Monthly Archives: September 2014

dot 25: transit[ion]

Having to shift gears from our everyday mind to our creative mind … is no easy matter.

– Eric Maisel –

The demand of the transit that is required to move from everyday reality to creativity fiction is no easy task. In his book Making your creative mark: nine ways to achieving your creative goals Eric Maisel says: ‘All day long we are pressured into doing things right and to get things right:

Then a moment is supposed to arrive when we shift gears and allow ourselves genuine permission to make all the mistakes and messes we want in the service of our art. Somehow we are supposed to fluidly move from the pressure of getting things right to the pressure of venturing into the unknown.

Maisel speaks of an encounter he has with a writer on a park bench in Manhattan. The writer, hailing from a worn-torn country elsewhere, is unable to move away from the raging reality he is constantly reminded of in his mind. Maisel suggests that the root of the problem lies in his inability to find his ‘fictional way’ and that the experiences are too real for the writer which become ‘photographed rather than fictionalized.’ As a previous ICU nurse myself it is easy to relate to the writer’s struggle to let go of reality. After all, the pain and anguish that has been seen and experienced is ultimately real. Existentialist questions inevitably pop up such as where the reality of the memories that accompany such experiences ought to be put whilst moving into creative space? What is the answer to this question? To the writer Maisel simply suggests: ‘Be here.’

But how to transit from the reality of being here to that of the creative unknown space? Mac Barnett, a fictional writer of children’s’ books uses the analogy of a secret door to reach the ‘middle space’ that is situated between reality and fiction. Opening the door leads to what Barnett calls the ‘place of wonder’ where creative work cannot remain unaffected if transiting through it first. However, Barnett’s transit does not take place from left to right (reality to fiction) but rather from fiction to reality: ‘I want a book to be a secret door that opens and lets the stories out into reality.’ His voice sounds clearly from within the fictional space, and I am reminded of the theatre piece Care performed by the  Willfredd Theatre Company in Dublin (Ireland). Becoming ‘fascinated with the act of caring’ the theatre company initiated a collaboration with a certain hospital where they spent months interacting with palliative care nurses to get an understanding of what it takes to be able to do care for the dying. I find this to be a superb example of how transition can take place from fiction to reality by way of fascination.

A breathtaking example illustrating the shift from reality to fiction is Alison Carlier’s recent sound piece Adjectives, lines and marks which just recently won the 2014 Jerwood Drawing Prize. A one minute and 15 second work – an audio drawing – it consists of Carlier reading out of a reference book that describes a Roman pot. Listen to it here.

It occurred to me that the text describes the object in a way akin to  someone making an observational drawing; the voice tracks the thing just as the eye might [be] tracing the image on paper. The adjectives act like lines and marks; describing it’s form and tone. The stress in the words articulate the pot; as heavier than lighter pencil marks may on paper.

Something as seemingly lifeless as text laying dormant in the Museum of London archive comes to creative life through Carlier’s fascination thereof. Wondering about the unfolding of such a space I am struck by the force of fascination.

Regardless of where it is that you’re moving from it’s the middle space you need to get to. Alison Carlier’s place of intrigue and wonder…

Drawing by snails
Drawing by snails on plastic surface                                                Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
  • Eric Maisel:
  • Making your creative mark: nine ways to achieving your creative goals (2013) New World Library ISBN: 978-1-60868-162-4

dot 24: real/artist


Sometimes I think I’m not a real artist.

– Marlene Dumas –

I clearly remember the first time I heard these words. Thinking I had misinterpreted what I had just heard, I ended up re-watching an hour of Marlene Dumas’s DVD then showing at her solo exhibition Intimate Relations held at IZIKO (Cape Town) in 2008. For a very long time thereafter I still doubted what I had heard Marlene Dumas say.

Having had the opportunity to briefly visit an artist collective yesterday, I was once again plagued by the idea of whether I really was an artist as I walked through various studios filled with impressive artworks in progress. I found myself wondering whether these artists ever doubted themselves; pondering as to whether they in fact felt like real artists? In my experience it is not something that is particularly voiced, which is why Marlene Dumas’s statement is both liberating and horrific at the same time. I subsequently reminded myself that if Dumas could doubt herself at her level of experience, then perhaps my own self-doubt wasn’t so misplaced.

I am currently reading a book entitled Creative Block by the author (and artist) Danielle Krysa. Although the main objective of the book is to help other artists ‘get unstuck’ and ‘discover new ideas’, I have been more intrigued with another question that Krysa has put to the 50 artists she has interviewed: ‘When did you feel like an artist?‘ By default, asking this question implies that feelings of authenticity are neither instantaneous nor a given for many artists. Having said that, some answers suggest that there are those who have known and desired nothing other than to be an artist from a very tender age. For others, the feelings of being an artist mainly surface when they experience one of the following:

  • The act of creating: the happiness, arousal and freedom of choice connected to it
  • Belief / affirmation / validation of the artwork by someone else
  • Acceptance of work for exhibitions / Purchases from buyers & collectors
  • The cognitive decision to pursue art as a career

For me, all of the above can be summarized in the word validation.

I would like to share one artist’s response in particular. Peregrine Honig is a painter, sculptor and installation artist (USA). When asked by Krysa whether she could recall the first time she felt like an artist, Honig replies:

I remember drawing in the sun on my mother’s apartment porch when I was four. My hand was cooperating with my mind. A Belgian man and his girlfriend were staying downstairs. He was smoking near me. He looked at what I was drawing and told me I was too good to draw on both sides of a sheet of paper. The memory of this is fresh: the airborne dust, the smell of tobacco, the texture of the wood under my paper. I had never been praised before in the form of advice.

The praise Honig was privileged to receive in this way is the validation that still stays with her as she recalls its sensory experience. It is the advice of feeling like an real artist.

Sorting ceramic fragments in the Karoo
Sorting ceramic fragments in the Karoo / feeling like a real artist
  • Danielle Krysa:
  • Danielle Krysa Creative Block (2014) Chronicle Books, California ISBN: 978-1-4521-1888-8

dot 23: trajectory


Trajectory tells us a great deal.

– Andrew Solomon –

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist who works with natural elements such as water, light and temperature. As these elemental materials are themselves unstable, the trajectory of the experience itself remains in flux. According to Eliasson even cities change as so do their trajectories.

Andrew Solomon, a writer on culture, psychology and politics, speaks about the importance of what a trajectory reveals. In the context of depression it is vital to remain aware and be connected to one’s own trajectory. Knowing when a relapse is imminent allows for preparation in order to go ‘into the fight.’ Knowing that what might present itself as the truth when in fact the ‘truth lies’, is what gives insight. Solomon calls this seeing truly.

I was recently reminded of what seeing truly is in the exhibition Fragile Histories, Fugitive Lives by the artist Keith Dietrich (South Africa). Being made aware of the trajectory of 1220 early colonial trials at the Cape of Good Hope during the 1700’s and the horrific sentences that were meted out against transgressing slaves, truly helped me see the truth for what is was. Flayed out across an elongated surface the lists of names of such slaves are visualized in Dietrich’s artist book. Interspersed between the names are images of organs that ‘serve as reminder of our own fragility.’

Installation view: Fragile Histories / Fragile Lives
Installation view: Fragile Histories / Fugitive Lives                     Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

Whether we are slaves of our pasts or of our own mental spaces, the fragility of what it means to be human remains the same. According to Solomon what is essential is to ‘seek meaning’ in states of fragility.

Having attended the funeral of a friend’s sister over the weekend, I wondered anew about the projection of apartheid’s trajectory. Images of Keith Dietrich’s artwork came to mind as we passed individuals and families still living in dire circumstances. Fragile bodies still living their lives because of a fugitive history. Dietrich writes:

Considering that the history of … South Africa, is one of fragile bodies being subjugated, I have used these bodies as metaphors for the pain and suffering that our country has endured.

I would add to this that South Africa is still suffering. If a 20 year post-apartheid trajectory hasn’t changed everyday life for the majority of South Africans, how long will apartheid’s trajectory trail?  I recently read something the acclaimed musician and producer Pops Mohamed said as he referred to South Africa: ‘We’re like a pregnant country. We keep on giving birth to good things, bad things, whatever it is … but we are here now.”

We are living our trajectory. In flux.


dot 22: limit[ed]less

We first have to become limited in order to become limitless.

– Phil Hansen –

When artist Phil Hansen became inflicted with a tremor in his hand he was advised by his neurologist to ’embrace the shake’. Interestingly, Hansen does not describe this illness as his biggest feat but rather that of an idealistic space many artists might be able to relate to. Having left art school, he was able to support himself in order to be in a position to buy art materials. Although empowered by his financial position, Hansen soon realized that he had become ‘paralyzed by all the choices’ and confused in the realization that he had become creatively blank. The result of this experience impacted greatly on him, leaving him in a ‘dark space for a long time, unable to create.’ It is a space I can relate to.

What is truly inspiring about Hansen’s creative journey is his search back to the core of his creative self. Hansen speaks of ‘searching in the dark’, of ‘starting to wonder’ and asking questions such as ‘what if?’. Most interestingly, he comes to the realization that:

If I ever wanted my creativity back, I should quit thinking so hard out of the box, and get back into it.

Most of what we do takes place here, inside the box, with limited resources.

By understanding that the answers to a creative life are directly linked to the creative self in the here-and-the-now and not elsewhere, Hansen proceeds to let go of ‘outcomes, failures and imperfections’. How does he do this? By the simple decision (though no simple act) of creating the ultimate limitation, which is the destruction of his art. For Hansen, destruction (read: deconstruction) brings him back to what he calls a ‘neutral place.’

Imagining the idea of neutral space got me thinking about the fiber artist Jessica Bell who deliberately cuts up her art work into pieces before re-assembling it. For Bell, the act of destruction allows neutrality of play and composition. There is no pressure to create a compositional whole and temporality is suspended in this process. For William S. Burroughs: ‘In cutting up you will get to a point of intersection where the new material that you have intersects with what is there already in some precise way, and then you start from there.’

For me, thinking about neutral space brings images of astronauts to mind: weightless, suspended, enlightened, engaged and excited. Space becomes nothing and everything, filled with unpredictable possibilities of movement, actions and happenings. For astronauts, limited space [the cabin] becomes limitless in potential value. An equation of sorts. For artists the cabin is the mind, the here-place.

I recently came across the music of Elintseeker. For me, the idea of neutral space is aptly conveyed in his track ‘Shoreline’ particularly in light of the idea of suspended temporality and weightlessness. Take a listen here.  Limitless within its own limits.

Ask yourself what Hansen asked of himself:

Could you become more creative by looking for limitations?

  • Jessica Bell:

dot 21: [un]ordinary

It is the ordinary that is the only homeland.

 – Michael Foley –

The word ‘ordinary’ used to be a noun in the English language. Right up to the 19th century the noun ordinary was common and had an amazing amount of meanings which included: post, mail, fixed allowance, priest who visited people in the condemned cell, as well as tavern. Quite creative, wouldn’t you say?

Today, a Thesaurus search translates ordinary as:

accustomed, average, common, common-or-garden, commonplace, conventional, habitual, homespun, household, humble, humdrum, inconsequential, indifferent, inferior, mean, mediocre, modest, normal, pedestrian, plain, prevailing, prosaic, quotidian, regular, routine, run-of-the-mill, settled, simple, standard, stock, typical, undistinguished, unexceptional, unmemorable, unpretentious, unremarkable, usual, wonted, workday

Which artist in their right minds would want to be known either as ordinary, doing ordinary work, or being evenly remotely interested in the ordinary of every day life? Most would want to distance themselves in order to avoid contamination or, possibly worse, judgement from other creatives. Yet the author Michael Foley is taking his lessons from what he calls the ‘champions of everyday life.’

In his fascinating book Embracing The Ordinary: Lessons From the Champions of Everyday Life Foley explores what the everyday has to offer by way of literature, art and art history, neuroscience, anthropology and other disciplines. He implores us to start paying real attention to the present: ‘Nothing is more difficult to understand than the apparent obvious and nothing more difficult to see than what is directly before the eyes.’

In my own visual search this is certainly true. I am currently interested in eye-movement and the dynamics of sound and speech, and am attempting to track what is happening around me daily. Just as it happens in an ordinary day. By starting to pay attention to what is going on around me in a different way, I am starting to see my immediate surrounding differently. The outcome thereof is a visual language on paper that is both surprising and obvious at the same time. Speech happens virtually 24/7 around us and movement is continuous, yet perhaps because it constitutes part of what everyday life is, paying attention to it is surprisingly difficult. Foley quotes the novelist Georges Perec:

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither questions nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of information.

These are powerful words by Perec, as are Foley’s own when speaking about the ‘homeland of the ordinary.’ This got me thinking that perhaps the contemporary idea of ordinary ought to be substituted for the idea of unordinary. This automatically switches perspective because the problem, as Foley says ‘is in the perceiving and not in what is perceived.’ By entertaining the unordinary, I myself experience a heightened sense of curiosity, my attention automatically changes and I become aware of an anticipatory perception. This way of seeing effectively alters the way I look as well as what I see, constituting what can be said to be my own unique personal vision. (Having said this, I immediately have to remind myself that even the awareness of looking in this altered way, can itself become habitual. It is a place not to rest).

In the image below entitled connectome_4 I was sitting having coffee in a café, tracking the conversations happening around me. By being interested in the unfamiliar I have created a new ‘whole’ where, as Foley urges ‘everything is connected to everything else and nothing is isolated and separate, least of all one’s self.’

It’s kind of a connected space.

connectome_4 (detail)
connectome_4 (detail)                                                                         Photo: Sonya Rademeyer


  • Michael Foley:
  • Embracing the Ordinary: Lessons From the Champions of Everyday Life (2012) Publisher: Simon & Schuster / ISBN: 978-1-84983-913-6
  • John Ayto:
  •  Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins (1990) Publisher: Bloomsbury London / ISBN: 0-7475-0971-9
  • Other:
  • Chambers 20th Century Thesaurus (1986) ISBN: 0-550-10559-X

dot 19: introversion

Without introverts we wouldn’t have the Apple computer, the theory of relativity or Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

– introduction to Susan Cain’s book Quiet

Let me begin by admitting to being an introvert. Or, perhaps, I ought rather to admit to being a Closet Introvert.  By saying this I am inherently implying that I am trying to be something that I am not, which is being a creative extrovert.

In Quiet, Susan Cain explores the notion of how the Extrovert Ideal shapes much of our lives.  Cain argues that in spite of introverts constituting one third to one half of (American) society, the balance remains tipped towards the Ideal of the Extrovert. This, according to Cain, is perhaps because we are taught to equate greatness with boldness, and happiness with being sociable. Such are societal expectations which can create pressure on the introvert to ‘pretend to be extrovert’. Based on her research, Cain states that it is the confident – even overconfident – personality in the Sciences that will get the funding. Likewise, in the art world it is the artists who ‘strike impressive poses at gallery openings’ whose ‘works adorn the walls of contemporary museums’. It is highly likely that an artist’s career will be accelerated if s/he has an extroverted personality.

Where does this leave me as an artist with an introvert personality? I think the crux of the issue is remembering that confidence does not equate extroversion. As an introvert artist, I have qualities at my disposal that I need to acknowledge and use to my advantage. Cain references the work of the research psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aron whose life-work on sensitivity and introversion challenged accepted tenets of personality psychology. As I see it, the attributes of sensitivity held by the introvert are certainly pathways to deep creative exploration:

  • keen  observers
  • sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain
  • philosophical / spiritual in orientation
  • dislike small talk
  • creative / intuitive
  • dream vividly
  • exceptionally strong emotions
  • notice subtleties
  • responsiveness to beauty
  • highly empathetic
  • strong consciences

The process may be slower and take longer to achieve for an artist that is an introvert. Cain summarises this:

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.