Recently I have been “trying not to try.” I have to say that I don’t love holding opposing concepts in my mind. While I understand the idea intellectually, I have always functioned by choosing betweenopposites and living the chosen one. But my therapist assures me that choosing to live in the opposites creates the tension that allows broader decisions to be made.
A couple of weeks ago while in New Orleans I was reading about a book called Trying Not to Try, by Edward Slingerland. In the opening of the book, a game called “Mind Ball” is introduced: two participants are seated at opposite ends of a table with a ball between them. The point of the game is to get the ball to the opponent’s end of the table using only brain waves. To this end, electrodes which measure radiate alpha and theta waves (these indicate deep relaxation) are connected to the players’ heads. It is a paradoxical contest of effortful effortlessness, whereby the more relaxed the players can make themselves, the faster they are able to send the ball to their opponent’s side of the table.
After fighting my work process all winter, whereby I set up too many things to do without enough time to do them, the concept of “trying not to try”–of effortless effort–spoke to me. It gave me hope that it’s possible to achieve both relaxed concentration AND productivity–and that I might, as a result, find myself both industrious AND sane. Who would have guessed? Maybe the Voodoo Priestess I met in New Orleans, but that’s a story for another blog post.
Struggle is a part of the series, The Evolution of Man Before the End of Time. It is composed of multiple photos that I took, beginning with me posing as a man pulling something, photos of caution tape to go across the eyes; a cross walk, utility poles, a piece of a vintage astronomy chart, graffiti, weathered paint and numerous other photos all combined to create this image. In all I used more than 75 photos used to create it.
This piece took some time revealing itself to me. As I worked on it, I realized that is a dialogue between the man and the woman as well as a dialogue between the couple and the larger world. The face of the cellist is that of Carl Jung.
I recently read a story about a man in a jail cell. Every day he would stand on his tiptoes to look out the window, the small bit of light he could find in his small cell. One day a large gust of wind blew, and the cell door, which had been unlocked the whole time, blew open. By refusing to explore the dark, he had kept himself trapped.
Last year at an open air flea market on the pier in Barcelona, I found a group of illustrated WWI cards made by the chocolate company Chocolate Amatller. The cards were bright and colorful and hardly conveyed the gravity of war. I bought thirty and kept them out on a table for inspiration. They were the starting point for this piece.
The Search for Balance on first glance may appear to be a statement about work, success, and career competition as war, and certainly I had Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in mind when building it. But I also had Middle Passage, by Jungian Psychologist James Hollis, about the journey and struggle of midlife on my mind, as well as Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching which encourages one to go with the flow of life rather than fight against it.
Last year I jumped off a mountain. Since I am afraid of heights, I had not planned such a thing, but I was on a trip and had vowed to a friend to be more to experience. Which is how the 9200 foot tandem paraglide jump in Sun Valley, Idaho happened.
I have been asked by a number of people if it changed me. The answer is a qualified yes. There was no big "aha!" moment where I suddenly realized I was free and had no fears. But there was a subtle shift from my lifelong tendency, when afraid, to say "no," to being able to remind myself that I jumped off a mountain, which makes whatever is scaring me no longer so big.
This piece is was inspired by that jump. It is about the metaphor of taking a leap into something that we know probably will not kill us, but scares us terribly anyway. And it is about bringing something back: the courage to jump again and again.
Woman on a Bike was two years in the making. The upper half of the woman ( mannequin ) was on a table in a window display in St Petersburg, Florida. The legs and shoes came from a shot I took of a shoe store window display on Michigan Avenue in Chicago a year later. The balls were actually spots painted on a sidewalk in downtown Houston. The dress came from a photo I took of an urban poster wall in Philadelphia. All other word, color and texture came from multiple shots that I have taken of graffiti, painted weathered walls, etc
After two days of working on this, I literally had my finger on the delete button when I got a new idea. Woman’s dress from photo I took of mannequin, vintage circus cannon in Wisconsin when I was driving through, signs in background from Texas truck stop, crowd from Louvre…looking at Mona Lisa and dozens of other photos used that I have taken from almost everywhere.