It’s interesting that you began your art therapy course with the self-box project. Last year, I bought a book of art therapy exercises, and that project – make a box to represent your inner and outer self – was the first exercise in the book.
My attempt at the exercise ended up being the expression of a single idea, rather than a complex collection of elements. I constructed a wooden box with mirrors covering four of the inside walls. One of the other walls was made of paper, and the sixth wall was made of sticky-tape. One of the wooden walls had a circle cut into the middle of it. You can create various shadow and refraction effects by turning the box so that its different walls are in a different relationship to the external light source. You can also breathe through the hole to fog up the mirrors, or look through it at different angles to make different parts of the environment appear on the interior. The images on the mirrors are dependent upon the box’s surroundings, but the form of the box – its shape, its materials and their placement within the whole, etc. – is just as important in determining those internal reflections.
I suppose I was fixated on the inconsistency of my sense of being – I felt in thrall to my surroundings, but at the same time free from them. My inner world felt fragile and unstable, but at the same time, my body felt tangibly and unequivocally present.
I didn’t get any farther with that book – perhaps I should go back and try the next exercise, or try the same one over again. I think this time I’d probably make more than one box – I would metaphorise the inconsistency of my sense of being not as images flickering on an interior screen, but as many different screens/interiors.
There are a lot of apparently ordinary social tasks that still don’t come to me intuitively. If it were up to me, nobody would care whether or not I looked them in the eye, and nobody would mind if I took half an hour to hear, consider and respond to a simple question. Alas, the construction of society is mostly not my decision, so I’ve spent a lot of my life doing the imaginative work of remembering others’ worlds. By inwardly performing the worlds of others, I can figure out how to respond to them.
As a younger person, this was necessary for my survival – “poor social skills” are typically frowned upon and pathologised, especially in children and young adults. It’s still a useful practice, even though I’m now less inclined to just go along with what is expected of me.
What began as the work of interpersonal survival has gradually morphed into a wider creative interest. The project of mine you mentioned, itsadamjones.tumblr.com, is an example of this. When Adam decided to spend a couple of weeks back in Melbourne, I decided to treat what might otherwise be a lonely and difficult period into an opportunity for creative investigation. I wrote a flowchart which outlined my general ways of perceiving and interacting with the world, and I asked Adam to do the same. He took my flowchart back to Melbourne, and I kept his here. I used his flowchart to help me pretend I was seeing the world through his eyes, and he did the same with my flowchart. Adam tried to retell “my” experiences in Melbourne to me so that I could “really” be there, and vice versa. Thus, we could imagine that we were both in two places at once.
The aim was not only to experiment with internal performances of being, but also to insert a survival tactic – a way of keeping myself focused and connected during a disruption to my ordinary existence – into a framework of production, outcomes, accountability, etc. By making the blog, I turned something I was going to do anyway into “productivity.”
I have neglected the blog lately – Adam’s back here in the US now, so I have less incentive to continue with it – but I imagine I’ll draw on it at some point, for some future activity.
As you know, I’ve had a long-term interest in finding creative means for subverting our society’s current ideas about work and productivity. That’s why, for the last 5 months or so, I’ve been decorating all my emails before I send them. I make drawings, collages, or photographs onto which I can write or paste the text of the email. I then attach the finished image as a jpeg to the ordinary plain text version.
I have a lot less time for making other artwork now that I’ve started doing this – nearly everything I make ends up being funnelled into the process of email production. It has also become much easier for me to tell when I really don’t want to talk to someone – the extra work involved in making the email makes it very obvious when I’m writing to someone because I really want to connect with them, and when I’m only doing it out of a feeling of obligation.
Although I have less time available for other activities, I also feel like I have a lot more space when I work this way. Emails are no longer a social or occupational chore, abstracted from the work I’d prefer to be doing. They’re part of a ritual of creative production; likewise, the ritual of creative production is now part of the ritual of mundane, day-to-day necessity. It’s an odd sense of freedom that comes from collapsing my life towards a single point.
This isn’t an email, but it is a letter that is available via the internet, so as such I have illustrated it just as I would have had I sent it to your email address. This means I need to stop writing soon, otherwise it will be too long, and too tiring to art-ify.
I would love to hear more about your art therapy exploits.