ericamerylthomas [at] gmail [dot] com

Added on by Erica Thomas.

  

Earlier this fall I spent some time distilling some ideas about my art practice for an audience of conference-attending arts administrators. These thoughts have stuck with me and now a few weeks later it seems that they may contextualize my work in a way that nothing else has yet. So, I feel compelled to share, despite them being intended as part of a larger presentation in person. I hope the absence of proper transitions can be forgiven so that I can bring this writing to light for those who weren't there and may want to read.  Here is the text as it was presented, including the few slides and inserted quotes and images.

I am the artist in residence in my own life. This research-based residency began with me considering my role as an artist in relationship: collaborator, wife, partner, daughter, neighbor, co-worker, and so on. I wanted a new, experimental model of relating that resisted dominant patriarchal structures. In this ongoing practice, I open up my personal space, domestic life and emotional/interpersonal landscape as a site of experiential research and experimental practice.

I set forth to examine my identity and to challenge and shift the conventional expectations that define the way we must behave in relationships, and in some cases to resist definition at all.

I decided I must situate these domestic, interpersonal, actions as art and put as much care into their formation and maintenance as I would my work. They must be not only be nurtured but also examined, continuously challenged, and approached with radical levels of questioning and honesty.

"Everything I say is art, is art. Everything I do is art, is art. 'We have no Art, we try to do everything well.' (Balinese Saying)." -Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Declaring this residency gave me a contain to explore my role in society as a disrupter, and to validate intuitive, non-linear thinking and inquiry. As such, this residency is a decidedly feminist practice: I refuse to define an expected outcome or path. This process mirrors the shapes of my relationships. I situate this practice within the framework of art playfully considering scale, form, material and naming my own life as site or context. I am creating something from nothing-- which is it’s own form of magic.

"The only audience for my work is [my partner] Ross.” - Felix Gonzalez-Torres

You may ask, Why self-declare? Or what differentiates this from a project?

  • A self-declared residency model affords me an indefinite duration. (it is lifelong, my life’s work).
  • It is a framework I have placed around my process of discovery, experimentation and learning that leads to projects. It encompasses everything I do that serves projects, that isn’t itself a project.
  • I get to decide what constitutes research, what lines of inquiry to follow, what is valid or valued as research.
  • It also means I can retain control of privacy, and can maintain the shared intimacy that is largely only achievable in with one-on-one or very small group interaction. It that takes place in a space that feels safe for these.

Through the residency I am collaboratively developing a set of relationship ethics for which the only constituents are me and my “collaborators”.  

Primary criteria for the research:

  • Inter/personal

  • Relational/Contextual

  • Feminist

  • Ethical

  • Questioning

  • Reflexive

  • Radical

  • Nuanced

  • Responsive

  • Vulnerable

  • The relationship comes before the art.

These criteria have become my aesthetic.

Research tactics are widely varied and (beyond the obvious reading and writing) have included documentary photographs, interviews, informal conversation, body movement, and conceptual acts: For example, my marriage, a collaborative project listed as such on my CV, 2012-present, ongoing.

"Rule 8: Don't try to create and analyze at the same time. They're different processes." -Sister Corita Kent, From Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules [for students and teachers]

The residency is a space where I can focus on work without any requirement to produce something tangible, or to analyze the process. It is driven by my own instinct and only thinking, conversation, identity and relationships are formed. I cite feminist ethics for these parameters, rejecting an economic exchange for the exchange of love and support within an economy of feelings.

For me, it is important that this practice be fully integrated within my life. It has only made sense to investigate these ideas in a physical/cultural space that was of my own making. The idea of applying to do something I’m already doing and then to situate the work within an institution, hasn’t seemed particularly helpful or necessary. It must remain autonomous.

That said, if this residency were to benefit from the support of an institution it might exist somewhere in between a fellowship, a performance space, a publication and a conversation series.

Sometimes the research leads to projects, in which I invite others to think about these ideas together in a public space. The research is the soil out of which my projects grow.

Pillow Talk at the Portland Art Museum

Pillow Talk at the Portland Art Museum

Though I believe this work is enough and stands on its own, I would like to briefly give a couple of examples of public facing work.

In Pillow Talk I use a series of text-based pillows to prompt conversations and confessions on love, fear, sex and loss. Participation is on a one-on-one basis between me and one other willing person. I offer myself as primarily a listener and reciprocate conversation only as the circumstances lead me. It has been produced in both public and private spaces, and visitors to my website are invited to commission it in their own homes.

Public Displays of Affection, at the Portland Building

Public Displays of Affection, at the Portland Building

Public Displays of Affection is a project in which Emily and I asked people who work in the city offices of Portland to be photographed with their chosen families in the lobby of their workplace. We asked participants to talk with us about what chosen family means to them, and why they had chosen to be photographed together. What resulted was a raw, honest and emotional response that we shared in a public space. 

From Self Declared: Practice and Politics of DIY Artist Residencies (Originally part of a panel of speakers at the Alliance for Artist Communities)
Roya Amirsoleymani, Erica Thomas, Emily Fitzgerald, Ariana Jacob & Katy Asher, Taryn Tomasello