All original images and text are copyright 2008-2018 Liz Sweibel

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tiny Catharsis

Perhaps it was inevitable I'd be tested. Walking on W. 55th St. a week ago with a friend, a baby bird had fallen onto the sidewalk. Its wing was wrong and its beak was hurt, but it was a chipper little thing. We kept it from scooting into traffic by using our feet as barriers; it cuddled against them. I made a circle around it with my scarf, and it settled down. I started to cry. There was no one to help and my friend had to go, so we gently lifted it into a bag and the bird and I rode the Q train home. I watched it and wept into the bag, knowing it wasn't going to live and that the quality of its remaining time was up to me.

My car was the safest place for the night, quiet and away from my cats. I settled it in its scarf-bed, brought water, and dragged myself home. It felt awful to wish for a death, and to know anything was so alone. But I was relieved when, the next morning, I found the bird had died during the night. Sobbing, I packed it up, drove to Prospect Park, and made a little resting place in the reeds.

This feels like a miniature adjustment to my history and sense of self. Taking on this helpless little life regardless of the emotional and practical challenge felt like a turning-to. I didn't stop crying (not for days), but I stopped looking for someone to save either of us or feeling like it was more than I could take. And since then I've felt a little stronger, a little more able to manage a strike to the core. The panic that I'll witness something too awful for words will probably always haunt me, but maybe I found a little more faith that I can exceed myself.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's the Question?

I've spent hours in the studio struggling with the collages. Nothing makes any sense, though the cutting-out-of-things with my Exacto is soothing and satisfying. (The tip, however, breaks in 3.2 seconds. My self-healing pad heals itself, but at the blade's expense. How's that for a human metaphor?) The collages come in series and have persistently exhausted themselves and resurfaced, the same but different. The architectural/domestic subject matter continues, as does the implied but absent figure; the emphasis shifts (interior/exterior, decor/space, empty/waiting).

The nature of each transition becomes visible in retrospect, with just a vague awareness during the shift. I don't look for definition but watch the question re-form. And in that, the process clarifies and another series comes. The less cerebral my activity the more convincing the outcome. The work must be transitioning now, as my frustration has the quality of a forced silence, a distance from myself that is the being-lost before a new question can form.

The gesture of collage is to make sense of disparate pieces; the decisions within that speak to the particular experience of fragmentation. Mine has included trying to reconcile my interior life with the performance I give in the world to survive (not just monetarily, but as another part of my character) ... my enjoyment of solitariness with the absence of family ... my experience of the physical and aesthetic space of New York City with my love of open landscape, of sailing, of gardening.

I've wondered whether the collages might be trying to get at the tiny surprises of city life that thrill me (an architectural detail, a kindness from a stranger, a glimpse of green or a flower). But the tension there is easy, superficial. The real counterpoint is my pervasive dread of witnessing the uncared-for (horses pulling carriages up Eighth Avenue, the dirty white cat drinking out of a puddle in the gutter of a busy street, parents crushing children with their words). I can't dwell there; it's too annihilating for me to function.

These words signal a defense, and another layer of dread. They may or may not point to where these collages head, but reveal the rawest place I know in myself: horror for those who are betrayed by the only people they have to protect them. What could leave a living being more alone, vulnerable, and trapped in pain?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Shaq O'Neal

I had a good solid six hours in the studio today. It feels meaningless for the first two or so hours, like every choice I might make is guided more by my good eye than any rigorous question. My impulse is to stop work since I feel like a lightweight, but this is how it works. I have to stay, or act like a lightweight and start my week at a deficit. If one gesture resonates, I'm through - and if not, at least I stayed. I get so little time to work, with a week between, and that loss of momentum.

I got through, with extra turbulence because what was fueling the collages now feels known. To keep with that would be to act like a lightweight without leaving - that awful gray mushy space of biding time.

I've been told that the things in the periphery of my studio can be more interesting than where I'm focused. In grad school, in an act of unbridled frustration, I dumped out my trash and installed it. William Pope L. paid a studio visit and, after looking at my work, moved to my garbage. "You know who Shaq O'Neal is?" "Sure, why?" "Because he's not the greatest natural player but he's learned to play to his strengths, and that's made him great." Got it.

One collage was different, and I allowed its rhythm to infiltrate the rest. It's a tiny architectural landscape, all exterior.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Attitude Adjustment

I've felt weird about my last post for a couple of weeks - so whiny! - and was tempted to delete it. But I won't allow myself, as it seems dishonest to edit my less shining moments out of this history. Plus, I finally got so sick of myself wallowing in my petty complaints that I decided to push out and get on with things. I've felt better ever since.

My emotional make-up and history have made depression the default position. Many days have to start with me reminding myself, point by point, that things are pretty good (especially considering the horrors this economy is wreaking on less fortunate people). I'm not a negative person, but can get stuck in a down position until I do a reality check.

Positive developments: It is officially a habit to make few if any plans over the weekend so I can work in my studio. The collages have become consuming. They pick up where the Interior series left off: tiny and architectural, but different. Some are less interior; the spaces are more ambiguous and suggestive than realized. The structure is edited to the minimum then layered over a rendering or floor plan. Others are tinier than ever, with dense layers and juxtapositions of walls and windows. I work wherever my attention goes for as long as its held. These collages take a long time, and many visits.

I'm stopping myself when I feel the worry about all that I'm not doing moving in: sending out packages, scanning, making videos, updating my Web site, adding to flickr. It is a poison in my system to feel I'm never doing enough or doing enough right, and I have to be vigilant. Working is working, and I'm working.