Talk planned in conjunction with the Show at Red Light Gallery in Florence MA in March 2020. It did not take place as planned due to the Covid19 Pandemic.
When Sally and Hannah asked me if I would like to do a talk about this body of work, I was initially quite nervous, as I tend to lose my words in front of a crowd. But I also realized that when I shared this work with them, I had a fair amount to say, so I thought I would give it a go. That said, please bear with me if my brain shuts down a little at times, and as I rely heavily on my notes.
As many of you know, I am an artist and a psychotherapist. Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, I had an art making practice in New York City.
The themes in my work included
• the ways humans communicate and mis-communicate,
• the experience of being female
• women’s work.
My mediums were fairly wide ranging and included fabric, found objects, paper, plastic sheeting, collage, paint, and drawing. The work was often three dimensional, sometimes involved installation and sometimes was wall based.
When I decided to pursue a second career in social work, I didn’t really know that there would be so much overlap between the themes in my early art making practice and in psychotherapeutic thinking. In fact, what I have found is that all of the theories and models for doing psycho therapeutic work not only affirmed my early work, they also inspired the work I have made more recently.
The work in this show is a gathering of three distinct bodies of work, but they also have a lot of overlap. I thought I would go over them one grouping at a time, and then answer any further questions you might have.
To begin, I would like to talk about these thought maps. They are the result of a lot of visual organizing about all the overlapping ideas that I have been core to this work.
In my sketch book, they began as lists of words that evoked the ideas, inspirations and types of work I was making. They then became groups of related ideas. And finally, they became diagrams that show links between ideas.There is something very compelling for me about organizing information visually. Mapping not only ideas, but words that resonate for me was quite satisfying.
I also really enjoyed the process of marking the words so insistently onto this hand made paper and watching the grooves etch deeply into the surface. At times, it felt a little too final, but often, it felt affirming of the links and patterns between the thoughts expressed and the mark making process.
I also want to add that these maps are personal and not to be taken as universal. In fact, all of the ideas in this work are my personal, subjective interpretations of the various theories i will be referring to.
When I was putting this show together, and deciding what series to show together, I saw two basic groups. One group is about outside expression, and the other group is about inside perception and processes. That is why I decided to call the show Inside Out and Outside In.
It also happens to be the first part of the title of the first book they have you read at social work school when you are studying psychodynamic clinical theory – which basically means – what makes humans tick. Its full title is: Inside Out and outside In: Psychodynamic clinical theory and psychopathology in contemporary multicultural contexts. By J Berzoff, Flanagan and Hertz. I loved that book! It is full of all the theories that underlie psychotherapy since Freud. When I began reading it, it was so affirming of all the gut level ideas I had about how and why humans engage
with one another.
Ok, back to the thought maps. As I was making these diagrams, I remembered these pieces of paper that I made at the Women’s Studio Workshop 20 years ago. This magical place offers residencies to come and use their paper-making, and printmaking facilities. I was the recipient of such a residency and got to spend two full weeks experimenting with paper and printing. I made a lot of work in those two weeks. These paper sheets are made of paper pulp and old discarded book page fragments. I thought that they would be the perfect backdrop to these diagrams given that their fabric is already filled with words. In terms of the content of the thought maps, they hold a variety of ideas.
This thought map is heavily influenced by the ideas of Jessica Benjamin who is a psychoanalyst. Wikipedia says that she is “known for her contributions to psychoanalysis and social thought. … Jessica Benjamin is one of the original contributors to the fields of relational psychoanalysis, theories of intersubjectivity, and gender studies and feminism as it relates to psychoanalysis and society.”
Even though I have not read a lot of her work, her ideas are very inspiring to me. Each paragraph is so dense, you can spend a whole day unpacking it. Her ideas initially led to a series of drawings that I showed at Readywipe in Holyoke back in 2018. In 2004, she published an essay in entitled “Beyond Doer and Done to: An intersubjective view of thirdness”. In the psychoanalytic quarterly. It is very heady and you might be pleased to know that I won’t go into a lot of depth about it. But I will define the terms in this title as they are relevant to these maps and this work.
When Benjamin talks about “doer and done to”, she is referring to the ways that being in relation can feel like a one way street. A street in which there is a doer, and the one who is being done to. She is also referring to older models of thinking about the psychotherapeutic relationship between therapist and client. Benjamin’s thesis in this paper is that the real challenge is in holding in mind the experience of the other and thus creating a two way street.
Benjamin uses the term intersubjective. To my mind intersubjective means the interaction of two subjective experiences. The third then becomes the space in which the two subjectivities – from inside each person – intersect to form the traffic that could go both ways on that street. She postulates that this space is a third space that is outside of the two participant’s internal experiences. When there is the capacity for “accommodation and mutuality” in the third, Benjamin calls it a “shared third”. When I was reading that article, I began to wonder what those dynamics might look like if you could see them. Out of that came those drawings. Here is one example, which will give you a visual to accompany my words.
Those drawings were the first step leading to the Intersubject series in this show.
After making those drawings, I began to also explore ways to express dyads – a group of two – in three-dimensional space. So when Richard brought home two glass lamp bases for either of us to use in our art making, I immediately saw a dyad. The result of that exploration is this lovely dyad!
It sat on a bench next to my bed for a while, and one morning, I began to look at the white wall behind them as a space between them. It felt so charged somehow. It was then that I realized this space could be interpreted as the intersubjective third created by this particular dyad. I then decided to project this space as a shadow onto paper and trace it, and color it in. In this way, I found a way to make the invisible third, visible. In visual drawing terms, this in between space is called the negative space. So here, I am making this negative “empty” space into a positive – visible space
The actual coloring in became a very physical process that seemed to express the charge of energy that lives in the third. All that subjective experience interacting in an electrified soup of assumptions, interpretations and hopefully some clarifications.
The clay dyads came about when I was making organs out of clay for another project at a ceramics studio. Shout out to Liz Rodriguez the owner of Easthampton Clay who was so supportive as I was figuring out how to make things that would not explode in the kiln! While working the clay, I was also thinking about the Intersubject series, and handling the clay led to an afternoon of experimenting with making dyads out of clay
One of the ways I work as a psychotherapist is through the body. By that I mean that I invite people to notice what happens in their bodies as they recall memories or become activated by emotion. This map holds at its center the five basic developmental movements as defined by Body Mind Centering (BMC). Those movements are: Yield, push, reach, grasp, pull.
Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen is a dancer and body worker who founded BMC. As I understand it, she has mapped out the ways that humans go through these movements as part of their development. If any of those movements are curtailed or not explored enough, they can begin to affect the ways that we take psychological action in life.
In her book Sensing, Feeling and Action, she says: “There is something in nature that forms patterns. We, as part of nature, also form patterns. The mind is like the wind, and the body like the sand: If you want to know how the wind is blowing, look at the sand.”
That is why I have these basic movements at the center of the map, and why on one side, when the movements have had the opportunity to be fully expressed, there is the possibility of a shared third. As a result, you have the possibility of flow, rythmicity etc.
But when those movements are interrupted because of trauma, or of attachment woundings, more rigid patterns of interaction occur such as those on this side of the map. The two other thought maps are focused more on the felt experience of having a body and specifically a female body. Those maps are less about theory and more my attempt at getting to the underlying felt sense of an experience. As such, they are more connected to this series of drawings over here that I call the Residue
They are made of poured ink, iron filings and vinegar. I intentionally did not use paint brushes or mark making instruments that would offer me more control because I wanted to get at the more messy qualities of the residues we make. They also look at the inner body sensations that come and go in cyclical, seasonal and age related ways. That is why on this map I have the word interoception.
To interocept is to intercept with one’s thinking mind the felt messages emanating from inside our organs, fluids and viscera. That interoception could lead to thoughts like – “I am hungry”, or “my arm muscles are working hard”, or even “There is a tightness in my diaphragm”. It can also refer to the gurgles and flows one can notice inside ourselves. Interoception is useful for self reflection and knowing oneself more fully. Personally, it is such a big part of my felt experience of being female and is another reason it is on this map.
This other, simpler map also relates to these residue drawings in that it speaks to the process of change over time, the ways that things change with age, and the beauty in that change
So to wrap up, this work looks at the inside of our felt and psychological experience, and the outside resulting expressions both visible and invisible.
Some of these results incorporate my belief that mistake making as well as detritus and remnants of stuff holds beauty – and thus, charge. While others use a more precise and logical mark making process. But always, I try to work with the tension between the two states.