Thursday, April 28, 2016

Go for it, Schragis

Aave post-it notes ever looked more gorgeous than they look on the awning of my thesis today?
The slogan of my thesis is go for it, schragis.
I say it alound only in a slightly deepened tone
the one I crafted with my elbows on the table,
when I observed none of the girls were talking in sophmore seminar.

At that time I considered dropping the SCHR in my name.
Rachel Agis- If it didn't sound so much like Hagis I might have gone for it.
I'm glad it didn't. It sounded like how I thought the artist I wanted to be then sounded.
I didn't want to be that artist, I realized. I didn't know I wanted to be this one until I was it already, some days I still don't know.

Some days I say my name over and over to myself, to imagine what it might be like to know me if I weren't in me.
 I was doing that just when Zachary called out schragis!  as I whizzed by on my bike.
I didn't like when I started organizing with Jews and I'd get called that, but there were too many Rachels- our parents all liking the strength of the hard-stop E.L. among the white-enough old testament names.  We did THINK we were being original my father shakes his head and says.

Something turned, over a few years, and I'm staring at this beautiful pink thing I'm making, with my pretty new pierced ears and Beyonce on saying: Go for it, Schragis. and knowing what's at stake when I choose to love the harsh slavic sound.

There have been a lot of pivots from stances a few years ago, enough to know history isn't over
I'll pivot again.
There is a lot of time to worry about the details but not enough time to wince at the past.

After 6 years of staying close to home, this year I let work let me travel, just a tiny bit, and I am feeling overwhelmedwith how much there is for knowing:
that each place and experience is as complicated as the ones I've settled in to.
This year I'm realizing that valuing humanity means knowing that every life is peppered with as much complexity as mine.  And that part of hegemony is the ways in which people are asked to act like my story matters more.

Well- here you are. This does not mean I matter less. (though I start to worry, of course, about what it means to dwell on the verb matter)
I take a deep breath: pick up the complexity to take with you, but go for it, Schragis.
What are the words for the days you put the hand-wringing aside?

I think about this time and I cup my hands like they're holding something glowing.
Jenny said "it's not personal, that this capricious thing chose you, this time, not to crush".
I come here every day to work and I feel the opposite of crushed, and I think this does not make me less angry at the cruelty in the world.
Perhaps you can trust yourself, Schragis, not to forget the big picture while you allow yourself these three beautiful months of being a student of your own art.  Perhaps you are old enough to know that the big picture, even your tiny sliver of it, is actually very long.
You will take more months in years ahead, Schragis, you will birth more weird children like this one. You have been given a good life, you are making a good thing. It's just one space.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

31, 37. 53 days

I'm making this thing.

In 31 days I move it downstairs to a very refined gallery space, certainly the swankiest I've ever presented my artwork in. I have 6 days to settle the piece in to its installation site.

In 37 days there is a big reception that all my classmates, my professors, my family and who knows who else will come to.

My exhibition is up in the gallery for two weeks.  Any time I have made a big art project before, I've lamented not having time to sit with the thing and learn from it, use it as a tool for learning, see how the tool works.  So for this piece, I will sit with and in the project during all the hours the gallery is open.  I'll continue working, and receiving visitors will become part of the peice--a natural extension of the way I already call in community as part of the research.

In 53 days I de-install this peice, pack it up, and probably store it in my parents garage.  There is no time where deinstallation of a major project hasn't been a deeply emotional, rattling experience that makes me feel, aimless, sad, numb, and honestly, no less than bereft.  Considering what a gift making art is,  it always feels weird to talk about what a big deal this is for me...and yet starting to write about it I find myself lingering on the feelings.

This time, I made a think that comes apart and straps to the top of my car. A thing I can re-make in new forms in other places. I have no idea which components of this will travel where next...or if any will at all. I also have no idea whether this open door of possibility will make the singularity of this experience feel like less of a Thing, in any good or bad ways.

one+space. generating outward facing language for invitations

There is one planet we're fucking with, it's true
one story of history that all of us plug in to.
I have one body and one trip through time.
I recognize I'm only one of many perspectives.
And only one body, one family, one viewpoint from which to know.
And this space I'm making: it's only one.

I need space, I might say, and I come here.
Space to figure this out,
Space from the daily grind.
Space to honor, mourn.
Space to ask you to come talk with me.
Space to step in to-
This could be a different space.

one step removed
one missing piece
one key opens
one step at a time.

one question with a thousand answers.
One answer.
one phenomena,
unsynthesizably one for one
one to one, in conversation with you.
Please come to the ONE SPACE for humility and audaciousness
One more small act of heartbreak.  One space to articulate, and then to move on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What's my role//what am I trying to say?

The first month-ish of this process has been challenging in ways I haven't wanted to admit to myself.  Thinking about how to account for this leap in scope has pointed me towards a endemic set of insecurities that I'd like to think I'm beyond.  This crystallizes around two questions that I've been somewhat stunned I am asking myself:

 What do I want to SAY?

In many critiques at different points in my life, I've heard artists confess that they're not quite sure what they're trying to say about the world with their work.  Internally, I always scoff.  You must not be spending enough of your time out of the studio I thought.  There's so much that needs saying in the world.  Stop looking at your bellybutton in an empty studio and go absorb some more of the world to bring back here.

I've also said, with pride, many times in the last few years, that my practice is maybe 95% research.  Which is to say, that for any time I spend in the studio, I must spend much much more time out in the world figuring out what needs to be done in the studio.  I practiced this by phoning in a solid eight months of of graduate school while I worked on the People's Climate March, and then holed up in my studio for one month making art about it.  I didn't feel that arwork (the gray area) was done, but then I spent another 12 months helping start People's Climate Arts before I felt it was time to go back to the studio for another 3 weeks to finish the piece.  And when I finished it, boy did I have a lot to say!

The feedback I got about this piece- from myself and others- is that the lens of my work was narrow in ways that were awkward, confusing or politically unhelpful (depending on what angle you were looking at).  With all that recent arts production from this winter fresh in my body and mind, I want to push myself to leap this forward, to allow in a wider philsophical, aesthetic and historical ark.  But to let this in for real should take years- years on years probably---of allowing in the world, before I had the audacity to make art that is a leap bigger.

And yet, now is when I have the space and time.  I'm in graduate school.  I made the decision to finish the Gray Area so I had a little bit more ideological space to try new things with my thesis. Some days that seems like the wrong decision, but I hope that in the end it feels like the right one--or at the very least, it is what it is.  I'm trying to see the fact that this "space to experiment" feels a little more like a crisis of meaning than I imagined it would to be a reminder towards humility--damn, who of us really knows what it is they're trying to say.  From conversation with many other artists both inside and outside of the school context, I know that I know a lot more than others, but that doesn't mean I don't need to continue to do the work to try to figure it out, or that that work won't be frustrating and scary for weeks or months (or years!) at a time.

But what's MY role?

One of the wisest organizers I know (who maybe I'll name here after I get her permission) often talks to me about a unique difficulty of organizing people with privilege.  She recounts that many express to her: this work is so mportant, there's so much to do  but I'm really struggling with MY role, you know?? How do I use MY special talents the best??  This wise-organizer-pal has spoken of how exhausting this question is, because it is so directly tied to the realities of working with people who have been raised with a tremendous amount of agency, and who expect an amount

These things are totally true of me: I expect to be awesome. Hell, I know I'm awesome.  And nothing I've done in life lights my parents up quite like when I've been quoted in the newspaper or written about in books...and this, like, pulls on something in me that's unshakable.

In the last three years, I've spent a lot of time advocating for the power of art. Speaking about it in principle, and also directly supporting other artists.  Many months of work that I've called "my art practice" (in the context of my schooling, anyhow) has actually looked like advocating for other people's production of art.

I came to this work through the suductive, transformative and un-replacable practice of making my own art.  These days, believing that I should be a producer of art and not just an advocate for its production feels like a statement of my own humanity, and of the inherent value of all people's bodies and opinions, that I feel pulled to

But as I write this way I immediately cringe, feeling the falsity of positioning myself as some sort of underdog.  The conditions that allow me to make art right now are just piles on piles of privilege--which I don't want to hand-wring about but I believe in endlessly acknowledging.

This all leaves me asking: in the realm of art that dreams to transform the world: what's my role as an artist? Even if I know what I believe should get said...what parts of it am I really the right vessel for? What reason do I have--what truly worthwhile, accountable reason-- to be making this project at all?

What is this I'm reading?

hey, I'm Rachel! You're probably reading this because you know me in one way or another.  I'm in my final semester in the Hunter College MFA program and I am working on my thesis project, which is currently titled One___Space. I'm hoping to replace the "___ " with some words at some point, but I'm not sure I will. More on that on some point, I'm sure.
I'm keeping a blog because I think it will be clarifying and helpful for me to write about what I'm working on, and being the hopeless extrovert that I am, I know the prospect that other people might read these words is what will make me do it.

So this post is some basic background info-- a stringing together of things I usually say when I'm asked what I'm up to these days.

For the last three years of school, I've been making artwork about climate change.  Succinctly put, I chose this path because I think that art is a tool for taking on the world in a holistic way, and I think that climate change is an issue that asks us to confront the biggest questions of what it means to see alive.  I wasn't seeing artwork that substantively rose to this challenge, and I wanted to try to make some. 

Before I went back to school I'd made some work explicitly about climate change, and a lot more about social change and the struggle for equity. My personal toolkit for doing this felt small.  I saw going back to school as a way to invest in myself as a artist in support of social transformation for the long haul, a way to expand my own bag of aesthetic tricks through praxis, through engagement with organizing, but also with some of the luxuries school affords: space behind a closed door to experiment where the stakes are low, a somewhat-random assortment of people to give you feedback, new exposures of all sorts, and arbitrary deadlines to make me try shit out.

And here I am on the other end- after three years of a life running back and forth between my studio and organizing spaces where I was brought in as an artist-support/cultural organizer/translator of creative and political languages/etc. Both my studio and my political life has pointed me in a direction I'm surprised about: it's not about climate change. Or at least not so narrowly.  If climate change is a symptom of colonialism, how do I make art that does not obscure this history and legacy of violence?  If the siloing out of climate change as a scientific symptom of a much more holistic state of collapse is itself a symptom of our unfortunate, unequitable, unjust state of hegemony,  then isn't focusing my lens on the world as being one about climate change a perpetuation of the problem?  This points me towards thinking in a much more cosmic, universal, epic kind of way about the subject of my work, and I'm struggling a lot with how to acountably and comprehensibly take this leap in scope. I'm sure I'll write about this more.

It's true, I've come out of these years with a visual toolkit expanded in all sorts of directions--some due directly to time in the studio, some because of organizing opportunities I've stumbled on in these years, and many a product of the beautiful (if at time exhausting) alchemy of the two.  Now, I have two more months of school to solidify what I've learned here.  It is a beautiful and luxurious time- I've handed off almost all my organizing work for the season and so I come to the studio just about every day and work. The way I've landed on working here embodies some truisms about "process not product" (For the last year, my studio has been the "product" and the things I make there are mostly evidence of wrestling with ideas: schematic drawings, charts, notes-to-self and many, many post-it notes) so these months are characterized by a small circuit of a process that is taking the form of a modular little structure that I'm calling, for now "One___Space"

One___Space is a little fort, of sorts for processing what I know about the world using the visual tools I'm most fond of and curious about at the moment.  The slogan of the project is "Go for it, Schragis"-- which is to say: if it's in your mind, try it.  Try things you're uncertain about, do things you're not positive you can pull off, be ideologically audacious, go with your intuition--and also laugh about it a little bit because this project is not such a big deal.  I know some things I do will work out great and become mainstays in how I make art for years to come. Others won't work out and will fall by the wayside.  To me, believing in art means that I can't know which will be which until I physically try it out, and physically see how people respond.

some premises

Here are some gigantic statements that operate as assumptions that my work is built on top of:

<<adding as they come to me>>

  • This world is built on a hegemonic trajectory of inequity and injustice that I see as best described by bell hooks when she calls it "imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy".
  • Climate Change is a symptom of this world's hegemonic trajectory.
  • Confronting Climate Change means reckoning with our history as a species.
  • There is no such thing as a neutrality.  Neutrality is an idea that operates as a microcosm of hegemony, and that is used to maintain our current hegemonic culture.
  •  Whiteness is the primary example of neutrality in our world.  
  • The violence of whiteness shows the danger of the concept of neutrality.
  • Naming white supremacy is the way we call out this false-neutral
  • Though not all cultural assimilation leads to whiteness, Whiteness is held up as an endpoint, a goal, of the process of cultural shift that we call assimilation.
  • The process of assimilation is a process of choosing self-interest (individual, communal, ethnic) over solidarity.  
  • We protect ourselves ahead of others when we are afraid for our own safety.  Fear of our own safety has a ripple effect of trauma that moves beyond the scale of the threat in terms of scope and time.
  • We assimilate because we are traumatized
  • Whiteness means that someplace in our family history, our ancestors chose self-interest over solidarity.  Whiteness is a historical byproduct of trauma.
  • everyone deserves empathy
  • not everyone needs to empathetic to everyone else.  From a position of oppression it's perfectly reasonable to feel rage at anyone remotely embodying your oppressor.
  • embodying the role of an oppressor is a painful, traumatic, and/or paralyzing experience.
  • Living in a body that has historical been an oppressor necessitates that you will perpetuate those oppressions and inequalities, despite any efforts to do the opposite.
  •  Living in a body that has historical been an oppressor means that you have been socialized with a shortage or absence of exactly the tools you need to transcend the oppression you perpetuate.  
  • Climate Change is a direct result of many many generations of colonialist, imperialist economies.
  • At its core,  colonialism is fueled by racism.  
  • Racism= race bias + dominant power.  Racism is the name we give the social product of the deeper institution of white supremacy.
  • Climate Change is a symptom of white supremacy.

test post

this is a test to see if I like how this blog looks and if it works

Sunday, April 3, 2016