I don’t want to make any more art about the things that have hurt me. Every piece I’m working on has some way tied into the experiences, people, stories, or places that have fucked me right up. Trying to make something beautiful & meaningful out of it to justify this feeling. Because I still believe it’s my responsibility to transform those thorns into a crown. It’s not. I don’t owe it to anyone. My sadness & pain are my own. Transforming them could be cathartic or it could be a way to keep me trapped in it. What would it look like to make art out of things that were already beautiful? Out of pieces of me that shine in the sunlight? What if I started with gold instead of straw? What could I weave then? I’m growing in a thousand ways that I don’t remember. I just want time to rest in the pieces of me that aren’t hurting. I feel like a fraud & a fake turning over a new leaf while these leaves are still green on the tree. Abandoning the project before transformation is complete. But I also recognize that I need to refuel. I’ve been joking about quitting to paint fruits & flowers. I think that might literally be what I do next. I’m taking a three month hiatus from all that is hard to only indulge the soft side of my art. Play music, play in film, play in paints & muck about. I have a few commitments that I will see through, but I’m shelving Dear Devotion for a time until after this sabbatical of gentleness. There are still a few more months left in this year of yin and I will indulge.
I’m working on a solo piece that I, and I alone, am creating. Like a sculptor alone in the studio facing a great slab of shapeless rock holding a chisel in one hand and a vision of possibility in the other. I am both sculptor & rock. Discoverer & discovered. I am navigating my body & mind in a way that is almost completely foreign to me. Total autonomy. It’s daunting.
My body is my instrument.
From which all work emerges. All ideas are expressed. Storytelling is in my veins, sinews, synapses. I, the artist, must learn to work every angle, control every aperture, understand the mechanics to take it apart & rebuild it. As a director of self my only option is to observe passively with gentle exacting focus as the performance comes through me. Let refinement arise in the commitment to discovery within. Trust my impulses.
My mind is a double edged sword.
It has baracaded itself inside behind enemy lines over analyzing all the ways I intersect with the world. Impulses that used to feel natural suddenly appear forgin under endless scrutiny. Without specific tasks & complex problems to latch onto my mind occupies itself in the most awful ways. When the anxiety rises I can barely quell the shakes. It surges through me like lightening and lingers for days.
My heart has not healed.
There are memories stored in the muscles of my body that flinch when eyes linger there too long. Memories that tighten in my throat when certain songs play. Memories so heavy my bones ache with the weight of them on rainy days. My breath tries to balance the precipice between the world & I, but I’m still caught holding on to things I wish I could forget.
My presence is the piece.
I am terrified of loosing myself in the work. I struggle to be present in my body & mind while even still I try to clutch onto some shade of normalcy. I am not creating in spite of these challenges but because of them. I am not a blank slate waiting to be filled with inspiration, I am the spark itself. The combined force of chisel point, skilled labour, and unrealized potential hidden in plain sight. The scariest part is the idea of being seen as broken, unredeemable, vulnerable. Of being seen & being hurt again. Rather than running away though I practice radical vulnerability in the studio, but how can I leave this raw open energy in the studio when this piece is also my life’s work?
My perplexing problem.
You may have noticed that I have taken a break from publishing these lists every week. In short, it’s summer, and I’m tired. However as I re-entered the studio this week to continue work on Dear Devotion a couple of these links really jumped out at me, so I wanted to share. I’m more interested in sharing the work than the links at this time, so I make no promises how regularly I will post these lists. For now, here are some pieces I am reflecting on in my body of/in work.
- Creepy Ghost tunes by mass marriage via Weird Canada
- Hacking the Canon via Canadian Art
- Stop Treating Emotions Like Character Flaws of the Powerless via The Establishment
- Diva in Full Swing via Howl Round
- Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up? via the wonderful Alicia Ward
The idea for Dear Devotion first came to me sitting in the doorway at the top of the stairs in the hallway that separated this tiny French bistro from my ballet studio. I was probably about thirteen, and I was waiting to be picked up again. My parents were often late to get me if they were fighting which happened a lot lately. So I would bring books to read, but mostly I would write. This one day particularly riddled with angst I wrote a poem called Dear Devotion. I’ve always been highly critical of my work so I knew that objectively the poem wasn’t very good, verging on overtly sentimental and forced tragique, but the idea at the heart of it was fire.
I journaled about it for days, and weeks, and months turning that idea over, never quite satisfied with my conclusions, but I felt like I was starting to unravel a riddle far greater than I was. The poem was simple stanzas that repeat about a woman falling in love, getting married, making a home, and burying a man who can not, or will not, love her. She devotes her life and love to him but it’s never enough, and in the end bitterly rebukes him for all they have lost as he lays dying.
It was around this time that I was introduced to Taming of the Shrew and A Doll’s House. I was struck by how these women resembled the woman of my poem, of my mother, and of what I imagined for myself. Still a young girl I lacked the experience to contend with their noble struggles but I felt a natural affinity for them all the same. Kate’s longing and green sickness, and Nora’s determined naïveté. Somewhere over time these became woven into my tragic aesthetic and I knew I would write a play about them, but I needed a third to round out the comparison, all good things come in three. I read lots looking for the third thinking she would be a more contemporary heroine when I accidentally stumbled across Antigone at university at around age 17. Her fierce loyalty would round out Dear Devotion, and in my mind the three women became inseparable.
I have devoted much of my time since then to what I would call my research to develop this piece. From learning to write grants to training my body to collecting a million snippets and pins of design ideas to coming to a better understanding of my own history and relationship to these women and my femininity I have grown into the piece for over a decade now. The piece becoming more of itself as I have become more of mine.
Last night I presented what I will call my first public exploration of that work at a house party in the Sound & Silence HQ that I put together that very afternoon with the support of my dedicated friend and conspirator Tristan Hills. I took a thousand and one raw ideas I’ve been harvesting for years and wrought them into a shape that resembles the direction the piece is taking.
First we shaved my head, a cleansing as much as an aesthetic task. Then I rolled around in his backyard and marked the beats and transitions that I wanted to play with. After that we retired to the basement where Tristan showed me how to use Audacity to record the rough underscore for the piece in what felt to me like a record breaking time. The record breaking part definitely had to do with Tristan’s ability to intuit my needs as I abstractly explained what I wanted each part to sound like, and he let me muck around recording guttural screams and a hundred tracks of snippets of things that we didn’t end up using, while also fixing audio quirks that I didn’t know were issues, then at the last minute he lay down a beautiful guitar track in one take that cinched the whole thing together. It is no small estimation to say I could not have delivered the performance I did without him. The final step was to prepare the fake blood and paint my face doll white. The performance went off without a hitch, not to say perfectly, but beautifully imperfect and raw.
I can feel it in my bones that this piece is ready to be delivered into the world, and this small step is the first contraction. Just as this has been a long gestation period I intend wrestle with this at great length, but the time is finally right to commit my body to the pains of labour uncovering the gems that have been compounding thus. If ever I were to have a thesis project in my unschooled life this would be it. I look forward to sharing more discoveries as they arise. For now you can listen to the track we recorded for the performance below.
Have you heard? I am performing the first ever snippet of Dear Devotion at PUGO tomorrow night. This is both terrifying and exhilarating. This piece I have been incubating for over 12 years, and although I talk a lot of shit, I’ve been too shy to share it with even my nearest and dearest, but tomorrow all that changes. If you are in a 306 area code you should make yr way over between 12 and 2. This weeks reading list is heavily influenced by all the disparate pieces of this performance I am trying to hold in my mind. Read under the cover of darkness.
- Listen to Lily Baldwin: It’s Not My Own Trip via She Does – I think she might be my creative spirit animal/true love/personal prophet, I relate to so much of what she has to say about process and life and creating.
- Pedal Glossary: Defining Effects and Signal Chain via She Shreds – I’m trying to understand how I can use time based pedals in this piece to fill the space while still calling all of the shots from stage.
- Handwritten letter of advice by Molly Crabapple via The Provocateur – also check out her memoir Drawing Blood which I read in December and have been gushing over endlessly to anyone who will listen.
- The Feminist Movement Has a Capitalist Problem via The Establishment
- James Baldwin on the Artist’s Struggle for Integrity and How It Illuminates the Universal Experience of What It Means to Be Human via Brain Pickings
I had a dream that I was living in a very old house all mahogany and brass. A house full of gentlemen with business just out of sight. Where every ornament in the house carried weight of hundreds of years of legacy. Each handshake would last a lifetime. I played music even though I knew not how to play it. On a large, beautiful twelve-string instrument that looked like a cross between a sitar and a viola in deep mahogany with gold accents. I plucked out notes, made the shape of a D, I scratched my fingernails up and down the strings like Okkyung Lee. As I pulled out these low strange sounds from it I began to speak “Fair is foul and foul is fair” whispering it into the f-hole so it resonated deep inside of the instrument. As the dissonant sound grew to a crescendo, I flipped the instrument over and began to bang out a rough and steady dirge and sang high and effervescent a hymnal from memory “A Light On High” that was chipper and girlish, almost, save for the heavy dirge rhythm underneath. Then I returned to plucking the belly of the instrument as my husband returned home from important work. I played him the roughly hewen melody I had carved out. At first it pleased him. The sexual energy I had harnessed was great as I channeled this huge magnetic creative force towards him, but as I started to play and scratch and moan he became uninterested. What would the guests think? He was tired from long days work. Be careful that I not wreck this important instrument in the sea of important ornaments. It was not to be played like that. I carried on anyways as he disappeared into the party talking in serious low voices to his father about impending business deals that must not disturb the rest of the house, but would surely impact future generations for years to come. Men would do better to wear their grievances on their sleeves I thought as I played mournfully away. Simultaneously filled with power and grace and transforming my longing into a beacon to call to me the power of Yoko Ono, Okkyung Lee, of Julie Taymor, of Tanya Tagaq of women that were not afraid to create, and create ugly, create sad. This was for them.
November is a solemn month. No longer the fiery autumn colours, the skies are steely grey, and the mornings black. It’s a quiet contemplative month as we strive to remember the sacrifices that were made to get here lest we forget. I am spending November in the studio working on my solo work.
Solo work itself is a challenge for me. I usually prefer to work collaboratively to create a piece. I think there is a reason myths of old have so much power, they’ve been shaped by generations of story tellers mouths and hearts, and each retelling is immediately relevant to those receiving it as a special gift from a dear friend while also holding timeless presence of times gone by. It becomes part of the fabric of the community both giving support and being shaped by it like well worn leather: comfy and sturdy.
Collaborative work can also allow me to hide within the work. To blur my artistic perspective with that of the group, and to rest from time to time when all eyes are not on me. Even when I make bold offerings in a collaborative context I have the ensemble to reign me in, to soften my rough edges, to enhance the work in ways I couldn’t imagine. To make the same bold offering in a solo setting I have no filter, every offering is bald and brash in it’s solitary openness with no escape.
It’s a bit like trying to recreate a Monet water lily, nothing makes sense up close, but the reveal comes when you are able to distance yourself from the work. It is challenging as the sole creator and performer to construct a context for the audience to understand the story from my position in the eye of the storm. How does one fathom the force and magnitude of the piece in the wider world in the solitude of the studio?
“Human relationships trumps story, you know the connection you have with your subjects is even more important than the story itself. Because you may have an idea of what the story should be, but that’s never actually the story. The story is actually what unfolds you know in front of the camera, what unfolds with your connection with the subject, and what unfolds in the moment, and you can never plan that.” – Kalyanee Mam
Listening to She Does yesterday I stumbled across this great piece of inspiration and it has been helping to inform my solo process. It’s important to remember that I chose to create this piece as a solo work to create space for my specific connection to the source material to unfold. It’s easy to feel like as the only person in the room I must have all the answers, but all those grey areas rather than black holes sucking out my work are fertile invitations for the moment to unfold with my audience.
It’s a scary, exciting, introspective beginning to the month as the nights grow longer and the air colder. I am looking forward to spending more time in the studio to better prepare myself for a new project beginning in January. Hopefully I come away with new insights into my individual process and some seeds I can continue to tend for future explorations. Stay tuned for some more concrete announcements later in the month.