#M_Other

My appearance belongs to you more than to me. This became clear through my work for #Selfie in 2014. It is a kind of negotiation – I choose my glasses, my haircut, my clothes, which are all clues about the way I would like to be perceived. You see these choices in living action in a way I never do, since mirrors and photographs don’t tell the whole story. You are better equipped to read the shifts and undercurrents of my external expressions than I can ever be.

The same applies in reverse: I can read more in your appearance than you can understand of your presentation of yourSelf. We all navigate our identity this way, learn about who we are through the responses of Other.

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This is a complex negotiation, in every case, since what I see and what you see will always be subjective. Actually, the more I read and observe human and other-than-human nature the more I’ve come to believe that there is no such thing as objectivity – only degrees of awareness around what we project, onto whom, and why.

This applies academically too, in both arts and science, though culturally we still cling to this idea of rational, impartial, objective inquiry as the base requirement of measurable, reliable Truth. In a summer institute research course I attended two days ago the PhD prof said [I paraphrase here] …all research – quantitative, qualitative, is biased, always. 

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I still think research is a good thing. Just know thyself, and name the bias.

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A corollary: if you made a drawing of me accurate to the finest detail, I would recognize more of you than mySelf – through the details you’ve noted and those you’ve disregarded, the respect and love you’ve invested in the drawing, the curve or the raggedness of the line you’ve used. Where you are confident, where not, etc.

You’ve learned the planes and lines of my face and body in the process of drawing me, I’ve learned about you from the choices and marks you’ve made. The drawing is in fact a map of the space where you and I connect. Also where we don’t connect. Interesting.

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Subject, object, space between. Always subjective: Me and Other.

There’s a concept that has taken root in me in the past decade or two, that “.a person, or animal, can only experience the world as being a certain way if the whole person, or animal, can understand the world as being that way.” (found this pithy summary in Beaton, 2014).

In other words, we can only fully understand what we have known experience of. Beyond that, the non-experienced world is invisible, visible in an extremely threatening way, or visible yet utterly, laughably, terribly misinterpreted (to make it fit the known experience – witness colonialism, white nationalism, patriarchy…).

When applied to portraiture, this idea becomes a potential problem. Do I merely make use of this person I am depicting to describe my own world, then? Hmmm.

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In counterpoint to the conceptualism theory is the Jungian idea of ‘collective unconscious’. That we know far far more than we are conscious of knowing. 

A flash of insight, an epiphany, a dawning awareness that comes always (eventually), when we sit at the great blank walls that mark the boundaries of our experience and ask difficult questions. A gut feeling, an unexplained irritation, a magnetic pull that draws us off the known path, and inevitably, to that border-fence of understanding with the questions we’ve hunter-gathered.

To draw them there, on the wall. To turn the wall into something else.

Maybe a doorway.

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The tug of curiosity as I walk along the rich, verdant summer streets of this new-to-me place. So many trees here, six or seven times my age. A cat who crosses the street just to talk with me. A seed caught on my clothing.

As the starling does, peering in at me in my morning routine, first one eye then the other, beak clacking – did the seed catch my dress out of a similar curiosity?

What would happen if I planted this curiosity somewhere wholesome? If I approached the possibility with healthy, Gaia-inspired intention, and watered it, tended it, painted it, made it into music, this seed I know nothing about?

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I look out of my incredible, brave body from behind my eyes and skin, from inside my ears and lungs, at the known and unknown world. If there is a tug of curiosity felt and answered in even a small way by me or by anOther, a connection occurs that transcends body shape, adornment, smell and sound, and also celebrates difference, insight, challenge to our known worlds.

I have an idea that this has nothing at all to do with gender, race, roles or power, which have been such a source of projection, trauma and abuse for so long. There is, however, a powerful, planet-sized archetype that we could learn a great deal from as we grow beyond that old, tired, experiential harness. This is the direction I’m tugged in.

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We can collaborate, respectfully, playfully, on the space between us. Human and other-than-human, inclusively. Is this where love lives.

Always subjective. Me and Other.

Ask difficult questions, know thyself. Me in Other. Me as Other.

M_Other.

Hamilton Residency 3

My new middle name is Curiosity.  Like a little kid, mouth open: wow. huh? how come? really? Wow, really. Who?

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Strangely, it feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, living my brand new daily life in an arts hub in the old rather broken, semi-forgotten industrial sector of this big city where my Grandmother raised her children. Memory cells light up each night with twenty new names and connections, emails fly out daily from my computer to people I’ve just met, or want to meet. The work on the walls of my studio changes before my eyes as I try things I’ve never tried, make mistakes I’ve never made, sort through which ones to keep and which to release.

There’s a lot of trust in the air.

I’m deeply aware of my solitude, my autonomy, and grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to stretch myself well beyond what has become comfortable. In the sixth day of the first full -time week I’ve lived here, I can feel my thinking, my painting, my writing and my awareness shift as old belief systems dissolve. There are seven weeks left of this residency, and every one of them is glowing with promise.

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From school to studio; books to paint. It’s a complex shift in awareness and perception, I find.  The road from left to right brain is populated with circus performers and street musicians, frequented by students seeking their masters of illusion, lined with bright market tents full of tempting diversionary tactics. You quickly discover that only tourists stop at these, that it’s important to stay mindful and moving forward.

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It has taken a while to sort out who actually lives here, in the space between things predictably linear and things … shaped and sounded differently.  I’m finding that this right brain work is more about releasing what I think I know than applying any learned structure and experience to what I do, since the objective is to change and expand my understanding of what’s possible.

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Often the return to people and conversation is a shock. I’m happy to be reading the reader’s edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book (2009, Shamdasani, Ed.), which is providing some context for the conscious choice to enter transformative space, and be changed by it. A good ‘bridge’ book, as is Once Upon a Time, a short history of Fairy Tale (Warner, 2014), and The Heart of a Peacock, a collection of short pieces by Emily Carr.

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It’s been useful, occasionally, to dip into Art Lessons, Meditations of the Creative Life (2003, Haynes), or a bit of Emerson. Also to shut the whole thing down, go sit in a big chair at the Jackson Square cinema, eat popcorn and watch Aquaman.

Art heals, writes Sean McNiff. I agree, wholeheartedly. Nature heals too.

Now I’m surrounded by human nature, not my beloved lake and forest from last summer, and we humans are complex. Thank you Nora Bateson, for this 8 minute video, which inspires me to make my own, about what art work makes possible.

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In this place of broken sidewalks and boarded up warehouses we grow art, like sprouts push up asphalt. Slowly, bit by bit, but as surely as the sun rises in the east, artists take places like this and clean up old toxic abandoned soil, growing impossible things in impossible places because it is their nature to do so.

It is a reclaiming of health; I’m grateful to be part of the process.

 

 

 

#Water: These Changing Seas

Do we all have a natural buoyancy?  I wonder.  Some call themselves ‘sinkers’, and describe the great effort required to stay afloat.  This is subjective, of course. Effort, to some, is a thing to be minimized if not avoided altogether.  To others effort is a joy,  a ‘coming to meet’, a solid, positive investment in something of value.

The ground for the largest of the #Water series paintings (so far). It's a 7'x6' piece of the backdrop canvas that caught the 'runoff' from six years of painting on the south wall of my studio. I'm working on pulling an image out of it - a collaboration with history, in a way. I've overlaid an adult floating figure in it to see if I can suggest a feeling of immersion
The ground for the largest of the #Water series paintings (so far). It’s a 7’x6′ piece of the backdrop canvas that caught the ‘runoff’ from six years of painting on the south wall of my studio. I’m working on pulling an image out of it – a collaboration with history, in a way. I’ve overlaid an adult floating figure in it to see if I can suggest a feeling of immersion.  Not quite what I want, but close…

For others effort is an expression of desperation – a wild reaching for anything that might keep them afloat.  What they grab and use is of no value to them other than a means to rise to the surface.  Even at the surface there is no rest from anxiety, just more effort, more grabbing for fear of sinking again.

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Out of your element.  A fundamental lack of trust in the place you find yourself, a fear that you will become lost to it. Or perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that you are meant for greater things, and as years go by and your greatness still eludes you, you feel yourself caught in the powerful undertow of mediocrity.  Similar effect: your sense of value becomes distorted in the effort to get out. You feel compelled to climb upon and over people you consider mediocre in order to rise and claim your entitlement. In the endless urge to betterment, who has not felt chained at times?

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I prefer surrender to a strong, focused curiosity – the kind that reveals great value where it might not be immediately apparent. A buoyancy I can admire comes from a sense of ‘rightness’ of purpose that is in equal part intuitive and practical, and never rigidly self-serving. I prefer a kind of faith with eyes open.  A trust generously laced with discernment, Havel’s ‘deep and powerful’ hope,

Vaclav Havel, from “Disturbing the Peace (1986)”,

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

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Havel has long been one of the strong voices that puts wind in my sails and floats my boat.  If the word ‘meek’ means strength under control (as many say it did when the Matthew 5:5 was written), then to me that describes the Czech playwright & politician who gave us a chart for humble human courage and dignity – even and especially in absurdly turbulent waters.

Appropriate to a recent experience of mine is this,

Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.

In my experience, humility and good humour do not sink.