Held Dear

 

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Works by Chelsea Nader (Left) and Melissa Joseph (Right)

 

On display in The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Alumni Gallery from November 27, 2018 – March 03, 2019 is the two artist show Held Dear featuring works by Chelsea Nader and Melissa Joseph. The show was an open call and was organized through Morgan Hobbs in PAFA’s Student Services department. Hobbs is also a MFA graduate at PAFA and is a member of Philadelphia’s Automat artist collective.

I had the personal pleasure of being a student in the MFA program at the academy with both Chelsea and Melissa. Being able to see their growth as artists up close was a wonderful experience but it was even more thrilling to see the current manifestations of their artistic practices in Held Dear.

The choice of Held Dear for the title of the show makes perfect sense in relation to the works of both artists. Memory is a connecting thread in their works as they utilize personal narrative to share their memory with the audience, in hope to create an impromptu exercise on empathy for the audience as well. It’s interesting to sift through personal memories to see what we hold on to especially cause these held memories, whether we are aware of it or not, shape and inform our present. This can especially seen through held trauma in individuals who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

The power of making work and sharing this with others is monumental and potentially healing if the memories are negative. As stated before, the moment to offer a chance to practice empathy is on display here. Because these memories are on display for all to see, in a way, the artists themselves are coming to terms with what these mean to them. They are no longer afraid to be judged by others for what they present. Often times when an artist presents work that is personal to them for others to see, they receive criticism about the relevance of this work. To those critics I say that you are the problem because of course this is relevant! Memory is what forms the hypothesis of our world. And to better understand our memories in open conversation with others will strengthen our ability to navigate the world as well.

Chelsea Nader’s work is a beautiful investigation of navigating between chaos and order. The first piece on the wall directly to the left of the entrance to the gallery space is a diptych with the left side being one of her prints. This piece sets the tone for the work. The print depicts organic imagery similar to what you would see under a microscope or of outer space. No color is used in these pieces leaving a just a dichotomy of black forms on a white ground. On the right, the organic imagery is still present but have now become contained in what looks like pill bottles on a bathroom vanity mirror cabinet. The dialogue is rich here between freedom and domestication as well as toxin and medicine where the role of benefactor and malefactor switch between sides of the diptych. This makes me believe that the artist is trying to navigate through these polar forces and values both sides of the coin.

The larger piece in the back of the room echos these themes but puts them in the same environment. The backdrop is the free organic interpretation while what resembles the mirrors are the contained organic images. The use of the mirror in this piece now shift the onus of who is negotiating freedom and comfort onto the viewer. As the viewer gazes into the mirror they see a glimpse of their freedom but are also at a distance from it.

The miniature sculptures of domestic settings continue to rhyme with the theme as many have to deal with the ongoing presence of a psychic conundrum of freedom and comfort, chaos and control. The narrative could be that of a personal childhood memory of the artist. The constant conversation between domestic and wild can also be reinforced by the artist’s relationship to their parent’s struggle with this dichotomy as well. This in fact could be where the artist draws support for comfortable domestic life but now those lessons of that memory no longer map onto how the artist feels.

This dissonance is what feels present. How can I manage what was socially imprinted onto me in my youth with how I feel now? Did my parents feel this way? Did they do what is best for them? What is best for me? All these valuable questions arise in viewing Nader’s work.

 

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Installation shot of Held Dear at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Alumni Gallery 

 

Melissa Joseph’s interactive installation investigates the weight of sharing your past with others. Her installation consists of various rocks she collected while in Germany covered in cloth, with what I assume has printed images of her family on them, laid about on and around several cinder blocks. The audience is encouraged to interact and move the cloth covered stones around.

Immediately I’m confronted by an anxious feeling in approaching the work. I am aware of my body in relation to others while everyone is first timid to interact with the piece. As soon as someone summons the courage then more people interact. The first thing I notice while interacting with the piece is that I am moving what others have moved. This moment offers a brief lesson in other’s personal histories and how they have been shaped by others. Usually this molding occurs in private or isn’t seen. This piece exposes that process rather successfully.

The next, and my personal favorite, moment happens when I pick up a rock. The weight of the object is masked by the cloth covering it, throwing me off guard for a split second until my muscles adapt to the correct weight. This moment is so brief that one could easily miss it but it’s such an important moment. That split second of being caught off guard reminds us of the weight these memories have and how our immediate perception of them is probably false. Even after knowing that the weight will be different than what I expect, this moment recurs when I pick up another rock because it size is different, the cloth is a different color, the rock is denser, etc. Overall, this installation makes me reevaluate what I am now holding dear.

Dream 11/29/18

I’m in a classroom that resembles a room where they taught bible school at the old church my mom used to take me to. The class is an art class though. I am my current age and the other students here are also around my age. There are about ten or so of us. A lady begins to present her work both physically and via PowerPoint. I can’t make out or remember what her work looks like. Once her presentation concluded, the teacher, Chaz O’Neal (my former supervisor from when I worked at The Cox Fine Arts Center at The Ohio State Fair) begins to present his work as part of the topic of discussion for the day. Normally his work are these very mechanical and methodical landscape drawings and paintings but the work he is presenting is an installation. It’s around now that I notice how cold the classroom is. It’s cold enough to see my breath in front of me as I breathe out. Chaz then asks us what concept does the room’s coldness mean in relation to his work. After a couple moments of silence from the students, someone finally jumps up and says that it’s supposed to simulate what it feels like to be in a vacuum. Nodding yes, Chaz turns to the white board and writes “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND”. I roll my eyes at this as I begin to formulate a solid argument against this claim. Before I could though, I wake up.

Marathon #3 2018

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Pirated .jpeg of me finishing 2018 Philadelphia Marathon (I refuse to pay the outstanding prices for these meh photos (most of the ones I’m “in” don’t even have me in them))

On November 18, 2018 I ran my third full marathon in the Philadelphia Marathon. This was the first time I ran in consecutive years and the first time I ran the same course twice. I finished with a time around the four hour and two minute mark, improving my personal record pace by fifteen minutes from the year before but falling just short of my personal goal of under four hours.

Because I was familiar with the course, I was able to gauge how well I was performing compared to last year. For the first twenty miles I was very strong. I was hovering around the nine minute per mile pace and was on goal to easily beat the four hour mark (I had been consistently running ahead of the four hour marker). My pace crashed though when I stopped for a brief second at a water station to make sure I drank all the water to gear up to finish the last six miles strong and both of my quads cramped up extremely tight. I was still able to run the remaining distance but it was much much more difficult. For the last mile I was able to gather all I had left and finished by “sprinting” the remaining mile. This was the first time I finished a marathon and didn’t cry because I was angry that I had finished just two minutes shy of my personal goal.

I started training for this race almost immediately after graduating from PAFA in early May. I began when I went home for a little R&R by just going up to the park near my mother’s house where I ran in high school and tried to get the level of running four miles everyday comfortably again. Because I had spent most of the winter and spring focusing on school, I entered those runs completely out of shape. My aim then was to shake off the rust before the real training began. Believe me, those four mile runs then were rough.

This year was easier to maintain a stronger training regimine. I was able to make a good amount of money to live on from selling all my paintings in my graduation exhibition so I wasn’t immediately pressed to get a job during the summer. Even when I did finally get my job in October, I was able to continue to maintain my running schedule because my hours there are in the evening Monday through Friday. Last year was much more inconsistent because of being in school and having mandatory meetings plus classes in the morning.

I decided to not use a premade scheduled daily distance calendar to base my run around. I wanted to listen to my body and really allow myself to push myself when I wanted to push myself and back off when I needed to back off. Once I was in shape again, I felt that it might be possible to try to turn my weekday short three to five mile runs into daily ten mile runs. This ended up being a big mistake. After a couple of weeks trying to do this I was completely gassed. It was just too hard for me to maintain. I eventually did settle to six to eight miles everyday and found that distance manageable with my sunday long runs.

This year was also the first year I suffered some injuries during training. Because my quadriceps weren’t strong enough to adequately sustain the correct running form from these longer runs, I started to develop runner’s knee in both my knees and I was feeling sharp pain on my shins right below my knees when I flexed the knee joint. After resting and icing the sources of these pains, adding my squat’s to my general strength training, and getting my form back to optimal, I was able to overcome these pains and even really start to see an improvement in my overall ability as a runner. I also occasionally tweaked my right foot with some minor stress injuries that generally healed in just a couple of days.

Last year’s marathon in the wind made me realize that my core was not as strong as it needed to be to reach my target goal. This year, in general, I balanced the miles running with very basic body weight strength exercises. Firas Zahabi, on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, talked about his prefered training method of trying to achieve workout flow and then immediately shut it down. He argues that you should never feel sore after a workout and that you should also be having fun when you work out. He uses Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow towards working out. Basically, if you can only run three miles maximum, then you should run one and half and then stop until that one and a half becomes routine and then you can slowly increase the distance and then make that new distance routine. Ideally you can maintain this daily intensity pretty easily with little to no soreness. The idea being, let’s say, you can run a maximum of three miles but for the next two days you are too sore to go back and run again. If you compare the two different runners used here and map out their total mileage for a year, the former runner would have run much more total mileage than the latter.

Zahabi also makes a key observation in that what we see when an elite athlete performs is vastly different than what we see when an elite athlete trains. For example, Steph Curry makes shooting three point shots look effortless when he plays in games. What the viewer doesn’t see is the years and years and years of endless shots he practiced to make it that good. Same can be said with a powerlifter. When we see them perform, we see them at their peak performance and pushing themselves beyond their limits but what we don’t see is where they began and how they train. What this does is it makes the viewer think that if they want to be like that then they have to work out like that when that’s not the case at all. Trying to lift powerlifting weight right at the start will only make you worn out and sore. It’s the high anxiety or low fun spectrum of Flow and is more likely not going to help get you back in the gym the next day to continue getting stronger.

Zahabi also distinguishes two forms of training: sport specific and general conditioning. Sport specific in my case will be the miles of running where the focus is on building the running strength be become a stronger runner. The general conditioning, for me, is a series of push-ups, squads and various core exercises that compliments the running. For these I do five sets of twenty push ups, five sets of twenty squats, and series of fifteen to twenty different core exercises that targets each muscle briefly. (I have to say that at this moment, I’ve been at the closest to having a visible six-pack ever.)

This year I also tried to really get in a much stretching as I could. At first I approached this via a yoga for runners video I found on youtube but I slowly just took my favorite stretches from this and just started to do them on my own when I could. My favorite new stretch is to start on your hands and knees and then bring your right leg through and place the cole of your foot down between your hands. Then slowly walk the foot over and then turn foot onto its side so your sole is facing out towards your opposite hand. Then slowly shift your weight back and the stretch will happen on the outside of your right leg. Do the same thing but with your opposite leg too.

As far as diet goes, I tried to keep a very consistent diet throughout my training. This year I was hell bent on as little sugar as possible. A typical daily diet for me was (and still is) breakfast: toast with peanut butter and banana, coffee. Lunch: four eggs, turkey bacon, kale smoothie. Dinner: chicken/tuna/steak, rice/pasta/potatoes, salad. Here and there I’ll have cheat meals (especially after long runs on Sunday). I also ensure to eat all of this in as tight a window as possible to allow my body to digest the food properly overnight.

I did try the recently popular ketogenic diet but I did not respond well to this diet. This diet seems to be the best for those who don’t need a surplus of calories to maintain their daily schedule. I couldn’t afford to cut carbohydrates because my body needed them to sustain my running.

The most important thing I discovered about myself this year is how important running is for me for my sanity. A part of my psyche I was disconnected from revealed itself to me and ha s a connection to level of physical assertion. When I maintain a healthy routine running schedule this part presents itself as a proud warrior but when I am stagnant for long periods of time it presents itself as a tantrum throwing toddler. This negative aspect of this part manifests itself to me by feeling of unease and anxiety. This makes complete sense especially when I look back at the times of my life when I felt little to no versions of this anxiety as I’ve been the most calm during periods of routine running or physical activity.

Though I didn’t meet my goal this year, I am extremely excited to get back into training mode for my next marathon. I recovered the fastest after this year’s race and I also didn’t have lingering joint pain afterwards either. I really hit my stride a couple of weeks before the marathon when I really cleaned up my form and I’m hoping to continue to get better at running.