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Studio Rituals/ Remote Studio Visit

It’s all about the perpetual synthesis of seemingly unrelated ideas. –Lee Blalock

Part 1

As I noted in my previous post, my overarching practice begins with reading, research, and writing. Often, a work begins with a word or a phrase that prompts and image, or an emotional reaction that defies words. I then move to collecting journalistic and archival photos as references, a nod to my continuing relationship with my first profession. Last comes experimentation in my studio, in which I (re)solve questions relating the philosophical (why), technical (how, which mediums), relational, spatial, temporal, and practical aspects of the series of works.

It is interesting to think about what one does in the studio as a ritual (a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order). My observation of a day in my “home away from home” studio in Chicago shows that, as they say, wherever I go, there I am.

In these first two weeks in residency, I have collected so many words and phrases on sticky notes on the wall and in my virtual notebooks. As I muse over those, in the studio I engage in productive procrastination: I arrange (and re-arrange) objects in the studio, I dust, I make tea, I gesso supports, I order more supplies, I block in backgrounds for new works yet to be started, I fiddle with works-in-progress that are stalled. I have been told this means I am a “preparer”: The setting and my frame of mind have to be just right for me to be productive.

The music I listen to depends on the phase and the setting. If I am at the studio alone, and the building is quiet, I often don’t listen to anything at all. I let the silence and my thoughts play together. If others are about, disrupting my focus, I will put in my earbuds. If I am writing or doing another activity that requires deep focus, I listen to western classical music. If I am painting, I’ll often listen to a podcast or audiobook. If I need energy or inspiration, I’ll listen to old school R&B or Funk. 

I try to schedule my time but often fail to keep my studio appointments. Other things demand my attention: readings (always reading, so much to read, so little time), working to make money, household chores, taking care of Mom (even from afar), cultivating and nurturing relationships. Every day is a new day to try to find balance.

Eventually, I begin the process of creating the actual artworks.—but not on this day in the studio.

The beginnings of a wall of concept maps and tasks to complete for each series on which I am working
Stencils for Carceral Archipelagos and Palimpsests, cut and organized during productive procrastination

Part 2

I am actively working on two series that have been in progress for a while—Carceral Archipelagos and Palimpsests— and have begun thinking about a third—Post-blank World. For the latter, I am envisioning five acts, each of which uses a different quotation(s) as the prompt.

  • Act 1: America is seeing in real time how much human misery our current system both produces and tolerates. —Nick Martin, The New Republic
  • Act 2: Suddenly, the whole nation is depending on the very people many don’t believe should make $15 an hour. —Internet meme in response to COVID-19
  • Act 3: Postponed due to COVID-19. — Social media posts and email notices
  • Act 4: From the depths of despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength. —Cesar Chavez
    So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive. —AUDRE LORDE, “A Litany for Survival”
  • Act 5: You have to act as if it is possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time. —Angela Davis
    Do you believe how it is now is how it will always be? Remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without, just as you dismantle the ones you cannot live within.— Ruha Benjamin
  • Act 6: Wholeness is no trifling matter. –Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

On the wall, I’ve just begun to map out concepts and structure, considering questions about the grammar, rhetorics, aesthetics, geographies, and praxis. For example, for Act 1 (misery production and toleration), I am thinking about:

  • Grammar: What are the structural rules governing the way we think and speak about the misery our systems produce and tolerate?
  • Rhetorics: What are the prevailing written, spoken, and visual languages that construct the meaning of that misery and its etiology?
  • Aesthetics: What are our perceptions and judgements about those rhetorics?
  • Geographies: What are the sites and locations of misery? Why those sites and not others?
  • Praxis: What are the processes through which misery is enacted, embodied, realized, internalized? What are the processes through which the toleration of misery is enacted, embodied, realized, internalized?

The readings that we have been assigned in ARHI 6510 are very relevant to this process. I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole exploring the concept of abjection, yet I expect that to be fruitful.


After reading other people’s posts, it has dawned on me that I am begin very literal in what I think of as studio work—I have viewed is as being all about painting, drawing, objects. The other parts of my practice (such as video or audio production) I have not thought of as being in the studio; even though it used to take a physical studio for some types of audio/video production, today it can be done, self-contained, on a computer, laptop, or even smart phone. I do this work but have not, to this point, consider that as part of studio time. Very interesting. I must reflect on that a bit more; it might be time for a paradigm shift.