Through A Window, Down A Portal
Essay by Kim Selling | Photographs by Lynda Sherman and Sierra Stinson
Beginning this year was a piece of simple distinction, plain text projected over a heavily trafficked corner of a rapidly changing neighborhood. Small collective phrases like singular light bulbs, one alit each night for the birth of 2017. To create something from nothing at the turn of a linear time cycle means that all context from previous cycles have been mined to give this current one a deeper meaning before it has had a chance to play itself out. Lynda Sherman’s The Usual Window uses the peculiarly traumatic experiences of her childhood to create a scene of power dynamics, represented by her chosen avatar, text, in a way that is immediately translatable and digestible for modern viewers. You see the phrase, it is now yours, and will hopefully be used in your own illustrations of self.
These phrases can be read in any way the viewer chooses, but, in any case, are as follows:
MISBEHAVE MASTURBATE RIOT // AND FALL IN LOVE UNAFRAID
KEEP HEAD OUT OF OVEN THUMB OUTSIDE FIST // HEART OUT OF POCKET STITCHED BACK UPON SLEEVE
RAGE FORBIDDEN GLEE // AGITATE FEROCIOUS PLEASURE
CRACK SPARKLE PEEL // UNRAVEL ALTER FOMENT
glimmer gleam growl // wage and devour
And the 8th day “bonus track,” DEFLOWER THE PATRIARCHY
As a child in Bremerton, Sherman grew up in a classic prairie rambler with her family. Her bedroom window, the usual window of this show, was pink, framed by pink checked curtains and a white vinyl shade, and distinct not only in its Pleasantville-like appearance, but in its openness to the outside world. One of her neighbors, a non-descript bus driver, would take it upon himself to look through this window often, peeping at Lynda in this room and others throughout her house. She never told her parents, instead internalizing these trespasses as a child, and informing her later experiences regarding safety and consent with these early incidents of voyeurism.
Starting as a literal experience and slowly morphing into an extended metaphor, the “usual window” continues to serve as a direct illustration of Sherman’s treatment of her own body and mind as dual and separate entities. When pressed on her attitude towards herself, Sherman responded: “A lot of artists think about ‘the voyeur’ and that’s something that makes me very uncomfortable, to be seen physically. And I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but I exist mostly in my head and not my body because I don’t want to be just seen as that, and that’s the thing I can control more, is my mind. And that’s mine, that can’t be taken from me by anyone trying to insert themselves into my life or into my mind.”
Infiltration by outside actors is impossible when you’ve proved yourself capable of both severing and filling the spaces between your body and your mind. Sherman mentioned her ability to dissociate often without even realizing, operating both within and outside of herself as she goes along. She remarked on the confluence between the two states within the act of printing: “Even though you’re tuned in [to the printing process], you’re still hyper aware, and I guess that’s the only way I’m aware of my body — is when I don’t wanna have it chopped in the machine. That’s how I know where my hands are.”
This ability to give and receive your own sentience makes for compelling dictations on action. The statements put forth by The Usual Window play with directness, with providing a to-do list of constant vigilance in how you care for yourself. And Sherman separating her selves allows for her to direct her body and her mind in different but dovetailing causes. In discussing action, Sherman said: “Most of the things I print are like daily meditations, and it does start with me. It is a mental health plan.” Using these disembodied statements work chiefly as a to-do list for both the artist and the audience, clearly outlined for each desired action, to be interpreted differently by each viewer depending on their own mental and physical duplicity. “I think it’s a mental health plan, because otherwise the words just spin in my head. It’s like an energy that you can then release.”
That energy can’t exist in a vacuum; it exists within the realm of Sherman’s larger understanding of her own capacity to effect change. This faceless, body-less narrator can usher art consumers into a new understanding of themselves by virtue of its mutable and truncated message format. She claimed: “A lot of people don’t wanna have to participate in their own understanding but those that do, it could be another portal to use something differently or use something more in depth. Even though there’s so few words I think that each one of those words is its own portal that you can go into. I know that there’s some people in my own life who have such a resistance to that, they don’t even wanna go in those portals.”
Sherman’s deep-seated connection to these portals, each word she used in the show serving as their own vehicle, is more than just message-related. In response to a question about action in creative communities, she mentioned that “I see much more participation and less consumption now, sometimes literally. And I think that’s an important move, to take your own narrative back. And to see people taking their own narrative back through sadness and anger and action, also seeing people realize that it’s not an energy that dissipates into nothing.”
Choosing to take back your own narrative in these trying times (read: really all time, not just this one) involves plunging yourself into the portals of Sherman’s words, which in itself is an almost divine action of shooting for your highest potential as human. So utilizing Sherman’s statements for pointed improvement and increased agency brings us to this central question: can you truly divorce your self? Can mind and body exist separately outside each other? And is this possible without trauma being the vehicle for separation?
Trauma forces us into a compacted uniqueness. We must compartmentalize to remain above what pains us: what to keep and what to throw away, what defines us and what creates a version of us we’d rather not know. In an interpretation of a Usual Window phrase: wage war on your character, and devour what is lacking. Is such divisibility of spirit possible without the definitions of trauma? Without the trappings of guilt or overcorrection, could you ever simply be just a girl at the window?
Of course, the answer is a singular moment only to fit a framework; what matters is the process of separation, realizing one’s agency in solitude, and deciding upon a course to follow, now free (or lonely) of one’s self. Once the body is no longer there, the mind can communicate without boundaries or limitations. The weightlessness of a mind freed from its physical constraints, now able to act or project in any desired way, say, to masturbate-riot as loudly and frequently as possible. Since a freed mind can’t corporeally do that on its own, it can, at the very least, compel everyone else to in its place. So it is, in its way, a figure of universal nature, joining together all of its audience, each of whom have decided to look through the window.
Not to drag this into a Hot Topic echo chamber of neopagan trutherism from which we can never recoil, but this current time of year (typically March 20-April 1) was previously celebrated as the beginning of the new year — a separation of seasons at the vernal equinox allows the world to be born anew for the next cycle of time. This phase of year that we’re in lends itself to separation of the selves — a lifting of the metaphysical veil between soul and body — and re-commitment to physical and emotional goals.
Lynda’s piece was presented at the beginning of the Roman Calendar new year, the beginning of January, so this connection is not totally out of nowhere. A traditionally pagan tradition of this time of year was to write your intentions upon an egg, visually setting your hopes for this new year onto a symbol of impending creation and thusly, subsequent delivery. You bury the egg, and then plant seeds of your choice into the plot of dirt where the egg is buried. The seeds then suck the nutrients out of the egg as they grow into the plant they are meant to be, thereby expanding your hopeful intentions and becoming a tangible representation of how you, yourself, hope to grow.
Each day of The Usual Window, Lynda wrote her intentions on these windows, soon to become actions of hers and of ours. We must promise to and go forward with misbehaving, masturbating, and rioting, inciting delight, requiring desire, and actively deflowering the patriarchy. This is our to-do list now, the explicit actions that will spell out our future.
Towards a Radical Honesty
Exhibition review of ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Sad’ by Steven Dolan
A crowd has gathered in the parking lot of the El Capitan on a Thursday night in mid-May. It’s Capitol Hill Art Walk and with the continuation of the MARQUEE series, this humble patch of concrete is buzzing with energy, but absent are the pretension and soulless schmoozing you might experience in a gallery. This feels real. There are drinks in hands, some snacks being passed around, and the vibrations of conversation encasing the crowd as they look up towards projections filling two windows separated by a floor.
One projection, “a short looped film on sadness,” displays the featured artist, Kim Selling, posed in her bedroom in variations on a slump, her fat white body demanding attention from the street and I-5 travelers. Some poses see her face down, while others are more fetal, her body communicating a limpness and a pain, disrupting the bank of images many of us have in our heads filed under nude. The screen beneath it is a loop of text pieces Kim wrote, white text on a black background called “it’s just noise.” These projections are looped in tandem for a piece called “Portrait of the artist as a young sad.”
The text begins:
IT’S JUST NOISE
IT’S JUST NOISE
IT’S JUST NOISE
NARCISSISM AS COMMUNITY GIFT
is it still a panic attack if it’s yr entire life
put on clothes & eat something
Kim started the piece as a private photo series examining the toll of chronic depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD on her body. “Sometimes you just wanna take a bunch of photos of yourself and feel like a human and not like a lizard,” she said over drinks at Pony. Set in her bedroom, her “#1 comfort space,” the photos are an intimate peek into a private experience of pain, isolated but no doubt affected by the wider, more chaotic world. “I am posed in that way because I can’t think of myself as upturned with disorders that make me feel so downtrodden,” she said. “I’m not taking in anything, I’m actively repelling everything around me because I don’t have enough space in my body to absorb anything.”
She then paired the images with a collection of short textual phrases, “detritus” she had collected over time. As with the photos, the text is to be understood as output from the artist’s brain, which functions solely within the framework of mental disorder. With “young sad,” Kim invited viewers to take part in a communal experience of empathy. “It felt great to just be like, here’s a long daisy chain of bullshit that is just floating in my brain miasma constantly and now you get to stand here in a parking lot and stare at what the inside of my brain looks like all of the time, because guess what, it’s really dumb and gross and exhausting being me, and I bet it’s really dumb and gross and exhausting being you, so let’s just stare at it together.” In this way, Kim’s work is a vehicle, a recognition of the ways in which we are all hurt by the brutality of existence, filtered through her own experience. “Our world is survival in the face of unrelenting suffering,” she said. “We all exist within this place at different levels of such harm, and more suffering happens when we refuse to see these connections.”
This piece is unequivocally an extension of Kim’s greater body of work, which is not centered around a specific medium or even creativity per se. Her presence on the internet, and on social media in particular, engages with current events, intersectionality, social justice, and various forms of art with biting criticality and necessary humor. A mutual friend has called her an “internet witch,” speaking to her ability to meld fields of engagement in a way that is overtly political and disembowels oppression, transforming experiences like street harassment into quips that incite laughter while the ever-present specter of a violent world hides in plain sight. Kim embraces the digital world as a venue to hone a sensibility in a space where she says “you can’t do anything wrong [creatively]. It’s just recensoring or reediting or recarving over and over again into the same space… I see it as limitless.” And whether you’re “unsure if it’s art” or not, it is creative labor that sees its continuation in “young sad.” In recreating moments of discovery she experienced through social media, Kim extends the visibility of fat queer bodies, representation that is life-affirming. Further, in utilizing the language of digital relationality, a kind of distanced, oblique authenticity, she speaks to a deeper truth.
By adopting the formal qualities of advertising via its projection, “young sad” steals from capitalist strategy to advance an ethic in which the market is absent. Within a capitalistic gaze, Kim’s body and words are antithetical to production. By employing them in this framework, she subverts this gaze by “selling” a radically human way of relating, one that is based in honesty and critical of conventional power structures. In the same way, “young sad” offers an alternative to the arts community’s self-propagating obligation to the production line. In directly connecting art and depression (see: “‘nobody cares’—a support group for young creatives,” “the loudest voices in yr head are always the ones that don’t support u”), Kim critiques the idea that one both should and can be constantly productive as an artist: you made me feel guilty for not working hard enough, here you go.
In experiencing “young sad,” rigor and tenderness coalesce. Kim is assertive in her use of vulnerability as a tactic, though it had not occurred to her as such given her identity and the emotional labor that it regularly demanded of her. “I think that for my own purposes, I’ve militarized vulnerability and I am so actively emotionally compartmentalizing everything that comes within view of my forcefield.” It is through the reclaiming of her narrative that this vulnerability becomes harnessed, rather than left to the vultures. “You are often sharing without even realizing it. Especially as a fat femme, my body is public domain and I didn’t choose that, but it’s always been that,” she said. “I choose to own it and steer it as I may, rather than myself being steered by public opinion.” It is in this space of volition and self-revelation, gifted narcissism if you will, that we are able to connect with each other at our most essential.
Artwork by Kim Selling
Images of Installation by Lindsey Apodaca & Sierra Stinson
portrait of the artist as a young sad
May 12, 2016
8:45pm – 10:45pm
Outside of El Capitan Apartments
North side of the building near the Olive Way 1-5 overpass
anxiety is a self-restacking pyramid of plastic ice cubes forming the arctic ziggurat of your spinal cord. it reaches so far and so high it can almost count as pre-workout stretching because stress is exercise and your entire body is awash with pain. this body feels lived in; it is indented with the fingerprints of each resident — cracks in the glacier widen each day to show new rooms, soon to be inhabited by old triggers.
this anxiety guilts you out of bed down the stairs out into the sunlight into a bus out of the bus into the sunlight. you obsess — is it still a panic attack if it’s just your entire life? the sunlight holds hands with your anxiety; they muddle, and birth shame, which pushes you, like a pug on a skateboard, into the nearest building that has coffee. and sometimes you’re stretching in line at a cafe and the human behind you asks a question, so you turn around, but you sneeze mid-turn and throw your back out, and you think, why did i ever walk downstairs.