Saturday, November 7, 2009

. . . . Entering the Sneer-Free Zone

Now that I've sent the Finland manuscript off, I can give some love to Fly Off the Wall's next movie. (You may recall, it's going to be a musical version of the Finnish proverb, "Herring are rather small to serve for Christmas dinner.")

Yesterday afternoon, bink and her 9-year-old niece Anya ("Iphigenia" in the Fly movie) and I made herring-head masks.
Here Anya models a mask at an early stage.

We'll film on Thanksgiving weekend (fingers crossed). I'm hoping to squeeze about 20 herring into my teeny studio. If you're in town and want to be a herring, you're welcome! No musical talent or knowledge of Finnish required. (People 6 feet and over will be pike.)

Walking home last night, I ran into a really nice guy I hadn't seen in a dozen years, an artist from my library-job days at the art college. He asked me what I've been up to, and started to guess high-end Art World jobs. Designing for Artforum magazine? Running a gallery in New York?

I was startled, having always fancied myself invisible behind the library counter. Had I seemed like the sort of person who would go on to Big Things?
I was about to disclaim any such thing, but then I realized, in fact I was doing something worth mentioning: I was making films. So I said so.
When I asked him, he said he wasn't doing anything very interesting, "just" teaching design...

I googled him this morning and he wins the Honorary Finn Award for Poo-Poohing One's Own Achievements. (Though really, being Minnesotan, one is as good at this as any Finn.)
Among other things, he was commissioned to do a permanent installation at the Government Center.
Right, detail, The Way We Do: "how do you see democracy?/made from visions". That's an Ojibwe pair of gloves and phrase. (The Ojibwe is the main Native American nation around here).

Clicking through his links--many to people I used to know--I felt a constriction of spirit I used to feel around the hyper-competitive Art World and academia in general.
Not that I ever felt this guy was like that. On the contrary.

Obviously some people flourish in that culture, but I was never able to work in it. I couldn't keep my shields up. (Probably didn't help that my dad was an academic.) I was always taking on--or, worse, self-generating--judgements like, "Making herring heads out of tag board? How quaint." [sneer]
And then I wouldn't do it.
Visions wilt under sneers, like lettuce in the heat. Mine do, anyway.

I see in Anya something I used to have: a direct line to creativity, not clogged up with unhelpful neurotic judgment. Of course, kids haven't yet developed much of the helpful kind of judgment either. It's great to bring the two together---enthusiasm + discernment--which, I hope, I am starting to do.
Feeling that old constriction reminded me why it's taken so long to get back to my nine-year-old creative self: I'd learned to sneer at myself.

A couple things helped me get over being paralyzed at the idea of being unsmart or uncool.
One was cranking out geography books for a children's book publisher. At first, the work drove me crazy. The lack of footnotes! The "good enough" definitions of nation-state.
I still find too much words-per-dollar writing cramps the imagination; but the work liberated me from being afraid to say anything at all without a ton of back-up source notes.

The other thing was the world of fandom--in my case, Star Trek fandom. If there's ever a place where sincerity is valued, it is here. And sincerity is the opposite of cool. Academic posturing is a bit suspect in fandom, like old-time Klingons in neutral space.

The do-it-yourself world of fandom has been a balm. Here is a place where people love making costumes out of cardboard. At first I did struggle with how uncool it is, and looking at the cool artists I used to know reminds me why. But I love this world. If you want to put on Star Trek in the Park--for real, no wink-and-a-nod parody--more power to you.

From Atomic Arts' Trek in the Park presentation of Amok Time, Portland Oregon, July 11, 2009

Which all reminds me, I need help designing a set of samurai armor out of Star Trek cereal boxes.
Any ideas?


ArtSparker said...

Hmmm...let me think. The Helmet is key, you'll want that impressive - you'd want something underneath to give it some good structure. Do you know those long swimming pool toys? you might be able to work with those.

I wonder about cutting some scales - simply curves about 3/4 " long into the herring heads, then bending them out slightly, for texture? Well, I'm very big on texture.

momo said...

Oh, I'm so sorry we will be out of town on Thanksgiving weekend so we can't be in the herring shoot!

Yes, I had a faculty meeting yesterday, and half the people in the room are the generous, sharing people and the other half are the paranoid, sneering, no-sharing type. I left feeling as if just speaking about anything was dangerous to my health, and spent hours trying to recover fromt the stress. And we didn't even have any conflicts. It's all in my over-developed constrictions that set off spurts of poisonous adrenaline. Ugh.

Fresca said...

Art Sparker: At first I was so confused: like, herring don't wear helmets. Then I realized you meant the samurai helmet! The swimming pool toy is a good idea--or maybe one of those styrofoam circular tubes florists use. Must ponder more...

Your idea of cutting scales into the mask is so much better than the way we were trying to attach the neck flap/gill cover with duct tape (the photo shows an awkward first attempt)--simply didn't think of cutting a flap. We haven't finished, so we may yet be able to use your clever idea.

MOMO: Oh no! Well, I may reschedule the shoot if other people can't make it. Of course there'll always be someone who can't, but I really would love you and R. to be in it.

The sneering, ungenerous type can really take over. Especially if some of us are already over-sensitized to their energy. Some folks don't get as caught up in it as I do, but since I do, well... it's something to be careful of.
I hope the beautiful weather has washed away all the adrenaline!

Manfred Allseasons said...


Well, I'm not coming if I have to be a Pike!

This is discrimination of the most
Osteichthyean kind!

fresca said...

Any fish who identifies as a herring born trapped in a pike's body will, of course, stand with the herrings.

So please do come, Manfred!

Manfred Allseasons said...

I would, were it not for the horrendous distance to the set..

When you film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on location over here, I shall be there....erm, here!