Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2015 to June 2016.

Though my goal was to apply to 18 competitions, I applied to only 6 in order to fulfill opportunities received in this period.

I applied to: 2 residencies, 0 fellowships, 1 exhibition/museum submissions, 1 studio program, 1 grant/award, 0 public art commissions, and 1 professional development programs.

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I received: 1 residency.

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One application was solicited following a recommendation from a fellow artist. Following another application, I received an inquiry for a studio visit with a curator.

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Of the 6 entries, my overall success rate was 1 out of 6, or 16.6%.

I paid $15 for a single application fee. Five out of six applications were free.

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Art & Development, Thought Experiments in Agency

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 2

A few notes on my residency in June and July, with personal reflections. A continuation of “Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1.”

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala's Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute's Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts' Workspace Grant program.

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala’s Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute’s Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts’ Workspace Grant program.

I returned to Kala from early June to late July for a second residency stint. Over those six weeks, I developed new work—including collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices)—and installed it in the Kala Fellows’ exhibition (currently on view through October 15). [Update: I’ve posted photos on my website.]

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Screenprints in the drying rack for a game developed in collaboration with Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practice). The top layers are cards, including some inspired by questions in my recent zine on interdependence. The bottom layers are canvas game “boards.”

 

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Press lock-up on the delightfully light Vandercook SP-15. For Friendship Field Trip, a collaboration with Elizabeth Travelslight. It comes in four pieces, each describing an activity to deepen a friendship. The back of all four assembles into a map/poster.

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Detail of Color | Cootie | Feeling | Catcher, an activity developed in collaboration with Leah Rosenberg. 13-color woodcut and polymer plate letterpress print.

This experience was extraordinarily positive, like my January/February stint. Here are a few updates:

Busier printshop. There were more AIRs and Fellows in town for the summer season. The chill, atelier-like vibe often gave way to a bustling hive of printing. The screen printing equipment was especially popular.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

 

New Fellows Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) and James Voller (New Zealand/Melbourne), Honorary Fellows Katie Baldwin and Chris Thorson, and AIRs Aaron Hughes and Mikey Kelly arrived or continued their visits, and I enjoyed getting to know them and work alongside them.

Staff changes and special mentions. New Studio Manager, Ben Engle, is upbeat and enthusiastic about printmaking and helping people. Artist Program Manager Carrie Hott is leaving to pursue other things (check out her show at Mills College Art Museum through August 28).

Kala is a special place, run by extraordinarily dedicated people. For example, I needed to borrow a table from Southern Exposure (thanks SoEx and Val!), and Art Sales Manager Andrea Voinot picked it up on her day off. I feel indebted to Kala and the people whose labor, energy and generosity make it work.

Deadlines. My prior stint involved experimenting to learn techniques. But for this visit, I had to focus on finishing work for the show. The numerous steps involved in my project—preparing the art, printing, binding, sewing, installation—quickly became an unyielding reality I had to cope with.

I think I could have scheduled my production a bit more strategically, especially when it came to collaborations. I felt like I was running out of time. As an art handler, I felt that my work should have been done ahead of the installation period. But as an artist, I realized that this is all new work—quite a bit of it, with an involved installation, and it’s not the same thing as installing existing works.

Thankfully, I received assistance with perforation, lighting, and photography from interns Katrina and Sean, and sewing assistance from my mom, Sophia Wong.

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Mom proudly sports the apron she just finished sewing in the artist’s project space at Kala.

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Detail of a lab coat sewn by Mom.

 

Work/life balance. As with other residencies, I got really invested in productivity. I was often at the printshop by 7am—partly to beat the bridge traffic, and partly to get things done (aided by starting out on East Coast time). I made the most of my time at Kala, but I can’t say the same about the Bay Area…

Early mornings in the printshop.

Early mornings in the printshop.

I could have been more present for family and friends, been a more patient and kind collaborator, seen more art (especially the new SFMOMA, Ed Ruscha show at the DeYoung, Torreya Cummings’ installation at the Oakland Museum, Postscripts to Revolution at Southern Exposure, and Bizarre Bazaar at Root Division) and spared myself some of the 12-(up to 15.5-)hour days. It’s paradoxical to sacrifice relationships to make art about interdependence. But I’m not sure what I could have changed, if I had the chance to do it again. There’s only so many hours in the day, and it was already a privilege (as well as financial and marital stretches) to be away so long.

Interdependent, communal spaces. At Kala, I thought about Elizabeth Travelslight‘s description of being a co-op member in CO-LABORATION:

It becomes quite habitual—you get in the habit of seeing people fully and being seen fully.

That was how I felt at Kala. The collective ethos there can be enlivened with little effort, mainly greeting people, communicating openly, and generally having faith in others. I had to adopt these attitudes and behaviors (it felt almost Midwestern…). I felt welcomed and very much like a thread in the social fabric. Colleagues were encouraging, helpful, and friendly. Even with my middling technique, I was accepted… It was validating.

[Addendum/Tangent:

With the help of LR, I realized that these are the same feelings I felt at gyms Pacific Ring Sports and Fight and Fitness this summer, and are the same motivations for training amongst others. I hadn’t realized the connection until LR visited PRS and pointed out how members can similarly cultivate a spirit of mutual respect and encouragement. That validation grew my sense of value within these communities, which can become like chosen families. To be encouraged to keep training, and to come back anytime by people who’d easily submitted me, or who I’d accidentally headbutted, melts my heart. It’s about sportsmanship, but moreover, shared experiences of hard work and growth. These gyms and Kala provided opportunities to be humbled, to develop new skills and new friends, to be accepted, and to be grateful. I felt my sense of value and integrity being grounded by being seen and seeing others, and gained lived experiences of ordering aspects of life interdependently.]

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The head coaches at Pacific Ring and Fight and Fitness were all from Fairtex, whose SF gym has since dissolved. I started out there too, about 15 years ago. After a hiatus following my move to NYC, I’m revitalizing my appreciation for the development and relationships gained through this type of training. The Bay Area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quality muay thai and BJJ training; I recommend residents avail themselves to it.

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Community, News

7/14: Opening @ Kala Art Institute, Berkeley

After five weeks of intensive printmaking and sewing, I’m happily exhausted and happy to share Ways and Means, a new body of letterpress-printed activity kits, collaborative games, and custom garments exploring interdependence and resourcefulness. The project includes collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices). Ways and Means is participatory—come, interact, bring a buddy, and make new buddies.

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts, NYC) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

July 14 – October 15, 2016
Appro-propagation
Residency Projects: New Work by 2015-2016 Kala Fellows

Opening Reception: Thursday, July 14, 6-8pm

Kala Art Institute
Gallery: 2990 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702
Gallery Hours: Tue-Fri, 12-5:00pm; Sat, 12-4:30pm

Takuji Hamanaka
Jamil Hellu
Lucy Puls
Ronny Quevedo
Neil Rivas
Leah Rosenberg
James Voller
Christine Wong Yap


This experience has been so positive in bountiful ways. I’ll elaborate more later, but at this moment I am moved to share my gratitude for the organizations and so many individuals who have made this possible: Kala Art Institute; the Kala Fellows Program; Kala staff (particularly Carrie Hott, Paper Buck, Ben EngleAndrea Voinot, and Mayumi Hamanaka for their help and trust, and Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano for having the vision to create and maintain such a special place); Kala fellow Fellows, Honorary Fellows, AIRs, and interns for contributing to the spirit of welcoming community and knowledge-and-resource-sharing; the Center for Book Arts’ AIR Workspace Grant program; Val Imus and Southern Exposure for non-profits’ mutual aid; Kevin B. Chen and Genevieve Quick for believing in me; collaborators Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, Elizabeth Travelslight; installer Gary and interns Katrina and Sean; Sophia Wong for sewing assistance; and Michael Yap for unending support. I am also grateful for Susan O’Malley, to have shared in her life, work, and wisdom, and—I believe—a feeling that interdependent entanglements such as these swell our hearts and lives… Thank you.

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Meta-Practice

Center for Book Arts Residency Notes, Part 1

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Ways and Means tool roll, 2016, two-color print of line cuts, linoleum, and moveable type (not shown) on canvas.

For the past three months, I’ve been taking classes and doing lots of letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in their Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant program. It’s been neat to get to know this compact Manhattan non-profit printshop, bindery, and gallery, and the community that keeps it running and makes it vital.

Right after returning from Kala in February, I dived straight into a five-day, intensive Bookbinding class at the Center for Book Arts. The class was taught by Nancy Loeber (see her beautiful books of reduction woodcut portraits). I loved the pace of the class—she kept a phenomenal energy up, and exposed students to a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. We made many different soft and hard cover book structures, made our own book cloth, and practiced techniques to make our books more precise and tidy. The class was also a great way to spend time at the Center, and get to know a few of my fellow AIRs, Scholars, and other students.

I learned about pressure printing in a fun weekend class with Macy Chadwick. I’d never heard of pressure printing before. It’s a sort of ingenious process, similar to collagraph. You make a plate out of paper or other thin, flexible materials, only instead of inking up the plate, you sandwich it with your printing paper that you set in the grippers. That all goes around the cylinder, where your paper picks up ink from a thick acrylic plate. The result is a print that is mostly solid, with texture and ghostly halos. It’s loose, quick, and experimental—qualities that are opposite of most other letterpress methods.

I also took a broadsides letterpress printing class with Rich O’Russa, who encouraged my wacky experimentations printing on cloth and locking up type on angles. It was a great way to get more practice setting type and learning the quirks of some of the Center’s seven letterpresses.

After taking these classes and the Renter Training class, and printing during the Supervised Printing nights, I was recently given the go-ahead to print unsupervised in May.

I’ve been printing activities for activity kits using moveable type, linoleum, and polymer plate.

I find setting moveable type to be incredibly time-consuming, frustrating, and both antagonistic and contiguous with my typographic sensibilities. On one hand, I have a pretty good sense of typography from doing graphic design and calligraphy, so the shapes of my typeface of choice, Lydian, is familiar. On the other hand, my discernment is also the source of friction—it’s hard to express how much it gets my goat when I find an italics or condensed letter in the roman job case, or worse, in my lock-up when I’m already on press.

Letterpress is physical in the extreme. Every letter, every point and pica of space, has to be accounted for with a corporeal material, which has to be stored and organized to some extent in a communal printshop. The reward is an ineluctable perfection of slight imperfection, that polymer plate doesn’t achieve. After setting type for a few projects, polymer plate feels so fast and painless—and the painlessness is both relaxing and unnerving. I got the feeling I’m not learning anything right now. But it’s also nice to go home at a reasonable hour.

The Center is located in NoMad. As the site is not capacious, and is also used for classes and events, it is helpful to approach with flexibility, cooperation, and forbearance. The location is great—close to many options for transportation, food, and art stores around 23rd Street, Madison Square, and Koreatown.

The 2015 Workspace AIRs’ exhibition, along with two other shows, are on view through June 25. Stop by to see eclectic interpretations of the book form; you will also see the studios as well.

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Sights

See: Denim @ the Museum at FIT

Three garment exhibitions.

Lately, as part of a larger project, I’ve been researching garments, especially workwear. The more I learn about sewing, the more I realize what I don’t know and can’t yet do. Though I’ve sewn flags and banners, I’m thinking about more complicated items and garments. I have a long way to go, but it’s nice that even my modest experiences help me appreciate construction better.

Front: Reproduction of Claire McCardell's "Popover" dress, circa 1942, blue denim and red cotton. Also: denim jumpsuit, as women joined manufacturing for WWII.

Front: Reproduction of Claire McCardell’s “Popover” dress, complete with a matching oven mitt, circa 1942, blue denim and red cotton. Also: denim jumpsuit from when women joined manufacturing for WWII.

Denim: Fashion’s Frontier @ the Museum at FIT
Through May 7, 2016

Though it’s less than two blocks from the Center for Book Arts (where I’m a current resident; learn more about the AIR program at the 2015 AIRs’ exhibition, which opens tonight), I first visited this museum yesterday. They have good spaces, quality shows, and strong exhibition design; I look forward to seeing more shows there. I went for their exhibition on denim—one of the workwear fabrics I’ve been printing on. Here are a few thoughts:

  • The show is composed of garments from the museum’s collection arranged in chronological order. I was most intrigued by the earliest garments. The curatorial statements insisted that denim has been used for workwear for men and women since its earliest days, exemplified by a women’s skirt-set for work from 1912-15.
  • There’s a great video (though the audio is too quiet) about a pair of cotton pants with denim patches. A conservator explains the clues in the garment’s construction that helped her deduce that they were probably made in the 1840s. I love it when invisible museum work is made visible in this way.
  • Chambray became an official union shirt in the 1940s. The blue in “blue collar” probably comes from that. (Growing up as the daughter of a car mechanic, I’d associated work with stain-resistant synthetic blends that were dyed blue.)

The rest of the exhibition reviews how jeans became symbols of rebellion, and emerged as leisure, popular, and luxury goods. The connection to work became symbolic at best. Cheers to MFIT for providing an online exhibition.

Fairy Tale Fashion @ the Museum at FIT
Through April 16, 2016

Coming from the denim exhibition, with its theme of women’s labor, I couldn’t help but see this show’s content in an unfavorable way. The fairy tales here are Eurocentric (maidens with fair skin, gold hair as symbols of gold) and hetero-orthodox. (It’s 2016. I want heroines who kick ass like Ronda Rousey or Rey, who change the game like Missy Elliot and Awkwafina. Also, what’s up with the ageism of fairy tales? Why aren’t there ever evil maidens and heroic middle-aged women?) This show is not for me.

  • If you want to see beautiful gowns, dramatic capes, and nice beadwork, have a look.
  • I was impressed by the exhibition design. The space is underground, with very high ceilings. The exhibition designers did a great job using scrims and dramatic lighting to set a slightly menacing tone.
  • I noticed the use of the word, “sculptural,” to describe functionless elements that diverged from the silhouette or body. Coming from an art/sculpture point of view, it’s interesting to think that a three-dimensional object is not inherently sculptural, but becomes so after adding superfluous parts.

"Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro," at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center,  Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery. // Source: http://www.newschool.edu/

“Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro,” at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery. // Source: newschool.edu

Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro @ The New School/Parsons
Through April 18, 2016

This was also my first visit to the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center’s Kellen Gallery. While the FIT museum had carefully calibrated the lighting to preserve the garments, this space is an airy white cube with dramatic windows and plentiful natural light. I will visit again, as they’re clearly interested in pushing boundaries (check out the concurrent exhibition on mass incarceration).

  • I was intrigued by this exhibition of “garments for hypothetical, invented, coveted, imaginary jobs.” Unfortunately I felt underwhelmed by how little creativity was on display, how the speculation sometimes only made small leaps from present reality. These garments evinced whimsy, not reinvention. I am not sure that this is a valid critique—I think it comes out of an expectation that designers are technologists, and thus futurists. But sometimes designers are just designers. (I love the name of AIGA NY’s “monthly series of provocations where practitioners and critics discuss the changing nature of design and visual culture.” It’s “We used to ____, now we ____.” It’s a worthy prompt for designers and artists to consider.)
  • I was struck by how many garments were simply garments in recognizable silhouettes and forms—size o dresses, suit-shirt-slacks-tie—that were embellished to fit a theme—’girl who picks carrots,’ ‘girl who picks strawberries,’ for example. (Maybe I shouldn’t expect fashion to be less gender-binary, but I can’t help but feel disappointed.)
  • There was an outfit for a “Post-Fordist,” comprising of ready-made vacation separates, a laptop, and a Blackberry in a vitrine. I get that the banality of immaterial labor is what makes it so insidious, but that doesn’t mean creative work about it can’t be more interesting artistically.
  • Men’s ties suggest an outfit of rags under a shabby jacket—a garment for “a migrant”—in a particularly fraught misstep.
  • OK, I liked the exhibition design. An aluminum I-beam was suspended from the ceiling at an angle. Clamps on the beam held up monofilament, which allowed the garment to spin. It signaled the work theme and avoided a static display well.

Other observations:

The Garment District

One of my favorite things about living in NYC is access to all the garment district shops. The district near Hell’s Kitchen is so vital that shops can specialize in selling only one type of thing: linen, spandex, notions, textiles for men’s wear, textiles for quilting, etc. On occasion, I’ll stumble into a building full of garment industry services. Earlier in the week, I got to peek inside a huge embroidery studio. I felt so grateful that so much industry still happens in Manhattan. I hope these small businesses—and the workers doing such skilled labor—keep going strong.

 

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Projects

New Values: Changing Terms in a Psychological Classification

Unintended consequences of making art around recent positive psychology.

Christine Wong Yap, Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches. Photo: Anna Ablogina.

Christine Wong Yap, Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches. Photo: Anna Ablogina.

 

From 2013 to 2015, I designed, printed, and sewed Character Strengths Signal Flags. Each flag represented one of 24 character strengths in psychologist Martin Seligman’s and Chris Petersen’s Values in Action classification.

Recently I revisited the VIA website, and noticed that some of the strengths have been renamed. Those are listed below.

The new names relate to the old ones, but I can’t help but wonder: What is gained and lost with the linguistic updates?

  • Open-mindedness  Judgment
  • Persistence  Perseverance
  • Integrity  Honesty
  • Vitality  Zest
  • Citizenship  Teamwork
  • Self-Control  Self-Regulation
  • Appreciation of Beauty  Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

I’m not a psychologist, but as the classification is aimed towards the public, the researchers are probably interested in accessible language. Here’s how I interpret the updates.

Some changes seem relatively minor—persistence and perseverance, and vitality and zest are phrasings many people would use interchangeably. Witnessing excellence can be beautiful; I can see the kinship in the appreciation of of the two. Psychologists might distinguish between self-control and self-regulation, but I don’t think general audiences would.

I believe the most dramatic change is from open-mindedness (withholding judgment) to judgment. In an era of snap judgments and constantly streaming opinions, I wonder why the researchers abandoned the self-assured open-mindedness, and then opted for judgment over the more measured critical thinking. Also, swapping integrity in favor of honesty seems complicated, too. To me, integrity implies a higher order of ethics and self-concordance than honesty.

The shift from citizenship to teamwork could inspire much deconstruction. The former implies geopolitics, nationhood, and the problems of inclusion, exclusion, and rights.* It’s too limiting for the meaning, which I interpret as the spirit of civic and social engagement.  On the other hand, teamwork originates in sport, but is now correlated with the workplace and management. This identity shift, from a (presumably) contributing member of a (presumably) democratic society, to a (likely, immaterial knowledge) worker, hits a nerve—it appears to be another instance of neoliberalism’s pervasive effect on our identities, where the corporation overtakes the state as the primary force organizing social relations.

While I don’t mean to conflate positive psychologists’ research with pop psychology writing, I did find a passage from Louis Menand’s essay on self-help business books (“The Life Biz,” New Yorker Magazine, March 28, 2016) to be relevant:

“It’s not surprising that every era has a different human model to suit a different theory of productivity, but it is mildly disheartening to realize how readily we import these models into our daily lives. We apply technologies of the self to our own selves, and measure our worth by the standards of the workplace.”

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Addendum:

Justin Langlois‘ comments on citizenship (in “Questioning Citizenship at the Venice Biennale: Responses and Interventions,” C Magazine, Issue 128, Winter 2016) are too good not to cite.

First, the urgency of the question of citizenship:

“The idea of citizenship, and who gets to grant it, receive it, retain it and who has to give it up, is clearly one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

Then, a call to action to practice citizenship:

“Our citizenship relies on the testing of its very boundaries. And more often, it relies on a series of small and not-so-small gestures that secure or resist it, and that help us to exercise our capacity to measure, record and produce social and civic life together. Art provides an inventory of expanded practices and poetics that might offer us clues on how to do this, but we must work to hone our own actions and activities towards more complicated expressions that can evince our agency in the world. If we await an invitation to perform our citizenship, we will never get around to producing it ourselves.”

While of course I value cooperation and the ability to work well with others, what teamwork doesn’t account for is the desire and responsibility to “evince our agency in the world.”

 

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Impressions

Points of Reference: Embodied Memory

Recent notes on memory, navigation, and embodiment.

I love thinking about embodied cognition (how our mental life is shaped by the physical roots of experience). Recently, a spate of articles has me thinking about where memory lives in the brain, and how the body moving through space is tied to recollection. It’s interesting to consider what impressions you’re embedding physically or mentally. Maybe you’re an art viewer noticing how your eye “moves” through a picture. Or, you’re an art handler “walking through” an exhibition design in SketchUp. Perhaps, you’re an artist envisioning how people interact with an installation or your participatory artworks. I wonder about the many ways in which aesthetic experience is one of navigation, envisioning, recording, and recall.

 

Through the DOT's Adopt-a-Highway program, artist Katarina Jerinic utilizes a parcel next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as land art for site-specific interventions. Katarina Jerinic, PSA for Passers-by #2 (video still), 2014, digital video, 57 seconds. // Source: KatarinaJerinic.com // HT: The Center for Book Arts' Map as Metaphor lecture series.

Through the DOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program, artist Katarina Jerinic utilizes a parcel next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as land art for site-specific interventions. Katarina Jerinic, PSA for Passers-by #2 (video still), 2014, digital video, 57 seconds. // Source: KatarinaJerinic.com // HT: The Center for Book Arts’ Map as Metaphor lecture series.

 

Kim Tingley’s “The Secret of the Wave Pilots” (NY Times, March 17, 2016) is a fascinating look at a Marshallese form of seafaring using knowledge of waves only. She writes beautifully about the neurological and social ties between memory and navigation, as well as the fascinating history of the Marshall Islands. I highly recommend the entire article. My favorite passages to think about for art practice follow.

On how we know where we are in space, and how that shapes who we are and our social relationships:

“[Psychologist Edward] Tolman hypothesized that humans have cognitive maps…, and that they are not just spatial but social. ‘Broad cognitive maps,’ he posited, lead to empathy, while narrow ones lead to ‘‘dangerous hates of outsiders,’ ranging from ‘discrimination against minorities to world conflagrations.’ Indeed, anthropologists today, especially those working in the Western Pacific, are increasingly aware of the potential ways in which people’s physical environment — and how they habitually move through it — may shape their social relationships and how those ties may in turn influence their orienteering.”

“…our ability to navigate is inextricably tied not just to our ability to remember the past but also to learning, decision-making, imagining and planning for the future.”

Though journey and destination can be clichéd metaphors (not to mention signposts, road maps, off the beaten track, forge your own path), what Tingley seems to suggest is that these are fundamentally human concepts. It’s part of our evolutionary legacy to think and understand in terms of physical journeys, because we each have this kind of brain in this kind of bipedal body.

On the connections between mapping and memory:

The cognitive map is now understood to have its own physical location, … in the limbic system, an evolutionarily primitive region largely responsible for our emotional lives — specifically, within the hippocampus, an area where memories form. … [neuroscientists] found that our brains overlay our surroundings with a pattern of triangles. Any time we reach an apex of one, a ‘grid cell’ … delineates our position relative to the rest of the matrix… [an] ‘inner GPS’ that constantly and subconsciously computes location….”

“…a new unified theory of the hippocampus [imagines] it not as a repository for disparate memories and directions but as a constructor of scenes that incorporate both. (Try to recall a moment from your past or picture a future one without visualizing yourself in the physical space where that moment happens.)”

I’m always amazed by the peculiar concreteness of dreamed environments: the fully rendered qualities of light, the verisimilitude of prioperception. How awesome that this takes dozens of AI specialists and servers to re-create, and yet our brains achieve this when we’re literally not even thinking about it.

Exploring the world through our bodies is the root of imagination and creativity:

“[Others] hypothesized that our ability to time-travel mentally evolved directly from our ability to travel in the physical world, and that the mental processes that make navigation possible are also the ones that allow us to tell a story. ‘In the same way that an infinite number of paths can connect the origin and endpoint of a journey,’ Edvard Moser and another co-author wrote in a 2013 paper, ‘a recalled story can be told in many ways, connecting the beginning and the end through innumerable variations.’”

Nobutaka Aozaki, From Here to There, 2012–ongoing, questions, various pens and paper, 10' x 3' 2" / dimensions variable. // Source: NobutakaAozaki.com

A series of hand-drawn maps made by strangers upon request of the artist, who posed as a tourist and refused directions via app. The installation approximates a map of Manhattan. Nobutaka Aozaki, From Here to There (image as of June 15, 2012), 2012–ongoing, questions, various pens and paper, 10′ x 3′ 2″ / dimensions variable. // Source: NobutakaAozaki.com // HT: Nobu is a fellow Center for Book Arts 2016 resident

“…people who use GPS, when given a pen and paper, draw less-precise maps of the areas they travel through and remember fewer details about the landmarks they pass; paradoxically, this seems to be because they make fewer mistakes getting to where they’re going. Being lost … has one obvious benefit: the chance to learn about the wider world and reframe your perspective.”

That’s a good reminder: Be where you are. Don’t worry about the fastest route. Learn about your environment and build up your mental map.

The same can be said about the creative process. I need reminders to stop over-valuing productivity, and to experiment in the studio. This is partly my nature, and partly not—as Barnaby Drabble points out, “the increasing application of time and resource management methods to our personal lives”* is symptomatic of larger forces like neoliberalism, and the conditions of immaterial labor, etc.

Furthering the connection between exploring space and imagination:

“All maps are but representations of reality: They render the physical world in symbols and highlight important relationships … that are invisible to the naked eye. If storytelling, the way we structure and make meaning from the events of our lives, arose from navigating, so, too, is the practice of navigation inherently bound up with storytelling, in all its subjectivity.”**

Maps are subjective, and could be more transparently so.

“Many of our [mapping studios] students began the semester enamored with the sublime, totalizing visions afforded by exhaustive data-sets and sleek visualizations. Yet by the end, nearly everyone’s mission and values shifted – from a pursuit of ‘accuracy’ and ‘exhaustiveness,’ to an interest in the personal and the partial, the subjective and the speculative. They sought to find ways to express ambiguity, to insert cartographic ‘buts,’ ‘ifs,’ ‘howevers,’ and other qualifying statements to convey the ‘interpretative nature of the mapping process.'”

—from Shannon Mattern’s excellent slide lecture at Maps as Metaphor at the Center for Book Arts. It’s posted online on her equally excellent blog, Words in Space.

 

These subjectivities can work for us. Memory palaces, for example, exploit the connection between memory and environments. It’s a memorization technique of:

“associating the ideas or objects to be memorized with memorable scenes imagined to be at well-known locations (‘loci’), like one’s house (‘palace’)”

Austin Frakt’s “An Ancient and Proven Way to Improve Memorization; Go Ahead and Try it,” (NY Times, March 24, 2016).

I’m most fascinated by how the physical and conceptual interact and influence each other. How we walk the earth shapes our cognitive metaphors, and they imbue the memories that inform our identities. At the same time, we use mental powers to traverse real and imagined spaces, even constructing new spaces to expand our abilities. These interactions blur the boundaries of what is permanent and real:

“[Es Devlin, set designer,] is an architect of temporary space, making images that can survive only in the minds of the people who see her shows. ‘I do all this work and nothing physical remains,’ she told me. ‘So what I’m really designing are mental structures, as opposed to physical ones. Memories are solid, and that’s what I’m trying to build.’”

Andrew O’Hagan, “Imaginary Spaces: Es Devlin and the psychology of the stage,”New Yorker Magazine, March 28, 2016

This resonants with the core of why I’m an artist. I make objects and exhibit them for a few weeks at a time. While a small portion exists in people’s homes, most are squirreled away or no longer exist. I continue to make objects because I believe that  art experiences “live” on as viewers’ memories of firsthand, physical experiences (and secondhand, virtual images on the Web). This speaks to my immense faith in the power of aesthetic experience—a process of viewing, thinking, and feeling—to enrich human experience.

—–

*Barnaby Drabble, “On De-Organisation” in Self-Organized, edited by Stine Hebert & Ann Szefer Karlsen, London: Open Editions / Bergen: Hordaland Art Centre, 2013

**Digression: Here’s an example of how much place and memory are tied. Brandon Brown’s “Limited Access: Art and Gentrification in the Mission” (Art in America, March 30, 2015) mentions Artist’s Television Access and The Lab, two venerable alternative art organizations a few blocks apart in San Francisco. Reading his descriptions of places—even on a small screen, in a noisy gym—flooded me with memories: my first visit to ATA, as a high school student at a Sick ‘n Twisted shorts fest; trading sketchbooks with Erik Drooker at Muddy Waters, where he drew speech bubbles making fun of my slang; as a young art student, viewing Barry McGee’s mural in the labor building; the time I was on a panel with Boots Riley at ATA (and I think Chicken John?) that got hijacked; the doc on Humboldt County tree-sitters; the palpable discomfort of a friend from out-of-town when we met him at 16th and Mission to eat at Taqueria Cancún; Intersection, and how often I’d run into Kevin Chen right in front of the building, day or night, wearing yellow glasses and having a smoke… What makes a space a place are the meanings assigned to it. Personal experiences—pleasant or not, juvenile or formative—are part of what makes San Francisco’s transformation potent.

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