Tag Archives: performance art

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.”

Ingrid Murnane & @Platea Mentions

AWWSelfPort by Laura IsaacI have been honored to have one of my first knitting-based projects featured on both @Platea’s blog & textile historian/artist, Ingrid Murnane’s blog.

Here is what Ingrid had to say: I have been following artist Laura Isaac’s work for a few months now, since fellow @platea member, Joanie San Chirico pointed me in the direction of her knitting project, 10,000 Hours. Laura attempted to learn to knit, from complete beginner to expert standing in the given, 10,000 hours to explore the theory it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Take a look – it’s a great project. More recently, continuing her knitting practise, Laura has responded to the arrest of the Chinese artist and activist, Ai WeiWei with a knitting vigil, marking time by knitting a sunflower seed pattern until his release. Below, she tells us more (reblogged with permission from Laura, from the @platea blog).

Here is what Joanie San Chirico of @Platea had to say: I was writing a post about responses to the prompt to show support for Ai Weiwei by using sunflower seeds. That post is still coming, but when I saw Laura Isaac’s powerful new avatar on Twitter depicting her Knitting Vigil, I knew that I had to find out more. I asked Laura for an image and some information and decided that her email warranted being posted in full.

And here are my comments about the project: I have always enjoyed Ai Weiwei’s work and his Sunflower Seeds (2010) had quickly become one of my favorite works of all time. It’s such a powerful and touching statement about individuality and mass consumer culture. I remember watching his interviews and sessions at the Tate during last October and really being afraid for him when he returned home to China. I have met many people who were “detained” by the Chinese government; they were lucky to survive. With Ai’s arrest we have the opportunity to get a massive protest going because he is so well known internationally. The trick is to not lose focus and not let up. The Chinese government is good at playing the waiting game and they’re hoping we’ll forget. We can’t forget about Ai, his associates, or the countless others who have “disappeared”.

I was really moved when I saw the first Sunflower Seeds Hour Count photo on Twitter. I thought it was a such a beautiful way to peacefully protest. I wanted to participate, but I wanted to mark the hours he’s lost in a different way. I wanted to spend time with each sunflower seed. I decided to write a knitting chart. (I’ve never written one before, since I only started knitting in February for another project.) I stayed up one night, charted out the sunflower seed, and the next afternoon I taught myself to knit the image from YouTube videos.

I decided to post the pattern for free on Ravelry for anyone else who would like to join my knitting vigil. As of this post, the pattern has been downloaded 45 times and there are 23 members of the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group and more from my website. Members of the group have decided to knit the pattern on squares and send them to Chinese embassies. Others have proposed knitting the sunflower seeds while pacing outside of the embassies. (You have to knit and walk at the same time since it is illegal to “obstruct the flow of traffic” on the sidewalk.) Another member is going to knit it on little cushions and give them to her friends as a way of spreading awareness. I think these are all beautiful ideas. Sending in a knitted protest is powerful. It says, “I have taken a lot of time to tell you that I think what is happening is wrong”, but it’s also soft and comforting. It’s about as non-violent as a protest can get. I would love to see some group “yarn bomb” a public place with sunflower seed squares, and maybe include a “Release Ai Weiwei” sticker.

Meanwhile, knitting a little more on my sunflower seeds each day helps me cope with the idea that the world is not a safe place, that there are people I can’t protect, and that time is precious. I sincerely hope that Ai Weiwei and his associates will be released safely very soon, and that they will be able to see how so many people across the globe have made sure that they didn’t completely “disappear”.

@Platea describe themselves as “a global collective of individuals interested in the power of public art carried out in the digital megacity of social media. Some of the projects can be subversive, tucked away in hidden locales in online space for only the most dedicated to find. Others can be overt (but not obvious), causing most daily users to pause and take notice. Some can be playful. Some can be serious. Some ‘local’, some ‘city-wide’. Almost all, we hope, will challenge members of the digital city in the same way the best public art does.” Find out more about their projects here.

Ingrid Murnane is a textile historian, artist, vintage knitter, and self-described museum dweller. Find out more about her & her work here.

Click here to download the “Release Ai Weiwei” pattern on Ravelry.

Click here to join the Knitting Vigil group where we will share photos of our “Release Ai Weiwei” projects and news we find about Ai’s arrest.

Beginner’s Mind

On Friday, February 4th I launched my 10,000 hour long journey. For eight straight hours I sat and knitted. (Full disclosure: I had a friend teach me to cast-on, knit, purl, and bind-off and had completed two small sample squares just prior to the 4th.)

I white-knuckled my way through the first four hours with my needles clenched in a death-grip for fear the yarn would fly off the needles unraveling itself. By the last (eighth) hour my fingers were no longer acting under the direction of my brain. They were cramped and wiggly and it took immense concentration to make them move where I wanted them to move. So for my first bit of knitting-related research I looked up how to prevent Repetitive Stress Injury while knitting.

I have based this entire journey on the research of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. I am in the midst of reading his book, which is rather dry as it was written for other scientists. But a much shorter & easier read is this article. It’s important to note that it must be 10,000 hours of deliberate practice & training. I can’t just knit & purl my way through a mile’s worth of stockinette stitched scarfs.

I have committed myself not only to knit for 10,000 hours but to constantly push myself to learn new techniques, receive feedback & training, and stretch myself. In other words, I’ve committed myself to 10,000 hours of being awkward and uncomfortable, forcing myself to be a beginner every day by always seeking something new to learn & accomplish in my knitting. I’ve made a commitment that will ultimately change me; constant transformation is the real goal, not fancy stitches (although that should be fun too.)