And So It Begins…
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.)