Monday, May 18, 2009

The show was fantastic. Amazing. Incredible.

People loved the work - I heard lots of great comments about it, both directly and indirectly. On Friday night, people spent a fair amount of time in the container looking at Party Girl. Saturday, not so much because it was bloody hot and that container turns into a sauna. I got asked for my autograph and had my photo taken by a group of fans (I had fans!). People took lots of pictures of my work, too. I got asked for copies of my artist statement and my ABC poem. People were thrilled to speak with me when they realized I was the artist. It was wonderful.

As I've said before, receiving this kind of feedback - immediate and unsolicited and often times simply observed by the reaction people had while they were standing in the gallery - this is much different than the kind of feedback you get as a writer. As a writer, the audience absorbs the work at a distance from you and the work is absorbed in layers, over time. Visual work is immediate, it's right there in front of you - and the feedback about the work is right there in front of you, too. Watching how long people took to really look at the work, how carefully they read or studied the work, all of those things were wonderful to observe because it means I succeeded in my goal of making work that is engaging and makes people think.

One of my favorite moments was speaking to an artist on Saturday who observed that there was a definite storytelling element to the work. I appreciated that he was able to see that impulse in what I was doing because that narrative impulse is what underlies all my work and it was nice to know it's there in the visual - that it comes out of my artistic aesthetic with the same sensibility, it's not divorced from my artistic impulse.

Some of my other favorite moments:
- realizing that people were very interested in quizzing each other on the 7 Deadly Sins but not so much on the virtues. I observed this several times with "Seven," and it's interesting to me. Why are we more concerned with knowing what we shouldn't do than in knowing what we should? I was to work with this idea some more because it fascinates me.

- the amazing responses my two interactive pieces got - I can't wait to start turning them into a poem. There are some great lines from "Give Me A Reason," it will be a lot of fun to work with it.

- the environmental art student who asked to speak with me about the work for his class and seemed intimidated to speak with me.

- my younger son giving "tours" through the show because he's heard me talk about the work so much he could repeat what I was telling people verbatim.

- the mayor of Brisbane saying she'd like to have some of the work displayed in the City Hall gallery (yes! another exhibition!)

All in all, it was an extraordinary experience and the entire residency was the most amazing opportunity I've ever had.

And now, it's over. All that's left is the cleaning up and storing of pieces. I've actually got a great place in the house to display the ABC poem and some of the other pieces will be displayed as well. But...onward. I've got a novel to get ready to go out again and other stories to work on, and a year of grad school to finish up.

Here are some pictures from the show:

The gallery, ready for visitors

I'll have pictures from the container in another couple of days. Right now, I'm taking some time to relax before I have to go and disassemble the show.

Here's my artist statement from the show:

The first story I ever wrote was about a group of abandoned appliances living at the dump. They sat up one night eating grapes and helping each other feel better. I was six. I can’t help but feel there was some foreshadowing in this story, some essential theme that would resonate throughout my life and work and lead me to this particular moment and the empathy I feel with the discarded objects that flow through the public disposal area at SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc.

I have always been drawn to the discarded, the abandoned, the falling apart. I am fascinated by the moment that marks the boundary between an object being useful and being garbage when all that changes about it is its context.

At SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc. I got to see the result of that change in context every day – the objects bought because of need, saved for years because of sentiment, desired for their usefulness or attractiveness or status, and then discarded because they were no longer wanted. Our objects define us, tell our stories, subtly reveal things about us. They record our existence in the same way pottery shards from ancient Greece show us the world 3,000 years ago. What will our objects say about us in 3,000 years? What will the bag of seashells, bought from a store and thrown away with the price tag still on, reveal? Or the closet full of barely worn shoes? What does it mean when someone would rather throw away a working blender than clean the mold that has accumulated around its blades?

I also learned our objects need us as much as we need them. We give them context. Separated from us, they become otherworldly, ghost objects without a reason to exist. Discarded office furniture, a full set of dishware, a bedroom set, books without someone to read them. They lose their meaning without us.

My time here has changed my perception of the objects in my personal environment. What will I ask others to dispose of when I am gone? Do I really need the impulse item in the store or will it end up in the landfill in six months? And when did I lose the ability to repair the objects around me, choosing instead to discard what I could no longer use and buy something new? How many times will I buy the same item because I do not remember that I already own one just like it?

I live in Brisbane, at the base of San Bruno Mountain. There is a shell mound on San Bruno Mountain, a pile of shells left by the Ohlone Indians hundreds of years ago after they had eaten their meals of mussels and clams dug from the silt of the bay. Standing on the shell mound, I cannot help but think that our attitude toward what is no longer useful has not changed since they sat there watching the seagulls and the sea lions and the whales in the bay while they ate. What has changed is the nature of what we discard and leave behind. A shell, left on the ground, decomposes, becomes soil, provides nutrients that feed the next generation of plants. A plastic cup left on the ground remains a plastic cup. It flies through the air, lands in the bay, washes out to the ocean and makes its way to the North Pacific Gyre where it becomes a small piece of plastic in an island of debris. The cup gets eaten by an albatross who’s stomach is already full of similar pieces of plastic and who will eventually starve because there is not enough room for the food it needs to live. And still, the cup remains a piece of plastic.

In a small way, I hope I have changed the destiny of the objects in this room, given them a different purpose, one that provides nutrition and sustenance and, hopefully, inspiration for others.

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