on living and working as an artist in brooklyn circa 2015 (and how i ended up back here)

If you are living and working as an artist in brooklyn chances are you’re wondering how to pay rent.  you are prey to difficult living conditions.  you take on strange jobs to carry you through.  on top of this you are prone to the debacle faced by every New Yorker:  you must find a way of transcending the stress and struggle of millions of bodies living in close proximity to each other.  the greatest gift that New York offers is perhaps the experience of narrowly escaping the resentment of and towards every human being on the planet.  

The question for me has never been “what is art” but “why continue on as an artist”.  once performing and curating within an artistic community became a necessary part of my life I embarked on what would become a 5 year battle with the intangibility of art.  i often pondered the possibility that art does not actually help anyone other than the artist herself and the artist is running away from herself.  this possibility was further complicated by rampant stereotyping of artists living in brooklyn:  we are the hipster plague, the gentrifying virus.  we are leeches, contributing nothing to society at large.  we are running not only from our own demons but demons implanted by public perception.  

i wanted to find a benevolent force within the artistic practice itself and thus the question of whether or not i was actually helping anyone other than myself plagued me.  ultimately it sculpted me into the performer and curator i have become, but not before a lot of shit went down.  

the struggle was real:  how could a woman with a cello, alternately singing and screaming about American Cheese and inevitably going ballistic on stage provide anything greater than shock value and a momentary means of escape for anyone within range of her glasses flying off her face?  this lumbering fear of living an entirely selfish life began to take a serious toll on me.  I became impulsive.  I considered switching careers.  I’d go to med school or maybe mortuary school.  when this didn’t pan out i simply surrendered to the work itself.  i’d do everything humanly possible for the artistic community in brooklyn.  I’d run multiple performance spaces at once.  I’d book shows every night.  I’d join and direct organizations, curate festivals, raise money and sacrifice everything.  if i wrote myself out of existence, by default, i’d have to be helping others and impacting reality. gradually this state of what is basically just rote workaholism became less about the work and more about the sacrifice.  the destruction crept up on me.  i’d forgo sleep, food, stable housing and regular showers.  i didn’t want friends and forget about love.  the struggle grew apathetic.  without realizing this to be the case, i no longer cared what happened to me. the end of my 20s found me suicidal, addicted to drugs, fleeing brooklyn and joining a cult.  

the only real possibility for change in life is in deciding whether or not to give up what one truly loves.  i had reached this very point.  i probably didn’t handle this well, hence the cult.  i grew more suicidal.  i fell into what would be an 8 month long depersonalized episode.

as catastrophic as this sounds i can assure you that such experiments in self destruction and the resulting absurdities are not at all uncommon within the community of artists with whom i am acquainted in brooklyn and around the world.  i was not the only one violently struggling to align life with art.  this knowledge was a direct result of the following:

first of all i got help.  i accepted i was fucked.  i went to rehab and with great caution, moved back to brooklyn.  i was open about what i’d experienced.  i wrote about it, i performed about it.  i wanted to be a cautionary tale for the community because i see many struggles that mimic my own.  slowly, i came to believe that this very practice, of exposing, of personally confronting trauma on stage was immensely valuable.  i realized that for most of my life art had actually been a form of therapy.  this was a therapy that i could share.  it would help me directly connect with audiences and honestly collaborate with the artists i love.  if i believed that performing and curating had helped me stay alive (and i did, and do) then why not openly state this as a call for action in my performances and events?  the struggle had never actually been with the artistic practice itself.  the confusion had been a result of the way i’d framed the work.

this is the crux of the call:  there are very clear and painful events and habits that compel us to make art in the first place.  if art is to remain a viable force in our own lives and within our communities we must first acknowledge why making it is of such great importance.  the same goes for any action and behavior as experienced by every human being on the planet.  this begins with accepting and crafting our own struggle.  this continues as a disclosure to others, our collaborations deepen the deeper we open.  this reaches full potential as a plea to audiences and to the world, that therapy does not exist within a closed room or vacuum.  it may be practiced every day, with everyone.  honesty and self-exposure are an art unto themselves.  in a city like brooklyn this is, i believe, an absolutely vital practice.  the alternatives are devastating.

the world and it’s media celebrates art that is repetitive, mimetic. americans are mostly exposed to art that is, by and large, masked.  art is codified in false identities, alter egos. social media provides layers of detachment.  our “selves” are fed through machines, every minute of every day.  my experience has taught me that art that is personal, that defaces the mask and restores the artist to the art, is radical.  we have, at our fingertips, the greatest gift we can give to each other and to the world: we create art to fight for our lives.  

as i continue to practice this philosophy my collaborations have grown into profound friendships.  i have finally found the glue that keeps my existence coherent and my artistic practice intact.  i have discovered the usefulness that i so desperately sought.  i now run a series called trauma salon.  it is a platform for artists to congregate and directly confront traumatic experiences through their art.  not only has this proved an incredibly therapeutic process and enabled new collaborations to form, the series has produced some of the most powerful and cathartic work i have ever witnessed.  the participants need not be artists in the traditional sense.  the performers need not rely on their specific craft in order to communicate their experience.  a violinist friend of mine read journal entries from her suicide attempt.  a percussionist played a voicemail left by his daughter when his father died.  on another end of the spectrum there have been food fights and large groups of performance artists running around a room shouting obscenities in each other in a properly it’d-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-tragic vein, there was also a performance that involved catnip and actual cats.  what i find to be the most exciting and activating part of these events is that the participants and audiences face the idea that therapy can be framed as art, not only in a practical way but as an effective and even efficient means of processing pain.  i have no monopoly on the idea that art heals.  i am not the first person to discover that art may be crafted to teach us our own limitations.  i simply try to live in a way that ensures its effectiveness and by example, encourage others to do the same.  

our greatest asset is our adaptability.  the economy crashes.  mass hysteria abounds. there’s a heroin epidemic and everybody’s bipolar.  we may run out of food and there is no one way of fixing the world.  the artistic community may one day be in a unique position to teach the world how to heal through the personal confrontation of creation.  we may teach the world to connect to itself when psychiatry grows too costly and religion non-existent. as artists amidst artists, we have access to the most sustainable and possibly oldest therapy in the world:  making art that makes us feel, quite simply, better.  

(as utopian as this sounds it isn’t such a bad thing to keep living for, imho).    

About thesupercoda

A weekly experimental cabaret
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