The summer residency at Lesley was full of conflicting criticisms about my work. This troubled me and forced me to investigate my materials, methodology and motivation more closely. Also, my Critical Theory II class with Lynne Cooke, as well as my elective seminar with Tony Apesos, “The Artist in the Art,” added some thought provoking questions for me to consider this semester.
The purpose of last semester’s work was to explore different ways of working, including new impermanent materials such as sugar and gelatin. I presented all of my experimentations, including a time-lapse video of my rain-melted “sugar paintings.” Overall, everyone was astonished at how much work I had produced in one semester. However, the presentation of all of the work led some to be confused as to the direction I wished to pursue. I felt this was understandable, because when I looked at it, I too felt confused. I learned I could work in different materials, but I also feel that it is increasingly important for me to decide during this graduate program which materials best convey my message.
This idea of a “message” was brought up again and again, and led to many discussions about didacticism. The motivation behind my work is two-fold: a fascination with plant and animal species (including evolutionary processes and decay), and a concern for the way that climate change and pollution is affecting their habitats around the world. Recently my work focuses on the proliferation of detritus (including plastic) in the oceans, and how seabirds perish from its ingestion. None of the professors disapproved of my choice of topic. In fact, Stuart Steck seemed to think that my ambition and enthusiasm was appropriate to take on such a large, important, culturally relevant topic. Yet, again and again the word “didactic” crossed the lips of many professors during critiques. I came to realize that the challenge I face is to somehow lengthen the journey into my work and eliminate this shunned quality of didacticism. As Lynne Cooke put it, didactic work says “think this, not that. This is good, this is bad.” She encouraged me to avoid making work that was preoccupied with itself, and instead to seek to make work that was more layered. If I can make work that contains my message but allows for the viewer to participate with the discovering and uncovering of that message, then I will have successfully imbedded the ideas within the work.
There were conflicting ideas about the notion of beauty in my work as well and essentially two camps that people fell into: it was seen as too pretty, and that the prettiness took away from the work, making it one-dimensional and consumable; or it was seen as just fine, and that the “pretty” aspects were what made the work. Furthermore, there were differing opinions about making the work more complicated, or simplifying the imagery. Some argued I should move away from imagery entirely.
I find this all interesting, but my work is a combination of archiving (photography), painting, and sculpture, and I will not give up any of these things. I will, however, seek to create a more complicated entry into the work. This will be accomplished from both sides: research and production. For research, I plan on taking suggestions by Peter Rostovsky and Jan Aviknos into consideration. Rostovsky noticed my preoccupation with death, referring beautifully to my photographs of albatross as “mug shots.” He said that I was both the excavator of the bodies and the minister for the dead. He suggested I look into Freud’s notion of melancholy versus mourning, as well as to research death rites and rituals around the world. This intrigued me because I had not yet considered the idea of global emotional reactions to this unfolding climate change/pollution issue. Furthermore, Rostovsky suggested many readings about the topic of excessive materialism, landscape and power, the nature of reality, and where nature and culture intersect.
Aviknos was intrigued by the notion that I often travel around the world, exploring different places and conducting research for my work. She said this should be part of my work, indeed that it WAS my work. I agreed that it was a huge aspect I had been neglecting, and I plan to include it as part of the layers of my work.
To create a more complicated entry into my work via the production of it, I will take the advice of Tony Apesos. During both his elective seminar and a private critique, he urged me to move toward whatever aspect of my work I liked the most and build on that. Apesos said I needed to stick to what interested me visually. This semester I will continue to develop my vocabulary with more complicated imagery and materials. I aim to rough it up a bit, explore, and add layers of meaning.
I have been encouraged to look at the following artists: Allan McCullom, Nina Katchalurian, Toby Kaduri, Hilary Berseth, Sarah Sze, Eve Larame, Herman Devries, Rosamond Purcell, Evelyn Rydz, Sue Ryan, Alexis Rockmann, Mandy Barker, Max Liboiron, and Fran Crowe. I am working with a mentor, Chris Jordan, a photographer/film maker who created the film Journey to Midway. This film has been incredibly inspiring to me; indeed it has been the impetus for much of my research. I am curious to know how he tackles the difficult topic of climate change and pollution. I feel Jordan will be invaluable to my archival research, as he too, travels around the world to research and document his subjects.
Finally, my Critical Theory II seminar focused on the Archive. Cooke taught us the process of academic reading, by having us read challenging articles, paragraph by paragraph, in class. We would then discuss these paragraphs, breaking them down together. What I had found difficult to understand on my own was made clearer by this technique. I feel it will be useful over the course of the next three semesters. The articles we read dealt with different methods of archiving in our global society, and how these methods are changing. I found many articles interesting, but gravitated towards our study of Gerhardt Richter’s “The Atlas.” I was also quite captivated by Kabakov’s article “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away.” Both of these articles imbued upon me the necessity of having a background context, or layer. The context adds another dimension of meaning. I plan to not only use this knowledge to enrich my work, but also to write my first paper on this topic.
Overall, my second residency at LUCAD provided me with more questions than answers. I plan on spending a lot of time thinking and writing this semester, and hope to produce a few quality pieces that answer my own questions.