LOG by Chelsea Snow

What is a Log? Is this a Log? What gives an object its Logness? Are some Logs more important or special than others? These are the primary questions that Portland artist and guerilla florist May Reid-Marr asks in a recent collaborative installation, Log. Inspired by a mysterious piece of wood found in the Summer of 2017 along the shore of Oregon's coast, Log celebrates the strangeness of form without pretense, and questions existence through material interpretations.

Walking into the long narrow expanse of the Furthermore Gallery, we are immediately greeted by Log. Just inside the doorway and elevated on a knee-high box swathed in pink butcher paper, Log sits askance and invites the viewer to ponder the delightful question: what is art? Measuring in with 18" of girth and 12.5" of length, with rounded ends and a rough but uniform surface, Log appears to be an intentional shape and size. But how? And for what purpose? A constellation of small black rocks are lodged into the wood only add to the unanswerable questions about the object's origins.

Log , 2018, May Reid-Marr

Log, 2018, May Reid-Marr

Forensic details about Log have not been explored, such as the type of the age of the wood, or the tools used to create its roughly hewn surface. Log does not seek the Truth in these ways. Leaving those blanks unfilled gives the creative mind license to ruminate about Log in other ways that reveal (or construe) other Truths: color, texture, weight, contents, fidelity, scalability, edibility. 

The butcher paper on which Log sits stretches to the far end of the room, corners rounded on both ends, alluding to Log's own curved extremities. While log sits elevated, the rest of the objects, placed with care along the expanse of paper, rest on the floor. The objects are not labeled or titled, but according to the press release, are made by a group of commissioned artists. This community of objects pays tribute to Log from a variety of different material perspectives. Literal interpretations in the form of paintings and drawings are interspersed with material variations: a mesh bag stuffed with hay, a sewn pillow, a ceramic platter, a skein of yarn, a booklet of haiku, a helium balloon, pieced together bits of leather, a stack of wood slabs, a floral arrangement, a digital video, a mirror, a pot of plants. 

Poop'ed from the sea

The bowels of the earth did hear

Your laxative cry

(from Ode to Log)

Photo by Aaron DeLanty

Photo by Aaron DeLanty

Photo by Celia Armand Smith

Photo by Celia Armand Smith

At the other side of the room, the butcher paper elevates once again, this time placed over a long table, covered in food. Vienna sausages, cheese puffs, Nutter Butters, a loaf of bread, a cake, a cheese ball, pretzel sticks, chocolate straws, tiny pickles. The foods are as thoughtful and log-oriented as the art, and one wonders whether that blurry line even exists. After admiring the impressive spread of Log-inspired foods, the hungry crowd began devouring the snacks, managing to clear nearly half of what is reported to have been a 7-pound cheese Log. A piñata in the shape of Log, was a mise-en-abyme filled with Log-shaped prizes including confetti, poems, cookies and candies, and was eventually destroyed by a man and a small child.

pinata 2
pinata 3

While the work in Log ran seamlessly along the length of the gallery space from the front door to the end of the table, Reid-Marr's aesthetic and design sensibility did not stop there. Surrounding the main gathering space (around the food and beverages) are the walls of a very organized and pink kitchen that she designed and installed the year prior. One might go so far to say that the installation was expertly engineered for this experience, of following a trail of random Log-related memorabilia into the real purpose and meaning of the project: a gathering of friends around a table of food in the kitchen.



INTRODUCTION // searching

I remember drawing a picture of God at the prompting of my mom when I was quite young. I had no idea what the word even meant. I drew a blue circle (it was supposed to represent a sphere) with a white cloud at the center in the shape of a seahorse with a human head. I’ve only recently realized: in one way or another, I have been looking for God ever since. I had the advantage of never being taught about an omnipotent or judgmental God, which made me very curious: who made this (the world), and why? The open-ended way that the idea of God was presented to me as a child did not provide me with the structure that the budding scientific side of my mind desired, so I wrote the idea off for many years, instead going within and concerning myself with questions about the creative impulses of humans: who made this (thing, idea, object) and why?

As an adolescent, atheism was en vogue and aligned with my budding punk rock ideals, yet I always found myself seeking spiritual (at the time I would have called them existential) conversations: discussing the meaning of life, the idea of eternity, the vast unknowableness of the universe. In lieu of developing spirituality, I developed skepticism: an inner dialogue that was prone to yanking me from my mystical ideations back into the realm of the pragmatic. My skepticism is an always-lurking shadow on my spiritual path, just waiting for a vulnerable moment to inject itself, as sarcasm, paralysis, self-doubt and sabotage. I ended up spending as much time doubting the validity and meaning of the creative impulse as I did pursuing it.

As an adult, the search for meaning has manifested in a multitude of ways: through collecting and making art and objects, multiple forays into various forms of mysticism, and an obsession with self-examination by way of self-help, therapy, and self-improvement. I continue jumping from idea to idea, discipline to discipline, keeping the things that resonate and discarding the rest. I had always hoped that I would find what I refer to as the “silver bullet”—the thing that would answer all of my questions and make all of my problems go away. In her memoir Living With a Wild God, Barbara Ehrenreich describes a similar experience: “I was looking at the job of condensing the universe into a form compact enough to fit in my head, maybe as some kind of equation or—who knows?—an unforgettable melody or gorgeously intricate mandala. This was the great challenge before me, to make things small enough to get a grip on, while leaving nothing out.” The word God is loaded. Most atheists, many agnostics, and some “spiritual” people refuse to use the word due to it’s deeply embedded connotations about an omnipotent patriarch. When I say God, I simply mean what Ehrenreich means: the intangible, the inexpressible, the mystical, the transcendent. When I say spiritual, I mean the moments when we wonder about those things.

This project explores ways of seeking, raises questions about my own motivations as a maker and artist and attempts to shine a light on my own complicity. The motivation for this project is ultimately selfish: it’s about me wanting to be a better listener to myself, to other people, and to my community. This contextualizes the project within this specific time and place: art school, Portland, Oregon, USA, 2017. The goal is to make space for myself and others to be present, to share intimacy and to co-create. These are ideals that I believe many of us share, but rarely enact in public life, even in art school. The motivation for building opportunities for presence, intimacy and co-creation is to reveal the gaps between the different versions of self that we present to the world (and to ourselves) and approach ways to reconcile them. Through an inquiry around how we seek meaning this project is an experiment to see if that information can be experienced and processed in an art setting.

BRICOLAGE // construction

The word “bricolage” means many things to me. I first stumbled upon the word as an exchange student in France, where the French version of Home Depot, Mr. Bricolage dots the suburbs. I remember being fascinated by the word, just the sound was appealing, evoking the image of a collage made of bric-a-brac—a thing I absolutely would have made at that point in my life. Bricolage, aside from the idiomatic French translation as “DIY”, means to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand. This idea had been a guiding principle in my life prior to having a word for it, growing up in a creative hippy family and coming of age in the DIY punk scene of Olympia WA in the 1990’s. Bricolage looked like recycling and upcycling, creative reuse and janky problem-solving.

In The Savage Mind, French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss used the word bricolage to describe the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. He describes modern myths as the assemblage of bits and pieces of the old: the material remains unchanged for thousands of years, the meaning shifting through reorganization. The skill of using whatever is at hand and recombining it to create something new can be applied to any discipline — from home improvement to art to intellectual discourse. According to Levi-Strauss, the bricoleur possesses “the savage mind”, in contrast to the craftsman who possesses the scientific mind, with the artistic self falling somewhere in-between. Utilizing these definitions in the context of applied craft and design has been a useful tool for organizing activities, materials, processes and decisions.

Prior to graduate school, I built a career out of making (and selling) things and teaching people to make (and sell) things. My business (established in 2010) was naturally called Bricolage. I was deeply engaged in my community, had an incredible network, and felt like I was an important part of something. And yet, to paraphrase Louis CK: everything was amazing and I wasn’t happy. The making had become tedious: focused solely on creating things that people wanted to buy, instead of the things I wanted to make.

When capitalism and commodification enter a creative practice, a certain amount of auto-pilot is required to maintain momentum in order to drone out that pesky voice that is always asking: but WHY? The teaching had also become unfulfilling: realizing that most of my students were looking for a social experience of assembling prescribed parts rather than learning a real skill of making. The community started to feel claustrophobic: the bubble we were in, filled with lovely and well-meaning people, had become an echo chamber. I sought refuge in the ways that were available to me: yoga classes, hikes in the foothills, terrible meditation apps, self-help books. The idea of God and spirituality came up constantly, but I refused to consider it. All of the modalities that were available to me seemed like watered down versions of something true, never quite reaching transcendence. Veronique Altglas describes this idea in From Yoga to Kaballah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage. She describes the way that western cultures tend to “pick and mix” from exotic religions, thus constructing highly individualized yet simplified versions of complex social, cultural and spiritual systems, without ever quite reaching the ultimate depth of any single practice.

In 2010 when I created my business with bricolage as a core concept, the choice to sell locally made art and craft aligned on a community level: making use of the people, skills and talents of the people that were “at hand”. As I research and explore this principle, I realize that it is useful not only in its ability to self-organize in efficient and ethical ways, but also as a tool for illuminating complicity and privilege based on access and inclusion/exclusion. This created a moral and ethical dissonance: I confronted the limitations of bricolage every day as I turned people away who wished to sell their hemp chokers in my shop or show their landscape paintings in my gallery. I began to wonder if the idea of shared taste was what qualified for community these days.

I had imagined that I would come to school and invent or create or build a thing that would change the world. I trusted my self-help gurus when they said “leap and the net will appear” . I jumped, and instead found myself tangled in the trawl like some kind of pathetic sea turtle. The more I was asked what the work meant, the more I realized that meaning was the missing ingredient; it had been all along. Through random acts of bricolage, I had been attempting to construct meaning by cobbling together things that seemed important. Whether through cultural or spiritual significance, personal history or aesthetic associations, these attempts fell short of creating the truth that I was ultimately seeking.

THE COMPLEX FORM // fragmentation

“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.” —C.G. Jung

So what is the truth? As I deconstruct my attachment to, and appreciation and enjoyment of objects, I realize that they don’t hold truth. For the most part, the object is simply a stand-in for something else—a physical representation of an idea. The art on my walls, the books on my shelves, the dishes in my cupboards, the clothes in my closet: they are all symbols of something, and can be divided into three categories. Those that symbolize who I want to be or how I view myself (aspirational objects, things purchased and acquired on purpose), those that symbolize connections between myself and other people (gifts, things made by humans that I know or love), and things that simply perform a function, often aligned with my values (furniture, appliances, vehicles, tools). I value each type of object for different reasons, and each type also holds its own specific meaning, untranslatable beyond my own connection to it, experience of it and demands of it. If truth is a thing that can be known or understood outside of an individual’s own perception, objects ultimately fail to tell the truth. Confronting this reality in the context of the object-making-centric graduate program I chose has been a challenge, realizing that objects not only fail to tell the truth, but from a social and environmental perspective, objects for their own sake are beginning to seem downright irresponsible.

I have begun to look to more qualitative and quantitative forms of relating, namely through graphs, data, charts and diagrams: anything that visually depicts an idea in a quantifiable way. I have an app on my phone that charts my “peak brain score” through a series of games and puzzles: it determines the “shape” of my brain based on a variety of characteristics, plotted on a circular graph.

The idea behind this type of graph is that the largest outer ring indicates the highest score, the center of the circle, the lowest. In an attempt at wholeness (or in my case at the very least, symmetry) I am working toward a balanced brain “shape”. Each day I spend a few minutes doing the puzzles and watch as the shape of my brain evolves. The shapes that these types of personality or characteristic tests produce are inevitably irregular polygons, hardly perfect circles, rarely symmetrical and far from whole.

From a Jungian perspective, the process of sorting our what “type” of person someone is (most popular in Myers-Briggs style testing) becomes the primary contents of the process of individuation—a transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness to be assimilated into a whole personality. According to Jung, the individuated, or conscious self is the archetype of wholeness.

At first glance (and especially out of context) the shapes these types of tests produce could seem meaningless, without congruence or consistency. Reminiscent of the randomness of unrefined crystal or mineral formations, constellations, or microscopic images of neural pathways, I find the shapes beautiful in their imperfection, resonant in their asymmetry and pointing to a formal unpredictability and uncertainty that fills me with a sense—not of wholeness—but of the ossibilit of wholeness, which is infinitely more exciting.

These irregular, gemlike, distorted geometric shapes show up frequently in art and design. The irregularity, when repeated, becoming somehow cohesive. From Sol Lewitt’s Complex Form to the DIY trend of immel-inspired sculpture, hese forms demonstrate systems of line and color, pointing to the fragmented yet coherent whole. In a deeply personal way, the fragmentation of the self into parts that constitute a greater, imperfect whole is a metaphor to describe my experience both as an artist and a human being. The very post-modern bricolage aesthetic of fragmentation guides many of my design choices, and points to my commitment to finding order in chaos, beauty in the unknown, and new meaning through unexpected combinations.

MEDITATION // transcendence

In the broadest possible way, the quest for wholeness of the fragmented self—or individuation—can be defined as the achievement of self-actualization through a process of integrating the conscious and the unconscious. This is also the aim of meditation as a tool for creative inspiration, the ancient practice of milking the brain of its “good glad fluid” (thanks Kerouac). In his treatise on Transcendental Meditation Catching the Big Fish, David Lynch makes the case for meditation as a window to the unconscious, the place where creative ideas come from. He also point o meditation as a gateway to shaking free of the creativity-squashing discomfort that comes from practical pressures like deadlines and budgets—a useful device in this age of the creative entrepreneur.

The practice of TM centers around the use of a mantra, assigned to each practitioner during a 3-day training course. The course is around $1,000, but luckily there is a student discount. The mantra is a secret word that is more of a resonance, a sound that when heard within, triggers a relaxed, meditative state. Learning TM was transformative to my life and my practice, and continues to be a source of clarity and inspiration. My hope was that like Lynch and other artists who use mindfulness as a part of their creative process and practice—namely Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono and Leonard Cohen, my work would develop a deeper conversation with the unknown, pulling bits from the subconscious back into the material world.

READINGS // data collection

Participating in this modernized version of an ancient practice like TM has opened me up to other forms of mysticism, especially those packaged as an experience. A few months ago, a friend suggested I have my aura photographed. The Radiant Human project was coming to Portland, and taking reservations ($30 for a 5-minute sitting and a polaroid). I realize that aura photography is not a real thing—the creator of the project, Christina Lonsdale, is the first to admit it. After stepping into her geodesic photography dome draped in black fabric, placing your hands on silver hand-shaped sensors, and staring into the lens of a large camera, she describes the process in loose scientific terms, and gives you a quick “reading” of your photograph. My partner and I had our photo taken together, and our combined aura was all purple. A friend who had been photographed earlier in the day was primarily pink and orange.

The Barnum effect in action, the readings are so vague that any combination of colors would ring true. But it doesn’t change the fact that there is some kind of mystical element at play, with a beautiful and strange photograph as a souvenir. This experience, like many other readings I have had (astrology, chakras, tarot, etc.) gave me something other-worldly to hold onto, to put my faith in (if only for a moment) and helped me to feel a part of something bigger than myself. This experience was verging on the spiritual. I was suspicious of the process, but I was able to suspend it just long enough to feel uplifted and validated by the experience. This entered my line of inquiry in the form of questioning exactly how spiritual people define their own spirituality, and how (or if) non-spiritual people experience those types of moments.


Through these various examples, an obvious challenge for this project has been establishing context. Situated somewhere between self-help and social practice, my research relies primarily on the idea of resonance: when things hit me in the right way, I use them. So not only do I have a bricolage approach to making and spirituality, but also to research. Using this method, the proposed project attempts to mash these things together in order to deepen my understanding of my own individual search for meaning, as well as reveal the absurdity in attempting to do so. By adopting tropes found in other new age and self-help examples, the work attempts to expose the ways in which those things fall short of their marketed claims, while at the same time presenting an opportunity for introspection, dialogue and engagement. This system will take three forms, all of which are summarized in a small takeaway workbook, and include a walking labyrinth, a conversation fort and a wall-mounted participatory radial graph.

THE LABYRINTH // illumination

The walking labyrinth is an ancient symbol of wholeness. The traditional labyrinth combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. In a talk in 2016 at Creative Mornings in Portland OR, part of a series on ethics, Jelly Helm described the meaningful nature of the walking labyrinth to his practice as a creative director. Representing the hero’s journey, the image of the labyrinth has become central to his philosophy of work, and installed on the floor of his office, is used by all as a tool for contemplation. My interpretation of the labyrinth represents the journey to our own spiritual center, and back out again into the world. Projected from above, as the body walks the path, it sometimes obscures the light, making it difficult to see which way to go, or where one has been. In the book “Learning with the Labyrinth”, the author Jan Sellers warns against the projected labyrinth, saying “...note that too many people walking a projected labyrinth at one time can result in chaos, as much of the design can be obscured by the walkers own shadows.”

The labyrinth that I have created also contains subtle animations in the projection that offer shifts in perspective meant to either propel forward with shortcuts, stunt movement, or disorient completely. It aims to illuminate not only the unstable nature of our own conceptions of self, but also the reality that there are many paths available to us at any given time. Instead of wholeness, this labyrinth asks questions about choice, about a prescribed sense of purpose, and about our own relationships with uncertainty. Like Miranda July’s 125 foot hallway art installation for the 2008 International Triennale of Contemporary Art in Yokohama, Japan, my labyrinth is a meditation about the expectations, hopes and realities of life. he piece is meant to simultaneously honor the intrinsic value of the walking labyrinth and completely dismantle it.

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To acknowledge the spiritual is usually seen as some sort of leap of faith, or a belief in something unknowable and unprovable. For some, however, it doesn’t require faith or belief in anything except other humans. “No, I believe in nothing. Belief is intellectual surrender; “faith” a state of willed self-delusion ... But experience—empirical experience—requires me to keep an open mind. And human solidarity ... requires that I call on others to do so also.” (Ehrenreich)

The second form is an installation representing the value of dialogue, in the spirit of human solidarity and the importance of the intimacy of meaningful conversation. Over the course of this 2-year program, I have worked part time as a driver for a gig-economy ridesharing tech company. What started as a desperate attempt to make a little money became an opportunity to begin practicing these conversations. What I found immediately in picking up strangers in my car was the willingness of most people to engage in conversation. More casual than a driver/passenger relationship, it usually felt more like giving a ride to a friend. Sitting in the front seat usually encouraged even more immediate connection. Giving people rides became opportunities for conversations, involving various approaches to conversation starting, and usually intuiting the types of questions I should ask and the amount of personal information to divulge. I had riders share intimate details about their lives including both joys and sorrows. On a few occasions I was asked to drive around longer than was needed just to continue the conversation.

I found that within about 2 minutes of speaking, I was able to find a commonality with any given person, beyond the fact that we are in the same place, in the same car, headed temporarily to the same destination. We were able to share meaning. The revelation, however, was not that we, as individual people are all connected. It was that these connections revealed themselves faster and more efficiently within the enclosed space of the car. When in the role of the ‘hired driver’, I also became acutely aware of my ability to listen intently. It occurred to me that rarely am I that close in proximity to people I don’t know, especially just the two of us. The enclosed space of the car propelled conversation into the realm of the intimate. This same phenomenon of deep sharing and listening occurs on a regular basis within the confines of the airstream trailer in the Bison building, so is not isolated to strangers or a moving vehicle. I also believe it is the thing that happens during Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, which he records within the confines of a small garage. His interviews are intimate and raw, deeply personal while also staying impressively universal. In a reflection on his podcasting career thus far, Maron says “You know, we had this need to create a connection. And the true evolution was realizing the true connection happening during intimate, empathetic conversation.”

In an attempt to duplicate this intimacy, the second part of this project is a “conversation fort”, constructed of bricolage materials and designed to seat two people comfortably and privately. As an experiment, I will be positioning myself within the fort for a set amount of time and invite others inside (one at a time) to have a conversation and be given a reading. Inspired also by the mystical quality of the radiant human dome, I will ask people questions about their own meaningful experiences, and chart their responses to a rubric of questions on a series of graphs. The graphs are created by considering the things (experiences, places, people, objects, ideas, communities) in life that hold meaning, the things looked to in times of upheaval, the things that held sacred in a world where nothing is sacred. When the thing is identified, it is then considered in seven distinct ways and plotted. The seven categories are loosely based on the seven chakras, or energy centers in the body. They are: Belonging + Connection, Power + Pleasure, Purpose + Choice, Possibility + Compassion, Truth + Understanding, Imagination + Creativity, and Joy + Transcendence.

I will graph the levels to which each of these sensations are felt when in the presence or process of their meaningful thing. The dots are connected and a shape is revealed. This shape will illuminate the areas where the participant is filled up on an energetic level as well as the areas where there is a shortage. This will provide a moment of awareness about how we might seek new meaning, how we might be in deeper gratitude for the things that we do hold meaningful, and how we might cobble together different sources of meaning in order to create a more cohesive whole. When I am not present, the fort will be available to others who wish to maintain some level of privacy and intimacy for the sake of dialogue. The motivation behind this experiment is not only to “help” others to understand the sources of their own meaning, but to determine how intimacy between two people is affected by architecture and whether creating a safe space for dialogue opens people up to talking about that which is most meaningful to them.

HOW ARE WE? // quantification

Inspired by the collaborative project Dear Data, the work of data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte and the intricate clusters and swarms of data produced by Katie Lewis, the final piece of this trifecta is a large scale radial graph installed on the wall. The data that will be depicted in this piece aims to represent the “shapes” unique to each person who wishes to contribute, and as a whole, a reflection of the overall well-being of the community. The process of physical repetition within this system transforms the materials into visual accumulations meant to be legible as a snapshot of data.

Small balls of yellow string (the color associated with the third chakra, the energy center responsible for regulating the self in relation to community) will be provided, and willing participants will apply the string to the pegs according to how they are feeling in that specific moment. The categories will be labeled, and identical to the ones graphed in the conversation fort, but it is not necessary that the two relate to one another. Over the course of the evening, I hypothesize that the accretion of the shapes will create a somewhat chaotic but balanced shape, representing the individual and their role in community based on the shared experience of being in this time and space together. The result will be photographed and removed, and the accumulation will change depending on its location, the people participating and the general context.

Of course there is always a risk to asking the viewer to complete the work: maybe they won’t want to, maybe they will break it, maybe they will be confused. I believe that these responses are just as valuable as if people were highly engaged and careful with the work through their participation. Confusion, awkwardness, self-consciousness and lack of engagement are as much a part of community as anything. The form that this piece takes ultimately provides a way for people as a community to listen to each other as a group—to see in clear visual terms the areas in which the community feels the strongest, and likewise the weakest. The process will mirror my own approach to my quest for meaning through a bricolage of ideas and avenues, will acknowledge the lack of depth to which these things inform my understanding of them (a key criticism of any bricolage activity), and will hopefully activate dialogue around the tensions between the individual and the collective.


The process of developing this project has itself been a type of healing. I have been secretly hoping it would be the silver bullet I’ve been looking for. Instead it has reoriented me toward the idea of the silver bullet entirely, casting a more critical eye toward the “answers” and becoming more immersed in the questions. When originally conceiving the form it would take, the cynical voice in my head was so loud it made its way into this very paper. Originally proposed as a type of alternative church, I feel that I have essentialized the parts of individualized meaning-making that pertain not only to people on a spiritual path, but to anyone willing to participate either through walking, talking, sharing or any combination thereof. I have begun distinguishing the difference between the study of o meaning is created, not hat meaning is.

Creating this work by way of using myself as a test subject has been a type of catharsis, with my own personal need to defend my choices through irony or cynicism slowly slipping away with each iteration. A practice that is not rooted in a specific context: part performance, part hybrid form and part community building through artistic engagement, I have become very clear about the shortcomings of my own seeking. I have become aware of the complexity of the

individual and her relationships to others, and the contrast between the ideals that I seek and the realities that exist. I have become aware of my own selfishness in approaching this type of project, and my own fear surrounding the vulnerability required to ask the kinds of questions I am interested in asking. This work will continue to be explored, refined, distilled and simplified over time.

I FUCKING LOVE YOU by Chelsea Snow

I know it's been a while. I haven't wanted to write anything for the past few months because I just didn't know where to begin; what to say; how to even have a perspective. I guess I was just not wanting to be a part of the cacophony, and quite frankly overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. Not knowing where to put my energy, not knowing what to pay attention to, not knowing how to package it up and make a pretty picture about it. 

Here are some fake ideas for unrealized posts that I may have written but didn't, and just came up with to make what I said up there seem a little more lighthearted:

  1. This isn't really happening: life in a fully augmented reality
  2. Why I moved to Portland: can a difference be made in a vacuum?
  3. Burn it down: the environmental impact of destroying everything you know and love
  4. Time travel: what if you only need to go back like 2 weeks?
  5. DIY tutorial: how to make a "liberal creative person" costume for lazy assholes
  6. The women's march: did it even happen? (See #1)
  7. "The only thing that has really changed for me is my newsfeed", and other reflections from the ivory tower
  8. My skydiving adventure with the Obamas (See #1)
  9. Snow days: a conspiracy theory
  10. Are you there god? It's me, everyone.

I consider myself somewhat of a "completionist" (a person who insists on finishing things even though nobody cares, ie: crossword puzzles, other kinds of puzzles, self-imposed creative projects, marriage vows (haha, jk)) but I have to say: the blog post every week for a year and a corresponding artwork project is officially over. Maybe I'll pick it back up after I graduate? Maybe however many weeks I did it for was exactly the right number of weeks? Maybe the next thing I do will be way better and more interesting?

Now that I pull it apart, I think part of me was afraid to write--not just because of all the crazy shit happening in the world--but because I'd have to admit that I'm not going to do a thing I said I was going to do. Ack, I do NOT like the way that feels. But there it is. It's important that I come back here though and start using this platform again, because I realize I do have one thing to say, and it's the most important thing, and it's kind of the only thing. I fucking love you. Don't forget.


A few disclaimers: 

  1. I wrote this essay for school last year, so if it seems dated, that's because it is. I think that many things have changed at the magazine over the past year, and maybe that will be a follow-up post
  2. I'm posting it here, today, because authenticity is a thing I have been thinking about and I have been wondering how to start having that conversation instead of the self-help-y one (ultimately I'd like to have both, at the same time!) and thought maybe it would get the ball rolling
  3. I am not saying that Kinfolk is bad
  4. I am implicating myself as much in a cult-y absorption in consumerism as anyone else
  5. It makes me nervous to share this because I think I'm going to offend people, but you need to trust me: I do not mean to offend you, I just want to talk about things
  6. Authenticity is a real thing, but a slippery one: once you use the word, you render it meaningless
  7. I haven't blogged in 3 weeks, and I only sort of feel bad about it, but I did miss you
  8. Okay, here it is:

In the Spring of 2011, the founders of Kinfolk Magazine Nathan Williams and Katie Searle-Williams were finishing up degrees in finance and conflict resolution at Brigham Young University Hawaii. Young, white, stylish, attractive, wealthy and devoutly religious, the couple and their cohort were unsatisfied with the current offering of publications dedicated to their particular lifestyle, which centered around a tight-knit community of friends, entertaining, and carefully staged Instagram-ready vignettes of food and rustic minimalist home decor. Kinfolk’s stated purpose is to “encourage a localist investment in the community” and a focus on “slow living.” Their manifesto from their launch in July 2011 (now removed from their website) read:

Every element of Kinfolk – the features, photography, and general aesthetics – are consistent with the way we feel entertaining should be: simple, uncomplicated, and less contrived. Kinfolk is the marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends.

Fast forward five years: Kinfolk has 70,000 subscribers to their print publication, editions in multiple languages, 797,000 followers on Instagram, has just published their first book, and launched a line of signature Japanese linens. The wholesome twee hipster ethos that defined their purpose and aesthetic has been adopted so readily into the mainstream that their “simple, uncomplicated and less contrived” ideals have been wholly inverted, creating a crushing visual predictability amongst its devotees who have formed a cult-like following of the magazine and a pixel for pixel dedication to mimicking its aesthetic, missing the point completely. An article in The American Conservative understates this point in reporting that “Kinfolk may seem overly romantic. Indeed, its simplicity and ruggedness can feel slightly staged; the bohemianism and hipster touches may be repellent to some.” Repellent indeed: Kinfolk’s ubiquity and influence in the world of craft, design, lifestyle and entertaining has seduced it’s “readers” (in quotes because people who read Kinfolk “for the articles” would find far superior writing in Playboy) into adopting aesthetic conformity and reduced them to a one-dimensional consumer profile.

Photo credit:  The Bahamian Rhapsody

Photo credit: The Bahamian Rhapsody

It’s no secret why Kinfolk is so popular from a visual standpoint. The photography is stunning, the white space is ample, and there are no advertisements to cheapen the pages (at $18 per copy, I should hope not). The color schemes are natural and neutral, the models typically wear white, grey or taupe. Backdrops are gentle pastels, and interiors always reflect a rustic minimalist design. The styling of their photoshoots is definitely what sets them apart, however, with what I call hyper-vigilant nonchalance. This is a trait very common among stylish hipsters, wishing to portray the “I woke up like this” vibe, but in reality having spent hours agonizing about getting the tousle in their hair--or in the case of Kinfolk--the fig falling off the edge of the cutting board just so. Conceptually, it might seem at first glance that finding perfection in the imperfect is a sort of liberation, but in fact the result tightens the parameters on perfection even more.

Image credit:  Dressed by Style

Image credit: Dressed by Style

Not long after the debut of the magazine, LA-based blogger Summer Allen noticed this new photographic trend surfacing on Instagram. She describes it as “Fussy Creative Class Creature Comfort Bingo.” This is to say: a huge wave of Instagram users (many of whom are designers, design bloggers and blog designers) began photographing eerily prescribed sets of images: latte art, well-made shoes shot from above, bicycles, vintage cars, ice cream held in front of the camera, round organic multiples (eggs, citrus), sprigs of herbs, half-eaten farm-fresh meals on white plates, American flags, “...and of course, Kinfolk—the subtle instrument of aesthetic brainwashing that drives it all.” As a response, she launched a Tumblr called “Kinspiracy” with the tagline “Kinfolk Magazine: making white people feel artistic since 2011.” The blog has received widespread acclaim on the internet as a critique of and response to the growing suspicion around Kinfolk’s success, and has been mentioned by a variety of news sites including the Guardian, the New York Times, Gawker, Vice, Jezebel, etc. What each of these publications acknowledges is that Kinfolk, while earnest in its effort to cultivate a meaningful lifestyle, appears to have created a cult. Critics have drawn comparisons to The Stepford Wives, and written scathing opinion pieces that each mirror the same general sentiment: that “Kinfolk is a constipated manual for minimalist try-hards” who mindlessly follow their leaders in whatever whitewashed direction they wish.

Screenshot from  Kinspiracy

Screenshot from Kinspiracy

Cult is a strong word. Merriam Webster defines it as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous; a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.” It is the stealthy religious angle of the magazine--not immediately apparent in its pages--that ultimately shifts this benign magazine’s readership from subculture to cult. Perhaps if Kinfolk were transparent about its religious underpinnings there would be less backlash--they could easily be redefined as the young conservative Christian lifestyle magazine that they are.

The website Christ & Pop Culture (CAPC) criticizes Kinfolk for not taking strong enough a stand on Christian values, and relying too heavily on aesthetics--all style, no substance. One of the more thoughtful and well-rounded critiques of the magazine, CAPC traces Kinfolk back to one of it’s original inspirations, the writings and poems of Wendell Berry--American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. Oh, and devout Christian. In the article “The Pleasures & Pitfalls of Kinfolk Magazine”, writer Ethan McCarthy implores Kinfolk to rectify the imbalance of the style/substance ratio:

“...a magazine depicting a lifestyle grounded in wholesome principles needs to get the style/substance ratio right. Thought informs aesthetics; aesthetics illuminates and incarnates thought. If the focal point slips too far in either direction, something crucial is lost. When Kinfolk slips too far toward style, it can quickly turn into vanity.”

He goes on to call out Kinfolk for playing into the “cult of conspicuous creativity”--the dangerous part of our culture that doesn’t care what you do, only how well you document it. He wouldn’t accuse Kinfolk of being responsible for this cult--insisting that we are all split by dual motives--our natural desire to appear a certain way to other people, and our desire to be “wholesome”. His analysis of Kinfolk reinforces that of the Kinspiracy blog, asking (rhetorically) if high ideals and superficiality can co-exist, and whether the radical departure from conventional lifestyle photography--when so easily duplicated by any Instagram user--is still radical.

Another biting response to Kinfolk is the Instagram account @socalitybarbie, run by Portland-based wedding photographer Darby Cisneros. Cisneros used a Barbie doll and perfect miniature replicas of commodities necessary to the Kinfolkian lifestyle to mirror the photography style and topical conformism found on the Kinspiracy blog. The term “socality” is a common hashtag used in conjunction with Kinfolk-related hashtags, and gets even deeper into the cult of Kinfolk. From socality.com:

1. Socality is committed to creating spaces of belonging online and turning these into real life interactions.
2. Socality encourages others to use their social influence collectively to develop local communities that are connected globally.
3. Socality connects and creates influencers for the message of the Gospel.
4. Socality equips people in their talents and mobilizes them outside the church walls to take their faith into action for community development and impact.
5. Socality partners and highlights cause-based organizations and brands that are ethically sound and socially responsible.
6. Socality, at the foundation, is about loving God, loving people and committing to the process.

Cisneros ran the SB account anonymously for five months, gaining 1.3 million followers (almost twice as many as Kinfolk itself!). She called it quits in November of 2015, outing herself as the human behind the Barbie, and stating in her final IG post:

“Hey guys, my name is Darby Cisneros and I am the creator of SocalityBarbie. I just wanted to introduce myself and thank all of you for enjoying this account. I started SB as a way to poke fun at all the Instagram trends that I thought were ridiculous. Never in 1 million years did I think it would receive the amount of attention that it did but because of that it has open (sic) the door to a lot of great discussions like: how we choose to present ourselves online, the insane lengths many of us go to to create the perfect Instagram life, and calling into question our authenticity and motives. It's been a blast running this account but I believe SB's work here is done. I will be leaving this account open for a while for people still want to look through and enjoy it. Again, thank you for following along. If anyone has any questions or just want to say hi feel free to email me at socalitybarbie@gmail.com ✌#RIP (account NOT for sale)”

Cisneros used the popularity of certain hashtags to speak directly to the audience participating in the phenomenon--a harsh yet clever tactic that drew attention to the lack of authenticity in a very #liveauthentic world. In addition to #kinfolk, she used tags like #livefolk, #neverstopexploring, #communityfirst, #wildernessculture, #adventure and of course #blessed, to name a few. The explosion in popularity of her account gained the attention of almost every popular culture media outlet, who--with the exception of one blogger who called SB a “mean girl”--agreed wholeheartedly with SB’s critique:

“...the carefully crafted casualness of your life, and its aesthetically pleasing authenticity, makes you one of thousands—maybe millions. And Socality Barbie is here to show you, with just the right amount of irony, how clichéd the #liveauthentic aesthetic really is.”

Recently, the meme of the “Instagram Husband” has surfaced as another revelation about the lack of authenticity of the Kinfolk aesthetic, as it is replicated by individuals on Instagram. Instagram husbands are the people behind the cameras for photos that look impossible: how does one get a photograph of themselves from 8 feet above? How does one take a selfie while sleeping? Who is holding that ice cream? Instagram husbands are revealing the actual effort that goes into each of the idealized yet supposed-to-look-casual photos that end up online. While the plight of the Instagram husband is not real (most people would find nothing wrong with a man playing a support role to a woman’s creative endeavor), the fact remains that a lot of effort is being put into these photographs, and to what end?

The aspirations of the people who attempt to mirror the life they see reflected on the pages of Kinfolk magazine do so with a startling level of dedication to the tropes that Kinfolk establishes. Meanwhile, it is clear that the Kinfolk lifestyle is not attainable--although cleverly designed to look as if it is. When a publication (or artist, craftsperson, designer, business, etc) has a stated mission, and that mission is meaningful--revolving in the case of Kinfolk around truly wholesome values and a less-contrived way of living, it is important that substance be privileged over style. What we see from the 5-year-old magazine is that when style outweighs substance on the page, when the original mission statement is deleted from the website, when the ideal of effortlessness becomes a commodity, when spontaneity is forced, the result is a confused brand of perfectionism. The cult-like following that Kinfolk has amassed lives in this confusion--waiting for the moment when the fig on the counter and the dirt on the apron start to bring the happiness and calm that the pages of the magazine promise, but never deliver.

Works Cited

Wood, Citrus, Lattes, Feet, Twine, Repeat: The Kinfolk Kinspiracy Code.” Gawker. March 31, 2015.

McCarthy, Ethan. “The Pleasures & Pitfalls of Kinfolk Magazine.” Christ & Pop Culture. May 26, 2015

Merelli, Annalisa. “Socality Barbie Hits Uncomfortably Close to Home.” The Atlantic. September 9, 2015.

Olmstead, Gracy. "Where Wendell Berry meets Martha Stewart: Kinfolk brings a crunchy ethos to entertaining." The American Conservative 12.6 (2013): 7+. Academic OneFile. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Shachar, Hila. “Kinfolk Magazine.” Desktop Magazine. July 25, 2011.

Tolentino, Jia. “PSA: Your Artsy, Minimalist Instagram Account Is Wildly Unoriginal.” Jezebel. February 5, 2015.


THIS FEELS WEIRD by Chelsea Snow

When I make a choice, or when I am doing a thing that is working (for me, for other people), I have always had a frustrating tendency to immediately want to abandon it. I get in a groove -> I get self-conscious -> I get freaked out -> I quit.

My fear is about:

  • getting stuck doing the same thing forever
  • being defined by that thing
  • things becoming too easy
  • succeeding at something that I stumbled on by accident
  • things feeling too good--because eventually they are going to end, and then I am going to feel that much worse when it's over

I've always beaten myself up about this pattern because I know better: I know that making choices based on fear is a fool's game, and I know that planning for the worst is a loser's game, and I know that there are no accidents--but I end up doing things this way anyway. I've gotten better about not doing this in my personal life. I've learned how to lean in when it comes to my own work, but this pattern still comes up when it comes to the other Work, the Work that is destined to live outside of me. I imagine that to other people, sometimes my creative choices might look like calculated risks. Sometimes they might look courageous. Sometimes they might look like stupidity. Sometimes they might look like passion. I'm really not sure how my choices look. All I know is how they feel. And right now they feel weird.

I've been trying to stay off of social media lately as a radical attempt at self care/preservation, but I have an obsession with checking Facebook's "on this day" feature--where it tells you all the things you posted on this day in history going back all the way to the beginning of time/when you joined fb. (Check out this amazing little book you can buy that has this same function!) It really does flood me with memories that I'm not sure I would have otherwise. Right now I'm seeing a lot of 2008 election posts, a lot of those same sentiments ringing truer than ever "Undecided is just another way of saying FUCKING STUPID" (Me, October 2008). 

On this day two years ago, I posted a story about my friend Bess, who I had just hired to housesit my house for a week. I re-read the story today and it made me cry. Not just for Bess, who I hope is doing better (if anyone sees her please tell her hi for me), but for myself. It brought me back to the emotional place where I was coming from at that in my life that made it seem totally reasonable to invite a homeless stranger to stay in my home. 

Two years ago I was feeling incredibly restless. I was feeling dissatisfied, and feeling guilty about being dissatisfied. I was wanting more, and felt ashamed that I wanted more. I tried so many different ways to change the structure of my life so that I could feel better. Inviting Bess into my life was a stressful, yet transformative experience that got me closer than any of my other efforts.

Becoming friends with a woman who carried her life with her in a big blue duffel bag helped me to see what was really missing. She would visit me at the shop pretty often, and when I wasn't busy, we'd sit and talk. She would have moments of intense joy, mirrored by moments of unimaginable sorrow. I could see it in her face--it would physically transform before my eyes, as her perspective shifted. I tried to just hold that space for her--the joy and the sorrow, the light and the dark. During one of those conversations, she said something that has stuck with me ever since--she was describing how difficult it was for her to remain positive, but that she was doing it anyway. She said "YOU HAVE TO FIGHT FOR YOUR LIGHT." I don't think I experience darkness to the same degree that she does, but I knew what she meant. And I didn't even make a Beastie Boys joke. She meant you have to really want the thing that brings you joy, and you have to not stop wanting it, not ever. 

On this day, two years ago, I decided to fight for my light.

And today I'm here. I fought my way here, toward this light, which is still elusive and sometimes dim and most of the time looks really weird and different than I thought it would. The path was not (and probably never will be) easy or clear. I'm still fighting for it--although what "it" looks like is (and always will be) changing. Today I remember Bess, and the gifts she gave me, as I write this blog post 6 days after its self-imposed due-date, two years after making a conscious choice to make a very big move. And because of this, I remember the things I am committed to. I remember that it's bigger than an art project or an art degree. It's about really wanting joy and tenderness and vulnerability and truth, and it's about not stopping wanting those things just because it feels weird. My unsolicited advice for you today: sit with the weirdness. It will guide you.

Anti-Perfectionism Manifesto by Chelsea Snow

Years ago my friend Gabrielle told me about an idea she had for a magazine, she said "it would be like THIS", and handed me a copy of Uppercase. She asked me if I'd be interested in contributing and I was like hells yes. A couple of years later, this magazine is a real thing, and I really did contribute, but not in the way I had planned. 

I was going to write a little story about my new life in Portland, the projects that I was working on, etc. I tried so many times to get it right, each failing harder than the last. One of the versions actually turned into a post from a few months ago about the Hustle and Flow. But it wasn't right for a magazine. Sharing things about myself and my work in print felt VERY different from sharing them here. I drove myself crazy about it for days, all thanks to a little bitch I like to call perfectionism.

My personal brand of perfectionism gets in the way of so many things, and I decided to take a stand against it. Lo and behold, the anti-perfectionism manifesto was born. Instead of writing an article about myself, I made a piece of art that spoke to why it was so difficult for me to write an article about myself. I nervously sent it to Gabe, thinking this is totally NOT what she asked for, and she was like "it's perfect. :)" The magazine, Makers Unwound, officially launches this week (please buy a copy!) so I thought it would be a good time to share it. If anyone wants a print of this, you can get one here!


so you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

--Charles Bukowski

That's the poem I sometimes read when I have writers block. It was written by my great uncle Hank. I didn't know Hank very well, he died when I was 17, and certainly never came to visit. But we'd visit him and my aunt Linda in San Pedro every so often. We talked on the phone a couple of times. He'd send gifts, like a little gold and opal heart-shaped necklace (my first real jewelry) that was torn from my neck the first time I wore it out of the house and lost in the tall grass of my neighbor's unmowed lawn.

I didn't realize he was a well-known writer until I started college at Evergreen, where a Bukowski course was offered. I didn't consider taking the class, but in my arrogance, wondered if they'd like me to come in and share some old family photos? No?

The older I get, the more I can appreciate his work--as I am able to get beyond the misogyny and addiction and violence and vulgarity--I see what is really behind it--what Maria Popova describes as his "characteristic blend of playfulness and poignancy, political incorrectness and deep sensitivity, cynicism and self-conscious earnestness." Yeah, I can relate to that.

The older I get, the more I also wonder when I'm going to find my one true path, when I am going to figure out what my purpose is in this world, when I am going to know that I am doing the right thing, when the words or images or sounds or whatever just start pouring out of me effortlessly, the way they seem to do for geniuses. When am I going to bloom? Have I already bloomed? Was that it? Or maybe I am one of those plants that is always growing a new flower, and by the time a new bud has formed, the old flower has shriveled and dropped?

Speaking of getting old, I went to church the other day with my mom, sister and grandma while I was visiting Boise. Yes, church. One thing that stood out was this: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin." (Matthew 6:25-34). I have admittedly never read the bible, and I barely know the context that this quote is in (that has never stopped anyone from quoting the bible) but it really struck me: I am working and worrying very hard about making a meaningful life, but my life is already full of meaning. The lily of the field does not worry about it's lily-ness, Hank didn't worry about his writer-ness, nor should I worry about my artist-ness or my mother-ness or my human-ness. It will happen. It is happening. Let it happen. And so it is. (That's what they say in church!)

Prints  here .

Prints here.




To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it, the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men at the same time. --Hannah Arendt

I need to admit something: I don't like parties. 

This doesn't mean that I don't like people, and it doesn't mean I can't have fun at a party. I really like the idea of a party, but when it comes right down to it, I have a hard time just being a person at a party. I want to break this down, right here, with you. And I want your feedback too, so feel free to answer the questions as you read along. 

I don't like parties because I am awkward. I don't know what to do with my body--how to stand or where to sit. I don't know how to dance to music I don't like. I don't know whether to talk small or big. I don't know whether to hug people or high five them or just nod as I walk by or pretend to not see them at all. I have tried all of these things, and they are all equally awkward. (Until I get drunk, at which point my awkwardness becomes adorableness, all of my moves amazing, hugs for everyone.)

Let me get one thing straight. Awkwardness is not a bad thing. Awkwardness has hidden talents. Awkwardness wallows in empathy. Awkwardness is hyper-vigilant about meaning well. Awkwardness is self aware to a fault. Awkwardness is vulnerable. Awkwardness longs for intimacy but doesn't know quite how to connect.

You probably don't realize how awkward I am. But that's probably because you have only ever known me from across a piece of furniture. Somehow the furniture--whether a dining table or a bar or a store or kitchen counter--provides me with the context I need to keep my awkwardness at bay. Here I am. There you are. We are separate but have come together around this piece of furniture, and because of it, I know what I am supposed to do. I know where to put my body. I know how to communicate. Furniture creates context, and that context gives an introvert a break from having to constantly reorient herself to her surroundings. 

For a very long time, it was part of my professional practice to throw a party at least once a month. If I do the math correctly, that is so many parties. Too many for an awkward introvert...but it was okay because I had a counter to stand behind! I had a job to do. I had a role to perform. I could engage with people as much or as little as I needed. I could lean on the transactional nature of my business as a crutch to keep from being weird (usually). I could hide behind the furniture. I could always "look busy". Lately though, the counter is gone. (Maybe it's time to change the photo on my home page?)

I thought that having some space from the counter would cause it to just fade away...but it's quite the opposite. I'm so curious, now that I have a tiny bit of perspective, about how comfortable that role was (my entire life) and how I rarely challenged it--to the point that the idea atrophied into being a part of who I am as a person. And it has me wondering: am I really a person who needs to have a piece of furniture attached to the front of me in order to feel safe at a party? Do other people feel like they have big heavy objects attached to them? Does it have to be this way?

What I know for sure is that I would way rather throw a party than go to one. But as I wake up to the truth of my own awkwardness, I think it might be time for me to challenge that assumption. Could I design a new kind of party for introverts? Could I design a new kind of furniture that makes connecting easier? Could I design a new kind of business that sells the magic of awkwardness?

Prints  here .

Prints here.