I stuffed my new SAIC badge -- the one that had just open sesame-d the door leading into the graduate studios on the second floor of Sharp -- into my purse. I was fairly alarmed when I swung the door open to the darkness, the stillness, the cement-silence. “Oh my god. This is jail. Or the shower rooms of a jail.”
I tried to quickly reframe my thinking. “Ok. Not what I expected,” I thought. “But that’s fine. I certainly didn’t expect luxury.” I walked over to my space, felt a bit of pride as I looked at the SAIC studio curtain – my SAIC studio curtain – touched the numbered plaque (yes, I literally did this because I'm a romantic and sentimentalist and tactile sensations ground me; also, the number 235 for anyone who pays any mind to numerology is significant here) and stepped in.
“Holy shit. This is where ideas go to die.”
That was June 21 and I’ve spent the last three weeks trying -- and failing -- to make the studio feel like a place where I can create, which is to say a place that feels like home. In Iowa, I have a sunlit studio with hardwood floors and industrial windows that span the entire southward wall.
On a typical day in Iowa, I unlock the door to my studio around 7:30am, set the keys in the top drawer of my desk, light incense (lately it’s been Quoth the Raven by Sea Witch Botanicals), slide open the windows.
It was important to me that I had windows. I need sunlight. Even when art-making in my house, my post was at the island where the sunlight was best and I never worked after sunset. (Yes, the workdays are abbreviated in the winter months.) I crave exposure to and engagement with nature. With the windows open, I hear the sounds of the natural and manmade world on the other side. It’s important to me to feel at once connected and detached while art-making. Sound is a subtle tether. It offers the sensation that I’m within a world and becomes white noise backdrop to my work. Through those windows I've watched the seasons change from snow (oh, goodness, the snowstorms!) to early buds of spring to such green fullness that almost nothing else seems to exist.
The studio is in a building of artists’ spaces and small businesses (including a mortuary lift manufacturer) and the foot traffic within the building (and the occasional “hello”) is part of the energy I’d call inspiring.
There’s tea. There are plants, a vintage typewriter. Sometimes I click-clack just to hear the click-clack in the middle of things. The words don't matter. There’s always music. After I open the windows, I turn on my Bluetooth speaker and start my Spotify playlist “New Moon Vibes ‘21” which fills the room on low volume. It fills the room not so much with music but with the sensation of fullness the way packing peanuts fill a near-empty box with safety. The local indie bookstore owner lives upstairs. I wonder if he hears the lowest rumble of bass. I hear something roll across his floor. I usually work pretty loosely, physically. All of my workspaces are bar height. Because of my chronic back pain I’m always standing (sometimes dancing) as I work. I prefer to think on my feet, anyway.
I feel alive and myself in my studio. I’ve had many places – geographical locations or houses – where I’ve lived, but making art is the closest I’ve ever felt to feeling home.
Dr. Eugenia Cheng said today, “I have to feel safe in order to become creatively free.”
In my studio back in Iowa there are features associated with space and rituals associated with a spiritual connection to art-making that are unavailable to me in my studio here this summer and which, I realize, made me feel safe and, thus, creatively free. Those rituals ground me and signal to my brain that it’s time to work. It's time to play. It's time to be.
I didn’t realize how much I appreciated these subtle preferences (luxuries? indulgences?) as elements of my practice until this summer. “Back in Iowa (I don’t even like Iowa), I’d have done X by now," I catch myself thinking. "I’d have finished Y by now. I’d be on to Z by now.”
Here, I feel stuck in no man’s land – neither here nor there. Neither within an art community nor without an art community. Neither beginning nor completing anything. Thinking on everything and working on nothing.
I walk into my studio at Sharp at least once a day. The silence and darkness is a source of aggravation. Sometimes I sit for a few minutes, look around, try to think of what to try. Nothing. I walk out. "I can try to work with this," I tell myself. The other day I bought two big canvases from Blick’s and lugged them to the studio. Instead of working on all the writing I brought, I tore the pages up and pasted them to the canvases and then smeared thick layers of white paint all over the crumpled up pages. Because I couldn't think of anything else. Literally, what I've managed to make in three weeks is papier-mâché out of fifteen years of material.
Let it be chewed up, then. All the years behind me. Nothing and everything and nothing is there. Maybe it is a graveyard of ideas, this place in the middle of all things. Making room for years ahead.