Fertile Failure

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a tangled but useful mess indeed

Okay the following tale is not a total failure; however, my desire to talk about the topic of failure comes about from today’s events and so here goes.

Today I went to see the group exhibition that I am currently participating in. Due to previous engagements, I was unable to be there for the installation or the exhibition opening. This was my first failure as an artist but sometimes the art just can’t come first. As mentioned in my previous posts, the work in this show is very delicate, made from paper and thread, is quite large and pretty awkward to install. I worried about it all week and then I heard that it had won a prize. I assumed this meant that all was okay with the installation. The work was successful in some way. This has proved to be a matter of opinion.

I went to see the exhibition today. Excited to see my work finally outside of the studio. When I arrived the work was barely clinging to the wall, held up with loops of tape. Obviously my instructions and careful hanging plans were not followed closely enough to ensure a secure, tapeless hanging. Some threads had come loose and were hanging from the piece. Luckily it is still the beginning of the show and I was told the work was much more secure during the opening. I did some damage control and with the help of the gallery attendant (who was very apologetic and helpful) made the work presentable. I even got to talk about my work with a gallery visitor, since the act of fixing was intriguing to some.

Upon leaving the space I felt disappointed, like the work had failed despite its sign claiming it as a prize winner. Embarrassment crept in. I had made this work public, but it was not functioning as it should. I had strived to make something that floated delicately while depicting failed dreams but instead it had failed. I wandered for a while. Brooding on how my success had turned around and bit me. Finally, after a lunch sitting on the seawall that filled my soul as well as my belly, I have come to a place of amusement.

The drawing was sourced from a series of photographs I took of a wrecked boat. The owner of the boat had sold everything for his dream to leave his job and his life behind and see the world from the waters. He had moored this hope off the shore of a rocky beach and then, in a storm, his dreams were shattered, quite literally, against the rocks. I titled the work “an end where a beginning had been” after a phrase in the book The Cleft by Doris Lessing. This novel has influenced a group of works from the last year as it deals with land and identity and speech. In the novel, the main male character sets out to explore the geography of his birthplace by travelling along its shore. His desire to understand his place leaves him broken on the shore still yearning to know if the shoreline would continue until he had made a full circle. The failure of my drawing to stay floating on the wall seems strangely appropriate given these sources, as does the makeshift fixes that the gallery and myself have had to apply. The work is different now. From this accidental failure it has taken on new meaning for me and perhaps is becoming more interesting.

There are many artists and writers who have embraced failure, as a topic, as a means of making, as a happy accident or as a force to be reckoned with. The string figure work that I have been doing is also about success and failure, creating and letting go, making and then breaking. Perhaps this is a thread that, sometimes consciously and sometimes unwittingly, is always in my work.

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