TITLE: Coming Out to Play
DATE: 4/13/2005 08:00:00 AM
When I first headed off to art school I arrived on the East Coast with a sewing machine, a rice cooker, my clothes, and car trunk full of other ‘necessities’.
Oh, yes, and a trash bag full of 400 condoms. (Bear with my story here…)
Somehow, over the course of that short summer, an idea lodged in my mind to create an unusual sort of ball gown. I made the sketches before I had any clue what my material would be. And, then the material came to me through a classified in the paper. A local group was conducting safe sex education workshops in the area and had placed a simple promotional ad. So, I called them to explain my idea and they were surprisingly thrilled at the prospect of helping an artist. They allowed me to drop by their offices and fill a bag with whatever I liked. I chose the generic white packets with gold writing.
They were interested in drumming up a little creative news for their cause. I was simply looking for free art supplies!
I spent my ‘spare time’ (what little there was) as a college freshman, piecing together a quilted fabric of these white packaged condoms. The gold writing somehow transformed the piece into something elegant. It was a strange experience for me too, letting the material dictate where I headed. Aside from this ‘spare time’ project, most of my work up to that point revolved around mediums I had more control over – clay, photography, paint. How do you control a uniformed square packet? You can’t. So, I followed where the shape led me.
By the following October my ‘spare time’ project had resulted in a wedding gown, complete with corseted bodice. I had enough ‘material’ left over to create a coordinating tuxedo, vest and bow tie, all made with condom packets and gold fabric. The pieces appeared one time only, at the annual Halloween Party for the art school which I attended. As we descended the grand staircase to meet each other and exchange rings in a mock wedding ceremony, John Travolta’s famed ‘strut’ music played in the background. As we embraced, friends threw condom packets (unopened, mind you!) from the upper level balcony down to the crowd below. That night we were declared “Best Couple” and won $250, a fortune for two poor art students.
The dress and the tux went into retirement and I moved on with my life. It was just a fun play exercise for me, really. And though it was fun while it lasted, the obsessive repetition it required was too monotonous for me to repeat again.
I learned a great deal about my own natural artistic working process and made my contribution to safe sex education in the process.
Sometimes your material will find you and, if you allow it to, it can steer you in unexpected directions. At the least, this is an exercise all artists should challenge themselves on now and again… trying something out of the realm of expectation - challenging yourself with an out of character whim.
So, you’ve mastered the art of working on a series of work, a body of pieces that link to one another and represent your skills and interested? Why not take a little time to play in the studio now and then? Why not give yourself one day per month or a few hours per week where you turn everything upside down and dive into the unexpected?
Wouldn’t you like to take the pressure off and just play in the studio now and then?