Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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.

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