Losing my studio and a comment from the beloved Jan has got me thinking about how we occupy space, particularly us women. The power I felt at being able to close the door to my studio back in 1992 still resonates with me, if anything, even more deeply. Obviously, I am not the first to make note of it. We are most fortunate to have Virginia Woolf's extended essay A Room of One's Own to look more closely at what this is about. It might be time for a re-read!
Not too many years after I moved into my studio in LIC, I attended my first artist residency up at the Vermont Studio Center. It was a month-long residency and each week a different artist would visit and offer critiques, both individual and group. I remember one artist who came who was a painter (I have forgotten her name, sad to say) and, after visiting each of our studios (there were probably about ten of us there at the same time) she made the observation that women often accept the space they are given and make accommodations around whatever is there, whereas men will come in and shift things around to suit their purposes. I have thought of that observation so many time since, particularly when I find myself making a painting or drawing and reaching for my materials in some awkward way because I haven't actually set myself up to best support what I am doing. Making a drawing need not be a game of Twister and yet the number of times I have found myself doing just that has been many. Many.
I think too about a time when my Zen teacher was talking about the notion, frequently mentioned in Zen, of fully occupying the ground under your feet. A woman in the sangha raised her hand and said something like, "I am happy to occupy any ground you tell me to occupy - really! Just point it out and I will go stand there! But to take up a space myself..?" And she started to cry.
Even more recently, in Nashville, I was assigned to teach a group class for people (three women, as it happened) with SI joint issues. I wish I could say that I based my class on my deep anatomical knowledge of the pelvis and its surrounding muscles, etc., but instead, I woke up one morning before class with the clear sense that what I needed to do as to offer safety and emotional healing and an encouragement to take up space. It was a little unorthodox but fortunately my mentor has faith in my intuition, even when I sent him away while he was observing the class so the four of us could talk without men present. There was a kind of gasp in the room when I directly told the class to situate themselves in such a way so they could occupy as much space as they wanted. Indeed, I think I said, "Take up space! Take as much room as you need! Don't accommodate anything!" Stuff happened in that class.
As I begin my search for a new space in which to make art, I feel downright unapologetic about it.