Loss

It’s been a year since I lost my mother and 4 since I lost my little furry buddy, Champers, and to be honest, the loss still weighs heavy upon me. Time, they say, heals all but heal is probably not the right word. I think it is more that one learns to deal with the loss. You suck it up and carry on because that is what life does, it continues. You get dragged along regardless. What is really bothering me at the moment is the suffering my mother endured, especially in the last years of her life. I am so sad for her. Those final months at her side, watching her die, really haunt me.

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Above: my mom (on far left) with her brother and his wife. 17, I think?

Now you should know that I am a firm believer in the idea that to live is to suffer. God does not want you to be happy, He/She wants you to be strong! Through adversity we grow and become stronger and better for that suffering. That is if we can find meaning in the suffering. Nietzsche said, “he who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW”. And I guess in a way this relates to my last post and the “So what?” question. You are alive, so what? Make it count, do something with it that is meaningful. For my mom that was her children, her family and her animals. For me it is about making a difference: animal rights and feminist rights, and of course, making art that makes a difference also. In this way you find meaning in life. Unfortunately our societies have become very much about consumerism and being consumers. Got to have the new iPhone, got to live in the right neighbourhood, go to the right school. Squeeze out more children; spoil them so that they can also become consumers. Buy huge, petrol-guzzling vehicles and tell yourself it is for safety reasons and never mind what we are doing to the environment. Connect on social media and present yourself as a commodity there too, and bitch and whine but do nothing really. For too many people that is their meaning of life and the world as it is today is the result of that. For too many the idea of being a good provider (consumer) is the meaning of life. No! Go do something meaningful! Make a difference!

Below: My Champers.

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So I guess I like Viktor Frankl’s notion of meaningful grief through the contemplation of one’s beloved. Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War where his entire family (apart from one sister) including his wife, were killed. This was how he survived he says; contemplation of one’s beloved. Suffering somehow allows for transcendence when it finds meaning. Existence or experience moves beyond the normal or physical level. Think Mandela or Mother Teresa or even Marina Abramovic. Similarly contemplation of your lost loved ones as well as imagined conversation can lift you up to a spiritual level and help you make sense of the loss. Inside you they will endure. I like that thought. In my contemplative state my mother remains that youthful, exuberant, warm nurturer who loved to have a house full of children, her own and the entire neighbourhood’s. In my contemplation Champers dozes, pressed up alongside me as I read, purring contentedly.

Below: Me lighting candles in preparation of my 40RTY (2016) performance.

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So What?

So What?!

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Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

OK, so here is probably the most uncomfortable lesson, art as an academic pursuit has presented me with: the “so what?” lesson. “So what?” is uncomfortable because it immediately makes you aware of the dissonance within your world and you cannot help but find yourself outside of your comfort zone. By dissonance I mean inconsistency between the beliefs one holds (or it could also be between one’s actions and one’s beliefs). Want an example? Loving (claiming to) animals so much yet they appear on your dinner table, that’s dissonance. How does “so what” create dissonance in the artistic world? Well, it says “yes, you can paint (draw, sculpt) well, but so what?” Painting is a technical facility, it is what you do with it that makes the difference. Decorating walls with paint techniques does not make you an artist, it makes you an interior decorator, and yet you are painting and have a technical facility. I might have a really sound understanding of the body because I did biology at school but it does not make me a doctor. There is a huge amount of dedication, effort, sacrifice and training that goes into becoming a doctor, and similarly in becoming a fine artist or visual artist. “So what?” asks what are you are willing to do for your art, it asks for sacrifice. So you love animals? Well, stop eating them then. Get the idea? “So what?” asks for moving beyond the mere application of paint in an effort to represent what you see or what you wish to “pretty”. It wants you to think, to feel, to be…it wants you to question everything, to remake everything, to see everything for the first time. It wants you to get the hell out of your comfort zone!

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Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

The first time a lecturer used the “so what?” statement/question it figuratively stopped me in my tracks and changed the entire way I view and consider art forever. Not just art though, but also the world. This is what a lot of artists entering academia find extremely uncomfortable which is good because…well, you know, the whole “comfort zone” thing. Unfortunately, because of this discomfort many drop out, most in their first year of studies. I have experienced this both as student and lecturer. I usually start a new year with a group of about 40 1st year students. By the end of the year I am lucky if I have 10 progressing through to second year. By their final year the group will consist of no more than 4 students. In my final year I was the only one of my group to qualify. This is not because I am some artistic genius but simply because I embraced the “so what?” statement/question and the accompanying being out of my comfort zone.

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Above: self-portrait (a couple of hours before the performance).

Ask yourself that question, you will be amazed at the effect it has. Ask “so what?” and see if you can answer. Then see if the answer is one you can live with. And to live for art, as one of my most favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson, says, is to live a life of questioning.

Six of Six

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40RTY, my performance art piece happened on 29th October at 7.00 pm, and, as is common after these things, I have been laid to waste! It is Tuesday now, and almost 3 days have passed, yet I still feel all tired, achy and blue; like I have flu and a hangover simultaneously. Now I know this feeling, it is the same after every performance, this feeling like a sordid whore. Some of the reasons are physical: my face looks and feels like it has undergone a chemical peel as a result of my having ripped chucks of hair and flesh from it with wax-strips.

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And, of course, my body has also undergone a really brutal 40 day fast, so it has a right to feel a tad aggrieved! But more than that is the sheer toll of subjecting one’s self to a performance art piece. If the rigours of preparing one’s mind for the performance are exhausting, then the actual performance is virtually debilitating. Perhaps it is the fact that at its simplest, performance art is the artist as artwork, there is very little remove between artist and viewer and that is a terrifying thing. This is central to the process and execution of performance art, this live presence of the artist and the real actions of his/her body, to create and present an ephemeral art experience to an audience. It is the artist using his or her own body (hence the name, body art) as main artwork, knowing all the semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications associated with that living, breathing body. This is magnified/amplified by use of the ritual, the artefacts, the symbols, the sacred space and the significant gesture.  These actions in the performance lead to a work resulting from an entirely uncontrollable and unforeseeable combination of events. Chance: this is the other element of performance art which continues to unsettle the world of art.

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Performance art remains an avant-garde movement in a world which no longer believes in it. It hopes to inform and to show a new way, and by doing that create a break from the old. This is another reason why I love it performance art, this and the fact that response, feedback and connection from and with the viewer are almost immediate. A good example is the response I received from my old mentor lecturer (a very accomplished artist in her own right) Lolette Smith. She got me through my first 2 academic years of my art studies, and taught me a massive amount about sculpture, so it was awesome to receive acknowledgement from her:

The simplicity of the set added to the outcome.

That first rip of wax got the audience totally engrossed.

The ritual worked, it built expectation and produced results.

The soft chanting in the background sent shivers down the spine.

So in reality it was visually and emotionally charged.

 

A fair number of the audience also approached me after my performance wanting to discuss the work and ask questions which was totally gratifying.

 

So what now? Well, it is back to the theory again and my dissertation but this making has given me the boost I needed to see it through as well as giving me things to consider for my Master’s exhibition next year.

I am going to share with you some really amazing images that my cousin, Dallas Dahms, an awesome photographer, took of my performance. Check out his article too: http://www.dallasdahms.com/40rty-by-swany/.

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