Hello, Wednesday . . . Its sunny and quiet here in Milwaukee. I’ve had a few days to mull over my first-ever turn as a Visiting Artist, at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
I was invited there by Josephine Burke, the Art Museum director. She had programmed UNLOADED into the museum exhibition schedule. Susanne Slavic, UNLOADED’s curator, had included ungun in the show. This work – excerpted here – pulls at our media-presented gun, as used as an actor in films and other stories. The glitched image invites the audience to construct their own inward image, built of memories of either physical experience with the object or the media presentation of guns.
In making the work, I kept cutting through fear, frustration, and rage. People who saw the work in progress asked me to continue working in that way. This has happened with other past, difficult content – the audience pulling me along through something public, something from history, something painful, to make sense of it. The repeated “please make this” response to SPOILED HEAT and VIGIL, as I was making them.
I know the tension of not wanting to work with something broken ‘out there’ that I can’t fix in my creative life. I’ve chosen to do the work because of my need to reconcile with ’the pain out there’. I come from a family of doctors. To me its natural, to see and contend with ‘the disease out there’.
I have watched other artists and poets struggle with public pain in a variety of ways. And over the years, people have asked me, “how do you do this?” Mind you, I don’t deal with deeply painful content all the time. I do it enough of the time that I have a protocol of creative practice and self-care that facilitates deep consideration of traumatic material.
Paul Klee, Angelus Novus [ the new angel ]
Historian Walter Benjamin invokes this image as the angel considering
the mountain of traumatic information inherited from history
Why teach this now? Well, our history is full of horrifying material; we can access disturbing simulacra of this material on the internet. Additionally, the internet reports new traumatic stuff to us at an overloading speed. At times, it feels like the horrors silence the joy. Or, rather, the overload asks us to silence our hearts in order to have the mental capacity to look at the litanies of awful.
Some artists I’m connected to talk about getting flak for making ‘aesthetic only’ art during a time of great social upheaval, of great public pain. I think its revolutionary to remain creatively alive right now. It is also so important to do whatever brings us deep joy, that is not self-destructive, almost to inoculate us against the ‘news of the world’ by providing us with lifeboats of joy and satisfaction in our work, in art we can share with each other.
The taking things apart workshop arose as the answer to the repeated question, ‘how can I move in that direction and stay sane?’ I also come from a family of teachers; I’ve been teaching or tutoring in many places to make my living since finishing grad school in 2002. Why not teach what I’ve learned?
Artists know that good work often arises after long contemplation of subject material. What if the subject material is particularly emotionally charged? What if the people around us can’t talk about that content, and we feel alone with it? This methodology honors the mind’s quickness at apprehending information and the heart’s slowness at making meaning. It provides artist with an externalized routine and perspective that can serve as the protective gear for considering painful evidence from the world for long periods of time. Techniques for “putting it down” and respecting one’s own capacity for contemplation are built into the practice.
I taught an early version of this methodology last Friday morning at NIU. Each participant took to it to help work through immediate blocks or difficulties with their own content. Teaching the methodology was a privilege. Every student expressed gratitude for the new tool-set, which would help them each in quite different ways.
I’m going to build it out, of course. I look forward to teaching this workshop in other places. If you have ideas for where those places might be, put them in the comments!
Always-never thinking has its own traps. We can not measure the good we do in the ounces or pounds of miracles we enable, because those results and their import cannot be known to us. There’s a little trick of faith in accepting you are here because the universe asked you to be here. The universe set a place for you at this table. What you sow and reap with your hands, well, who are we to know what it feels to be that wheat? We cannot know. We can only trust that we are doing what we do best.
Guard your heart from making despair, there is enough of that in this world.
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. This is the only certainty.
The body does and means so many things.
Perhaps the simple acknowledgement of relational violence as human experience can help us celebrate those lost to it. Should or should not, it is what is, for a lot of people. How do we witness it? The taboo needs to go.
Let’s put our mind on who she was, who she remains. A whole woman who made her own choices, who struggled with and argued and created from her experience, from her body. . . She told us how to remember her, in the relentless documentation of her art. Lets do that.
First draft written May 30, first performed at The Green Mill Open Mic & Slam on Sunday, June 1. After a few more edits, recorded this performance using a DSLR at the Lethal Poetry Words That Kill Anything Goes Slam on June 5. After absenting my body from the piece, and with no audio mastering, well, here you go.
The action We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive, performed by artist Christen Clifford and the feminist No Wave Performance Task Force, was documented in Hyperallergic’s writeup Artists Protest —- ——- Retrospective with Blood Outside of Dia:Chelsea.
Thanks Mojdeh Stoakley for camera operation, thanks Lethal Poetry for the stage, the audience, the love. Thanks to Christen Clifford & No Wave for doing and saying.
The question goes like this: “If you could go back in time to kill Hitler when he was a child, would you?”
I like this question better. “If you could go back in time to be the Jewish neighbor who relentlessly intervenes in Hitler’s childhood, to interfere with the abuse and neglect poured on him by his parents, to teach him kindness, to teach him that no person needs to be a scapegoat, would you?”
Its funny, the whole concept of failure is related to judgement coming from outside of the self, some consequence of rejection come from the other. And when it comes down to it, the evaluation of our work is not left to us. Even its value socially. Even this capitalist-materialist notion of social status or competition between artist is an incorrect notion of failure.
That’s not the function of art, it does not compete; rather, it speaks. Good art has voice.
We have to let go and trust that the spark that the universe has placed in our chest is fuelled by the process of making. Trust that the work will find its way into the right other person’s hands and coax more fire into their spirit, too.
these stills are taken from a 4 minute sketch i worked up the last few days. this is for the next chapter of the film in progress, i.thou.
the chapter or excerpt is titled “19”. the moshing technique assists the viewer take a meditative journey on identity, memory, witnessing, transpersonal consciousness, the tellable story, and the problem of unbelievable experience.
the still image of the girl named “19” is taken from the television show CSI. the source video shots used (pre-processing and ‘mosh’) look like the two stills that follow:
Durga : n (Hinduism) the goddess Parvati portrayed as a warrior: renowned for slaying the buffalo demon, Mahisha
In one version of the myth, Durga was a warrior goddess who defeated the demon Mahisashur who had unleashed a realm of terror on earth, heaven and the nether worlds.
Mahisa means buffalo, Mahisasur was born from the form of a water buffalo. He could not be defeated by any of the gods because of boons he had received from Brahma.
Over time, each god armed Durga with a suitable quality and weapon, so that with their combined effect she was able to defeat the demon. The word Shakti, or strength, reflects the warrior aspect of the goddess.
In another form, she is also Karunamayi, or one full of kindness.
Durga : In Hinduism, one of the forms of the goddess Devi or Shakti. The wife of Shiva. Born fully grown, created out of flames that issued from the mouths of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and other gods. She embodies their collective energy (shakti). They created her to slay the buffalo-demon Mahisasura, whom they were unable to overcome. She is usually depicted riding a lion or tiger, each of her multiple arms bearing a weapon.
The enemy at the heart of the film Aliens are profoundly terrifying creatures. The gory possessions, devourings, consuming of human bodies in order to live point allegorically to possession and exorcism stories, but with absolutely deadly results – no human ever survives an alien possession.
Enemies in horror films have to be absolutely other, yet embody something of ourselves that we are frightened of. The absolutely instinctual nature of these mucus-soaked creatures, whose nested jaws speak to some horrifying devouring appetite, some horrifying devouring reproductive nature . . . draw whatever metaphorical conclusion you will.
Monsters like this are the closest thing to a demon our atheist culture cops to. Our heroine, Ripley, warrior-queen, embodies Durga, that aspect of Shakti who is the original demon slayer, a goddess from a religion tended to by millions in India.
From the Indian point of view, soul is inside you, and you are inside the soul of the world. It is not one or the other; it is not either-or.
When you are healing yourself, you are also healing anima mundi, because the anima mundi and the soul inside you are not two separate entities. You are part of the anima mundi and anima mundi is part of you.
I totally agree with Hillman’s proposition that psychotherapy has been too much engaged, almost obsessed, with the inner psyche, rather than seeing that you cannot heal the individual psyche unless you have a healing world outside you. So you can go on not only for a hundred years of psychotherapy, but you can have the next five hundred years of psychotherapy, and people will still be sick and ill, because the individual psyche cannot be separated from the communal, social, and universal psyche. That’s why art in India is also a healing of society … when we contribute something, it is not for our own ego-satisfaction, not for our ego-boost, but it is so that this great flow of art and architecture and poetry and music and paintings continues. Our contribution is in the flow of art started by many, many great artists …
Mr. Kumar was interviewed by Suzi Gablik. The interview was published in her collection, Conversations Before the End of Time : Thames & Hudson, 1995. Excerpted from pages 142 and 143.