on being affiliated and taking credit

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I’m having a really tough time with boundaries.

Let’s start a little further back.  Have you ever read the book Stargirl?  The main character is a high school-aged boy named Leo, who finds himself attracted to the quirky new girl, Stargirl Carraway, who is caring, thoughtful, unconventional, selfless, and nonconformist in a way that inspires a great deal of ambivalence from her peers – first intrigue, then admiration, then hate, then… well, I’ll let you read the book.  Stargirl is a complex character, and deciphering a core message or moral from the book is less straightforward than it seems, in my experience.  Stargirl devotes herself with reckless abandon to projects that she hopes will make people happy, often while intentionally disassociating herself from the projects so that they can be anonymous gifts that imply no desire for recognition.  She was a huge inspiration to me when I first read the book, in high school, because of her courageous blend of humility and generosity.

Now, though, I’m finding it hard to figure out how to follow her lead – and to what extent I should, or want to.  I deeply admire her character’s generosity and thoughtfulness, and long to emulate these qualities in my own life.  I also share her indifference to the spotlight (in fact, I may be more allergic to it than she is; she seems perfectly at ease being the centre of attention, because, at bottom, she just doesn’t recognize the weight of others’ gazes).  Lately, though, I am feeling the push to own my acts and projects in a way that I’m not entirely sure how to handle, and in ways that I’m not sure her character offers me insight in terms of how to mediate.

I love the community projects I’ve undertaken this year (and previously, more silently).  They make me feel connected to this city that I love so much, and it really warms my heart when people engage with my installations and report that it made their day.  Finding a way to spread that feeling of being connected to others was part of the idea behind including hashtags on the posters; it was all about giving people a way to see that this was bigger than each individual experience – that my good day is in kinship with her good day, and so on, and to allow everyone to see just how far the impact from a small box of felt flowers could extend.

So why blog about it?  Do I feel a desire/need/impetus to link myself personally to these projects?
And if so, why?

That’s the question with which I’ve been wrestling for months.  On the one hand, blogging serves as a helpful archive, and reinforces the aforementioned sense of connectedness by linking present projects to a whole past history of similar undertakings, and to additional photos for those who maybe only caught the end of an installation but would like to see more.  Blogging also offers not-insignificant practical benefits; it’s expensive to undertake these projects, and, as an underemployed philosopher, funding is a source of constant constraint when it comes to bringing ideas to fruition.  Publicizing these projects gives them greater attention, and also lends them (and me!) credibility in case, down the road, I need or decide to ask for support.  In those ways, I think that writing about my work is beneficial to my overall project.

On the other hand, it’s hard to balance desire for promotion with desire for self-promotion, and I find myself, increasingly frequently, coming up against that problematic relationship.  I’ve recently been in discussion with an organization about the idea of hosting a small installation on their front lawn, and the whole experience has brought a few things into sharp relief – namely, the extent to which I want to be affiliated with them, and them with me.  My intention was to set up a project that would be largely self-regulating (as all my projects, so far, have been), but through our discussions I feel as though I have been increasingly wrapped up in the execution as an active director of the experience – a position with which I am largely uncomfortable.  Fundamentally, I want these projects to be about people interacting with something (art/installation/random act of cheer/whatever you call it) – with me as the occassion, not the mediator, of the experience.  Ideally, I’d like to remain the anonymous author, but that seems largely impossible now, in part because doing so is it odds with at least one of the aforementioned practical considerations.  Remaining anonymous is also impossible when an installation requires a person’s direction in order for it to be executed (which is the case for a mission currently in-the-works).

How do I keep it “all about the art”?  How do I continue to promote the work without promoting myself?  Perhaps the answer lies in Stargirl, after all – specifically in her complete indifference – not distaste – for the spotlight.  Maybe the thing I need to do is not avoid the spotlight, but care less about it – care less about its meaning.

Maybe I need to stop overthinking this, and just keep doing things.  Stop asking for permission and just build.  I’m curious about your thoughts, though.  How do you see/experience/balance the relationship between act and affiliation, between project and producer?  (What would Stargirl do?)

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