essays, scribblings, and articles

Algorithmic Decay

written August 2021 and published on my free newsletter

Social media started as a way to share moments with friends and family. It wasn’t a compulsion or a stage. You could share your engagements, death announcements, reconnect with past friends and lovers. In the last ten years, it’s become a way to cultivate and perform an identity. “I am x, just look at my photos, my aesthetic, my follower count.” I took a step back from Instagram this time last year by deleting my personal account. My two accounts represented the two halves of my life, my work and personal experiences. I’d been posting more and more about my work hoping to engage with a larger audience, ultimately so that I could continue to work as an independent artist. I was also continuing to post personal photos on my other account. Most of my life was being documented and curated, then presented to hundreds of people. I wasn’t doing it for me, though. I was doing it because I felt I had to. Once upon a time, the things we did meant something. Having long hair was a statement against the Vietnam war. Wearing blue jeans meant you worked on a ranch. Posting on social media was easier than individually calling each one of your relatives. In a larger sense, ignoring the impact algorithms have on the content we see, are we not moving to a place devoid of meaning? We look at time as the linear occurrence of events, one thing happens before another. As time progresses, entropy increases. Entropy is complicated, but it can be thought of as decay. It refers to the arrangement, or good behavior, of atoms. As it increases, atoms become a bit wilder and run away. Time goes on, entropy increases, things begin to lose their form. You place an apple on the counter, time passes, it decays. Establish a community forum, time passes, it loses its shape, it decays. Is the decay of Instagram inevitable? Since beginning to use Instagram as a tool to market and sell artwork, I’ve hear artists complaining that the “algorithm” isn’t on our side. I didn’t believe this until recently. And even now, I don’t fully believe that the lack of meaning on Instagram is the fault of the thing itself. Instagram, like TikTok and Facebook, is responding to how we as a population are changing. Our willingness to slow down and engage with one another is disappearing. Rarely do we take the time to read an article when we could read a headline, so why would we take the time to read a long caption? Our curiosity may be the next victim of entropy. I started this newsletter as a way to show up fully and authentically as an artist. I want to be able to share my thoughts, artistic concepts, and travels with people who want to witness them. Instagram is not that space anymore, though I’ll continue to post. And I’ll continue to send you an email once a month, maybe twice if I’m feeling extra spicy. They’ll always be intentional, and you can always take them or leave them - that part is up to you.

An Encounter with the Entitled

written July 2021 and published on my free newsletter

I was at a bar the other night, a girlfriend of mine ran into a little drama. Like anyone would, we went to the patio, lit a cigarette and started to talk it out. I tried to remember the specifics of how this evolved, in all honesty it’s a bit hazy. Somehow a man standing a few feet away inserted himself into our conversation. The word patriarchy was mentioned, again, the specifics of which I cannot tell you. It was in the general context of, “the patriarchy is ruining our lives.” We said this jokingly, not that we didn’t mean it, more that we were making light of the truth. This man shot back, “oh come on, that’s taking it too far. Now, I’m pro Roe, I’m liberal as they get, but you can’t blame the “patriarchy” for everything.” I didn’t get into it. And I’ll tell you why; I have imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is ‘a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.’ A few days ago I heard a female comic in an interview say that if you don’t have imposter syndrome you’re a narcissist. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that in order to not feel like an imposter you have to truly believe you physically and metaphorically belong where you are. I know the idea of female subordination, unworthiness, and weakness persists. I know that this is a product of gender based power structures. I’ve felt this in jobs where male employers have made inappropriate gestures, or at the gym when every man 3 times my age lets their eyes linger while I’m on the treadmill. And if any of these men are reading this: if the TV in front of the machine is turned off, I can see you behind me in the reflection. These examples are of individuals who feel a sense of entitlement to their own existence. The men at the gym won’t stop looking, but I will stop wearing shorts. In the wake of #MeToo, the perpetrators of sexual assault didn’t succumb to pressure to better themselves. They got upset, threw tantrums, then quietly resumed their lives. Their reputations ruined, but still rich. Louis CK is selling out shows. Louis CK masturbated in front of female colleagues without their consent. Louis CK is selling out shows. The man that approached my friend and I asked me to articulate why I felt the patriarchy was such a threat. I was scared to say anything. I looked at him, I scolded him, and I told him I wasn’t interested in getting into a deep discussion on the matter. What I really felt though, was that if I got a word wrong, if the two beers I had before caused me to stutter, or get a little too loud, or speak a little too fast, my argument loses all credibility. In that moment, I felt like an inadequate representative for feminism because I couldn’t put together the perfect response. It goes without saying that he never felt these things. He walked up, he interrupted our conversation, he made it about him. Not once did he feel like he shouldn’t be there. And had he stumbled on his words, it wouldn’t have changed a thing about how entitled to that space he was. That’s the problem with the patriarchy. They don’t just have their hand in our fundamental rights. They feel entitled to our attention and space at all hours of the day. And why shouldn’t they? After all, if you created the systems we live in, how could you feel like an imposter in them?

Witnessing and Participation

written January 2021 and published on my free newsletter

The changing of a year only has the meaning we assign it. 2021 and 2022 exist because we collectively agree they do. Rather than asking what resolutions you have, I’d like to ask if you would like to view January 1st as your personal threshold for change? Recently I read something that said “morals have aesthetic criteria.” Butterflies are more valuable than cockroaches. Not because their status as conscious life is different. Unfortunately for Mr. Roach, we collectively agree that one happens to be more visually appealing than the other and therefore has more value. Beginning again seems to have the same rule. The sun rises, curing darkness, and we have permission to start new. Similarly, New Year’s Day is held to collectively agreed upon ritualistic criteria: New Year’s Resolutions. This time each year, after the utter turmoil that is the holidays, we are pressured to settle or find a solution to our habits and lifestyles, making a firm decision to continue doing or begin not doing something. Though, I’d argue that making it a habit to wait 365 days with any habit that isn’t serving you seems itself an awful practice. This ritual is a social contract. It exists because we decide it does. On a smaller scale it is present in our lives because we allow it to be. For ritual exist we must practice it. The antithesis of practice, or participation, is witnessing. With witnessing comes the opportunity for abstract thought. Taking a step back allows for greater understanding by offering a broader, more complete view. While abstraction is commonly viewed as altering an idea with the intent of moving it toward non-representation, it is also the simplification of an idea. Simplicity can improve our understanding of a concept as well as our relationship to it. Assuming a new perspective is similar to taking the scenic route instead of the freeway. We may still begin at A and end at B, but we do so while forging new neural pathways, effectively learning the terrain. I believe that participation and witnessing are always an option. In conversations, relationships, cultural expectation, we have an option. We also have the option to move through these, allowing our own relationship with ritual or phenomena to be dynamic. In an ever changing world dynamic thought, especially about change, make more sense than remaining static. I think this also applies to our collective frustration with 2020 and 2021. “Fuck 2020.” As if the numbers 2 and 0 are responsible for a global pandemic. We put pressure on ourselves to change each year, because the numerical label of the calendar year is changing and with that we seem to assume that the air we breath and the tendencies of phenomena will change too. Nowhere in this yearly ritual do we hold ourselves as a collective to the same obligation. Culture does not make a resolution to change. We decide that losing a couple of pounds and not drinking for a month manifests the solution to world hunger because it is no longer 2021, it is 2022. Laws are debated and changed all year long, our governing bodies are reevaluated every November, the structures of our society are constantly in flux, so why aren’t we? Why are these changes left out of this grand ritual of ours? If expectation begets suffering, I would rather risk being let down by the genuine attempt of ambitious systemic change than by pouring my energy into having a six pack. Instead of accepting defeat in mid-January and waiting until 2023, I will try again, and again, and probably again, because being dynamic is not limited to a certain time of year. This all isn’t to say that one way of being is superior to another. I do have New Year’s Resolutions and many of them resolutions exist in on a personal scale. I definitely don’t have any solutions to the systemic issues we’ve witnessed and participated in these past few years, and I don’t think anyone expects you to either. However, I do plan to consciously move between witnessing and participating in all areas of my life. What you choose to do is your decision. But, if you’d like to join me in a toast; here’s to thinking critically, trying to enact change on every scale, and continuing to hold court in the middle of the aisle.

Solo: Collage, Identity, and Personal Growth

written July 2021, published by Rag Tag Magazine August 2021

“Collage makes something new without hiding the traces of the old, makes a new whole out of scraps without erasing the scrappiness, emerges from an idea of creation not as making something out of nothing, like god on the first day or painters and novelists, but as making something out of a world already exploding with images, ideas, wreckage and ruin, artifacts, shards, and remnants.”  Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence (Solnit, 2021) Traveling alone offers a daunting and exciting brand of self-ownership. You set your own schedule, your own pace, and your own destination, while assuming almost total responsibility for yourself. It’s vulnerable and empowering. Each new encounter calls on unfamiliar or undiscovered parts of yourself. There are moments of loneliness, exhaustion, and exhilaration, all of which you are left to confront on your own. I understood the weight of these experiences while driving from North Carolina to Oregon in the summer of 2020. Taking a multi-week detour through the Southwest, driving 15 miles too fast and screaming along with Prince, the surreal nature of constantly changing my environment sunk in. I had laid down my back seats to make room for a 6 x 2ft piece of foam I generously referred to as a mattress. Beside my bed was a cooler (the kitchen), a box of books and Kind bars (the library/pantry), and a duffle bag of clothes. I could go days without seeing another person, I felt completely independent and free. Each morning I followed the same routine: stretch, coffee, gas (always taking advantage of the gas station bathroom), hike, rest, find a new campsite, repeat. The world was calm, quiet, and my place in it even more so.  I photographed everything along the way. Every rock, texture, tree—even eye-catching stickers on bathroom walls. I traveled and collected images trying to find a way to share what was so captivating about these experiences. A year later, on another road trip that snaked through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, I started to play with my stockpile of travel photographs. I had spent most of 2020 building my art practice and digging into collage as a process and medium. Solo is a series of digital collages that combine these photographs. The objects and places depicted range from Jackson, Wyoming to Agra, India. Their rearrangement is inspired by the desire to create new, imaginative worlds that highlight the real beauty in each component. Solo stitches together moments full of adventure, freedom, and growth, inviting the viewer to explore. Typically in collage the artist appropriates found images. They create something new using scraps of our shared realities, leaving references to culture intact. This process evokes a truth-to-reality by using the familiar to spark new ways of thinking. I’ve wanted to shift away from this to create a body of collages using my own imagery, so that from beginning to end the work is mine. Solo exclusively uses photographs I’ve taken in moments where only I was present, adding another layer of ownership to a fiercely independent process. They were then cut apart and arranged to depict new, surreal places. Each collage is meant to represent a secret world, the kind you find at the top of a mountain or the other side of a forest. They seek to convey the otherworldly magic of exploration, the kind of magic I felt in these moments The poetic freedom of traveling partially comes from chasing the horizon, but mostly, it is the product of endless new experiences. A new destination means new context. Context helps to define who we are. Changing the circumstances in which you exist changes the way you are understood. For example, I act a certain way around my parents in an effort to be a good daughter. This differs from the way I would act around an employer or partner, because after all, I don’t wish my partner to view me as a good employee. The desired outcome of each of these contexts is based on the expectations of the situation, and the success of my performance is determined by the responses received. The picture painted by the performance and its reception defines our personal identity. There is experience and there is narrative. Experience, or the experiential self, is presence. It is the way you perceive the world as it is happening around you. Narratives are the story of your experiences combined with your interactions, they form the foundation of our identities (Kahneman, 2012). Personal experiences are assessed internally, whereas our identity is shaped by our actions and the way they relate to our environment. Identity at its core is relative (Cavarero, 2010), and while we can’t control the effect of our actions, we do have the ability to alter their context. By choosing to change our environment, we gain ownership of our experiences. While we can never truly have control of the narrative, having control of our experiences, in any capacity, gives us the ability to shape the narrative.  When we are transplanted to new places our identities have the opportunity to grow. We aren’t met with the same responses everyday and suddenly our traits are seen in a new light. What was called “flighty” at home suddenly becomes “spontaneous.” We change our context and invite a new understanding of ourselves. When you’re thrown into something new, where no expectations exist, a door opens to self-actualization. On these trips I found that I was capable of a lot more than I thought. I wasn’t afraid to spend all day wandering through red rocks, my social anxiety started to fade, and my appreciation for life and my freedom grew. Collage serves as the visual manifestation of recontextualization. A distressed sticker superimposed over sand dunes placed in the foreground of a mountain range not only creates a new landscape, it takes 3 images, turns them into scraps, and creates a new, imaginative, magical something. Collage doesn’t take away the innate beauty of these images; instead it uses their individual qualities to shape an environment that fosters a new way of thinking about them.    The creation of artwork depends on its process. In the case of Solo, ownership of the images mirrors the self-ownership I found while gathering them. Collaging them together created a new narrative without destroying what was already there, keeping intact the integrity of the pieces while shaping an environment that encourages growth. I hope the viewer can feel the wonder and empowerment of this series and its process the way I did.  Sources Cavarero, A., & Cavarero, A. (2010). In Relating narratives storytelling and selfhood (pp. 20–20). essay, Routledge.  Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. Penguin.  Solnit, R. (2021). Recollections of my nonexistence. Penguin Books.