A few months ago (Feb. 7, 2010), I wrote about The Owing Project, my interactive art work about owing and debt. I have been working hard on creating objects that express my feelings on this subject, and soon they will be installed at ARC Gallery in Chicago for my solo exhibition.
One of the things that I think about as I work is, quite literally, the cost. I have to work for a living, and it makes me uneasy to take time away from my commissioned works (Ketubot, classes, etc.) to put so much time and effort into an installation. The exhibit will include some paintings that can be purchased, as well as inexpensive prints of two of the paintings that will be available for sale at the desk. But, most of the work is site-specific and not conceived for market.
I am haunted, as a person who lives in the world, by the specter of debt and owing that hangs over so many of us and indeed, our nation and our global economy. I am conscious, as a responsible adult, of the expenditures for paint, chicken wire, auction paddles, cloth and all the motley materials I used to create larger-than-life figures, murals, etc. So, I balance my work on this project with my work that pays the bills.
Why, you may ask, does an artist do this kind of work? Because value cannot always be measured in dollars and cents. There is a cost to always thinking of monetary value and disregarding spiritual and creative riches. As my lefty compadres back in college protest marches used to say, “Give us bread, but give us roses!” My view of socialist solutions to the problems of the world has gone from wine to vinegar, but I still hold to that principle. And, from a pragmatic viewpoint, doing this work brings attention to all the work I do, and also sharpens my skills and expertise.
As I struggle to complete works that are outside my usual media (have you ever tried to work with chicken wire?!), I have found a remarkable synthesis of all the various elements of my creative life. Indeed, this was the goal. It has finally come together, and I can see the common threads stitching together all the things that I do. So, I go forward knowing that all of my work will be enhanced, whether it is a larger-than-life effigy meant to scare myself (and you, hopefully) so you can feel the panic of owing as you enter the gallery, or the next Ketubah I will paint or class I will teach. The bottom line is: save your receipts, but don’t overlook the intangible values of personal growth and creatively connecting with the world.
I hope you will come and play in my dystopia! The Owing Project opens at ARC Gallery on July 21. The opening reception is Friday, July 23, 6-9 p.m. , and the show closes Aug. 14. The Owing Project is endorsed by the Center For Tax and Budget Accountability, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “identify and analyze issues, develop policy options, and promote fair, efficient and progressive tax, spending and economic policies that improve the well-being of low and moderate income families in Illinois.”