05 February 2015

Inspirations, Preoccupations…Why I do the things I do

By Heather Jo Flores, July 2014, an excerpt from MFA Graduate Thesis:

Interdisiciplinary art can be seen as a bridge between contradictory ideas, and as a vehicle for finding unity, commonality and connection. My critical inquiries stem from a lifelong set of preoccupations around ideas associated with monstrosity, metamorphosis and transformation, and how those phenomena are connected to place, body and art making. I will elaborate briefly a few points below:

The de-vilification of women, nature and the unknown. My previous work as an organic farmer and environmental activist taught me that mainstream culture is terrified of that which it cannot understand. This fear leads to oppression and destruction, and much of my creative and intellectual inquiry has been guided by a desire to reconcile those fears, in myself and others. This was the primary inspiration for my work with the Heroine's Journey, which resulted in a 10,000-word critical essay that analyzed hero-based storytelling and presented feminist alternatives. By nature, these feminist perspectives could also be considered eco-feminist, as I found it impossible to separate the attitudes that oppress women from those that dominate and control nature.

The destiny of vicinity. So many of us follow a path through life that unfolds according to where we find ourselves living, working, studying. Often these locations were not choices made by ourselves, but rather are connected to our families, employers and opportunities. I am fascinated by the way a person's life is ultimately connected to where they find themselves. This connects to community work, partnership, and so much more. Throughout my studies I have created an intentional backdrop for my work, starting with where I chose to live for a given body of work. For example, during my first semester I rented a spacious, private studio with plenty of light and a large garden space, to make room for the diverse exploration on which I planned to embark. Second term, I located myself alone in a cabin in a redwood forest, with plans to write, reflect and go deep inside my mind. Third term, I rented a house on the Oregon coast, intending to read a stack of books and spend time every day walking the beach and creating land art sculptures. Fourth semester found me back in the redwoods, away from the noise of the city, focused on music and honing my aural learning skills. And finally I placed myself in the bustling Alberta Arts district of Portland, Oregon, where I could draw on the inspiration and feedback of an expansive creative community as I wrote and assembled my MFA Portfolio.

The physicality of creativity. This last driving curiosity connects directly to the two above. Everything that we do is physical. Oppression happens to our bodies as much as our minds. Creative and intellectual context has everything to do with where you place your body in space and time. To think is an act, and for me, the making of art, whether using words, paints, music or other, comes directly from the physical body. I dove deep into the analysis of this idea during my practicum project, and produced a set of workshop exercises that combine physical action with art making. Beyond combining movement with creative attempts, I believe that a healthy diet and regular exercise are an essential part of becoming a successful artist, with success defined in terms of happiness, longevity, and a sense that our work is meaningful and effective.

As for my creative and intellectual lineage, I could fill pages with names of people who inspire me, but I will mention just a few. I am Mexican on my father's side, and Cree Indian on my mother's, and so, in general, I gravitate towards the work of Latinos, and women of color, though some of my favorite artists are not. I am honored to place myself in line with writers such as Clarice Lispector, Ursula LeGuin, Helene Cixous, Erica Jong, Augusto Boal, Ray Bradbury and Aimee Bender. The painters and visual artists who inspire me include Frida Kahlo Ana Mendieta, Agnes Denes and Andy Goldsworthy. The musicians include Jolie Holland, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse, Estrella Morente and Lhasa De Sela.

A selection of books that have had the most powerful influence on my thinking:

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2. ed. Princeton (N. J.): Princeton University Press, 1968. Print.

Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan; a Yaqui Way of Knowledge.. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. Print.

Cixous, Hélène. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Print.

Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within. Sounds True, 1999. Audio.

Goldsworthy, Andy. Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990.

Herring, Laraine. Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. 1st ed. Boston: Shambhala, 2007. Print.

Jong, Erica. Fear of Flying. 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2008. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. 1st ed. Boston; New York: Shambhala; Distributed in the United States by Random House, 2004. Print.

Lee, John H., and Ceci Miller-Kritsberg. Writing from the Body: For Writers, Artists, and Dreamers Who Long to Free Your Voice. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. Print.

Lipton, Bruce H. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Santa Rosa, CA: Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005. Print.

Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. Manchester: Carcanet, 1986. Print.

Lispector, Clarice, and Ronald W. Sousa. The Passion According to G.H. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. Print.

Murakami, Haruki, and Philip Gabriel. What I Talk About when I Talk About Running: A Memoir. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.

Murdoch, Maureen. The Heroine's Journey, Woman's Quest for Wholeness. Boston & London: Shambhala, 1990. Print.

Pearson, Carol and Pope, Katherine. The Female Hero in American and British Literature. New York & London: R.R. Bowker and Company, 1981. Print.

Postman, Neil, and Charles Weingartner. Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Delacorte Press, 1969. Print.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002. Print.

Simon, David, MD. Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal your Body by Healing your Emotions. Carlsbad, CA: Chopra Center Press, 2009. Print.

Stone, Michael. The Inner Tradition of Yoga: a Guide to Yoga Philosophy for the Contemporary Practitioner. Boston: Shambhala, 2008. Print.

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