FINDING YOUR VOICE #3 by Tia Keobounpheng

Photo copyright Jeff Stroud

Photo copyright Jeff Stroud

Audio:  https://soundcloud.com/tia-188659352/tiakeo_findyourvoice_03  

"Life must go on, I just forget why" - Edna St. Vincent Millay


He had told her it would be difficult to be an artist and a mother, "too many living beings needing something from you" it would cloud her ability to hear herself - but she had thought she was different, stronger, more capable. Surely that spark would make her the exception. Now, as her first baby entered high school and her second was still scared to sleep alone at night, she felt the sting of his words like lemon juice on a paper-cut. The letter arrived as she lugged all the backpacks and bags of papers and projects, all the last day of school stuff, into the house. They had made it through another year. Summer break loomed with zero plans, and the letter arrived to fully deflate her. "Unfortunately you were not selected" Never mind that she had really felt good about her application, that the money would have justified doing the work she'd been wanting to do for months, that she had really believed she had a chance. She should have been more prepared for this rejection. Preparing for rejection defeats the purpose though, doesn't it? She used to do that version of humble really well - the one where you tell everyone why you don't really care if you get picked in order to create a buffer if you don't. She used to do that when the stakes were lower. Everything is different now because this work is her unique contribution to the world, the one thing no one else can offer. Fully submerged, all-in was required at this point. She had been all-in with that application and that is what made every cell feel drained dry now. She let her body lay down for a nap, every muscle released. When she woke she had to face the truth, her truth. If she was as committed as she had written on those pages, she did not need some jury to let her do that work. Permission was hers to grant herself. 

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FINDING YOUR VOICE - #2 by Tia Keobounpheng

Photo: copyright Jim Chapman

Photo: copyright Jim Chapman

Photo + One paragraph

Audio:  https://soundcloud.com/tia-188659352/tiakeo_findyourvoice_02

Who caught who?
It struck her, as she faced the same call to bravery, that her twenty-year old self was holding her now. All of the soul-searching had allowed her to console the young woman that she had been for not knowing how to step forward in that way. Revisiting her made it clear that she had done the best she could to always push further, to reach for the fire. She didn't know that she had read the compass wrong. Following a path was not the same as following her path. She understood now that it had to be that way, because the wisdom wouldn't have come any other way and nothing was actually lost. She was right on time for this moment. Holding her younger self now allowed for a forgiveness that she hadn't known was necessary, but as soon as it was granted everything shifted. Facing her own path for the first time in forty years, it was her younger-self now holding her, guiding her, reminding her of all the things she knew and had simply stored away. Like a little bird cradled in her younger hands, her greatest teacher opened them up and nudged her forward. 

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FINDING YOUR VOICE - #1 by Tia Keobounpheng

I am taking a summer writing course called Finding Your Voice with Robin Rice and Emily McDowell. Below you will find the first assignment. The writing prompt was based on this image and I opted to free-write for 10 minutes based on the lead-in sentence that is in bold. I’ve also supplied an audio link of me reading it aloud. I will be sharing my written work here as a means for containing it in one place. I’d love to have you follow along!

Image copyright: Eve Hannah

Image copyright: Eve Hannah

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/tia-188659352/tiakeo_findyourvoice_01

"I never said I wouldn't jump," she whispered aloud to herself. "So I can't be called a liar. Then again, if I do jump... > ... I might know what it means to fly. " She could imagine that feeling, because the burning fire in her core had been nudging her for over 20 years. Jump in, be the artist you know yourself to be. Her heals would always dig-in, "I don't see any artists like me." It felt safer to step back, to pivot just slightly, to go in the direction of design. Her father painted a beautiful example of what an architect could be. Thinking back to that 20 year old version of herself, she understood. This scenic overlook revealed the winding river that led to this moment. No amount of success as a designer could tend the fire inside, because she was an artist. To come to this realization at the age of 40 felt freeing and embarrassing. Like so many women who grew-up knowing the truth of their oppression while speaking words of empowerment, she lived amidst the double-standard. The false truth, the invisible lie was ever present. But something had finally shifted, like an emergency siren that was tested every first Wednesday of the month, the siren sounded and women had snapped out of the trance. Her lens became clear and she knew what she had to do. It was time to tend her fire, to speak the words that previously would not have been understood. Others were speaking her language and she had no choice but to join in the call. She opened her mouth and it all came flowing out, in a tongue that was ancient, inherent, surprising to her. All of the women in her blood memory were counting on her ... to jump.

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January Paintings by Tia Keobounpheng

At the start of 2019, I stumbled into working with acrylic paint … figured it was time. I used the excuse of not wanting to waste my son’s left over paint (he had finished his piece and large globs of fresh wet paint beckoned me from the palette) I couldn’t resist the call, but I had also been wondering for months what it was going to take to dive in. So, I used-up his paint - started with a colorful base layer, added a form with in black, and finished it off by covering/blending white over the background color. It felt really satisfying, that process. It made sense in an intuitive way - inevitably tied to some art/design-knowledge deep inside me.

I continued this way for several days, increasingly enjoying the unabashed color explosion and the practice of adding structure in black and framing it with white. It felt like design in some ways … brainstorming and then editing the idea down to the essence. Bring it down to minimal black and white.

It wasn’t until January 6th, when an Instagram friend beautifully shared her reaction to what I was doing:

It feels like there's a whole world of color just waiting to explode from within you. ... It’s sooo intereting to view someone else’s process & think: “What?! They’re drawn to do that?”

“I wonder why someone would want to paint over those gorgeous colors w/ black & white.”

Huh.

Why DO I want to paint over these gorgeous colors with black and white? Her question pierced right through me, and struck a chord that continues to ring and resonate. I found symbolism in the answer.

Personally, I have spent my entire life learning how to make myself palatable to others. As a girl, as a woman, as a designer, maker, and as an entrepreneur - I anticipate other’s needs, desires, and expectations and mold myself and my offering as close to that as possible - hopefully without losing too much of myself. That is how women advance, it is how they avoid harm, it is how we have been taught to succeed. We accommodate and we make ourselves palatable to the point where I don’t even know what my gut reaction is sometimes before I know what others’ reactions could be. Who am I? What are my expectations?

Creatively, I work with composition and context. I define boundaries and I play within them. I witness chaos and I find a way to create order, to capture emotion and highlight the most true or relevant part in that context. I edit and simplify to create flexibility to reach a more universal audience.

Her question hit all of these nerves and then it hit another …. my personal anti-racism work

Our country is founded and built on a system of white supremacy. The white men in power have systematically exploited, abused, disregarded, murdered, and built wealth - at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) - and women - for generations. We are born into this system and we learn certain things to be true based on that system. We know the saying that the world is not black and white, it is grey. Well really .. .it is colorful!! COLOR HAS BEEN WHITE WASHED in our society since it’s inception. We whitewash color in our laws, in our built environment, in our own personal interactions day in and day out. It is as ingrained as my feminine need to please.

As a white woman who had “exceptionalized”myself into thinking I didn’t have any anti-racism work to do (because I am married to an Lao-refugee and am raising mixed boys, and am the minority in my own household and neighborhood) … it STILL takes so much energy to simply recognize all the ways I require the world to be whitewashed for me. Make it palatable for me as I make myself palatable for others. It is a system. It is only through that recognition that I can see the density of whitewashing in the wider society. It is uncomfortable work to dig into this wound, it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our complicity in the system that oppresses.

How do we restructure our brains, habits and mentalities? How do we learn to accept ourselves and others through a true lens of allowing everyone their existence? I use art and this practice to process my experience of the world, and so on January 7th I continued with the acrylic paint. Each day I tried to find the way out of using the black and white paint to appease myself.

It took 17 days. Seventeen days of consciously knowing what I was doing and what I needed to do … to find a way to let my colors exist openly. Each day I wondered if this would be it. I tried different styles, different ways of letting the color shine through, but until I unlatched the lock on trying to be “good” (as in making good art) the white was the means of …. making it good. Or at least better - acceptable to share with the world on Instagram.

On January 24th I decided to let go of being good, to simply get down to the bare essentials of my truth in full color. Part of doing that was also being more literal/symbolic than expressive in the content - and it felt scary and exhilarating and FREEING. It felt freeing … for myself and it also meant that I could share these interpretations of my process with you. Because now I could explain this complicated web of thoughts that boils down to something very simple. We must all do the work of unpacking our biases and skewed means of comfort. Learn to see and look at the world differently. Find the way to unravel your thinking, to reorient your senses. Work through art if you need to. There is enough room for everyone - there has to be.

In the end, for the last piece of the month, I brought the white back. This time, instead of covering the color, it supports the color.

I stepped away from acrylic paint on February 1st - went to a sketchbook format so that I could get some distance between me and what I had just worked through. A few days later, I found myself in front of a Robert Motherwell painting at The Met in Manhattan. In a predominantly black and white painting I realized that he had used white to outline and crisp-up the dominant shapes in the painting. I could see his brush strokes and it struck a fresh nerve in me —> I knew those motions. In feeling those brush strokes in my body, I could envision his body making that painting and I suddenly understood that, while all the things that I mention above are true, so is it true that I was/am learning how to be a better painter. These techniques could symbolize a personal growth of shedding my fear and stepping out in a more true way -AND- they could so be evidence of me improving my skills. Multiple things can be true at the same time.

In the end, I interpreted the meaning and I placed the value on the things that were relevant to me in the moments of creating these works. Others can place their own meaning and value upon them, too.

Love affair with Lines by Tia Keobounpheng

Day 87 of #100daysocreativity - copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 87 of #100daysocreativity - copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

I truly have a love affair with lines. I don’t know if it is because of the order that they suggest, or the way topographical lines attempt to chart the naturally flowing land but they became my place of rest during my first 100 Day Project back in spring 2017. Lines can create value in a drawing, they create boundaries and also connect one place to another. They represent movement and transformation, rigidity and fluidity - particularly those drawn by hand. If weaving is in my blood because of the grandmothers and great grandmothers I never knew, lines are in my blood because of my very own father. I grew-up watching him draw lines to communicate three dimensional ideas for buildings and houses. Lines reflected ideas and the very important instructions for how different materials should be put together to build something. The lines defined the thing but they also delineated the absence of the thing … the open space, the place created between. Lines are about drawing, communicating and also now about releasing. I meditate with lines. I lose myself in them and feel more free than with most other practices in my life. My mind is released and my instincts take over and I simply follow a force that I have no name for. As much as lines attempt to define, it is ironic that I go to them with the expressed desire to not define - to let go …

Day 95/100 #100daysofcreativity / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 95/100 #100daysofcreativity / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 80/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keoboounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 80/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keoboounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 84/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 84/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 78/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 78/100 #100daysofcreativebalance / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 109/365 #tk100plus / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 109/365 #tk100plus / copyright Tia Keobounpheng #tiakeoart

Day 110/365 #tk100plus / copyright Tia Keoboupheng #tiakeoart

Day 110/365 #tk100plus / copyright Tia Keoboupheng #tiakeoart

Return to Weaving by Tia Keobounpheng

My weaving spot during 7 week-end retreat in 2016

My weaving spot during 7 week-end retreat in 2016

Back in 2016 I spent 7 consecutive weekends at my friend Barb’s condo just a few miles from my house. She offered it up as a creative get-away space while she and her husband were traveling the world. I couldn’t have known how instrumental that time at her place would be in the return to handwork and ultimately to weaving and my purpose as an artist.

As much as I would’ve loved to take a 7-week break from my life (ha!) I knew I had to structure my time responsibly so that my family didn’t suffer from my absence and so that I wouldn’t waste a single moment of my time away. I committed to the weekends - arriving Saturday morning and returning home Sunday night. I had a list of work projects that I could begin to tackle … and then, just in case, I bought a few supplies for a weaving idea I had based on a piece I had made 18 years earlier.

Return to Weaving - installed as part of PERMISSION - solo exhibition / Tia Keo

Return to Weaving - installed as part of PERMISSION - solo exhibition / Tia Keo

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Now, by 2016 I had not done any weaving in over 15 years. I first learned how to weave with some old Finnish ladies in a community weaving center in Oulu, Finland in 1995-96. When I returned home after my exchange year I studied weaving for a year at UW-Superior in 1996-97 and again briefly in 97-98 at the University of Minnesota-Duluth - before transferring from Fine Arts into Liberal Arts to focus on Architecture.

When we founded Silvercocoon in 2001, I was weaving on my floor loom at our home in Duluth. But after September 11th, something changed in me and I started telling myself I needed to be more practical and responsible. The world was different and I should be doing more responsible things than playing around and making things. And then I stopped weaving. I stopped making anything for a while. Design felt practical and responsible and that is the direction in which I returned my gaze and I kept it there through several design jobs, through the birth of my two sons, and even as I built my jewelry business and ultimately through burnout in 2014.

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So, many aspects of this art retreat at Barb’s condo are truly miraculous … that the opportunity came when it did and that I was able to accept it and allow myself a measured amount of free time to begin the road back to healing myself. But it was more than simply the time away, it was the weaving that coaxed me out of my restricted existence. It was the weaving that was healing - miraculous and inevitable I suppose.

The collection of 12 weavings that I created in 2016 have been boxed-up and mostly not shown to anyone for over two years. Eight of them are currently on view in my solo exhibition PERMISSION at Finlandia University Gallery in Hancock, MI through February 15, 2019. Sharing this work, even years later, feels like opening the door to the future. Allowing myself permission to weave again feels like opening the door to my personal history and that of my ancestors.

Return to Weaving - installed as part of PERMISSION - solo exhibition Tia Keo

Return to Weaving - installed as part of PERMISSION - solo exhibition Tia Keo

Return to Weaving - 2016 / Tia Keo

Return to Weaving - 2016 / Tia Keo

Return to Weaving (collection) / 2016 by Tia Keo

Return to Weaving (collection) / 2016 by Tia Keo

Return to Weaving (collection) / 2016 by Tia Keo

Return to Weaving (collection) / 2016 by Tia Keo

Words are powerful by Tia Keobounpheng

“To have a voice and to know your voice are two different things” - Tia Keo

“To have a voice and to know your voice are two different things” - Tia Keo

The words we use are powerful, particularly those we use to describe (and think about) ourselves. More about that soon when I share more about my words that were published in Make MN magazine.

As I continue to reflect on 2018 I cannot help but feel grateful that I allowed myself time to write. At the beginning of 2018 I spent months laboring over (two grant applications and) multiple-pages of writing for a fellowship application. It was/is the most demanding application I have ever filled out, and I have heard from more experienced artists who have said it was unlike anything they’d encountered before. They asked deep, open-ended questions that are more inline with the way (and the why) artists work. I actually felt honored to engage them because no other source of artist funding I’ve encountered comes at it that way. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true.

My dear friend and coach told me that “the experience of writing the application needs to be enough for you” - and in the beginning I nodded in the way we do before we learn the lesson. Even after submitting the application I hadn’t learned the lesson she was talking about, but as I moved through the year and approached the opportunities that were tangibly in front of me, all of the digging and churning, writing and considering, editing and rewriting, and the ultimate making sense of myself surfaced. I had my why. I had my purpose tucked right inside my head and wrapped right around my heart. Words did that for me. My labored words gave clarity to my vision and my direction. The experience of writing the application was enough for me to continue forward no matter what.

Now, they still haven’t announced the recipients of the fellowship - probably won’t for several more months - so I still have hope that I can reap the value and the support that this fellowship would bring. But in the meantime, I am looking back to some of the words that inspired me in the last year, as well as some of the words I was inspired to pen that I have shared up below. Thanks for reading!

My word for 2019 by Tia Keobounpheng

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REALIZE

1. to become fully aware of (something) as fact, understand clearly

2. cause (something desired or anticipated) to happen

3. give actual or physical form to

4. make (money or profit) from a transaction {•convert (an asset) into cash}


My process for deciding on my word for 2019 differed from last year (where in I found myself saying out loud numerous times as 2018 rolled-in that "multiple things could be true at the same time" thus = "Yes, And")

Nothing stood out for me this year, so on NYE I started by writing down potential words. I then took to the task of scouring definitions of the nearly 20 brainstormed words. The definitions for REALIZE made it an obvious choice, as they touch on head, heart and physical meanings of the word - as well as the monetary - which is an aspect of being an artist-entrepreneur that is most uncomfortable for me. I have generated an immense amount of potential leading up to this moment and now it is time to start realizing some of that potential - in all ways, one thru four - as @tiakeo.art and @silvercocon !!

 

'Yes, And' set an amazing tone for my 2018, so I can attest to the power of focusing your energy. What about you? Have you picked a word for this year? What is yours?