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

Darkness (and Char)

Hey, Hey!

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?


Leave a Comment (1)

shinobu wrote on Apr 29:

YES, yes, yes -- so much to comment on -- but first of all, yay, you are back and I really enjoyed reading your report, thanks!