100 Word Story

Pack carry on. Check in. Flight on time. ORD>>>JFK.

Arrive two hours early.

Even if you’re not checking a bag? No. But maybe. Do it anyway. Just in case.

Open mobile boarding pass. Hope iPhone battery lasts. Security. Shoes off.

“Yes, my jeans have a metal button.” Pat down.

Flight delayed. Something wrong with plane. Get coffee.

Board plane. Headphones in. Playlist on shuffle. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Something still wrong with plane. De-board.

Getting another plane. (Guess they have a spare.)

Oh, no: clouds. Oh, no: lightning. Delay. Delay. Delay.

Sleep in terminal. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe.

Anxiety vs. Happiness

by Julia Eldred

The following is an artist talk that I gave at the opening of an exhibition showing thesis artwork.

Video making is a creative process that is difficult for some to comprehend in the context of fine art. A television screen or projection might truly seem out of place existing in a gallery. Honestly, video as an art form easily escaped my acknowledgement before beginning my higher education studies in studio art.

However alternative, video art allows the creation of an encompassing experience for viewers that can express ideas in a unique way. By its very nature, video art is more accessible to a broader audience having technology available to share it with many more viewers than a typical piece of art may enjoy. With the help of video platforms, videos are instantly available to anyone around the world. Video as an art form changes the relationship between the artist and the viewer. It allows the artist to communicate a message directly to each individual in a more pragmatic manner. It changes the setting in which the art is viewed into a more comfortable and effective space. Digitization and the evolution of video art have allowed me to come to conclusions about human nature while hopefully connecting and relating to the individual on the other side of the screen.

For a video artist, my process of allowing function to follow form seems odd and slightly counter productive. Starting without a sturdy purpose can be a risky undertaking when considering the complexities of digital video editing, but I prefer this route even given the potential for issues down the road. I usually discover what my art means while creating it rather than setting out with a particular purpose. I never title my videos until I begin editing footage and find a meaning. Editing is a valuable process of identifying what pieces of video are strong enough to connect with and which pieces need to be eliminated. Rather than starting out with a concrete idea, editing makes it possible to cut away until a message is clear like a sculptor finding a masterpiece within a block of marble. Manipulating video can then emphasize this found meaning. The only problem with approaching my thesis work this way is establishing how to let my personal voice come through. In trying to overcome this obstacle, I began on an expedition to understand both my own voice and how to express a certain facet of human nature that I found to drive my work.

Starting out naturally, I filmed visually interesting yet random subjects and then edited. I started heavily using visual filters to create intensity in scenes. I pushed otherwise clean and smooth imagery to almost digital distortion. Pairing the visuals with audio of matching complexity, I utilized many layers of sound both appropriated and originally recorded. The outcome was a collection of sensory experiences that almost overwhelmed at times. Although I was able to pull a strong feeling from my first series of pieces, a concrete message still eluded me. Darker themes emerged from the work pointing internally. The overbearing sound, altered imagery, and titles such as “Losing Time” and “Isolation” created an oppressive quality that seemed to represent internal pressure and anxiety. The videos were personal and lacked relatability. A barrier existed between how I understood anxiety and the ability for viewers to connect to that idea. To advance the work, I needed to discover how to reach a broader audience without abandoning the original expression. Finding resolution to these emotive and hesitant themes became the natural progression of my thesis.

In response to my original series, I researched the topic of anxiety and learned that it is a widely held problem, especially in the United States. Although anxiety has an abundance of causes, it seems in America to mainly stem from social disconnectedness, information overload, and intolerance of negative feelings. As a result of our modern focus on technology, social detachment can lead to anxiety. Not only do people feel disconnected if they are not constantly online, but being online can deter from real face-to-face interaction. The modern tendency for families to be split geographically adds to the feeling of separation.

Because humans are creatures dependent on community, loneliness can cause a deep unsettling. The second cause can also be attributed to technology. Having access to all types of information at all times can be overwhelming. The human brain was not designed to understand the copious amounts of information thrown at it every day. The inability to focus on only one concern at a time becomes troubling. Intolerance for negative feelings seems to be the most American cause for anxiety. The common thought is that feeling bad is abnormal and is a state that calls for treatment. Truthfully, the healthier way to deal with most negative emotions is to simply allow them to run their course. Like sleep for the body, the emotional state needs time to recharge. It needs time to mourn. A deep comprehension of anxiety and its causes set my work on the correct path.

Each person reacts differently to anxiety and each reaction is unique and personal. My early thesis work seems to have been depicting this idea of internal reactions. It showed my point of view, but lacked a way for outside viewers to relate or understand. Having a better comprehension of anxiety helped me recognize where my series failed to connect. However, I still lacked a direction that would be more universal. I wanted my work to be accessible no matter how any particular viewer might deal with personal anxiety. I also strived to find a resolution if there was one to find. In much of my research, anxiety was described as the absence of happiness and vice versa. Instead of researching anxiety, I looked into happiness hoping for more guidance.

Happiness research suggests that there is no one solution with the universal ability to make people happy. Replacing anxiety with happiness is more of a process of development rather than definitively grabbing ahold of something. There are many exercises to help along the process, but this idea of “finding” happiness as if it were a set of keys lost at the bottom of an oversized purse is even more ridiculous than that metaphor. Reaching this conclusion in my artwork became my purpose. My work aims to express that one does not simply find happiness. As Henry Thoreau stated, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder”. Turning your attention to these other things is part of the process of letting go of anxiety and having more fulfilling experiences.

Some methods to help the development of human happiness include self-fulfillment, connections with others, and helping the broader community. Because people lose motivation and drive when stuck in the same situation, self-development is crucial. Constantly failing to achieve goals and remaining stagnant increases anxiety. Even slightly altering routine, like taking a different route to work each morning, can cause differences. Making valuable connections with other people is also very important. This directly responds to social detachment as a cause for anxiety. Humans naturally surround themselves with people they love for this reason. It creates a support system that reduces anxiety. Finally, positively impacting the broader world community is important to feelings of success and self-worth.

After researching, I stepped away from the darker depictions of anxiety and opened up the work to this new information. I learned to approach the depiction of anxiety in a different way, as if coming from the outside. Instead of using editing to chip away to find or intensify meaning, I used it to simplify. I streamlined to a point where hopefully anyone could relate to the work. I greatly reduced the amount of manipulation used both visually and audibly. The focus of videos moved away from creating visceral experiences and to passing along a direct message. Not only did I simplify the actual content being created, but also how I was representing the complex issue. I closely captured frustrating tasks that people generally struggle with like building card houses. These actions attempt to exemplify the anxiety that anyone might be feeling along with the process becoming happy. By using these menial tasks to represent the larger problems that people face within their lives, I think the work became more relatable and universal. I used the repeated tasks to represent the idea of finding happiness. It is a developmental process and not something easily attained.

The evolution of my thesis artwork caused major progress in my personal art practice. It led to a better understanding of how to use my medium to its greatest potential by relating to larger audiences and communicating complex issues. My artwork gained purpose and is aimed at addressing the issue of anxiety and attempts at attaining happiness. I first discovered my personal understanding of the overwhelming feeling of anxiety through depiction. Using video to resolve how to transform a personal feeling to a universal idea allowed my work to move forward. The conclusion was to find a resolution to internal anxiety thereby creating a way to reach viewers. I found clarity in the idea that rather than concentrating on finding happiness, individuals should continuously strive for self-development, strong personal relationships, and a feeling of worldly connectedness. The digitization of our society and development of video art not only played a major part in inspiring this idea, but also offered me a substantial process to respond to it.

Just Mine

by Julia Eldred

This was an essay written after leaving Derry, Northern Ireland after studying there for a semester.

Wind rustled the hair at the base of my neck and left goose bumps trailing down my spine. I had a suspicion that these did not arise due to the chilly evening air, but because of the day I would inevitably need to wake up to and face come morning.

The sidewalk I traveled down glowed orange with florescent street lamps contrasting with the deeper than navy sky. Clouds lit by the moon created a covering overhead, a homey constant of the last few months. Automobiles raced and weaved down the main street honking now and again. The cement below my feet seemed overly familiar even with the sporadic imprints of various sea creatures, the meaning of which forgotten in the words of a story told weeks ago. But mostly, the wind just rushed by and pushed me on my way.

I took a deep breath and readjusted the bags I was carrying- a stark reminder of my final venture into town. This was a place I had come to know so well. Strangely, it was also a place that few close to me would ever feel the same about. The realization of change sure to take place in the following 24 hours hit hard in that instant causing me to halt mid-step on the walkway. The older woman following briskly behind nearly slammed into me from the sudden loss of momentum, but awkwardly maneuvered around me as I let the bags hit the ground in surrender. I attempted to choke out a meaningful apology, but my voice was lost in the emotion threatening to consume me. The glare on her face solidified my decaying indifference toward tomorrow’s inevitable destination.

Memory after memory of good times, bizarre experiences, and new friends flashed through my mind, but this train of thought was only accompanied by a sorrowful sense of loneliness. Living in a foreign culture for a few months had given me so much to only leave me with the faint, passing shadow of memory. Nothing tangible remained, but these shopping bags and the slow walk back to an empty flat.

I spun around slowly to take one last glance at a city that had become a surprisingly reliable home. I attempted to ingrain every last inch of my view into memory. This place had taught me for the first time how to survive on my own and this moment was my final chance to absorb as much as I could before it would never be the same. I remained there oblivious to the rate at which my minutes were depleting until another stranger unsuccessfully avoided bumping into me. My attention jerked away from the dreamlike scene I had been viewing as an almost outside observer. The feeling of separation already began setting in and I hadn’t even left the country yet. I was missing a city that I was currently still standing in.

After taking one more mental photograph, I grabbed up my bags again, turned on the spot, and allowed the wind to take me on my way. I carried more with me this time though- an appreciation (however bitter) that Derry had changed me and this would always be mine. Just mine.