My third and final month at Mana has seen my productivity wane as I prepared for a one week exhibition with another resident in the building and friend, Sam Pullin. I had to shift gears from churning out pieces to finishing some half-baked ideas for the work planned for the exhibition titled American Dark Age, curated by Allison Hall. Wanting to build on the things I did the last time exhibiting in Jersey City, I have opted for another participatory installation titled, Make America Grieve Again. I see this piece as a way to talk about violence in our world without it becoming confrontational or partisan, both of which seem nearly impossible in the current climate. Audience members are invited to use bullet shaped chalks to write on the walls of the gallery space. Some took it seriously and vented their frustrations after yet another school shooting. Others were more irreverent, drawing lewd cartoons or making silly jokes. Both are fine, it was their work, not mine, and I am not the arbiter of how my art is approached once it is out of the studio.
An interesting question was asked at our closing reception/artist talk, what was the one lesson you learned in art school that has helped you the most? I thought it was a great question and one that was easy to answer for me. The best lesson I got, was delivered from the man I have always considered my mentor, Roger Blakley. It was over twenty years or so ago, while giving my undergraduate class a presentation about himself and his work, a little “getting to know your professor better” session, he talked about no matter what, he always made time to work in the studio. Even if it was only fifteen minutes, even if all he did was sit and think; he was working on his craft. While I didn’t always heed those words, they stuck with me and I put them into practice since entering a graduate program in 2008, after nearly eleven years of not making more than a handful of small sculptures. It’s the advice I pass on to artists, both young and old. I don’t know if I’d still be alive if it wasn’t for Roger and his wife Ceal, I certainly wouldn’t be who and where I am today without them.
I’ve continued to think about the things I’ve made here in the basement. Some of the work has led me into new territories and gotten me thinking in new directions. I feel good about where I’m going with some of the work, some of it is maybe played out for me. I did enjoy conducting some material experiments as things were winding down and I was looking to stay productive without actually making anything I’d have to haul back to Illinois, as I was already at “over capacity” for that. I think I’ve come up with a concrete concoction that works great for casting and could be a good material for skinning armatures. Nothing earth shaking, but exciting enough to get all the 3d artists in the basement geeking out over it.
Winter was certainly much shorter and easier to weather thanks to the long days in the building. We did get some nice days though and I took advantage of a nearly 80 degree one to visit Central Park and the Guggenheim. I ended up walking from 96th and 5th Avenue all the way to the World Trade Center, almost the length of Manhattan. It was the most sun I had gotten in three months.
My time at Mana has come to a close and it has been a very interesting and rewarding experience. The ability to “check out” of regular life for three months and completely focus on making work or sometimes just doing nothing at all was tremendous. I’ll certainly miss the outstanding staff at Mana. From the front desk folks, to the cleaning crews, all some of the most friendly and genuine people in New Jersey. I’ll miss the friends I’ve made and the opportunity to see them on a daily basis. However I absolutely will not miss the elevator. If there is an elevator to hell, it is most certainly #3 from Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. I’m pleased with the things I accomplished here and the many calls of “you should stay!” from other denizens of the building is somewhat of an ego booster, but it’s time to pack up and make the eight hundred plus mile journey home. There’s time to be spent with two little boys I haven’t seen in a very long time…