Elizabeth Gilbert suggests in Big Magic that a person decides whether or not to truly become something by the kind of 'sh*t sandwich' they are able to consume and perhaps even strangely delight in it's taste. Each vocation has its own version. And within each profession there are variations of the sh*t sandwich, and perhaps even a rotating menu of them, including sh*t snacks and sh*t desserts. For most artists, schlepping is one of the shit sandwiches.
Schlep (Yiddish origin) - To haul or carry (something heavy or awkward).
Yesterday, I moved all of my babies (my pieces for my upcoming show - Athbheochán: Untranslatable Wisdom) to the Honfleur Gallery to be housed in waiting for their installation at the Blank Space SE Gallery at the Anacostia Arts Center. My babies are heavy, awkwardly shaped and yet fragile. Wrapped meticulously in bubble wrap with bits and pieces of cardboard reinforcement for tricky pieces and parts, they appeared more like carcasses as they awaited their transport.
There is no standardization of a crate type that could be designed to always fit my work. My work is not standardized in any way and I shiver to consider containing the muse that inspires me to have to work within the confines of such an approach at this point in the development of my work. Nothing wrong with setting boundaries, and I do this, but fitting into a box - proverbially or literally - will probably not ever be my goal - in art or in life.
A friend remarked, "this doesn't look like the way the art gets delivered to the Smithsonian Museums ... there must be a better way than bubble wrap?" True. And because I've had the chance to work directly with the incredible folks at the Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Center (OEC), I know that indeed there are ingenious, fascinatingly creative ways to design and construct the cradles that will keep works safe as they travel the globe in first class luxury. My good friend Rick Pelasara, long time OEC guru has given me tours of the place and explained that a majority of the work of his talented crew is the designing and building of the shipping systems for the exhibits, rather than the actual construction of the exhbits themselves. Once, for a gallery show in San Diego, Jason Hebert, my fellow Off the Beaten Track artist friend, did indeed make me a custom crate for my piece "Twist", which I was able to put in checked luggage on Southwest Airlines! Not one thing came lose on that relief mosaic piece!
My show here in DC is only about 5 miles down the road from my studio, and the show has a total of 22 wrapped up pieces of all shapes and sizes. I am a lone, self-funded artist without a trust fund or the patronage of a Smithson and a warehouse to catalog, evaluate and ship my work across the globe. Bubble wrap is my friend.
And so is my moving crew. When it comes to the circles of friendship, anyone who shows up to help you schlep artwork on a Sunday morning is in the inner core. These are the folks you can call on to put a body in the trunk, no questions asked. And with the shapes and sizes of the work in this show, well, this analogy is eerily comparable.
If schlepping is one of art's sh*t sandwiches, I must confess to my odd delight in the process and the emotions it stirs in me. The night before my crew arrived, I spent the night wrapping like it was Christmas Eve. Inasmuch as the stooping and lugging and the bumbling balancing provoke my truck driver mouth, I do truly enjoy the sounds of the bubble wrap popping when I accidentally step on it - or when I step on it on purpose. I enjoy the feeling of success at achieving a good wrap... when folds of bubble wrap are squished into tape that secures a corner edge or fragile part and I can tell it will journey safely wherever it desires. I delight when I can reuse a piece of old bubble wrap that itself has traveled there and back again to such far off places as Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.
I amuse myself with my thoughts and emotions as I imagine my studio as a kind of incubator and now my babies are suddenly leaving their nest to take a place in the real world. I want to squeeze them and tell them it will all be alright. To give them an apple and a candy bar. I want to recite Irish Blessings to my pieces of artwork - "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand." I am amused at my deeply emotional response to completing something I have dedicated myself to for six months of evenings and weekends, trying to harness and express the depth of ideas and the emotions they conjure in me. My sadness is bittersweet chocolate, 90% cacão. Sh*t sandwich to some, oddly delicious to me.
Using all of the blankets and pillows I own, we made cradles in our trunks and flatbeds. With a four car caravan full of pieces led by me driving at the pace of a 90 year old great grandmother with only one functioning eyeglass lense, we made our trip across pothole ridden DC roads to the gallery, where we delivered the pieces to the safe halfway house of Honfleur Gallery's upstairs room.
The gratitude I hold for my friendships, my conspirators in the schlepping is also so much more powerful than the distaste of the shit sandwich. I am overwhelmed with emotion as I attempt to name every person who has schlepped me along my way over all of my years, from my family onward. As sore as I am today, and as dirty are my blankets and pillows, I invite more schlepping and dining on this kind of shit sandwich in years to come. As I commit to schlep, I further commit to making art.