Negative Space

I used to want to be so small

that I’d slip like sand

through the hands

of every boy that ever tried to touch me.

 

To fill as little of their space

as I can,

space that belongs to a man.

If no one can catch me no one can own me.

 

If I could just become the air,

he’d breathe me in

feel me on his skin,

a coldness no one gets to call frigid.

 

To every new cell that I grow

clings a fear

to get too near

to you, in case one of them shows what he did.

 

The desire to shrink has not left.

It lays dormantly

and heavily,

a weight that I bring with me into bed.

 

But as your hand burns my skin

I know this

is what matter is,

negative space will never feel your kiss, so I exist.

 

Morning routine.

I want to be your alarm.

6.45, open your eyes I’m the thing on your mind that your right-hand finds,

that you reach for

wanting five minutes more.

The reality, infiltrating your dreams with a piece of me, morning fantasy

your dream girl.

At least, literally.

 

Wanna be your run.

7 o’clock, I’ll switch your mind off, be the wind that turns your thoughts soft, the frost,

that you breathe

in through your teeth.

The cold but then, your warmth again, the blood under your skin, i’m in

your flushed cheeks.

You blush, and I win.

 

Your coffee.

7.30, I’ll be what you need, your sweet release, morning energy, it’s me

that starts your day.

The first words you say,

to the barista you hush ‘til the caffeine rush when you’ve had enough to discuss

the weather, politely.

I’ll be that much.

 

I wanna be the headline.

8am, the front page thing of the paper you skim, take me in before it’s binned

on the ledge behind

the seats inside

the tube you take, always late, I’ll be the small talk you make, a big mistake.

You’re funny before breakfast,

something commuters can’t take.

 

I’ll be your cigarette.

8.56, held in your lips, the thing you promise you’ll quit, but can’t resist.

I’m one deep breath

that takes you closer to death,

but brings you calm, holds the anxiety down, I come before the storm, can’t put me down.

The first smoke of the day,

hanging around.

 

I could be your key.

9, it’s time, I’ll let you inside, like the building’s mine, and I can decide,

that it’s only you

I’ll open up to.

But keep me close, ‘cus I know, keys go, for days at most,

lost.

A silver lining, I hope.

 

I’m none of these things.

But I’m 9.31, when the day’s begun, all that stuff is already done and my eyes look up, meet yours to interrupt

Your morning routine.

 

An ode to play-doh.

Last week I had a panic attack.

I don’t have panic attacks any more. I know how to control them. Sure, I panicked during a 48 hour final exam at uni (fair enough, really) and it happens occasionally drunkenly in packed nightclubs (also, fair enough) but I haven’t had a panic attack that can’t be followed by (fair enough) since I was at school.

I guess, then, that it’s not such a surprise that 4 weeks into what is, essentially, school, my anxiety reared its ugly head.

Lessons freak me out.

See, I have a short attention span. Like, the thoughts in my own head don’t get finished kind of attention span. It’s also an overlapping kind of attention span like there are at least 15 thoughts going on at any given moment. If you’ve ever held a conversation with me you’ll probably have noticed two things: firstly I find it hard to get complete coherent sentences out from my head (because I find it hard to isolate thoughts) and secondly I find it impossible to sit still. I’ve had boyfriends refuse to sleep in my bed because i run my feet like a dreaming dog chasing squirrels at all hours of the night. My family members all avoid sitting next to me on the sofa because my fidgeting distracts them from the film they’re concentrating on.

But for me, I need a distraction in order to concentrate. I need to get energy out in order to make space for information to go in. If I want to focus on a big conversation, I like to do it on a walk. If I want to focus on a film, I like to look up the actors on Instagram. Etc.

So, lessons are hard for me. I can’t walk around. I can’t play on my phone. I can’t fidget too much. I can’t talk. I can’t make any noise… I have my coping mechanisms – I take a lot of notes and I doodle in the margins – but they’re hard. What’s interesting is an hour is fine – hence why lectures at uni didn’t phase me. Then suddenly, past the hour, each minute gets a little slower, and as the attention dwindles the panic rises… 70 minutes and the restless leg starts going. 80 and my heart rate is 10 above it’s (already high) bpm. 90 and i’m looking around the room for an emergency exit.

Here at SCA we have lessons every day. They usually last about 90 minutes. I’m good. When they’re longer, I’m not so good. They’re interesting, every single one. In fact, they’re beyond interesting. They’re masterclasses from absolute advertising legends, who give their valuable time and incredible insight to us – a bunch of pale snoozy aspiring creatives with ADHD. But it doesn’t matter how interesting every last word is, I can’t rewire my brain… After x amount of time the energy builds up and I freak. So, even when I’m being addressed by an industry legend, 91 minutes:  queue, panic.

So on Wednesday, about 17 minutes into a Q&A session that started after an 110-minute talk… I panicked. A full blown panic attack for what felt like absolutely no reason at all, for the first time in 4 years. I left, I smoked a cigarette, I walked and I fiddled, I got out the energy, and I was fine.

But I can’t have a panic attack every 130 minutes while I’m at SCA. I need coping mechanisms.

Enter: play-doh. Or Jemma. Or, really, Jemma bringing me play-doh. On Friday, our masterclass was a full day. At approximately 92 minutes my leg was shaking, my thumbs were twiddling, my panic was coming… When Jemma got up, went to the bathroom, and came back with a pot of play-doh. 92 minutes later, the blue plasticine warm from a million remouldings in my hands, I still hadn’t panicked and I was still listening.

A distraction that allowed me to concentrate, without distracting anyone else from concentrating.

So fuck you anxiety, and thank you play-doh (and Jemma, but there will be plenty of odes from Zoe to Jemma, and probably only one to play-doh).

 

13/09/18 reflections in the form of haiku

Criminal damage:

memory, gone. Defendant

frequents the dancefloor.

 

Criminal damage trial @ The Old Bailey

 

Voyeurism, this.

Watching real lives go to shit.

His friends sweat, we stare.

 

Murder trial @ The Old Bailey

 

Door closed, or is it

a new one opening to

the September sun.

 

On arriving @ The Serpentine to find it closed.

 

 

 

Pitching / performing / presenting

When Marc told me on the phone that my selection day included a 4-minute presentation, I was chill. Presentations are my jam. I’m lucky, I went to a good school that taught me the importance and the skills of speaking publicly early on. This helped me overcome what I felt was the curse of introversion, gave me the ability to appear confident and to speak up in public (at least in formal/academic situations), etc. At university, I gave more, longer, meatier presentations to bigger and more important audiences. By the time I applied to SCA the word presentation didn’t phase me in the slightest, bring it on.

 

Then, he described some past student’s presentations. I followed up with some research. Read some SCABs, even got in touch with some alumni. I realised that what he wanted was not a 4-minute presentation, it was a 4-minute performance. And performance is a totally different ball game.

 

I present. I do not perform.

 

The thought makes my skin crawl. My heart races, my armpits drip and I search immediately for the nearest emergency exit. I don’t feel the rush that actors or comedians describe, I feel terror.

 

So as I do, I got defensive. (I now know this to be my monkey).

 

Why does Marc want us to perform? Who does he think he is? I’m not a fucking monkey. I won’t dance for him. This isn’t fucking drama school, I’d hate fucking drama school.

 

My selection day presentation was shit. (I now see how I could have channelled this anger into a defiant presentation – day 2 of SCA and I already know enough to totally reinvent how I got in – but at the time I just flaked). My petulance resulted in me having to do a second selection day, a second presentation. ‘We just didn’t see your creativity.’ (I know, but my creativity doesn’t dance.)  This time I knew how much I wanted to go to the school, so I complied to the extent I felt I could muster. It was fine. He let me in. Etc.

 

Fast forward to today, and the same frustration came right back. Improv? Performance poetry? Did you not hear me this isn’t.fucking.drama.school.i’d.hate.fucking.drama.school.

 

This is ad-school.

 

I’m here to pitch, not to perform.

 

I won’t go into everything I learned from both of these activities (It was a lot. And I had fun.) But I thought it was worth reflecting on this one because I think it’s going to impact my entire career.

 

To pitch / to present / to perform.

 

I thought that pitching was presenting. I thought it was within my comfort zone, I thought that I’d be good at it. It was part of the draw of the job. Today I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, I was pushed to perform. And it made me realise why a presentation will never be a good pitch.

 

You present information. You perform art.

And at the risk of sounding pretentious, what we (will) make is art.

The point of art is to move, the point of information is just to inform. Good advertising moves, it doesn’t just inform. And maybe that’s part of why SCA alumni make such good advertising: we’re pushed to perform, to move, to make art – not to settle for presentations.

 

 

a note on failure

Last week was a big one. I heard back from the school of my dreams, and I got my final degree results and classification.

I did not get into the school. (Though they asked me to come back for a second interview, more on that later).

I did get a first in my degree.

Success is easier to swallow than failure. Sending out the ‘I got a first’ text was a lot easier than the ‘I got rejected from SCA’ one… A week in which I both got my first AND got into SCA would have certainly felt pretty stellar to me.

But I guess, what I want to reflect on, is what we actually gain from success v. failure.

It is worth mentioning, to start with, that getting 75% in my degree was the result of 3 years worth of incredibly hard work, unwavering passion, and emotional and academic support from tutors, friends and family, whereas the rejection from SCA was off the back of a disaster of an interview day for which I did not work hard enough, did not take the risks I needed to, and did not show enough of the passion I have on the inside on the outside. Plus, my degree was mostly written work, at which I excel, and the interview was, well, an interview – in which I ALWAYS, categorically, underperform. So I guess what I’m trying to say is both the ‘success’ and the ‘failure’ of the week were very much deserved.

The success I feel at achieving a first has taught me a handful of things:

  • hard work pays off.
  • passion is key.
  • never stop working on something, even when you think you’ve fucked it.
  • don’t be afraid of asking for help.
  • (I also know a lot about modern art…)

The failure I feel from not getting into SCA first try has taught me about a million:

  • sometimes simplicity is brave, and sometimes it’s just not enough.
  • never be afraid to express how much you want something.
  • be prepared to fight, and work, for what you want.
  • believing you can do something, and proving you can do something, are two different things.
  • being yourself is not as simple as people say it is – it is a skill you need to practice.
  • comparing yourself to others will not make them any worse or you any better.
  • learning from others, however, is something you should learn to do humbly.
  • always take risks. you might regret it if it goes wrong, but you’ll definitely regret it if it goes wrong anyway and you know you could have been braver.
  • etc.

 

Both sets of lessons are incredibly valuble. But I could have totally missed out on the second set by believing “SCA wasn’t right for me,” “they’re a bunch of entitled assholes who didn’t get me,” even just thinking “I should have succeeded,” rather than recognising that I didn’t do enough to deserve success. It’s easy to learn from success, because the proof is in the pudding, but it’s much harder to learn from failure, because it hurts to dwell on a wound.

So my point is, I guess, if you are willing, you can learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.

Other people have put it a lot more eloquently:

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” ― John Dewey

“How much you can learn when you fail determines how far you will go into achieving your goals.” ― Roy Bennett

“Great losses are great lessons.” ― Amit Kalantri

In the fear that this sounds preachy, I’d like to add that I believe this is the first time in my life I’ve stepped back from a failure and really seen it as an opportunity. In the past, I’ve had a habit of dropping everything when I fail and zooming full steam ahead onto something new. I have had a great conviction that what I’ve learned from failure is that I’m ‘barking up the wrong tree’ and should try something else that I won’t fail at. What this has always led to, unsuprisingly now I sit and think about it, is a shit-ton of failures. If I’d stuck at it and learned after failing – ‘it’ being various life choices re school and uni, hobbies, career paths, relationships – I would probably have gone on to succeed, rather than going on to fall at the next hurdle I’d swung toward.

I am a big believer in the universe though, and that everything happens for a reason, so I think I’ve realised this right now because this is the thing I’m meant to stick at. Luckily for me, the dean at the school agreed that I hadn’t met my potential on the day and has offered me a second interview. Therefore I have another chance right in front of me. Another chance to succeed, another chance to fail. A chance to put this preachy blog post into practice!

 

Cross your fingers for me.

 

Z.

Hello, again.

Zartperiodical. Z(oë)’s Art/Life periodically (sporadically) updated blog.

I’ve been avoiding you.

I made this blog to talk about art. But as I entered my third and final year of an undergraduate bachelors degree in the History of Art, it ceased to be the best outlet for me to talk about art. Essays have been my outlet for my thoughts on modern and contemporary art this year, and I’ve become rather good at writing them. I actually love writing them. Let’s discuss why anyone would love writing essays because I’m told it makes me a weirdo.

I get into a zone when I write. When I have a good idea, and I’ve figured out a solid structure for getting my idea across, I sit down, I open my laptop, and I just write. My heartbeat is raised, my fingers are furious, I feel the prickle of sweat under my arms and I find a focus that is unique to this zone – I can’t even get that kind of focus when I meditate. But it takes me an excruciatingly long time to get it all out, because… words. I leaf through the dictionary pages that I can visualise in my mind, hungry for the perfect word, devoted to every word that I put down. No words are interchangeable to me. They’re not used because they’re in my train of thoughts or because someone else made them work, they’re used because I chose them – each and every one. Synonyms frustrate me as I find myself feeling as though I’m proving the rule of six degrees of separation, each synonym taking me further from the form of a word in my mind whilst also looping around in circles. Plato was kind of simultaneously full of shit and a genius, but when he talks about ideal Form as different from physical form my mind jumps to how I feel about language. I have an idea in my head and it buzzes, it vibrates, it gives off light, I can visualise it as a squiggly ball of energy but only I know what it means. Then, I have to leaf through my mental dictionary (and sometimes a real one) to find the closest physical word. So words are both liberating and imprisoning. And the process of ‘translating’ idea into word, and ideas into essays, genuinely feels like a kind of spiritual process for me. So when I get it right, it’s just the best feeling in the world. And that’s why I love writing essays. Unfortunately, it means my biggest criticism is that the essays I produce are overly complicated and unnecessarily wordy. (I use 3 synonyms in a row, with commas, because each one isn’t perfect for me. But for the reader, I just repeat myself 3 times. Does that make sense?)  Interestingly, what I’ve discovered is that the art is not actually what I love about the process of writing about art. Even though I love art.

Anyway, this love for words and for the process of writing is something that I’ve thought a lot about recently. The year since I made this blog, the final year of my Art History degree, has been an incredibly introspective time for me. I’ve grown more this year than I did in the 21 years leading up to it. (Blog post on that coming right up, strap yourself in). This year has led me to the realisation that I want to be a Creative in an advertising agency. Specifically, I want to write copy. Because I think my love for words – my devotion to finding the perfect ones, my genuine belief in the power of them, my almost maternal pride in them – is genuinely unique. Why not be a writer of books, or articles, or songs, or blogs…? Well, maybe those will come. But advertising is about words and it’s about images. You have a team: a copywriter and an art director. I have two loves: writing and art. (But as I said, not writing about art.) So, long story short, I think I was made for it.

One year on, and I’ve figured some stuff out, including my dream job. And now, since handing in my final, 10,000-word essay on the History of Art, I feel ready to write about something new. I feel like I have words bursting to come out of me. So, I’m finally ready for the blog I made a year ago and have ignored since. But it’s not going to be exclusively about art, it’s going to be about my life: advertising, art, adventures and introspection. And it’ll all be tied together with words.

#fromselfietoselfexpression

IMG_3661.JPGFrom Selfie to Self Expression

The Saatchi Gallery: 31 March-30 May.

An innovative exhibition exploring the history of ‘the selfie’ from the old masters to the present day, showing and celebrating the creative potential of this form of expression that has been negatively tied up with the ‘me me me’ millennial generation. The show also partnered with Huawei to commission mobile phone photography in an attempt to highlight the emerging artistic tool of the phone camera and its potential.

Walking into the first gallery, you see large screens placed on the wall in the place of frames, each displaying a recognisable self portrait (Francis Bacon, Vincent VG, Lucien Freud). Then, unexpectedly, as though you were choosing a tinder date between Rembrandt and Van Gogh, the image swipes right and a new one appears. Phones mounted alongside each ephemeral ‘frame’ host the recognisable heart ‘like’ button that you click mindlessly on Instagram all day, offering up a chance for you to judge each painting and like your favourites. With each like, the number that you hadn’t quite noticed before in the bottom left hand side of the frame goes up, and there is suddenly a way to express your artistic preferences with the touch of a button: the millennial dream. This creative, encouraging and participatory style of seeing art that we’ve all seen before eases every visitor, art historian or reluctant teenager, into the exhibition by mirroring real life. Like swapping a chocolate bar for a carrot whilst a child stares mindlessly at a TV screen, art history is offered up in the format we scroll through every day. Swipe right, click like, move on, playing to the 8 second attention span of the average millennial and offering instant gratification and the opportunity to judge anonymously. In my opinion, absolute curatorial genius.

The exhibition continued, seamlessly inserting real frames alongside virtual ones, using the virtual format to offer a hugely comprehensive history of the self portrait that would be impossible to curate physically. Cindy Sherman’s canonical self portraits line one wall, printed and framed, whilst Chuck Close’s huge painted masterpieces cover 12 screens connected to mimic a giant canvas. Somehow, there is something for everyone. Tracy Emin’s raunchy, sex-drugs-rock’n’roll photographs, next to Lucien Freud’s achingly beautiful naked self portrait Painter Working. The desire to portray the creative possibilities of the self portrait is surpassed, in the first 2 gallery spaces alone.

An immersive installation comes next, but rather than tucked into a small square space, one of the biggest rooms in the gallery is used. A compilation of youtube videos of individual’s talking to their cameras is projected onto 3 walls seamlessly, a mosaic of faces. As your shadow blocks out the strangers, everyone reaches for their snapchat to take a photograph of their own where their faceless semi-recognisable bodies jump out from a sea of people. We’ve taken a selfie that expresses our need to see our own form rise out of the masses, but we don’t think about that as we hastag it #culturefriday and upload it as we walk between galleries 3 and 4.

With the audience totally hooked, the exhibition takes a more comprehensible approach, we see canonical early self portrait photography and nice black and white images of Salvador Dali. I find myself weirdly, and probably pretentiously, moved by a tentative photo of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir. And then, suddenly, mounted on the wall is the famous oscar selfie starring Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt. Next it’s Kim Kardashian. My brain is thinking ‘wtf’, I am an art historian and I am therefore a self appointed judger of ‘what is art’, and here is Kim K on a gallery wall. It goes on and it gets worse. A meme of a dude and a giraffe, and the worst possibility: Donald Trump’s face entering my art gallery sanctuary. These are people and photographs that I see on my phone all day every day, I escape to an art gallery and Trump and the Kardashian’s pop up like whack-a-mole’s. I am appalled!

And yet, as I wander round with my best friend, I realise I haven’t had so much fun at an exhibition since I ran around the Tate turbine hall as a 10 year old. Unlike the closely invigilated rooms at National Gallery exhibitions, visitors are encouraged to get out their phones and cameras. My photo reel fills up and my Insta story gets longer as each room of the exhibition invites a new selfie. As we walk around studying the artistic and academic potential of the selfie, we absent-mindedly enter into it. The gate between art and life is left ajar and we flood through in a flurry of snapchats.

In the slightly mis-matched gallery rooms upstairs, interactive art with built in cameras, body sensors and mirrors becomes the norm and ‘omg that’s so cool’ seems to be the narrative of my experience. The creative selfie competition offers up some interesting contemporary self portrait photographs, but I was not convinced by the winner The Substitute.

As this review has hit the 800 word point, I, like the curators at the Saatchi, am aware that my millennial audience is probably no longer listening, and so I will conclude.

From Selfie to Self Expression is only on for another 9 days, but honestly, if you can you really must go. The most creative, current, thoughtful curating I have seen possibly ever, this exhibition is worth remembering not for the art it contained but for the way it has taken art gallery going in a new step that has been a long time coming. Our generation hear the narrative on repeat: we are self-absorbed, we think we’re special, we’re vain, we’re judgemental, we have minuscule attention spans and we’re symptomatically disappointed. But instead of joining in with religiously shaming the traits of a generation and a time, the Saatchi gallery have embraced them, encouraged them, and seen the potential in them. With this exhibition, they’ve done more than release the creative, expressive possibilities of the selfie. They have blurred our social media lives, our real lives and the art world in a step toward the future that institutions are so scared to do. I can only hope that everyone follows suit.