It seems to belittle the sense of inclusivity of community to simply say that I've never been hugged so much in a 5-day span before in my life. The hugs, well they are fantastic, but what they signify was so much more. We are a community of generous and inspired souls. I get all emotional about it I know. And that shouldn't cloud the importance of the work we are accomplishing as a community of makers whose impact far extends beyond the borders of NCECA or our clay studios, but rather echoes out into the greater community provoking change of thought, values and action in the world.
I come home from NCECA feeling full. I'm inspired not only to make art, but to continue the path of living and working as an artist. I feel validated in this profession in a way that I don't normally on a day to day basis. I feel that there is a movement afoot, a united voice that validates the late night kiln firings, the self deprecating moments of uncertainty, the passion that fuels each return to the challenges of our work.
This year was my fourth NCECA and I got to also experience it through the eyes of a few artists who had never been before. Not only was this fun to see them wide eyed and open minded about the event, but it also brought outside perspective and critique to our community which is also a necessary beast. NCECA can easily be the happy glow of a reunion with friends much like the best high school reunion ever. But there is also space and necessity for these get togethers to be about growth, critical feedback, addressing challenges in the field and working pro-actively towards the greater good.
One of my most memorable moments of this NCECA conference and one which truly set the stage for my outlook over the subsequent days of the conference was the Keynote presentation by Liz Lerman. I can't summarize the whole of her talk here (hopefully it will be posted on You Tube in the near future), but it wasn't even the talk so much as how she workshopped with a room full of thousands of people and got them talking critically about each others work. We all desire pats on the back about our work and accomplishments but what we truly need is a better critical awareness of what it is we are doing.
I personally was literally moved to tears, which I hid, during this activity. Not to worry, they were good tears. Great tears. I had craved a critique of my work for so long. I had just a few days prior to leaving for Kansas City finished a bunch of work for a solo exhibition. It was raw and fresh in my mind and I was feeling as I often do after finishing work; vulnerable. It's been a long time since I've had a solo exhibition and had to produce as much work as this and this body of work delved particularly deep into issues of the artist as mother, creative growth and death, parenting in modern culture, and systems of oppression and politics. I felt the work was still unresolved (still do) and that it had failed me in that my ideas had gotten a bit lost in the process.
I was paired up with a new friend for this activity. I'd known him before, but not overly well and had no idea what he would see in the work or how he would approach this critique. I did know that he was very perceptive, knowledgeable and confident in his opinions so I braced myself. How Liz walked the entire room of artists through a critique process; her four step plan that brought out positive encouragement, critical analysis, trust building and space to challenge one another, was unlike any thing I had experienced before. And full disclosure I'm a huge fan of critiques from both sides of the experience. I doubt I'll every approach anyone's work or my own for that matter in the same way again.
Walking through exhibitions one after another over the five days was not just overwhelming, but after that Keynote it was also an experience of heightened awareness and critical searching. I approached works I had wanted to experience in person with less of the "fan girl, wow it's go great to see these in person" approach and rather was pulled into an approach of appreciation, investigation and critique. Liz Lerman's talk resonated with me in each piece I viewed, fell in love with, passed over, or was challenged by.
I ran into a few people who asked if I would be doing a "top ten" list of sorts for musing about mud; or if I would review of some of the best pieces of the conference. I know that these types of lists are popular, but I really can't wrap my head around doing one as even beginning to chose how to quantify the categories by which I would narrow down what to talk about make me feel overly biased, un-inclusive and short sighted. But I do want to make mention of one piece. You'll think that I'm a crier (moved to tears during the keynote, crying about a piece of sculpture) but I’m not normally that emotional over art. Akio Takamori's piece at the Belger Crane exhibition however was a piece that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had tears forming and my throat started to close. It's not an overly obvious piece perhaps. But time, place and where I was within the framework of my own artwork I had just finished made this piece speak to me on levels emotionally and intellectually that I hadn't expected and I was taken off guard. I think I've had maybe three or four other experiences in my life when encountering art that were equally as powerful.
My research and work in the last year leading up to my solo show have been looking at the role, respect and place for parents within the art world frame work. I speak from the female point of view because it is my place and my story on the line. I work to expose my challenges as an artist and parent, analyzing how to make relevant work that speaks to a larger audience, balance life and work, and present all of the mess of that life and work in my art. I joked at one point at NCECA with a friend that my art was basically about diapers and death. In some ways that's a very shallow way to see it, and yet on the other hand it encompasses so much...
This piece shown above by Akio Takamori coalesced a lot of the emotional content I had been searching to portray in my own work. Life is moments, joyful and not, contemplative and full of promise equally balanced with challenges. This portrait of a father (I assume) carrying his child shows so much humanity in their expressions. The narrative of this work to me is about carrying our burdens to the point when which they are no longer burdens but melt into our lives and simply are our lives in all the layers of richness that burdens and challenges have to offer us in our growth towards becoming better people.
Anyway, it was one of the many NCECA moments I can't quite put into adequate words but that I can still feel in my heart and in my gut. Art that sucker punches you when you least expect it. Art that changes you slightly from here on out.
There is so much more to say about NCECA, about what I saw, the conversations and connections that took place, but for now I'm still digesting it all...and making my plans for NCECA 2017 in Portland.