an evolution of creative spaces

For someone as messy as I am, the organization and appearance of my personal spaces are surprisingly important. My bedroom, my bathroom, my car- all spaces that I spend so much of my time in, that are astonishingly messy, but in a way that I find sort of comforting. I, as a person, pride myself on not being messy. My spaces might be messy, but I am not a mess. Not usually, anyway. I'm a nester, which on good days means mostly that I like to make spaces immediately mine, no matter how long I'm actually staying in them, and on bad days, means that everything I own ends up in various strategic piles around me. 

My studio space is maybe the one general exception to the rule. Because it is a personal space, but one that I'm often inviting other people to spend time in, I make a much bigger effort to keep it habitable than I do for say, my bedroom.

The first studio ever granted to me was a three-walled, 12'x12' space that I shared with my friend Rona in the Gallery building at the Burren College of Art. It was my third year of undergrad, and I was working almost exclusively in 2d digital photography. I'd never been given so much space to work in before, and I was pretty overwhelmed by it. I kept a worktable, chair and pile of books there. Halfway through the semester I used some of the wall space to consider several large maps of the area that I'd purchased. I never used it for anything else, hence why I have a photo of Rona's space, but not mine:

 Rona's half of our first shared studio at the  Burren College of Art  in Ireland.

Rona's half of our first shared studio at the Burren College of Art in Ireland.

In the spring of that year, Rona and I chose to move into a smaller-but-brighter studio affectionally referred to as "the Fishbowl". Our space in the Bowl featured high ceilings, a 12' shared wall, a sink, and a long set of low shelves. Rona had the back half of the space, granting her another 6-8' of wall space, while I took the half of our shared wall and the courtyard-facing wall made of glass panels. I was still working overwhelmingly in 2d, although I'd added a painting course to my schedule that term. The Fishbowl was a interesting experience in the public-private duality of artists' spaces- tourists who came to view the castle on the grounds of the school often had to walk past our space on their way to or from the Gallery building, and would stop to view us through the aquarium-like walls. Children would point at something that was going on in the space, asking their parents about whatever bizarre-looking thing we we working on that week. I don't know what sort of answers those parents gave their young ones- none of them ever came inside to consult us.

 The view from my studio table in the second space that Rona & I shared, looking into the courtyard. It was often obscured by my work prints and wide edits, due to lack of wall space.

The view from my studio table in the second space that Rona & I shared, looking into the courtyard. It was often obscured by my work prints and wide edits, due to lack of wall space.

 Looking from the castle through the courtyard. Rona and I shared the left 1/3 of the set of windows on the right.

Looking from the castle through the courtyard. Rona and I shared the left 1/3 of the set of windows on the right.

 The campus cat and I, sitting behind my studio table. This cat really did love me. Rona's half of our shared wall begins behind me.

The campus cat and I, sitting behind my studio table. This cat really did love me. Rona's half of our shared wall begins behind me.

When I returned to my home institution after a year of studio indulgence at the Burren, I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew that the space generally granted to Photography thesis students was limited, but I thought for sure that they couldn't expect all twelve of us to share a space only twice the size of the spaces that I'd shared with Rona in Ireland. I was wrong. 

The Corcoran gave each Fine Art Photography thesis student a 5' long table and the wall immediately in front of it. Some of us rearrange our spaces in such a way as to take better advantage of what we had versus how we needed to work- I replaced my large table with a much smaller pedestal in order to better access the wall space, many of my peers installed shelves for books and supplies, and one of us removed their table and replaced it with a cushy armchair, abandoning the pretense of working in the space completely. I like to think that our shared clown car-esque experience really brought us all closer- that mightn't have been true, but it sure felt like it.

 Ta da! The entirety of my studio space as a fourth-year BFA student. For reference, my space begins at the door frame, that hanging print is 55" wide (4.5 ft), and the roll of paper in the bottom-right is leaning up against my roommate's studio table.

Ta da! The entirety of my studio space as a fourth-year BFA student. For reference, my space begins at the door frame, that hanging print is 55" wide (4.5 ft), and the roll of paper in the bottom-right is leaning up against my roommate's studio table.

The MFA studios at UAF, where I've been for the past year and a half, are housed in a gutted graduate student triplex. The building was condemned as a housing unit at some point, after which it was given to the Chemistry department, after which it transferred into the ink-and-paint-stained clutches of the Art department. It's not ideal, but it has a lot of potential. We can't make many structural changes to it, which is disappointing, but it's a space, which is a good thing.

 The first space that I occupied in the MFA studios. My space began about halfway through the last windowpane on the right and included the wall on the left and the wall at the back of the photo. It was about six square feet that housed a work table and a low set of shelves, with 5' of wall on the left and 6-7'ft of space on the back wall.

The first space that I occupied in the MFA studios. My space began about halfway through the last windowpane on the right and included the wall on the left and the wall at the back of the photo. It was about six square feet that housed a work table and a low set of shelves, with 5' of wall on the left and 6-7'ft of space on the back wall.

I don't have any photos of my first studio setup because I wasn't very comfortable in it. I didn't have much space to spread out and I didn't feel at all like the space belonged to me. Working in borrowed space is fine for a certain amount of time, but after awhile it can grow tiring. This January, I was able to move into a vacated space on the other side of the basement. The long, continuous wall is ideal for organizing wide edits and really getting to sit with the work I'm making. Even after moving to a largely digital workflow, making work prints and sequencing physical images is the only way to visualize what shape the final work will take. I plan to begin making final prints at the end of this semester, and this wall will allow me to hang several of them together at a time, rather than just one or two (like my previous space would've allowed).

 My current space in the MFA studios.

My current space in the MFA studios.

 The perfect, unobstructed 15-foot wall that runs along the left side of my space. 

The perfect, unobstructed 15-foot wall that runs along the left side of my space. 

All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

meandering thoughts on parts of a whole

I've been doing a lot of thinking about identity and belonging lately.

(This may seem like a nebulous statement, but stay with me.)

I've been answering a lot of questions in the last month or so related to the work that I'm doing with other Pacific Islanders. Who counts or doesn't count and why, why I even wanted to do this work in the first place, what the work is going to look like in the long run. Some of these questions were easier to answer than others, and some of the questions I don't yet have an answer for. I'm glad the questions are happening, but some days they weigh heavier on my mind than others.

The Pacific Daily News published an article about a week ago titled "Who counts as being Chamorro?" and even just the title set my teeth on edge. The author ends the article (which posed more questions than it answered) noting that that question, "who counts?" is a "great way to start a family discussion- or a bar fight." 

Blood quantum has been used by and against People of Color for hundreds of years, although my knowledge is limited largely to it's uses in the US and the Pacific. The One-Drop rule, Tribal registration, schools for native youth, land ownership, college scholarships- for better or for worse, being counted counts for something. 

Even though I'm mixed, even though my Father is white, it was pointed out to me from a very young age that I had to be something else. I didn't understand the concept of passing for white until late in high school, but it was an idea projected on to me from early childhood. I couldn't ever have a "typical" white American experience because I didn't pass- and so have spent my entire life fielding questions about where I'm "really" from. If I'm feeling particularly tired of the question in a given moment, I'll continue to deadpan-respond with "Virginia" until the person gets frustrated and drops the issue. What they're really asking me/themselves is, "what kind of brown are you?" "Should I be uncomfortable with your presence in this space?" "Am I going to tolerate your answer?" "Should I value your existence less based on your answer?"

A while back, I got an anonymous message from someone asking about how to start exploring a newfound part of their heritage without being appropriative or insulting or stepping on toes. I didn't have a very clear answer for them, and so I said what I could and then posed the question to my larger Pacific community to see if someone else could verbalize the complicated thoughts I was having. In part, it was a difficult question for me to answer because it's a process that I'm still undergoing. Although I generally self-identify as a Pacific Islander, that's a pretty unclear statement. I am a person of Pacific Islander heritage, who was born and has lived their entire life on the Mainland. My experience as an Islander will always be different than the experiences of someone who has grown up in the Pacific, who has lived their life grounded in the place their family comes from. I don't speak, read or write Palauan. Unless I become a citizen of Palau, potentially forfeiting my US citizenship in the process, I can never own land there- not even the land that legally belongs to my mother, who has retained her Palauan citizenship for the entirety of her time living Stateside for the express purpose of land ownership. In the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, as far as I'm aware, you have to prove that you're at least 25% Chamorro or Carolinian in order to own land. Just like in Palau, these laws were passed initially to protect what was left of their islands from further annexation by the United States (among other reasons). It makes sense, and I'm not against the laws. But where does that leave me?

These are some- though certainly not all- of the roots with which I am grounding this body of work. Children of any diaspora straddle a thin line between worlds, and it is vital that they know they're not alone. I saw little to no representation of myself in film, music, television, books or politics. I didn't know what other people like me were out there doing, and so it was difficult to picture where I could fit in. I grew up fully alienated from both of the worlds that I was made from, and though my experiences were certainly not the worst of either world, that doesn't mean it wasn't difficult. I am finally at a point in my life where I am reaching out and connecting with the community that I have wanted to be a part of for my entire life, and I want other people like me to see that too.