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

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Chink

The Drawing Center released an open call to Viewing Program artists for an exhibit titled "Day Job."  I began writing last night and in 20 minutes produced a lucid explanation of my situation from a perspective I'd not been conscious of:  essentially, that while the theme of my work has always been care, relationship, and paying attention, my day job has shown me the stronghold that abuse and exploitation can have within and between communities and individuals.  And not just shown me, but inserted me into.

My work feels puny in its shadow.  No wonder I feel so lost; no wonder whatever I do feels so futile; no wonder my work feels irrelevant in relation to my art heroes.  The need to leave my job in order to continue working has been a much bigger force than I knew.  And now that I am leaving, I can't just pick up where I left off, because its puniness is exposed.  The "Day Job" proposal comes at a synchronous time (it's even due August 23, the Monday after I leave); it's having me understand and confront this sooner than later.

It's also tapping my sense of being under-ambitious in my work, a sense that predates and stands apart from my day job.  In Prospect, Anne Truitt writes, "I remember a life-or-death feeling that security lay only in independence.  And I remember grief, grief that the cost of independence was an unspeakable loneliness."  Independence was essential in my growing-up too, and I've never learned to take on anything that was bigger than what I could do myself.  It could well be that my growth now hinges on my willingness to challenge this, and in the instant of writing this I feel myself grieving my ways of working, instantly forgetting that I don't have to give them up but do have to question and expand them.  I've grown too comfortable, which is grating given how uncomfortable I am.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Easier Said Than Done

The studio is excruciating when it's been dormant, or nearly so, and when I've gone through so much time and so many changes since really engaging that I don't know what I make any more.

I worked with paper today, then wire, watching myself struggle to construct something that stands up or is coherent out of small, undefined bits.  It's the same struggle I'm having outside the studio, in my working life, made worse by my concern that I won't get ahead of myself in the studio to help with the risks I'm taking outside it.

The real need now is to open my work up to whatever it needs to be.  Isn't that what I'm making all these changes for?  When I think of my art heroes, a miles-wide chasm opens between what I do and the work I most respect.  I feel like a little girl looking at the grown-ups and wanting something, but not sure what it is for me or how to go about finding out, let alone how to get it.  This is a hard, hard, painful thing to feel at my age - the logical result of how I've lived, but that's small comfort.  What is a comfort is writing.  Or is it a distraction?

Now that the shock's worn off from yesterday's fall and I've taken stock of all the places that are scraped or hurting, I see I'm lucky I didn't seriously injure or break anything.  I plan to go running again tomorrow - to get back on the horse.  Same with the studio.  I'm very agitated.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In My Head, Gardening

I'm very much in my head.  The upside is my head is a better place to be, as I'm getting excited about the next phase:  more art, more teaching, more flexibility over my time.  When I was waiting to give notice and lagging, my wise friend Alicia promised I'd get my energy back once I leave.  Just giving notice has helped.  I've been going running more, which energizes me, so the momentum is positive.  I have the next four days off and will be able to move into the studio.

There's a lovely small house that I pine for when I run.  It's architecturally out of place, but quietly so.  (I empathize.)  The front yard has an ivy cover, and a garden along the facade.  I was imagining what I would do with that garden - English-style, with lilies and ... - when I hit the pavement.  I was down before I knew I was falling.  I saw my bruised shoulder right away but didn't notice my bleeding knuckles until a half mile or so down the road.

Why the photos?  They seem an apt juxtaposition to my roller-skating days.

It's strange to fall as a grown-up.  I fell twice before in the last couple of years.  One was also while running (though on a path in Prospect Park); the other was while walking along the street at night and missing a cliff in the sidewalk.  I had to chase rolling cans of cat food and collect my asparagus.

At 53, I can still bounce up from a spill and keep running.  It's reassuring given the changes ahead.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I started a post a few days ago but wasn't able to find the right tone, or the many right tones.  My connection to my self is fragile and I'm quickly overwhelmed.  I resigned my full-time job.  On August 20 I return to independent worker status.  I've got a nice line-up of fall classes to teach at LIM College and a book to edit, but need to be in marketing mode 24/7 to get this new life off the ground - and keep it aloft.

My reasons for leaving my full-time job are complex but boil down to making space for my artwork to grow into and the impossibility of continuing to work for my employer.  I adore the students but have come to feel complicit with practices I can't abide.  The leaving is bittersweet; some colleagues and many students have touched me.  I'd like to write about some of the students but feel tentative.  Their lives are very different from mine, and writing from where we've connected seems to risk romanticizing them, and that is at best unfair.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Fire Island

Queens Boulevard, Forest Hills, 7.15.2010

Sally invited me to her family’s Fire Island beach cottage last weekend, one of the best invitations ever.  The stress goes out as soon as I board the ferry and the nostalgia comes in, like a tide.

I took the LIRR to Bay Shore Thursday night so I could wake up on the island.  (The photos are from my trip.)  The station names echoed - Jamaica, Freeport, Lynbrook.  Friday morning over coffee, I started talking about my parents’ deaths, sad narratives I hadn’t spoken in a long time.

That night I dreamed I was running from a string of violent crimes I’d committed.  I was running with someone; I don't know if it was a man or woman, only that I was at risk of getting caught having done harm.  I'd grotesquely reduced one victim to a balloon animal.
Platform, Jamaica Station, LIRR, 7.15.2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Marquez on Time

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes "...and then they understood that Jose Arcadio Buendia was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room."  This is an incredibly beautiful and poignant sentence.

I'm getting emotionally overwhelmed, between opening wide to memory to write my LMCC proposal and upcoming changes in my immediate family (chosen and of origin) and work life.  My wonderful cat Riley's death was a year ago Saturday, and that's with me as well.  Everything just feels so sensitive.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Braving Want

I'm finished with Turn, and as much as Anne Truitt's way and work move and inspire me, we don't live in the same (art) world or time.  If I want my work to be visible, I have to market it - hard.  Her fortunate early meetings with Kenneth Noland, David Smith, Clement Greenberg, and Andre Emmerich laid the foundation for her career; even the way she writes about these introductions, casually, is to visit a different universe.  But her marriage to James Truitt already had her traveling in rare circles, though she didn't seem to feel of them, and so perhaps other rare circles would seem equally "normal."

I'm working on an application to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for a Swing Space residency on Governor's Island.  I want this so much, and am making my want public.  This residency is perfect for me - the island locale, the ferry commute, the studio space, the work hours available and expected, and the fit with my work and the life I'm maneuvering toward.

The trick is it's project-based; I'm oriented to process.  So I'm taking that as a new challenge too:  to envision an outcome that the tools and spirit of this residency will particularly make possible.  I'm getting there, daydreaming and making notes on the subway.  The application is due July 22.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Echoes reconcile."

Paul Chan spoke in a panel at MoMA last night about Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, which was staged in the Lower Ninth Ward in November 2007.  Other panelists were Robert Lynn Green, a life-long Lower Ninth resident, Katrina survivor (he lost his mother and granddaughter), and neighborhood ambassador for Chan's project; Greta Gladney, Executive Director of the Renaissance Project, a nonprofit committed to quality-of-life in New Orleans; and Christopher McElroen, the director.  Kathy Halbreich of MoMA moderated.

I must be relating all these facts because there's so little I can write to convey the human and humane power of their conversation.  Green's everyday eloquence (wearing socks with flip-flops with his suit), Gladney's professionalism just barely and not always holding back a well of high emotion (her family home is in the Lower Ninth), McElroen's pointed sensitivity to place and people, and Chan's profound intelligence (and humor) (and absence of ego) (and gift for articulating his thoughts) made for a bittersweet, poignant coming-together that had me holding my breath and holding back tears (not so successfully).

I've been thinking about the pull of geography, and how bird-like many of us are in our magnetic draw to a place and what it holds.  For Green and Gladney, Katrina was an unfathomable devastation of their place.

Paul Chan's statement about the project is well worth reading.  The power of art to bring awareness and compassion and to effect change doesn't get better than this.