Here Be Dragons

Last week I went to a lecture given by the artist Clifford Owens. During the course of the evening he performed The Walker score from Anthology 2011, later he broke down in tears, and an audience member got naked. In some ways, I suppose, we should expect nothing less from an artist who does primarily performative-based works. And that’s what got me.

I am an open person. BUT I tend to only “share” when I feel it’s relevant. Consequently, even my closest friends will be shocked by parts of my history that only come up when they are experiencing a similar event/crisis. I don’t hide, but I don’t spew. Earlier that day, in fact, I had noticed when talking with some friends, I put up a wall. The conversation had taken a turn that felt vaguely, ever-so-vaguely, threatening and I noticed my wall go up. I got quiet and cold. I did not cry, I did not lash out, I was not outwardly demonstrative and only those closest to me ever notice this shift when it happens. (Full disclosure, this was NOT my demeanor as a teenager.) So… does this make me a bad artist? It seems we expect artists (especially those doing performance work) to bare all and to bleed; sometimes literally.

So I walked in the door after the lecture, lay down on the floor, and stared at the ceiling as I mulled all of this over with my (very art-patient) husband. He listened as I chewed over all of this; my worries that my performance work is more of the slow-simmer variety and therefore might make less of an impact, my concerns that people are expecting me to be an emotional disaster and will reject me when they find out that I’m actually pretty darned happy, and is it wrong of me to be angry at artists who play into the nervous-wreck stereotypes even when I like their work?

The answer to that last question was long and involved but here’s a synopsis. If I like the work, then I like the work. When I do like a work I will think a lot about it. It helps me see things or notice things that I didn’t necessarily notice before. For me, I like art best, when it is a conduit for a teaching moment. Blaming the artist for not having their shit together in other aspects of their life… that gets into my expectations, and that’s my short-coming, not theirs. So, yeah, it can be disappointing, but it’s pointless for me to be upset about it.

The slow-simmer variety of art versus the pressure cooker blood-bath type… We came to the conclusion that it’s just what works for me. When I commit to a project, I commit completely. I do, in fact, bare all within the context of the work. No holds barred. If and when that silent wall goes up I notice it and chip it back down because it has no place in my work once I’ve committed to a project. (In my personal life, however, sometimes I will leave it up. Boundaries are important.) The issues I explore are an underlying kind of violence, dealing with subtle levels of building up and tearing apart identity. Exploring the unknown places on the map, I chart my course and set sail; if and when I find sea monsters, I deal with them. Otherwise, I just try to keep mutiny at bay.

This very post, for example, took some time for me to write. I had a wall go up during the lecture, but because it deals directly with my concerns about 10,000 Hours as a performance project, these issues are now open for all to see. Anything and everything related to my #10kHrs journey is fair game. And this just seems to be me in my art and in my life; if I feel it’s relevant then I am completely open. And it’s always a struggle to click “publish.”

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