A Show About Feeling Like ****
“We should just put Prozac in the water,” said a new acquaintance, a professor of law, I met over coffee. That was not the first time I had heard that, but this time especially it made me sad. Is our world so twisted and broken that our only resort is to surreptitiously feed an antidepressant to the masses in order to cope? Prozac has a real clinical purpose and has helped many, but when everyone is thought to need it for general day-to-day survival then something is not right in our world. Or rather, it is not the world at all, but how we think we are supposed to live in it—our expectations for ourselves and our lives.
There were two particular catalysts that led to creating an art exhibition around feeling—for lack of a better word—bad. The first occurred in a graduate art therapy course at School of Visual Arts, and the second not far outside that same classroom months later.
In a course on assessment and diagnosis, the instructor was showing the class images of collaged artworks by a client of hers with a long history of depression. The reconstructed pictures were dark and unnerving, yet seamlessly crafted and captivating. You could see how the different collages mirrored different levels of stability in the client’s life over the years. Her childhood had been abusive and cold, and she had continued to carry the anguish and shame deep within her. I wondered, “Who could question her for feeling depressed with a history like hers?” Surely feeling sad, hurt and betrayed was to be expected. The difficult part, I realized, was accepting the feelings and leaving them behind in the past. So often, we do not allow ourselves to experience sadness without also punishing ourselves for it. Too often, I catch myself feeling bad for feeling bad. By resisting the existence of the unwanted feelings, they do not get addressed and they do not get released.
The second catalyst was an article titled “The Wisdom in the Dark Emotions” by Miriam Greenspan (Shambhala Sun, 2003), assigned for a lecture addressing art therapy and grief. Greenspan’s article solidified many of my own unarticulated sentiments, offering me newly a firm platform to stand on. She asserts, “Few of us learn how to experience the dark emotions fully—in the body, with awareness—so we end up experiencing their energies in displaced, neurotic forms…But it’s not the emotions themselves that are the problem; it’s our inability to bear them mindfully” (para. 10). It’s the feeling bad about feeling bad that feels the worst. At times, admittedly, I just want to detach, to tranquilize my brain so that I can momentarily stop ruminating over mistakes and disappointments. This need to numb comes from an inability to accept what has happened and the subsequent feelings. With increased awareness, I can see my pattern: guilt for feeling less-than-happy followed by efforts to stifle and distract. The coerced relief found by pushing down emotions is short-lived, as each new trying experience retriggers underlying sentiments.
In a charged moment of insight, I conferred with my good friend and fellow artist Bernadette Torres. We channeled these ideas into a group exhibition concept, whereby we could bring people together to create a visual dialogue around, what Greenspan calls, dark emotions. The aim is to provide an opportunity to share a range of emotional experiences communally, with an emphasis on those more difficult to sit with. We envision this show as the first of many that can provide an open platform to address feeling less than perfect, less than content, less than happy all of the time–we think that’s perfectly normal.
Bernadette and I grappled with concerns of the show’s theme being interpreted as cynical or morbid, but the response from applicants gave us hope. From over 70 applicants through just a few call-for-artists posts, we selected ten artists who have created new works for our group show, titled We Feel Like ****.
We Feel Like **** opens on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 at Gallery Bar on the Lower East Side (120 Orchard Street), from 6:30 – 10:00 pm. The exhibition will run from February 8th to February 22nd. www.gallerybarnyc.com
Iandry Randriamandroso. Temptation. Monoprint.
Laura Tack. Urgency (work in progress). Oilstick on paper.
Margaret Coleman. Detail from Thinking About You Makes Me Want To Make a Painting (work in progress). Garbage, Mixed Media.
Postcard for We Feel Like **** (Image by Laura Tack)
Greenspan, M. (2003, January). The Wisdom in the dark emotions. Shambhala Sun. Retrieved from http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1625&Itemid=0