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Dawn Patel: Brilliant Stranger

1.   What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

Arggg!  Books influence my life so much that this is the most difficult question!  I want to list more than 3.  So I’m going to write a short list of 3, books that have influenced my life and then 3 that are changing it now.  I’m a rule bender, sorry.

The short list -

1.  The People’s History of the United State by Howard Zinn

2.  The Flight of the Eagle by Krishnamurti

3.  Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The Long List - 

1.  Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot   

By examining the way it has failed to acknowledge the role of Africans in the Haitian revolution Trouillot brilliantly exposes history for what it is.  This is not a book that explains a moment in history from new perspective; it explains how history itself operates, through silences as much as through telling.  Published in 1996, this book has monumental significance in understanding events as they are unfolding today.

2.  What in the World is Going On? by Penny Gill

Penny Gill is a retired Dean of the School of Humanities at Mount Holyoke College who also happened to have channeled a Tibetan teacher.  Some of her professional peers prefer to explain the channeling as her “muse.”  How you decide to interpret it is up to you.  I have no problem with concepts that go beyond material existence and linear time.  It’s a hopeful book despite not giving easy answers.  I think she’s incredibly brave, and she has inspired me to be brave. 

3.  The Gift by  Lewis Hyde

I actually read it 2 years ago but it’s still sitting on my table next to my reading chair.  Capitalism, being based on profit and a dependence on hierarchy, is the death of art, in my opinion. The Gift Economy, being based on relationship and conditions of sharing, creates an environment in which art flourishes.  And in turn, Art, being an activity that steps outside of the world to imagine the world, expands our experience in ways that few other things do.  This truly is a gift.  This is how I always imagined art, but my experiences with the art world had cast shadows and doubts.  Then I read this book.  I hugged it when I finished it.  Now I feel it is possible to share art in ways that reflect and reinforce the profound ecstatic experience and lessons of making art. 

2.     What are you currently working on?  I am working on a three part piece that has fiber, painting, land art and performance elements. It is about processes of damage and repair, in different contexts.  It starts with assimilation and dissimilation, moves on to transformation and the ending is still forming in my mind.  I envisioned it last winter while going through a profoundly spiritual experience.  I’m still working on the first theme of assimilation and dissimilation, which I started in Mexico in residency at The Arquetopia Institute.  It was the perfect place to do this, I was supported and challenged but also given plenty of independence and space.  The first part is a performance with a fiber cape constructed of damaged cloth, old saris and obsolete computer cables.  I perform this piece by sewing it to myself and then cutting myself free from it.  I did a short performance in Puebla at the Zocalo and am working up the courage to do it in a public place in the Midwest, most likely Chicago.  So I guess you could say I am currently working on courage.

3.     How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?  I’m not a huge fan of those words.  But..if I place them (success and failure) in the conditions of being honest with myself, I have often failed. When I feel that I am as authentic in every arena of life as I am when I’m alone in silence with my thoughts I will feel like a success.  

4.     What is your most unusual habit?  Bending rules.  Maybe that’s not too unusual given your readers here are probably all artists.

5.     If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?  I guess it would have to be Picasso because we share a birthday and I think I understand his bad qualities as much as his good ones.  Then I would burn it.

6.     What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?  A good lamp.

7.     When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?  When uninspired I turn on loud music and dance.  When overwhelmed I lay still and feel my energy in every part of my body from my head to my feet and hear what my body has to tell me.  I ask what needs to be balanced, what needs to get quiet and what needs to be energized.

8.     What is the most life-changing thing you have bought for under 100 dollars in the last year?    A postage stamp.    

9.     Do you collect anything?  No.  I have at times in my life, but now I find it more interesting to give stuff away.  I love having space.

10.   What words of advice would you give to your younger self?  Relax and take your time.  Cultivate silence and calm.  Don’t give in to laziness, but rest when needed.  Trust your gut, not necessarily people who seem to know more than you.  But… hear and consider all sides.  Come to your own conclusions, and see your conclusions as impermanent.  Don’t stubbornly hold onto anything - a thought, a relationship and especially a thing.  Never judge.  It does no good to blame anyone.  You will never know what it is to be someone/something else.  Know your own mind.  Take full responsibility for your life.  Be humble and curious.  Forgive, but in your own time.  Forgive yourself but be honest when you’ve done wrong.  You don’t need to put anyone else at ease, make them happy or please them if it is conflict with your integrity.  Understand the connected but different natures and uses for your mind, your body and especially for your heart.  Never try to fit into any situation, you either do or you don’t just by being yourself, accept that.  Lots of advice… my younger self struggled.  I would love to help her, so I tell myself these things now.

11.   In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?   I believe this body I live in is a beautiful, unique and very temporary physical experience of something beyond the physical that has no boundaries of time or space. This belief came out of a bodily experience I had this year in January.  Everything has improved, I can’t always recreate the feeling of the experience but I will never pretend it didn’t happen.  That is faith, something I didn’t have before.  

12.   Share an inspiring image.   Attaching my grandsons.  I don’t expect them to inspire everyone the way they inspire me, but oh well!


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