I've been thinking about the concept of "Other Work," as her book art is described in Intimate Views, a small catalogue of weaver and fiber artist Kay Sekimachi, whose recent exhibit I wrote about in a previous post. Other Work, defined there, is not the "main" work, but something adjacent, a way of working out ideas, experimenting with new materials and approaches. It may not be fully formed or contain more than one idea, be it texture, line, color, or concept. But sometimes it can expand. In general, isn't this the artistic process? Our work does not spring from our hands fully formed. We work it out, trying different things.
The catalogue uses the word, private, which conjures up feelings of solitude, perhaps protectiveness. The thesaurus suggests: special, exclusive, secluded, intimate, personal. It occurred to me that Other Work may not be just a deviation from the usual work or primary medium, but work that brings with it no baggage, with no pressure, made freely. A shaking off of the critic on the shoulder, or any worry about judgment at all. Independent.
What is this baggage that hinders us? We may not know or realize it is there. And maybe it does not apply to everyone. Part of it may be the feeling that one has to have a reason or justification for making this work. But then, too, it feels good to feel acknowledged. The pressure to be noticed, accepted or admired by others, or pressure to conform to expectations. Making the Main Art in the same style and with the same materials and methods repeatedly (outside of enjoying it or feeling driven in a positive way) can be a result of pressure: because of limited resources; because it feels safe; or, something we may or may not be comfortable with: because it has been proven to sell. Selling gives an automatic reason, however one thinks about it, for making. And selling comes with its own baggage and pressure and the idea of "branding." To be fair, though, working solely in one style and with one method, even as a brand, offers the potential for an artist to go very deep in one area.
Other Work allows freedom from those pressures, if we are able to let it. It can be anything from a hobby to a separate thread of connected work. Although it sounds like it is inward-facing, Other Work allows an artist to continue looking outward, sifting and sorting through fresh territory, like Kay Sekimachi and her shell collecting and books made for herself, and for her pleasure.
A friend recently asked me to look at her art. "I don't know what it is. I don't know why I am making it or where it will go," she said. Does she enjoy making it? Yes. Then, I said, keep going. She had been thinking of this work as Other Work. It may become her Main Work or contribute to her Main Work on a subconscious level. The only way to know is to continue and move forward.
Until we recognize what we want to call it and how we want to think about it, there are some pressures in the questions of "what" and "why." I asked myself those questions as well when I first made an art quilt. It was private, for myself. The first one had a poem printed on cloth, layered over and over (my quilt beginnings in this post). I wanted to make it. Something compelled me to continue with cloth. I enjoyed the stitching, for one thing; my bookworks always ended up being glued or folded, when I knew I preferred to stitch. In the years since, quiltmaking has become a way of working outside of verbal language, which was, in some ways, new to me. For awhile I was still making books, and quiltmaking was my Other Work. Someone recently saw my quilts and said, "It's as if you took all your knowledge and skills and techniques from making books and made book covers." Covers/Layers/Quilts.
For me, the conceptual process of making books and making quilts is essentially the same, it is just that the materials I use have shifted; each piece is like a page, and together make up a whole. Books and quilts also share a term: a binding. The quilts and needlepoint boxes are intertwined and informed by my bookworks – text and textile, books and covers, and layers. Other Work has crossed over from being a private process on the side to a deeper investigation and focus. Other Work, for me, has evolved to become my Main Work. Other Work, wherever it sits, allows room for new visions, new experiments, new ways to communicate, and new ways to learn.