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


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. 

Divine Intervention

My grandfather on my mother’s side of my family and my aunt on my mother’s side of the family were both hospitalized when I was four years old. My grandfather had a diabetes complication and my aunt was giving birth to her first born child. From an early age, my mom encouraged me to draw. My mom, being a single parent already at this point, found it helpful to occupy me while she dealt with adult matters like her sister and father being in the hospital. Luckily my mom kept many of these drawings.

hospital room

In this first drawing, I drew, my mom, and my grandma, and I in a hospital room and my aunt lying in a hospital bed. Everyone looks very happy because of the birth of my cousin, Shannon, which is what my mom is holding. I even drew the wallpaper or the painting in the hospital room behind my aunt. This picture is important because it sets a baseline of how I drew people as a child.

My grandfather past away shortly after my cousin’s birth and it had a tremendous impact on my mother. She was in her mid to late twenties when this was all happening. On top of being a single mother, she now had to deal with the tragic passing of her father.

My mother told me that she had intense dreams about her father after his death that she couldn’t fully comprehend. She also said that I was having issues sleeping too. I would end up having to sleep in the same bed with her at night to go to sleep. When she asked me why I was sleeping in her bed with her, I either said it was because I was afraid of something outside of my window or that I was having bad dreams. I don’t remember those dreams but I do remember there being lights outside my window and thinking I was hearing sounds of a person outside of my window. I understand that I wouldn’t be able to connect that the lights were cars passing by at the age of four. My bedtime around then was around nine o’clock at night. The sounds and the fear that someone was going to come into my room was peculiar though. My mom asked my dad if I was having issues sleeping when I was at his house and he said that I stayed in my bed every night and appeared to sleep fine.

angel drawing1


I continued to draw and some of my drawings became very strange to my mom. One drawing in particular is of an angel. The form of the angel differs from the form of the other people I drew. This figure has wings and lines about it that, as a child, I described as light around the angel. Shortly after that, I had a dream or a vision of this angel. In this dream, the angel and I had a conversation about my deceased grandfather where he told me that was doing great and that he was in a good place. My mother was stunned at this. I couldn’t describe the physical features of the angel well because it was just a being of light but I did get his name. His name was David. It may be a coincidence but I don’t believe that a four year old who wasn’t in a particularly religious environment at the time knew of the biblical King David and his relationship with the Angel of Death.


Upon hearing this, my mother was mesmerized. She was still having difficulties accepting her father’s passing but she used these events as motivation to seek healing from Christianity. To this day, she is a practicing Christian.

Dream 12/20/17

I am walking home late at night in a city that is similar to Philadelphia. I stop at a convenience store to buy some snacks for when I get home. While picking out my snacks, a robber comes rushing in and holds the clerk up at gunpoint. I don’t do anything to help as I hide in the back of the store. I end up deciding to just go home and not get anything after the robbery ends.

As I continue home, two girls ahead of me begin giggling loudly. One of them quickly turns around and points a gun in my direction and fires bullet. I dodge the bullet by diving to my left. The bullet ends up hitting someone who was walking behind me. Instead of running away, I decide to linger around to see what’s happening. I don’t know these girls so maybe they were aiming for the person behind me the whole time. I hide behind a tree nearby but one of the girls notices me, walks over, and shoots me right below my rib cage in my stomach. I blackout.

I feel no pain when I come to but I do feel an incredible stiffness from where I was shot. I’m lying on the ground by the tree where I was hiding. I locate the bullet right below my left lung and proceed to remove the bullet from the wound. Dizzy from the loss of blood, I began to try to call for help on my phone. However, once I start to dial, the two girls return and take my phone from me. The girl that shot me keeps the gun aimed at my head. I still cannot recognize the girls.

I beg for her to spare me as she smiles at me with the gun still aimed at my head. She demands me to stop pleading and I do so. I then start crying. She then tells me that I am beginning to annoy her. I ask her why she shot me and her response was simply, “why not?”

She leans over me and places the gun on my right temple. She then tells me, “if you don’t move to this next shot then I’ll let you live.” I start crying harder as I tell her that I don’t believe her. A long moment passes and I wake up.

Images Cannot Be Created Nor Destroyed

The first law of thermodynamics that states that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. As Hollis Frampton’s film nostalgia reminds us, images themselves are composed of matter. Frampton shows us in this piece repeated shots of photographs he has taken as they slowly burn on a stove grill. As they burn he tells the story of the next photo, forcing the viewer (once the viewer understands what is happening) to create a mental image of the next photo before seeing it. The viewer is left with dissonance when Frampton reveals the actual photograph is much different than what he describes.

Benjamin’s concept of the aura of an object and how that becomes lost in the photograph as an outcome of mechanical reproduction comes into question here. Benjamin’s definition of the aura is a loose one but is best defined when he writes, “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history it has experienced” (Benjamin 221). In this way, the aura deals with sensory experience and personal perception of the object itself as well as the historical context of the object.

Benjamin then also believes that the aura is lost in the reproduction of the object as an image. He writes, “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin 220).

In the last photograph shown in nostalgia, Frampton describes a moment in the photo where a truck drives into the shot of a photograph he has taken and creates an interesting glare in a window of the truck. He then explains that he blew up this moment extremely large to the point where all that is visible is the photographic grain of the photo. He then describes an overwhelming fear that accompanied this process and then continues to not show us the photograph that he is describing. In a way, this last photo resembles what happens as each photo burns on the stove. As each slowly burns, there is a moment where the photograph remains a photograph until it reaches a threshold where it then just becomes ash. The materiality of the photograph overtakes the contents of the photograph. This moment of seeing the grain of the last photo is where Frampton realizes the materiality of the photograph and that that is ultimately what the photograph is since the described aura doesn’t translate through the photographic reproduction.

Hito Stereyl’s continues the conversation of the loss of the aura through reproduction in her essay In Defense of The Poor Image where digital technology allows for mass reproduction to occur. The Internet creates a circulation of images that contain little to none of the aural information of the subject of the picture. This dissociation of the aura of these images and the speed at which they are circulated creates new methods of interpreting these images. Stereyl writes, “The poor image is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation” (Stereyl). There are both positive and negative consequences from the aura being displaced. The positive being that the reproduction facilitates an easy means of rapid dispersion of information. For example, local music scenes have started using cassette tapes again to share their music. Though the music quality is worse, more people can listen to the music because it’s easier to produce more copies of cassette tapes. The negative, however, is the swarm mentality that Stereyl describes where the image becomes a rally point for shared social and political views. An example of this is the Pepe the Frog meme where an innocent cartoon frog character in a 2005 comic called “Boy’s Life” made by artist and illustrator Matt Furie became a declared hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League because of its circulation on the Internet and its overuse in relation to neo-Nazi mentalities and racist remarks.

There are those that feel, because of the mass circulation of images from technology, that there is an overload of imagery now. In a way, this is true but in a way it is also false. In the section of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, entitled “The Heroism of Vision”, she talks about the effects photography has on how we view the world and ourselves. She writes, “Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism” (Sontag 87). It’s through the invention of the camera and its mass circulation that the world has become a photograph waiting to be taken. There is now a potential for anything one sees visually to be rendered mentally and literally as a photograph. There aren’t more images being visually consumed by the viewer’s eye, but there are different images being consumed. Instead of having a mental library of multiple images of real world experiences, they are replaced by the images of the screen. It merely seems like more images are flooding our brains when in actuality it is more variety of images that are flooding our brains. The world is still a photograph waiting to be taken. It is just our world that is being replaced by reproductions.

Run For Your Life

On November 19, 2017, I ran and finished my second full marathon. I finished with a time around 4 hours 15 minutes.

I began distance running when I was 16 years old with my old buddy Mike Habak. We would get up early every other day over the summer and go run up at Blacklick Metro Park in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. The dirt path trail up at the park was four miles long. We began just running the trail once but over time we slowly increased the distance until we were doing two laps, or eight miles, every other day. Our runs were peculiar though in that they went the same way every time. We’d run a mile in together and then we’d turn it into a race. Almost every time it was me who would take off running faster at this point and he would play catch-up. This dynamic was almost every run we ran together but it worked at making us stronger runners. The competition made me stronger to stay in front while the competition made him stronger in trying to catch up.

After graduating high school, we went our separate ways and I was left running on my own. That next summer I increased my every other day distance to twelve miles. I would run on and off again for the next couple of years, taking time off for school.

This was generally the distance I would run until three year ago I decided to run the Columbus Marathon. The training for this kind of run is much more intense than what I was normally doing. Below was my schedule I followed.
(Image of running schedule to be added later)
I wasn’t able to follow this strictly but it was a solid framework to base my schedule around. I would run 6 days a week with one rest day. Five of those six days are shorter runs and one of those six days was a longer run. The schedule slowly increases in intensity and distance until a couple of weeks before the marathon where I would then taper out to avoid exhaustion and injury before the race. I also tried to include at least two strength days, usually on Mondays and Thursdays, as well.

For me, running has many benefits besides staying in shape. I believe in the connection and balance of mind, body, and soul so if I let my body go then I too bring down my mind and soul. The repetition of running allows me to sometimes enter into a meditative state of mind where I can focus and approach issues that I am dealing with more clearity than when I don’t run.

The discipline to force myself to get up every morning and run also benefits my studio practice. I definitely don’t feel like running everyday and every run isn’t great but I can only get better at running if I run every day. The same can be said about making art in the studio. That level of mental toughness can be hard to maintain all the time and running helps me keep that muscle in shape.