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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I've spent time in Prospect Park the last two days, and there was much to take in.  After my run yesterday I stopped by the lake to watch this swan - a really big one being really territorial.  He was bullying away all the ducks in his vicinity, run-paddling through the water to disperse them.  I didn't know a swan could move so fast.  Once he had cleared his space, he started a major housekeeping project.  It was absolutely a performance.  Any duck that got too close he'd chase off.  He started to move toward shore.  When he got in water shallow enough to stand, he started the next phase of cleaning, facing his human audience.  Out of nowhere, this little duck paddled up behind him and bit his ass and paddled away.  Hooray for the little guy.

Today held multiple events.  First, I fell again.  I looked away for a nanosecond and went down.  I was on the dirt path, since it's better for me to run off the pavement in terms of the pounding.  (I won't make the obvious joke.)  I took the brunt of the fall on my palms and really bruised my left hand, which was still bruised from last time.  I was upset, though of course kept going, covered in a fine Brooklyn dust.  My hand is going to hurt for weeks; it's swollen and tight and tender.

I parked myself by the lake afterward for a long, long time.  And it dawned on me:  This practice - of sitting by the water by myself for long periods, just watching and thinking - has been life-long.  In elementary school I'd ride my bike to the town dock with my fishing pole.  I didn't use bait or intend to catch anything, so the pole was a prop to make people think I had a practical purpose and wasn't just a young girl who preferred solitude.  I spent a lot of time at the duck pond by myself too.  These memories reinforce the Governor's Island residency, which feels very vulnerable to want so much.  I'll know within a month.

There's horseback riding at the park.  The horses are nice to see and seem well cared for, unlike the heart-breaking beasts pulling the carriages in Central Park.  As a string of horses walked by, one beautiful brown animal suddenly laid down (its rider slithered off gracefully considering) and started rolling around on its back in the dirt.  Amazing.  This giant animal, saddle and all, was just rocking out in the dirt.  He stood up, his rider remounted, and off they went.  Wonderful.

There's more!  Late afternoon must be swan bathing time.  A family of parents and four signets were floating close by each other, each busy with its own cleaning.  Each also had one leg somehow flipped over its back.  The flipper looked affixed to the swan at a ridiculous angle, at odds with the bird's grace.  That each swan was in the same awkward position floating close to the others made for a strange landscape.

Time to ice my hands.  I'm upset about the fall.  The last one was July 28, exactly a month ago.  Odd.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One Step, Then the Next. Repeat.

I finished my full-time job Friday.  While I was more than ready, having been planning my departure since spring, it was surreal and not the purely celebratory moment I envisioned.  I have unfinished business there, so that fuels some fuzziness in my departure, and perhaps that made it slower for me to realize I'm out.  Walking away my last day, I purposefully went straight across town - to exit the barren neighborhood of the college toward areas that remind me why I live in New York and toward where I now happily adjunct.

Yesterday, I began experiencing not going there.  It's a huge relief, yet I've always struggled with transitions.  Little of my time is structured now; I teach three mornings a week and have the rest for prepping and grading, writing/editing jobs, and reinvigorating my studio practice.  My financial anxiety is high.

I did submit a proposal to "Day Job" at the Drawing Center, the result of an eleventh-hour decision to either come up with an idea that resonated or not submit (unacceptable).  The collage-based ideas were dull and rote and forced.  Maybe I needed to be done with my job to free me up, as the better idea came (the day the proposal was due, of course).  It is as good as I could produce, and I overhauled my Artist Registry portfolio since that's what the Selection Committee will be using to see work.  It's hard, knowing what a long shot these things are, but it's no shot at all if I don't submit.

What I'm finding is that I need to cork the self-chatter that would have me wing it in my unstructured time.  I need to have clear objectives for each day and then not argue with myself or let myself off the hook.  I'm also planning to do much of my schoolwork at LIM so less comes home, especially grading.  I'll be more efficient there, and home will be clearer.  I'm grateful that LIM, unlike many or most colleges, welcomes its adjuncts and provides nice workspace and a good, friendly environment.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beginners Mind

As I ease out of my full-time job (one week to go), I'm seeing with more clarity (and pain) how silenced I am in my work; it set in with the loss of my loft in October 2007 then took deep hold starting in 2008.  I'm starting to see that the worst thing I can do is go into my studio and try to "pick up where I left off."  I did that last week, and while I felt some success in the bare fact of working, I was sidestepping how inconsequential my work has come to feel.  My attempts to maneuver the collages into a proposal for "Day Job" are forced and futile.

Better to stay out of the studio.  Better to create conditions that will help me open up.  I don't know what they are (and barely what they aren't), but think one place to begin is to ask myself some very hard questions and be unsatisfied with every answer that doesn't make me cry.  Another is to acknowledge what gets me going, since I'm so shut down that whatever does must be very important.  I think starting with the latter will help with the former.
  1. In a single museum visit, Anne Truitt first saw the work of Ad Reinhardt, Barnett Newman, and one other artist she could not remember.  In a kind of epiphany, she realized she didn't need to work in the service of materials but rather could make whatever she wanted.  Her breakthrough piece, First, came soon after and set the course of her work for the rest of her life.
  2. In the Art:21 episode on Doris Salcedo, a studio assistant told of one day when they heard gunshots outside the studio in Bogota.  They were working on Unland: The Orphan's Tunic, weaving strands of human hair into cloth and table.  He said something like, "What can you do but drill millions of tiny holes?"  The only response to violence is to dig deeper into what we can do to protest it, even if it's the accumulation of a zillion seemingly tiny acts.  Salcedo's work - what she can do - gives the victims and survivors a voice.
  3. Douglas Weathersby used a small project he did in my Boston studio to make photographs, which I never forgot.  Even his invoice was special.  He integrates his life and work, and achieves a kind of intimacy and universality where the risk is pettiness or grandiosity.  Alethea Norene, an artist I learned about this week, strikes a similar chord.  So does Nina Katchadourian.
I'm going to leave it at that for now.  Three is a good number.  I meditated this morning.  I'm going running this afternoon and will think about (1) making whatever I want that (2) does what I can do about what's most important to me and (3) seeks integrating my day-to-day into the doing.  Being back into regular running is a big help these days.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Size ... Scale

I've been in the studio all day working with "Day Job" ideas.  I fall into illustrative mode when I'm out of my practice or pushing myself to explore a set theme, and the work tends to be immature and heavy-handed.  But I worked solidly, and since it is the first time in many weeks and has left me with things to think about, I am satisfied.

The experience of my full-time job is a potent mix, from the thrill of seeing students progress to anguish over my sense of complicity with my employer to astonishment at the thinking and behavior within the organization.  When I try to net it out, the job has made me and my efforts and abilities feel small and futile against the dysfunction in the college and the larger cultures in which it operates.  My idealism has taken a beating; I'm disillusioned, angry, and deflated.

So what does that look like?  I'm spring-boarding off my series of collages, thinking about size and scale.  A clear distinction was put in front of me recently:  size is absolute and scale is relative.  The architecture of the collages is interior and is not a scaled-down version of the world but a to-size portrait of my interior life.  The size matches my body, and the viewer's, which is how they are intimate.

Their exploration of scale is another matter; scale shifts ask the viewer to look more carefully.  They deliver nuance, surprises that complicate the perspective.  So if the collages' small size is one way to call for a viewer's attention, scale shifts are another.

My full-time job has shrunk me as a person, made me feel less powerful and able and less good about my potential to have an impact.  It's also produced a scale shift; I experience the poverty and pain in the world as much, much huger than before.  I feel utterly tiny beside it.  This is not my employer's doing, though; I've been exposed to new people and cultures, and that could have happened in any number of environments.