Words and Letters
I am all about words. They spill out of me. It can be annoying. Words and letters show up in my work over and over again.
The Evolution of Trust and Distrust was an early series where I used words as an elemental material.
The first time I shopped for my own towels, my hand reached for the exact towel my mother would have chosen. That’s not right. I returned it to the shelf and drew a second. This next was the towel my mother would have most hated. Not exactly free will, either. When had I been separated from my own likes and preferences?
A paint chip popped to mind. This five-color bookmark offered shades in the yellow-green family from spit after eating a lime Popsicle to “Stop the Ship!” neon-green. The year was 1970. My mother asked, “Which do you want?” My tiny finger pointed to a vibrating square midway.|
“You don’t want that.” she suggested.
If you don’t want to know what a nine year old wants, don’t ask.
She cajoled and explained my choice down to a pastel tint that made me hate and ignore my room for the next ten years.
I understand why there aren’t many pre-teen interior designers, but I also understand this grooming for self-doubt makes for a weak ten year old and a conflicted thirty-nine year old.
Somewhere along the line I stopped pointing at things and saying “I like that” out of fear that I might be wrong.
Making art gives shape to questions in my life. This series: The Evolution of Trust and Distrust, uses slips of tracing paper on which I rubber-stamped “yes” and “no,” organized to diagram the many ways I learned to tailor my expression to make other people comfortable.
Each panel or pair lays out on 10”x10” pages to show a distortion of individual voice when met with pressure.
Masking my Meaning offers a single black no buried in a field of easy red yeses. This is a picture of my odd little self uncomfortably seeing or being something in a world of someone else’s comfortable norm. So much so that even having a trivial preference requires great courage. For example, I arrived at NYU in 1980. The social culture was starkly different from my post hippy-feminist-pride San Francisco upbringing. The first time I heard a JAP joke I said “Hey. That’s not OK.” And was corrected. “Oh, no, it’s Jewish American Princess.” As if antisemitism and misogyny were more palatable.
Others depict the result of persistent pressure as in Protecting my Tender Heart in which repeated experience of untrustworthy circumstances makes saying “yes” harder to reach over four panels.
Each piece has a unique title and diagrams a scenario from my life when my voice collapsed or didn’t. Larger later works address questions of power through scale. Great big NOes against tiny ‘no’s or the rhythms of small noes build into large forms, just as a quiet thrum shows me what I really think.
The NO Wheel is a monument to an epic battle in my life. I was raised in a tell-truth-to-power place and time. In that idealistic time, power responded with interest and grace towards self-improvement. Other situations were not as evolved.*
Some years later, I found myself the sole remaining witness to toxic dumping. I didn’t even know. I was just suddenly out of a job and out of a graduate program following some testing in a foundry. When I put the pieces together, I blew the whistle. People think that’s a one-step move. Not at all. First you go to your faculty, then chair, then department head for personal relief. A hopeful meeting with the president of the university let me know I was of no concern. File a complaint, talk to the union. A hundred noes for the ombudsman to shine me on and then publish a report concluding that there is no evidence to support that the university has been dumping tons of toxic waste into the sanitary landfill for thirty years. A no for each letter to state OSHA, the Sierra Club, federal OSHA, and even then, a no for every on-site visit finding no fault generating yet another letter from me saying, “Look again.” A no from me for an NDA and a settlement. A few years later someone guessed maybe I was right.
I glued those thousands of giant NOes end to end for miles and rolled them up into a wheel resembling a mill stone.
*only in writing this did I figure out that my “tell-truth-to-power” upbringing was limited. Tell truth to power, but not in the house.Read Less