"Find your teachers."
(But it's a quote on my wall and I look at & think about these words every day).
Much of this work I've dissected, searched for more information about, slunk around the makers' websites, Facebook pages and Pinterest boards (one would think I had gobs of time), looking and looking, all in the effort to learn more.
About technique? Sort of, but not really.
About inspiration? Well ... kind of.
About all the places these artists are showing? No! No! That would make me feel way too remote sitting up here on my ice sheet.
No, I'm looking for how to be.
The first time I saw Bren Ahearn's work online I was smitten by his take on this very pulse: how to be.
-How to be contemporary while still using traditional techniques.
-How to mine one's history while taking a firm stance in the present.
-How to step into a gender defined craft and own that shit.
-How to make me laugh out loud and break my whole heart at the same time.
-How to be brave.
Maybe he could be your teacher, too. Check him out, I found him for you hanging onto a trolley car.
Bren Ahearn, San Francisco, California USA
I typically use textile crafts as a medium to explore masculinity's conflicting messages and the violence that sometimes arises from men's adherence to societal behavioral norms. In my latest series of cross stitch samplers, I instead recall actual experiences when I exhibited risky behavior, and I document a violent parallel history in which I was not so lucky.
Currently working on more samplers. Sampler #15 is another death sampler in which I look back at a time when a person tested my blood sugar in the 1980's and I wasn't so certain that the needle was new, but I still let myself be pricked. In Sampler #16 I look at the labyrinthine path of my residential past. I'm also experimenting with stitching on rubber gym mats -- stitching Olympic wrestling icons, fighting imagery and Craig's List personal ads of men looking for other men to wrestle and do other activities.
"There are two kinds of business: my business and not my business."
I'm trying to practice this a bit more than I have in the past.
Reading is such an interesting phenomenon to me. I'm amazed that we can understand letters, which are arbitrary symbols are attached to sounds (more or less, in English). The letters are combined to make words, the words to make sentences, etc. We can read something and then visualize what it means, all from these arbitrary symbols standing in for spoken language. Of course, one could go one step further and say the same thing about spoken language itself.
Right now I am reading "God's Hotel" by Dr. Victoria Sweet. She recounts her experience at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco. Laguna Honda is a non-trauma hospital for patients who aren't well off financially, and Dr. Sweet recounts the lessons about life that she has learned from her patients. (The title comes from the equivalent French name for hospitals: hotel dieu).
On Losing the Excess and Looking Within:
Getting rid of most of my possessions before I moved to Japan in the early 1990s was the best thing I ever did. Before I moved, I had lots of possessions, which were distracting me from working on myself and being happy/comfortable with myself. Once I arrived and was in Asia alone, I was uncomfortable because I couldn't be distracted by my possessions. It was a time of great growth though, as I was forced to look inward. I think this lesson of stopping and looking inward has informed my samplers.
On Being Repulsed and Fascinated at the Same Time:
Watching men "spray" is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive to me. I use the term "spraying" to denote marking of territory, as a dog does. I am fascinated to observe how some men spray (and/or cover insecurities) via physical or verbal dominance -- this also is the reason why it's repulsive to me. Here's an article about "manspreading" (on New York City subways), which is a kind of spraying.
On Terminology & (perhaps more importantly) A Most Excellent Table:
"Sense of Place" is a term I never really quite understood, and every time I research it, I get bored. For example, I just looked it up on Wikipedia, and I stopped reading after the 2nd sentence. It might be in part due to my IQ level. In high school I took an IQ test and got something like a 70 or 73, and my teacher said, "I don't think that's indicative of your true ability." I replied, "How do you know?" Anyway, I put the term "sense of place" in the same category as "dialectic" and "phenomenology." Speaking of place, here's a photo of where I do my stitching. The table is an Adler table by Ohio Design. I love the table because I can raise or lower it.
When I first started to make my embroidery work, I was a little nervous about putting my themes out there. After I gave a presentation at a conference, a woman came up to me and said she was grateful that I had spoken. She thought her grandson was gay, and that her grandson's parents were not very approving. She said she would like to take her grandson to see my work to give him hope. To bring this around to the original question about bravery -- for many people, the very act of surviving every day is an act of bravery, as there can be punishments (including death) for people who do not fit some sort of idealized mold in American society. As a white male who is gay, there have been situations in the past which I have "passed" in this idealized mainstream American society; however, I imagine that people of some other groups (e.g., people of color) never get this opportunity to pass (assuming they would even want to). So, there are many people in this country whose bravery is never acknowledged.
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For further in-depth interviews with Bren Ahearn, please check out the blogs Mr. X Stitch and Mixed Remnants. I'm very grateful to Bren for taking the time to answer my emails and for his permission to share his work here.
I've explored bravery in my own work, written about it, run away from it and then tiptoed back around to peer at the hard and deep questions; it's a vital exercise to explore where other artists push the boundaries of society's expectations and then question your own. Openness and bravery lead to deeper creativity and a willingness to risk. Feeling abandoned on an ice sheet? Go find your teachers. Learn how to be.
For other brave(-ish) posts from this site, you may want to check out "A history of pretty" and "Write a letter to your mother."
Like timidity, bravery is also contagious.