12th of March 2013. I still find it relevant.
“Art doesn’t do anything except make the people who create it feel even more confused about themselves and seem to enlighten the audience about what is happening around us or to them or in them. And now what? Nothing! “
The other day my reality split open and I could see clearly. What is actually happening around and in you at any given moment is the truth. The trick, it seems, is to allow it to be lived in honesty, not to hide or mask it.
The last couple of years I tamed my expression, my truth. I learned how to manipulate it and how to keep things inside but mostly how to distract myself from life with the help of superficiality and reason. And this thing called reason is very practical and all but if it comes to feeling the space between air and being it has no place. Every time I shake myself awake from robot-mode where I’m executing and brutally calculating tasks and goals for some arbitrary outcome only to keep others off my back I ask myself why I have done so again. Even while writing this I have to remind myself that this is actually for me not for anyone else, a massive change of perspective I have to relearn. Being in a place where I consistently expose my work to criticism is very exhausting and rattles me always. I’m afraid of not being enough or of making meaningless work, of missing the bigger picture or in fact not being authentic in my practice. I am afraid of starting to work not from the inside out but from the outside in. I’m afraid of loosing my humanity in a world that is obsessed with identity.
If I track my constant tension down the rabbit hole I get to a place where nothing matters anymore and where a still underground lake is calm and soft. And that experience while writing these words feels incredibly surreal as my fingers cannot keep up and will never be able to repeat what just happened. But only thinking about what I just wrote destroys it completely and raises the tension even more. I feel judged, and it is because I judge. It feels as if my inner self wants to break out of a self made cage that I built with pride and expectations. But the true inner self is nothing, it is the space in an empty room, it has no identity or flavour so I ask myself what will be left except for the memory of the construction that housed it. Do I want nothing? Is this the freedom we all seek? To have no self-made obstacles in our way, to peel away the layers of the onion as someone dear to me pointed out. I want to be courageous enough to let go of this outer straitjacket that is preventing me from living, from creating freely and to become one with the universe. But it’s so easy to complain, it’s so convenient to fit in and play the game as it all alleviates fear, but it will kill you, or rather never allow you to be born.
I am not sure if what I do is art. I am not sure if it is self expression. I am not sure if it is self therapy. I know that something wants to be unblocked, broken down. It might be the outside or the inside, contradictory as it is as they blur away into materialism and you’re unsure on which side of the door you are standing. I still refrain but feel pressured to take part in social commentary where art is used as a tool to further craft identities built on ideals. I really really hope that there is more to us, deep down, waiting to be discovered, broken free.
My vision is blurry as I go through the words I’ve written, I feel warm and stingy. Talking openly about openness and creating a space where I can expose my humanity with all my fears and confusions is something I crave. A place where my thoughts and feelings are becoming a product, they become evidence of my existence, not for you to see but for me to be reminded and more certain that I am here and alive writing right now. Because I know that soon I will be clouded by voices, opinions and judgements again, feeling so very small, threatened and confused as if my mind is burning away like an incense stick while being carried around by this large robotic corpus trying to follow directions. I want to remind myself to be honest with myself and my expression. I hope that by exposing my humanity, what is true for me, I can reunite with it again and experience my existence as a friend who does not judge and refuses to use empty words as fuel for life.