From the FIELD : Mark-Making, Take 1
[autonomous mechanics cohort Year-Book Field Notes 22, first entry]
over the months of 2022 as part of the OS / LL autonomous mechanics experiment, I’ll be posting unedited / unscripted Field Notes reflecting on my practice and process, thinking and making. I see this as the leaving of a “mark,” a trace, a sort of “mark-making.” I’m intentionally not letting myself over-render these, to leave them as snapshots, true field notes, as this year evolves / turns.
FIELD LOG |013122 :: looking for the WHY >> “who is it for, what is it for?”
When I moved over the summer of 2021 in the midst of an acute, 6 month chronic illness flare, certain things were by necessity haphazard — anyone who’s moved under duress can attest to this. But also, moving sort of… creates duress. Isn’t it one of those “most stressful events for humans” things, when people put numbers together and call them facts? You know: death, taxes, moving is stressful. Anyway.
I love systems, and feel best when I build them for myself so I can work within them like a smooth-running, spatially honed, tools-at-hand cyborg borne of the technologies of home, work, and body. This always reminds me of the oft-quipped anecdote of Le Corbusier’s favorite building being an airplane: everything in its right place (which, of course, long pre-dated such extractive hellscapes as Spirit Air and flying during a global pandemic). Which, I also might add, I haven’t done: other than recovering from my top surgery in August 2020 in New Jersey, I haven’t left New York City since early March of that year. But that’s another story.
The point is: my set up following my under-duress move was more of a hasty enough to function vibe and less mise-en-place. And so it featured decisions like putting potatoes [“in the dark,” I must have reasoned] in a low cabinet with some rarely used baking supplies. And so. And so: this first Field Notes entry for me for 2022 opens with a photo of these potatoes, in their infinite wisdom.
I’ve got a lot of “art” and “research” and more “notable” or “legible” images I could start with, but the point of this whole thing is potatoes. By which I mean: I’ve gone on a journey for about two decades in which I’ve internally struggled with what it meant to call myself “an artist,” with the ways in which our systems confer (or erase) our value, roles and stories, and with what it meant for me to make, honestly, anything.
I’ve landed in a place where I want to center and amplify the daily processes which I believe constitutes “creative practice,” out of which larger projects may evolve, but which is no less valuable (and is often moreso, not only for the person undertaking them but for others.) This is many ways has been a theory at the heart of the development and formalization of The Operating System’s print:document initiative, and why process notation, interviews, and series like [re:con]versations and the long running Field Notes (which I started ten years ago) have always focused on the documentation of creative practice. And, now, it’s forming a central foundational infrastructure for the new cohort model, which is in many ways the stripping away of the armature and trappings of the trojan horse of institutional legibility I had to translate the OS project into to get it in the door and on tongues and in minds.
Part of this shift into validating and asserting value for the quotidian has been out of necessity, during years where I was often dealing with disability and had limited spoons and/or other resources to engage in larger legible “projects,” and yet I felt the work I was doing to be some of the most important of my life. I’ve been making Field Practice guides and forms for well over a decade now as part of my installation and public practice, so in the last few years I began to formalize processes of my own for Field Notation, which sometimes use social media platforms through the keeping of LOG entries using a variety of metatagging systems I’ve developed (as in the #DocumentingPresence model shown below, and protocol I’ve built around the disruptor mechanism protocol.
If I reflect back on how I got here, I think about how I had the great fortune of having had a lot of opportunities to develop skills, but feeling for many years that I wasn’t inclined to use most of them for their own sake without a clear why: it didn’t, for many years, appeal to me to paint or sculpt or draw — not as a practice. I enjoyed it, but at the time that wasn’t enough. Conversely, I felt stymied and confused around the work I did feel called to make, and started making in the late 90’s and early 00’s, when I was in school and had support to do so: installations, site-specific work, work inspired by my a combination of my research in anthropology with my architecture and urban design training, and what would later be called relational aesthetics or social practice work. I couldn’t afford to make this work, I had to primarily focus on working survival jobs and I didn’t have the infrastructures or guidance to help me see a bridge to the role I saw myself in.
I’ve often explained that for me “writing” has sort of accidentally become a through line for my practice, because it was always free; I’ve realized though that my use of the word “writing” and a way it is wielded by those that would consider it a specialty of this class of people called “writers” is quite different. For me, it’s a technology: a tool of documentation, articulation, and planning. This, too, is how I use and teach it when I’m in studio classrooms working with young artists and architects-in-training. It’s similar to how I understand many years of developing the hand-and-eye relationship that was honed into being able to sketch: yes, ok, I’m drawing, but what I’m experiencing and using it for is seeing. The word, the line, the eye: these for me are tools of mediating experience, and constantly living an examined life.
Above is a hand written page from around 2016, some labelled glass test-tubes from my seed-library and distribution system project, and some drawings from, I think, 2019. The page I found again only last week, and it speaks to the re-discovering of the why, for me — and is connected to what I hope to be doing here, in these notes, and in my practice, this year:
“Continue to transcend, re/present the world so that others may have the chance to transcend, by being assisted in the act of re/perceiving via your transmutation.” — The Book of Ralph
Now, Ralph is the sacred being that was my cat-companion from 6 years old through nearly 20 years old, and this line was written, or received (sometimes it feels) by me. But it, like so much of the other data I’m processing, is both of me and not, and I see so much of that intelligence as what I now have access to because of the grace and brilliance of nonhuman allies, more often than not. Ultimately, I’ve come to understand myself as a flesh data processing system, that for me to be human on this planet at this time is an incredible gift and also a test of what it means to have the capacities of human cognition as we look climate collapse squarely in the face within our (current) lifetimes.
I believe “art” — or, the re/presentation and re/articulation of sensory and cognitive data — is a human birthright. Mimesis, study, examination, and re/presentation, communication, and exchange is at the heart of what it means to be human, articulating and understanding our/selves against our context and each other. I do not see it as a thing that can ever belong to some and not others, and I rage against even the suggestion, or any practices or systems that would restrict or control it. Or, that would have us believing in the scarcity of talent, or a hierarchy of value.
Art is Life is Life is Art, and if all our systems fell tomorrow, and all the roles and definitions and canons with it, my relationship to it wouldn’t change a whit. This is what I know without the shadow of a doubt, and it’s taken me my whole lifetime to get here, and I could kiss the ground I’m so grateful (I could kiss the ground anyway, I love you soil friend). I resist categorization, and I’ve always seen myself as shapeshifter / chameleon, which is why I’ve usually had a dozen rotating resumes / CV’s and (I realized recently) part of why it’s been such a struggle to pin myself down with a website, where the quantum physics of daily adaptive process risks ossification through false equivalency.
I make a website every few months, and scrap it, but I’ve mostly held fast on this newest one, though even in its current state of hyperobject it barely scratches the surface and is missing, well, most of my output. Which is always funny: recently I asked on the internet a question about the difference between how you see yourself and how others see you and there’s such a chasm there, for most of us. I think about Borges and I almost every day. (and, I do go pretty deeply into the “who is it for, what is it for” question on the website, if you’re interested in journeying there, btw.)
Now what? The why. Now I paint because I believe that any hour of the day I can spend resisting being a consumer of the world and actively creating one, allowing for play and response to material is deeply and profoundly meaningful as we move bodies and minds away from the capitalocene. This is a sort of training, and a de/programming, and it’s vitally important. I love to share what I do because I get so excited and I look at it in disbelief but they’re not, ultimately for other people. The why is system change, the why is getting ready for what’s next. Now, I make tools and systems and feel an urgency to document and distribute the tools and systems I’ve been building for so long because I feel so many people lost in search of the bridge to get from where we are to where we could be, and that’s the concrete, granular offerings that the tools are built to assist in making tangible.
And I want to talk about this with you. And I want to bring you with me. And I want to invite humans in our heartbreaking frailty to the table and tell them that art, life, is ready and waiting to help them transform whenever they’re ready. Whenever you’re ready. I think the potatoes might be the most beautiful thing I’ve made in so long, and all I did was let them be, and then see them, and decide they were worth looking at anew. See what I mean? On y va.