LEGACIES ARE MADE AND BUILT based on the learnings we can articulate clearly, and share. Dialogue makes us gather our ideas and respond to those of others, too. Perspectives can shift and whole rooms of internal awareness can open, if we allow ourselves room to reflect. It’s why I am always taking pictures like this, I think. I like to make the space for zooming into quiet. Processing ‘N’, which just happened on Wednesday here in London. No pictures. No social media. Just quiet space, to feel what it was, and reflect. Quietly, alone.
NEXT. There are a few things coming together for 2017 for members of our online community, S. P. A. C. E. A different kind of thing than me posting blog entries, much more interactive: both real-life spacemaking events in cities like San Francisco and Bangkok, and conversation forums in online ‘rooms.’ The big idea is much like the 16N experience: connecting us to new and different others, making space for us to reflect and better tune in to our own selves, our own hoped-for legacy, whether we’re conscious of what it is or just open to ambling our way towards something bigger than simply existing day-to-day. I came to London a year ago to see George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. In which similar questions of existence and purpose and meaning popped up. I can tell you where all this is going, but only if you are interest in hearing more. Are you? If yes, leave me a note.
A CONVERSATION TODAY with North Carolina ceramics artist and a personal friend, Ronan Kyle Peterson. Here is what he had to say about our theme this month, amongst a few other things regarding work, cycles, and practice.
DK:I’ve seen your work evolve quite a bit in the last decade. What is it you are up to?
RKP: Essentially, I am dealing with effects of agents of growth and decay and how these agents shape and embellish the surfaces of stones and the skins of trees. Employing an earthy background palette stretched across textured but quieter surfaces, I wanted to upset that quiet earthiness with intense splashes of vibrant color, patterns, and glossy surfaces not commonly associated with tree bark or the rough surfaces of rocks amidst fallen leaves.
DK: Tell us your thoughts on ‘work’—what is it, who is it for, and why does it matter?
RKP: ‘Work’ noun-wise, would be the pots that I make to sell. Which references my ‘job’ or the verb ‘work’ that I do to make a living. The work for me is learning about color, how colors work together, how color and pattern changes perception of form, and how color pattern and texture can affect a person’s mood or perception of a pot.
The work that interests me, or the energizing part, is figuring out forms for functional purposes—cups and mugs for drinking, bowls for eating or serving from—and decorations or surface treatments that complement and complete the form.
DK:Why do you do what you do?
RKP: I make… because it makes me happy, fulfills a need, keeps me searching. I’m just infinitely blessed that others, customers, want to buy my pots and are interested for the most part in what, the work, that I am doing. It doesn’t matter in a larger context, but it does matter to me, because in the doing I am happy.
DK: Is that where the magic is? In the doing?
RKP: For me, the magic is in the making or the doing. Talking, wishing, and hoping do not get the job done. The magic is in the doing.
DK: A lot of people say they wish they had more time be an artist, make music, travel, write a book, and so on. What you would say to them?
RKP: I guess I would say, you just have to make it happen. And it will not just happen. A lot of times there has to be a sacrifice of something else: sleep, long meals, vegging out, tv, income, family time, socializing… Making time or sacrificing something else to make time seems to be hard for some people, because they are energized and content through socializing, etc. For me, working, making new work, exploring new forms, colors, combinations, that is what energizes me.
DK:What does rhythm mean to you?
RKP: Rhythm recently is not contained in one working cycle. Work is started, but not finished until later, spilling into the next cycle, and the next. It used to be frustrating, but I have found that through continued experimentation with form, color, and pattern, that ideas tend to belong aside one another: they are a continuation of thoughts I build on. I guess this speaks to an overall rhythm? I’m making a healthy offering of cups and mugs each cycle, but I have more larger pieces waiting to be finished. Now it is kind of nice to think more about the larger pieces, figure out different decorations and surface approaches that fit better, better than my original plan. I’ve started reglazing older pieces, [and] making different lids for jars. Revisiting sometimes resolves some deficiencies of the pieces. I have a general set of forms, but I’m trying out new things, mostly decoration-wise, every cycle.
DK: Imagine two young people, maybe teens, who are thinking about artistic pursuits having a conversation, perhaps at a museum somewhere, and they know virtually nothing of the real experiences of people like you who have reached some sort of acceptance, it appears, in the methods you are using to make and do and share. What would you tell them?
RKP: I would say be patient. It takes a lot of time, and failing and observing, to figure things out. One thing that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind is how much help and support I have: I’ve worked for many potters with different styles and aesthetics, I have in-laws who let me use some of their space for a studio, I have galleries who work with me and for the most part allow me to bring them work that I choose to make. Growing that network, that support system, I think, is pretty crucial. And being patient, humble, and open to comment, advice and opportunities.
The more risk-averse a person is, the more boring that person seems to be, too.
Think about it. The most intriguing people you meet are the ones who took a chance on something. Right? And they didn’t stop trying new things, even in the face of humiliation, failure, or becoming the butt of other people’s jokes. The most important thing for them was to continue to press forward. Tenacity. Grit. It’s what you have to have, if you want to arrive at anywhere vaguely interesting.
But boring people come from that world that stays ‘safe,’ even when most of what we are scared of is inside our heads. Anxiety. Will drive you mad. It’s kind of the way it’s going, in the world, isn’t it? If we’re really honest with ourselves, the Western world seems to be heading down a long, sad road… one that leads to ‘safety,’ but is swathed in same same boringness. In other words, the status quo.
I detest boring.
Inviting the mesmerizing
PROBABLY THIS will only connect with people who are, like me, tired of the banal. It’s just to everywhere. Complacency is driving us into herd, and the herd isn’t going anywhere but to the slaughterhouse. Isn’t it? Let’s be honest, shall we? If you continue, that means you’re feeling that we should talk about things, out loud. Here, in the open. Okay. Let’s. Oft I’ve thought this: ‘Yeah. Here I am, stuck in this place, listening to someone talk about a banal, nonessential dilemma or simply complaining about life.’ I remember when I lived in a country whose people loved to one-up each other on the piling-on of how mundane and hard their lives were.
I know this is a first world problem, this thing about ennui.
Didn’t mean for it to happen, but on a whim, sometime toward the end of the summer last year in Phnom Penh, I asked a few people to meet me. To talk about it. Ennui. Five of us convened. Aside from me, they didn’t know anyone. So there we were. Total strangers, for the most part. Discussing the big question. Why do we have this angst? Where is it coming from? What can we do about it? How do we want to feel next?
I DON’T PROFESS TO KNOW.
Something made me invite this set of four others. Out of the blue. Something made me think, ‘Time to have a conversation salon about ennui.’ Why? OF course because I was feeling it. Personally. It happens like that. I get this idea in my head that I want to discuss something, because I have been going through some personal stuff and there’s no one to relate to about what it is. The internet is a one-Internet conversation that has nothing to do with how I feel, right here, in the space of where I am. Hyperlocal, and tightly focused—these are the important points for a conversation salon to really work. And by ‘work’ I mean to move from the space of general banter to true dialogue. Not quite intimacy, that’s a whole other level, but somewhere in between strangerness and closeness. I’ve been designing the ‘shape of space’ pieces, slowly and quietly, outside of these salons. Making notes, keeping myself posted. What works, what doesn’t. How to keep improving on the last one, in the next conversation salon.
ENNUI. Was such a fantastic event, for me. I’m so very glad I did, because we hit on something brilliant, together. In a small space of time (I like to cap these things at 2.5 hours), we got immediately past smalltalk towards the interestingness. Why do we have ennui, what is it anyway, how did it get there, what does it mean? We asked one another questions. We talked about our families, and our homes. I won’t go into the specific details, those are private and confidential for all of our events in S P A C E. But the big general idea was that we had a chance to connect, like, for real. Short and sweet, but beautiful. Art is conversation. It really is. For me, it’s beautiful when we can make the kind of space that allows for this magic to happen. The noticing of one another. The inter-relating. #relationalaesthetics
To date, it’s been in the aetherspace, me and the people I met, mostly. But I want to get offline more. I want to take it to the dimension of real life. Going slow. Small steps. It’s not easy striking up smalltalk and trying to move, quickly, to bigtalk. I have to set these things up, and that is taking time and learning, and practice. Of course. You meet new people and you talk about the weather. You talk about banalities. It gets immediately boring. I hate parties for this reason. I hate going out on Friday nights. It’s always the same thing, the same sort of conversation, the same expectation, the same frustrations that nothing interesting happened, not really, and as a direct result, increase of ennui.
What is to be done?
You know, I’ve been asking this question to myself for the time ever since this group dispersed. I wrote some thoughts up and tried to make sense of it by creating a little collaged book, with our combined writings:
I haven’t shared this publicly, nor do I plan to. I hope to distribute pieces of it to the participants, if we cross paths again. That would be cool. Mix it up, shuffle. See what new insights might come of the disruption of logic and leaving things like discovery up to games of chance. Why not? They did it with the quantum physics stuff, they got it figured out with Boltzmann’s uncertainties in the mix. Max Planck, I mean. Max Planck, who said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’
PROBABLY BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT mixing it up, changing how we look at things, changing what we can create, and co-create, together, I’m intrigued by the idea of making a bigger space for a dialogue. Not just about ennui. Not just about any ONE thing. And certainly not confined to one locale. Thinking about this out loud, right now, but just wondering if anyone else is reading along, if anyone else wants to connect, to talk deeply about myriad and thick topics, not just the ones designed to lampoon or roil up others, not the ones that ‘big us up,’ as NT, DK’s colleague in London, would say, but really, about how to do the big work of looking at things in complex, rotated spaces. Perspectives, shifts, discoveries, hits upon ‘a-ha.’
The artist knows this.
The innovator, too.
Where do we begin?
Many conversations are beginning. Send me a comment, if you want to connect, in S P A C E.
OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.
DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.
JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.
DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?
Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
Give your product away so people want to know more.
You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.
DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?
JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting. DK: But what about talent?
JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!
DK: How do you do that?
JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make thatyour own is key.
DK: How did you get into this?
JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.
DK: What can others learn?
JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.