Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Letter of recommendation / unconventional testimonial for Joe Strider's Power Yoga

I haven't written anything in a while and I plan on posting something up that's new, but in the meantime, I found some older writing that I liked and felt appropriate:

I have had friends teach me yoga in college and my partner has always encouraged me to join, but I always had this vision that yoga was just for white people who were pretending to be Asian, and I also kind of wrote it off because there was this pressure to join my partner almost like a favor, but it didn't really click with me until I re-contextualized for myself what it really was.

It's a dark photo, but Joe is in the center there, walking his dog.

I have had a difficult time transitioning to living in LA and attempting my first ever 9 to 5 to support Rachel while she went to get her MFA. I didn't realize that the low pay rate combined with my being the only person making money and a hour and a half commute was going to exacerbate any of the coping mechanisms I had built up around my ADHD. This combined with anxiety and depression left me desperate for answers but I had less time than ever and my close friends were either back in Detroit or in Glasgow, and it seemed that any attempt at self-care really only kept me afloat. After getting healthcare via my job I was pointed towards a weekly anxiety and depression group session to further understand what was definitely beyond my own abilities to comprehend. It was one of many tactics. We moved closer to where I work, and I worked many long hard hours to earn raises. I tried to make sourdough bread regularly, I joined the YMCA gym, and I even took swimming classes even though I have an irrational fear of swimming. I was hell bent on being the best self I could be to basically learn how to love myself, not only the happy or successful versions of me, but to be my own good friend.

If you meet me, the way I delve into real conversation real quick may be one of the more obvious of my quirks. I wear my emotions on my sleeve but I'm also stubborn, I pull many all-nighters and crash before putting on art shows no matter how small, I still have lots of bad habits including constantly being late. I have built up a lot of symptoms that point to me avoiding feeling things, feeling sad, even though I would have claimed that, with rejection sensitive dysphoria for example, that I feel too much all the time. I think that a combination of really wanting to take this project of myself head on in an unprecedented way, plus medications, plus yoga, eventually talk therapy, has been a powerful, necessary regiment. At one point, Joe asked his students for a kind of testimonial, so the following is kind of one, done in my hyper focused ADHD story way:

The transition to yoga really started with taking meditation and stretching more seriously from the anxiety and depression workshops. I also developed searing sciatic pain from sitting so long that it was one of the reasons I cried in the first day of those group sessions. From that summer long class I built up a resolve to take self-care much more seriously because my mental health was at stake and I could see how it manifested in a bodily way.

For some reason I made a color version of a black and white hand out I was given. It reminds me of how bad I am at 2D design sometimes...

Then a big break happened for me when I found out that I had been accepted for a full artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center and they offered yoga classes at a discounted price. Work let me take four weeks off and it was 100% about giving myself as much time as I needed to get back into the rhythm of art making and whatever goals I had including just finding the time to organize my life if that's what I wanted to do.

This time around, yoga was easy to relate to it because of its relationship to meditation and everyone else seemed to be signed up to be doing it. My first class I was in my head but in a surprisingly good way. I remember making a goal to not look at anyone and in some ways my nervousness helped me to focus on just my own presence in my weak feeling body. I say weak because I was embarrassed when I would sweat after stretching, it just seemed abnormal, I've never been able to touch my toes, I grew up a little chubby, yoga seemed like it was for fit, confident people.

Previously I thought that everyone listening to a person giving commands and saying Indian words was akin to the embarrassment of being brought to square dancing by my parents in the super white suburbs and that someone was going to tell us to do-see-do.

But in this context it felt sacred, and the words spoken matched what I experienced in Vermont: that it was a safe space FOR me.  Even though I knew everyone around me were artists I had just met these strangers and it made me nervous to look around, but I pretended as if I was doing my regular stretches and didn't want to be bothered by other people. I was in my head but it was different... when I had been going to the gym I would somehow still be upset with whatever had been going on that day that I struggled to deal with, like, where were these endorphins I was promised? There was nothing rewarding about exercise, just constantly pushing myself in vague ways; to try to run a mile without stopping or do a full lap across the pool, it was always about getting to the end.

When I got back from Vermont I bought a yoga mat and tried to carry that place with me in my head. I needed to find ways to continue what I had built up in myself that made pride in myself seem practically tangible and at hand. It helped that the YMCA had a reduced rate for us as we easily qualified for it so it didn't feel like a big deal to choose between swimming, a sauna or yoga as opposed to getting a full on commitment to a yoga only studio.

Joe's class was the first one I had ever attended back in the “real world” and Rachel came with me. The first thing we noticed was his music and style. Although he wasn't playing Tool, I knew that he probably yoga'd the fuck out to Tool. I remember being warned that some instructors go full on and rock out in some strange Americanized bro culture and so I kept in mind that it would be one of many classes I would try. He acknowledged that we were new and immediately I was satisfied with the amount of helpful direction and hands on adjustments he gave so that we really understood and could feel the foundation of what each pose was. I sweated a lot, and thought that I had learned a lot and would probably come back next week. Rachel didn't like it so much. We both were probably really judgy.

At some point recently we passed a 1 year mark. (this writing is being revisited another year later) Joe and I had gotten to know each other more when he offered to be a hiking buddy to the class I took him up on it as I still had not figured out a way to explore LA comfortably on my own. Compared to other instructors, we always knew that there would be two consistent things that would happen in his classes: we wouldn't accidentally hurt ourselves, and we would be building up our strength (core work, focus, self confidence) Joe is a great teacher, always focused on training everyone on how to be careful. He's very sweet, he shares, and he explains what is at stake.

In Joe's class I really came to appreciate the concept of “practice”. For some reason I thought of it as a misnomer, as in... not real life, but practice for the real thing. (Is that your whole breath?) But practice had a different connotation with the way that Joe described it. Practice could be something more vulnerable in its imperfect state, and therefore it was generous when out in public. Practice also meant something more personal, and somewhat more satisfying than just showing up. It meant an awareness of improvement (perpetual beginners) while also downplaying the pressure that one actually had to be improving.

There was a respect for mastery (especially so that one doesn't get hurt) while at the same time an educated skepticism towards those who call themselves masters. Sometimes Joe rhetorically says, why ain't I rich like these gurus? It'd be awkward to respond in the moment because we all know he's rich in other ways that make it a privilege to be in his classes, he has integrity.

Joe had mastered the theatrical aspects of leading a class, holding attention to the process that should take up ones thoughts, rather than my usual overthinking. His voice seems to follow through with the attitude that there are thoughts worth pushing out and that directives can become routine and he did all this from a place of care and love. He overemphasizes producing embarrassing yoga noises and is the silliest person in the room so that there has never been a point where I stopped in a self-conscious way and thought, why am I making humping motions in a room full of strangers? He sets a solid expectation that you will listen to yourself, but he knows how to really deliver it with another important messages, perhaps one of the hardest lessons to stick to in life: don't take everything too seriously, get a buzz...

Joe developed a natural all-levels power yoga as a safe space, an encouraging place to feel ready for challenges, a place to show up when you don't know where to go mentally next, that grounds the head and body together to the here and now. Perhaps it shouldn't be overly relied upon, but it really has been a productive place to be when I want to work on baggage that settles somewhere into stiff joints, or wanting to channel frustration into something productive. There is never a time that I don't leave the class feeling capable, more reflective and rejuvenated, which is interesting because often I don’t really want to show up actually. But I know that it's like a reset button, a clean slate, setting the stage. It's so effective that I find it hard to associate with the same person I was an hour and a half ago, dragging my feet thinking 'do I really have the time for this?'. But he always makes sure that you give yourself a hug and thank yourself for showing up, and I always feel it. Another one of the words (it's probably more of a phrase) that he uses often comes to mind: effortless...On the other hand, it could also be called Fuck-Yeah-Yoga, but perhaps that would turn some people off before they really gave it a chance.

I think there are times where we wish that we would get more out of life than what it seems like we may put into it (especially in capitalist America) but here is an old practice that does not require complicated stuff, it's just one of those things that the more you put into it, the more you get out, specifically in the form of self-care. I don't actually understand now how people would deal with mental issues without yoga... I guess I could say the same about art. But unlike even making art which can be everything to me, it feels like I transcend my ADHD. And it's not about trying to understanding everything, but rather working it out as if the worries could seep out in drops of sweat and negative thoughts are wrung out in the moment that one gets into a stretch and reaches their edge. I also like how Joe knows that this is a great way to do much needed maintenance on the organs that are in charge of keeping the imagination fired up.

Joe lets it be known that it's nice to see you, and can let you know how far he can tell you've progressed. He does little acknowledgements to those who he gets to be familiar with. It's uncanny how the classes will change from one to another and yet feel like exactly what I feel like I needed to work on, perhaps my shoulders were sore from sleeping funny, or I am a bit sluggish, somehow he seems to read the room and adds nuanced variety. A computer guided session won't change things up, won't acknowledge you, won't help you to go at your own pace, won't even make sure that you're doing it right. And yet Joe encourages yoga to happen, even if you don't make it to his specific yoga classes. Our bodies and our health are too important to make secondary so he's always made it clear how important it is to find a way to do yoga somehow. And I know, even if he's not right there with a class, that he's given me a lot of tools to feel things clicking right into place. He has helped to replace bad habits with really good ones.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Brevity or Bust (Under 250 words for "Legacy", Josh Callaghan @ Night Gallery)

Josh Callaghan is showing again at Night Gallery with minimal totems that elicit Brancusi crossed with Gordon Matta-Clark. He is known for mastering the art of that's-good-enough-trompe l'oeil in which something that appears to be three dimensional is, upon closer inspection, actually made of the cheapest shit he could find.

He has cast his magnificent spell this time upon refrigerators with tags and wiring somewhat intact, as well as two three quirky oversize pine-cones made out of wire and concrete. I'd love to see his take on the poor man's Larry Bell Glass cube.

You could describe him as "some scrappy white dude that makes clever works that are perfectly at home in art fairs or in solo exhibitions riffing off of a history of art", but then you'd mistake his demented artwork for something that has the possibility of being tacky. The humor is as dry as it gets.

Also it takes a lot of heart to see and magnify the natural imperfections of that stuff out there that we call nature. As far as commodities go, the topic isn't 'art', it's refrigerators that are a signifier of consumption. If you own two, you probably have a big house and are more wasteful than you'd ever admit. If you only have one in your house, then Fox News still thinks that's one appliance too many to be eligible for food stamps. These works are up until Nov 18th.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My application to the (free) Mountain School of Arts

I meant to publish this earlier prior to the Aug 14th deadline, but I also meant to submit multiple applications under various pseudonyms. Here is my application to the Mountain School of Arts in that also covers my more covert activities since coming to LA:

(My application is primarily based on previous Mountain School of Arts applications that were published regardless if the applicant was accepted or not.)

Full name: Cedric Tai


Hong Kong Chinese - Filipino American Detroiter

Languages spoken & proficiency level for each:
This is biased against those who sign or are mute, frankly I'm surprised this application is also not also provided in Spanish, everyone should be ashamed, all the time, for everything. Thankfully I am typing this, so it is not an issue for me personally.

Other languages spoken: Spanish (un poco) Musical (intuitive), English (the language I use when I want to go into detail) and Semiotics (rudimentary).

Level of education & last school attended: A degree from the Glasgow School of Art.

Main occupation: 
Currently in part of the United States that occupies the original lands of 
the Tongva.

Last job held: TSA Facility Coordinator for Cooke's Crating

How did you hear about MSA?
I don't remember exactly now but it was not through Tatiana Vahan, Agnes Bolt, Josh Atlas, Christian Tedeschi, Lee Smith, Fritz Haeg, Chris Rock, Chris Pottinger, Chris McFeely, Chris Kraus, Chris Elliot a.k.a. "Cabin Boy", Tessa Lynch, Marlene Vargas, Simon Wilkinson, Jacqui Power, J Dilla, Judy Pfaff, The Art Guys (from Houston), Andrew Berardini, Thomas Demand, Dan BustilloBryant TillmanFrancis McKee or Sara Roberts. It's also possible that I also didn't hear about it from Bread & Puppet in Glover Vermont.

What are your expectations of our program?

It is probably best to have no expectations and I will strive for that.

...But expectations happen involuntarily, so here are some of them:

I once daydreamed that I could argue with Hans Ulrich Obrist about the privilege of curating. (I just re-read that and realized how off-putting that sounds, but I'm going to keep it in.)

Other expectations include:
  • To be in the company of positive people who don't ascribe to positivity per se as self-help, but rather the opposite, a faith in community.
  • To realize that I probably could have snuck in if I really tried hard enough.
  • To find out how an artist creates their own school without it being swallowed up by bureaucracy, or maintains its pleasure & glory in the "Temporary Autonomous Zone"
  • To feel part of a community of artists who seek out similar challenges (a penchant for becoming more self-conscious).
  • To believe.

In 800 words or less please introduce yourself:

Everyday I am working on becoming less anxious. I think I like to tell jokes, but I have been told that I have a "shit-eating-grin". Although I live for good conversations, I am willing to believe that what feels natural to me, constantly making jokes, should be investigated perhaps as a way of avoiding something else, even while it creates discomfort for myself. In general, this points to a crucial part of learning, which is the long game.

To prepare myself in the past year:

  • I started practicing yoga twice a week (which I avoided until last year because I had always thought it was just white people pretending to be Asian.)
  • I avoiding any form of professional development, especially any meet ups with curators and still landed a solo show at UCLA through grassroots back channels. Essentially I couldn't stop talking to a student educator at the Hammer about my love for pedagogical strategies, which was very overwhelming for this young person who is usually trying in vain to get people to engage with the work. After I handed Weiwen Balter my card, she invited me to put on an exhibition in their student run gallery in the Kerckhoff with the possibility of a $2,000 dollar stipend. This is more money than I have ever been offered up front for a project and it was from students applying for funding through their student government clubs.
  • I snuck into Universal Studios and gave myself a golf cart tour of the props departments by calling security ahead of time and making up a fake movie production name. This was also research for the upcoming Exhibition at UCLA because I wanted to have a component about discovery that involved breaking rules and I thought it would be hypocritical of me to teach it if I had not tried it myself in LA.

  • The exhibition I put on was an exercise in non-didactic engagement. No one, including myself was entirely prepared for the opening which involved encourage students to pickup power tools for the first time and learn how to build their own gallery. (without any instructions or group guidance). The original idea was to show that a DIY anything (a toaster, a gallery, a career) is a misnomer because it involves relying on so many others. I wanted to help the students feel more free to experiment since the historic building meant that students were not allowed to do anything other than use blue tape on the walls to put up work. What upped the ante was that after a few hours into the opening, we were told by facilities that everything we made would have to be taken down as it wasn't art... This happened 4 times in one month where an installation of the walls in different orientations was approved, but then was requested to be de-installed for a different reason each time. The highlight for me was when I invited "The Best Friends Learning Gang" to run a workshop on lock picking and DIY pepper spray, it was such a good time that the security that was tasked to monitor our workshops joined in.

I'm hoping that all of these experiences will have helped prepare me to join the Mountain School. I trust artists (but I don't think that they should be catered to by any means) and it has filled my life with a capacity for serendipity that is among the greatest of addictions.

There are sometimes when I talk with other artists about their passion for the kind of discovery that is possible through art making and I find myself filled with something like helium, possibly hydrogen, which is a lighter element, and more flammable. If I'm honest, my experience in LA has been, as Kaiser Permanente put on my diagnosis "a minor depressive episode". It feels both the place to be, but also is missing something important because technically many people do find success here and somehow it means that one should be more self-centered and do their thing. What I loved about growing up in Detroit was the lack of expectation for blue-chip success in art, and especially how much more free time I had to have spent about a third of my time just volunteering for other people's projects. I worry that at some point major cities such as these will become cost-prohibitive and we will all need to come up with a new plan of how to stay in close proximity even though we are possibly all terrible at planning things such as this. Usually I feel like I don't know if I want to make art in LA because it just seems like a thing to do, and not only do I not want to do anything, I want everyone to quit their day jobs.
Honest confession #2, I believe that I am subconsciously seeking a PHD from your artist-run 
institution. This would give me the placebo effect of believing that I have the power to also start my own school, but I forget that I don't like creating large things that would require diligent maintenance, and so it's probably a good idea to do nothing of the sort. I do miss teaching art on the college level a lot, but for some reason I've convinced myself that adjunct teaching is a dead end. My friend Andrew Thompson once drove to 7 different colleges/schools in Michigan in 1 week to teach different courses in each one, and his circumstances still makes me angry and sad even though he doesn't need to do that anymore.

I think that I am trying to get away from being an 'assignment' based visual artist, although it 
has not necessarily been the worst thing in the world since it helps me to build skills. In my boredom while exploring new skills, I tend to discover things that are more interesting which then help to be an impetus to really push the work.

Also I appreciate the perpetual-student aspect of it. I had a thought the other day: if one of the greatest lessons is to see the world like a child, and another one is to see everyone as a teacher, then when the teachers becomes the students... I'm sorry I totally forgot where I was going with that. What I think I'm trying to get at is teachers should feel lucky that they can be mentored by a professional student such as myself. This is not to gloat, I am being somewhat serious.

In the past three years if I found myself in a lecture by a well established celebrity artist, I was compelled to formulate a thought-provoking question that would make their
path to success more defined. I had to find the courage to voice my question publicly even if they are very personal 'how' types of questions. No one notices that my body shakes, but I do know that I end up talking very quickly with a nervous urgency. I want to believe that this may be because of the condition of knowing that this is an opportunity to talk to them as a person, as if they were waiting the whole time of their lecture to end their pretense and flatten the pedestal they speak from in order to plant ideas on common ground. I feel like I live to keep engaging with other people with questions. I like this quote from somewhere: "challenging questions enable us to distinguish between imaginary and real limitations"

I've had the privilege to ask in public...

  • Judith Butler (as she promoted her book "A Precarious Life") about how can we do the important work when find ourselves in jobs/a system that seems to overly value or keep Americans perpetually busy and she replied that Marx may have the answers about how work gives us meaning.
  • Theaster Gates if he had an ideal context for his work at Regen Projects, (in which I was somewhat reprimanded for the third time in my life by Hamza Walker) and Gates replied that beyond having his work collected he wants to run his own museum that shows the work he likes. (at the 1:08 mark)
  • Thomas Demand on his thoughts on having an affinity to cheap materials for both its familiarity and ease of working, while on the other hand how it could be limiting, a bad habit of staying within a comfortable range.
  • Martin Creed if part of his strategy was to use such banal materials and methods as to make it appear that anyone could do it (as a friendly gesture of openness to the demystify the artiste), and he comically shouted No! multiple times. I later found out that he does believe in his own exceptionalism, and I guess, rightly so.
  • Andrea Bower why make 'activist-like art when it seems that the most direct method usually is the most ineffectual and she sincerely broke down saying "what else am I supposed to do?"

I am wondering what it means if I want to try to compile all of the questions, and their
context, and all of the artists' responses, but I'm worried that it will reveal something about myself that I don't feel ready to express in other terms.

I really want to be part of the Mountain School because I believe I am in a somewhat healthy crisis and I think I can be really helpful and sharp for others and vice versa.


If I was in a lecture by Piero Golia, depending on how comfortable I felt, I would most likely 
ask one of these questions:
  • Does the MSA website have Google Analytics, and if so could some of us look at the data and see if the are parts of the world where their acceptance/representation/rate of application is generally low? Would that change how the school wants to be discovered beyond word of mouth?
  • Have you noticed that more than a few applicants and possibly alumni are the past studio assistants of famous artists, what do you think that's about?
  • If you don't believe in planning, do you believe that artists should give any other artists advice? And is there such a thing as 'bad advice' from artists/people that you try to curb? (For example if you notice that a conversation is devolving into so and so should check out so and so's work because it's like so and so's work. Comparing artists becomes somewhat prohibitive/overbearing/patronizing until the artist has a stronger sense of self.)
  • I often find it difficult to focus on reading, but I thrive when I can find alternative forms of research to get around obstacles. Do you employ any yourself? (Example: A sculptor during a crit was explaining that she's interested in exploring spaces, so it was then suggested that she should go spelunking in a cave for research.)
  • Can I still volunteer or still help even if I'm stuck in a conservative head space such as a 9 to 5 job? What realistic collaborations do you believe are possible between the many different realities of how people have 'free' time?
  • Do you think that there's anything to my skepticism towards compiling online resources (centralizing them) where I believe it may be a placebo of progress in a time of such wealth (and therefore realistic access) disparity? (I thought I saw somewhere online that tMS had compiled resources for the benefit of the public called the Teaching File, but I could be wrong about its direct association with this group.)
  • Do you think that it would be 'weird', for lack of a better term, if Maurizio Cattelan were to come and take part in MSA?
  • Do you think this is a fair description of contemporary art right now?: Use the most cost-effective materials in the most clever way.
  • Do you ever wonder if there is or will be a black or asian or female counterpart to 'Piero Golia' that comes up with the Underground Museum or another grassroots local art scene?
  • Although this no matter what will come off as offensive, I want to know what other artists in the art world think about what artists struggle with on their own, together. This many years out, does Mike Kelley suicide feel part of a bigger discussion beyond simply his legacy?
  • How many times are people allowed to apply in a single round before it's considered too much? What if I use a pseudonym each time? What do you foresee for the future of the Mountain School? Does it run in perpetuity?