It has been through the action of making, with acquiescence for tending to such deep emotion, that I have created my own form of ministering, and have put myself in a position to share these objects with the very world of which I seem to be so afraid.
This past weekend I visited the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the opening celebration of their newest exhibition, Mindful. Two years in the making, SCC has thoughtfully curated not only an exhibition, but a socially engaged art experience that encompasses companion shows, community programming, and educational opportunities. In a newsletter announcing the exhibition, SCC’s executive director, Janet McCall writes, ” There is both an urgent need and a great opportunity for arts organizations to convene civic conversations about how the arts can support positive mental health. Mental illness is a topic of primary concern for many of us, but it remains a taboo subject. A primary goal of Mindful is to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and to help increase understanding and compassion.”
The exhibition is really quite wonderful and I believe that SCC is well on their way to accomplishing their goals for this project. If you can’t make it to Pittsburgh, explore the exhibition website, browse the exhibition catalog online, or continue reading as I share thoughts on my experiences during the opening weekend.
I had known for nearly seven months that my work was selected as one of the voices for Mindful, and after all those months of anticipation, I couldn’t have been more excited to see the show. The Friday night opening had a great turn out and from the moment I attached my name badge to my shirt, I was swept up in conversations with those who were curious about my work.
On Saturday morning I arrived at Contemporary Craft to spend more time taking in the show, sans the buzz and excitement of the opening. About half an hour before scheduled artist talks and a performance by one of the Mindful artists, I stepped outside to find a place I could whisper my thoughts in preparation for my talk. Sitting in the sun by the entrance with one of the artists was Janet, who cheerfully invited me to join their conversation. I was happy for the distraction from my building nerves, even if it meant foregoing collecting and organizing my thoughts. However, it was in accepting that invitation that I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Ling Datchuk, and discovered we shared an alma mater. In that conversation, others we had throughout the afternoon, and her artist talk, I couldn’t help but smile at the serendipitous meeting and the resulting feelings of connectedness.
Meeting an alumna of the UMass CVPA Artisanry graduate program, in Pittsburgh, PA of all places, wasn’t my only discovery that day. Within those misty thoughts I was trying to wrangle earlier, something finally condensed. The great thing about Mindful is that it tackles the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The exhibition is not shy about putting that mission out into the world. Quite unintentionally, the display of my work compliments that mission. However, I needed the openness of Mindful and this mini artist talk to fully grasp the importance of this particular layer of my work:
With the display for these objects, I am keeping people from experiencing the objects through touch, and that much I knew. What I didn’t understand was, for every person who approaches these objects displayed in this manner, I am beating them to the punch in experiencing the objects visually. I have not allowed for the experience of seeing the objects closed, of seeing their pale, smooth, stone like exteriors, or of letting the imagination wonder at what might be contained. Rather, I am openly presenting the anxiety and unease I have felt, bearing those emotions without any introduction. The recognition and the honest display of my emotions prompts a conversation about it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly, which I joked may have been better titles. Joking aside, it is that occasion for conversation that brings me to the quote prefacing this writing.
“It has been through the action of making, with acquiescence for tending to such deep emotion, that I have created my own form of ministering, and have put myself in a position to share these objects with the very world of which I seem to be so afraid.” I wrote this as the closing thought to my thesis in the spring of 2014. More than a year later, this sentiment still rings true and is especially meaningful in the context of Mindful. My work acts as a facilitator; these objects help me to speak about how I feel. However, as objects that belong in my hand, I often have difficulty letting go of them as much as I do the emotions that inspired the objects’ creation. In learning about the exhibition from the folks at Contemporary Craft, in meeting many of the Mindful artists, and in each of the many conversations I had over the weekend, I realize that I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in which to share and to let go.