Tell No One.
August 23, 2016
I don’t necessarily consider myself a visual artist. Yes, writing is more or less visual, and I’ve been on stage more times than I can count, but I’ve never figured my erratic creative exploits could stand with work by the more prevalent artists in our community. Jackson is home to superb painters, photographers, sculptors, screen-printers, etc., who regularly produce and sell art. Most of my writing, however, is done in secret at my laptop screen at Pearl St. Bagels and kept to myself.
Recently Planet scribe and art maven Meg Daly sent me an e-mail inviting me to participate in the JH Public Art’s “Tiny Art Show,” a pop-up gallery displayed in Public Art’s Mobile Design Studio. The show, co-curated by Alissa Davies, took place at the last three People’s Markets at the base of Snow King, but is now over and done with.
I had a fiction project that had been mulling around in my head since I applied for the CSA Jackson Hole art share two years ago. The pitch—a ghost story in a cigar box—was rejected unfortunately, but the notion lingered in the expansive, bizarre archives of my creative mind. When Daly asked me to participate in the show, I immediately went to the stacks and retrieved the idea.
However, since I don’t often get the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of local art luminaries like Ben Roth, Bronwyn Minton, Pamela Gibson and Jenny Dowd, I wanted to pull out the stops and do something personal, unique and challenging. So rather than putting fictional stories within a box, I spent an emotional evening combing through the darkest, most hidden events of my life—the things not even my closest friends or family members were aware of—and bringing them to the surface. Fun!
I wrote out a series of six linked essays, each one centered around one of these defining events, and assembled six wooden boxes, which I then stained and scuffed. Since each of the events occurred at a different moment of my life, the boxes were separated by age. I then went back into my archives (this time my physical archives) and found stories, journal entries, documents, and notes that were written during the time of the secret event. These dossiers were assembled, placed within the boxes, which I then sealed shut. If the patron wanted to read the contents of a box and ultimately learn my secrets, they would have to break it open and destroy the “art.”
When the boxes were complete, I got kind of emotional. Not only had I revisited some of the more difficult moments of my upbringing, but I had manifested them in front of me. For the first time, they existed outside of my mind. And I was putting them on display. Not only that, I was selling them.
Alongside work by the aforementioned artists, I had a feeling my project would be seen as too experimental, too weird and, at $100 a box, too expensive. How do you justify spending that much money when you don’t know what’s inside the box? (Cue the anguished Brad Pitt in Se7en: “OH, WHAT’S IN THE BAWKS?!”)
But the idea was that I would be entrusting the buyers with these secrets, thus the title of the project: “Between Us.” The patron could keep the box safe or destroy it. It would be up to her.
When the pieces went up at the People’s Market, I darted in and around the trailer, spying on Daly and Davies as they explained the project, and watching people’s confused reactions. They picked up the boxes, tried to pry them open, shook them. It definitely sparked people’s curiosity. But I had a hard time promoting the idea, because part of me wanted to kidnap the boxes and hurl them into a bonfire.
Two of the boxes are now in the hands of Daly and her brother Matt Daly. I don’t know what their intentions will be, but it’s somewhat therapeutic to know that there are two people out there who now know what I know.
Whether it will stay between us is uncertain.
(Originally published in Planet JH)