Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Head Games"--Yes, I did do an anti-abuse art project

This video features the art piece "Head Games." It documents a project I did for a required course in the MFA program at the University of New Orleans in Louisiana. The course is Form and Idea. Creative Writing Workshop students have had to take the course through the Film, Theater, and Communications department; however, this is the last year the course will be required for students in the creative writing MFA program.

The course has been replaced by craft courses in the students' specific disciplines, such as poetry and fiction.

My instructor was Henry Griffin, a screenwriter and film professor. He's a passionate and enthusiastic educator, consuming vast amounts of literature, film, and music. While I see the need for craft courses, even applaud their addition, I also think the program may lose something by not exposing its students to this interdisciplinary course.

For the final assignment, Griffin required us to take a piece of art from one genre--a song, a movie, a book, a painting, etc.--and adapt it to a different art form. I chose to turn Joni Mitchell's classic 1975 song "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" into the papier-mâché piece you see in the video.

The idea came to me when I saw local artist and fellow poet Valentine Pierce on Facebook showing off a wig head she'd covered with newspaper via papier-mâché. She did it for practical reasons--to show off hats at the French Market that she's created , but her photo caused me to recall seeing wig heads covered that way when I was a child. And then I remembered making a paper mache duck with my mother when I was bout 8 years old. She was an elementary school teacher.

One of the restrictions for the project was to not do anything you've mastered. We had to do something that we've never done before or had not done in a long time. Paper mache fit the bill for me. Previously I had thought about turning the song into a movie poster, but my drawing's rusty, and the 3-dimensional aspect of the head appealed to me.

Mitchell's song is about a woman enduring psychological abuse and control-freak tactics, so I curated tweets from the #WhyIStayed Twitter campaign launched by Beverly Gooden last year and typed them up, printing them on the laser printer. Later I pasted then on the top of the head. Throughout the piece I also used Joni's lyrics handwritten on different types of paper (newsprint, construction, printer, tissue) and some of the psychologically crippling words I've heard or read before.

The head represents a woman trapped by mental abuse, one who doubts herself, and fears leaving her abuser for whatever reason. That could be financial fears, fear of losing social status, fear for children, or fear for her own life. Sometimes it's all of the above.

Instead of using Joni's actual song, I used the karaoke back-up because I don't want her people to get on me. :-)

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