Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, October 24

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Overheard Illustrated: "Love" The Spirit Play at the DCA Theatre: Not worth the trip »

Art Mon Oct 17 2011

Vanquishing the Octopus of Attachment: The Briefing Room Interview with Diane Christiansen


Diane Christiansen has been working as an artist in Chicago for decades, with an evolving body of work that incorporates drawing, painting, music, video, animation and more. Most recently, her collaboration with Slovenian artist Shoshanna Utchenik has yielded an intense and sprawling body of interconnected drawing, painting and sculptural work conceived as a totalizing installation for an exhibition last year, "Notes to Nonself," at the Hyde Park Art Center. Christiansen's works displays a wide array of evocative imagery, stunning for its sheer degree of inventiveness and ability to incorporate the internal logic of her own personal experiences into visual motifs that recur throughout. The Octopus of Attachment, her recurring Cocoon Girl character (which recalls fellow Chicagoan Archer Prewitt's Sof' Boy character comics), all add to a lush, illustrious imagined world of sacred ritual and psychic attacks from the so-called "reality" that confronts us daily. Briefing Room recently visited Christiansen in her Wicker Park studio to get a handle on it all in advance of the opening of her newest show at Kasia Kay Projects Gallery (information on the show and image credits appear at the end of the interview, please scroll down for these details).

Let's start off by talking about your collaboration with Shoshanna Utchenik, how that evolved and developed.

She would say to me, that she thought I had figured out how to be an artist and a mother and she desperately needed a connection because she was out in the middle of nowhere. She asked if I'd do some therapy sessions with her. You know where Slovenia is, it's out in the middle of nowhere. It's beautiful but it truly is not near anything else. So we did a few sessions and I said, I don't really want to be doing this. Because I think you're my friend and I think you should be making art. I think that's the antidote here. And so we started sending each other back and forth little notes. They're everywhere. This is one of the first notes, this blue blob and she sent me back this map of these little different parts of one's mind, because we were both reading the same Buddhist texts at the time. I'm a Buddhist and she was interested in Buddhism. So, that was one of the first notes but they became like...we'd only touch them once.

Was this a sort of investigation of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy? This reflection and awareness of each other's thoughts that you were mapping?

Maybe. That's basically how Buddhism explains the different attachments. But this was also her thought of what if these were different parts of art work, and what if you could actually...then she thought, "Oh, let's make a book of all the different parts," and somehow that book turned into the Hyde Park Art Center exhibit we did together. In this photo of us from the catalog, you can see she's like six feet tall and very Jewish looking. I'm not six feet tall. We're hilarious. We've given several talks together and it's just pretty comical. And I'm like twenty years older than her but we're total insane soul mates. Like, I'd written her this letter and she sent me back this drawing of us and we're wearing T-shirts that involve worldly Dharmas, which are things that sort of dance in conflict with each other. Like, they're false dualities like praise and blame, fame and disgrace, those are two of these Buddhist dualities. So, we ended up making this whole went from let's make a book to what if the different themes that are going on in our writing could actually parts that you could walk through. We could have the Ego Forest and each tree would be dedicated to one of these dualities and then you'd walk under the clouds that would all be referencing multi-mind and spaciousness versus chatter. So we sent I don't know how many giant packages, I'll send her a million things and then she'll do one thing on them and send them all back to me. And then we had a show in Slovenia and all this found shit covered with our notes was part of that show. The Hyde Park Art Center, quite a bit of it was found materials, repurposed, whatever you want to call it. We worked our way through this whole thing to the meditation center. And it was all repurposed, and a lot of people fit inside of it. Inside, we put these meditation pillows that Shoshanna made from Slovenian blue jeans, which, I've got to say, are very 80's. There's lots of beads and lots of stonewash going on.

In this photo of us from the HPAK show, we're talking on these walkie-talkies that you could pull off the Communication or Isolation Tree, and each one had a little tableau from our own city. I sold them, though. We sold a lot of things to support it, little prayer flags, zillions of prayer flags.

So, you organized the HPAK show while she was in Slovenia?

No, she came back. She came back repeatedly. She came back maybe four times over the course of two years and we did the show at three places. We did it at the HPAK, the Herron in Indianapolis and in Slovenia and then there was a little tiny bit of it, clouds and prayer flags in one of those tents at the Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements circus. We had 52 of these giant, like kites, that are all laser-cut and covered with our notes. So, we went completely apeshit. We built this forest and then, very quickly, I got cancer and then got over it. I did another animation this summer, it's being rendered right now and I can show you, the beginning of it, but it's being After Effects'ed right now. So that's what I've been doing for the last few years. All the time, still working on animation. I've been painting and drawing as well but not working toward anything until this one, which is for the show I have at Kasia Kay Gallery here in Chicago. And it's going to be the series of paintings.


Why paintings?

Well, everything I do sort of comes back to drawing and navigating. Navigating through drawing and I think that I just--this really clicked for me recently--my earliest memories are of, I had a sort of lot of very lonely times in my room, and I had a really old room. Like in this house, it had a lot of old plaster walls that cracked like crazy and I would sort of visually soothe myself and I realized that's probably why I like working with plaster. I started working on plaster in grad school and then gave it up to work more quickly with gouache, but I always go back to things that involve sorting and navigating through drawing. And I love that surface, because it's relational. You can't control it, so I can make something in my head and then paint it in gouache and have it actually look like fairly close to what's in my head, but the plaster completely does what it wants to do. This plaster I work on, the way it absorbs or doesn't absorb and what happens when you sand it--feel the surface and you'll see what I'm talking about. Here's what it is: I get a piece of wood that isn't going to warp, so I get these and then I get this plaster cast stuff, they use it to make casts and then I pour that plaster over it and then sand and sand and sand. And by the time I'm done making it smooth, it's not actually smooth. So, whatever I've done to it, something is going to pop out. It's this kind of dialogue.


There are a lot of hidden surprises just in the materials you're using.

Right, just in the material. Yeah. If you feel this guy, it feels smooth, but it has hidden places. I think if I was able to secure them on the wall well enough, I'd invite people to feel them. Some of these paintings just plop out, one I made in a day, another I work on for three, maybe four months. Who knows. But it's definitely very relational and meditative. And the sanding--if I don't like something, I can just sand it out. I use an electric sander and a hand sander. All of this wild stuff happens that I have virtually no control over. I've painted on these surfaces from a long time ago, and then I did it 6 or 7 years and then I started wanting to work very quickly so I started working on gouache.

They're very much like palimpsests.

Yes. They're sort of like the balancing piece to doing animation too, because animation is much more sort of plastic and at some point it gets dumped into the computer and becomes a very different process. So, doing these two things together, I'm always sort of seeking to have a full creative outlet.

One of the things I've always been intrigued about with your work is there's this really broad range of media that you try to incorporate into one thing.

Yes, I'll do collage and gouache, and on. I feel like I'm only here for so long and I'm really, really curious. I don't want to get great at doing one thing, I want to eat everything at the sampler.

It's funny. I didn't know you were in a band, for instance, until I saw you performing at Brilliant Corners.

Oh my God, we've been in a band forever. Somebody just sent us something about the Hideout. My husband and I have always played music together, that's how we actually connected. We've been together like 23 years. We were in a band called Stump the Host and now we're in a band called Dolly Varden. I'll give you a CD. That was Dolly Varden playing but he also plays with all these jazz people, sometimes he calls it Funeral Bonsai Wedding, but I sing with them too. Sometimes it's called that, sometimes it's just Steve Dawson's band, but it's all these great jazz guys.


Right, you do a lot of collaboration as well. That also seems to define your practice.

It has turned out to be one of the most liberating things in my life. It's funny, Shoshanna and I were just talking about it. You're much freer of ego when you're bouncing it off another person and creating it together. It's kind of like the difference between being a family or just a single person. I don't collaborate that well musically because I'm more stiff with the process, more defensive. But I swear to God Shoshanna and I were put on the earth to collaborate with each other because we have no conflict. But we're the same kind of person where we want everything in so we probably could use someone to come along and edit us, that's what my husband says.

This recurring motif you have of the Christmas tree and the skulls that decorate it, where does that come from?

That comes from in Buddhism, the skulls are indicators of having slain the ego, so you'll see, it's like I'm fighting with my ego. There'll be a necklace of skulls, a head dress of skulls. So I started out by playing with skulls and somehow they ended up in a tree. And my mother, who's pretty frequently troubled by my work, she was like, "Honey, what are the Christmas trees with skulls? Is this about our family?" And I said no mom, it's about Buddhism! And she said, "Honey, Buddhists don't have Christmas trees!" And I said well, ah well.


There's also this new, recurring octopus motif. Care to explain that one a little more?

Yes, well, it's the Octopus of Attachment. It was based on a drawing that Shoshanna sent me, and to her, it was a relationship piece with this octopus, and then we talked about relational attachments to things like youth and beauty, temporal things. I was picturing one of the scenes from the Piano, and I said what if we were to create a big, light-up octopus. She said, I don't know about that idea and then I said, remember in "The Piano" and they're under her hoop skirt and it's lit from within, and it's so wonderful on the beach? I want to make this giant octopus that's lit from within and she I think thought it was a wacky idea. Then we figured out how we could do it, and then I got sick. She was coming over here to work on the show and when I got out of the hospital, she had made that octopus. She made the beginning of it, I have it up here in my loft. Just the husk, which she built it on, she built that from garbage she found in an alley and then on top of it we put clear paper, layers of it. And so, she said, "As soon as you can walk, I want you to go down the stairs and see. The interns were out here. A week after I got out of the hospital we were doing shots for the show and so we made this octopus and it lights up amazingly from inside. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, while we were sending these packages back and forth, I was going to the gynecologist and they were pulling little weird things out of me and I was sending her drawings of my cervix and she'd send them back with hilarious and baroque--one of them looked like an Indian tapestry around my cervix--and then it turned out I really did have cancer.

When did you start to take on the principles of Buddhism?

Well, I think I started going to the Chicago Shambhala Center 26 years ago? I was interested in meditation and had gone to a Zen Center and it just struck me that there was this strictness in the Zen tradition that felt kind of harsh, so I looked for the more Tibetan tradition. It's been forever. It took a long time. But, when I was in the hospital, Shoshanna sent me a flower arrangement with bamboo and it said "So sorry about your octopussy!" and I was at a Catholic hospital. It was so funny. The nurse was like, "You got a really interesting flower arrangement..." So, I had sent this picture of my cervix with this thing growing out of it and this picture with this shape that I had found on the ground with a note saying I found this shape that looks like a tooth, guess what's going on with my cervix, and she combined those two things into an object and at the time we didn't know what was wrong with me, so I ended up having these hilarious documents of this whole ordeal.


Interestingly, this phase, there's all this work brimming with concepts drawn from Buddhism, and yet it's so much about the body too.

Right. This is obviously if we're talking about impermanence, what's more impermanent than your physical manifestation? It's all going away. Some of it more quickly than other parts of it. We picked this fleshy color because her original drawing was in this fleshy color, and all the notes are having to do with that. This is a good one. She pressed a leaf for me in Slovenia, and I had sent her this tea I was drinking and that was just the hilarious thing about this show. People spent hours reading these things, and especially the trees.

So, how do you situate the way you incorporate all these text elements? How do you conceive of that?

It's the neurosis of our lives. I want it a certain way. This is me at my surgery, I want it a certain way. "Laparoscopic, please!" A lot of these are to-do lists, just what's on our desk. Squeak Carnwath's work, where she would do lots of listing, you know her paintings? She does lots of listing of things that are in the ordinary world in her paintings, ten cups of coffee, like that. And then my mom died and she'll list out all the experiences. I remember one off the paintings I really loved of her was all of the things that had volunteered to die in her studio and she had little paintings of them on this big piece. Here's a grasshopper and here's the date. You're just cataloging life. It's just passing through, literally. We're sorting of laughing at our own neurosis because we're very similar. For instance, here's a list of all she says of "my attachments to your work on our project: when you want to be relaxing." A lot of the piece was about trying to unclutter our minds by sorting through all our clutter. This is my pile of shit.

How much actually does this come out of your therapy background, it does seem like that overlaps with your Buddhist practice.

There's a huge overlap. Basically, what I tend to try to help people do is get spacious enough to be with the stuff they're uncomfortable with. I think that's the kind of practice I have, I do a lot of marital counseling, a lot of helping people give voice to and make enough room for what is. So, it's hand in glove with meditation practice. And, being with what comes up, and allowing it and "gentling" toward kind of like our whole life's deal. Accepting it and working with whatever arises. Having a way to relate to it. Here is a horrible feeling I have, say, when my husband yells at me. Or here is this anxiety I wake with in the morning. I started out being a family therapist and I would have said very different things about what I did, it was very much helping people communicate. That's still the job, but radically accepting your own nature, finding ways to "gentle" towards it and become kinder with yourselves and others is...not letting it rip you apart, but also teaching people how to communicate with each other, whether they're married, divorced, whatever. How to get more gentle toward yourself. This practice with Shoshanna is very different. It's almost like we're celebrating the chatter, but I think during our entire three years of working together, we sat down and meditated twice. It's almost impossible for us to stop talking to each other and shut up. Whereas my studio practice is very meditative and solitary, as is drawing animation. I love it, it's very meditative. As you got through the HPAK show and get to the meditation center--I actually spent a lot of time there during the course of the show but she and I together are more idea generators and maybe in a year we'll be sitting and meditating together.


It's like you're evacuating your minds together in your collaboration.

It's exactly like we're evacuating our minds. I'm sure I'll be on my deathbed still trying to calm my mind down. I'm a collector. I'll jump out of bed to write down that painting idea. I think it's a common issue for creative people. You can't stop. And so, to create space in that mind you have to put it down and leave it somewhere. I like the word "evacuation." And so thematically in my work, its iconography, but also in the actual practice. I do have this idea that Shoshanna and I might do something that's real quiet and spacious at some point. But I don't know.

So this collaboration with Shoshanna is one of a couple you have done. Your husband and making music together, for instance.

My husband and I have been playing together for fifteen years. And I've done a few painting collaborations. One with this artist who live in L.A. who is a very dear friend, Carol Silverstein. She and I have done a lot of collaborative stuff. She's the first person I collaborated with and that was brilliant but she moved away. We tried mailing back and forth but we would sit and work. I'd work on something and hand it to her and back and forth back and forth. Then I'm collaborating with animators now. Two of the interns I've had know more than I do about animation. I'd make the storyline but Sunjoo Cho--those winking eyes were made by her, she's one of my interns. Her hand and her style then informed the way I went on. I would love to do more of that. And if I could find somebody I could paint collaboratively with really in an ongoing way I'd love to do that but I feel like this thing with Shoshanna is really one in a million. We have a similar sort of joie de vivre. She moved back from Slovenia and is living in Detroit, but she's been here 3 of the last 4 weekends. We hung that show together, did the Renegade Craft Fair, we're in the running for another collaborative project, etc. Now we're in close proximity, I can go there, she can come here. So it's our intention to do a different project, this one has had a long run. And it is my intention to collaborate more with the world. You have to get paired up with somebody where you're really encouraging the other person, so you're not shutting each other down. It's not just don't have to get where the other person's going, but there has to be an openness or something. I think that's rare. My husband's really open songwriting-wise but I'm the one who shoots ideas down. So, we work great together playing music but writing music not so much. We travel overseas and play music together quite a bit and we toured really wonderfully together and it's really easy and fun. But if we had to sit down and hammer out a song, I'd probably get defensive and wonky. I just don't have that same flow. I've got incredible art flow compared to music flow. I'm more like here's your harmony person who can sometimes write a song and he's more fully creative. But, for some reason, Shoshanna and I are like, "How about this? How about that?" And I've got a great capacity to think that things can really happen. Sure, we can get funding for that. So that works great, since I can make things happen in that way and she's really technically amazing.

Where are you originally from? How did you end up in Chicago?

I'm from Grinnell, Iowa. Where Grinnell College is. I lived in France a few years as a kid. Then I lived in Alaska for awhile. I went to Grinnell then Alaska, and I knew I wanted to make art. Then I went to Kansas City for one year to get some art chops then I decided I wanted to come to a metropolitan area. I looked at New York and I thought that I would probably not end up making very much art because I'd be scrambling the whole time. And it scared me. Except it's very hard to make those connections with galleries unless you're actually there, because they're so uni-focused.


I actually think Chicago is a good place to reach out from to other places, it has a decent art culture. Unlike say Kansas City, it's harder to break out from.

Right. So I came here with the intention of making art and moved into Pilsen. I didn't know a soul. I found out I knew one person from college, she helped me a great deal. My first show was at Artemesia. I showed with Jay Rosenthal Gallery, you probably don't remember him, I showed with him for awhile. Then I showed with Carrie Secrist for a long time. From there, I showed with Gescheidle, and Gescheidle closed after having to move three different times. Then Kasia Kay picked me, I had a one-person show there and then I was already starting the stuff with Shoshanna. And this is two years since my last show with Kasia. Outside of Chicago? Well, Pierogi has shown some stuff, actually on the wall, but I'm also in their flatfiles. They just sold a piece out of nowhere. Occasionally. I've sold a few pieces with them. Adam Baumgold, but just in group shows.

I love it when people can really focus on their work and dig down deep after it. I really admire that. You get some star shine and it lasts awhile and then everybody goes back to looking at the stuff that everybody's really working on most of the time.

Yeah, and not just be on that social sphere. Right.

I've enjoyed watching your work develop over the years, these evolving motifs. They exist in their own dimension. These symbols wouldn't stand up in any other context, they have their own experiential space with its own logic.

Just what you said reminds me of Thangka paintings where it's like a stage set yet it's incredibly powerful the way the stage is, or the way things are just floating and yet there's something so real it's more real than I'm here on this ground. Certain ancient Buddhist paintings and also Hindu paintings have that weird space and I feel like Shoshanna and I kind of created that, she called it a metaphoric landscape of the mind. As I look at my favorite paintings, like really old Tibetan Thangkas, you've got your imagery, which is really a flat space. But you've got all these worlds and to me they feel really real. But I'm somebody who wakes up from my dreams and I feel like I live more fully than I do in my life. In one, there's a depiction of psychic realms, there's a hell realm, all the different realms you can get stuck in. The reality in your own head is more real.


And what's clingier than an octopus, for instance?

Right. Thousands of suckers. And also, it's super-alive, it's solid and amorphous. It's like it's here and not here.

And yet it's a product of its environment which is different form the environment we walk around in as people. Again the symbology of it is a certain self-characterization, much like your Cocoon Girl character motif did.

I always forget this is the case. That Cocoon Girl came out of Trungpa Rimpoche who is like the now-dead senior teacher of the Shambhala Tibetan lineage, his son, Sakyong Mipham Rimpoche--Trungpa is long dead, but he did calligraphy. I'm reading a book he wrote, about Dharma art. Trungpa came over at the same time that the Dalai Lama came over, did a lot of Contemplative photography, which is a lot of like walking around in the world and almost contrary to how we usually take pictures. You're just noticing the juxtapositioning of things. I can't even explain it. So this is what I look at all day long. Not just his stuff, but I look at a lot of Tibetan paintings because they're just so magical. There's a concept in Shambhala Buddhism called Drala, it's the manifestation of magic in the phenomenal world. And you can invoke magic through your approach to seeing and living. So you can be just walking around dead and numb or you can be invoking this. And one of the things Trungpa Rimpoche taught is that we cocoon ourselves with TV, all sorts of compulsive behavior, Facebook. I was thinking, "Oh my God, I'm Cocoon Girl," and that's how that image came out. I'm terribly compulsive. I could go upstairs right now and if we had another couple discs of Deadwood, I could watch them until two in the morning. That's why smoking is in my pieces. I don't smoke, but I might as well.

It's the ultimate compulsory behavior. It kills you, and people who smoke enjoy flaunting that they know it.

We're just always trying to soothe ourselves and get more comfy on the planet and he talks about all these numbing behaviors as cocooning.

And the cocooning is itself a self-destructive behavior, because you're cocooning yourself from things you need to confront.

Or that you can get more comfortable with if you actually just invite it in. And that's sort of my approach as a therapist. Just invite it in. It's just going to get louder and louder, so that's how that image came out. I was looking at old Pogo cartoons, which is my favorite source. I love Pogo. I have all my parent's original cartoons. I love Pogo.

Do you see yourself as a cartoonist? I totally see that in your work. Adam Baumgold shows a lot of these artists, what other kind of cartoon strips are you referencing?

I'm think I'm getting there, obviously. I'm working my way back. I love old Betty Boop cartoons. I have a great collection of Betty Boop. And tomorrow when my intern shows up, I want her to draw sweat blobs, we need to make our animated octopus sweat, and I decided because I've had a really hard week, we're just going to take an hour off and watch Betty Boop. What does really well-drawn sweat look like? And then she and I can find out how to make that octopus sweat. Three of my favorite painters are Hieronymus Bosch...but his drawings more than's like the best shit in the world.

I can see the connection between Bosch and the Thangkas. They're both veils drawn back on other worlds.

If I had to just be stuck in a room with four books, I'd probably pick Bosch, Amy Sillman, a New York painter...

Who doesn't like Bosch?

Some people don't like something shoved up an ass. And you know what, I don't really have time for those people. If you don't like something flaming shoved up the ass of a drawing, then we can't be friends. His mind...

Also, similarities between someone like Bosch and Henry Darger too, who was depicting this other kind of realm of strife and mortality. Innocence, gender and conflict.

Absolutely. Who also just loved, loved, loved to draw. I see in Bosch just this utter love of whittling away with his sick, wonderful head. So Amy Sillman, Philip Guston, Bosch and some Pogo cartoons and I could probably sit contentedly in a cell for years.


Guston's whole integration of drawing and poetry. I think there needs to exist more of an understanding of the connections between literature, poetry and art and they get distinctly separated out. What else are you reading?

Right now, I'm reading Murakami. My husband is the world's biggest Murakami junkie in that he reads them over and over and over. It's almost become a thing in my marriage that he and my daughter would read all the Murakami books and I wouldn't. So, when I went to a meditation retreat this summer, your cell phones don't work, nothing. It's just a couple of weeks meditating. But at night, for like an hour before lights out you can read. And both my husband and daughter were like, "All right. You're going to bring Kafka On the Shore and you're going to read it." And I'm still reading it because that's how slow I am. I read therapy books and Buddhist books, and I'm reading Murakami right now. I also love trashy novels, but I listen to them on tape. I listen to them on CD when I'm at work. Bodice rippers. Murder mysteries. I love James Lee Burke. He's a Louisiana guy, very dark stuff. There's one called Tin Roof Blow Down that's just--after Katrina--they're all set in New Orleans. Here's the weird thing. The guy who's doing the After Effects for me, Joel Benjamin, who's wonderful and incredibly gifted, he loves being read to as well, and he's totally into James Lee Burke. They're like cliffhangers, so beautifully read.

It's like Old Time Radio Hour.

It's so Old Time Radio Hour. I used to love Milan Kundera, too. There's some of that in there too, I love the story but then there's this sort of the language and there's a mystical element or something. He's somebody my daughter loves. She's read every Milan Kundera book and she'll read them 3 or 4 times. She'll read the same thing over and over. If I weren't so lazy, then that's what I do. But sometimes I just want to get knocked out, I just want to watch TV every once in awhile. Like tonight, I'll probably read a book before I go to bed. I very rarely read poetry.

It's funny you say that, because I read a lot of poetic compressions into your work. Visual experiences, if you will.

I started reading Thangka poetry, which I wasn't familiar with before because someone I met while on retreat did books that mixed photography and poetry. I loved the books and really loved the form and then he sent me a bunch of his stuff and I've been reading that. I don't know why I've been so closed to poetry. It really troubles my daughter. She's here to shake me up and make me read different stuff. It's almost like my mind gets attached--I experience some of this with the Murakami--my mind gets attached to visualizing it and then I can't take in the next piece and the next piece and the next piece. I think that's why I like the Thangka, they're such nice little snapshots and there's something really beautiful about that form. It's very much like a quick drawing or something. It's almost like my mind gets really troubled and distracted reading poetry, I just need to hang my hat on something. Who knows, maybe I'll be a terrific poetry reader later in life. Guston, right? They're like 15 words, that's why I like them.


They're drawn. Language and language experience are two different ways of how we experience the world. And so much of your work does have text in it, actually.

Yes, but if it were all typed I'd have no interest in it. Part of this, as they're part of the drawing, I'm so much more pulled in. I could get pulled into this for days as opposed to if it were typed. It's basically drawing. That's how I digest everything. I'm one of those people, if I were in a class and I'm just listening, none of it's going in. I take notes, it all goes in. Half of how I take notes is it's all drawing. I went through college with a 4.0 and through that I was able to digest. I have no idea. It must be something very primitive. But I have to be doing that. Kinetic learning, a physical engagement with the world, it's a navigational tool, like I've got the steering wheel. You know when you see kids in the grocery store and they're sitting in their carts with a car on the front and sitting there with their steering wheel like they're driving but they're not really doing anything? That's what drawing is, it makes me somehow connect some part of my brain--in the margins of all my notebooks from college are little drawings, portraits of little doodles. Labyrinths of crap. As I look back on that, if I were the teacher, I'd be like, "What are you doing?" But if I were just sitting at a lecture I wouldn't know what happened. What's that? I guess there's the different parts of your brain that you engage. I do eye-movement desensitization therapy, for instance, which is basically you connect--you do bilateral stimulation when someone is traumatized. You can either do it with eye movement so you're regulating left and right brain or you can do it by touching both sides of the body so you're stimulating both sides of the body. It's this amazing way of helping people deal with trauma, their heart rate goes down, they calm themselves. They have to use the left side of their brain because trauma is stored in the right hand side. And they don't even fucking know how it works except that they know that somehow by getting the left side of your brain to fire while you stay with this other thing, you're able to regulate your nervous system. Somehow I think this is me causing my memory to engage and getting some part of my brain to engage. Hell if I know. But I can't not do it, I can't not draw.

Below is a working sample of Christiansen's video animation (without sound). Courtesy Diane Christiansen.

Images (in order of appearance):

Diane Christiansen and Shoshanna Utchenik, "Notes to Nonself," 2011. Installation view. Courtesy the artists and the Hyde Park Art Center.

Studio views. All images copyright 2011 Michael Workman.

The artist in her studio.

Diane Christiansen, "Enough Space in the Head to Breathe," runs October 28 - November 26, 2011 at Kasia Kay Projects Gallery, 215 N. Aberdeen St., (312)944-0408. Opening reception for the artist: Friday, October 28th, 6-8pm. Artist's gallery talk: Sat., Oct. 29th, 12-1pm.

GB store
GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15