thinking outloud (back)

Silence is space. In fullness, silence seizes emptiness. In absence, silence seizes presence. Sense and nonsense merge. The temporal dissociates. The knotted unknots. The cluttered, clotted mass of knowledge and experience unravels. Memory is reanimated and edited. Seeing becomes hearing and hearing seeing. Silence disrupts normalcy, bypasses logic. Silence enables transparency of being, knowing, becoming. Silence is empty space. In this space, change becomes possible. The degree of silence determines both the depth of space and how one enters that space—skimming, grazing, wading, or immersing. In silence, I awaken.

kathryn kelley. april 2006.


Writing is about silence. Silence creates an empty space into which I may enter, a place where change may be instigated. Silence is a loud space filled with life, filled with questions, a place to explore pain and delight, future and failure, a place to dream where sense and nonsense become irrelevant and connected. It is a place where words fall away and the objects infinite possibilities are reclaimed. It is a space I want to enter into, be enveloped, comforted. I dissect my transparent assumptions about the nature of existence in this safe haven. I learn to connect to people and events more deeply, to be more attentive, alert, to live more richly. Not the richness of stuff but that of the fullness of life. But, the pleasure of fullness comes from emptiness and the process of filling which requires an openness in space in which to impart that filling. Silence is this space and I enter it through writing.

kathryn kelley. april 2006.



I trust the process—research, collective critical analysis, emergent forms from visceral object making, alternate views that manifest themselves via found objects, questioning my assumptions about the nature of things, and daily writing.

In silence, I disentangle coagulated knowledge and experience.

In silence, I bite my tongue,
still my brain, and listen.

In silence, I sweat. I make.

In silence, I collect.

In silence, I become transparent.

In silence, I write.

But most importantly I have found that if I force myself to remain open, open to alternate views, open to outside direction, I learn. To learn requires me to make mistakes, to be wrong. By allowing for failure, attempting to not avoid that which hurts, I am able to explore new things in that illusive space where sense and nonsense become interchangeable and comprehensible. Often this type of experimentation surprisingly produces something quite coherent. Silent openness also allows me to recognize the herd (the mechanical, human drone-state which avoids painful mental, physical, and social conflict resulting in a deadening of the potentiality for change (as noted by David, fellow student, in his presentation)) and to navigate to its outer edges. I cannot avoid the herd (I am the herd); I cannot avoid culture (I am my culture). But on the skirts of the herd, where there is silence, my movement and exploration is less hampered by cultural dictates; more options are available to me; my assumptions become more transparent. Openness, even when everything within me screams “NO!,” improves me. Without it, I would remain the same. And what a boring life that would be.

kathryn kelley. april 2006


I thought I had it.
Then I lost it.
Came to the finishline only to recall
that I could not recollect it.
I was trying to be so very clear.

kathryn kelley. march 31, 2006


The tension of the praxis of culture and
the illusive self

The angst of modern cultural addictions permeates my existence. The dictates of mediated culture, the dictates of self are so commingled they are indistinguishable—inseparable. Black and white cease in purity. Each becomes embedded with an otherness. The very thing I hate, the thing I swear I won’t do or say, that is exactly what I do.

My design, sculpture and writing skim the surface of the construct of the self. There is an illusion that the self is an autonomous and masterful entity. Yet the self seems to function as a variable, a storage container for the dictates of society where the current cultural matrix defines what it means to be human—our limits, talents, expectations, and prohibitions. It tells us who we are and how we relate to the world. Emotions and identity are cooped as microregulators of culture. Want is appropriated as need. Consumer stimulation, pacification, and diversion are used to reinforce and reproduce the loci of cultural powers. If culture moves us toward unrestricted selfishness, we embrace our narcissism and revel in it. There is a struggle between the illusive independent self and the self’s dependence on culture. The self is incomplete, empty; culture completes.

Is this so? Are we social constructs?
Why do I experience tension when I go along?
Or when I resist?
Can I enact change on the self or culture?
Or am I impotent as a factor in change?
Is it possible to step outside of the
current consumer paradigm?
Who is in charge anyway?

How is change defined? Does it refer to a fundamental difference in a state of being or can change be just behavioral/superficial, as in managing ones funk versus no longer having the funk.

Are we purely complex systems of stimuli/response? What makes us uniquely human? What takes us beyond just being an object under the influence? What do we experience that is not based on our senses/stimuli/response?

How much risk is involved in thinking differently, behaving differently? Being different? What is the association/link between risk and energy? How might energy be stockpiled to use in risk taking in order to instigate change?

What is the role of solitude and group in change and change maintenance? Aren’t both required? Is the balance unique to each individual?

Is change possible?

I dissect the self only to discover it is but a mere
flesh wound!

kathryn kelley. april 2006.


The dictates of mediated culture,
the dictates of self are so commingled
they are indistinguishable—inseparable.
Black and white cease in purity.
Each becomes embedded with an otherness.
The very thing I hate, the thing I swear
I won’t do or say, that is exactly what I do.

I empty myself—forging a direct and raw connection with my work.  It is my visceral
response to the struggle with self, capital culture and the vast slippery feeling that something is terribly wrong within our mediated cosmos.

I am in the shadowlands. Not embracing, but
in spite of, I find hope wrestled from these shadows—an emergent beauty, an odd sense
of wholeness and redemption.

Artist Statement for MFA Thesis Exhibition
Opens 7pm April 14 @ the Blaffer Gallery
Houston, TX

kathryn kelley. march 2006


I dissect the self only to discover it is but
a mere flesh wound

I step to the edge of change and wavier there until my own demons pull me back. No. I choose to follow them back. I give myself over. Change is screaming to me and I know it is what I need, what I want. What I CRAVE!

Simultaneously, the lure of safe sameness calls to me, beckoning me back from the edge, yet I find that my toes curl tightly to this edge. I am stretched, torn, yet, I am not returning to the safe sameness! I will process the fear, redirect it. I am not beating my head on the same wall, or at least it looks different, feels different?

What is not different are the demons. They are not new. Every time I step into/toward change, they approach me­—steal my thoughts, riveting them on old fears. I require, demand, to push through, not to give in, NOT TO BE SAFE.

I have chosen not to dream, but now they break over me in a rushing onslaught. Not the dream of sleep have I fled, but the dream of future-casting. And now I taste the dream rolling across the back of my tongue and it scares the hell out of me!

kathryn kelley. feb 2006


It is myself that I chase
with hidden hope unrealized
putting on other to find self
push me pull me swallowing the trail
significance denied but sought
not smart enough or talented enough or
beautiful enough or witty enough yet
the hope that a secret grandeur resides
within is pushed below the surface
and I skim across this placid self
the mirror to which I hear
glass pressed close eyes shut tight
it burns me

kathryn kelley. january 2006.


I allow myself to be DIVERTED
via consumptive patterns
which in turn neutralizes me
as a factor in self and social change
with an increasing sense
of my own powerlessness
my attitude of ENTITLEMENT
becomes all the more overwhelming
consequently leading me back
to the acquisition of
additional consumer GOODs
where I can exert my CONTROL
in my ability to choose...
red or blue

kathryn kelley. fall. 2005.

How is it that within the self, impotence and entitlement become linked?


I want
Conspicuous consumption
It overtakes me
All devouring all consuming
I fight the devouring darkness
within and without,
Only to find that
I am the devourer
Consuming all
Wanting Wanting Wanting

The dictates of mediated culture,
the dictates of self are so commingled
they are indistinguishable—inseparable.
Where I begin and end is lost.

kathryn kelley. fall 2005.


Becoming unsafe

Design has shaped my thinking, developing an analytical approach to image making. Yet, design is safe. It is my easy way out of vulnerability and commitment. Image making takes shape within client parameters. Analysis and creativity is required; ownership is not. Though much of myself comes out in my design, emotional safety resides in my ability to divert primary authorship onto the client.

With art making, the work becomes my own—risky. Putting myself out there, committing to say this is about me—my brain, my process, my hand—it is an extension of myself. I am not the sharpest tack in the box or the most original, but this is my own. And, THIS is not safe.

I have reached that space in life where my strength of ego and self-will allow me, draw me, to take the risk of “becoming.” Becoming who I am, not that self defined by “shoulds.” Change is difficult. Self sabotage common. Yet, I am moving into that self that has been simmering below my surface for a very long time.

I am consumer, lover of stuff.
I am female, pink appeals.
I am forty-four, decay has begun.
I am visual, language challenged.
I am seeker, life teaches.
I am designer, anally fixated.
I am watcher, society astounds.
I am pattern seer,
micro macro, macro micro.
I am dysfunction, i function.
I am spiritual, Christ calls.
I am tactile, let me touch it.
I am American, arrogance assumed.

This surfaced self binds together the fragments of my many selves into a unit, into a whole. And as I step into this whole/fragmented self, the sheer tactility of my art making overwhelms me—sketching naked people, pushing paint, welding metal, hammering nails, a brow slick with sweat—I find myself. Deep satisfaction. Maturation.

My “should” self has never known passion. My design self has been safe. An electric current of fear courses through me as passion moves to the forefront. Art informs my design. Design informs my art. I step to the edge of change and waiver there. The safe and unsafe are merging and I am “becoming.”

kathryn kelley. fall 2005.


The disconnected connects

I have fallen into a void where there is no individuality, no unique private world, no authorship or originality. I find myself not in utopia but dystopia. There is no space; there is no silence. All inventions have been invented and recombination replaces creation. I fight the void. I become incapable of representing my current experience except through things that already exist. I dredge the archives seeking new meaning through new combinations. A rapid rhythm of change accelerates as I move through the limited number of combinations. Empty space is filled up. I consume all. Signifiers fail to link into coherent wholes. I pile up the appropriated fragments ceaselessly and empty them of their significance. The promise of new meaning evades me. The narrative stands still. Reality becomes that which is defined by media. Life is subordinate to the laws of the market. High and low culture merge. I sense loss and I drink Diet Coke like a dog gets excited about going for a walk ON A LEASH.

Resistance is futile.

As I am assimilated, I assimilate. I find myself in the present where a strange sense of continuity yet materializes. What appears disconnected connects. Information and experiences are absorbed. I bring them into myself. Distill them. Discard what does not fit. They become my own. This bioaccumulation of all that I have ingested, both toxic and nontoxic, has formed my current state of being. The last three years of accretion have snapped into clarity this being. The bulk of this assimilated data and change results from my immersion in 20th century art, research and collaborative analysis of design, experiments in painting and sculpture, and acceptance.

My initial studies in 20th century design and art were purely academic, the laying of a foundation. Impressionism. Futurism. Dada. Surrealism. As my studies progressed to the more contemporary, I found myself unable to simply respond to those works intellectually. I was compelled to make, and make is what I did. My first bastardization, a Pollock-de Kooning in under 5 minutes. Bad painting, combines, first generation feminism. Fast, freely. Pink—discovered spontaneously. House paint flying everywhere. Ruined pants. Ruined shirts. Ruined shoes. The sacredness of art demystified. It was OK to make bad art. I didn’t have to make something beautiful or meaningful. I just had to make. And I did. Making good. Making bad. Making. Concerned design professors averted their eyes from the accumulating pile of paintings in my small studio space. The frenzy was great. Occasionally I would look up to see that my studio mates had joined me in pushing paint.

The internal changing, the tide that I was unable or unwilling to divert, culminated with my exposure to abstract expressionism and the movements which followed immediately on its heels. The works resonated with me. A gnawing to move into the third dimension began. The questions about self, life, and culture could be explored in these visual languages I was discovering.

What is black? What is white? How is it that my own goodness gets lost in my shadow? Robert Rauschenberg’s black and white painting series and his combines embedded with everyday objects brought out my own inclination toward darkness and light. Eva Hesse’s explorations in abstracted expression and minimal form via industrial materials created an urgency within me to work with similar materials in a tactile manner. Louise Bourgeois showed me how to use abstracted forms as expressions of self with undercurrents of cultural communal beliefs and emotions where self and society could be interchangeable. Physicality compounded by weight and size of Richard Serra’s monumental sculptures spoke to the significance of mass and space.

Concurrent with these artists, Mother Teresa was working with the poorest of the poor dying on the streets of Calcutta. She bestowed dignity on the discarded, ruined, and social outcast collected from the street. In a feeble gesture of redemption, I found myself collecting discarded objects, cherishing them, and embedding them in my work.

Elements of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Bad Painting, First Generation Feminism had been absorbed. Greenburg, Rauschenberg, Bourgeois, Serra and EVA HESSE assimilated. Ideas of the serial, field painting, experimentation with industrial materials, found objects, and a black and white painting series had been planted within me. But more importantly I found passion. And I liked it.


Experiential to theoretical. Plodding through dense texts of 20th century literary, cultural, art and design theory, I find rereading required. Dissection. Backtracking. Vast amounts of time consumed. Circular and convoluted logic slides through my clenching fists. Slow torturous grasping. An inkling of understanding finally emerges with visions of theory overlaying culture. Theory and culture weave together. Sheer fascination. Gathering with studio mates, we push and pull this woven theory/culture image into something coherent—attempting to make it reproducible within two dimensions. Fiery conversations pursued. Culture. Truth. Value. The instant. The wanting. The flatness of a world made small by speed. Mixed ideologies crash. Peaceful co-existence abides. RAYification. EDIfication. Finally Kathified. An original thought acquired. DAMN. Original thought collectively discarded as NOT original. AGAIN.

Design professors encourage, REQUIRE, DEMAND, FORCE, me off the computer.2 Command Z 3 no longer an option. Unexpected paths filled with delight. Thanks Fiona McGettigan. Delight becomes overshadowed by analysis. Analysis consumes all [studio time]. Image making occurs in the periphery. The intellect elevated above all. Struggle to appear smart. Provocative. Hard work. Tired. Incredible stress. Unmerciful pressure. Self induced? Probably. Do it right. Make it right. Design. Redesign. Meaning altered. Backtrack. Move forward. Print. Scratch. Start over. Crap. You sunk my battleship.

Expanded vocabulary.

Amazingly, I walk away with a sense of wonder and pleasure in research based work and collaboration. I will not be able to discard these acts of research or the intellectual sharpening that comes with collective critical analysis. I have come to hunger for it. And I see that extruded through these theories and scrutiny, my work improves. The work has become dominated with interpretations of consumptive patterns and critique of the socially constructed self. This, I actually do like.

Ummm. The tactile.

Becoming bête comme un peintre 4 six straight hours every Wednesday for three months. Naked model. My arm seeks across the page. Brain tires. Arm sags. I prop it up with the other. Finally the deadening weight is too great. Grease pencil shifted to recessive hand. Brain shuts off. Only sense of sight and touch remain intact. Searching lines find form. Tactile pleasure. Naked form appeals.

Direction unsure. Design questioned. Luis Jimenez strokes ego.

I spend a month in San Miguel Allende studying the form alongside artists Margaritte Dawit and Nacho, her husband. Returning, I continue my figure studies. Artery. Art League. Direction remains unresolved. Ego stroking no longer required.

Line to mass. Clay working between my fingers, additive and subtractive processes of sculpture experienced. Three-dimensional form making. Innate? Possibly. Materials explored. Tremendous sensual pleasure derived. Paul Kittelson, in passing, suggests jumping ship from design to sculpture. Figure studies, design research, and sculptural processes begin informing one another. Eva Hesse inspires. Direction unknown. Hunger.


I cut classes5 and go to Europe. For three weeks, I am alone with myself drifting through the city [Roma, Firenza, Paris]. Wandering. The spectacle of the pope’s carcass avoided during the week of his funeral. Ten hours a day of meandering back passages. Slipping in and out of all contemporary art exhibits and museums that I stumble upon. Munch. Emilio Greco. Rodin. Picasso. Hesse and her contemporaries. I climb through the habitrail of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Explore the vaulted caverns of the Picasso museum. Am astounded by the sculptures. I experience first hand the works I had only viewed and mimicked from afar. More drifting.

Do I draw what I see? No. Do I paint my response? No. Design? No. For the most part I speak to no one. I devour Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle over arugala salad, a croissant and hot tea.6 Aimless I continue drifting. Like Walter Benjamin, I lose myself in the city. I smell the air, dry, dusty and old. Feel the sun full on my cheeks and the chill drafting through my jacket. Evening descends, I return to the four walls of my hotel room. It takes three days of this to become comfortable in each space. Yet still I do not draw, design, or paint what I see.

Absorption. Assimilation.

Illuminated by a single lamp in the darkened room, I sit alone at the little desk in front of the hotel mirror thinking and writing. What comes out is not about these spaces. It is me. It is the past three years. Distillation occurs against this alternate backdrop. I am designer. I AM ARTIST. Sigh of relief. Acceptance.

What appears disconnected connects.

kathryn kelley. fall 2005.




© kathryn kelley, 2006. don't steal my stuff please. all works on this site are the property of kathryn s kelley unless otherwise noted.