Trigger warning for those with mental health issues, especially depression.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about states of identity and art. Which parts of ourselves do we choose to share through our art? Why those parts? How does your audience, your sharing platform, shape how you think and create? And, why does sharing work sometimes splinter our identities, or make us lose hold of them?
Personally, I've always felt pulled in (at least) two directions: language versus visual, print/gallery versus web, monochrome versus color. Institutional versus lowbrow/free, minimal versus elaboration, etc. Once upon a time, for example, I took myself rather seriously as a writer: . That identity was defined by a great deal of self-censorship, a constant striving for improvement, an arrogance, and also (eventually severe) depression.
I'm sure only very few people who are still active/following me now knew me back then -- I would say 6 or 7 years ago -- when I was active here, and active as a creative person. I wouldn't mention any of this trajectory now either, if not for the fact that I now see other people struggling with the same things, and hope that my narrative might be of help to them, or at least encourage others to support the artists around them in very essential ways.
In any case, those of you that did know me might remember a certain amount of instability before I disappeared altogether, a lot of destroying or hiding my work in the name of improvement. Due to life circumstances, I did not end up at art college as originally hoped for, and I was no longer writing either. I was lucky enough to meet and have loving people in my life, who kept me from going all the way. And I focused elsewhere: I did all the normal college things, built up my resume, found a career path that I could still be passionate about, and slowly healed as a person.
But it never really went away, the niggling desire to make things again. I no longer had any place to show anything, and I was still leery of the web. I'd also lost much of my own ability to make things, to be honest. By sheer luck I ended up with a college grant to do an independent project, much like a thesis, in any field I wanted; writing was out of the question but art was not, though I had no idea where to begin. By more luck, I ended up in a photography class with Thomas Roma...
It was.. an amazing class. A new medium, a teacher who understood pain, who was fearless before it. You can see some of his quotes here: shitmyphotoprofsays.tumblr.com… He didn't take any bullshit from anyone, but he also had pathos, tenderness for his students, for other human beings. It was a shocking reminder of what I had given up. Of what the core of art is.
So I began making photographs, shooting on the street. It was a new form of artmaking, the polar opposite of how I used to go about it: now I was trying to engage with the physical, concrete world, and my art was only be shared with people who I knew had the capacity to understand. I still won't upload the photos I took then, as part of my ethics at the time: I never asked for permission to photograph anyone, but I also always held the camera to my face. You could see it, you could avoid it; if you don't, either you or the world itself has given me permission. But to share the likeliness of a stranger on the web seems unfair.
For some reason, I began to photograph lovers in the street. Something about that combination of intimacy and alienness, of the sharing of private emotions in a public space, resonated with me. It became a reflection, a symbol, of the art making and art sharing process. And I finally found the courage to look back, and open all those emotions I had boxed away: I began to make installation art around language, around my own past silence, and as a way to emerge from it. Handwritten, to be read in person, one to one. The goal being human connection and understanding, not anonymous likes and favs.
I'm uploading these pieces now as a reminder to myself of why I began making things again, and also because I want to acknowledge this part of myself. I want to collapse this disparate parts of me, of my work, to harmonize them back into a whole. Because they've never been truly separate.
The understanding that I gained from making this body of work, is how precious art can be. Art that is made from the heart. And also, how fragile such artmaking can make the artist: it is so easy to climb, and climb, striving for the mountaintop, only to find a cliffedge. So easy to give and give until you are emptied out and left with nothing.
How to stay alive, to keep them alive, in this mode of creativity? Because we as a society can't afford to only have superficial, safe, and sane art. For me the answer is to reciprocate. If each artwork is an act, a query, of intimacy, then to be left hanging is to slowly break your heart. Instead, it becomes essential to give back to the artist: to spend the time to look, to tell them what you enjoyed, what moved you, that you appreciated their effort. Artists get so little else; they need your deep looking, your words, your emotional support. Some of them won't admit it, but they need it. We need it. And that's okay.
Roma once said: "There are only two things you can make art out of. The things that make you angry, and the things that comfort you."
And I have chosen to make art, and to live my life, for the things that comfort me. And to try to offer that comfort to others as well.