#Selfie Post 3: Paralysis

Week 2 of Selfie Project:  goin in…

I need to come clean and report that I experienced two days of work paralysis after the shock of posting my face online 4.5 days ago.  I actually needed to sleep off the bewilderment of feeling exposed before I could find my focus again & get back to the work.  I do get that it’s not that big a deal from the other side, over there where people are actually reading this.  For me though – this is NOT a muscle I have ever used so deliberately.  Nonetheless I made a professional commitment to go inside Selfie, so inside I go, straight at my own vulnerabilities…

Taught all day, then rehearsed a proms concert with the Symphony.  Not the face I want to face tonight.
Taught & worked all day, then rehearsed a proms concert with the Symphony. Not the face I want to face tonight.

A bit from the Selfie Synopsis:

 

I was a deeply introverted young person – not one to vocalize what I was feeling or thinking – I mostly just watched.  Because of this the people around me would fill in the blanks I’d left with whatever seemed to fit their idea of who I was. My family and acquaintances, & most friends would thus relate not to me but to their own projections onto my blank slate (this still happens unless I’m quick enough to correct it).  While this was initially convenient for me, it invariably led to internal confusion when I didn’t recognize the me other people were relating to…  I developed ways to become invisible – in a crowd, at the dinner table, in a classroom, in the school orchestra.  Later I used the same techniques on stage, at conferences, concerts and meetings.  The most effective of these was simply closing my eyes, but I also became adept at deflecting attention away from my internal self, and towards something – anything more shiny and attractive.  As a performer I realized after some years that most audience members didn’t actually want to know who I was or what I thought – they really just wanted a positive reflection of themselves.  Understanding that made life MUCH easier for me:  Ah!  Just be gracious!  I can do that.

I squirm when I see people of all ages and stages of life taking solo selfies and posting them, in all their vulnerability, on social media sites.  I see awkwardness, pain, sadness, exhaustion, lack of self-awareness, longing – perhaps projections from my own life?  (things do come back around, after all).  So often the response comments are either carefully banal “you’re so beautiful”, or rude, or insulting and disrespectful.  Sometimes the posted photos are so unfortunate they get circulated well beyond their intended reach to a global chorus of ridicule and derision.

This begs the question: What is actually happening here, and why?  But also, since I must face my own Self in this project:  What’s at the root of my own discomfort?

Ask a question, you get an answer.  But this question keeps getting bigger, more personal, more reflective, more….

What unfroze my thinking this week was listening to Seth Godin in an interview he gave on a program called On Being (posted by one of my facebook friends).  Here’s the link to it (recommended).  He says, among other things, that old social and professional norms are breaking down in our cultures, though we are largely unaware of this.  It’s no longer just a select group of trained people who can be artists for example, and make creative breakthroughs that change the world.  Now we are all artists, making the world as we see it, posting the results, and so creating a new way of seeing ourselves, and sharing it in the same instant.

Need a tripod.  This is going to get old, fast.
mirror work.

To address my own discomfort with what I perceive as other people’s ‘selfie behavior’ (now also mine, which makes me my ‘other’), I read Eric Fromm,

“We should free ourselves from the narrowness of being related only to those familiar to us, either by the fact that they are blood relations or, in a larger sense, that we eat the same food, speak the same language, and have the same “ common sense.” Knowing men [and women] in the sense of compassionate and empathetic knowledge requires that we get rid of the narrowing ties of a given society, race or culture and penetrate to the depth of that human reality in which we are all nothing but human. True compassion and knowledge of man has been largely underrated as a revolutionary factor in the development of man, just as art has been. It is a noteworthy phenomenon that in the development of capitalism and its ethics, compassion (or mercy) ceases to be a virtue.”

― Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology

My conclusion after week 2:  Selfie is self-examination, which is not comfortable, if one goes there with intent to be honest.  It requires courage to truly look at yourself, shoot yourself, then publish yourself without armour or packaging.  But art is risk, and always has been so.

If we are to see this in the context of this culture we are in that changes itself from the ground up, we are engaged in an artistic making of self-image that says with it’s public/private gaze:  I am here.

Is there also an echo question:  “Where are you?”

I think so.

more to come.
We make and share ourselves.

Week 3:   Paint.  But also sing and play this.  I’m scared to go there, so go there I must.

#Selfie post 2

This show project has turned into a kind of Selfie Pilgrimage for me.  I must say, my initial resistance has been a challenge to overcome – I DO so resist, especially when reading articles like this one by James Franco (The Meanings of the Selfie, New York Times, December 2013)  who rationalizes his recently acquired selfie habit thus,

a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention.  …hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.

Maybe for James Franco it’s power, but I truly don’t think that’s at the core of our collective behaviour.

I do not own a cell phone, so use a Rebel.  Sure enough, even when I'm the one taking the picture of me I close my eyes to make myself invisible.  Not squirming, I think.
I do not own a cell phone, so use a Rebel. Sure enough, even when I’m the one taking the picture of me I close my eyes to make myself invisible. Not squirming, I think.

So I dig and write and paint, and read.  This morning I woke to a kind of epiphany about what could be at the root of Selfie on social media.  Here’s a journal excerpt, which will likely end up in the show booklet in some form,

Selfies have steadily been on the increase since the first use of the term (Australia) in 2002 & became universal in 2012.  Oxford English Dictionary made the term it’s “word of the year” in 2013.  Could this be a barometer for the increasing divide between people because of a kind of culturally cultivated distrust of intimacy?  We are also experiencing the increasing dissolution of traditional forms of relationship and partnership – both personally and with the institutions we once trusted (govt, banks, corporations), which may have created a vaccuum at the personal level.  Maybe these cultural shifts have also changed the questions we’re asking ourselves on a personal level…

The question ‘who am I’, has traditionally been answered in the past by describing how you are related to something or someone, “Peter’s wife; Katie’s Mother; Richard’s Teacher; Jim’s Daughter; Sarah’s Boss; Paul’s Friend”, or even by what you do professionally, which is a different form of relationship “A cellist; an artist; a bus driver; an author; a councillor; a conductor, a mechanic; a carpenter”.

It’s a different question in social media circles.

“I got ‘Unicorn’!, which mythical  creature are you?”

Round one.  Always an indication of how the fight will go.  I need to make it to twenty....
Round one. Always an indication of how the fight will go. I need to make it to twenty….

This answers a question for me about why I’m painting my own hands in interaction.  I think #Selfie behavior could be an examination of our relationship with ourselves.

Each time a selfie is posted it tells a truth, shows a piece of soul, offers a clue, and a question:  “who am I?”  or with chronic selfie posters, “who am I, now?” But what does that question actually mean?  How can we Be separate and distinct from our interactions  – with partners, kids, colleagues, parents, friends, job?

So, for me, my hands.  They are my job, my form of expression, an amplification of my speech, a means of articulation.  They represent two sides of my engagement with the world and my work – my dominant right hand is skilled, trained in the finely tuned crafts of drawing and using a cello bow.  I can write with it – it knows letters and words.  It’s often TOO skilled, too trained for a task I want to complete – a drawing that is direct and raw; the ability to touch an object and feel it’s shape and texture without interference from what is ‘known’.  My left hand is more honest, therefore, and I rely upon it to take me places that can change my mind and my perspective.

Together they are erotic, aggressive, tender, bewildered, compassionate, protected, open or closed to experience.  I see them and work with them much much more than I see and work with my face.  Here’s what Larry Jensen wrote in response to the first hand selfie I posted.  I so love this, L:

blurred names & avatars for privacy reasons...
blurred names & avatars for privacy reasons…

And so the 12-week journey begins, with James Franco, the Oxford English, a Unicorn, Larry Jensen, and some squirming.

yep, squirming.  eyes open means you can see me.  Here we go....
Yep, squirming. eyes open means you can see me. Here we go….

#Selfie 1: Right then.

Leafs and St Louis Blues are skating like mad 2.5 feet above my head, with a soundtrack announcer who could clearly like the Leafs to tie it up & stay in the game.  2nd period, 13 minutes to go.

Blues just scored
Blues just scored

I’m writing in a local bar so I can get some distance from the #Selfie project that so dominates my studio.  I’m having a very good time digging in to define with paint, music and written language what it is about selfies that I find so abrasive.  It’s difficult to admit to intolerance, but I do.  I admit it with the caveat that I GET it:  if I’m intolerant, I’d better damn well be prepared to dig in and articulate exactly WHY I so resist and revile the selfie. By producing and publishing my own. Ow.

ikes...
As an artist I believe I am required to identify and explore my own intolerances.  To work with what is abrasive and uncomfortable.

One of the St. Louis Blue’s players is pounding the hell out of a Toronto player.

I couldn't be less interested.
I couldn’t be less interested.  This is not the same as intolerance.

Many indigenous peoples have felt, when faced with the cameras of apparently benign foreigners (some Mayans still refuse to have their image copied and used by anyone), that a photo contains part of the soul of the person photographed.  Mississipi artist James W. Bailey believes this too, and addresses his internal conflict this way:

I hold a religious belief, probably inherited from my paternal Mississippi grandmother, who was 1/4 Choctaw Indian, and who was extremely distrustful of photography, that photography, more than any other art form, has the ability to capture a living element of life, a flashpoint of the soul if you will. …  When such photographic images are taken, the only thing the photographer can do to make the universe right with what he or she has done is to place the photograph, which I believe to be a living organism, into a context of positive growth….

The great photographers, whether they know it or not, are photographers who have taken stolen elements of life and have placed those living substances into a context where the photographically captured life force has been encouraged toward positive growth.

Are we as careful with our own images of ourselves as he is on our behalf?
Are we as careful with our own images of ourselves as he is on our behalf?

So in I go, straight to the coarse sandpaper. My rules so far are these: 1. I work with and publish only images I take by myself of myself. 2. I publish each one first on social media before I use it in painting, writing or song. 3. I include whatever the response is in the work that develops.  Including zero response. 4. I ask everyone I know what they think of the selfies phenomenon. 5. Be unfailingly honest and up front about whatever vulnerability I feel throughout the whole process.

Show opens in June, in Owen Sound.  It will include performance art, music, and a small hand-made book which will document the process of building it.  I’m also booking it into a tour – through galleries, highschools, colleges & universities, museums & clubs. I’ll keep you posted.

hmmm.
hmmm.