Thoughts & Exploration, Uncategorized

Healing, Teaching, and Art

Post-graduation, the realities of not having access to printing services and hand-held power tools at my fingertips put me in a bit of a funk. However, these last few months have been vital to reassessing where I am in my art practice, and how these decisions impact my healing journey.

Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and instruct both senior citizens and high school students in drawing and painting. The personal low lows that have occurred in a less-than-predictable pattern for over a decade were interrupted with the sunshine of teaching these vibrant communities. You can see the strange abstract paintings and even realistic studies that have resulted from this time on my instagram at hrpeebles.

My personal practice lately has been a mixture of floating bodies in paint, opening up in writing, and selective reading. Gabrielle Civil’s Swallow the Fish has been giving me a lot to think about, in terms of identity, freedom, and my interpretation of art.

What’s become clear in spite of the constant cloudy state of dissociation is that the steps I had been taking both inside and outside my practice (although I question the level of division between my life and my work) to heal from sexual violence were overtaken by giving to others. Giving energy and not receiving what I truly needed to keep moving forward. Or taking energy that so many others desperately need, even when given freely. See: emotional labor.

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I am at an important crossroad in my practice and in my life.

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Uncategorized

Updates + MCAD MFA Thesis Show

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this website (to see recent work in the graduate program, visit my MN Artists page at mnartists.org/hrpeebles).  If you’ve been keeping track of my CV, you may have noticed that I’ve done a few gallery shows, however, the majority of my work has been outside of the gallery.

Since January 2017, I have been facilitating workshops collaboratively with victims of sexual violence.  Although my studio-based practice has proceeded tangentially with my community-based work, I’ve committed to an interdisciplinary approach to shift the culture surrounding sexual violence in the United States. Mainly, I’ve been meeting, connecting with, and laughing with artists, activists, and educators to learn and share information.  As a rape survivor, this involves levels of vulnerability, courage, and a commitment to self-healing that I have otherwise not been able to pursue.

Join my peers and I for our MFA Thesis Show on May 12th from 6 pm to 9 pm at 2201 1st Avenue South in Minneapolis, MN.

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MCAD, Thoughts & Exploration

Thoughts on DBT Therapy – Healing Tool & Systemic Tool of Oppression?

Lately I’ve been deep into a reading called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. This book so far, among several other factors in recent weeks have both reaffirmed some of the techniques and developing habits from my investment in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), while also re-evaluating this time as I try to funnel my experiences into art and pursue activism.

Passivity
Conditioning
Re-shaping the Brain
Agency / Empowerment
Activism

DBT is a program that was recommended by my therapist to move forward with my life after being sexually assaulted over a decade ago. It is both group therapy and individual therapy, focused on establishing / relying on taught skills to cope with bad circumstances and re-train the brain to be in the present, be aware of the body and its sensations, and work toward an acceptance of your particular reality. To do this, we essentially force ourselves to pay attention to our surroundings, try to listen to our bodies, and practice mindfulness techniques. We keep weekly sheets to track our skill-use, impulses, and harmful behaviors.

Without a doubt, in the four months I have been in DBT, it has made an enormous difference, as is reaffirmed in The Body Keeps the Score.

“…many psychological problems involve difficulties with sleep, appetite, touch, digestion, and arousal. Any effective treatment for trauma has to address these basic housekeeping functions of the body.” (56) + In DBT, these are the PLEASE skills.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Numerous studies of disaster response around the globe have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.” (81) + Group setting, Interpersonal Skills, Individual therapy, “safe spaces”

“by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies – not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on.” (103) + Mindfulness exercises, Observing, Noticing

“Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body. Without it you have to rely on external regulation – from medication, drugs like alcohol, constant reassurance, or compulsive compliance with the wishes of others.” (99) + PLEASE skills, tracking impulses, etc.  (I know this one a little too well)

All of these make sense personally, and have helped me really see some of my own habits and behaviors, which is the first step to changing them.

However, creeping at the back of my mind as I continue to do research in graduate school and live in systems of oppression, whereby I have been conditioned as a woman to be quiet, to think always of others before myself, and not to see my own value, therapy mirrors the system in ways that I would like to confront through my art work as a mediator. Especially as I am involved in activist groups with mainly women and women of color trying to change the culture of sexual violence and gender violence, I no longer want to simply follow an “easy” path toward a status quo I simply do not agree with or tolerate.

In order to heal, I’ve put many things aside, including my own self interest and beliefs at times, because I believe that at some point I will be able to function “normally”. While this is no doubt important, that normalcy must not continue to ignore race and sexuality.

I also can’t shake the underlying message of the goal of retraining our brains, that we are broken and wrong, and need to change in order to deal with our circumstances. Normal people cope and move on with their lives after bad events, while we are still trapped in the past.

“We now know that trauma compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive. …. They also help us understand why traumatized people so often keep repeating the same problems and have such trouble learning from experience. We now know that their behaviors are not the result of moral failings or signs of lack of willpower or bad character -they are caused by actual changes in the brain.” (2-3)

Even in understanding how DBT can be an effective healing tool and with the support of Van Der Kolk’s research and experience in his book, I am still a “subject” that needs to be fixed. For me, this does not help to promote agency or empowerment, help me to speak up for myself, or feel comfortable in daily life.

I’m not suggesting that it is therapy’s job to change the structure of our society, however because it perpetuates the same systems that have in many ways created circumstances of trauma and suggests a mimicking of supposed agency within these limits, how much can this form of therapy truly help me feel empowered? How much will this form of agency perpetuate the same behaviors at the end of the day that contribute to my mental illnesses?

“Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power.” Foucault, History of Sexuality: Volume I, An Introduction (105-106)

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MFA, Thoughts & Exploration

Identity as a Survivor: Trauma, Memory & Therapy

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Words of encouragement in my takeaway from a Break the Silence event earlier this year.

Heading into vital time for my graduate studies in between semesters this summer, I was at a point of conflict with my practice:  how to respond to the urgency and pervasiveness of sexual assault in the United States and what material form, if any, would it take?

Although there was a definite progression in the participatory work I had made thus far both inside and outside the program, I found myself disappearing from the work. In an attempt to find the balance between audience comprehension, agency, and self reflection with my own story and relevance as a survivor, I made it the subject of my last paper entitled, Rape Culture in Participatory Work: Maintaining Identity while Communicating with a Broad Audience. To rationalize maintaining an identity in my work, I briefly analyzed critiques and ethics of participatory work, reviewed current statistics of sexual assault in the United States, reflected on quotes from Foucault and Butler on power and sexuality, and finally, to tie it back into material considerations, I looked at the work of Wangechi Mutu and Tracey Emin. The paper itself convincingly says, yes, my identity matters in the relevance and comprehension of the works and concludes with
“The question then is not how I can engage an audience through my material choices, but what materials are most appropriate, as rooted in my experience as a survivor and for audience comprehension?”

The urgency, from reading articles, dissecting polarized responses, and being a part of a local survivor community, helped me realize that enough was enough for my situation. I no longer wanted my life to be run by fear, anxiety, and depression due to being sexually assaulted. Whereas for a long time I was able to suppress these barriers through an emotional numbing, dissociation, and self-medication, everything became completely overwhelming in the last few months. Thus, I’ve made major choices to help myself heal – through medication and a commitment to at least six months of therapy every week.

As so many others seek to reclaim their mind and body from trauma and oppression, I have begun documenting objects that I’ve kept through many states and many moves in my lifetime. More often than not, these objects are stand ins for people who are no longer in my life or I have kept at a distance because of my rape. They are records of a time that I can no longer identity with, however are integral to finding my place now.

Trauma is linked to memory loss and the distortion of reality.  

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A shot of me from high school where I had many misconceptions about relationship roles, sexuality, and self, not long before I was assaulted.

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It’s difficult for me to see these photos from my childhood, where my sisters and I would be dressed up; for me, like a fantasy or sexual object.

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MCAD, Thoughts & Exploration

MFA Candidacy Evaluations & Reflection

I spent the weekend away in Chicago to kick off “Spring Break” to evaluate how my work is progressing and how it correlates with my research.  In about 5 weeks, my 1st year peers and I will be reviewed for MFA candidacy.  Are we prepared to enter year 2 and prepare for graduation/professional careers?

This mid-term review involves presenting a cohesive body of work, an artist statement, and process book to a committee.  In my mind, it’s an opportunity to hone in on what really matters in my art practice and reevaluate my methodologies, solidify pertinent influences, and place myself in the contemporary art world.  Additionally, we have a major research paper due at the end of the semester that can effectively prepare us for the review.

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Detail, Untitled (Perpetuating the Cycle), 2016

 

As I take this week to reflect, work, and read, here are a few things that have been occupying my thoughts:

+ In an attempt to find an artist working with sexual identity that made sense in the context of my work, I wrote my mid-term essay on the invisible nature of sexual violence and Tracey Emin.  Sitting down to spend some time with Emin lit a fire that was out; I was numb.  The raw nature of her imagery, interviews, and performances made me feel exposed, overwhelmed, and ashamed.

In this same time frame, I also participated in a Break the Silence event, where I volunteered and ran an art table.  In hearing other survivors tell their stories, I built up the confidence to tell my story, and for the first time since I was assaulted, I allowed myself to grieve publicly.  To hear the words, “I believe you”, helped dissolve some of layers of guilt and revealed patterns of self-deprecation.  I was able to face Emin’s drawings.

 

+ Learning more about participatory art and its criticisms made visible the wall I had built between myself and my audience through instruction and interaction in order to protect my own vulnerability.  I felt a disconnect in my visual language that prevented me from reaching my viewer.  So, I had made the decision to focus on painting this semester, specifically to think about abstraction.  The result for my first critique were 8 shaped paintings, yet the disconnect remained.

 

+ Abstraction, primarily through a mixed media approach (oil paint, pencil, chalk, etc), has been the most logical way for me to communicate in the last 5 years.  That nature, however,  was really a disguise for coping and putting pieces back together; it is not yet a language that urges people to act or possibly even react.  I know a lot of people would say that my paintings are not necessarily passive, but the spectrum of emotion in them is subdued, put out, silenced.  This is a reflection of the cultural climate in which I operate as a rape survivor.

 

+ In my first critique of this semester a couple weeks ago, my critique teacher made a point to tell me that other artists use their trauma as a way to avoid criticism of their art work.  Although this was general advice and not a targeted, personal attack, I continue reading more under the surface:

“Your vulnerability and experience makes us uncomfortable, so choose your language carefully as to not seem defensive or overly upset.”

In reality, this is something I am painfully familiar with; continually feeling uncomfortable in order to make others feel comfortable.  I don’t mean this in a conformity aspect of how we should act in a critique or institutional setting, I am referring to masking mental illness, to the discomfort of operating in a skin that feels owned by others, to suppressing a level of anger and sadness that does not go away with time, only through coping mechanisms.

 

+  So, is abstraction an effective way to communicate this discomfort and the full range of my experience?  I am no longer as convinced (at least through painting) in terms of an authentic reflection of myself.  Unfortunately, I see complacency and comfort in painting that is limiting my practice, at least right now.

 

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Detail, Untitled (Perpetuating the Cycle), 2016

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exhibition

Minnesota Mean: Participatory Work @ MCAD

Part of The Twin Cities Takeover, Minnesota Mean: The Students Take Measure is a student exhibition of activist work on display in the Main Gallery from January 16th to March 6th.

On February 22nd, two of my participatory works will be installed, Untitled (Sexuality as Identity) and Untitled (Perpetuating the Cycle), a new piece proposed specifically for this show.

I invite you to stop into MCAD before March 6th to interact directly with these works as I confront and question our contributions to rape culture in the United States.

There is a revolving schedule of work and performances throughout this entire time frame to experience as well!

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Thoughts & Exploration

New Work: Gender & Sexuality Expectations

Over the 5 week break between semesters, I began working on 5 new paintings with the goal of further defining the imagery and color scheme for a 4’x8′ participatory work that will be a part of MCAD’s Minnesota Mean student project.

This week, I sat down to analyze what these new works are communicating through a breakdown of a brand new arrangement of imagery:

Flaps
Knots/Bows
Curtains
Nails (physically hammered into the painting)
Black String (wrapped around the nails)
Genitalia
Stems/Fruit/Vegetable associations

WIP Clown

The predecessor for this new visual vocabulary, a WIP nicknamed “Clown”.

 

What I found in these elements is a complex language of finding a solution, an understanding, or feeling of being “whole” as a woman and a survivor of sexual violence. These paintings are a display of my conflicting ideas about gender and sexuality, through bodily associations, personal color symbolism, and attempts at tension versus acceptance, societal expectations versus self worth.

 

As I cut out and put the finishing touches on these works, I will continue to think about how these paintings function alongside or in contrast to the participatory pieces I’ve created, and what message specifically do I intend to communicate with my audience as I move forward.

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