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...




recent comments

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.)



Leave a Comment (5)

shinobu wrote on Feb 17:

It makes me wonder what prevents the "art-buzz" from happening when we try too hard for "art activities".. In any case, we, as co-directors, would like to encourage you all to get a "hiatus buzz" out of participating in RFAOH -- We and your fans look forward to your reports! (even on a non-activity (;)

Heather wrote on Feb 16:

Hi Ryan & Enrique (& Shinobu.) Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, Ryan, you are totally right about not knowing what is or isn't art for certain -- I should be clearer: I'm not trying to determine what things are art from any objective place, but more something about what making art feels like for me. I want to get a better grasp on the feelings involved in the experiences that I think of as art making and not artmaking. And Enrique, I agree with you! I wonder if I may put all of the pieces of this puzzle together and find in the end that the activities that I get an art-buzz out of participating in are actually not artistic activities at all! We'll see!

Ryan wrote on Feb 13:

Instead of trying to define what is or is not art - this we really cannot know for certain - perhaps it would be more productive to, for instance, investigate why do you do what you do. What drives you? Where do your ideas come from? What are your intentions? What comes of your actions? What do you achieve by doing what you do? How and why do people perceive and or engage with your work? ...

enrique wrote on Feb 11:

Great ! It makes wonder about my own condition. I agree, and besides, what is there to separate? all roads lead to Rome ... and Rome is not only about the "art world". It might be a personal thing (like an enlightenment, a sense of life) or it might be a matter of the unconscious and the care of oneself. For me, art happens after the experiences of being, and not always happens. The being allows a builder to build the best walls, but these are not necessarily intended to be art. For better or for worse.

shinobu wrote on Feb 1:

Or did you eat art? Welcome aboard Heather!