Field Note: Bringing It Home

May 24th, 2013

Mission accomplished— we have officially completed our WESTERN EDGE trip!! After seven weeks on the road, over 3,000 miles stretching from Tijuana to Vancouver, 40 studio visits, and an innumerable amount of unexpected moments, we have finally returned to San Francisco. I must say, it feels good to have achieved what we set out to do.

Returning from a trip, however, has never been easy. I come back homepensive and uneasy, with an all-too-familiar certainty thrashing about my chest like a panicked animal. The certainty is about two things: home marks a definitive end to a particular experience, and not only are those experiences now irretrievable they are also practically impossible to express…which makes them very difficult to share. The knowledge that no words will do and that whatever words I fumble forth with will be inadequate often leaves me reluctant to try at all. Usually when I’m asked how a trip was, I opt out of the details and say something generic like, It was great! But I don’t want to do that with WESTERN EDGE— I actually really want to try and explain just how wonderful, exhausting, and eye-opening our time on the road was.

I read somewhere that Joan Didion said, I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. I think this is very true of writing and, sometimes, of talking. Klea and I talked a lot on this trip— to each other, to artists, to waiters, shopkeepers, and hotel receptionists. Rarely was it idle chit-chat. The impulse to interview started to come over me even when we weren’t in studio visits, and somehow even in the briefest of encounters I found myself asking perfect strangers about their lives. Perhaps sometimes my questions were a bit too personal, perhaps I caught people a little off guard. But they answered, and usually with generosity. With our work at IN THE MAKE I have found that curiosity is almost always met agreeably, and this truth was compounded on the road. I think if you ask just right, people want to share who they are, what they know, and also what they aren’t sure of.

While on the road so many of the conversations Klea and I had with each other and many artists were about what we don’t know– death, memory, familial bonds, the future, the winding corridors of psychology, the unrelenting force of time, and the wonders of the natural world. On freeways, with the sun in our eyes, the windows down, and the changing landscape streaking past, Klea and I rambled on and on… we’d spend hours dissecting just one statement an artist might have made, we considered each town we passed through and wondered what it would be like to live there, we talked about the romanticism of afternoon light, the Cleveland kidnapping story all over the news, the qualities of an enduring creative practice, and whose art work we’d love to have on our walls and why. We barely ever listened to music or the audio books we had bought in anticipation of our long drives. Our car rides, our mealtimes, our occasional walks, all seemed to become extensions of studio visits, but instead of interviewing artists we interviewed each other, and anyone else who made the mistake of standing nearby.

Because studio visits are so personal and we cover so much conversational territory, and because they can sometimes last up to two and half hours, they are exhausting. But they are also exhilarating. There is nothing like it. We are invited in to witness art work and processes intimately, to stand amongst textured materials and vibrant colors, to reach out and touch all that is beautiful and beguiling, to ask question after question to satiate our curiosity, and to confront different perspectives. Obviously our work at IN THE MAKE is about documenting and sharing the work of artists, but it’s also about conversations, engagement, and queries. For me, the best part about our work is that essentially the studio visit is an opportunity to delve into someone else’s questions about life. With each artist there are distinct lines of inquiry, particular obsessions and examinations that they are following, and when we come to visit, ultimately we are asked to grapple alongside the artist. For example…Julie Green’s Last Supper series elicits heavy questions about the death penalty, Matthew Picton’s map-like sculptures investigate the specifics of place and history, Taraneh Hemami’s work considers the legacy and language of protest, and Marie Sivak’s stone sculptures encounter the nature of memory and loss…. The list of artists we visited goes on and on… so it’s no wonder that Klea and I couldn’t stop talking; it was as if every time we left an artist’s studio we had been passed the baton and now it was our turn to run with their questions.

I think that seeing the various ways people choose to live, the questions they ask themselves, and the grappling we did on the road has made Klea and I different— more wide-eyed, receptive, and I suppose less fixed in our opinions and the possibilities we envision for ourselves. One day while driving, maybe near Fort Bragg or perhaps it was further along in the trip and we were closer to Portland I blurted out to Klea, I don’t even know who I am anymore! I like everything. I like everywhere. Everything seems possible!! I could become anything. We laughed wildly at my outburst, because it was unexpected and slightly absurd, but mostly because it was true. It’s a weird thing to witness change in yourself while it is happening. Being on the road reminded us of how big the world really is, how many chapters one life can encompass, and how many opportunities for reinvention, reconsideration, and reinvigoration there are.

As our final days on the road drew near, Klea and I discussed what it would be like to be back home. We had gotten so used to driving and mapping, packing and unpacking, the constant companionship, hotel beds and breakfast diners, the smell of gas stations, late-night writing and editing sessions, and the general unpredictability of each day that it started to feel like we could go on forever doing this. Going home almost seemed weirder than continuing on. But it is true— all good things must come to an end. So we consulted Klea’s tarot cards with pending questions, stared at the wild thrift store dresses we bought and wondered how we would incorporate them into real life attire, turned to each other for advice, watched and listened for recurring signs, and put everyone else’s life that we had encountered under the magnifying glass to look for clues. I firmly believe there are lessons to learn everywhere, and often the most unexpected moment or person is the one to teach you.

Now that I’m back I can really see how important it was that Klea and I went on this trip together; we just couldn’t have done it right without one another. And I see now how much every artist we visited and every IN THE MAKE reader has so fully been in this experience with us, too. James Turrell, renowned artist of the Southern California Light and Space movement, said, Art is a completed pass. You don’t just throw it out into the world— someone has to catch it. I would like to believe our WESTERN EDGE journey is “a completed pass” because it has been a shared experience, something that artists have given themselves to and that readers have supported and contributed to. And as we publish the studio visits from the road, I hope we will be able to continue passing the baton and ask our readers to question and grapple along with us and all the artists we have visited.

The artist’s studios pictured are (in this order): Trent Burkett, Marie Sivak and Kai Samuels-Davis. Over the coming months we’ll be publishing full studio visits with each of them and many other artists we visited on the trip. Each week we’ll publish a new studio visit from the Western Edge.

P.S. in case you couldn’t tell, yes, we are joking in that last photo of us.