by Jim Ridley
DAY 10 — 11.5.13
Poem: "Taking and Making"
In relation to: "You Became a Scientific Profile/An Anthropological Debate/A Negroid Type/& A Photographic Subject," by Carrie Mae Weems
Over the past week, at the Frist Center's ongoing 30 Americans exhibit, you may have seen a woman sitting on the gallery floor writing furiously. That is local poet and arts educator Stephanie Pruitt, a featured participant in last week's Nash-Up creative summit. Inspired by the exhibit's assemblage of pieces by 30 leading contemporary artists, all African American, Pruitt has launched her own project in response: 30x30x30, in which she will compose a poem a day for 30 days on site inspired by a different work.
The project has already been going for nine days; you can catch up with the previous works here. For the rest of the duration, Pruitt has agreed to share her works each day on Country Life. We asked her to describe the origins of the project a little yesterday, as she was on her way to the Frist.
Was there a specific artwork in the exhibit that set off the idea?
The idea for 30x30x30 initially came from me wanting to challenge my creative process. I recently finished a manuscript of poems 8+ years in the making. It was time for me to push myself to write in a different way — a tight deadline, more top of mind responsiveness. I'd also been watching the 30 Americans exhibit make its way around the country and really wanted to experience it. I've been writing in relation to artwork and history for years, and this gave me a chance to do what I love, but explore the literary equivalent of an open studio. As I began to plan the project, I realized that it could have a much larger reach than just my poet's table. Letting people into the process and also encouraging conversation about the themes and topics in the artwork will hopefully make this into a more communally impactful aha moment.
What do you look for as inspiration in the works — visual rhythm, color, subject matter?
I've committed to writing about one work from EVERY artist that is represented in the show. Sometimes I'm able to start from a point of inspiration — a topic, image, color, title that moves me. Other times, I'm writing, initially out of an adherence to the project. In those cases, I write myself into a deeper interest and curiosity about what I'm viewing. (Day 9 and the "dirty carpet" poem is an example of that.) Either way, the regular, structured practice has been extremely productive. When artists depend on inspiration, we limit ourselves to whims. It's important that I have a creative process that can withstand all my life cycles.
How are you able to concentrate in a gallery, and do the other patrons ever become part of your own project?
A big part of this project is all about using poetry and the writing process as public art. Concentration means something a bit different to me now. I'm aware of my surroundings and self and others in the space as I write. Although I try not to think much about an eventual audience during my drafting, I am beginning to see the gallery space and people in it as creative collaborators … even if they're unaware. I've had several conversations with other patrons and some of the staff and volunteers about their 30 Americans experience and what I'm doing. I'm sure folks walk by and wonder why sitting on the floor, talking to myself as I write. A few have asked and I've enjoyed the conversations. (Day 6 offered an especially interesting exchange that I discussed in the vlog).