The first thing I remember about Brown is the excitement. Sitting in class, freshman fall, sputtering out thoughts that seemed relevant and artistic and creative. And people listened to me, responded to me, challenged me. I had been so sheltered in high school, so convinced that academia was drudgery and split into neat categories. I discovered digital art that semester. There were people like me at Brown, and we gathered in cramped grad student apartments for salons to drink wine and share our work. They liked my art. Someone told me I would be a meta-star. Brown was everything. I was free.
My sophomore year, I did a performance called Distraction. I typed out my stream of consciousness on Livejournal in front of an audience. It was like my teenage years wasted on blogs, spilling out angst, oddly private and public at the same time. Performing was like that for me: improvising, exposing my thoughts, my body present. I found it liberating. From then on, I began to mine my life for art.
When junior fall came, Occupy Wall Street came with it. Change was happening outside me. I felt excited and rebellious. I started to become disillusioned with school. My classes were demanding. I was thinking too much. I took my first incomplete after a performance where I cried in front of everyone. (I still can’t look at the tape.) In the spring, I made iPhones out of clay and rhapsodized about my cyborg dependence on technology. I attached electrodes to my body and writhed around under the pretense of performance art. I partied, I fell in love.
Art became a way for me to work out my feelings. My body became part of my art. And the more sleepless, the more rambling, the more pure my body became…the more pure my art would be. There was no more boundary between life and art. It was only after a series of life’s small crises (and the art I tried to make about it) that I began to crack. 6am, Slater shower, spoken word poetry. Psychological services. Going away from Brown, for a little while.
I took seven months off. I spent the summer in Boston working at a software company. I felt dry. I missed art, but I couldn’t motivate myself to do it. I wasn’t content to draw little avatars in Photoshop. In August, I decided to take the fall semester off. I had a lead on a few internships in the art world. I moved to New York to a basement in Boerum Hill. Rode the subways. Saw how art happened in the real world. I assisted on other people’s digital art, but still couldn’t make my own. I think in half a year I drew three sketches.
Still, I was free. I hated the prospect of moving back to Brown, that place that had confined me. I didn’t think I could do it. I feared losing control again. I couldn’t think about theory, or any of the words MCM had made up, or even write anything. That part of my brain had atrophied. I almost decided to stay in New York. But everyone I knew told me that if I didn’t go back to Brown now, it would be even harder to do so later. If I went back at all.
So I did. On a January morning, I drove up to snowy Providence for my senior year. I took classes I considered kind of safe. But I took a personal risk and signed up for the Female Sexuality Workshop. FemSex opened my mind about sexuality and gave me a space to talk about things. Personal things. And no one seemed to judge me. I started making art again. I projected flames on my body and my body onto ice. I stayed silent.
My art was less personal this time. But I was learning that I could separate my art and my life. They didn’t have to be directly connected, because they always already were. I could use my body to control a sound wave, and it would be just as compelling (maybe more) than a monologue about my whole life. It was still me. My body, and my mind.
Brown gave me art, community, and new forms of expression. It invited me in, spit me out, and welcomed me back. Even now it feels like I’ll be going back next semester, and not facing the vague vortex of the rest of my life. I have no direction yet, and that’s okay. But I’ll keep making art, putting myself in and taking myself out. I’ll remember Brown when I’m up all night. I’ll remember Brown when I feel the rush of performing. I’ll remember Brown when I slip up and reveal something personal. I’ll remember Brown when I feel free.
By Claire Kwong, Contributor