Prepurposed Space & The Garden of Nonform - MFA Thesis
Why did I think I should paint? Where lies the integrity? In the painting? The surface? The artist? The idea? Or the name? With what shall I measure? With history? By meaning? By feeling? By life? The image was meant to be painted without another possibility. The painting was meant to be seen.
Prepurposed spaces exist fulfilling predetermined functions. The purpose of the space created forms a basis for definition of the space. Creators prepurpose spaces into being. Creators give purpose by actualizing specific potentials inherent in the space. The inherent potentials are a preexisting layer of prepurposed space. Although prepurposed spaces are formed by a purpose made by a creator, there are layers of purpose within a prepurposed space, thus determining an actual beginning is difficult. This is also why the garden of nonform is so difficult to determine.
The Garden of Nonform
The garden of nonform varies depending on who is defining the particular space. The garden of nonform is the source material of all prepurposed space. Because it is difficult to determine the exact point at which something is purposed, the garden of nonform is difficult to pinpoint. The garden of nonform includes all spaces that are in states of flux. A state of change often exists at the point when one thing ends and another begins. The garden of nonform provides the source material for all prepurposed spaces. One person's prepurposed space is another's garden of nonform. Creative ideas that define a purpose for a space, often later fade into obscurity. Other once creative ideas permeate societies and become so omnipresent that people take them for granted and the ideas rejoin the garden of nonform. The garden of nonform is inarticulate, as it is elusive. Just when you think you are there you find yourself in another prepurposed space. The garden of nonform may engulf you when are not expecting anything.
The Idea of Masks
From an early age I have been interested in the boundaries between fantasy and reality. That boundary I see in people's faces and actions, in the masks they show to the world. At the age of two I put on my first mask. It was made out of paper that I had drawn and cut out. That mask gave me a new identity. I changed my name to Monster and refused to respond to any other name. To me, Monster was my identity and the mask I wanted to present to the world. I wore that mask around the house acting as I thought a monster should act. My mom accepted my mask, calling me the Wild Man of Borneo. I did not yet know that Borneo was a real place, let alone a place I would someday want to go.
Borneo is an Island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia. I hadn't thought about Borneo or Indonesia very much until a friend of mine spent her summer in Indonesia. Looking at her pictures I remembered Borneo, my masks, and my fantasies of being Monster. I decided to go to Indonesia.
Living in Yogyakarta Indonesia I came to understand a different idea of space and identity. Indonesians saw me as a representative of western culture, specifically American culture. Some had in their minds a layered version of Americans drawn from their experience of western television programming, movies and their take of United States foreign policy. I came to be aware through the pointed and sometimes accusatory questions from my Indonesian friends of the American masks I had unwittingly put on as a citizen of the United States. One roommate came into the room after watching Melrose Place and asked me, "Why don't you people take relationships seriously? You Americans are so selfish. Why are you so selfish?" I was surprised by this confrontation, and I said something to the effect that television is just entertainment, and that people vary. Another time after the Indonesian military had shot at a group of protestors, I was asked by the same roommate in rapid succession, "Why are you giving our government weapons?" "Why are you invading Iraq?" "Why do you support Israel?" I realized that these questions reflected both a personal fear, and the masks that people saw me wearing. Their questions peeled away at my culture for its superficiality and its involvement in world affairs. I became aware that there are only so many layers that I can get rid of, and that these layers are part of me. At some point I couldn't take off any more layers. Absorbing their questions and assertions of who I was, I accepted that my home and nationality affect who I am and how people see me. Wherever I went I was associated with the culture and policies of my country. My appearance carried the associations and force of an outsider representing the United States.
While in Indonesia I studied the dances from Java and Bali. I had decided that I wanted to study Baris, the dance of a warrior. When I enquired about a teacher, I was told that the teacher, not the student, chooses the dance. The dance I was given to learn is Jauk. A Durga Hindu dance, Jauk represents the destruction part of the creation-destruction cycle. The Jauk dance had been created in colonial times. The Dutch who had colonized much of Indonesia were just arriving in Bali when the dance was created. The dance portrays a destroyer. Jauk helps to continue the creation process through destruction. One beginning is the end of something else, a continuous cycle. The colors of the masks for Jauk are red or white, depending on the variation of the dance. The red mask represents anger and change through destruction while the white represents sweetness and a gradual type of change such as seasons. I was given the dance with the red mask.
In the dance I became a destroyer. I was a giant. I ate children. I destroyed villages. I wore a crown and a colorful costume with many gold and multicolored ribbons tied around my body that would fly outward and move as I danced. I was a fiery god. I had long claws, black hair, a red mask with bulging eyes and an overbite grin. A Gamelan orchestra accompanies the dance. The drums direct certain movements, while the dancer directs the orchestra as the dance is improvised with certain specific movements. I danced shaking my claws and glaring at the audience. Most of the dance is actually about intimidation and acting large and menacing.
I became the transformer of the worlds. Ending one cycle to begin a new cycle. Destruction becomes a formative part of the creation process. Change occurs at one point in the dance when the giant Jauk encounters a mosquito. Because the mosquito is so small Jauk cannot destroy it as he does people and villages. He makes a futile attempt to escape the insect. The insect chases Jauk across the stage until the insect eventually leaves Jauk. While Jauk is the giant destroyer, he is still affected by a tiny insect. Although these insects are part of everyday experiences and are usually only considered small nuisances, they also carry dangerous illnesses that sometimes cause death. The mosquito and Jauk begin working on similar levels. On one level the interaction of the giant with the mosquito shows their similarity as bringers of death. On another level the mosquito adds humor, lightening the tone, as Jauk the destroyer realizes his own weakness. The giant of destruction changes when an element of vulnerability is added to the dance. The prepurposed nature of the Jauk mask causes fear, but when the one wearing the mask acts contrary to the identity, the character becomes comical.
In Indonesia I adopted other masks, other senses of time and space. These I brought back with me to my life in the United States. I dressed more elegantly; semi-formal attire is encouraged in Indonesia. I inconvenienced friends as my sense of time had become more elastic; in Indonesia when arranging to meet someone time was more flexible, rubber-time they called it, as forty-five minutes after the designated meeting time is early. But beyond these cultural put-ons, I became aware of more serious, less conscious changes. I heard a ringing. My refrigerator sounded like a gamelan orchestra, subtle bells, drums and gongs filtering through my space, changing my reality. The space became connected. Sounds, smells, and sites affected me differently than before I had gone to Indonesia. Understanding became layered and textured my reality. I felt layered. I realized that I was the connection between these spaces and realities, and I gained authority over my identity through this insight. I realized that my character was a mask, and that I had the power to create my own masks of identity.
Masks were not only objects that covered the face, but also symbols of identity and otherness that create our daily lives. For me masks covered aspects of identity, and transformed identity, whether they were placed there by the wearer or acquired through past experiences and associations. Masks are prepurposed. They are created for a specific role and alter the experience of both the one wearing the mask and those who are effected by the one in the mask. Masks instantly create a specific purpose to one's identity. When a person wears a particular mask, and acts contrary to the identity, one becomes conscious of layers in identity.
Symbols of Nonform
My paintings began as cultural photographs in museum exhibitions at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. After their purpose had been served in the exhibition, they became objects to store and to eventually be discarded by the museum. I collected these images, knowing that I could give them a new purpose. I wanted to use them to express the layered quality of space that I felt. I wanted to show the creation process complete with the transformation of one identity and the beginning of a new identity. I wondered about space and identities and how they are given certain purposes they are meant to fulfill. Their potentials exist from the beginning, illuminating possibilities to fulfill a new purpose.
The photographs had been taken to document and highlight aspects of a group of people. They were exhibited in order to educate people visiting the cultural museum. I sought to transform those cultural images through adding layers. The layers are both opaque and transparent. Through the separate layers, the photograph becomes a texture largely obscured by the added layers of my culture. Once in a while recognizable features capture the eye, and the viewer begins to look through the layers of paint to reassemble the original photomural. The original image becomes part of a new identity. Because the discarded photos invoked so much purpose as they were, they added a strong foundation to the layered images.
The images relate directly to layers that exist in master planned communities such as the condominium complex where I live. Before actually constructing one of these communities the ground is leveled, reducing the land to dirt. In this process all native plants are removed and wildlife is displaced. The previous existence and purpose are discarded. The land is treated as the garden of nonform and given a purpose. The destruction-creation cycle continues. Foundations are poured and the buildings are built. Vegetation is then brought into the community from elsewhere. The origination of the plants and the style of architecture create a specific atmosphere. In Briosa, the condominium complex where I live, the architecture and vegetation create a Spanish-Mediterranean escape. The buildings are whitewashed and the roofs are made of red tile. The abundance of palm trees and tropical plants imply a tropical paradise. These plants connect spaces through associations. In my paintings the plants become a connection between the different layers. The photomurals show through in the vegetation, connecting with the painting and collage.
The garden of nonform lies in the potential of an existence before it is given a purpose. Once given a purpose it is for me a prepurposed space. Does anything exist without a purpose? In the same way the philosopher asks if a tree makes no sound if no one is there to hear it, I assert that the garden of nonform exists before an observer. When does a tree become a tree, and when do trees become a forest, and when do forests become beams in our homes? This is the realm of the garden of nonform. I do not wish to say that the tree is predestined to be used as wood, but a tree does have a prepurposed potential to become a sculpture or a beam in a house.
In my paintings I have made a conscious decision for the photographs to reemerge into the images. There is a term that describes the reemergence of a mistake in a painting that has been painted over. The term is pentimento. Unlike the term pentimento, the photographs that I am painting over were full of purpose, and definitely not mistakes. What is very satisfying to me is that pentimento comes from the Latin roots penti(re) to repent and paentitere to regret, and pentir- to feel sorrow. Without repentance, regret or sorrow, maybe we are not giving respect to what we are transforming. Sorrow and repentance are catalysts for change. They are part of the destruction-creation cycle I danced in Jauk. Sorrow and repentance are also present in the transformation of the images from photomurals to painting collages. It is from transitions and changes that are the garden of nonform, that I draw inspiration. When something is nothing and it becomes purposed, the purpose presupposes existence and brings the creation into being.
Sorrow and repentance also form a foundation for masks. Masks are the identity people present to the world as a result of their experiences. As one discovers the different masks worn, they realize the layers of subjectivity. Reacting to sorrow and failure, new resolutions are created to form one's identity. To me art is as valid as an unlayering of subjectivity, as it is the objective layering of paint and collage over a documentary photomural. We are living in a garden of nonform in which nothing is beyond being purposed into being. Creators constantly change relationships between themselves and the world. As one becomes conscious of the masks one wears, one gains authority over identity.
Photo/Painting/Photo - Collage
While today I no longer wear the mask of Monster, I am still interested in investigating these building blocks of identity and the illusions of what is, in our culture, normal. My work addresses the myths that function in our community. I have selected observations of my home to make manifest the image of our realities. By presentation and imitation I seek to challenge my own modern suburban culture.
Using a combination of old and new materials, I create specific masks, consciously layering the regret I feel that so much of modern living is superficial. I alter aspects of a piece while retaining the original identity of the material. Most of my work is born of photographs, which I use as a sketch. These photographs of buildings and spaces in the condo complex where I live are objects I encounter everyday, and for me a standard view of reality. During the process of digitally altering the photographs and translating the images into paint, I exaggerate certain aspects which I believe reveal a mask that is often taken for granted about home and how we conduct our lives as people.
The idea of the mask is central to both my process and my subject matter. In the process of creating the paintings I paint a mask of latex over the photomural before painting the structures, and then after the paint dries I peel off the latex mask. The paintings themselves create a masked vision of reality in which portions of the photomurals show through the in landscape that is a void of negative space surrounding man made structures. Everything rendered in the world of my pictures is dependent on creators who create spaces based on ideas. The masks transform our ideas.
The photographs that are being painted become a texture in the images as a whole. They provide obscured information about their original content. The images of the condo complex are placed over the photographs without regard to the original image. The photomurals show clearly unobstructed through the trees and other plant life. The plants that exist in negative space and the textures of the photomurals are outlined in blue. The outline separates the layers and creates windows. While painting the condominium complex I used a palette knife with which I both added paint and scraped paint away from the image. I was both hiding and revealing the photomural. What I find interesting is how the submerged images from Sumatra, Borneo, Los Angeles, and Africa struggle to reassert themselves through the layers of paint. These regretted remembered sorrows push through in my painting as they do in myself, they emerge from deep inside and inside the painting. Pentimento.
While the layers work separately, they form and work together to express a purpose. The random acts and events become part of the process and are integral to the resulting creation. A dialogue opens up when a project begins between the original purpose, the conditions, and the history and location. Reacting to situations, one creates. Ideas are not new. It is difficult to begin without considering pasts; our own personal pasts, and the pasts of objects and ideas. But whatever past one explores, the past exists in ideas and records or evidence that can be connected through ideas to create a past. Ideas are transformational and have the power of creation. Creation begins on a human level from an idea that purposes something into existence. The responsibility of creativity is gained through acknowledging the layers and masks, and becoming aware of the authority and authenticity of the self.