After the show Why I Write. Why I Create, I asked Andrea Lijoy Shields to describe her feelings on vulnerability—what she calls radical openness. In this interview, Shields explains how vulnerability becomes the shield for the inner most self against the monster we might call “society’s expectations.” Nicholas Collazo joins our conversation.
Andrea: All the writing in this show talks about the evolution of self—the evolution of how they thought they saw themselves and how this thought transpired into the true essence of who they are. It feels like an evolution that happens while you are reading.
Nick: As I read through each of the responses to Why I Write. Why I Create, both last year and this year, I thought: Now I know these people. Each expression gave me new insight into the person. They show a sense of vulnerability that I didn’t know they possessed. And that is really refreshing.
Andrea: There is something about vulnerability that is inviting. When you read these responses, you have this great appreciation that you are allowed to enter into someone’s inner thoughts. As you read, each person becomes a little more human and you can see yourself in them. When someone is so willing to be open, you want to enter in. For example, what I liked about Nick’s response is how he began with something that he didn’t like about himself and how he evolved. Even if you don’t have it all together, that fact that you are trying to find yourself is most important. It’s the pursuit that matters.
Nick: You see your response on the wall and you have the opportunity to embrace it—to not be afraid to show who you are.
Andrea: It’s like a pledge or a declaration: There is so much more to life. You are so quick to do, do, do—to do for other people. This is a chance to stop and take yourself in.
Nick: And you see not one, not two, not three…but twenty individuals being vulnerable. It makes this big, strong shield.
Andrea: Together these responses protect the rawness of who you are from mass society. In a sense, it’s like a freedom.
Nick: If you keep reading, there is no denying the truth of them.
Andrea: Yes, because truth is truth.
Faculty Response: Edward Monovich
Andrea Lijoy Shields’ philosophy of “Radical Openness” opposes today’s prevalent, winner-take-all attitude. In contemporary mass media culture and in geopolitical struggles, it strikes me how easy it is to tear down Art, culture, tradition and diversity. Yet within Andrea’s powerful idea is a seed to combat ubiquitous, destructive vectors.
For me the greatest joy of teaching is to share, unapologetically, the power of Art with students. This power is harnessed through a journey that unifies communication, making and surprise. We explore how aesthetic and conceptual growth arises from the least expected places. If you “know” what you’re doing, you’re probably making boring work. Discomfort, uncertainty and vulnerability are the Artist’s best friends.
Vulnerability can be difficult to cultivate, especially when media channels define success as taking what is yours and humiliating the competition. By contrast, Art is a place where all boats can rise simultaneously, where I don’t win because you lose. Rather, we win together. This is the key to creating good Art and the antidote to the “rawness of mass society.” Andrea Lijoy understands this, both in concept and in practice. As a young artist, she grabs new bits of techniques and fearlessly applies them to her forms. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty. While building objects, she considers the slippery place where form and content meet. Through her willingness to share her explorations and to listen to new approaches, Andrea makes herself vulnerable. Her “evolution of self” benefits the community. Art’s magical lens inverts intensely personal efforts (like Why I Write. Why I Create) and self-expression becomes universalized. All are welcome to join under what Nick aptly describes as the “big, strong shield,” forged from communal vulnerability. Is it a coincidence that the second half of Andrea’s name spells: Joy Shield? At a time when many feel that truth and fact are terms reserved for the loudest microphone, Andrea and Nick remind us that “Truth” grows from a process of sharing.
Edward Monovich teaches Drawing and TIME in the Studio Foundation Department. With regard to his art practice, Monovich first invited viewers to complete a “graffiti collaboration” at the Drawing Center in New York. The birth of participatory qualities in his work occurred while studying in Sierra Leone, West Africa. There Monovich witnessed powerful secular and sacred rituals involving masqueraded performers. The presence of audience participation, elaborate costumes, hybrid humans and performative elements in his drawings, find their roots in these experiences.
Monovich received his MFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. His works have exhibited in Colombia, England, Belgium, Italy, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Colorado and Michigan. Currently, Monovich is working on The “Footprint Project,” a collaboration with the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Zürich. “Footprint” is a contemporary reflection on the state of the Alpine Ibex, combining visual art with genetic and ecological research.