Letter 12

Plain text version of this blog post appears below the photographic version.letter1

letter2letter3letter4letter5letter6letter7letter8letter9letter10letter11letter12letter13letter14Dear Alanna,

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.

Best,

Kit.

Letter 11.

Dear Katherine,

There’s a temptation in life when one is confronted with an event that is ego shattering (cracking, hurting or smudging) to transmute that smudge to all the other parts of your life and thus be blind to all that is valuable around you, to be ungrateful when there remains much of light and colour in your world. This human difficulty or even inability to see the world with computer eyes, that is only what is there and not what is projected, is I think, one of our more interesting qualities and well obviously creates this whole subjective vs objective situation. This is a dichotomy I find endlessly interesting, especially when considering how to make sense of oneself  both as an individual and within the field of human interrelations, where what you’re dealing with is a whole constellation of subjectivity not just your own modestly burning star. Alternately when confronted with painful feelings you could take the approach of attempting to amputate them from yourself because they hurt so and you think that if you could only cut them off or out of you, you would be rid of them. Unfortunately in my experience there isn’t a simple method of amputation available and if you take this strategy all you end up doing is denying your own experience whilst it remains smouldering beneath the rug you hid it under.

Jung describes in his memoir ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections,’ that when he was growing up he came to conceive of two different him-selves. No. 1 had dealings with the outside world and thus held all his flaws, pettiness and fear. And No.2 was the him he experienced when alone or in nature and contained his feelings of vastness and peace. No.2 was also assured in his own innate ‘rightness’. Jung writes something to the effect that ‘No.2 knew he was worthy of himself’. I was impressed how Jung at a young age had conceived so clearly these two aspects of himself, not only conceived them as distinct different identities but had even visualised them (No.2 was a man from the 15th century wearing a frock coat). No.2 was echoed in the second personality he felt emanating from his Mother. He describes it in this (I think rather lovely) passage about her;

…She was somehow rooted in deep, invisible ground, though it never appeared to me as confidence in her Christian faith. For me it was somehow connected with animals, trees, mountains, meadows and running water, all of which contrasted so strangely with her Christian surface and her conventional assertions of faith. This background corresponded so well to my own attitude that it caused me no uneasiness; on the contrary, it gave me a sense of security and the conviction that here was solid ground on which one could stand.

As you know I started studying art therapy this year. One of our first assignments was to make a box that represented our inner and outer self that we would later present to class. A box being anything really that inferred an inside and an outside. Seeing as I have a strong introspective bent and a tendency to over-share my first thought was,

‘Wonderful, I could do this assignment in my sleep!’

‘I’ve been practising for this assignment my whole life! 

My bravado did not prepare me for how difficult I actually found it. Imagine sitting down at your studio desk and asking yourself:

Hmmm what out of this general creative detritus (paint, glitter, glue, scraps of paper) in my studio most represents me?

But what is ‘me’ anyway?

There are all the things I think about myself, are they true? I’ll probably embarrass myself with mis-interpretation.

What about those things that I do know about myself but do not want to share with a group of 30 near strangers?

And so on…Making this box made me a great deal more agitated than I had expected and it opened up a whole new box of emotional worms so to speak, which just lead me to start drinking some cans of gin and tonic that I found in the studio fridge. This was an attempt to de-wire the over thinking part of my brain that was paralysing my attempted creativity. After relating this story to a friend of mine she joked that I should’ve brought the can of G&T into class and told people that the slightly crushed can was my outer self and the half drunk luke-warm gin was my inner self…  So like many things in my life the process was plagued with self doubt and like many things in life ended up just fine.

To represent my outer self I made this sculpture out of rocks and tape and twine.  This is my awkward yet cheerful outer self that is imperfect, yet taped together and carrying on.

Outer Self

Look she’s smiling, it’s not so bad! She seems to say…

To express something of my inner self I went through the many journals I’ve kept religiously over the last 10 or so years. Language is how I express difficult, painful, intense feelings that cannot be simply struck out of me, as-well as the most memorable significant experiences of my life, so it seemed fitting to include language in the piece. I placed words from my journals in fortune cookies as a small offering to others.This was nice, because upon reflection later I realised that this interactive gesture  showed how at this point in my life I have a strong drive to give/ take/ be and play with others. This came as a surprise for me , I was no longer the lonely thinker in isolation, I was taking that experience and using it to reach out to others. During the presentation I also unfolded the cardboard box I’d carried the objects in so that it was a flat plane. I then used it as a drawing surface and drew a diagram outlining five distinctive emotions that have formed the foundations of my felt experience.

  • Anger, also related to  desire – a positive clear space. (red)
  • Oceanic transcendent space, calm and blue (sometimes experienced and sometimes merely aspirational) this space is coupled with a gold shimmer.
  • The physiological layering of experience (from all those days and years and moments lived) which I visualised as brown layers as though part of the earth. Myself as simply organic matter, a being living in a body-form which is my tool to experience the world
  • A conflicted grey scratchy place with no satisfaction related to doubt, confusion and the mundane (those days when you can’t sit comfortably in a comfy chair.)
  • A deep, dark sad place that looks like a blackish, purplish bruise or the blue grey of storm clouds. This is a melancholic, sensual space that I have often in the past dwelled because there is much creativity and feeling to be found there. This space is clear like the red space because you are full with the feeling of it and there is no confusion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I find it helpful to envision the self as a contingent combination of temperature, textures and colours, flashing and humming in and out of each other. Carl Rogers one of the founders of the humanist psychology movement through his work came to understand that the ultimate goal of therapy was not to create a static and content state in a person. Rather the goal is to facilitate within the person a closer relationship with the flux of emotion that travels throughout oneself on a daily basis. I reproduce a long passage from him here because reading it helps me feel optimistic and excited about the human condition instead of fearful and concerned. Please excuse the use of the pronoun ‘He’, which personally makes me flinch, but you know this was written in 1961.

Through therapy…

He ceases, or at least decreases, the distortions of experience in awareness. he can be aware of what he is actually experiencing, not simply what he can permit himself to experience after a thorough screening through a conceptual filter. In this sense the person becomes for the first time the full potential of the human organism, with the enriching element of awareness freely added to the basic aspect of sensory and visceral reaction. The person comes to be what he is, as clients so frequently say in therapy. What this seems to mean is that the individual comes to be – in awareness – what he is – in experience. He is, in other words, a complete and fully functioning human organism…..

So the basic discovery of psychotherapy seems to me…that we do not need to be afraid of being “merely” homo sapiens. It is the discovery that if we can add to the sensory and visceral experiencing which is characteristic of the whole animal kingdom, the gift of a free and undistorted awareness…we have an organism which is beautifully and constructively realistic. We have then an organism which is as aware of the demands of the cultures it is of its own physiological demands for food or sex – which is just as aware of its desire for friendly relationships as it is to aggrandise itself – which is just as aware of its delicate and sensitive tenderness towards others, as it is of its hostilities toward others. When man’s unique capacity of awareness is thus functioning freely and fully, we find that we have, not an animal whom we must fear, not a beast who must be controlled, but an organism able to achieve, through remarkable integrative capacity of its central nervous system, a balanced realistic, self-enhancing, other-enhancing behaviour as a resultant of all these elements of awareness. To put it another way, when man is less than fully man – when he denies to awareness various aspects of his experience – then indeed we have all too often reason to fear him and his behaviour…But when he is most fully man, when he is his complete organism, when awareness of experience, that peculiarly human attribute, is most fully operating, then he is to be trusted, then his behaviour is constructive, it is not always conventional. It will not always be conforming. It will be individualised. But it will also be socialized.

I just finished reading Roger’s book “On Becoming a Person” and I’ve been telling friends that I really enjoy the prospect of becoming a person one day. Maybe this art therapy will assist me in becoming more person-like then I was before.

I’ve been enjoying your new internet-art-escapade itsadamjones.tumblr.com. It’s so sentimental and strange, both things that I enjoy. Perhaps you and not me can elaborate on it your next letter.

Best,

Alanna