Jessie Shefrin On Critical Making

Making is a Kind of Thinking and Thinking is a Kind of Making


Photo by Justine Hand

When the ground shifts, the next chapter begins. Making things can expand one’s understanding of what it means to be human. Once, I made a series of drawings with my eyes closed that terrified me. After much consideration, I decided to continue working on them. Finding the vehicles for exploring the edges of your experiences can be a way of transforming thinking into practice. Change is inevitable, adaptation is optional.

‘Tornado’ is the working title of a piece by the artist Francis Alÿs. Every year since 2001, in the month of March, he has gone to the Southeast edge of Mexico City where he has walked into–and filmed–the center of a forming tornado. He has done this not just once but over and over again, as though he couldn’t get enough–like a wild animal seeking refuge and truth. The condition of ‘being in’ or ‘verging on’ a state of crisis or emergency, that could indicate a turning point, that embodies an abrupt change or risk, are some ways to approach the nature and temperature of the adjective ‘critical’. It is sometimes characterized by careful and exact evaluation and judgement, and it can easily gather negative connotations. It can also have a sense of urgency and it can foster extreme and careful skills of differentiation. These intrinsic states can call a person to deep attention and require deep presence, constellating the conditions necessary for transformation to occur. Every transformation that we are witness to changes the world, and in turn, changes us.

‘Making’ is a process. In comes from ‘doing’. Doing something. Do you know ‘Doing’? ‘Doing’ is an ‘act’ that results in something coming into being. It can bring something into the world that wasn’t. If you whistle into the night thru the dark, you will clear a path for a bird who is looking for the light. ‘Making’ is not a hole that can’t be filled. It can result in something tangible, ephemeral or even invisible. ‘Making’ can bring you face to face with your own agency. ‘Making’ has some of the qualities of an echo, in that it can cause a vibration, a reverberation inside of you, as well as outside of you. It can travel in space and time and come back to you in the form of a feedback loop. It can travel in your mind, through the mail, in your hand, as it is passed from one place to another, from one person to another. The form it takes can cause a reckoning or create an event. It can be made of a million different kinds of materials and /or ingredients. It has qualities and can be interactive, reflexive, inquisitive, and interpretive. It can cause other things to happen and it can gather things to it like a magnet. It can be real or virtual. It can be done alone or with other people. It can happen anywhere, by anyone. It is free! It can be iterative or not. It helps to make something that you don’t necessarily understand. And even if you think you understand what you are making, the act of making it will change your understanding of it and you will feel yourself get bigger.

This little piece of writing is a kind of ‘making’, a ‘critical making’ that uses words and thoughts and feelings in the form of language, to try and make something from a concept that came into being when I opened my mouth one day, a long time ago, and the words ‘Critical Making’ fell out, in that order. I have been exploring my own tracings, teachings, drawings, wanderings and wonderings, feelings, thinkings, questionings and assumptions ever since to better see what can happen when something opens and something else falls… out. And like all ‘critical making,’ it attempts to create a context to make tangible some of the possibilities that can drive passion and engage spirit by striving to go beyond the things we know and towards our own reckoning. It helps us to recognize where our passions come from, what they are connected to and how we can use them to help us know that we can only understand things relative to what it is that we undertake. ‘Critical making’ can remind us that even when we act alone—as an artist, as a designer, an entrepreneur, or as a hermit—in isolation, we are part of a larger community.

Seeing is a reflexive process, and like an echo it can find its way back to you. Of course, it all depends upon listening. Everything depends on listening. Listening is different from hearing. Hearing can tell you which way to go. Listening can tell you who you are.

Practice staying awake and be attentive to what is elusive, fantastic, contingent, different and barely there. Pay attention to everything. And remember, as my good friend Linda Sikora has said, “It’s more important to keep paying attention and to follow your attention wherever it goes, than it is to think about meaning and content, because meaning and content come from paying attention to the world.” #lindasakora

❔ Whois

Jessie Shefrin is an artist/educator, leader and consultant. Her work is predicated on a deep and ongoing interest in building interdependent, integrative and interactive relational systems. She is currently Founder and Principal of ‘shefrinconsult’ where she coaches leaders who are working at the intersection of art, design, technology and business. This kind of collaboration focuses on creating renewable, conscious systems of human behavior and communication that can become the foundation for innovation and meaningful change. Her previous posts include: Provost of The Rhode Island School of Design, Dean of Graduate Studies of The Rhode Island School of Design, Professor of Print and Digital Media at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University, and Co-Founder of The Institute for Electronic Arts and the Electronic Integrated MFA Program at The School of Art and Design at Alfred University.

Her print and video work has been exhibited extensively in the United States, Europe, and China.

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