Suffering from Stuff Fatigue?

Then you are not alone.

Home almost 3 weeks now and I am falling into a usual habit of mine after a long trip living out of a suitcase.

Getting rid of stuff!

I always seem to come home and be both thrilled to be surrounded by my lovely little space- but also  feeling like less really would be more- and if I lived without it while away, do I really need it now?

A good time for cupboard and closet clearance!

alas many closets have these dark days….

It seems fitting this time of year too- “ a time of giving”

Those that know me well know I am not a gift – giver, and really prefer not to be a gift-receiver either. This comes from living AND working in a 535 sq foot  concrete/drywall shoebox; and as a maker, hooked up with another maker- we have lots of stuff- stuff we have made, stuff we have inherited, stuff we just love, stuff we have found/made for each other. That adds up to a lot of stuff- and we own way less than many…

workspace/living room/kitchen/bedroom all in one

Years ago I realized when I gave someone something I was often more excited about them having it then they seemed to be about getting it, sound familiar?

Gift giving is so fraught with tension; will they like it? Will it fit?

The truth of it is I am a pretty loyal person- loyal to people and stuff, and when I get  given something I feel a debt of responsibility- to take care of it, keep it, treasure it, dust it-  use it-  whether I like it or not.

I prefer to surround myself with stuff that is older than me, and that will outlive me if I do my job as stuff-steward well, even if it shows a few scars and wear-wounds from its time in my presence.

So, Christmas has been a gleeful non-event in my house for years; I love the company, the food and festivities and partake in that wholeheartedly, and just keep my fingers crossed that nothing nonedible/drinkable crosses my threshold!

it must be a holiday- someone whipped cream

I must say, it does make for a stress free holiday…

And I admit my stuff fatigue transfers over into a general art fatigue more often than not. I have a hard time getting excited about a lot of artwork I see, and I know talking with other artists I am not alone in this regard. What do you do with things once they exist in this world?   When it is biodegradable that becomes so much easier and no storage rental costs either…

parkwaste redefined as sculpture rots peacefully in crab park pond

It is a tough one really; as a maker of things, with a creative impulse and desire to create- if I am not creating stuff, what am I creating? Recently I met Pamela Whitaker visiting from Ireland- Pamela is the brains and heart of Groundswell and we had lots to talk about  and experiences to share in working with community in gardens and  outdoor projects. Art fatigue and the role of artists in contemporary society came up in our conversation, and what we do as makers- and realizing that we may not be creating a product most of the time (or if we are, it is often not the primary focus, but more of  a by-product)

What we are making is culture- or should I say, Culture with a capital C.

We are making Community,

we are making a  “technique bank” of local how-to knowledge…

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Valenti and David harvesting old grape vines for art production in Spain

 Ultimately we are creating the world we want to live in. This is a good thing.

More and more I see this happening with artists around me- what we make is ephemeral, slippery, often undefinable-  most certainly hard to quantify. But it is all the more valuable for that slipperiness. Maybe that much more needed right now in our contemporary world of hard deliverable expectations.

So, back to stuff- and what to do with that making or giving or acquiring compulsion so many of us have.

Last year my friend Penny gave me a washcloth for Solstice. Sounds strange eh?

Penny experiments with spinning invasive scotchbroom fiber

knit ixtle scrubbie and Penny’s handspun/ knit cotton ball washcloth

The cool thing was, this washcloth was knit from cotton balls she has spun on a drop spindle- nice touch that- disposable world meets old world…  (the cloth  is amazing, dries fast and washes like a charm) then she taught me the knitting technique- the gift that keeps giving.  This was the square reduction pattern I was teaching new friends in Mexico.  Now I have knit a body scrubby for Penny using that square technique and the handspun Ixtle from Julia that I blogged about a while back- seems very fitting, and a gift I hope she uses. I know lots of people make all of their gifts, and seem to have time for this regularly- I don’t- So just default to a personal no gift clause, but rules are made for exceptions after all… and the passing on of techniques, materials and ideas continues.

Ultimately, I love the idea of gift giving being the sharing of experiences and know-how.

 2012 found me at the heart of a community formed for sharing ideas and techniques with the Urban Weaver Project, and I am so grateful for the community I have found there.

My time in Mexico recently connected me with  a new community there too, and the amazing group of people I met seemed to still be connected with  how to use their hands and make what was needed in a way we northerners are  working to relearn- but that is changing fast too, and not in a good way.

Julia Caporal with her handmade paper/ixtle curtains

People talked about how stores like Walmart are taking over from the market place style of shopping, and how things that used to be made with hecho en Mexico labels now read hecho en China.  I came home to have this New York Times article forwarded to me by a friend regarding the  Walmart that opened in the Teotihuacan Pyramid area-  somewhere I visited ( the pyramids, not the Walmart- just to be clear), and how they bribed their way in breaking every law imaginable to do it. Not a great way to build community no matter how you look at it- and all in the name of more, cheaper, stuff.

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Walmart’s parking lot thankfully not visable from here, but still present none the less….

Then I came across this  blog post   by  danielwalldammit talking about the fire in Tazreen fashion factory in Bangladesh where cheap clothes were being made  for the backs of folks like you and I – and I can’t help but come back to thinking about  what kind of community are We globally making? What kind of community do We want to live in and how do our daily choices support or reduce the possibility of that world on a grander scale than our own back yard?

 And that making compulsion- my friend Martin has been very inspiring in that regard.

Martin on the last stitches of his new vest

Martin learned how to knit  this fall- right after he learned how to spin, which was after he learned how to process   a locally sourced sheep fleece and dye the wool with walnut shells he gathered – you get the idea- Martin decided in September he wanted to make a sweater or vest for himself. He began from scratch, and we are lucky enough to have people in our Urban Weaver community- like Penny and Karen, who have the skills to teach and encourage every step of the way- Martin has been blogging about the process on his website    and I cannot overstate how impressed I am with what he is accomplishing!

There is something so incredible  and empowering about learning how to do things ourselves- and it develops a renewed appreciation /awareness for the things we have around us- from the washcloth I use in the morning to the sweater or woven hat one puts on to go out the door- getting back to the basics of knowing how to make the things we need and use and love, and having the people around us that are a part of our lives and community that have the ideas, skills and resources to share with each other towards this end- that is the world I want to live in, and that is the community I am participating in making as an artist- and that is just so damn cool sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember  it is not a dream. There is an alternative to Walmart if we really want it.

So this is me; back in my own community, very happy to be here, and to have met all the incredible people I met during my travels but even more so appreciating the people I have around me here at home. And for 2013 my wish for you is good health, happiness in your home and the ability and courage to create the world you want to live in through your own community- with time those choices will  ripple outwards and affect the communities around you near and far. Revolution IS possible beginning in small ways.

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Happy New Year!

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2 responses to “Suffering from Stuff Fatigue?

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Yes to the observations about stuff, yes to the leaving a legacy of technique skills in others, yes to what someone can achieve from scratch in 12 weeks. You reminded me of why I think the Urban Weaver Studio is so important. And thanks for highlighting the Walmart legacy of wholesale corruption in Mexico (among other places).
    Now if anyone else wants to join us, what about doing something revolutionary like growing your own linen shirt or subverting Christmas Present? Check out urbanweaverstudio.blogspot.ca for how to chip away at the Wal.

  2. Spot on, Sharon! All of it! I am really struck by the ‘stuff fatigue’ that I see echoed here, and in much blogging and other writing I come across from artists and designers all over the place. You’re absolutely right – what we build as creatives – what we ultimately make – is a community and world. So what we make, who we make it with, and who we are as individuals are inextricably linked. Vital nodes in the web, if you will. I am feeling (and have been for some time) that fatigue as well in my personal space and in my studio – the simple reality of what one does with the art-things that have been made is a telling lesson (store? give away? what becomes of it all??) I really love that your creative process so thoroughly highlights these gaping holes in understanding and in what making really means. Thanks for this, and for doing.

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