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.
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.
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...
On Jul 2 2015, shinobu commented on The Big Reveal: This is great, Heather, could we please have 10 of these reports in your last month particularly if [...]
On Jun 11 2015, enrique commented on Another Thought....: thanks heather! I found the catalog on amazon. Best wishes !![...]
On May 25 2015, heather commented on Another Thought....: Welcome aboard Georgia! Enrigue, the book I've been looking at is a catalog for a touring show from [...]
From RFAOH co-directors
Heather Kapplow ended her 6 month on-hiatus residency a week early to participate in an art exhibition, thus resuming her art practice. Heather was not like a usual candidate in the sense that she decided to actively “stop” her art practice to ask compelling questions about what constitutes “artmaking” for herself. We feel that her honest, and often humorous approaches and examinations brought many refreshing angles to this same inquiry, posed and answered by many in our recent past. RFAOH sincerely wishes the best of luck for her post on-hiatus life, and look forward to hearing about what she is doing as art practice or not art practice.
Click “Final Report” to read on her experience at RFAOH.
I just looked at the calendar and realized that my time in RFAOH is drawing very quickly to a close. I only have 2 more days in which to not make art!!
Instead of art, these last few weeks since my last entry here, I have been doing a lot of “research”—social research, ethnographic research, and regular old research. I just finished a 4 day run of non-performances, where I used realtime online dating apps to try to lure people to see public art.
Then I started some work as an “artistic ethnographer”, attending meetings about the arts in my city and gathering data/documenting/intervening creatively.
Now I’m gathering some information for the first artist’s talk I’ll be giving in over six months on the evening of the 23rd (a few hours after my residency officially ends), and am about to go deliver the first framed-on-the-wall work I can remember showing ever for an exhibit that opens on the 24th (don’t worry, I made it before I started RFHAO!)
I’m not sure what I should say here and what I should leave for my final report, but I guess I want to note that whether it was coincidence or not, it feels like what has happened here is that by trying with all my might not to make art for six months, I somehow catapulted myself into a state where every aspect and moment of my life is now steeped in art to a degree that it never has been before. It’s like I was holding my breath and trying to stay underwater for as long as possible, and then noticed at some point that instead of holding my breath, I was just underwater and getting oxygen wasn’t really a problem. The new problem is that being underwater means having to swim all the time.
Now that I understand it better, I want to do the residency again someday and really not go anywhere near art. Except the funny thing is that when I think about what that would mean—when I imagine taking a real retreat from the pace of things set by this new state of non-stop-art-immersion I’ve found myself in—the first thing I think is: maybe I could teach myself watercolors or something. So right now, even an imagined genuine break/vacation from art, involves art making!
Where did we leave off? Oh yes, in my last two posts I was vowing to abstain from all exposure to the arts for a full week and wondering rhetorically whether I could make “a different kind of art” right now under an alias….
Let’s go ahead and close these loops as they lead directly to the conclusions I am arriving at as my residency here (where is here?) winds down.
Vow=not possible to keep. As we speak, I am taking a break from working on some work-work which involves looking at and writing about other people’s art and the history of artists influencing each other. In the background, as I type, there is original live music because I live with a musician. Things are being composed in the air around me as I write here—there is stopping and starting and starting again with slightly different tempo or intonation… In the morning, I will sit with a playwright and give feedback as he struggles to find voices for his characters that balance realism and allegory, and then, after an afternoon of refining questions for some interviews that I will be doing with filmmakers later this week, I will go hear someone read from their new book. I can’t escape art. I don’t think this was always the case, but during my tenure here it has increasingly become so: I am immersed in art almost 24/7. I would have to take a radical break from my life to abstain from contact with art. I think I would actually really like to do that sometime, but it just isn’t plausible right now. So realization #1: I will need to do this residency again some day. Totally differently. Truly abstaining.
Next, aliases: I have not used any aliases that disguise my identity. But I have been saying yes to opportunities that I would normally classify as art by re-classifying them as other things. I mentioned two of these in my April posting: cooking for a live audience within someone’s art installation which I would have typically called “performing”, became simply “cooking”; making experimental short videos for someone’s alternative broadcast network, which I would have previously labelled “multimedia art”, became “experimental journalism”; and now, a project happening during the next few weeks which will involve sexually charged virtual exchanges with strangers culminating in a non-virtual public moment that I would have once called “public engagement art” but am billing as “a social experiment.”
A few weeks ago I had a brief but very satisfying conversation with someone that is not an artist but whom I think is pretty fabulous and strongly reccommend as a potential advisor for RFAOH, Jason Eppink. He told me that he stopped making art several years ago and now only makes mischief (which in many cases looks indistinguishable to me from art…)
Realization #2: I don’t have to make art, I just have to do these things that I have to do. (Which leads directly to realization #3: I don’t have to be an artist. I just have to be this thing that I am.)
Finally, I actually will be showing some art before the residency officially ends, so think I will need to end my residency a few days early. Unless I can think of a way to bill a series of photographs as something other than art, I have 10 small Polaroid images that I took in December 2014 that will be in a gallery show that I orginally thought was opening on July 31st, but which will be opening on July 24th. I will keep thinking though in case a fabulous way of describing this work as something other than art arises.
But regardless, I think my work here is almost done.
The next things I will need to think about as a whatever-I-am-if-not-exactly-an-artist-shmartist-etc. are what it means now that I have shifted gears into this place where everything is art and I am just a small part of that by virtue of being aware of it, and then what it means in terms of my personal political responsibility to stand in this space where I’m now standing.
Golly gee I don’t know the answers yet, so for now I leave you with this small food for thought:
Some of my work-work currently has me looking very closely at the artwork, lives and influence (on the West) of mid-19th Century Japanese printmakers. One thing that strikes me in reading about these guys (yes, so far they’re all guys…) is that when they “retire” they always continue to make art. It is as if retiring from being an artist is just an excuse to be a different kind of artist. It has also caught my attention that they constantly change their names and then make different kinds of artwork. I’m wondering if I can get away with making art under a different name while in residency here…
Just a Thought: Maybe I´m Not Not Doing Art Properly
Just thinking today about Tehching Hsieh, whom I know is advising on this project, and of his “No Art Piece”….Even while not making (my own) art, I have not been in any way abstaining from contact with art or thinking (almost obsessively) about art. It can’t be this month because I have already committed to many of the things I outlined in the last post during the next 30 days or so, but I hereby commit to finding a solid week before this residency is up where I abstain from all contact with all art—including, music, film, everything I find artful. I’ll fill all of those little voids with something that is not art. Nature if possible. Or maybe just whatever I can find that seems the most opposed to art. (Balancing my checkbook? Reorganizing files?) I think it might be really useful for me to not just not make art, but actually subtract art in my efforts to identify the things I am trying to identify here. I wonder if it will even be possible though–my work and my social life all involve almost constant exposure to art in the next few months…. We’ll see. When I do it, I’ll write in here the whole time. Oh, except this is (at the larger scale) an artwork too, so I guess I will have to stay away from here too….
Another, different thought, but maybe related. Many times, in many contexts—mostly in residency applications—I have proposed doing an artwork called “Do Nothing” which explores the conflicting ideas in this culture around doing nothing, and also explores what kind of physical infrastructure would be required in order to do as little as humanly possible for a longish duration. This proposal has constantly been met with fear, concern and even ridicule when I’ve submitted it to curators, but I still stand behind it is an intensely artistic (and scary, scary) exploration. Then I saw a medical study that paid you to do nothing for 90 days, and at first I thought “Yes! That’s the residency I’ve been looking for for all of these years!” I was going to apply and do my project in that context. But after reading a report from someone who did it I was deeply horrified. Just a rhetorical question here I guess: why does essentially the same action horrify me when it is a medical study, but fill me to the brim with inspiration when it’s art making?
Long time no post… I bet you guys think I’ve been out making art.
You’re right! I have been—I made this one totally accidental (or subconscious?!?) piece of art while making homemade pita chips and setting up a hammock simultaneously.
This 2015 piece, called “Multitasking”, is constructed of aluminum and carbon, is 18” in diameter, and is available for purchase. (Though I will ONLY announce that fact right here.) So there.
Actually, to be a bit more honest, I kind of have been making art. Not my own art, but when the pause in my own art making really settled into place, I caved and immediately filled some it by assisting other people with their artwork in various ways.
Here are some things I’ve been doing or have agreed to do in the near future in support of other people’s art projects:
Packaging, labeling and selling “art water” (like holy water, but with different properties…) and DIY art installation kits as a fundraiser for the production of a catalog for a show I helped to produce before RFAOH
Modeling/acting the role of an FBI agent in photographs and in audio recordings for someone’s upcoming installation
Creating two recipes and cooking them (along with a partner) in a test kitchen set up in a gallery
Acting as an onsite (text based) documentarian for an artist while they do several very public live performances
Assembling some videos for a temporary (pirate) TV channel
None of these are very related to my personal art practice (except the first one,) but it feels good to be “around” artmaking—helping out. (Like when I quit smoking and I still loved to hang out when people smoked and enjoy the secondhand smoke!)
And more seriously, for most of the last month not making art has put me into a funk. The activities I’m describing above were undertaken in the same way that you compulsively make small talk when there’s an uncomfortable silence in a conversation—all efforts to ward off that funk.
A funk that was threatening to undermine my whole being and modus operandi.
I am a freelancer. I live on about an 1/6th of the salary that I made at my last staff position, which I left in 2013 so that I could have complete flexibility to pursue art opportunities. Having nothing of real value on my professional resume since then, combined with nothing of real value in my bank account AND not making art can be kind of acutely psychically painful. As is paying monthly for a studio space I’m not using. I’ve started filling the void not with “making music” or “trying to write fiction” or “perfuming” but with searching constantly for extra professional gigs. I pitched a bunch of stories at the end of March and threw myself into some labor intensive journalism projects that I’ve just finished, took on more than usual for my most steady gig, and hounded a good but infrequent client until they gave me a production project that will keep me pretty busy probably all the way through to July. So now there is the sense at least that I can afford the empty studio. But the downside is that I am not sitting with the void, plumbing the depths of my creativity, and have made it so I don’t have too much time to do that.
Speaking of acute psychic pain, another thing that I realize I use art for is to process unbearable feelings about global level issues that I don’t feel like I can do anything about. Now, when I learn about human rights atrocities in Syria, or earthquakes in Nepal there’s nothing for me to do with those feelings. I have to sit with the horror of suffering that is outside of my reach to impact until something distracts me from it. Which leaves me wondering if some percentage of my art making is just activity I undertake to distract myself from the suffering of others. I always thought I was using it as an outlet for my frustration, but since it does nothing for the people suffering, it’s actually totally selfish activity. I’ve been struggling (internally, without answers) for ideas—methods—of art making that could actually have some impact on human suffering far away from. The best notions I have are pure witchcraft. Which is possibly nonsense.
Finally, I’m not answering last month’s quiz questions right now, but I do want to get back to one thing that I brought up then: the question of mentorship. Being self taught, I’ve had none. I’ve had a lot of peer support (thank god) and collaboration, but it’s not the same thing. In my soul searching here, I have to admit that I signed up for this residency thinking that I would somehow get much needed mentorship as a conceptual artist through it.
But what does that mean? What mentorship did I think was available here? And what happens here besides us all sort of blogging about our experiences?
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?
As of just this week—today in fact—it’s really starting to sink in, what I’ve committed myself to here.
I have to confess something: even though I started this commitment on February 1st, and I have not intentionally set out to make any art, and in fact have sometimes gone out of my way to avoid making art, I’ve still been engaged in a few practices related to my art making practices. For example, I’m in the midst right now of trying to sort out the timing of a deinstall for a show that closed last week. (Technically it was not in violation of the RFAOH contract for me to be in this show because it opened in January, and the gallery had no official opening hours after the opening because of extreme weather. And it got zero press coverage even though it was actually a really good show—one of the best handful of gallery shows in Boston that I’ve seen this year so far. And not because my work was in it. My work was not that strong.) Anyway, even though deinstalling/planning deinstalling is not by any stretch of the imagination an art-making practice, if I’m honest with myself, it’s an art-charged experience. As long as I’m planning to deinstall or actually deinstalling a show, I’m still in a cycle of art making. If I’m deinstalling, it means I’m thinking about whether I’ll be able to find another place for an artwork, or whether I might recycle its components and how. It’s more than that. It’s like the way that striking a set is no less a part of show business than throwing one up or performing or auditioning. The ritual and the continuous reinforcement of the ritual is tied into all of the other rituals and their reinforcement, which together make up the practice of show business—or art making.
But let me continue confessing. In addition to planning to deinstall a show, and therefore still having the drug of maintaining an art practice coursing through my veins, I’ve also been in negotiation with curators around two potential future projects that I had proposed a while back via open calls for work. I had made it through to the second round of review for both, and was interviewing for one and discussing details for the other with each curator respectively through today. So again, though not actively making art, thinking about making art, planning to make art—doing what I always do when one project has ended and another one hasn’t begun yet: laying groundwork for the next thing. And in my heart of hearts, though this process does not quite exactly feel like art making per se, it comes very, very close to the edge. Like one pica away. If I’m discussing my ideas and refining them with a curator, that is about as close to the art making process as gathering supplies is. It’s made me feel a little guilty that I’m being deceptive within the context of RFAOH. That’s part of how I know it’s so close to the line. But that all came crashing to a standstill today. I was narrowed down to among the final 3 candidates for a prestigious local commission, but in the end it was determined that my proposed work would be too ephemeral for the setting. And in the other case, a potential appearance at a performance festival was nipped in the bud for essentially legal reasons—a permitting process was deemed too labor and cost intensive to pursue.
So now I really truly have nothing on the horizon. I feel like I’m standing in a desert, with wind and sand blowing around me and everything looks exactly, endlessly the same—flat and mid-toned—in every direction. It’s a terrifying feeling.
I keep feeling a pull towards my studio, and this ongoing filler project that I have been working on very slowly for years. Just a little habit I’ve made to fill up the moments when I’m between projects—I trace things—particular things, and so far the tracings just pile up. It’s a soothing, non-linguistic way of keeping my art juices flowing when no concrete idea is ready to be worked on, but I can’t go to it now because even though it never really quite feels like making art when I’m doing it, I do hope to assemble all of the pieces into something and present the sum total as art someday. So during RFAOH, it’s off limits.
And next week I was planning to go and pull some pages with some images on them out of some books that are being discarded, but I’m not sure I should even do that—my intention is to eventually use the images for art making, so the process of determining which ones to keep and which ones to let go of is essentially part of the art making process. As is the care that will be involved in removing the pages so that they can be used. It won’t look like art making, but I’ll know. On the other hand, the books will be gone in a week or so, so if I don’t do it now, I’ll lose the art material I want permanently.
There are other questions like these. Can I sand the paint of off something that I want to eventually repaint for an art project? Can I hawk the residue from a previous project at a fundraiser? I’m looking at things as both simple actions that can be separated from their meanings and via the lens of intention.
Which reminds me that I should talk in here about conversations I’ve been having with other artists about actions, meanings and intentions as art mediums. About experiences as art mediums. Not just about the content of the conversations, but about whether having them constitutes some kind of art activity as well.
But I’ll save that for another entry. To ring in March, I’ll try to talk about these conversations a little bit as well as answer some of the questions I posed at the beginning of February.
Meanwhile, here’s an image from one of the projects that isn’t going to happen.
Yesterday, when Shinobu and Matt checked in with me to make sure that I was good to go for logging in and everything today, they signed off by telling me to enjoy my last day of making art for six months. Which is probably not how things go for most RFAOH residents as I understand it. I’m under the impression that most people either have something non-artish they want some space to work on, or else have found themselves organically on hiatus from making art, and wanting to explore that experience. Not me. I’m purposely (and a little frighteningly) pulling on the brakes and screeching a pretty dynamic (if not recognized or remunerated) arts practice to a grinding halt. It scares the crap out of me, but I’m doing it because, as I explain in my proposal and bio, I think the nature of my arts practice requires some deeper investigation. (Which I’m hoping will take it to another level, but may just end up ending it altogether or transforming it into something else.) So am I ready? No. I’ve been cramming out art in January like a drug addict about to go into rehab. I’m afraid of having attacks (panic? seizures?) of some sort. But here I am, writing the first post on the first day.
In February, I’m going to be asking and trying to answer questions like these:
Is coloring in a coloring book art?
Is making/mailing a valentine art?
Is judging a baked macaroni and cheese contest art?
Is getting my hair braided art?
Is riding a bus and talking to strangers art?
Is cultivating a dish of bacteria art?
Is documenting someone else’s art art?
Is making a children’s book with a friend art?
What about making a catalog?
What about reading a list of numbers that someone else wrote down?
What about writing a proposal for an art project?
What about shoveling snow?
What about serving people ramen?
But I think I’m going to start by exploring the origin story of my coming to be an artist.
When I was a small child, I had a disorder that I now know is called “pica.” That means I ate things (constantly) that are not edible and have no nutritional value. I ate a lot of stuff—string, dirt, wax, hair—but my favorite thing to eat was paper, and I ate tons of it. I was sort of a connoisseur of paper, strongly preferring some types of paper over others. When I found paper I really liked, I ate it until it was gone.
My father was a musician and writer (and not terribly successful at either) who had spent a period of his life before I came into being kicking around in the art milieu now known as Fluxus. As residue from that period—a time when he was on pretty friendly terms with the artist/musician Yoko Ono—he had a proof or first edition of her book Grapefruit. When I discovered this book on our shelves one day, I fell in love with it. It was thick and square and chunky. It was (or looked) hand typed and the paper was soooo thin and delicate—like tracing paper. The pages smelled a little bit musty just from being among the other books, but the glue on the binding smelled alive and fresh. It had no cover so the pages were just a little softened and torn around the edges. I peeled at them, tasted a few, and then devoured almost the entire book. When my father discovered this, he was very angry at first but then started laughing. He told me a little bit about what the book was, and though I didn’t understand much of what he was explaining, I left the exchange feeling proud. Somehow, I had instinctively arrived at the best response to the book that could be arrived at.
I think of this as the genesis of my being as an artist—either because I (literally) ingested some wisdom about art making, or because I was drawn to approach a book in different way than it was intended to be approached. But the entire episode was also simply a compulsive act. The book could have had any kind of content—I would have eaten it regardless. If it even happened! This lives in me as a memory, but I am uncertain where it came from and have no one to verify it with.
So that’s where it begins. Is eating a book art? And also, did I eat a book?
Until next time, here is a photo of some bacteria I’ve been cultivating since mid-January (when it may have been art. It has changed since then and is now not art.)