Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #9

I have  a conceptual relationship to my work—I read, write, observe, and reflect to inform the art that I want to make. I do so much research sometimes, my recent studio practice has involved organizing information:

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a large table.

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a 6’x6′ newsprint table.

Though I employ conceptual strategies, I still make things. I like materials, and I like working with materials. I like the challenge of finding and trying different materials that will best convey the ideas, emotions, and experiences I have in mind.

Materials are indifferent, however. They age, warp, stain, fold, bend, puncture, and undergo countless other unintended transformations. Reality, too, resists—physically, culturally, economically; I can’t always get what I want, and I can’t always make what I envision. Art objects, conventionally, aspire to timelessness—an unnatural condition.

In a recent project, I used over:

  • 700 yards of thread
  • 200 yards of twill tape
  • 17 yards of unmounted vinyl
  • dozens of pieces of aluminum tubing and wooden dowels

I also shipped a sewing machine across the country for this project.

It took two to three long work days to finally get a feel for the materials: how they sew together, what patterns would be strong and functional but visually minimal, and how to adjust the tension of the thread just so. In that sense, working is learning, gaining expertise. Doing is simultaneously gathering and applying information; hence, making is a way of thinking.

Detail, work in progress. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

And still, materials surprise me. As I conceptualize, plan, prepare and make, visual and optical qualities emerge. They call on me to look at what I’ve made with new eyes, to see things as they are. To be honest with myself about the degrees to which they are or aren’t what I intended, physically or conceptually.

I like the opportunities for flow made possibly by working with my hands. Some people can achieve flow in activities of the mind—mathematics, writing—but for me, flow arises in the challenges and satisfactions of physical art-making.

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