Monthly Archives: October 2008

Timid Associations

I’d seen pictures of this apartment ahead of time.  But when I got here it looked nothing like I’d envisioned.  And I was unable to remember how I’d imagined it before.

All I could think was: This is a strange place.

I was surprised by my reaction– by my sudden homesickness.

***

I used to stay in strange apartment all the time– house-sitting, cat-sitting.  At the drop of a hat, and for weeks at a time.  Rarely have I stayed anyplace for more than three months.  I never gave it much thought but until last spring, I’ve been living out a suitcase since college.  I like to think I can always leave a place if I have to.

But I realized when I was alone in this apartment I felt nostalgic for my own chairs and the things back at home that comfort me.

***

After a few phone calls and a short nap, I start to peek around the apartment.  (**for dramatic purposes I’m going to suddenly switch to the first person)…

I can’t get over how big it is.  It’s like a two bedroom apartment by New York standards.  I also can’t get over how quiet it is.  I don’t hear any cars or buses.  Or people shouting.  There’s nothing that makes the floor rumble.  And, as if all this weren’t strange enough, I can actually hear birds chirping.

***

Another thing that surprises me: I’m incredibly timid.  I tiptoe around the apartment.  I don’t touch anything.  I know Megan said I could do whatever I want, but for some reason I feel really nervous about moving things.  In some way her apartment reminds me of my own and the thought of disturbing her organization seems really taboo.

(For weeks I’ve had fantasies about how “crazy I was going to go on this apartment”.  Rearranging everything.  Making it totally unrecognizable. )

But for the first few hours I just stare at the furniture.  I turn some chairs upside-down.  I make a fort under her table.  I sit in the bathtub.  For a long time, all I can think about is my apartment back home.

***

The one thing that embarrasses me is the video I made for the webcam where I’m playing with the table and chairs.  At the end I’m trying really hard to look casual, as if I’m not aware of the camera.  It’s the most unconvincing “casual” in all the history of art/process-documentation.

But somehow I love it all the same.

***

When exactly did my break-through happen?  It was after I put on my pajamas… I remember that much.  It was like all of a sudden I had a really clear sense of objects that ought to go together.  And the tone of it all just fell into place.

***

It all started with a chair I put beside the toilet.  They were the same height but different textures and different shapes  They had different functions.  But from a design perspective the made a really interesting couple.

I sat in the tub, admiring them for a long time.

I thought about long conversations.  And about people that compliment one another.  And how that basic element of complementary differences can make for some really awesome discussions.  Or TV shows.  Or whatever.

***

And then it all came down to me playing with objects.  Carefully selecting pairs and groups.   Trying out different jokes.  Different references.  Different visual arrangements.

***

I don’t have a lot to say about the actual working process because it just somehow happened.

I wasn’t thinking about my apartment in Brooklyn.  And I wasn’t worried that Megan might not like the decorative light-bulb I hung from the ceiling.  It all just happened like a blur.

***

Whenever I come up with something really good, it’s like it just happens and suddenly I’m looking at it and I’m like “Wow, that’s hilarious… whoever came up with that is a genious.”

Well, in any case, this experience went from being tragic/anxiety-ridden to being totally effortless and fun.

Potato/potato, I guess.

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take your time. live a little.

Part of this project involves documenting myself within the installations. How I interact with them, adjust to them, how the shift of my own cocoon could affect so many other parts of my life. The streaming video is both a form of documentation for the project as well as an extension of whatever installation I’m currently living in. In front of me is the installation, the change, a new experience. Behind me is the camera calling me out on all of my bullshit. The convergence of these two situations is a beautiful balancing act. Jumping forward yet constantly keeping myself in check. My identity is both lost as well as redefined as I weave my way through.

In social situations I spend a lot of my time examining others, something I’ve come to believe to be social survival. I believe if I read someone well enough, I am therefore more capable of understanding and for me understanding creates ease. Our energy is more than a wide smile and a bright shirt, it’s how we prioritize our life. So while I’m busy trying to figure out everyone else, what sort of energy am I projecting out to others about myself? Am I then, ever really present?

For this very reason I tried to take my time in Mary Beth’s installation. Focusing on myself, my habits, how I behaved in the space. I noticed I hardly ever hear the sound of my own voice. I have to have noise on at all times. I sit at my computer about 90% of the time I’m in my apartment which would account for about 10% of my overall existence, but also means I’m in front of a computer 90% of my day. scary shit.

Through out the space Mary Beth uses color as a tool of shifting energies. The energies we exert without consciousness. As I walk through my apartment I see her pointing at me and pointing to the color and declaring “You can be this today!” It’s about choice, priority, and awareness and more importantly it’s all up to me. The specific placement of color is something I believe to be a special gift of Mary Beth’s. The hallway is embraced with warm hues of orange, red, and sage green hugging me as I walk out the door every morning and come home every night. The kitchen is lined with reds leading to the bridge before the fall. She has very systematically yet simplistically created a structure leading the eye from my bookshelf to a sea of blue engulfing the doomed porch. Energy reinforcement!

I compared her placement to that of a painting. I felt the treatment of composition was as studied and meticulous as a brushstroke on a canvas. The hues and placements of the different blues create a textured, calming environment. I see surrealism in the white chiffon billowing above the white table and the pink shoes peaking out from behind the layers of blue sky. Mischeivious? fearful? Playful? Her efforts to pull this sagging structure up from a space to be feared in to a sanctuary were successful, but the placement of the shoes seems to be symbolic foreshadowing. Even the structure leading into the porch. I call it a bridge but it’s more like a play on the crack in the ceiling and in the floor. A series of angular facets leading to the fatal fall and then the whole thing becomes an iceberg floating in the middle of the arctic. If you shift your perspective just slightly, you shift the identity of the entire piece.

I recently saw the documentary “Guest of Cindy Sherman”, a great film about the artist’s work and her reclusive personality. Shying away from interviews the artist with so many identities has gone without her own (at least to the public) for decades. She paints her face, stares confidently into the camera and tells us she can be whoever she wants to be. But she’s also letting us know that we are all capable of the same reality shift, of being several people at once. She points to our associations and assumptions about appearance, our stereotypes and judgements. She accentuates the exterior layer of identity, causing the viewer to forget what and who we are looking at and then the “aHa” moment and the joke is on us. We were fooled by her own fiction just as we can be of our own.

Searching for one’s own identity can be the sort of mind-fuck that can drive you to drink. But sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh at the ridiculousness of such an egotistical question. I tend to treat it as a rhetorical question. My identity thus far has been very fluid, lacking a definition, constantly adapting and shifting with each new situation.

Next to physical appearance our “home” is an extension of our identity. I remember living in an apartment in England with four friends. I was walking home and realized how small my space in the world really was. Like stacking Russian dolls…i had the top half of one bunk in half of a room in one fifth of one town house on a block of twenty. The idea of property and ownership no longer apply as signifiers of “home”. It just keeps getting smaller until you realize you are sliver. You either define your home as your rationed seat on the sofa or you break the wall of tangibility and home becomes an idea. Something you carry with you.