I talk a lot about teaching at SVA, but one thing I don’t mention as much is what department I’m in. I’m actually in a few, but nearest to my heart is the brand new Visual and Critical Studies department. So far, it’s tiny – only a little more than 30 kids in the whole program – but it’s off to a really great start. We’ve had to grapple with our identity a little bit (the question “So what is Visual and Critical Studies?” is a valid one no matter where you are, but it probably seems even more pressing in a school where most majors are named straightforward nouns like “Photography” or “Film”). In brief: In VCS, you take the same amount of studio classes as you would in any other department, but you take a wider variety of classes. Instead of only studying photography for four years, you take a mix of drawing, photo, printmaking, sculpture, and so on. On top of that, the major also promotes a series of really demanding art history and philosophy courses, which help create a context for the studio classes you’re taking.
Anyway, enough of my sales pitch. Below is a video our department chair Tom Huhn commissioned last year, and I love it. If you look quickly, you can see me lurking in the back (!).
Wow, I’ve been very disconnected from blogging lately. I’ve been going through this thing where basically I’ve wanted some more privacy and space to think about some things (and to create some new work that I’m not making public right away), and as a result it doesn’t really leave me wanting to update this thing like crazy.
So somehow, going with all that, I neglected to even mention that we were going to Belize. We just got back yesterday in the middle of the night after eight days away, our first “major” vacation together in quite a while. I’ve had a bunch of people ask me “Did you love it?” or “Did you have fun?” since we’ve been back, and the questions sort of make me hesitate. I did love it and I did have fun, but I guess the major thing that I’ve been finding it difficult to express is how to take in loads and loads of new experiences you’ve ever had before. (I can tell you that I had fun at an amusement park because I can compare that trip to other amusement park visits, but if you were to plop me on the surface of Mars, I’m not sure “fun” would be the first word that pops to mind. Fascinating, interesting, amazing – yes. But “fun” doesn’t really seem to do it.)
We started our visit by spending 5 days outside of San Ignacio, up near the border of Guatemala. Conventional wisdom about Belize says that it’s equal parts Central America and the Caribbean and I found this to be true; our first stop definitely had both its feet planted in the Central American part. We were staying in a cabin in a camp which was in the middle of the rainforest. No electricity (our cabins were lit by kerosene and once that went out, that was it) and a shared bathroom and shower “outhouse” situation.
I haven’t done much camping in the US, but I doubt that even having done much would have really prepared be for the experience. I adored the things I expected, like the pitch blackness of nighttime or the unexpected cool breeze wafting in from the screened windows. The things I didn’t expect would first fascinate me and then wind up completely scaring the crap out of me – scorpions(! in our sink!), Howler Monkeys (they sound like a cross between a lion’s roar and death metal played at full volume), and all the various sounds of the jungle.
In some ways, it was sort of a relief. I’m so used to walking around and having things in my own head that scare me – memories, thoughts, things that only exist in my mind – that it was kind of nice to be told to be wary of ocelots and have that kind of fear take the place from my usual ones. Ocelots are real and can be seen by everyone; they’re tangible and, in their own way, manageable. You know what to do when you see one. It’s not some sort of great unknown spinning around forever.
I also couldn’t help but notice things like how all the upper management of the place we were staying at were former British Royal Army guys and how we were brought to our camp in a 4×4 with a gun on the dashboard. That part of Belize is a bizarre mix of complete poverty, a once-booming (now pretty much crashing) tourist industry, Mennonites and Amish communities, and ex-pats from different places. Somehow they all coexist, but I couldn’t help but think that this was a temporary state. Oil was recently discovered nearby and all I could think of was how this not really going to be a good thing for the country.
Partially my experience was informed by growing up and hearing about El Salvador and Nicaragua on the news every day and being very aware of the horrors happening there. Add to that mix the distant memories of anti-apartheid documentaries I saw as a teen and… well, it was hard to turn my brain off about all this. Being out there kicked up tons of memories I never even knew I had, as my mind raced to connect this completely unique (to me) experience to something familiar.
Anyway. After several days of that, we headed out to Caye Caulker, which is the much more Caribbean part of the country. Just as the first stop was indisguishable to me from any other remote, jungle-lined country, the second could just as well have been Jamaica. Caye Caulker is a tiny, laid back island right outside of Belize City with a large Rasta population. There isn’t much to do but eat at the fantastic restaurants, swim, get some sun, and lay around… which is pretty great if you’re on vacation.
So that’s the update from Belize. I’m back home now, and getting back to work.
This is brand new, just finished. I almost don’t even really want to talk about it right now, except to say that it’s one in what I anticipate will be a very many paneled series.
More info soon.
(Bah, I just noticed there’s a slight ring in the picture from where I had the embroidery hoop… which is totally annoying. It’s not in the piece itself, which is to say that the fabric is slightly indented where the hoop was, but nothing that won’t iron out. Either way, I’ll have to rephotograph this very soon. Annoying.)