This essay is about our process of making the work for the show Mistakes Were Made. Starting with a show statement for work that had not been made, we agreed on a nebulous set of concepts that were reflective of the reality we were living in. After, I take a moment to talk about some points of inspiration for the work. I hope this is mildly entertaining and illuminates the artistic process. Hopefully, you can find a little bit of yourself in these words and perhaps some acceptance for how relationships shape us all. Ending with some thoughts on celebrating Winter Solistice.
Last week, Josh and I had a show open at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco. This was in my mind a horror of a collaboration. One that in the end, as both Josh and I reflect on what we did, we are both really proud of. The following is a statement that I wrote before the show opened before any of the work was made. Written in a panic state - we had to fill a gallery with work in less than a month and neither of us could talk about/agree on what we were doing:
We are a couple trying to stay together during a pandemic. Some context: When Josh and Carissa started dating 12 years ago now, Josh told Carissa frankly that he did not believe in collaboration. He believes that someone always has to be in control. That their truest collaboration would be having a baby. For Carissa, on the other hand, everything is a collaboration. Life experience is a collaborative process wherein our interactions dictate who we are and what we do. Humans understand the world through the lens of other humans.
Josh’s art practice deals with toil and absurdity. He spends hours laboring over the minuscule details that no one will notice but him. And after a day of working, he feels defeated and like he has never done enough (even though he is enough just for existing and, practically speaking, he has a lot to show for it). Carissa felt her pain and Josh’s pain and held back the feelings of hopelessness throughout the process as best she could. The song, “I don’t know what I can save you from,” by Kings of Convenience played in her head. Her art practice deals with processing emotions to better understand what it means to be human.
Mistakes Were Made is an exhibition where the two practices/formats come together. Josh conceived and built a series of interlocking forms inspired by Peppa Pig, a British toddler show, and Magna Tiles. In following Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art, Josh adheres to #5: Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically. With the process of enlarging the tiles to adult scale, Josh finds comfort in the repetitive building tasks that he can perfect and control. The small playful vernacular becomes consuming and sculptural, almost suggesting that the scaffolding for life comes from play. It should be noted that viewers can only look, these shapes are fixed in space.
Carissa’s understanding of events takes the form of text and drawing. Carissa keeps a diary of her emotional states. Looking at them as honestly as her brain will let her. Highlighting and examining the purpose of the lies she tells herself. Not that they have to be fixed, just accepted. With the hopes that with awareness some understanding can take root.
Coming together, the panels parallel our different emotional needs during the pandemic. There are layers of generational trauma bubbling up to the surface, taking form with two versions of coping skills. Together, they are a heartfelt attempt to come together. To understand the world alongside each other. To build a life together.
There is a point where things fall apart and break. A threshold in which we pass when things are not worth it anymore. And we are not there yet. However, mistakes were made.
When writing this, I was having panic attacks about it. Can you read through the words to despair? It is there.
I first sent Eleanor some text for what the work would look like without a plan. Eleanor is generous with her thoughts on things. I feel confident that I could know where roughly her head was at. She said it was too negative. And she was right.
Collaboration is a tricky line. On the one hand, it requires some direction, agreement, shared vision. We had none of those things. What we had was this: we had to make something together by Dec 4th. I guess that could fall under the category of “shared vision.” Like in our shared vision of the future, we could have a body of work up in a space that is remotely interesting for other people and that we personally are happy with.
Why do people make art? When Josh used to teach art, he would say things like, “if you can do anything else, do it. You are an artist if you literally cannot do anything else.” I make art because it helps me understand and validate my being. I find meaning in coming to the table. I am a human who enjoys expression. I find a sense of worth there. I literally cannot do anything else. I have tried. I feel worthless and directionless and meaningless in my existence.
At the opening, Eleanor asked me why all the works were listed as done by both Josh and I. It is my understanding that attributing a work of art to anyone especially one artist is kinda a marketing lie. Feel free to argue with me. It makes the story of how it was made into a digestible fable. Smoothing out the infinite complexities held within the concept of authorship. For example, the above work is about holding my unborn child in my belly on our last night together. To have these thoughts and feelings required Josh literally because we are a family who spends time together. Made the baby together. This couldn’t have happened without him in so many ways. Also the aesthetics of the work. Not only would I never have chosen to paint on panel I would have never chosen this pallet. So who’s work is it really? It is both of our work. In my opinion.
When people ask what the difference between Carissa Potter and People I’ve Loved is, the honest truth is marketing. For me, there is a flaw in the logic of the independent original artist. The things we make, the things I make are so dependent on our surroundings. I am so lucky to be surrounded by brilliant humans. That I am proud to digest the world with.
This work, the two clocks is a reference to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled,” (Perfect Lovers). For Gonzalez-Torres, there is a romantic sadness to the two clocks. They are in a union, but also battery operated. The synchronicity will not last. A joyful sadness that death is the only certitude. It makes the moment of coming together special. For this painting, the two clocks exist together, but they are forever out of sync. It could be about enduring love. That sometimes things don’t have to be perfect to keep going together.
Complicating the situation, Lightswtiches is hopeful about an optimistic future where we both see clear and are on the same page. We line up. I think in my mind, this also has to do with attraction. Wanting to want each other. There is something so magical about when desire alines.
While making the work for the show, I asked the people around me for feedback on the works that they were attracted to. And I could not get a clear answer on what direction to go. If I am being honest, I am making work for both myself and for other people. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want it also to matter to others. As a result, there is always a balance trying to make something of worth. Some people liked the work with the text, some people not so much. One evening, I asked Josh what his preference was while staring down a hallway of work with text and images with two works without text. “I think I prefer the work without text…” And my heart sank. Because what if he was right? I mean, he is right, for him. I kept going regardless. But most of the later works don’t have text because of this single interaction.
The last one, I think I am going to talk about is the bowl of lemons from our tree. I think a lot about what was going on for me during this time was the feeling of longing. This one I went back in forth in my head about for so long. I wanted to be held with the care and love that one put household chores. There is something sad about that I realize while I write this.
Also, do you remember the feeling of rolling in a pile of clean laundry just out of the dryer? I want to close my eyes in your arms and feel that comfort, softness, and love.
Thanks for reading this year. At the start of this year, I had the goal of writing more. I didn’t know what that would look like, but here we are. Taking the time to reflect on what was actually going on has been really therapeutic and something I really look forward to. I want to wish you hope for the future on this Solstice Eve. If you don’t celebrate the winter solstice, it is the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. On this night, I like to think about all the things I am grateful for. All the possibilities for the future. I think of this as a celestial reminder that the days are going to start getting longer, the blooms will come again. That things change. I take comfort in the darkness and indulge in warm drinks. I hope wherever you are, you are safe. And your heart has within in some excitement for the days to come.
If you would like to see all the works in the exhibition, visit:
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