Warpaint. Indigo Byrd (2017)
“Various theorists (Archer, 2000; Bishop, 2005; Kaye, 2000; Reiss, 1999; Rosenthal, 2003) have focused on… advancing ways in which the artwork might be activated, and may in turn activate an audience with a view to fermenting social change. In doing so, they consider not only the performances of the artist but a range of co-performances which occur in the process” PhD thesis p. 69
People who follow and contribute to feedback on my blog may have noticed my militant stance on artistic and bodily freedom over the last few days (if not. Pay Attention!) What you may not be aware of, is that I was/am? an artist whose studio practice and exhibiting of work ground to a halt under the combined weight of a PhD, a breakdown in mental health, the stillborn desire for an academic career, a difficult relationship breakup and my mothers illness and subsequent death after three years of continuous caring.
My arts practice has always been, what we call in the trade, ‘self-referential’, meaning that I make art using the filters of my own experience as a starting point. My body, my ’embodied experiences’ and issues that stir me in some way, have always been a major focus for my work.
Void (detail) not/Indigo Byrd (2001)
But because I have long believed that “the personal is the political”, my work also has a social dimension. In the past I have looked at issues such as relationship/loss, aging, menopause and the way concepts such as gender identity, mental health and body image are constructed and remade individually, socially and artistically.
By this I mean that I am interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff as well as what is presented to the world. The final outcome of my PhD was an investigation into, and therefore an exhibition of my evolving, combined practice; as an artist, a researcher, an educator and a writer. Underlying the work I produced was the (ongoing) process of grappling with my changing sense of identity, including who and how I was/am ‘performing’, as a woman, as I age.
I use the word ‘performing’ deliberately, because I don’t necessarily regard biology as destiny. Underpinning the way I perform as Indigo/ not-Indigo are a messy tangle of psycho-social issues which shape and reshape this identity – issues I see regularly discussed in the writings of many of the people whose blogs and twitter pages I follow. Body shame/positivity, sexual shame/positivity, questioning and re-questioning choices made, things said/unsaid, roads taken or not traveled. Self and social freedoms and censorship, power relations, economic imperatives, fear, self-love and loathing, mental health, self harm/care: writing on (and on) and rewriting my story. I’ve probably missed some, but I trust you get my drift.
Last night I stayed up late again, fueled by coffee, and the difficult news that the husband of my oldest friend had died, unexpectedly, of a brain aneurysm. We live in separate parts of the state, and I didn’t know him very well, but he was only five years or so older than I am. Having offered to go and stay with my friend for a while, I decided I’d better distract myself by getting some posts sorted for the next little while.
I checked out the Wicked Wednesday prompt ‘page 69’, took my computer and an armful of books to bed for inspiration and wound up with three possibilities. Included in my book choices – perhaps with thoughts of my own mortality/legacy at the back of my mind, was my previously shelved-away PhD exegesis. Which I then re-read for the first time in six years, with some surprise, pride and pleasure. (Did I really write this???)
Prior to re-reading this brick – which took four long, difficult years of my life, ripped my mental health to shreds and contributed tangentially to the dissolution of my last relationship; my attitude toward the experience could be summed up by Bob Dylan’s words on page 69 of his self titled book Bob Dylan: Writings & Drawings (1972):
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.
There have been days when I’ve had similar feelings about writing this blog. But after last night I’m feeling much more positive, and I’m beginning to see that maybe, after all I am on the right track…
When I started ‘Midnight at the Oasis 64‘, it was to ‘simply’ find a way forward – after Mum’s passing, and after that orgasm. The process of acting on, thinking, writing and sharing my re-emerging sexuality has led me to the point where the photographs I am taking, and the words I am writing, are rapidly becoming part of a re-emerging, yet different artistic practice. A practice which is also an exercise in erotic memory, imagination and “co-performance” with you, my fellow creatives. None of this was planned – I’ve always placed my trust in the process…
“And the other book/quote?” I hear you ask, trying to stifle a yawn, quietly, wondering where the Wickedness in Wednesday had gone.
Skeat, Walter. (1993) The Concise Dictionary of English Etymology. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Reference.
Words on page 69: Chart; Care; Chary; Career; Caress; Carnal; Carnation; Carnival; Incarnadine; Incarnation…
Sometimes I need reminding that the easiest route isn’t always the best route…