created nor destroyed…the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant. —Law of Conservation of Mass, discovered by Antoine Lavoisier in 1785
matter: the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities —Merriam Webster
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of matter and how I spend my time, resources, and energy. I’m not a first responder, teacher, food producer, or any of the many admirable front line workers that kept us going during this remarkably challenging COVID19 year.
I’m an artist and making things and thinking about making things takes up a lot of my time…most actually. I think in potential constantly to produce other realities.
So, does making art in my basement studio matter in any way right now?
I just don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. I was unsettled the other day. I cleaned my studio. There was a lot of cardboard. I rescued it from the recycling. I created the work below. I felt much more settled.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
I’ve been working in my studio on the #100dayartchallenge2020. I made this dress, it’s roughly Barbie size. While working on it, and on hour two, I suddenly felt completely ridiculous. Lisa, you’re a total fraud of an artist. What the hell am I doing?This doesn’t make any difference in the world during the pandemic.
I sought some guidance and landed on Dear Sugar—Cheryl Strayed’s New York Times podcast…her guest was Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood and her perspective about this time in history boosted me significantly.
Margaret Atwood…every human on the planet who has something to contribute about the story of us. And I think that that’s what’s so powerful about that moment of that understanding that, yes, we can bear witness, as you say. We don’t have to be a novelist. We don’t have to be a poet. We can do that even as a person.
This is the time to tell the story of us in whatever way speaks to you personally. Journal. Saving e-mails from friends and family. Cleaning. Music. Writing. Art. Sewing. Cooking. Reading. Making masks. Studying something new to prepare yourself for whatever comes next, or simply to amuse yourself.
It’s all worthwhile, Margaret said so.
My art isn’t going to change the world by any means, but maybe my hum of discovery, being in flow, problem solving and some small sense of completion is having some miniscule impact. I know it does on the anxiety level in my own home anyway. “Mom, go make something” has been a common refrain over the years.
I’m creating art out of nothing, using stuff I find in my messy basement studio. After hearing Margaret talk about the book Art & Energy by Barry Lord, my efforts felt a tiny bit, ever-so-slightly more relevant.
Margaret Atwood: So I’ve got a little bit of perspective, which is a man called Barry Lord, who wrote a book called“Art & Energy,” in which he connects the kinds of culture you have with the kind of energy that is supporting it…And then oil comes along. And it’s very cheap, and it doesn’t take that many people to produce it. And you get a culture of consumption. Lots of cheap stuff. But we’re now transitioning into renewable energy. And that will produce and is producing right now a culture of stewardship.
Hopefully stewardship or some version of it anyway is what’s coming next. Just imagine all of the possibilities…
stewardship: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, stewardship of natural resources (Merriam Webster)
Thank you New York Times, Cheryl Strayed, Margaret Atwood and Barry Lord.
I’ve always been drawn to remoteness, old farmhouses and a chill in the air. My recent visit to my childhood home in Burke, South Dakota offered it all up for me. A blizzard, below zero temps and a borrowed four-wheel drive vehicle to venture anywhere I dared.
Around Burke, South Dakota—January 2020
Thank you Willa for being my photographic partner in crime.
Moving thousands of miles away from the security of family and friends, settling or cultivating unfamiliar land and trying to create something out of nothing is what many of our ancestors did in order to create a new life for themselves and their families.
PIONEERnoun: a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area
HOMESTEADERnoun: someone who acquires or occupies territory as a homestead
I believe my heart and mind are new territories meant to be explored continually—expectations managed as circumstances dictate. I’m a pioneer on my very own emotional homestead, granted the privilege to manage exactly as I choose.
Excerpt fromThe Homestead Act of 1862
“Claimants were required to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After 5 years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear…”
“The Homestead Act, enacted during the Civil War in 1862, provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. Claimants were required to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After 5 years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear, except for a small registration fee. Title could also be acquired after only a 6-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.”
:the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance
I don’t always want to see things from other points of view or walk a mile in another woman or man’s shoes. I don’t have to first feel empathetic or sympathetic before I actually understand my own thoughts.
Maybe it’s best to let our perspectives have their way with us, initially anyway, keep what’s informative and then get curious about how other people view things.
The key I suppose, is not waiting so long that rigidity sets in and we become unable to change course, even as we acquire additional information.
“Shoulda taken a break, not an oxford comma Take what I want when I wanna”
—Billie Eilish lyrics from my strange addiction
Instead of rushing in to validate someone else’s perspective the way I’ve been conditioned to do, understanding what’s happening to my own nervous system regarding an event or circumstance seems well worth practicing.
I’m gonna take a break…more than an oxford comma. After all, I’m not often being chased by giant predators as my lizard brain endlessly tries to trick me into believing. I usually have the time to take a minute.
Thank you Willa, Lucy and Ellis for introducing me to Billie Eilish. Damn she’s really something.
Do you possess some form of heartache, pride or even a sense of neutrality, depending on how things turned out for your ancestors?
While researching the stories of female homesteaders on the upper plains one dominant trait surfaced again and again.
Women are remarkably capable of creating something out of nothing.
Leaving all things familiar to take a chance on a new life for themselves and their families was an enormous sacrifice, requiring great courage. So often they were very young women, ages we still consider to be children by today’s standards.
It seems that perhaps we all possess some cellular residue from the migratory ventures of our ancestors. This courage is exhibited (and often maligned) every day, all over the world, as people are forced to leave their homes.
They’re not fleeing for the heady chance to “prove up” 160 free acres as the homesteaders did. They’re most often trying to stay alive and feed their children, a brave migratory gamble in hopes of a better life.