#68 - on creative space
And committing to the process.
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THANK YOU, LOVE YOU.
I sometimes joke that most of my work is done lying down. Like the shower or the forest, my bed is where I have the space for fermentation to happen. It is almost like being horizontal and softened is the signal for an energy from a far-off place in the universe to beam down and till the soil I have been feeding and investigate what might eventually flower here. I’m like a real-life renaissance painting except with jogging pants.
If I had to describe my creative process in one word, it would be space.
Space to be moved.
Space to be punishingly uncomfortable.
Space to see what I am seeing.
Space to ask and listen.
Space to explore and be led.
Space to wonder and question.
Space to breathe.
Space to germinate.
Space from space.
Space to knit and weave.
Space to surrender.
A creative impulse for me usually begins with discomfort - something that rattles my body, disturbs my spirit and distorts my sense of justice and collective wholeness. This is a pretty regular occurrence for me, but to enter its orbit takes space, presence and commitment. When these three ingredients and luxuries present themselves, I become obsessed - entering into a dialogue with the energy of the matter by thinking, reading, and getting willfully lost in digital threads and late-night conversations, filling my body with the nutrients of facts, knowledge, wisdom, and letting them activate feelings across my cells. It’s pretty intense, but when I can surrender to it, I revere it and eat its bliss. When I am tuned into something I am grappling with, I find that it shows up everywhere - the right books, podcasts, tweets, people, symbols and gatherings find me, almost as if we were searching for one another all along.
Keep going, it whispers.
After loads of input and inspiration, I just let it all be, like dough waiting to rise. I can almost imagine these sparks of possibility filling the space between disparate ideas and feelings and tensions to knit a narrative that brings ease and peace to my body as a fractal of our collective body, to then be translated into a visual dialogue.
It takes time to learn the language of your creative process — and hear what it needs to grow into a compelling, coherent and connective work of art. There is such a delicate balance of elements that are struck to strike resonance and express something that feels lifted out of the earth across time. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what these elements are because it is more an essence and orientation, but it seems to me to be connected to matters of the willingness to dig through existence, the ways you have braided your roots, how you curate your inputs and the quality of care you offer to your creative work and then, the patience you meet it with to offer you a visual sensibility and vision back. Like everything, it is a relationship unto itself - and the way we approach relationship is the way we approach everything.
The creative process makes me think of the practice of traditional farming - where the secret to growing fully expressed plants that make flavourful food seemingly lies in the diversity of crops, the quality of soil and how well it is mothered - meaning how well its needs are heard and tended to. ‘A stressed plant is not a fault of nature’, Dan Barber explains in his book The Third Plate, ‘it is the fault of not mothering well’. Not mothering plants well has typically looked like treating the symptom with chemicals versus taking and having the time to investigate the root cause and destroying biodiversity to grow and scale a single crop that is in demand. The afflictions of hyper-growth and efficiency that have compromised plants and the land have equally mired the creative process; blurring the lines between art and content creation, and flattening the cultural narrative and impact by creating the pressure to produce rather than supporting a process that can facilitate our collective evolutions and revolutions.
Barber teaches that pests only attack stressed and sick plants, which emit an odour to signal that their natural defences have weakened and therefore can be invaded and overtaken. Pests don’t attack healthy plants, because they can’t penetrate the defences that have been built by the right balance of nutrients in the soil. And, each pest suggests a specific need; for instance, milkweed can mean there is a zinc deficiency, and thistle can mean the soil is packed too tightly.
Doubt and insecurities feel like the pests of the creative process — creeping into the crevices of the net that is woven to hold a creative work with clarity and confidence but is partly weak from a lack of care, attention, faith and resources. Pests, like doubt, are simply messages that there are needs in the creative process that are not being met in order to be fully expressed and realized. Sometimes, tending to these weaknesses is in our control, but often the circumstances of our internal and external systems can make it difficult to tend as well as we would hope and like.
The more work I do the more I can attune to the state of this ethereal net - and feel in and out of the ways that it had coalesced into form and spirit, or if there is work needed to further massage it into form. I often call this experience ‘landing’ - which feels like physically and spiritually pulling materiality through layers of generations, consciousness, wounding, constructs and desire. It really is that deep.
The smallest creative project can take 100s of hours of tending, and the labour of it all is so unseen and unknown that it is crucial to find pleasure, meaning and revolution in the process that inherently resists a culture predicated on speed, efficiency and a clear ROI. All while advocating for more cultural and social support to protect the sacred nature of space and process (i.e basic income, paid childcare, pro-choice, community infrastructure, free healthcare).
Art is mothering as mothering is art.
Art-making is often seen as a privilege because the perception is that most artists have resources - from family or partner wealth - to fund the space. But many artists these days also make a choice, out of spiritual and mental necessity, and trade in the luxury of things for the luxury of space, constantly navigating the next paycheque, while others stretch their capacity to do it all. Still, even having the know-how and capacity to entertain the choice to make art is some kind of privilege in most parts of the world.
The hardest work that I have done and am doing is trusting that I can be an artist and still survive. Allowing myself to be okay with owning almost nothing and recognize when it is an empowered choice in service of my creative work versus a disempowered submission in spite of it. The process of adopting the identity of an artist has poked at all my intergenerational trauma and fears around money, safety and worthiness. It has meant tip-toeing into the work and has often weakened and disrupted the creative process. It has been demoralizing, painful and confronting but is also so clearly part of the creative process within the creative process.
My intention for coming to Mexico for 2 months was to give myself creative space and I am overwhelmed by how wonderful it is. If I ever came into money, I think all I would want to do is offer paid creative sabbaticals to as many people in the working class as I could - the taxi drivers, the cleaners, the housekeepers, the servers - the people who keep cities afloat, and the people who barely get paid sick leave, let alone creative space.
Truly, we are all in the creative process of living and relating and navigating and reimagining and bursting the bubbles we find ourselves in, and the hill that I will die on is that everyone deserves the space to see that process through and true.
That’s it. That’s all I got.
P.S. How would you describe your creative process in one word? Drop it in the comments below.