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Inside Out: Not an Island

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Meeting with other makers has been essential to my practice. Sometimes it ends up that we work together on projects or take an exploratory trip, but it's usually just a meeting for a few hours somewhere where we can check in and support each other.

These meetings help me get my shit together beforehand, and lead to some high quality moments of connection. So much more is possible when it's not just my squirrel brain talking to itself. I loved helping Andi Sutton water her flamingos to see how readily they might dissolve in her garden this summer, or asking friends to cover my walls with adhesive materials to test a process I was developing that became this.

In arranging these meetings, the onus is on me in the following ways.

-I have to ask for the help - very rarely is it going to be volunteered.
-If I go in a spirit of being useful to the other person, understanding that just being there is already helpful, the rest often takes care of itself.
-When I keep my expectations low, it invariably goes well (odd but true)

Sometimes, the story in a creative head can be very grimm and small which gets in the way of this kind of relating. It can appear that we're competing for limited resources (there's only one spot and it's mine!), authorship concerns, that you will be judged or rejected (I just suck or have no friends), the wolves are at the door, or whatever other millions of crazy ways our sensitive, human systems are wired. Any such notion can sabotage a trembling, hopeful point of connection. It helps me then, to remember that I'm not objectively that important, and no one is really paying that close attention. We're just a couple of kids in sandboxes really. Also, I do believe that there are so many differnent kinds of success that comparison isn't helpful.

Here's what helps me with that stuff.

-Come with specific kinds of feedback you'd like to get
-Ask how you can be specifically helpful to the other person
-Let a vulnerable new idea gestate a little before sharing it with others, to give it some momentum and so that it will be ready for specific perspective
-Check your motives before the meeting: What are you really looking for? If you are insincere in why you want to meet up (association, status or other superficial reasons) you might want to clean that up before the meeting, and see how you can be helpful in a genuine, no-strings-attached way.
-Give it 3 hours if you can, timing shares if you want, and allow for some shared silence to gather thoughts or work in parallel
-Just go no matter what - forget all the stuff above if it stresses you out

Bonnie Bastien has started a blog for us here in Boston as a longtime inveterate supporter of expansive creative process. Check out what she's gathering for us!

I also love the work of artist Lee MingWei, who inspired the new livingroom space in the Gardner Museum's new wing as an artist in residence there. I particularly admire how he folds intimacy into meetings with strangers in his projects. Also artist Rikrit Tiravanija makes work that's 'fundamentally about bringing people together' - R.Steiner (taken handily from the first line of his wikipedia page).

And may I disabuse you of any notion that this is a well-oiled process for me or most anybody else! It grinds to a halt at certain points: one person's busy, a child is being potty trained, someone's bursting into flames about something...it takes regular restarts and nurturing.

I've often asked my friend John, what's it all about John? No matter what the subject, his reply is 'It's all about relationships.'

So now, who have you been meaning to connect with? Do it!


The thumbnail image is provincetown dunes. Just a snap from my phone last summer, while wandering in a giant circle with artist Heather Kapplow.

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About Author

Hannah Burr is our November-December Inside Out artist-in-residence.

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