Processing, Flying Sparks and Byproducts / by Heather Kapplow

The plate.jpeg

I’m starting off this post where I am at the moment, thinking about art studio spaces and what happens in them. This is my third studio space I’ve worked in this year, and I’m feeling a little bit today what they all have in common as ecosystems of activity. Everyone in shared or adjacent spaces does different things with their space and art making time, but we also all do the same things, and there is this small ongoing ebb and flow of information exchange that keeps everything in fluid operation. We check on each other’s stages: “I am figuring out what I want to make next.” “I am testing different materials.” “I have a show in two months.” ““I have a show in two weeks!!!!” “I didn’t do anything. I was too tired. I just drank coffee and started out the window for two hours.” “I don’t know what I’m doing, I just needed to get some kind of mess happening.” “I’m just organizing to be able to focus.” “I’m updating my website.”

We peek at each other’s stuff and approve. We tell each other where to get the good things: trash, plaster, paint, plastic sheeting, hardware.

So today I’m giving you a version of this.

I’ve been in Bilbao exactly 2 weeks, at my studio here exactly 10 days, 11am-9pm more or less, usually with a break from 2pm-4pm, as is the way here. I’ve made 8 test objects; filled 8 pages of a note/sketchbook; made a 3-page typewritten project to do list; read and taken notes on a book about the luxury good marketplace; applied for a local grant; transcribed 7 audio interviews; and looked at about 3000 web pages researching things like the melting point of different kinds of steel, the firing temperature of different porcelain formulas, the weight of various thicknesses of milky plexiglass, highest printable resolution of my camera’s CMOS, the tensile strength of different materials that can be cut on a particular CNC router, and the availability of a vintage American toy on Ebay in the EU.

Until I made this list just now, I was feeling like I haven’t really been doing anything. I was really only counting the time I was in the metal workshop as getting anything done, but I see now that I was wrong.

One of the most satisfying things has been learning welding and grinding steel with an angle grinder for a few hours most days—the flying sparks make me feel very productive, as does the pile of iron-dust on the floor (but unfortunately also in my hair, and nostrils…) afterwards. (I’ve got a small, elegant jar now and as of tomorrow will start saving this dust. Not sure why yet…) The only other downside besides iron dust snot (just got a mask so now this is over,) is that I packed so light (1 carry on for 6 months) that all 3 of the T-shirts I brought are already full of tiny holes.

The processing of my audio interviews from Zürich has also been satisfying in a more sitting down kind of way, and maybe slightly emotional too. People opened up to me with so much sincerity and hearing their voices in my earbuds brings back a lot of feeling that I’m not sure yet how I’ll capture in the final project. But I’m capturing the words for sure, and the ones that recur tell an interesting story. With this too, I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do with it, but it seems important to soak in this material that I’ve set aside since February and why not transcribe as much as possible while doing so? It feels like these voices are getting at the root of something key to the project. I’m hearing these nuances about the significance of certain objects in the formation of a sense of an identity that feels really critical, as well as stories about people using self-care to create strong senses of differentiation between self and other. It’s much more psychological material (a field I have very little knowledge of…) than I expected to be working with. I am planning on processing everything I collected in Zürich in January/February during this month, but when I put that on my to do list/timeline, I was only thinking of the most literal sense of the word: that I would be processing the data in different ways—editing it, organizing it etc. There’s no way on to make note on a to do list of how much of the other kind of processing (absorbing, feeling, making emotional sense of content) I’m doing too.

Finally, I’ll explain the badly white-balanced photo above. Like the iron dust and possibly much of the transcription I’m doing, being in the studio and/or making things produces a lot of byproduct that is not simply noise or junk. Sometimes, for a moment, you think it is, but then you realize it’s got some aura of the creative process still emanating from it. The image above is a byproduct I left behind in my studio space in Zürich. One of the other artists in the space had hung the plate there for me before I arrived as a kind of campy welcome to Switzerland. The plate, purchased at a nearby junk shop for 3 francs, is a fairly classic symbolic representation of the founding of Switzerland, each character representing one of the country’s original cantons (self-governed regions) taking council together.

At my studio there, I was often cutting up and making collages (another byproduct, as I’ve done nothing with them yet…) out of catalogs for luxury goods. The guy with the briefcase came from an architectural rendering of an impending luxury housing complex. My matte knife was a little dull and he was cut a little too messy, so I scrapped him, but then retrieved him from the trash and taped him to the plate as a joke to see if anyone would notice. It took a long time, but when they did, he was greatly appreciated as a creative response to the gift-plate. He worked well enough to function symbolically as conceptual art (rich guy with a briefcase full of money ignoring the country’s historical, rurally-originated values in favor of his own desires for all of the mod cons and a need to present as super professional.) But not well enough to be one of my official, final, art products because the relationship between the parts was not smooth/seamless enough to meet my esthetic standards. It was just art enough to warrant a space on the wall in a space of art development: studio spaces need less finished art than other places do, and in fact maybe needs it more than it needs finished art.