Unfinished Passion Projects:
art, identity and productivity pressure
why is making art about ourselves so hard? And yet, why do we still put ourselves through it?
Nowadays it seems like everything I make is unfinished.
Writing this article could definitely be seen as the ultimate form of procrastination. Which yes, in many ways…it is. But, over the past year my struggle in working on a project about my identity has felt more present than actually making the work itself.
In November 2020, I interviewed fifteen young people who identify as mixed-race and biracial in the hopes to collate our thoughts and experiences into one cohesive creative project called, Mixed Kid Collective. This was the start of what has now become a long series of project beginnings, re-thinkings and realisations.
Interview footage for Mixed Kid Collective, with Saskia Gangadin Guinness (left) and
Mia Quimpo Gourlay (right).
These interviews were so rich and heart-opening that it began to shift the way I thought about my own British-Filipino-ness. They gave me a space to express my experiences of in-betweenness and racial imposter syndrome and have them received with nodding heads and words of recognition.
But as I edited together hours of conversation, personal stories and intimate family histories…the vastness of this topic became incredibly clear and daunting.
I was stumbling at the impossible task to summarise the overall experience of 'mixedness'. And while my interviews covered a spectrum of what this word means to a number of people, I was faced with the inevitable realisation that this project was much bigger than myself. The project's wider significance had grown beyond my understanding of my own identity. And quite understandably, so did the pressure I'd put on myself.
So now…Mixed Kid Collective has lived in many different skins. It has looked and sounded like many different projects. And will probably continue to do so until I find the “right” way to put it all together. At this stage, I’ve made the decision to address myself and my relationship to the Philippines in my work before I can even begin to hold a space for anyone else. PINOY, a DIY short-film project has taken some shape in my mind while Mixed Kid takes a back seat to marinate.
Still image from PINOY (unfinished) by Mia Quimpo Gourlay.
So…why is making work about yourself so hard? And, why put yourself through it?
Looking to ourselves is possibly the most accessible material that an artist could use. Whilst also being the most fragile and ever changing. Like using a clay that’s constantly moulding and shaping itself as you use it. Frustrations are natural and expected.
In the process of making PINOY, I have found myself to almost reject the everyday enjoyments of being Filipino purely from the guilt of experiencing it without documenting it. Every Filipino dish I cook or any reminiscent conversation about family comes with an internal voice saying:
'why aren’t you recording this?'
'this is perfect material for your project!'
'you should be working!!'
For me, the encroaching plunge into the "real world" after graduating forced me to look for artistic validation outside of academics. And, especially during a global pandemic, this validation has been sparse. I found myself measuring it in how “productive” I could be or how many hours I could squeeze into a day.
The pressures that we put on ourselves to be “productive” can even seep into life outside of work. And we can end up putting the same pressures on our moments of rest. Like… I must productively rest in order to have maximum productivity when I’m working. Or, the idea that if I’m doing/experiencing something that has relevance to what I’m working on, then I must switch to “work brain” to optimise this time! A kind of “killing two birds with one stone” attitude.
And maybe this works for some people, but when all of this is tangled up in identity and how you’re experiencing it…the stress that you put on the work can seep into a stress on your sense of self. (Even the looming pressure of finishing this article has played on my mind…my imposter voice telling me that I am a "starter" and not a "finisher").
Clip from PINOY (unfinished) by Mia Quimpo Gourlay.
My work is, and always will be, bundled up alongside expressions of my identity. Whether it is as explicit as a commentary on being mixed-race or just the unavoidable merging of "self" into art. Identity is integral and beautifully accidental to our creativity. However, I've learnt the importance of finding a balance between having identity inform my work vs. my work becoming my identity.
I haven’t quite discovered the “perfect” way of doing this yet, but what I have found is that perfection doesn’t mean much to me. What is important is knowing when a restful distance from my work is necessary and not treating my creativity like a machine. In being gentle with myself and my identity, I can be more honest in the work that I create.
So…while I float between my many mysterious projects and thoughts, I am making a promise to myself to enjoy all the stumbles, mistakes, realisations, making, re-making, deleting, re-discovering, frustrations and doubts…because they are all part of whatever comes out at the end. Whatever that ends up being…
By Mia Quimpo Gourlay