Reflections of my debut solo
One year ago from today, on November 6, 2017, my debut solo opened, and still I haven’t written anything about it in my blog. I was simply too burned out afterwards. Now – one year later – I feel it’s time to finally share some thoughts and experiences about how the solo happened in first place, and what it meant to me for my personal growth.
Since I moved to the UAE I was was participating in group art shows, organizing art festivals, each time exhibiting just 1-5 works per event. I enjoyed the opportunity to add something ‘crazy’ to the showcase selection. It also made me feel safe to ‘hide’ behind the group.
Many people told me during these years, I should come out with a solo show. I could not imagine an exhibition opening with me as the only artist at the centre of attraction. The very thought freaked me out. Besides, neither did I have the confidence to believe that people could seriously be interested in a setup of my works alone, nor that my skills and techniques were professional enough to not embarrass myself.
As you may already know, my art is very personal. It’s rather similar to a dairy people write to deal with impressions, experiences and working out personal issues. I think in pictures, therefore creating something is the straightest way to bring out my thoughts and emotions. Showcasing just one or a few works only offered a glimpse of my very own inner chaos, my own universe. Showcasing a bigger body of works would present me open as a book, vulnerable and exposed.
After a few years in UAE, Henosis – the artists Ashvin and B’lu – happened to me. They are well known established artists in UAE’s art scene. They organized a lot of rather unconventional art shows in the past with quirky titles as ‘Mind your hashtags’ and ‘Ways to kill your boss’. They believed in me. Asked me to join them because they loved my honesty and association with my artistic process. They actually managed to trick me into the solo, because they knew from their own experience, this step will help me to become more confident about my art, myself and as an artist.
I was told, there is a gallery owner who would like to have a look at our artworks (Ashvin’s, B’lu’s and mine) to consider a potential collaboration. Ashvin and B’lu selected a body of my works and we let them frame nicely. The appointment was made by my dear artist friends at their art studio and we brought over a sample of 10 of my works. I was already excited and anxious as hell, because for the first time I was supposed to get feedback from a gallery owner. Approximately 30 minutes before regarding lady arrived, Ashvin told me, that one of the meeting’s reasons is to push my solo. I was close to hyperventilating.
I had 8 months of preparation time left in my studio. The gallery expected: “Some more bigger paintings would be nice”. I worked hard, there was a lot in my brain screaming for release anyway. The necessary artistic support and guidance through that period came from B’lu. Especially the ‘bigger’ works brought me often on the edge of exhaustion, since my tunnel vision makes the basic composition in big scale quite difficult, though it may help a lot for detailed works. More often than not I was driven to the point where I seriously started doubting any of my works would be good enough for display. After many hours every day on my easel, my eyes were often so exhausted, that I needed to stop because I could not see anything anymore and all those lines I painted appeared to start moving and wiggling. Since I had a deadline, I needed to consider what part of my ideas I want to prioritize under which aspects of consideration of what I actually want to show of myself. Always the big question: What about me and how much of it I can manage to expose to public at once.
Each of my pieces took usually 3-6 weeks working time. Often I would panic about my skills and techniques. I never studied art, never created to impress someone else. It was always for me only. Without B’lu’s support I surely would have given up, gutted in fear. She helped me to find my own courage. As closer the curation appointment came, as less I could sleep, as more I freaked out. It did not really help either, that the appointment for artwork selection was postponed a few times on last minute. Eventually it happened and funny as it is, the gallery owner was surprised about my anxiety. She made her selection and appeared very happy with it. I told her about my fear and uncertainty, the feeling of ‘not being ready yet’. She just answered: “If you wait until you ‘feel’ ready, you will never do it”. The next two weeks I finally could sleep again. A comatose black-out kind of sleep.
The last three weeks before the opening were buried in last minute tasks. Coffee mug printing (not as easy as it sounds due to… you know… Abu Dhabi…), crafting the ribbon (…never liked the commonly used kitschy ribbons), crafting the obligatory ‘flower bouquet’, tailoring of an abaya and getting it embroidered with one of my artwork designs, framing of artworks, exhibition installation, baking cupcakes and organizing beverages and everything else for the opening catering, and so on. A lot what possibly could go wrong went wrong, but with support of my husband Gunnar and dear friends I managed all just in time…
I’ll never forget the feeling as we dropped the artworks at the gallery. The gallery was totally empty, waiting for my works to arrive. The realization of what just happened – delivering a big bunch of artworks to an art gallery neatly emptied out just for that very same reason – hit me like an anvil. I was breaking down crying during the ride back home. Two days later I faced the same feeling after my husband and me finished the installation under the gallery owners lead. Seeing an art gallery for the first time entirely filled with own works is so overwhelming! And quite strange. It’s a bit like in a mirror cabinet. Doesn’t matter where you look at, it’s always you looking back at you.
The opening came. Many of the guests were friends and artist colleagues, which made me feel comfortable soon. The special guest who opened the exhibition – Mr. Yasser Al Gargawi, Director of Cultural Events, Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development – brought two friends. One of them was responsible for The National Theatre, a venue where 3 of our AD Arts Collective art festivals took place. He appeared honestly happy to meet me, having heard about me through my work as organizer of AD Arts Collective in the past. We went around and he discussed with me every single artwork, including my ‘flower bouquet’, which actually turned out to be the most discussed artwork of the show and even got a sales request. Also a very big surprise was the fact, that Katharina Schuster, the Cultural Attachè of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, was attending the opening as well. Meeting her eventually led to this year’s exhibition project.
All who know me know how much I dislike posing for the camera. I had to look into lenses to such an extent during the opening, I got cramps in my cheeks by all those “smile here, smile there”. During all my previous openings usually the only mandatory picture was the ‘artist group picture’, but this time I was just alone. Most of my artist colleagues know about my dislike of posed pictures and me feeling not comfortable at all standing alone for that purpose. They all came together towards the end and surrounded me for one last …group picture. I had not to stay alone. A true gift of support.
While my husband was busy documenting the opening with his camera, our ‘wandering cam’, a camcorder, made its round through many hands. A lot of my friends recorded their impressions of the night, behind and in front of the lens. As I reviewed all those records the next day, I was touched to the heart. There were caught so many precious moments, small interviews, even a humorous ‘art critics’ discussion about all of my works from two friends.
Another huge experience through my exhibition was my very first art talk. After the opening I was so exhausted, still facing the art talk event. I had no experience or idea in how it’s usually supposed to be done, so I decided to not pressure myself with research about professional art talks. I asked the gallery owner to place chairs in a circle and simply made it a talk. 7 guests attended, and after 2 1/2 hours I had to break it up, because I could not speak any word anymore. I was so overwhelmed by their interest and feedback, and so drained after exposing so much of myself.
The biggest impact of a solo preparation is to bring an artist out of the studio into public existence. In my case: taking the pieces and acknowledging the context, the connection. Realizing who I am, what I’m doing and why. Realizing the organic growth of myself and my works. Figuring out about where I’m standing and where I want to go next. At least that was the theory…
After the exhibition I fell into a deep hole. For some reason I started doubting every positive feedback, every single praise of accomplishment. I started doubting the honesty behind all those words spoken to me. I wondered if people just spoke nicely out of politeness about my works, because I was the only artist on display and standing right there. I doubted the words of the gallery owner, wondered if she just was nice because I had to pay her a high rent for the gallery space. I felt so much on the very beginning of taking my very first baby steps in a direction of unknown destination. It was no more about the confidence about exposing my works, just exhaustion and the feeling of being ultimately drained and lost.
I wanted to go out in the desert and burn all my works in a huge bonfire (…previously I burned/destroyed big parts of my works, it felt awesome…). The only thing what kept me from doing it, was a series of inflammations in my body leaving me too weak for a desert trip. It is sort of an irony that it was my bad immune system, which kept me from another ‘cleaning’ art bonfire last winter. Instead, my body ‘inflamed’ and did the ‘burning’ for me.
The wounds caused by certain circumstances last year are now healed. I learned a lot and took my lessons out of it. I finally found enough confidence, to not hide in my studio anymore. Now I feel more comfortable with the idea, to showcase a bigger body of my works at once. The result was this October’s exhibition…
Some impressions of the opening night and the works included: