Meta-Practice

Dusting Yourself Off

Toggling between visualizing and detaching from success.

Recently I poured my heart into a major art application. But when I received the rejection letter, I was already moving on to the next thing. Here’s what happened.

My art business goals are to apply.

Of course I want my applications to be successful. But I don’t write goals based on external validation. I can only control what I do. I write my goals so that my job is to keep throwing my hat into the ring.

I have also tried to be more ambitious about what I apply to. Ambition is not natural to me. I’ve also avoided applying to grants, because they seem like more work with lower chances of returns. But I needed to get over this hang-up.

I’d heard of the Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF)  before. It offers funding of $20,000 to develop new work, support from staff for one year, and a solo exhibition at the Queens Museum. This was my first time applying to it. In the past, I didn’t consider it—I just assumed that I don’t or can’t work at a scale that would justify $20,000. I had a self-perception problem.

Visualizing Success

Setting ‘stretch goals’ gave me a push I needed. I started the process thinking: My chances are very low. The odds are against me. My project seems dissimilar to past projects they’ve funded. I had a protective, pessimistic mindset.

I started the process to fulfill a goal, then awkwardly tried to bridge the interests of the program with my own. After working through half-baked ideas, I arrived at a project that clicked. It made sense for me as a next step as an artist. I got more excited and invested. My self-belief grew.

It became easier for me to visualize success because my project was authentic.

By the time I finished the application, I thought: This is a strong proposal. It’s a great fit. It stands out in a good way. I saw myself doing this project. By writing a proposal I believed in, I saw that I could do projects at this scale, and that I am worthy of this amount of support and recognition.

Detachment from the Outcome through Attachment to the Project

The project took on a life of its own. There’s a noticeable energy in the flood of new ideas in my sketchbook.

I knew I could strengthen my proposal by confirming interest from community partners. I emailed strangers and colleagues, and got anxious waiting for their responses. When a few responded with enthusiasm, I felt high with gratitude. It validated the strength of the project. Something happened inside me, and I committed to doing this project with or without the EAF.

I started brainstorming other ways to make this project happen. Since I scaled it up for the grant application, I started thinking about how to scale it down or adapt it to other open calls. I plugged dates in my calendar, comparing application deadlines and notifications. The EAF become my Plan A. I started forming Plan B, C, and D. It gave me a sense of agency.

The Emotional Cost of Attachment

After I submit an application, I put a note in my calendar on the notification date, and I try not to think about it until then.

But I really poured my heart into the application, and so I was nervous and excited when the EAF notification date finally arrived. I checked my email… Nothing. Then over the next few days, I kept checking my email… And the web page to see if the notification date changed…. And my spam folder…. Nothing. This took me on an emotional journey of anxiety, a little bit of frustration and resentment, dread, resignation. I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty. Stopping the pain of uncertainty became more urgent than the desire to secure the EAF. This is not a mature, emotionally intelligent response. But the deadline for the call in Plan B started creeping up, so I pivoted.

When I finally received the rejection, I was bummed out momentarily. I sort of shrugged, thinking: Well, good thing I had already started Plan B. I wasn’t entirely non-attached, but I moved on relatively quickly.

Of course I would have loved to receive the EAF. It was Plan A because it was the most well-funded, most advantageously-timed option.

I’m grateful for the process—it helped me identify a project I feel passionate about, connect with partners excited to work with me, and find creative momentum that will carry me forward.

 


 

I like thinking about how sports and art competitions are alike. For example, if you sign up for a competition—say, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament—your goals might be to intensify training, gain competition experience, and test yourself. But if you also want to win the gold medal, you have to visualize yourself doing so. You can’t aim for less. Same with an art competition. You should write the best possible proposal you can.

However, you can only control your own effort and mindset. You can’t control the outcomes, because of the role of other competitors and judges. You may win a gold—in which case you shouldn’t get too cocky and back off your training. You may not win—then you have to be resilient enough to cope with your disappointment; be a good sport; avoid jealousy and excuses; and resolve to learn, train hard, and do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, remember the long game.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

—variously attributed or mis-attributed to Winston Churchill and John Wooden

 

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Meta-Practice

Goals and Deliberate Practice

How much progress are you making towards your art goals?
Are you strategically improving weak areas?
How do you stretch out of comfort zones?

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

In “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” (London: Vauxhall, 2016), psychologist Angela Duckworth shares Anders Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice:

  1. Set a stretch goal.
  2. Apply full concentration and effort.
  3. Get immediate and informative feedback.
  4. Repeat, with reflection and refinement.

This is different from going through the motions, or drilling what you already know or are good at. This is focusing on a weak area, and setting out to do something that is beyond your current skill level. Then you fail, ask what went wrong, reflect, and try again. It’s frustrating, uncomfortable, and painful, but Duckworth says you can learn to tolerate the discomfort and find gratification in the struggle.

GOALS & COMFORT ZONES

When I read about deliberate practice, my response was of simultaneous intrigue and resentment. I recognized that I need to be more strategic, and to stretch out of my comfort zone more often.

I usually set my one-year goals in the summer, so I’m about two-thirds of the way through my goal-year. I’ve made good progress… on the things I don’t mind doing. For example, I’ve applied to 5 residencies, and submitted my work to 6 open calls for exhibitions. I feel really good about that!

However, when it comes to tasks I dread, I’m excelling at avoidance. For example, to stretch out of my comfort zone, I set a goal of applying to three major grants, because I need to push myself to do more ambitious projects. In the past 8 out of 12 months, I’ve only completed one grant application.

STRETCH

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum's site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum’s site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Coincidentally, “stretch” is a tactics card in Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game, now playable online at playtime.PEM.org.

Sarrita Hunn (my collaborator) and I invited artists Torreya Cummings (Oakland, CA), Malcolm Peacock (New Brunswick, NJ), and Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) to play with us, and are posting the transcription of the dialogue-based gameplay weekly.

In Round 3, Torreya drew the tactics card, “Stretch” and shared how stretching, for her, is often a matter of asking for support from partner institutions. It followed after Ronny discussed the most significant form of support he received, and I gave an example of Ronny connecting me to Working Classroom in Albuquerque.

While getting out of comfort zones can be stressful, it’s a  trade-off for opportunities for improvement and support.

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Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

This past week, I served as one of three jurors for a residency program. Over the course of 7–8 hours, I reviewed 116 applications and selected my top five picks. The odds for being one of my picks were one in 23, or 4%, of applications. (The organization will consider all three jurors’ picks and make final selections.)

I am sharing my notes as a reminder to myself—I fall short, wait to the last minute, and submit underwhelming applications—as much as it is an attempt to offer transparency and feedback to fellow artists. It’s also a win-win: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient. Obviously, this is highly subjective; different jurors and programs have different approaches.

I’m incorporating these notes into a similar article I wrote two years ago, when I was a juror for another residency program.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. In 2015, I spent about 16 hours reviewing 65 submissions, and rating and submitting scores. I did not receive a stipend.

If jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby and find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying. In fact, this week, I noticed that being annoyed by bad applications made me happy to reward well-prepared applications. I tried to be objective, but the emotional relief of reviewing clear, organized, compelling applications may have swayed my favor.

The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

The best applications are well-oiled machines.

I was most excited to see a clear artistic voice: an intangible whole that is the sum of smaller parts working together:

  • Well-documented bodies of art that demonstrate consistency and an advanced practice.
  • An artist’s statement that jibes with the work samples and speaks to intellectual engagement (in other words, that you’ve been thinking clearly and rigorously about what you make for some time).
  • Work samples that show that you can pull off what you say you want to do in your proposal.
  • A proposal that is ambitious and considered, demonstrating an accurate grasp of your capacities, areas where you need support or are taking risks, and program offerings.

CRITERIA

In this week’s jury process, the organization sent a link to their Submittable account. They didn’t send any criteria, so I came up with my own based on my experiences as a past artist-in-residence there and former juror elsewhere:

  • Clarity and strength of proposal: up to 3 points
  • Ability to make the most of the opportunity: up to 3 points
  • Work samples: up to 10 points
  • “Diversity”: up to 1 point

I awarded one bonus “diversity” point for artists whose work, either in content or execution, provided a perspective that isn’t often seen in the art world. It was not awarded purely on demographics. In the end, though, that bonus point mattered little.

This Is a Competition: Be Competitive!

Generally I prefer cooperation over competition, but applicants should embrace a healthy sense of competition in order to make your application rise to the top.

With a total possible score of 17 points, only two applications received 15 points. Four received 14 or 14.5. Eleven received 12-13.5. Many pretty good applications plateau’ed at 10-11 points.

I’m including this chart to emphasize: This is a competition. 

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The top five applications scored 14 to 15 points.

Most of the applications scoring 10 or 11 points didn’t achieve excellence across the three primary criteria. Their proposal, fit, and work samples were just all right, but nothing special. (A few were just uneven: one application disappointed when great work samples were paired with a very low-ambition proposal that didn’t warrant a six-week residency.)

Applications that scored 7 points or less generally were not competitive across the basics—work samples and an artistic voice and vision—to garner a merit-based award. Fortunately these are all improvable with effort and dedication.

Overlook the written portions at your peril. For efficiency, jurors may start looking for reasons to eliminate applications. When I started seeing the points distribution, I realized that my top five picks would score at least 13 or 14 points. That meant that applications that scored low in the first two criteria didn’t have a chance of catching up in the third criteria, work samples. In these cases, I viewed at least three work samples out of due diligence and principle. Applicants should be aware that jurors only have time to skim their applications, which may extend to their work samples.

Sometimes applications are exercises in getting better at applications (which is worthwhile). To improve one’s competitive edge, try matching or exceeding the time, effort, focus, rigor, and work that competitors are investing—in their applications and their practices.

WRITING

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, propose specific projects, goals, outcomes, and benefits. Discuss materials, techniques, scales or area of inquiry that distinguish your practice. Why are you interested in this particular program? How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Try to show how your goals fit with the program’s unique qualities or equipment. This requires you to research and understand the program, and synthesize it in your proposal. Misalignments result in lower rankings.

Don’t rehash truisms about life for many artists, like:

  • Wanting more time or freedom from day jobs.
  • Wanting a change of scenery, or to travel or network in other cities.
  • Wanting a community of artists for feedback.
  • Passion from a young age.
  • The high cost of living in your city.
  • Not having space in your apartment to make larger work.

Plenty of deserving artists need support! General artists’ needs don’t speak to this specific program, and what you offer in return.

If your proposal includes an interactive or relational element, demonstrate a capacity for collaboration and some thoughtfulness about exchange. Why are you asking people to contribute to your project? Why should they?

Writing proposals is challenging. It’s one of my least favorite parts in the application process. It’s hard to tailor a project you’ll feel passionate about in 12-24 months that aligns with the organization’s goals and program. But proposals matter because they help jurors identify who will make the most of the opportunity. Many organization’s worst nightmare is to award an artist who squanders the program.

Convince jurors that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. If your conceptual intent involves word play, keep it short—don’t list noncritical allusions. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Minimize jargon, personal asides, and creative brainstorming (save that for your sketchbook). Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “Good art can speak for itself.” I don’t believe that you can truly understand an artist’s practice by seeing 10 JPGs, even if their work is primarily visual. That’s why up to 37% of the possible points I awarded this week were based on ideas and intent.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Proof-read and edit.

Make every word work. If a word is not adding anything new, omit it. If you can shorten long sentences, do. Know that jurors are skimming. Make it easier by summarizing main points, preferably at the start of every paragraph.

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Reviewing images this past week, I enjoyed the inclusion of well-done exhibition photographs. They revealed scale, ambition, and a higher level of professionalism.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Technical tips for linking to images and videos.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption.

Special notes for project-based, performance, or social practice artists. Be sure to give context and explain what’s going on. What is process? What is product? For social practitioners, articulate the relational aesthetics at work. Explain how these projects relate to any 2-D or 3-D work samples.

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Meta-Practice, Research, Thought Experiments in Agency

Ways and Means: Points of Reference

A few past notes and new points of reference related to my Ways and Means project, on view through October 15 at Kala Art Institute.

Ways and Means came out of my Inter/dependence ‘zine, a report focusing on self-organizers. I loved the way Adam Gopnik wrote about Jane Jacobs’s interest in self-organizing [emphasis added]:

[In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs] told the story of a little girl seemingly being harassed by an older man, and of how all of Hudson Street emerged from stores and stoops to protect her…. She made the still startling point that, on richer blocks, a whole class of eyes had to be hired to play the role that, on Hudson Street, locals played for nothing: “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes.” A hired neighborhood! It’s obvious once it’s said, but no one before had said it, because no one before had seen it.

The book is really a study in the miracle of self-organization, as with D’Arcy Thompson’s studies of biological growth. Without plans, beautiful shapes and systems emerge from necessity. Where before her people had seen accident or exploitation or ugliness, she saw an ecology of appetites.

Adam Gopnik, “Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts,” New Yorker, September 26, 2016

This sense of acting out of necessity, or appetite—the agency and empowerment of creating a desired condition to exist within—is a huge inspiration to me.

Most of the activity kits in Ways and Means have two components: printed ephemera, housed in a canvas tool pocket or pouch (which can be attached to an apron, belt, or garment). The pouch is important to me, as I see a strong connection between physical agency, and social or political agency. Freedom is first and foremost about mobility. And feeling free—say, as artists—means that we don’t have to shape our lives around systems whose values we don’t believe in. In many ways, the project is about recognizing the tools, skills, and resources (read: each other) that we already carry, made physical by the tool pouches.

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

With that in mind, Chelsea G. Summers’ “The Politics of Pockets” (Racked, 9/19/2016) is an intriguing history of pockets from a feminist perspective. It starts with the fact that in Medieval times, men and women carried pouches attached to their waists. (The following several hundred years of gender-policing-via-pockets seem like an aberration to me.) The essay also touches upon the intersection of pockets and bicycling—again, mobility implying freedom.

One of the responses to Ways and Means has to do with the number of components involved. As there was a lot of letterpress printing, the process was particularly preparation-intensive. Here’s how I kept track of things:

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

I am not saying this level of nerdiness is always warranted, and I think many people would chafe at organizing creative production this way. But letterpress printing takes a special kind of detail-oriented person—hence the aphorism, “check your ‘p’s and ‘q’s.” This chart was useful for getting all the pieces—plates, type, paper, board, fabric—in place before I started printing. And getting different activities to converge at similar stages was helpful, e.g., buying paper in one trip, or binding all at once. Seeing that things were in-progress helped me stay focused; there is always something to do. And when you’re working in more than one space—such as a studio and printshop on opposite ends of a complex, or a home studio and a printshop in another borough—it’s nice to remember to pack the right materials for the day’s tasks.

A minor innovation that took a while for me to arrive at is this (it’s also a peek at a forthcoming activity):

A chart of printing passes.

A chart of printing passes.

Some activities entail multiple printing passes using different inks and media, and it could get confusing. I found that charting it this way helps me to visualize the steps, and prepare the plates and type accordingly. I may have even saved myself a fourth pass on this one. Pass 1 is done, 2 and 3 remain. To be continued…

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Meta-Practice

Center for Book Arts Residency Notes, Part 1

ways-and-means-toolroll-outside-web

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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Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency, Travelogue

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1

Notes from the first half of a printmaking residency in Berkeley, CA.

printshop

A view of Kala’s printshop.

[Note: Kala is redesigning their website—sorry for links that may soon break.]

What

I just wrapped up my first of two stints as a 2015-2016 Fellow at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. Kala is a 40-year-old non-profit arts organization, at the heart of which is a massive print shop in the top floor of a former Heinz ketchup factory. Their printmaking facilities span etching, stone lithography, relief, letterpress, and screen print. They also have an electronic media center with a 44” printer, a darkroom, and a shooting room. Around the corner, they have another space, which includes a gallery, collections, a classroom, and three project space/studios.

It’s like an Artist’s Playland.

As a fellow, I receive access to the printmaking studio, free tutorials, a free class, the use of a 100-square-foot private studio, a discount on classes and purchases, and a stipend.

repeat

Demo from the Repeat Pattern Screen Printing class with Emily Gui.

studio

Studio 270º.

When

The fellowship lasts up to six months. I’d heard that a few past Fellows were able to be active all six months, but many were not, likely due to finances or jobs. The Bay Area’s high cost of living is another limiting factor, for international artists and at least one other NYC artist I’ve corresponded with. I have also been told that many Fellows schedule their stints towards the end of the Fellowship period.

I committed to 2.5 concentrated months due to finances and logistics. I just wrapped up a 4.5-week stay from early January through early February. I will be back for a second stint in June and July to make more work and to install my work in the Fellows’ show and attend the opening. The exhibition is scheduled to open in mid-July.

I was mostly focused on studio work, but I was able to visit the re-openings at Berkeley Art Museum and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and Related Tactics: Declarations for the New Year at Southern Exposure. I also enjoyed the Kala Artists’ Annual in the Kala Gallery (on view through March 26)—it’s a great way to be introduced to the work of the AIRs that I was working alongside, and be inspired by the range of work and media.

Actually, I’d been in a Kala Artists’ Annual many years prior. I interned there after undergrad, and used the presses for my reduction woodcut prints. In the intervening years, I visited the gallery, wrote about an exhibition, and submitted applications to the Fellowship program. I think my familiarity with Kala, printmaking, and the region were very helpful in my planning and expectations.

Where

Artists couldn’t ask for a better location. Just across the parking lot from Kala are a large hardware store and Looking Glass Photo & Camera, probably the best photo store in the East Bay. Across San Pablo are independent businesses Discount Fabrics, MacBeath Hardwood, Ashby Lumber, and Urban Ore (building materials salvage). An art supply store with a decent selection of printmaking supplies and paper is located 1.5 miles away.

You can also find Kelly Paper in Oakland and TAP Plastics in El Cerrito. (I don’t usually promote chain stores, but I missed these two after I moved to NYC, which lacks adequate counterparts.)

Just across the street is Berkeley Bowl West, a fantastic grocery store with prepared food. Its produce section is probably bigger and fresher than anywhere I’ve been. You get healthy grab-and-go food or stock up on groceries in the Kala kitchen. It’s a major perk of the location.

Kala’s split spaces—print shop and gallery—are located on different sides of the same block. To access one from the other, you can walk through loading docks and a parking lot, a sidewalk that fancifully circumnavigates trees along car-heavy San Pablo, or through neighboring JFK University and more loading docks. It’s not far, but it feels like it is.

This part of West Berkeley was industrial, and the building has its own monolithic architectural beauty. However, artists should note that access is easiest for those who can readily climb a short ladder, walk steep ramps, and climb stairs.

I borrowed a car, which made a world of difference for my commute from the peninsula (south of San Francisco), and getting supplies. West Berkeley is not very close to BART (the subway/commuter rail system). For artists coming from out of town, I recommend staying as close to Kala as possible. If not, having a car—and a high tolerance for traffic or the willingness to commute during off hours—will be useful. At the very least, I think you’d want a bike and a bike map.

Who

This year there are eight Fellows. Kala also has about 50-70 artists-in-residence (AIRs). The AIR program is similar to a membership, allowing access to the print shop and media center. For local artists working in print and digital media, the AIR program’s tiered rates can help make it a great alternative to a private studio.

I really looked forward to becoming part of this Kala community. When I interviewed Kevin B. Chen for my ‘zine, CO-LABORATION, he said:

As a young person, Kala Art Institute was an amazing place to be—a shared facility for printmaking with an ethos of collectivity and collaboration. This was seminal in my thinking about artistic practice as part of a larger dialogue, a community. It was (and is) a real community of artists whose ideas and work didn’t exist in the vacuum of a solitary studio, but rather was in the open and collectively shared. The notion of gestalt—the whole is more than the sum of its individual parts—took root for me then.

At Kala, I encountered these moments of serendipity. It’s a communal space, so I admired Emmanuel Montoya’s oversized woodcut prints, and the nearly silent way he and his assistant worked together. Having only ever seen monoprinting with oils, I was impressed by how an artist used watercolors on her acrylic plate, and she kindly explained the process. Often the print shop felt like an atelier—artists were quietly engaging their solitary studio practices, respectfully allowing others to do the same. Then, someone might put on the water kettle, and gradually artists gathered for lunch, and there’d be a friendly, energetic dialogue.

My most meaningful instance of serendipity is being a concurrent Fellow with San Francisco-based Leah Rosenberg. She began her stint in January, too, following her residency in Omaha and project in Hamburg. In the past, she and I collaborated with the late, painfully missed Susan O’Malley. Re-connecting with Leah, at Kala (where Susan’s “Be You” mural for Print Public is just across San Pablo) was some sort of cosmic gift, a confluence of Kala’s mysterious ability to survive an economic environment hostile to arts organizations, the jurors’ visions, and our own good luck. We are collaborating on a participatory project for the exhibition in July. It was also so nice to have a buddy. Doing a residency can be isolating—you’re away from your home and partner, and somewhat at the mercy of an institution yet on a self-directed journey, so having someone to share the experience and mutual support is strengthening.

How

Fellowships are awarded via an annual open call juried by outside curators and artists. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve applied. I submitted an application last spring, and got an email requesting confirmation of my interest in summer or early fall. I’m finding that artist’s experiences of residencies are highly shaped by the liaison, and Artist Programs Manager Carrie Hott (see her work, which I’ve mentioned here) was professional, responsive, interested, and interesting.

The Fellowship seems set up to support artists and let them get to work. At the Orientation, Studio Manager Paper Buck (see his work) asked us what media we’d like to use, and what tutorials we’d need. On the spot, he incorporated a screen coating and exposing tutorial. Carrie handed out keys to residents and fellows. That was day one. We were free to access the studios 24/7.

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Changing out the tympan in a Vandercook letterpress tutorial with Carissa Potter Carlson.

Kala relies on an honor system, and trusts AIRs and Fellows to work within their experience levels. If you are fluent with a piece of equipment, they might briefly talk it through with you, or they might leave it at that. If needed, you can request a tutorial. Brief tutorials are free and scheduled with individual staff members and teachers. You can also request a longer tutorial—available to AIRs at an hourly rate of $40, which I think is very artist-friendly, and free for Fellows.

Kala also offers a free, completely optional class to Fellows.

It took me about a week or two to get rolling in the print shop. When I was eager to get a screen printing refresher, an AIR was kind enough to walk me through it.

Kala’s requirements of Fellows are minor—donate three works (typically editioned work) to the permanent collection. Include credit lines. Submit good photo documentation. That’s pretty much it.

Why

I had an overwhelmingly positive experience over the past few weeks.

I’ve been exploring artists’ agency and interdependence, and want to make activity kits along these themes. I shipped my sewing machine to Kala, but ended up wanting to use my time at Kala mostly to print; I can always sew back in NYC. I did a lot of screenprinting on fabric, a little bit of letterpress and polymer plate, one woodblock (thanks to encouragement by KBC), a little participatory project, and the collaboration with Leah.

splitinkwell

Big roller, split well, birch plywood woodcut

I had books about artists’ self-organization and alternatives, but put off reading them. Printmaking is preparation-intensive, and I felt like I had plenty to do in the print shop everyday. I’ve been mulling these podcasts and articles.

If there was any stress, it was completely self-inflicted. At residencies, I am quite aware of the many artists who would like the opportunity I have, and I tend to want to earn the right to be there by being very productive. But the creative process isn’t linear. And I dabble around in too many media for processes to go perfectly every time. I usually reach a point where I have too many ideas and not enough time left, so I try to simplify and prioritize. The hardest part is letting go of what I can’t or needn’t do. For example, I re-printed a three-color repeat pattern screen print on 10 feet of fabric. It took me about 1.5-2.5 hours every day for six days. If I were able to let go of the flaws and mistakes of the first print, and adhere to my list of priorities, I would have moved on to other projects. But I was obsessed: I knew I could make it better.

Printmaking can be highly technical. For some, its established markers of craftsmanship can make it intimidating, and mastery expressed in minutia can make it seem arcane. But printmaking can also be looser and inventive. I like how you can also make it up as you go along, like making jigs—improvising and refining combinations of materials, time, pressure, and alignment. A folded playing card is a great tool for picking up prints from the press. A “jigsaw” woodcut of squares and triangles could be done in minutes on a miter saw. A plastic sheet can be a backing for screenprinting a t-shirt, or a tympan for printing a woodblock. Do whatever works.

pulleysystem

I devised a simple pulley system for printing and drying yards of fabric.

 

 


 

Thanks so much to Kala Art Institute, its funders, staff, interns, the jurors, AIRs and fellow Fellows for this tremendous opportunity and amazing experience thus far…

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Open Studio view, December 11, 2015. LMCC Process Space on Governor's Island.
Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency

LMCC Process Space Residency Wrap-up

What, who, when, where, how and why my first NYC studio residency.

I just completed my first studio program in NYC! It was great to have a longer residency and stay at home, allowing me to balance personal and financial responsibilities, while at the same time building my community of fellow artists here in NYC.

What: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council turns unused space into studio spaces for visual artists and performers. Process Space is a process-oriented residency located on Governor’s Island. It’s located in the upper floor of a former military warehouse. The space is several thousand square feet, which is divvied up by tensioned partition walls into smaller spaces of various sizes, each with three walls, facing one of two hallways. I received one of the larger spaces, lucking out with a great view of lower Manhattan across the hall and in the windows of my neighbor’s studio.

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan's studio).

View from my studio (through poet Anselm Berrigan’s studio).

Process Space is mostly a studio program, with two Open Studio events. LMCC organizes one potluck and ranger-led tour of the National Parks’ historic sites.

Some of the AIRs self-organized our own work-sharing events and a studio visit from a curator.

behagari1

Ben Hagari discussed his photo with the other AIRs during a self-organized pre-Open Studio walkabout.

Who: There were 20 artists in residence for the full duration, as well as performers who accessed the rehearsal spaces in shorter durations. Of the 20 longterm artists, most were visual, some were literary, and a few were performance. I was also very happy to see that women and artists of color were represented. I really liked my cohort—they’re very smart, with well-developed and unique practices. I think we got along really well and I felt a strong sense of allyship.

LMCC has an energetic staff. They take event planning and promotion of Open Studios seriously! In addition to presenting your work inside your studio, you can also propose a reading or performance, or exhibit work in the adjacent gallery. I didn’t elect to do either, mainly because the deadline for proposals snuck up on me, and I couldn’t dedicate enough time to develop anything on top of what I planned to show in my studio. There’s also a former resident who is a part-time on-site assistant, who has a studio on the island as well.

When: Each year there are two sessions: Fall and Spring. The fall session ran from early August to mid-December; our Open Studios were in late September and in early December.

(In hindsight I realized that the December Open Studio, because it’s on a weekday during the island’s closed Winter season, is less well-attended, but that was the one in which I had more work, and more finished work, to share. Since the summer season has more visitors, the Spring session has the small advantage of having more visitors at the end of the session. I couldn’t make the spring session due to travel, but for future residents this might be a minor consideration. But obviously, prioritize scheduling studio access.)

Where: The studios are located on Governor’s Island, a small island just a short ferry ride from lower Manhattan.

Governor’s Island is a unique partnership between a national park and the City. There’s historic, well-preserved military buildings, and then beautiful, new park lands that are continuing to be developed. There’s tons of programming during the summer, and it’s unusually interesting—a scrappy art fair, 1920’s-themed dance parties, vintage baseball games, VW bus shows, and lots of food trucks, as well as a beer garden. Many other art organizations ran programs there too, such as residencies, galleries, and public art installations, too. There’s also an outdoor tent for concerts, which is located next to the studio building, for better and for worse.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

The Statue of Liberty seen from the ferry on a beautiful day.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

A recent view of the Statue of Liberty at sunset, also with the Staten Island ferry.

There are spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty from the island and the ferry. The studio building’s north windows overlook Lower Manhattan. When the sun set, the light reflected off the skyscrapers in directly onto my studio walls.

Sunset view.

Sunset view.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

My silhouette on my studio wall, formed in sunset light reflected from skyscrapers.

How: This program is by nomination only. I am grateful to my nominator, whose show I installed at LMCC’s Governor’s Island gallery a few years ago. That was my first and only visit to the island prior to the residency, so it was nice to complete the circle by returning as an artist in my own right.

The only access to the island—and thus to the studios—is by ferry. During the public season in the summer, the ferry runs from early morning to 7pm, and on the weekends. After the public season ends, the ferry runs until 6pm weekdays only. For artists whose work schedule lands squarely during the work week (including myself, at times), or who have childcare issues, this means that studio access is a real challenge.

Getting to the island is a big part of this residency experience. When I heard I was nominated, I reached out to two former residents seeking their advice. They were both generous in sharing their input and encouragement. (It was especially kind considering that one artist was a stranger, whose work I’d admired from afar.) Their advice to me basically consisted of two points:

  1. You’re going to miss a ferry by a few minutes, and then have to wait an hour.
  2. Keep your project simple. Don’t get too materially or technically involved.

Though I thought that being armed with tip #1 would help me avoid missing the ferry, I did, over and over, often by minutes. Some of the time it was my own fault. I learned that if I’m not focused on getting ready two hours before the ferry, I won’t make it. Some of the time, the trains were running slow, and I’d miss the ferry by three minutes. That was a huge test of my coping skills. Even worse, I’d sometimes try to run small errands, and then miss a second ferry in the same day.

Tip #2 was helpful. Focusing on research rather than production saved my back a lot of strain. While I kept my tools and materials to a minimum, even the minimum is a lot when it has to fit in a backpack, or on a wheeled cart that you’re carrying up stairs in the subway during rush hour. It’s possible to take a car on the ferry, but deciding to keep it simple meant I didn’t need to deal with the logistics that involves.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

Moving out. My last load after backpacking things home over several days.

It was interesting to get to see more of the harbor, and become part of its rhythms. When the President and the Pope fly out of the heliport next to the ferry building, you learn about MarSec levels (as you’re not going anywhere… but then you get to see a Chinook). Oddly, I think I’m going to miss the ferry itself, especially the Coursen. It’s an interstitial space where the anxiety about possibly missing the ferry melts away. You can be calm, observe the light on the water, get some sun on your skin, and enjoy a short journey. I couldn’t help but envy the crew a tiny bit—it seems like a cool job.

Why: I conducted the research phase of my longterm project, Thought Experiments in Agency. In the beginning, I read a lot—reviewing Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made (again, the introduction is highly recommended!), and reading Julia Bryan-Wilson’s Art Workers and Greg Sholette’s Dark Matter. Later, I also read much of Mobile Autonomy (Dockx & Geilen, eds.).

For the first open studio, I conducted the Artists’ Personal Impacts Survey. I raffled off my Mini Irrational Exuberance Flags. It was difficult to part with them, but seeing how excited recipients were made it OK.

There were 112 visual artists who responded to the survey. There were 40 questions in the survey. There were about 30 questions that were quantitative, and many of those used a 5-point Likert scale. So I did a lot of number-crunching. There were 10 qualitative responses, and the written answers, once compiled, totaled 60 pages. It was great having a huge wall I could dedicate to just looking at the written responses.

Process notes.

Process notes. At right, photos in writer Jessie Chafee’s studio.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

I made an oversized table to categorize responses. Categories formed rows; survey questions were the columns.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Sketch for a Venn diagram summarizing how respondents will take steps to create or strengthen a more desirable art world.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

Inter/dependence zine launch, with flag and data visualizations.

I made a ‘zine, with a 2,000 word essay. Fellow AIRs provided me with great feedback, which was deeply gratifying. I haven’t done any “serious” writing in a while, so it was nice to receive encouragement and validation.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

Drawing and necessary drawing tools.

I also did some drawings. A funny thing happened—I finally had a need for the metal eraser guard I saw in other people’s tool boxes in art school. I never owned one or needed one before this, and adding one to my toolkit now seemed comical. I also hand-lettered some quotes, turning the wall into a mind-map of sorts.

I sewed a flag, and painted a t-shirt. See more photos, or order or download a zine.

Fabric paint on tee. I'm thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

Fabric paint on tee. I’m thinking this shirt should only be made with the sleeves cut off. The tie-back can be optional.

I pretty much did everything I set out to do. Originally, I set a goal of spending spending 60 days in the studio over the 5-month period. A number of factors conspired against me: the session was actually 4.5 months, I moved houses unexpectedly, I got a job promotion, and some tasks were better done at home (where there was a computer monitor or sewing machine). In total, I spent 32 days at the studio. That’s much less than 60, but I exceeded other goals. Moreover, I feel prepared, focused and also liberated to move forward with other production.

I’m so grateful to LMCC staff, Hank Willis Thomas, Youmna Chlala, Saul Melman, survey respondents, ferry crew, Open Studios visitors, and fellow AIRs who participated in self-organized events, gave me feedback, or otherwise offered camaraderie. Thank you.

Christine Wong Yap was a participant in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program.

Inter/dependence was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space artist residency program in 2015.

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