First Edit - I left the original below for now.
The power of three
Back in the time before the internet, a young women left her home to attend university in the far northern reaches of the continent, entering the fine art department of a school that was renowned for its arctic engineering program. Many of the students in the fine art department where older, either continuing their educations after a decade of doing something else or practicing artists who used the program as a crucible for their own artistic endeavors. After a semester or so the young woman had developed the habit of arriving late to class at the halfway point avoiding the daily preamble of chit chat and discussions about “making” and homesteading and lives and dogs that leave her feeling isolated and exuded. She timed her arrivals to the demonstrations and the lab portion of the class, taking notes from the back of the room and staying as near as possible to invisible.
Eventually, as will always happen in a studio class, it came time for the first critique of the semester and eventually the focus of the room turned to her and the carefully constructed frames of waiting and fragmented narrative that she pinned to the board. Her work was as clearly different from the body of the class as if written in a foreign language, and quickly and summarily dismissed by the elders of the class for both their narrative quality and depictions of ordinary events and her presumption to deviate from the expected form. As she stood silently contemplating her work, the professor summed up the critique with the suggestion that she should consider illustration instead of fine art.
Over the following weeks the young woman became even less able to attend class and eventually stopped entering the lab during the day parts when it was occupied by the self-proclaimed print makers and practitioners of the fine arts. She found refuge in a largely unused gallery space on the ground floor of the building which was locked only during one of the erratically scheduled exhibits by visiting artists and even less frequent faculty shows. The room was furnished with barren partition walls and empty pedestals awaiting the conceptual creations of the late seventies, the chewing gum tacos encased in Plexiglas, the rope tapestries and Alaskan landscapes, juxtaposed with the nascent offerings of the Native Art Center. Stuck to the walls where tired labels describing the works long removed. Ghostly vestiges with weighty titles, populating the space with thundering statements and whispered vistas. A grammar of the expected form a primer in the, expectations of the curators.
One day after meeting with her professor to pick up the guidelines for the final submission she finds herself back in the gallery with her materials spread around her. She notices scraps of paper under a folding table against the far wall, getting up to investigate she discovers receipts from the last gallery show, the florist, the caterer and the liquor store. Intrigued by strength the images projected from the triangulation of the three objects she pins them to the wall in one of the empty spaces defined by one of the abandoned labels. She carefully prints out “Formal Reception” on a piece of paper from her sketch book and glues it over the previous label. As time passes she gathered elements in groups of three, fixing them to the wall or arranging them on the pedestals. “The Cleaners”, “Hemp tapestry, Part I”, “Tea party of two”, “Ornaments for her neck”, “the printed word”, “Totems of my ancestors”, “Breaking with traditions” and so on. Framing each piece with a label so that it became a viable construct in the empty space. Waiting each day for the lab to clear out before going upstairs to work. Until finally the gallery is full and she goes upstairs one last time to finish her final edition, entering the room as the students who have stayed longer than usual working on their finals are clearing up to leave. An excited exchange is going on between the students, an argument about the validity of found objects and the history of DaDa. One of the students suggesting that supporting “that kind of trash” is a waste of taxpayer funds and defiles the true meaning of real art. As she is neither acknowledged nor included in the conversation she turns her attention to her own work as they exit into the hallway still arguing. Meanwhile downstairs the night cleaning crew has arrived and let themselves into the gallery to get the space ready for an upcoming exhibit, stripping the walls of the objects and clearing the pedestals of their arrangements. Discussing hockey and the yearly ice bridge being constructed by the engineering students in the quad they pay no attention to the objects and toss them all into a trash can.
Several days later she enters the studio as the other students are getting set up for the final critique and finds the students still arguing and asking the professor to weigh in on the artist who’s found objects are exhibited in the gallery. The professor is willing to discuss the nature of art but denies that any such exhibit occupies any gallery on campus. The young woman pays little attention, walking to the back of the room and opening her flat file where her editions are neatly stacked she removes her sketch book, closes the drawer and walks out of the room. In the hallway she crosses paths with another student her own age who asks where she is going, because the critique is about to start. Pausing she shakes her head and tells the student she is withdrawing for the semester and there is no point in subjecting herself to the critique. As she walks away the other student runs after her and hurriedly asks what she is going to do with her prints? Still moving away the girl shakes her head and shrugs. Running to her side the other student explains that she has fallen behind and hasn’t done any new prints for the final, and would it be ok if she turned in the prints as her own? Staring back at the other student for a few moments she hesitates and then says “why not?” as she walks away.
Right now I am working on some rough ideas about contemporary fairy tales - the mythology of the present day, not reinventions from Grimms, Andersen and other collections from world culture. I have a pervasive feminist point of view, I teach women as a commitment to the future and changing the world in the manner I am most suited.
All that said - I would like to conform to an understandable story arch and make some attempt at sticking within traditional narrative form. While I do succesfully teach this to other people, my personal work tends to be very covert and submerged under apparently unpenatrable layers of personal code. Which is fine for arty little peices intended for an arty audience but I would like to make a stab at the fringe of the mainstream.
My story line is based on my first attempt at higher education in the fine art department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I was a printmaking student. My character is tragically unable to cope with classes and everyday college life, developing a nocturnal practice of haunting the 24 hour labs in the late hours when mostly everyone has gone home - this world is inhabited with other misfits and obsessively driven artists. She communicates with her professors at the tail end of their office hours and during lab hours but is generally absent from class accept for critiques and demos. In the building is a room that houses the rare exhibits from visiting lecturers and artists and is occasionally used for receptions and faculty one man shows. The story centers on a rogue exhibit that she works out based on the art talk and conceptual references from her professors and classmates. Using found objects from around the campus she carefully places groupings of three in the gallery space, types up gallery cards and places them with the installations. Being absent during the day she is unaware of the fact that people have been wandering into the room and assuming that a show is in the process of being installed that there is a very serious discussion about the art work throughout the department. One day after several weeks have passed, the maintenance personnel show up to set up for an actual exhibit and clear out the room with no conscious understanding that the objects in the room are anything but litter - Our character shows up for the final critique in her printmaking class, walking into a heated discussion about the merits of an exhibit in the gallery that the professor is arguing with conviction never existed.
I have no idea how to end this - in the real world when the topic being discussed finally registered, I listened in amazement but being factually afraid of the older deadly serious continuing education students who make up most of the class, didn't actually interject an explanation, being pretty sure that they would view it as a prank perpetrated by me. They where overall not fond of my point of view.