I’ve been reading a book of poems by Emily Dickinson, introduction by Rachel Wetzsteon, and a part of the book has stuck with me. Rachel writes, “To enter Dickinson’s world is to step into a scary but electrifying funhouse where paradoxes serve like distorting mirrors to show us new ways of seeing just about everything: love, death, solitude, the soul. Throughout her work, opposites change places: Distance is nearness in disguise; absence is the most vital form of presence; aloneness is the greatest company. In several painful but illuminating poems, for example, she argues in favor of hunger and longing, maintaining that the lack that occasions desire makes the object of desire all the more precious:
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!
Delight becomes pictorial
When viewed through pain.—
More fair, because impossible
That any gain.”
Dickinson, Emily. The collected poems of Emily Dickinson. Doubleday, 1997.
In these poems and the descriptions of them, I have found a kind of comfort. Dickinson’s writing as well as Dickinson herself, are reminders to embrace being alone. This read feels appropriate for a ten-week residency and has made me appreciate even more so the amount of time I need to spend alone in my studio. For me, Alternative Worksite is a type of needed solitude. I find I am most productive when I am removed from a familiar environment. Trips away from home usually start as exciting and then turn into intimidating, relaxing and then frustrating, in that order and usually in a cycle. I think I’ve come back to a point of excitement. During my interview with Linda for this residency, we discussed how a minimum of three months seemed to be the correct amount to engage in a fully committed to a studio practice, which AW offered and is rare for a recent undergrad. I have found that ten to twelve dedicated weeks yields results mentally, emotionally, and visually within my work.
What makes this residency unique is that it provides many kinds of experiences. I have found extended time in the studio to work best for me but I could simply walk downtown if I wanted to interact with others. I have had a few casual discussions with locals about ideas regarding religion, politics, and ethics and all have been educating and calm. It has been a joy to have possibly difficult conversations about such topics and build meaningful relationships with individuals with different views on current society. Alternative Worksite has provided a safe place for such conversations to exist and I feel hopeful to have further eye-opening experiences in the future.
When I first arrived in Roanoke I was counting the days that passed; now has come the time where I find myself counting the days that remain. The air is now crisp and the days run cool and trees orange and red and yellow. My room smells of linseed. I competed in a Glock Sport Shooting Foundation indoor shooting match and shot a 430/500. One budweiser a day keeps the doctor away I tell myself.
Excerpt from one of my novels :
I showered and got dressed and Jane criticised my outfit and told me to either change or bring a change of clothes because Cibus had a strict dress code were they did not allow any clothes of color and I was wearing red and blue. It had something to do with the owner being a major nutjob dog sympathizer and claims dogs can only see black and white and that he wants clientele to experience life through a dog’s eyes. If this is not really making any sense, Cibus’ wait staff are made up entirely of canidae, or dogs, who are trained to walk around with trays on their heads and serve dishes (yes, they even have spiral shaped ramps for small dogs so they are able to get the dishes onto the table). You are probably wondering how orders are made, it is actually quite simple. Each menu item is correlated with a command which is correlated with a number of barks, almost like morris code for dogs. You tell the command to the dog and the dog returns to the kitchen like a normal waiter would and reiterates the order to which the kitchen staff translate the barks into their correlated dish; it’s really quite extraordinary. They are in the middle of opening up a café bistro type restaurant where the kitchen staff will also purely consist of canidae which I am excited to try; Jane is also invested in it and we are invited to the soft opening. Rumor is that the owner is trying to arrange for the first trans species surgery to become a dog but doctors are afraid there may be complications. We made our way to Café Bistro and Sandrine ,the maitre d, was expecting us. Jane was catching up with Sandrine and I overheard her mention they were having some issues with the new menu as well as the new head chef Joshua Whitecraft and I looked around and noticed it was fairly quiet, just one person sitting alone facing the wall. Everyone knows that it is a tell tale sign that the food is poor taste if the restaurant is empty but then again it was after the lunch rush. The restaurant had black and white penny tile and wicker seat bistro chairs which is a classic combination and it reminded me of Paris. Sandrine sat us in the window so we had something to look out at incase we ran out of things to talk about even though we both knew we were okay to just sit in silence. It was a good location and there is lots of foot traffic in the trendy Kritz neighborhood (short for Kritzmalino). However, I cannot say the same about the new menu unfortunately–rather than continuing the story, actually… the meal was so atrocious I had to sign up for yelp so I was able to write a review in hopes that it would save people the time, experience, and ultimately the vomiting. I feel Yelp is a truly fantastic website, it has given a platform for all the closeted food critics to break out of silence and express their profound opinions and share their unparalleled culinary knowledge with the world; we all know all it takes is a few episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen to truly understand the dynamics of the culinary arts.
Weeks 3-4 for me, have been about finding a new structure amid all this absolute free-time. The free-time has felt surprisingly shocking for me in this second half of the month. Realizing this is not just a small vacation or trip for inspiration, but a full 6 weeks. I found myself, in these weeks, much more introspective. My first two were very energetic - getting materials, exploring the town, planning art-work, but as we settle in, I find myself writing, journalling, and reading a lot more. In my everyday life (normally), I’m used to fighting for my free time. Art-making, diary, and reflection time I have to I sneak into moments between work and obligations.
I’ve been reading a new book on New Narrative Literature (“Writers Who Love Too Much”) that is enlightening new and exciting ways to think about my own art-word. I’ve also been reading Chris Kraus, “Aliens and Anorexia”. The upstairs media room during the day, has been a great respite to sit and read.
I’ve been archiving some of my dairy and essays into something I call “The Virginia Pages” - a collection of loose pages printed out of entries or essays written during my time here. In a recent project, I had stacks of pages as part of an installation - for viewers to read at random. Maybe “The Virginia Pages” will turn into something like that as well. I’ve been making small ready-made sculptures that I call “poeticas” - objects put together to make a visual poem. And I’ve been filming. I filmed wind and close up rain on a windshield, and have taken pictures of people around town.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my family and upbringing in these two weeks, which has started to become very creatively stimulating. I live in Los Angeles but was raised in Ohio, and lived on the east coast. Maybe its the environment (more akin to Ohio than the west coast), or the free time to be introspective (or both), but something’s leading me to stories of the past. I’m finding now, a lot of the texture and temperature of those memories making its way into my work. I feel like the time for introspection here at this residency is going to be a big part of this experience for me. Having space for flooding thoughts, images and old memories, and time to be surrounded by these things - It feels like a sort of reset or cleans to my practice.
On the third week, the residents took a trip out to the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. It was a nature drive into farms and woods. I suggest anyone coming to the residency to find time for this. To rent a car and see the woods and country-side of Virginia.
On week 4, The leaves started changing.
I also want to mention one of my favorite places here in Roanoke. Its a thrift store called Disabled American Veterans. To describe this place with words can’t do justice. Its a thrift store with the most colorful of workers and shoppers. The workers call you baby and doll, and all the shoppers talk to each other across the store like they are all the closest neighbors. A thrift store is a place where you can really get a sense of the area. The items for sale are memorabilia and a record of that area and its people, and at this specific store, the people shopping have the same affect. A real Virginia gem. I’ll have to get some pictures for the next blog.
Writing a lot about my work
Letting time slow down
Letting myself slow down
Thinking about my days here
Thinking about what I want to do when I leave here
Leaving space for these things