Don’t overthink it

Eyyy, first time I’ve written about a piece since finals last semester! That’s three months now, wow! Anyway, this is the first time since then I really feel like I’ve owned where I was fully for a project and made a piece from that, rather than dancing around the things that are bothering me with pieces that allude to it but aren’t as honest as I’m able to be.

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This piece was thought of, written, and executed in one night. In some ways, I think that for me personally, the time spent on studio projects is working through various iterations of a project, refining, and then coming to something “finished” that might be done quickly rather than working on a series, or doing very long term labor intensive things that may only get done in that time. I had to completely scrap a couple ideas to finally arrive here, and even the project I thought I was going to do after I scrapped most of my work the night before crit wasn’t the project I ended up doing.

arsemic2The only direction we got for the assignment was that we couldn’t have a “frame” in the sense of photography depicting a scene that would, in theory, continue outside of the space of the picture: it was a wholly contained thing, playing up the “objectness” of the photo. Above is the first incarnation of this: I wanted to strip away the content of an image and reduce it into its most interesting formal and textural elements, turn it into a thing that sat there and looked like an image, but wasn’t. Like asemic (nonsense) writing looks like writing but has no information, I wanted to treat the image in the same way.

It was to my own detriment, however. For as long as I’ve been quite frustrated with artwork that revelled in its creator’s own inability to overcome the things that bother them, to say “look at all these things that bother me, don’t you agree???” I was failing to overcome that and projected my frustrations onto the project. If this is a necessary artwork for me to make, it’s only in this stage of drafting and practicing, until I realized that this isn’t what I wanted to be making. But that took a few more weeks, and a few more iterations.

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However it’s also worth noting that although this didn’t pan out for this project, I did very much like the form and found it beautiful, if only visually. I kept experimenting with it and ended up making these scroll type prints for submission to a show, that I now hung in my room. It didn’t work for this project, and it came out of a place of frustration, but I did find out some interesting formal moves that I applied to an aesthetic piece here, freeing myself from the need to air out my personal frustrations within the formal gesture, I focused on making it look nice, and resolved, and enjoyed the process.

Anyway, this is where I ended up when I felt like I ran out the possibilities of where I was headed:

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The imagery, meaningless, the text, meaningless. It looks like it has form, structure, consideration, sure. I liked making it, but looking at it, even briefly after I made it, I got the feeling that it wasn’t exactly right. I felt like I was alluding to something while simultaneously saying that it isn’t possible. That there wasn’t meaning to anything, while, in making something that had structure, saying that meaning was my ability to impose a coherent form to it. That has to be the contradiction here, and even without necessarily knowing it at the time (if I even know it now) it didn’t feel right. My teacher described the piece as “an angst in being unable to figure things out.” At first I liked this critique, because I felt that it was a successful piece because that’s what I was feeling without knowing it. But the more I sat with it, the more it bothered me. Even if I didn’t know what “the meaning of everything” was, I still felt that there had to be something that was True and correct. So I scrapped that idea.

I don’t have any physical or digital things to really show of the next step I went through, but essentially, it was a step back but not far enough. I wanted to put up literal, plainly rendered, english phrases, along with encrypted text (as well as the means to decrypt it), along with gibberish nonsense that was pulled from something clearly structured, but with no means to sort it back out into its component parts. It was supposing that there was some meaning to things, but I again felt that it was too angsty a response to being unable to figure out exactly what it was.

I was having a particularly bad evening, because crit was the next afternoon and I had a small pile (only a few more things than what was in the above picture) of things I didn’t like, an idea that seemed doable but I now didn’t like, and nothing else, really. It was around 7. I responded by stopping to find a comfortable place to read, and waiting for my girlfriend to come to the studio to visit and talk.

We hung out, had a nice time catching up, and I felt a little better. I’d found a nice couch on the Cinema floor, and went back down to the photo floors with her to work. I started talking through the issues of the project, and at the end of it all she very sympathetically smiled and said “sounds like you’re definitely overthinking this.”

I absolutely was, but the advice struck a bit of a funny chord with me. It’s advice I’ve gotten many, many times before, and even given myself plenty of times. But right then, exactly right then, coming from her, it just made me smile and think about how funny it is that I thought I could reach the bottom of these issues by thinking about it harder, and harder, and harder. So I got to work on how funny the phrase “don’t overthink it” is.

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The studio is an alt process photography class, and the process we were working with is called Van Dyke printing, yielding shades of brown when a piece of watercolor paper is coated and exposed to UV light. I made several digital files that I would print onto normal photo paper, turned into negatives to expose the watercolor paper, print on the watercolor paper, I laid down a small set of phrases and formal moves, enough to yield over 40 very unique individual things, but giving it cohesion as an entire set. I started around 1, finished printing everything around 6, let it all dry, came home, showered, ate “breakfast”, went back to studio to put everything up, and went through the rest of the day, had crit, went to my last class (with solid classes throughout the rest of the day) that got out at 6:30 and finally got rest after 36 hours up. It was a wild day.

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The piece, strangely, dealt in an area of ambiguity. There is certainly still an angsty tone in the piece, especially repeatedly stating “I’m OK” and variants thereof. It was brought up in crit that this would indicate that the person is not, in fact, OK. There was a darkness to it, but it also seemed a bit ridiculous at the same time. People said it was too literal, but at the same time, it speaks to things that can’t really be spoken to literally. It’s clear communication as far as photography goes, literally being words, but at the same time, every phrase can either be something that is meant, or not, said to yourself, said to someone  else, sincere, not sincere, sarcastic, or not. The title of the piece itself, “don’t overthink it”, is even a bit of a jab at myself for, well, doing exactly what I’m doing now and pulling all this stuff out of it, not even taking my own advice.

The hanging, people said, was ironically over-thought. Each piece of tape seemed (was) considered and perhaps over-considered. Van Dykes are a time consuming process, so people talked about the ritual of all these repetitive actions and gestures, and how that’s an example of over-thinking something. Even in the way everything was very evenly distributed yet unique, it takes a certain degree of over-thinking to let that happen and seem spontaneous, random, yet balanced. There was a part of me as I made this piece that considered, smirked at, and enjoyed, every single double meaning, possible narrative, joke, worrying phrase, everything that emerged from each individual set.

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I tried my hardest to make this a very voiceless piece. I didn’t want this to be the first person experience, phrases either said to yourself or others by you personally, and I didn’t want this to be the second person, things that people would say to first person you. I didn’t want a voice in some of these at all. I wanted this to be an ambiguous piece about over-thought, something that people could relate to in every approach imaginable: things that people say to them, things they say to others, things they say to themselves. I layered into it, a bit, the idea of text message communication because I think that’s important to bring up but I didn’t want to lampshade too directly: how reductionist and frustrating written communication is, especially in this time in which so much of interpersonal communication is dominated by text.

In (shorter), this is a piece about how difficult communication, especially with yourself, is, and how thinking about thoughts is strange and somewhat funny, though it can be dark and a little insane when you run it out, it’s best to avoid it: don’t overthink it.

While I by no means consider myself an authority or really have anything to compare my experiences against as far as other periods of time, I think it’s worthwhile to bring up what I think about broader culture as alluded to by this piece, since I’m talking now, and obviously I have thoughts because I think that the thoughts are relatable by virtue of making an art piece about it.

I think that in a world of mass communication, mass spread of ideas, mass publishing, a mass audience for everything we do, that over-thought and all issues that stem from that have got to be one of the most fundamental mental health issues of our generation. I don’t have anything to compare it to, and won’t write any yearnings of “back in the day”, but I think there has got to be such a profound effect on us, knowing that our actions and thoughts and things we do can be seen by pretty much everyone. I think that the postmodern condition of no belief holding more objective weight than any others makes it very hard to believe in anything, that this invades our belief set and, for me personally, makes it feel like by holding a belief I’m stepping on someone’s toes, and that it may be impossible to truly believe that something is right, and to believe that no belief holds more objective weight. That’s where the over-thought came from (this time), and unfortunately it seems that the only “solution” to this problem is to not think about it too hard.

For now.

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