I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be part of the Light Grey Art Lab Norway Residency! For the next 12 weeks, I’ll be working on a mini-thesis and body of work on the theme of uselessness and then, in June, meeting the rest of Team Vann in Bergen.
I hope to make a lot of new work over the next 3 months, and I also hope to document it—studio journals, random thoughts, works in progress, finished work—here. I’ve pasted my proposal from my application below in case you’re interesting in how I’m approaching the exploration of uselessness.
The possibility of being useless or of the writing and art I make being useless is something that’s been bothering me. It’s also something that’s resulted in a lot of inertia. You could argue that uselessness (or usefulness) is not the best gauge of worth, and I’d agree with that, but it keeps coming up for me. When that happens, I get keen to spend time thinking about what it means and how it can be interpreted.
This week, I’m working on a visual essay about SOUND. I’ll journal pics and the finished essay soon, but I’ve been thinking about Chopin’s piano etude op. 10 no. 1, water, brown noise, breath, a ship’s bow wave, ternary form in music, cervical vertebrae, and unrequited love.
Mini-thesis application/proposal for LGAL Norway Residency:
My favorite thing in the world is to be a student, and I’m drawn to the devotion required to develop a creative process that builds iteratively toward a productive learning experience in Norway. I’m interested in what will happen when I work toward thinking intensively and making artistic progress on a theme, share processes in a group, and watch the evolution of everyone’s projects in the state of heightened observation and sensation brought about by travel.
I’m intrigued by entering an experiment where struggles are encountered as possibilities for fun projects—reasons to wake up in the morning rather than fearful and paralyzing barriers to art-making. And I’d like to have the kinds of conversations and learning experiences that can happen in an environment where artists, rather than dismissing problems or struggles as self-deprecation, foster interest in exploring challenges as opportunities to initiate an adventurous process and make something new.
Much of my artistic life and thought in the past few years has been preoccupied with the fear of being useless. In my life as a researcher, I can see how my work affects others’ lives, and I can acknowledge how others’ art has broad meaning and effects on people’s emotions and societal change. But my art focuses on small things or events—the minutiae that snags as important in my mind for no apparent reason other than that I need to express and transform it through art and writing. I worry that my work has no use and that I’m developing talent and skills that don’t serve others or solve problems directly. As a consequence, I’ve become hesitant about starting new projects, started to question my curiosity about the world on the basis of one metric, and become increasingly anxious about things that I would otherwise probably enjoy exploring as part of my art practice. Unlike the daily struggle in scientific life where there is faith that seemingly useless work may lead to a helpful advance, the daily artistic struggle for me must grapple with the anxiety that both the process and the outcome are useless.
I would like to explore this idea of uselessness—Is the artistic life useless? Can uselessness be a good thing? I aim to explore, through art and writing, the idea of what we consider useless—insects whose bodies and lives we’re able to know largely through information about how to kill them, the minutiae of daily life, work in service of livelihood. My goal is to consider different understandings of uselessness—as counter to destruction, as observation that returns an object or event to itself, as prayer or meditation on a lost sacredness. I would like to document this project through ongoing visual essay; sharing this work with others will also be an experiment in going outside of my comfort zone and challenging my fear of my work being irrelevant. I hope to use this project as a way to develop a cohesive artist statement, a plan and values for future work, and a strong body of art that honors and transforms the idea of uselessness and the sacredness of “useless” beings and objects.
Keep a studio journal that documents progress and thought fueling artwork and what I’ve learned from studying, thinking, and writing on the theme of uselessness.
Read four books on the theme of uselessness: The Usefulness of the Useless by Nuccio Ordine, The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys, Architecture and Disjunction by Bernard Tschumi, and a book or several books from Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series.
Create and share a small illustrated essay every week on the subject of something intriguing sparked by reading, walking, communicating, or other forms of observation. The essay should serve no identifiable purpose/use other than the enjoyment and contemplation of its subject.