Come Together From "Moonwalker"Read More
Come Together From "Moonwalker"Read More
Dear 13 Readers,
You should know that I was never one of those fainting, crying crazed girls with the big buttons and the t-shirts. My sister was a teenager when they came out, and she kept a watchful eye on my fashion choices. I wasn't allowed to peg my jeans either. It didn't bother me really. I had been reared on Motown, Nina Simone, Michael Jackson... Not to mention all of the live music I got to hear played by my father in university concert halls in Connecticut and late nights at jazz clubs in New York. I knew they were silly, but it was nice to have something in common with the gaggle of blond girls who only just barely started to tolerate my presence in the 4th grade after a two years of ceaseless teasing. Those girls had the buttons, bought the albums, knew the words to all the songs, got their parents to take them to concerts. I would roll my eyes on the inside whenever the songs would come on the radio, but I'd sing along anyway. I knew they were silly, but the part of me that liked a good outsider story thought it was sort of cool that they were white boys who'd got their big break at the Apollo Theater.
You should also know that The New Kids on The Block were from a town that wasn't too far from me. They were Boston kids, and the kind who reminded me of the sweet chubby Sicilian boys next door with the dark hair and blue eyes that I had a crush on. Those boys next door would wash their grandfather's Cadillac every weekend and invite me over to swim in their above ground pool that had a grape arbor hanging over it. Sometimes my dad would disappear into their basement with their dad and emerge hours later triumphant with a jar of marinara. Those nice chubby boys would sometimes walk me to the bus stop or around the corner to the store for the candies that we all had to hide from the well trained eyes of our mothers.
You should also know that one time those blond girls came over to my house, and I remember them giggling about the boys next door. Look at their greasy hair, they said. I think one of them got held back, at public school, they said. And they giggled some more before we went inside to listen to the New Kids some more.
Dear Philadelphia, I have been trying to come up with a way to write you this letter for a long time, and it has been hard. We were together for 6 years, and I loved you. But towards the end, Philadelphia, things got rough, and I had to leave. But I didn’t want to write you this letter while I was still angry with you. I didn’t want to bad mouth you in public, and I wanted you to know that I don’t blame you for it. You’ve had a hard lot in life, but I respect you because you are resilient, strong, warm and loving to many. I am so lucky to have known you. There is a lot about you to love, and there is a lot that I miss.
So this a love letter from me, written to you from the kitchen table of my very new and different life in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.
Thank you Philadelphia.
You gave me a beautiful, huge cheap apartment to live in.
You gave me film.
You gave me many crazed and debaucherous nights with some of the funnest, silliest, queerest, wildest people I know.
You gave me confidence in my body, my brown skin, my big hair and my big mouth.
You gave me loud, tough women.
You gave me sweet, tender men.
You gave me more brown and yellow and black people than I’ve ever seen altogether on this side of the Atlantic.
You gave me music in the streets all the time everywhere.
You gave me rolling hills running through the middle of a big city.
You gave me black cowboys riding through North Philly.
You gave me water ice, custard, greasy pizza, Dominican take-out, Amish baked goods, funnel cake, Stewart’s Root Beer and Fink’s Hoagies.
You gave me the Atlantic Ocean warm enough to fall asleep in.
You gave me my first love.
You gave me some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
You radicalized me.
You taught me how to stand up for myself.
You showed me how to stick to my guns.
You made me fight for my health.
You forced me to understand what I need and want out of the world.
I am so grateful to you Philadelphia, and I’m so glad that you’re there taking care of so many of the world’s toughest, strongest, fiercest people.
Yours very truly,
Dear 10 readers, I’m writing this entry from the sanctity of my very own little 8x8 home office in Olympia, WA. We arrived at our house last Tuesday but the majority of our stuff didn’t get here until the following Monday morning. We’ve spent the last week acquiring some much-needed new things while waiting (frustrated) for the rest of our things. I must admit that while I complained about having such a small fraction of my wardrobe to choose from, there was something sort of nice about having so little stuff around the house. Now that the house is full of unopened boxes, I’m sort of wishing that I’d been more diligent about abandoning some of my things.
Have I really carried my high school yearbooks around with me this long? But wait, there’s only Sophmore and Senior years. Huh? What happened to the other two?
Which brings me to the central subject of this post.
I’ve started to slowly unpack my books, and as I do so I am struck with the age-old question of “how do I organize them?” I’ve seen many techniques in action. Alphabetical by author and/or title is a popular choice, and certainly practical if you’re a real collector. But I’ve always given up about half way through that ardous process. Organization by color is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but I’m not sure that I’d have any more patience for that endeavor than I would for the alphabetical route. I sometimes end up with loose schemes that are a combination of genre, size, and theme, but somehow anthologies always mess things up: Most of my favorite ones are invested in consciously confounding genre, and the themes and subjects end up going all over the place.
Should I resort to the dewey decimal system? I don’t think my collection warrents that level of detail, and lets not forget that I am too impatient for such things. So what then? Well, as I start negotiating my shelf real estate, I start to notice some trends that have followed me from house to house over the past 10 years. All of my Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler books tend to find themselves together in the box, and thus on the shelf. Kathy Acker tends to be nearby. Ok, those all make some sense. I could make them quasi alphabetical (Acker, Butler, Delaney), but when I put randomly threw Pussy King of the Pirates on the shelf just now I happened to put it next to Blubber by Judy Blume. There was a strange resonance, and I wondered if there could be more esoteric approaches to my schema.
Acker + Blume = Books by and/or about anxious white women. Or perhaps books that made me anxious about white women after reading them.
I could organize them by the time period in my life that they represent for me, or by their read/not read status:
Books I haven’t read since high school.
Books I’ve read over and over every year since high school.
Books I bought in high school but never read.
I did once think about organizing my entire book collection into two large sections. READ and NOT READ. But for some reason that depresses me. I think that’s because my speed and intensity as a reader has diminished significantly over the past several years, even though I collect books at the same rate as I did as a voraciously book hungry child and teenager. I’m not sure what happened. I occasionally blame the internet or cable tv or going to film school. All of these contemporary media driven realities have enabled a short attention span in me (as in many of us), but I’ve been a consummate multi-tasker for as long as I can remember. I used to read books during commercial breaks while eating dinner.
Books have always been a huge part of my life, and as I build this little shrine to my literacy, I’m happy to at least have them here to remind me of my strange habits and particularities as a reader and thinker. Did you know that as a kid I used to make my Dad invent research projects for me so that I could create bibliographies? For fun. This is what I did for fun. I still find bibliography making fun, which is why I teach college for a living. But somehow the intense desire to just read read read has slipped a bit beyond my grasp, and I’m not sure why.
Perhaps I can focus this round of book organization on becoming reacquainted with the patience required to organize them in a way that is pleasing, exciting, and reminds me why they are so special to me.
What else, dear readers, is a chronic book collector to do?
Ah, Thanksgiving. Another U.S. holiday celebrating mass slaughter, filled with made up traditions (it was duck not turkey), and grotesque consumer tie-ins. I've always thought that the term Black Friday derived from the various plagues given to indigenous people after eating with the colonists. Apparently the term was an invention of the Philadelphia Police in the mid 1960s to describe all of the traffic and chaos in Center City. Leave it the Philadelphia Police to come up with all the best stuff. However, my dear readers (there are now 5 of you! That's something to be thankful for!) Thanksgiving is the only one of the thoroughly imperialist/quasi-Christian holidays that my family has ever had any use for. There was the occasional trip to see Fourth of July fireworks on the Charles River when we lived in Cambridge, but I always just forget about Columbus day until it comes up and bites me on the ass. I don't recall anyone trying to convince me that Santa was actually real, or that our lives were especially influenced by the birth of Jesus.
But as a child, Thanksgiving often involved a trip to see relatives or a big dinner with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, and pie. We're sweet potato people, not pumpkin people. And we prefer talking and maybe going to the movies to watching football. We thank each other for our blessings for the year, which include good health, proximity to loved ones, creative abundance, and many moments of pure joy.
Our gathering will be small. Just me, my mother, my great-aunt, my sister, my niece and my girlfriend at my mother's 2 bedroom flat in Cambridge. My mom will do most of the cooking, and it will be good. After major turkey take-in, the girlfriend and I might go to a movie. Over the rest of the weekend we'll visit my father in Somerville and we'll visit my girlfriend's family in Rhode Island. There will likely be some sort of minor family drama to observe/participate in through a haze of white wine. My niece will be overwhelmed to meet her "cousins," my girlfriend's 6 nieces and nephews. I will make the sweet potato pie, from my grandmother's recipe.
Have you noticed the snide tone melt away, my 5 whole readers?
Yes, me too.
Yours Truly Naima
I think that I may have had a better time at film school if I was asked to watch and consider these, instead of all the 1960s/1970s American "realism" that gave my professors a hard on. Oh well.
I wrote this today as a statement of artists intentions for a job that I'm applying for. It is longish (perhaps too long for a job application), and I'm not sure that it is what I'm suppose to do. But I think I really really mean it. So here it is. -----------------
Statement of Artists Intentions and Recent Work
Statement of Artists Intentions
I have a really good work ethic. For some, a good work ethic means waking up every day and getting straight to the drawing board. For others, it means feverishly toiling in front of a screen or on set at all hours of the night. My work ethic comes from a deep desire to treat everyone who takes part in my art work; collaborators, audience and myself; with deepest respect and care.
I live in a world that feeds on fears of scarcity, pushes allies into competition, and is fueled by consumption rather than creation. As the daughter and granddaughter and great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter of jazz musicians, teachers, social workers, dress makers and field hands, I have the profound privilege of being reminded daily that I am nothing without my collaborators in the creation of joy and abstraction in the every day. In my work I push back against scarcity by being devilishly baroque, undermine competition by teaming with those who challenge me most, and treat all of my work (even the consumable parts) as lived aesthetic experiences in which process is barely distinct from product.
Recent and Ongoing Works
My work usually revolves around the strange complexity of identity formation, especially the way that we are both utterly fixed by our bodies and completely free to make it all up as we go along. My 2007 film Birthmarks explored the physical and psychic scars of violence through the ever morphing relationship between a father and daughter. In addition to collecting archival material and creating original writing and installation works to be filmed, I made a series of intentional spaces in which my father and I could challenge ourselves to look closely at the series of dark scars on his back that he received by being beat up by the Newark Police in 1967. The collaboration with my father largely revolved around a jazz improvisational model during which we agreed to a key and tempo (Newark, the riots, 1967), felt confident in each others’ knowledge of our instruments (him-Bass Trombone and storytelling, me-16mm camera and poetics), and then challenged each other to play our best. There were moments in the two year process of creating this film when I wanted to scream at my father for being inconsistent, or untrue to myself by pretending not to feel the pain brought about by the work, but I chose to remain present and accountable to my work ethic. I choose to remain true to my aesthetic vision while being kind to myself and my father. The experience was as unwaveringly honest, complex and affirming as I believe the film turned out to be. .
My more recent work has me delving more fully into the relationship between identity and historicity. In addition to research on the film work of Kara Walker and her status as a black post-modernist within the institutional fine art world, I have considered my own power as an artist to shape and mold the images of fictional and real subjects. In my work Mary and Sarah and You and Me: A Series of Tiny Spectacles, I have created a densely theatrical and spectacle driven world based on the lives of real life 19th century women. Stagecoach Mary Fields was a black cowgirl, and Mother Sarah Amadeus Dunne was the white nun whose story is entwined with Mary’s in the small white Montana town in which they lived. In creating this work I sought the help of a friend (Emmy Bean) and fellow alumna of a musical theater camp, whose life as a queer, white radical Christian echoed mine as a queer, black, artist brought up in mostly white central Connecticut. I knew that in order for us to go about writing, rehearsing, making music and videos, and researching 19th century pioneer life, we would have to deal confront ourselves pretty head on. Our joint work ethic included intensive weeklong sessions that were always punctuated with trips to the beach, time to see our families, and space to breathe and cry as needed. We warmed up by singing show tunes, and always made sure to have good food available for ourselves and anyone working around us. The resulting work is a layered experience for spectator and artist alike that includes storytelling, video installation, song, over-head projected photographs, and puppetry. We utilize some aspects of a stripped bare gallery aesthetic in order to situate our audience in a familiar mode of art consumption that gives the audience space to consider their own place and implication in the work. We also tell rich, detailed, visually dynamic stories about forbidden love, racial injustice, and religious fervor. These tales shift and evolve before the audiences’ eyes as we interrogate the integrity of our own project, and ask ourselves why we feel that these women’s lives are ours to reshape.
The mundane aspects of my creative practice may seem too vulgar to state as an part of my artistic intentions, but I have found it useful to remind myself and anyone I collaborate with of them. Too often I find that experimental filmmakers, video artists and performance artists, like myself, have given themselves over to solitary, auteur, obsessive, and self involved practices that ignore the pleasure and collectivity that comes along with our transgressions. I work very very hard, and I care a great deal about craft, make no mistake. But I have chosen this artists life for myself, and I intend on enjoying it.
I have rented and currently inhabit a 520 sq foot studio in a converted warehouse in an industrial/residential neighborhood in NE Philadelphia. This is by no means a strange state of affairs. I am like many other young (and older) artists, craftspeople, filmmakers, t-shirt makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs who take up residence in these spaces, working to fulfill our creative dreams, to fulfill our landlords dreams of gentrification, to fill these weird empty boxes that once housed industry.
I like the imagine that they still house industry. I suppose in the case of some of my neighbors, this is true. There's the recording studio next door and the paper maker downstairs and the jewelry designer down the hall.
I do something else entirely, and I've somehow decided that the best thing to do with this THING that I do is house it in a big cube that I've painted white and filled with equipment and paper and paint and brushes and books and fabric and other shit that I've collected over the years.
That is the magic potion, right? Mix collected shit, good ideas, ambitious new MFA holder in a nice big asbestos filled container and WHAM, BANG POOF! You get art.
Not so much.
It is an interesting trick to train myself to to do my art in this space. My practice is so much in my head. I read books, I have conversations, I pace up and down, and watch TV. I apply to things, and then I read more books. And cull video footage on occasion, and then I hatch this gigantic plans that do, in fact, require space and junk... But in the meantime, its that other stuff. I'm making art RIGHT NOW (said the girl about to drink some Ting and watch Bravo), and I'm not in my studio. What does that mean? Will it be lost forever because I haven't hatched it in the place where it will be best nurtured? Will it die on the way to its nursery?
But, this is what discipline is shaped of, and I think that discipline isn't such a bad thing. I sit there for 2-3 hours at a time, and I read, write, apply for things, organize things, look at videos, and pace up and down. I give myself a break. I read some more. Those 2-3 hours started out as nothing but fear of even showing up in that place. And then it was 1 hour, and now its 2, and in a while I'll probably stand to be there for days and days at a time.
In my cauldron, my cube, my asbestos box, my obligatory art cubicle with its total lack of heat and shitty ventilation.
Soooo, here are some stills drawn from video documentation of Mary and Sarah and You and Me. Yikes, I'm actually really excited about how it looks. That is a relief give n the fact that I've been on the post-show down slide for a while. The video is coming soon!
I'm teaching two classes right now. Well, technically I'm teaching three. Two sections of a course called "Media and Culture" at Temple University, and one section of a course called Cinema Arts at University of the Arts. My Uarts students have a blog, in which they post reviews and commentary about films that they watch outside of class. I'm really excited about the blog because I get to see what my students are thinking about outside of class. It's also a way for me to think about films that I might not otherwise watch. Hooray for technology.
I chose not to do a blog for my Media and Culture students, but I'm regretting it now. I think it's a great tool for getting students to write and take some accountability for what they write because it is out in the world. It is also a nice record for all of us of the work we've done in class.
This elongated process of packing up all my belongings into a new house and a new studio has me anxious and excited. As usual, I go through all of my books, papers, clothes and letters and remember things about myself and past... Really finding out about myself, once again, through objects.
And in the process I'm discovering my fascination with objects, and forging new project ideas around these objects. I want to deal in the physical and tactile. I want sentimentality and dust in my nose. I'm talking about burying and digging up burlap, stacking up VHS tapes and buying old red telephones from ebay. I don't expect much to come out of this... Just a messy room in a converted fastener factory.
It is strange to start with writing, get educated in image making and end up caring most about things I can hold in my hands. It is strange to suddenly feel like something of a formalist, or a materialist, or maybe a situationist or another one of those words that I don't quite understand. But then maybe we're all formalists at heart, even the people who claim concept above and beyond all else. Aren't, after all, my body and thoughts made of SOMETHING. Aren't there aesthetics in the everyday?
But I am me, so here I am.
I have the following projects, new and old on my mind lately:
Documentation of my thesis show: Mary and Sarah and You and Me
A short video about self identified fat activists to be filmed at NOLOSE
Reading a book called "Relational Aesthetics" by Nicolas Bourriard
Painting and setting up my brand spanking new and exciting studio
Rented a Studio!
I sort of couldn't be more excited about that fact. I didn't realize just how much I needed/wanted to have a little space to call my (art) home. I've been working in my apartment for the past four years, which has been nice and all but... Well, for one thing I'm moving in with my special lady friend, and I want our home to actually be our HOME. Also, this space is actually designed for the kind of work that I'm doing. In the 500 square foot square of loveliness, I get to build, paint, light things, video things, run, jump, dance, not to mention store all of the shiiiiit that I use for doing the aforementioned projects. I am very excited to paint the whole place a pretty color, bring in a mini-fridge, build some bookshelves and start moving all my shit into its proper home.
The first incarnation of my project "Mary and Sarah and You and Me: A Series of Tiny Spectacles" was by all accounts a success. We performed the project at The Parlor this weekend, with a lot of help from so many wonderful people, and I can't believe how much I learned from the process. Emmy Bean is a rock star, and such a good collaborative force. I feel so proud of us both.
When I say that it was a success, I don't mean that everything went perfectly, or that everyone loved it, or that we were perfectly happy with all of the outcomes. It was a success in that we stuck to our ideas, pushed ourselves way beyond our usual limits (Naima Acting! Emmy Yelling at People!) but in a way that felt supported and sane and towards good ends. I also feel successful because I feel a few steps closer to doing the sort of work that I've been dreaming of for years, and wishing for the courage and resources to get done. So, with a whole lot of help, not to mention gaffer's tape, wiring, and prayer, I managed to put this thing together. (Video documentation coming soon)
I also feel excited for what the future holds. We have big dreams for this project, in terms of taking it farther and faster and better and more. Next stop seems most likely to be somewhere in Western, MA so that Emmy's community can get a look at the work. Also we're hoping for a New York showing in the late fall or early spring. No details yet, I don't want to jinx it.
My friend Amy Walsh wrote something really keen on her blog about the economics of art-making, as she's been entering a new phase of taking control of the distribution of her work in order to make a reasonable living.
I think about these things as well (what artist doesn't) though in some different ways. I too find myself wondering how much I'm at the mercy of the dream of art stardom, though I feel very lucky to have grown up around many working artists (musicians mostly) who weren't stars, but who made livings, made good work, and had that core of appreciators of their work that made all of it so livable. I've also seen one of those people, who I happen to be very close to, end up in the latter years of his life with relatively few resources at his disposal. It is always hard to see someone you care about suffer in any way, but in light of the ways that I've been trying to pursue my art-life dreams, it feels so frightening.
But I wonder what it is that really scares me so much? Is it really the threat of being broke? I mean, that is a real threat, and something that is on my mind quite often. However, I am a fairly well educated, capable, able bodied person. I have many advantages in this wild world of capitalism working in my favor, including a community of people around me who are invested in my success. I can find work, and I can live cheaper if I need to, and everyone dodges the student loan man for most of their lives, so I think I can handle that.
The real fear, I think, is that I can no longer pretend that I'm "trying" to be an artist in any sense of the word. I am one, in terms of making work that is public, known, recognized, controversial... Some of it is good, some of it isn't so good. I have to stand up for myself and the ideas that I put out into the world, which I suppose I've been doing for a while now, but somehow seems more REAL right now because I'm about to work without the net of being "a student" or "doing this on the side."
In the next few weeks I'm going to go about getting teaching jobs in the arts that pay crap, I'm going to get a studio to work out of, and I'm going to start applying for all the grants and residencies that require things like a portfolio, a bio, a resume, an artists statement...
These are all very reasonable and not at all strange next steps, but somehow they seem so incredible right now...
Details, details, details...
It seems there's nothing more. There is something strangely soothing about that fact, but also so exasperating, as I seem to enjoy the big esoteric though process so much more. But, the details are what makes meaning, or so it seems right now.
So, we buy rubber matting, bulbs, poster boards, bottles of water and we worry about timing and scale and height and light.
I think that this has officially become WORK, though I'm not entirely sure what that means.