The period after the opening of an exhibition is a strange time for the artist, and this year it was heightened for me because of my journey into the world of performance art. Usually once the artist’s piece is up in the gallery, pre-exhibition, his/her work is complete. However, even after my performance at the opening of the exhibition, my piece was still not completed. There was the documentation of this performance to deal with, so that it could be included in my installation. Despite, as one of my mentors put it,feeling like a “sordid whore”, and as much as I wanted distance myself from the discomfort and the violation of the experience, I had to work on the video of my performance while the same experience was fresh, and edit it with an audience in mind. So despite how exposed and vulnerable I felt, this is what I had to do, and despite desperately wanting to leave the piece at rest. Art is/should always be experimental but is always a process: despite the completed pieces inhabiting the space of a gallery, it is the creative process/journey that really counts, both for artist and audience.
As an artist, post-exhibition depression is something you have to learn how to live with but you never quite get used to. The pressures of working under intense deadlines to complete very personal projects create within the artist the oddest miasma of conflicting forces of joyful euphoria and unbearable stress, hope and fear, purpose and uncertainty. It is something very few people, sadly, have the opportunity of experiencing very often: living with the intense purpose of attaining a meaningful goal. Effectively, as students, we have been living with this steadily increasing pressure and the accompanying adrenalin rush for an entire year! Add to that, if you are a parttime student with a fulltime job, the fact that your time to create is extremely limited. Finally you attain your goal, often in the most miraculous manner, and there is this moment of absolute euphoria (too often way, way too brief!). Then: emptiness, loss, and if your work has been criticized, anger and hurt. Depression sets in. This is, of course, exacerbated by the fact that you are exhausted and worn-out (artists often pick-up the flu during this period), and funnily enough now you have too much time on your hands!!
This is quite normal, and as an artist, one needs to get used to it or choose to do something else. There are, however ways to counter-act this emotional bleakness that follows an exhibition and get yourself back into creative mode and moving forward with your life as an artist:
1. REST. Take the time to recover and get over the intensity of the project you have just completed. You deserve it and your body and mind require it.
2. Define a time period for this rest. This will, firstly, help you maintain direction while resting. You are defining parameters to your rest period. Secondly, this enables you to relax guilt-free and prevents apathy and laziness from creeping in.
3. Reconnect with your family and friends and the simple pleasures of life. This is important as they would have, no doubt, been neglected in the past year.
4. Do all the little everyday admin / housekeeping chores that have also been neglected. It will feel good to clear your to-do list and slowly start working again.
(then slowly begin to ease yourself back into your creative mode)
5. Write down your reflections of the past months experiences. What you learned, how the experience felt, ideas for potential works that came to you during those intense moments of the creative high. It is kind of like a debriefing if you will and will help you with achieving closure and enable you to move forward freely.
6. Lovingly put away your work: don’t just throw it in a corner and leave it there for the next 5 years (haha). Fix anything if necessary and bubblewrap it. The fact is you never know what the future holds: Louise Bourgeois was only “discovered” in her late 40s but when an art dealer came to visit her studio, she had 20 years of work carefully stored, waiting to be exhibited. How awesome would that be?!!!
7. Document your work by completing your workbook with your final pics and reflections of the final work
8. Clean your studio as a cathartic process and making space for the next project
Then, big deep breath: (this stage can happen in January 2013, but remember not to leave it for too long)
9. Move onto the next project: mine is my final year of my degree!! I already have ideas germinating for the focus of my 2013 exhibition! This is important because it is important to set deadlines for oneself so that you continue making, creating. If you do not have defined projects that you are participating in or working towards, days and months can go past where you make no work, you create nothing. That thought terrifies me: to create nothing.
So as I reflect on my past year, my performance art piece and the exhibition, and I await my year grades, I would like to share some of the responses I received to my work.
Wendy Bisset, a new friend of mine, had this to say in response to my post About Last Night:
Hello – I read your article, and can empathize that your body feels strange and itchy. The good thing is that this will pass.
The gaze made me think of my favourite actor, Antony Hopkins, and what he said to Clarice in Silence of the Lambs:
Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women…
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir…
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just…
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?
Obviously you experienced that first hand in a very different context – well done
Please don’t feel shame – yours was a beautiful meaningful work, and stuff those that are ignorant and blinkered, WTF were they doing there anyway?
Have a good day,
Isn’t that just awesome?!!! So eloquently and intelligently put! Loved it!
On Facebook I wrote this when I got home:
Me: wo midnight! jusr got back from the opening of art exhibition and my first real performance piece! Wired and hyper does not begin to describe my state!
Me: Hey Soul sister! It was so tough! I felt so distressed but used my mind to overcome! Still feeling, I dunno, I suppose this best describes it (a husband of an artist said this to me) like a stripper!
Have to admit it was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever put myself thru! But I can say I have done it so : tick!
Other: why? because of the ‘exposure’ ?
Me: Also the surroundings! Was supposed to be an intimate closed off space but it was next to the bar etc was like stripping! In a club!
Other: Andy it was really beautiful. If you were stressed it didn’t show. But yeah, agree about the bar! Well done.