THE DRIVER’S MANUAL (project manifesto)
This project has four main components: written and published book, recorded story, book reading and art exhibition.
The book, Dark Reflections, is to be published as three limited edition artist books as well as several soft cover pulp-style books. The limited edition books will be square, hard bound books nestled in a larger fabric covered box. Inside the box, in addition to the book, will be approximately 10 original paintings – meant to accompany the text and represent work the protagonist created during her residency.
The story will also be turned into a recorded book with a hired actor doing the reading.
Alicia McLaren: Alicia (the protagonist) has been created, like Frankenstein’s monster, as an Internet presence. She has her own blog (http://aliciamclarenexists.tumblr.com/) and Facebook page. Be her friend!
The project will culminate in a book reading and art exhibition that Alicia will attend. Alicia, in practical terms, is only represented by a dark haired wig. Whenever she is slated to appear somewhere I will hire someone to act out her role and wear this wig.
Alicia McLaren, a NY based artist who is literally afraid of her own reflection, is accepted to a residency at the Mt. Gay Watercolor Society in Grenada, West Indies. In order to go, she must leave her rocky relationship with her long-term fiancé behind. Excited to finally visit the country where her long deceased father was born, Alicia believes she will find a sense of self that she was lacking before. Little does she know that on her visit she will face the ultimate power of the island, loosening her grip on reality and putting her life in the hands of a madman.
Intent of the written text
- The written story should operate as text, and be understood as a supernatural thriller in the form of a novella, modeled after other works in that genre of writing. Inspiration comes from the Giallo and classic horror fiction like the Shining.
- It is a work of fiction, in that all characters and events are fictitious. Any content derived from my personal adventures relating to Grenada are only meant to enrich the telling of the story. Personal adventures, as well as other people’s stories, photographs and books are used as research material to build the narrative fantasy.While comparisons may be drawn between my life and the main character’s, it is important to keep in mind that I am not the character written on the page. Therefore certain events from my personal history dealing with Grenada are withheld and reserved for potential, future autobiographical works.
- The story is contrived in such a way as to be a memoir by the main character. In doing so, I become a ghostwriter of sorts, and the notion of truth is twice removed. The intent is to explore the notion that the truth is not always as important in the telling of a “true story” as is the discovery of certain concepts that spark realizations in the story’s recipient.
- In this story I am not intent on exploiting the “other” in a Colonialist sense, but interested in exploring the ideas of altered states of being, dissociative disorder and the id, altered realities and the life after death.
- Another interest of mine in facilitating this project is to create a discourse around the topic of art as entertainment. I want to play with the notion of the cult of personality surrounding artists. I also want introduce into the project the idea that art should be a thing of enjoyment, and that it’s okay to make things that have mass appeal – like a pulp novel.
- The story is purposefully plot driven as the genre necessitates. Although it is not a tragedy in the classical sense, I think the following applies. Socrates on tragedy plot:
“A further argument is that if a man writes a series of speeches full of character and excellent in point of diction and thought, he will not achieve the proper function of tragedy nearly so well as a tragedy which, while inferior in these qualities, has a plot or arrangement of incidents. And furthermore, two of the most important elements in the emotional effect of tragedy, ‘reversals’ and ‘discoveries,’ are parts of the plot.”
The artwork is intended to act as a foil for the text. The geometric abstract paintings juxtaposed with the elaborate tale are meant to add to the “lie” of this whole project, furthering the notion of the “trickster.” In the story, Alicia believes, in a manic state of possession, that she has created a whole series of expressive, watercolors inspired by ancient archeological finds she has documented during a visit to a history museum on the island. But, after sending them to her gallery in NY she receives a call from the confused gallery owner who instead sees images of a solitary house – over and over again.
The actual paintings do explore the house as a theme, a main element in the text. The paintings inject a certain discomfort by adding a stark modernist element, devoid of emotion. The style and colors of the paintings are inspired by Josef Albers’s book Interaction of Color and his Homage to the Square series.
In the fall of 2010 I came into this program spring boarding off of two exhibitions. While fine-tuning my skills in watercolor and gouache I was creating very illustrative paintings inspired by poetry. My exhibition at Beppu Wiarda Gallery was a collection of paintings based on selected poems of Ted Kooser. The second exhibition, at the Grants Pass Museum of Art, was what I called a loose-leaf book. It consisted of eleven watercolor and gouache paintings depicting sections of a poem I wrote titled Camping Alongside a River. After these projects I became interested in the idea of memory. This was spurred on by hearing an episode of Radiolab in which Eric Kandel spoke about memory recollection. This led me to want to explore the concept of memory making and retrieval. I also wanted to get back into working three-dimensionally (something I had only dabbled in before). So, the summer before I started school I knew that I wanted to work on memory projects (possibly incorporating autobiographical information), a narrative of some sort using figurative imagery and sculptural materials.
Over the summer, while still planning on entering the program with the before mentioned strategy, I began writing. The first thing that became clear to me about what I was writing was that I wanted it to be about a woman who was afraid of her reflection. Soon one sentence written before falling asleep in bed became a couple pages. Inspired by my love of horror movies I decided to contextualize it in the genre of “supernatural thriller.” I wrote all summer. By the end of summer I was in love with writing and not sure how I was going to go back to art school where I would have to switch over to painting and sculpting.
During my first term I focused on the concept of memory and pushed myself to think three dimensionally. I was still trying to resolve unfinished pieces I brought into the studio, a large oil painting and a watercolor painting of my grandmother. Then the house image started to solidify in my work. I created a design for a small wooden house that was intended to be incorporated into an installation with sound – a story I told about one of the many houses I lived in as a child. The written story I had started was still stuck in my head, and I worked on it on weekends and evenings.
I worked on my story all winter break. By the time winter term began I had conceived of a way to make my story into an art project – it would be a conceptual book. The protagonist would be the one who had created the story as a memoir. As an artist, she would actually create the paintings from the story. I would hire an actor to play the protagonist and do a book reading (preferably at Powell’s) to accompany her art exhibition. The book would be published by me as a limited edition art book with original loose leaf pages as well as a cheap soft cover. The one problem I faced was that although I had a few passionate supporters for this project, there were also detractors who believed that it simply wasn’t written very well. It was dry. And according to Laylah Ali, was like a first draft done by someone who hadn’t written in a VERY long time. My story seemed destined to not be a literary classic. I didn’t fear.
Enter Steven King and his book On Writing. To the chagrin of some folks, I read this book and enjoyed it very much. Mr. King gave me the permission I needed to write my first draft with the “door shut.” I’m still doing that.
Spurred by concern that I was not working on the art component of this writing project and would therefore end up just “illustrating” the book, I spent spring term creating small gouache paintings inspired by the Josef Albers book Interaction of Color and Bauhaus aesthetics to accompany the text. The paintings were based on the house icon, simplifying it in form and color as well as deconstructing it. I liked the idea of such stark geometric abstractions complimenting the more fantastical text. The paintings also help to perpetuate the lie of this conceptual work.
Moving on: Thrilled to be accepted into the much touted PSU Publishing Department I began by taking two classes in the program, Intro to Publishing and Archeology of the Book. While my spring academic workload has been substantial, I have fully enjoyed both of these classes. I look forward to becoming entrenched in the world of publishing as well as being part of the future of books.
The last art piece I’ve been working on while in the art program stems from an idea I’ve been rolling around in my head all year. A two-piece miniature sculpture combining visual and auditory narrative about a place I lived as a child. It’s a collaboration with my mom – by nature an emotionally challenging piece to work on. The finished sculpture will consist of two facing “green,” roughly formed, porcelain houses mounted on a long, black shelf. Each house will contain an IPod playing our voices, two versions of this particular time in our joint history. They will be intimate pieces that require the viewer to engage closely with each house in order to hear the stories.
Even as I leave the art program, I plan on continuing to write conceptual books and have a new project I’m starting to do research for. It’s a fiction book of letters between surrealist artist Remedios Varo and Renaissance alchemist Sophie Brahe. It will be a mystery, collapsing time to bring these two women from distant eras and countries together.
More great book covers: