Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trust Movement (an insomnia inspired diary entry)

I couldn't sleep last night, in part because so many things at this moment seem exciting, well that, and I accidentally overdosed on electrons which kept the synapses firing. (Although I do love this computer program called f.lux that brings down the brightness of ones screen to match the time of day and thus helping to wean you off of the damn machine.)

Usually I get a creative window at 9 am - 1 pm and 10 pm - 1 am, but this time I awoke at first at 3 am and then stayed awake during the thunderstorm last night, like a pathetic fallacy or something, and I urgently felt that ritualistic pang of 'what the hell am I going to do next?'

Thankfully it was different from the normal anxiety of: you need to get a real job, you need to finish your website, you need to go to bed, you need a real schedule, you need to stop overthinking everything...

One of the pieces from my solo show across from 'The Office'

I was excited from that day because I am genuinely looking forward to a new friend to join our art studio, Jane Orr who will share a wall with mine even though I will be more 'out' than 'in' the studio.

I finished creating a loose script for a choose-your-own-adventure style interview for Ian Swanson, I finished collaborating with Rachel on some works, framing and photographing the work. I also am excited about the possibility of a curator coming to my studio but also finishing a book that will be released as another nice addition to "We Need More ________|"

and then Facebook happened to keep my attention for 2 hours straight thinking about personalities from looking back on a retrospective of Sigmar Polke, an Aphex Twin release from 1994 that was streaming online, I watched someone describe their obsession with Soda Pop, got a small glimpse of Bedwyr Williams' work for the first time, remembered how I really want to watch Pina, re-discovering Epic Rap Battles of History and Drunk History and wondering what must it be like to get that production together because they are quite short, but the production level is appropriately ridiculous. I think that I went to bed thinking about how people chase their dreams, and about how movies get made since... they don't just cost under a million dollars nowadays, and there is so much great stuff that starts off probably pretty silly even though it will eventually cost a million dollars...

So rather than the internet turning into a wormhole time-suck it only gave me insomnia thinking about  what it takes to make the best work possible and how much this really occupies my mind, perhaps to an unhealthy degree. From somewhere shallow, my desperate mind always believes that it would be an easy enough thing to ask tough unanswerable questions to practically everyone I meet, like HOW and WHY on top of WHY on top of WHY.

This is a kindof unrelated picture, since I'm talking about when I am in any artist talk or whatever, but perhaps teaching is an appropriate outlet to thinking too much. This is a handful of students from the EMU Design class I taught who silkscreened their own stuff, I made some crazy in depth presentations such as: "Color Part 1" and "Suggestions for pursuing your dreams"

I can recall the tone of my voice in the search for answers, when I really should have approached my questioning to actually give a sense of safety, not risk: "Could you expand on how X became research material for you and how you strived to push it to be as radical as possible?"

What I am getting at perhaps is this thing that sometimes people refer to as hitting the next level. I know how oversimplified and even cheesy it can all sound, but I do believe that there is some truth in there being crucial moments whether an artist knows it or not where there is a kind of crossroads, perhaps between a conservative route/a conservative outcome and an unknown one.

I should back up and maybe explain something, in my process of becoming ok with being an artist I realized that I keep embarking on journeys that have finite beginnings and endings, and each time there are broad lessons that I work through if I'm going to be making artwork for the rest of my life, which is really the only goal I have.

In undergrad, when I first realized that I am actually going to do art there were a lot of moments I felt left out of both the teachers and artists, and I felt treated as an outsider because I didn't go all-in to either field, but I felt captivated by the discourse between the two. (In retrospect I realize now that my personality thrived with what MSU's art program offered, a very DIY program) There was something else I discovered though, and it was that, for the first time ever in my life, I was making pretty good art, and that I could notice when some other people were holding themselves back. I understand that this is going to sound like a luxury and privilege but one of the most important patterns I noticed was that for every project that was going to have a chance of being good (and for learning to occur) I had to drop at least 100 dollars to make sure that I had all of the right materials I would need.

Although I really enjoyed sculpture, I was convinced I wasn't nearly as good as many of the other students so even though this work "Courage for Love and Courage for War" won an award I thought it would be better to stick to painting. It wasn't until just before graduate school that I felt comfortable enough to attempt sculptures again...

Shoot forward to the end of graduate school and one of the realizations I had there was that in order to make a new piece that wasn't contrived, it takes a year to plant the seed if it is a collaboration and six months for the work to go from being just an idea to actually existing perhaps even having it be exhibited. All-nighters unfortunately were already a given, as well as stress, but at least one can plan to fail early rather than end up with a rushed shamble of incoherence or worse, an overly designed product.

So these are the two levels in a sense that I learned from my different points in my education that eventually everyone accepts in some form:

Level 1: Money should be no object when it comes to the production of your work, quality is the point.

Level 2: It takes time to make quality work, it cannot be rushed, you must be patient, perhaps fail early and often.

Although there are probably many other 'lessons' I picked up in between Level 1 and 2 but they don't seem to make that difference in cracking that code for reaching for quality: "deadlines help to create finished work", "blending two of almost anything together seems to create something original", "beg, borrow, steal and add also rely on others' expertise as well as learn how to delegate"

So now I'm wondering what could Level 3 be? Learning how to not rely on your immediate resources to facilitate works? Learning how to trust your own voice? What does risk really look like? Put your dignity out there? Most likely I will find out when I get to LA what my work on another level may mean...

I am also so concerned with this idea of quality levels because I felt like graduate school, although different for everyone, plays an important role in forming a kind of radical research process that is very personal, and that there is a trend that whatever an artist does in their first year out of graduate school, that will be a make or break moment for if you will be making crucial artwork and perhaps it will turn into a 5-15 year long obsession that might even pay off if you're lucky.

Leon Johnson talking about the importance of research in his own work to the class I taught at CCS. Remember when that guy taught at CCS? Are we allowed to talk about that yet?
Going back to how one of my faults is how I am almost aggressively inquisitive, I became obsessed with asking people how they made that transition between graduate school and the next step, and I've generally been good at transitions, which I guess I still am considering I had a two-person show that I am very proud of that took place at the CCA, and a solo show since returning to Detroit. Group shows aside, these were opportunities to put forth my values in the 'real world'.

So what surprised me from my interactions here and there, there was something interesting I discovered that reminds me of the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child", and that is that when it comes to art, "it's up to you". As much as I feel like this strikes me as incredibly lonely and perhaps libertarian, there is a harsh truth that I almost wasn't open enough to get.

When talking with Douglas Gordon I got the sense that things were pretty good in the past and they're pretty good at this moment in his life right now, and the Glasgow Miracle isn't a model for success, it's a statistical anomaly. It is in part because so many of his friends came from a working class background, there was a struggle inherent in this and much experiences to make work about, but it wasn't about everyone just supporting each other, but pushing each other to make their own good work and that's why it worked out, it just happened that everyone figured out how to bring their work... I guess to another level, oh and some curators happened to be around, so right time and place for a bunch of people. Again, it wasn't that there was an ideal support system, but it's as if they knew they needed to figured it all out themselves for real.

Anthony Schrag also voiced a similar sentiment when I asked him if things would have been easier if he and his peers all rallied together, something that I naively wanted to push for our own MFA but in the end it was unnecessary. He voiced that it probably would have been a longer and more difficult road, because he has relied on only himself and he is one of the few remaining from his graduating class still going at it.

Anthony Schrag Artist Talk & Discussion (excerpt) from cedrictai on Vimeo.
Anthony Schrag was invited to be a part of "Restart Plug In" in a former mattress and furniture emporium. The talk took place on August 2nd, 2013 prior to the opening of the show, in the same space as the exhibition and was geared for recent graduates in art. The entire clip is about an hour long and has been made privately available for the Glasgow School of Art's Masters of Fine Art students. This presentation is all part of the Glasgow Masters Series 2013 which can be perused here:

Now that I've left Glasgow I wish I could be talking to all these people I was surrounded by again, and ask Duncan Campbell (not actually the best link to be introduced to this artist, but notice how baffled the critic is?) or Corin Sworn or all of these other artists from the MFA questions I forgot to ask: what jobs were you doing? How did you keep yourself from doing something more conservative? The kinds of questions that help humanize these soon-to-be art legends, the kinds of questions that take down from the pedestal we put them up on, helping us to realizing the space between what I'm afraid to imagine and what others dare to imagine. Or maybe on the most basic level understanding how my anxiety is only the same as what others also struggle with.

I can recall a conversation at 71 Garfield in 2011 talking about models that might work for the studio they want to help facilitate, and there were a lot of disagreements about what was possible, but also how limited we really are, even in our own goals. I can remember Francis McKee saying with confidence that he gave it some thought about what Detroit should do, and how it was so simple because it's what everyone else does, move forward, that's it. I see myself about to do that by going to LA with Rachel and understanding how important it is for me personally to support her to be able to make the best work possible, I can't believe how happy it makes me to have someone to worry with, rather than someone who can quickly reverse my sour attitude, we're looking at fear in almost the same direction.

A photo of a book Rachel made while in Glasgow while working on her project "May our civilities never be too civil" More at
But do I see that for all of my friends? I feel like I have the most hope for those that are on their way out, or at least artists that talk about ditching Detroit like a bad habit and it sounds healthy because it's not turning our backs on the relationships we have in the city, but stopping relying on it to give us a sense of rest or meaningfulness, and not assuming that it is the right place to be to push us to be our best selves. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you don't have to move to Detroit to help Detroit, that's probably the most selfish thing you can do, but I'm also not against doing anything selfish, making good art is selfish, but again it comes down to something surface and bullshitty about branding and about our projections of our identity and it gets in the way of letting Detroit be what it needs to be, not what we wish it was.

In three artist talks I have given since being back (CCS lunchtime talks, informal discussions at Re:View, Sean Tilson and Lou Casinelli's not-even-soon-to-be-published-art-podcast) I have misspoken about the need for Detroit to 'brand' its art scene in order to garner support, all that branding is two steps backward. Rather than get too deep about what has happened here and what should happen here, I can say with confidence that being in Michigan (but perhaps the US?) promotes a conservative approach to having an art practice. Having a Plan B and C has taken over the will to fight for things that we probably care much more about than we act on, and people are much more concerned about the relationship between one's career and our identities that there is probably a reason that we don't have an awards/programs as radical as the Turner Prize or Art Angel. We have geniuses prizes and prizes attached to the well-being of others and it all reeks of professionalism, like so many adjuncts striving for tenure. I don't give a shit that I don't have 'realistic alternatives' to offer anyone, I am simply looking for my own 'next level'.

It perhaps gives me less expectations that I need to know what I will do next, so that I can undertake risks that can benefit perhaps the work even more than myself.

Ok LA, here I come, I hope I figure something out, but before I do, our friend Lisa is in town from Glasgow, there's our wedding reception, gotta make that website, making an advisory committee for bringing Glaswegians over to Detroit... so much work to do in July etc etc etc.