I wrote the other night that I don’t know if there was ever a time when I made something that felt finished… But I know that there has been a time. Albeit, it’s been a long time since I experienced it.
When I was a teenager I used to write short articles, and they were ready enough to be sent to be published in the local newspaper. I wrote a poem once and showed people I cared about, people whose opinions I cared about. Which means I knew that it was ready. It got published, and it’s the only ‘poem’ I can recall ever showing people, bar some little instagram description play on words. I wrote, casted and directed a play once. We rehearsed a lot, but not too much. I knew we were ready – and it was an audience-crying-with-laughter success.
There have been times.
Single images as well, yes, but that’s easier. I know when to publicly share a single image… though, an image with accompanying text – near to never.
I remember when I made a certain image in class in my undergrad. It was for an in-class exercise, and we edited and then presented what we shot during the next class. I knew I had it. I knew I had it when I shot it and I knew I had it when I edited it. I knew I had it when I waited to be the last person to show my work. This actually happened with two images in that class. There was a time also when I knew I hadn’t gotten the shot, and I knew it as I edited the image anyway, and I knew it as I chose to print it on a smaller, cheaper piece of paper, and I knew it as I didn’t care about the timing of my presentation. I just wanted to get it over and done with. I pre-felt all of this as soon as the exercise began that day. I wasn’t working with someone who inspired me. It felt like such a forced process. Through that I understand what it might feel like for people who ‘choose’ to make art for arts sake.
I knew my series Underflow was ready. Albeit the accompanying text is dissatisfying, the series of images themselves were ready. I never second guessed them. I sent them off to a competition, published them on my website, printed them for a show… and I never had any doubts about whether or not they were ready. I made this series all alone, and as I remember it, I only asked one person for feedback, one time, once all the images were shot and edited. It was good feedback and I took it on board – the manifestation of this was that I rounded out the series by simply removing one image.
Wading Space wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for Wading Space. It happened as it was meant to of course… and I was meant to have that very specific experience… but the work itself wasn’t nutted out thoroughly. Not even close really. It still works as a document of an event, as the most nutted out elements of the process were my proposal, my artist statement, and the essay written by Naomi Blacklock. The texts were ready.
To clarify – if it hasn’t already been made clear – even if I show something publicly, it doesn’t mean that I feel that it’s complete. Even though I did exhibit it, I always felt that my film Brief Release was incomplete, and that I would need desperately to return to it. I knew that it had powerful elements… but needed better care. I also wasn’t really receiving adequate feedback on it. Maybe I was receiving too much feedback on it. I was simultaneously making its partner, an artist book, and receiving feedback on both, every week from a group of people approximately 12 people whose opinions I largely didn’t care about. Most people didn’t give much feedback… which I always find to be a good sign, but it may be simultaneously a reflection of the work, my intimidating presence, and just people’s relentless complacency. I finally did receive some meaningful feedback when I showed Brief Release publicly, and I think that the key to that feedback I received was how simple it was. I returned to the film a couple of months ago and simply removed some shots (anyone else sensing a pattern here?), but it still isn’t perfect. I will repurpose the shots into my next, larger film project that is currently only a presence in my mind. That presence visits regularly, but I don’t act on it, as I have many, many other things that are visiting, pacing, knocking on my studio door. That waiting room is fuuuull. The accompanying text for Brief Release is also very dissatisfying. I was thinking so much about the theory of it, and it does read through the images themselves, but I still find my selected, super short description to be … almost cringeworthy. Proooobably because when I read it I hear my professor’s words and not my own.
There have been times when I knew a piece of text was ready. Never a film. Never a long essay either. Just texts short enough. When I wrote Olitski’s Light – the longest essay I’ve ever completed – I stayed up until 5am writing and editing for weeks. I pushed it past the deadline. I asked for an extension which was granted to me with ease. In that brief meeting I remember telling my professor that I knew I had something really strong, and I did. I knew what I had from the beginning. In the end I submitted it, knowing it wasn’t perfect, but that it was still very good. And ‘very good’ are the words my professor used when he emailed to ask me if he could publish it.
I will mention that as I was writing that essay I was also writing a sister essay for another class. It had a lot of the same themes, but was forced, and therefor no good. It makes me wonder if writing a throw-away piece while simultaneously writing a star piece benefits the process.
I’ve always been a fan of that Lemony Snicket quote, “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” And I have definitely, and continue to participate in my fair share of spontaneous ‘yes’s and ‘let’s go’s, with embarrassing but worthwhile results, but I do still fantasise about one day being the woman I abstractly imagine everyday. The woman with a clear brain, a clear voice, a clean space, the improvisor, the lover, the nurturer. The full woman. The woman who’s sure. The woman who’s ready.
There were some things that I touched on in this that I want to unpack further in future notes: praise, a preachy tone… and can I just say that I’m aware that this piece of text is not even really appropriate for public consumption. It’s for me…
After I go to sleep for some hours, I will come back and assess if there’s anything to really be learnt here for anyone else. For now, it’s a public affair, and maybe you read it, or maybe no one else did and I can take it down before anyone does.