Heather Kapplow, United States

Residency Period: 1 February 2015 - 31 July 2015


Heather Kapplow is a self-trained conceptual artist based in the United States. She creates engagement experiences that elicit unexpected intimacies using objects, alternative interpretations of existing environments, installation, performance, writing, audio and video. Her work has received government and private grants and has been included in galleries, film and performance festivals in the US and internationally.

URL: www.heatherkapplow.com

On-hiatus Proposal Summary

As a self taught artist who works conceptually, Heather sometimes struggles to identify when she is making art and when she is doing something else. During her residency at RFAOH, she wants to spend time exploring the boundary between making art and not making art and will be documenting her experiences. She hopes to get a clearer sense of what is and isn't an art practice for her, and to uncover or more deeply connect to the truth of what she is working at when making art. (She is also curious whether it is actually possible for her to "not make art.")

During her residency, she may also experiment with creative practices that fall outside of her repertoire to see if these feel the same or different from what she thinks of as art making. Possibilities include trying to make perfume, playing music, or writing fiction -- all areas where she has no previous experience.

Final Report

In my last posting on the RFAOH website, I said a good deal of what I feel should be said here, but now that I've had a month or so of "making art" "again" (is it art? did I ever stop?) maybe I'll say it in a different way.

When I applied to RFAOH, I was essentially proposing a challenge to the RFAOAH project itself. It looked to me as if everyone else who had done the residency before me had been on a hiatus for reasons more or less beyond their control, so I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if someone took an intentional hiatus just to do the residency. Though at the time I applied I was hoping to also experiment with some creative forms that I had not experimented with before, my real goals for the residency were to investigate my own nature as a creator and to get feedback and mentorship for a practice that I feel I have developed for myself almost entirely out of thin air. My starting point was that I was calling myself an artist but was having difficulty knowing the boundaries between my life and my art-making, and my hope was to discover them by trying to eliminate the activities in my life that I typically call art-making and seeing what else was there when they were subtracted.

What happened was that each time I subtracted something from the pile of activities in my life that I defined as art-related, something else jumped right into its place. During the period of the residency I went from being an artist who made a (meager) living doing commercial work unrelated to the arts, to being a non-artist, making a (meager) living that involved more or less complete immersion in the arts. Now I am (in a very month-to-month way) making a (meager) living that is all arts-related, and I am making art (which actually doesn't feel like art anymore!)

That what I'm doing doesn't feel like art anymore is important and gets at the kernal of what I was trying to uncover within RFAOH. I was in many ways looking for this sparkling moment that I have every once in a while where I know for one second that what I'm doing is magical. It doesn't happen often, but I had hoped to find where it lived--where it secretly hid out within my practices--and then to sharpen my awareness of its workings so that I could bring it to the surface more often and easily. I never found it. Or maybe the answer to that quest is just that if more of my life's time gets devoted to art, more opportunities will arise for that thing to emerge. But meanwhile, the activities of my "art making" feel more mundane than they ever have. They've become just the literal series of actions and steps involved in making nothing into something.

In the "works" that I am in the midst of, I can't see the magic part that I'm hoping will be in the final product. I can only see the all of the pieces (and of course the fear that they will all be in the same place at the same time and people will look at them and say "what are all of those pieces doing there?")

This is not a complaint though. It's actually kind of exciting. It's like becoming a surfer and then, after getting over the awe of being able to stand on water, getting really into the minutia of the mechanics involved in doing so.

Am I answering the questions?

As I said at the end of my last blog post, now that I understand how the RFOAH works (in both the nitty gritty way and the magic way, since it actually does both,) I think I would like to do it again someday in a completely different (but knowing me, not entirely different) way. I would like to try to not only not make art, but also to try to isolate myself from exposure to art as much as possible. I suspect, if the process were to work as it did this time, that by the end of a second RFAOH, I wouldn't be able to see anything in the world around me as artless...




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Answers to Last Month´s Quiz Questions

I know I mentioned other agendas for this post in my last long post, but first I’ll answer the questions that I posed at the beginning of last month:

Is coloring in a coloring book art? No. It might have felt more like art if I hadn’t had to share the coloring book with a 3 year old, but coloring in it felt not at all like making art. In the past my habit of coloring while keeping friends who were watching major sporting events on television company has felt slightly more like performance art, but this time it was just boring and annoying.

Is making/mailing a valentine art? Possibly. On Facebook, I offered to send out some poems left over from a work-related project as Valentines to the first 10 takers. These went out in elegant red envelopes with flourishy gold writing and personal notes to 10 “friends” and/or their beloveds. Many of these were received as art, and making them felt a bit like making art. But I realize, only because I was making/giving gifts. Sensation-wise, gift-giving (and sometimes even gift-wrapping) overlaps for me with art making. I knew this was the case theoretically because I’ve read The Gift by Lewis Hyde, but keeping closer track of this process has made me feel this more clearly. Art-making and gifting are related experiences for me on a sensual level.

Is judging a baked macaroni and cheese contest art? Unknown. This was a proposed collaboration that didn’t happen.

Is getting my hair braided art? Unknown. This was a proposed collaboration that hasn’t happened so far.

Is riding a bus and talking to strangers art? Unknown. This didn’t happen due to weather.

Is cultivating a dish of bacteria art? Not for me. At least not this time. Maybe for someone else it is. Maybe it depends on the bacteria and/or where it’s cultivated. Cultivating my dish of bacteria (obtained at workshop run by an artist and bacteriologist collaborating with one another…) did not feel like making art to me. Except for while I was photographing it when it looked very pretty.

Is documenting someone else’s art art? Unknown. This didn’t happen due to weather.

Is making a children’s book with a friend art? Unknown. This was a proposed collaboration that hasn’t happened so far.

What about making a catalog? Unknown. TBD.

What about reading a list of numbers that someone else wrote down? No. I was one of the many readers of One Million Years at the On Kawara retrospective at the Guggenheim in February. I really, really thought that being on stage in the center of the lobby at the Guggenheim wearing a suit and reading numbers into a microphone that was beaming my voice through the whole museum and outside to passersby was going to feel like making performance art, but it felt surprisingly unlike making art. It felt absolutely mundane. I spent all of my effort while there trying to infuse emotion into the numbers as I read them, but they were as dry to read aloud as to look at on the page. I had expected to feel closer to On Kawara—to feel a bit like I was inside of his work, but I felt no closer than I typically feel to any writer whose text I am reading. Maybe less close actually as most writers have a slightly more engaging writing style. Still, though it did not feel like art making, it felt like something of some significance. I’m just not sure yet what.

What about writing a proposal for an art project? I cannot tell a lie. This feels like art. Not every second of it, but the research, the brainstorming, the digital or hand sketching, and the writing processes where I feel my way from the seed of an idea to a more solidly shaped idea feels decidedly like making art. It feels like one half of the coin of art making for me—shaping an idea on paper—and then then the second part is shaping the idea in reality. The only part that doesn’t feel like making art is when I have to choose imagery of previous works and conform them to various specs…. Despite this feeling like art to me, I’m not going to refrain from doing it. Previous RFAOHers have assembled project proposals/grant applications while in the residency, so I think the activity itself is acceptable. I’m just being honest about how it feels. (The next step will be to be even more honest about how it feels—I’ll add this to my running list of practices to observe even more closely throughout my residency.)

What about shoveling snow? Yep. Shoveling snow feels like art-making! This one was a surprise for me. I don’t know if all snow-shoveling would feel like art, but the scale and scope of shoveling that I did this February had a lot of similarities to endurance-based performance projects that I’ve done in the past. There was also something about the engagement (and distortion) of the senses involved in shoveling heavy white stuff within a backdrop of heavy white stuff for hours that felt like an art practice. And then finally, I have to admit that I very sarcastically billed my snow shoveling on social media as performance art and the response was so realistic that I felt as if I had actually done a performance even though no one actually attended it in real life. It was an interesting experience that I will need to reflect on more deeply. Especially in contrast with how much my highly witnessed reading at the Guggenheim did not feel like art-making.

What about serving people ramen? I haven’t done this yet, but really hope to do it before the residency is up. I can barely wait to find out if it’s art or not!

I’ll save my discussion of my discussions with other artists for another post as this one is quite long enough already, but will just make note here that they (and this residency) are beginning to turn towards a much larger set of existential questions about what I am doing with my whole life’s time, and not just my art-making time. Would also like to think about art-mentorship in my next post if I don’t run out of space again. Meanwhile, here are the quiz questions for March:

Is corresponding with another artist by mail art?

Is writing in my RFAOH blog art?

Is writing in my “art ideas” book and/or talking to people about ideas that I have for art projects art?

Is the way that I use social media art?


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enrique wrote on Mar 14:

Yeah! Devil is tempting you!! (sinister laughter from behind) Be strong and resist hard!! Saludos!

Kelly wrote on Mar 10:

I could not love this more.