(warning to childless people who've sought out this blog: the following post contains "ments" of sorts, discussing my crossover to biological parenthood.)
I'm heading to Easter Island tomorrow. Rapa Nui. Isla de la Pascua. Or, as the Polynesians there call it, Te Pito o Te Henua, "the navel of the world." I will be doing a performative ritual on my 41st birthday, as part of the Easter Island Project.
The biological clock and deep grief over biological childlessness inspired me to start the Easter Island Project in early 2007. As recounted on this blog and on the radio and such, for me the experience was traumatic, horrifically painful, and yet incredibly educational. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, right?
It brought up many philosophical questions for me, especially ones about why we create, why we exist, and how we make meaning in our lives.
My relationship to such vague entities as god, Mother Nature, biology, DNA, Gaia, the universe, and fate came reeling into focus, and I wasn't sure I liked what I saw. I especially didn't like the part where my ego and my decisions weren't really running the show all the time. I worked in art and writing to make sense of all this, to explore cultural and sociopolitical issues about biological childlessness, and to ask (brashly? humbly?) people to explore things with me. To make things for the project. To support. To help. To care.
And that's the Easter Island Project. It's been intense and life-altering. Life-altering to the extent that it brought true transformation. I decided in November, 2009, to relinquish my grip on how this story should end. I stopped fighting the biological clock, and I stopped using birth control.
It turns out I'm one of the lucky ones. I got pregnant.
I was tempted to stop the Easter Island Project. Though it wasn't "about" childlessness and never had been (it was "about" creativity itself), that aspect was woven inextricably into the work. The work was really fucking hard, too. I was exhausted and had taken a few months off, which is where I'd found the peace to come to my transformational decision. To wrap up the Project and be done with it sounded great, and here was my pregnancy, an excellent excuse to weasel out of it.
And I didn't want to deal with people's reactions. Their reactions to my becoming pregnant were going to be weird enough. Being pregnant *and* still going to Easter Island, *and* still doing the book and the artwork? Isn't that a bit much? I'd have to explain all of it. Some people might feel hurt and betrayed that I had crossed over to the Mommy Side of things. Others could just be judgmental and negative. It would be much safer and calmer to crawl into my little corner of the world and shut the hell up for once. Fold inward, as though I too inhabited an amniotic sac within my belly, just as my growing baby was doing.
As much as I love safe and calm, they are not always a worthy tradeoff for doing what you really, really have to do, and saying what you really, really need to say. If I valued calm that much, I never would have become a writer and artist to begin with. I wouldn't have delved into these issues so publicly, putting myself out there as a lightning rod and conduit. I sure as hell wouldn't have ended up trying to get pregnant or adopt a child, if calmness were my life goal. Babies and children are the antithesis of calm, safe, secure, free from conflict. In some cases, artmaking is too.
It only took a week or so to understand that I couldn't simply leave the Easter Island Project behind. I would not leave it there, incomplete and unfulfilled, any more than I would abandon my child. For artists, our work is a kind of offspring and we hold great responsibility and commitment to it.
I really have done an about-face, and I'm getting some flack about it. Some of it comes from randomly bitter people who haven't had much contact with me or, apparently, with the project itself. They garnered a general impression of it somewhere and decided that I was an asshole for talking about biological childlessness and then turning around and getting pregnant. I was recently berated for comparing my grief with that of infertile women, a very fair accusation; then again, the accusing party had apparently thought I *was* infertile, something I have never claimed. Other concerns arise from people who have actually read my work or heard my words, folks who aren't out to take me down, but still resent me for going in this direction.
I don't blame them. After being stuck and sorrowful and tense for years, I've made a major leap forward. I'm actually going for what I want in life. That's a scary thing to do for oneself. It strips us naked, beyond our usual defenses, open to all manner of disappointment and failure. It's also a scary thing for others to observe. I remember despairing the biological clock, the endless torture of grief, and hearing about acquaintances who were getting books on bestseller lists, and having babies, and travelling to exotic places, often all in the same year. Never been much of an envying person before, but this stuff punched me in the gut.
It wasn't fair.
It still isn't fair. Some people are stuck in the waffling place about their childlessness. Some are infertile and eventually choose not to do treatment. Some choose not to adopt. Some aren't financially able to, or are turned down by agencies. In all these situations, they can be triggered easily by babies and pregnancies and discussions thereof. Even if they have chosen to remain childless (say their non-fertility health is a big risk factor), they're gritting their teeth through the hard part. They are grieving. It must be aggravating to have me cheerily breeze in, get pregnant easily, and say, "La ti ta! I'm still writing a book and going to Easter Island!"
I apologize to anyone I might have led on or disappointed. To those of you who write me bemoaning the loss of this blog as a place for discussing these issues—I'm sorry. Genuinely. It has been an honor to share my stories and hear from you, to hear your stories.
I'm sorry that things are not fair and that some views go inadequately represented in our culture. And I still think you guys oughtta start your own blogs like Nymphe! But yes, it is an exhibitionistic and painful thing to do, so I wouldn't blame anybody for no wanting to go there. If you can't take a bunch of shit from a bunch of people, don't stand up about this issue at all. I haven't changed my views about how our culture shabbily mistreats the childless and childfree, incidentally, in comparison with the benefits we offer parents.
In a weird way, I guess I'm sorry that right now I'm the girl with the most cake. Lucky; I am lucky and fortunate. And I'm sorry that everyone isn't getting their cake, lots of it, right now.
Preferably angel food.
TIFFANY LEE BROWN:
THE EASTER ISLAND PROJECT
The Easter Island
Project invited audiences to explore the questions through the act of
creation itself with Plazm editor and New Oregon Arts & Letters
director Tiffany Lee Brown, as she prepared for an interdisciplinary
art expedition to Easter Island in the South Pacific.
as of April 2010, the Project is heading to South America for a
performative ritual on Rapa Nui, a.k.a. Easter Island. Previously, the "Easter
Island: participatory tour" welcomed live audiences at intimate
gatherings in Seattle, New York City, Portland, the San Francisco
Bay Area, and elsewhere.
Tiffany has worked continually with the "seeds of creation" that participants made, 2007-2009, making installations, videos, writings, performances, music, and even a language of pictograms based on participants' creative offerings. She is writing a book about her journey and preparing a book arts work with collaborator Clare Carpenter. With musician/composer Eric Hausmann, she is at work on a 6,480-hour-long soundtrack, intended to stream online continually for nine months.
In September, 2011, the Cooley Gallery at Reed College will host an installation and live appearance of the Easter Island Project. In the meantime, travel sponsor Viator.com will post Tiffany's stories from the road.
Inspired by Tiffany's unexpected and life-changing run-in with the biological clock, the Easter Island Project is an ongoing participatory art, writing, music, and performance work. The artist investigated biological childlessness in contemporary American culture, while haunted by questions invoked by the doubt and grief she experienced. Why do we create? For that matter, why do we exist? When should we break silences and make works; when should we edit ourselves and lie low? What does it mean to make other human beings and bring them into the world?What does it mean to not reproduce, whether by choice, circumstance, or a combination thereof?
to do with her life circumstances, medical health, and family
situation, she fought the deep urge to reproduce, for over four years.
Some of this painful but eye-opening experience was reflected in live
performances, on NPR radio, and on her blog, Nymphe. But transformation
comes in different ways than we expect, and long-term, open-process
artworks like The Easter Island project invite transformation. Things
took an unexpected turn in December 2009, when Tiffany became pregnant.
After four years of intense research into biological childlessness,
childfree living, the experiences of mothers, the experiences of
infertile women, and more, this represented an enormous transition for
the artist and her work alike.
Participants and audience members have "seeded" the project by generously contributing their own creativity in person, online, and through the mail. Seeds take the form of found objects (the shell of a newly hatched bald eagle), original artwork (a painted egg with skeletal wings), writing (poems written on Tiffany's paper flags), personal offerings (the word "Yes" painted on a bone, wrapped in red velvet), and performance (snippets of video, performance documentation, and recorded music).
artist continually transforms, documents, and works with these
materials, which become part of her performances, rituals, and
SOME PARTICIPANTS & SUPPORTERS,
especially those who are biologically childless, may feel dismayed by Tiffany's pregnancy and its relationship to the ongoing nature of the work. If you participated primarily because the artist wasn't going to become a biological mother, and that part of the project reached out to you, you may rescind your gifts and well wishes. She will accommodate you as best she can. Contact the artist at magdalen23 att gmail.com.
Tiffany Lee Brown is an interdisciplinary artist and writer from Oregon. Her work has been presented by Performance Works NW, Wordstock, and PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art), among others. Her writing appears in Utne, Bookforum, Bust, Tin House, and other periodicals, and in anthologies such as The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order (Penguin, 1999) and Literary Cash: Writings Inspired by the Legendary Johnny Cash (BenBella, 2007). Her book of poetry, A Compendium of Miniatures, is available as a book arts collector's edition from Tiger Food Press, Plazm Books, and Powell's City of Books.
A recipient of grants and residencies from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Caldera, the City of Portland, Soapstone, and Hypatia, Tiffany holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College and a BA in Dramatic Art from the University of California at Berkeley. She is Director of New Oregon Arts & Letters and sits on the Selection Committee for the city's Visual Chronicle of Portland collection. Presently, Tiffany is an adjunct faculty in Prescott College's Master of Arts in Humanities program.
The project is now closed to ongoing creation of "seeds." From the past: Participants offer their seeds at the project's performances and gatherings, via Internet and postal mail, or personally to the artist. Seeds take many forms: snippets of video, tiny sculptures, miniature musical compositions, short poems, and found objects. The first seed offered to the project was a tattoo (currently residing on the artist's hip); another was the shell of a freshly hatched bald eagle.
At a live event, a participant might do a one-minute dance in front of the video camera as her seed, write a few words on the project's paper flags, or search for the perfect shell on a beach walk. Some people meditate on the concept of creation before a live event. They bring their tiny sculptures and ceramics, poems and textiles, dances and tiny found objects.
Each seed is an offering, a contribution to the project as a whole; how the artist will metaphorically plant each seed remains to be seen. Anything at all might happen to your creation. Offering a seed is an act of trust.
EASTER ISLAND: THE PARTICIPATION TOUR 2009
Please email email@example.com for an invitation or to participate via mail/email.
1/18 SEATTLE, WA at Studio: Current (Capitol Hill)
2/9-12 PRESCOTT, AZ at Prescott College, MAP Humanities Colloquium
3/21-29 NEW YORK, NY at Synthetic Zero (South Bronx) and at
4/18 OAKLAND, CA at Myrtle Street Review
6/7-8 PORTLAND, OR at Performance Works NW
8/29 BLACK ROCK CITY, NV at The Playa
ON EASTER ISLAND
DELAYED UNTIL APRIL 2010
8/1-10 RAPA NUI, CHILE, a.k.a. Easter Island, a.k.a. Isla de Pascua, at various moai and ahu
SEEDING EASTER ISLAND
08/2008 PORT TOWNSEND, WA at military bunker Battery Vicar, Fort Worden
THE EASTER ISLAND PROJECT: ALTARS I & II
05/2008 OR at Oregon Cascades (invitation only)
05/2009 OR at Oregon Cascades (invitation only; documentary filming)
PORTLAND PERFORMANCES JUNE 6 & 7 2009
MAKE, PLAY, BE: THE EASTER ISLAND PROJECT
Tiffany Lee Brown & Eric Hausmann
with help from Gary Wiseman
June 6 7 pm
June 7 2 pm w/ Tastebud Bagels
Featuring live music, video installation, and the option to participate and make your own DIY writing, music, sound, or artwork, each creation a "seed" that Tiffany will take to the South Pacific isle of Easter Island next year.
BYO: Feel free to bring your drink of choice to open at the reception afterward.
Performance Works NW
4625 SE 67th at Foster Road, Portland
503 777 1907
Advance tickets recommended, at Brown Paper Tickets
If paying at the door, please bring cash
Tastebud • Plazm • Viator Travel • The Tarot Reading Fundraiser
Performance Works NW • New Oregon Arts & Letters
EMAIL LIST, PRESS-READY IMAGES, ETC.
Images and photographs are available right here: Easter Island Project images.
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