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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It´s Finally Hitting Home

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.


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