Tag Archives: resilience

Artist Profile

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A mischievous face peeks around a small, forgotten looking metal door, and offers a cheerful greeting.  Rachel C. Wright welcomes me into the chilly interior of a giant warehouse in Portland’s Industrial area. Wright directs me to her studio space, weaving through a maze of walkways to Wright’s studio door. I open the door wide, only to push aside a handful of trial sculptural fetuses, which scrape across the concrete floor. Interesting introduction, I think to myself.

Rachel is mid-project, completing a utilitarian sculpture made of all recycled materials. It is a one of a kind dress. This is quite different from Wright’s usual figural sculptures that make up the bulk of her three-dimensional art.

Even though utilitarian objects aren’t a typical part of Wright’s practice, she is in line with her usual practice of appropriating traditionally feminine skills in her process. She tacks cardboard onto a bodice shape and later painstakingly hand-stitches, taking few shortcuts.

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Later, we reconnect over a coffee, in true Portland style, for an interview. I want to hear from Rachel Wright firsthand, in order to understand Wright’s labor-intensive process, motivations, influences, and general thoughts on art.

What’s your process?

I am a process-based artist, so my process is tedious, on purpose. At times I think the process is almost more important than the end result. I get tunnel vision when I work, and believe the time spent translates in the final art. For example, I spent 280 hours on the recycled dress sculpture I recently finished.

I also often work in soft materials and choose to hand-sew over using a machine.

Why sewing, when this is a traditionally feminine skill?

The female performance artists of the 60s influence me. Some artists reclaimed sewing. I also appropriate sewing, and find the act to be meditative. It is important to mention that I don’t sew to make utilitarian objects, usually. I sew to make sculpture, with feminist undertones. That is different from the traditional sense of sewing.

Why art?

Well, art wasn’t the only thing I was good at, but it was damn near close. [Wright smirks.] Art came easily to me, and I was able to advance in art. I loved my foundational first year in college, to understand color, composition, mediums, and other fundamentals. I was attracted to sculpture in the first year, and have focused on that since.

I chose art because I can ask myself, “What am I going to make next?” After that first year in school, I got past angst filled art. I developed my process, made questionable art, and then began asking that question, “What’s next? “ over and over.

What is questionable art? 

It is art you wouldn’t want to show anyone, but you do anyway. While the questions of whether art is bad, good or questionable is relative, I believe it is about taking risks and seeking feedback with your art. I seek feedback from people I respect, professors and peers.

Even the best artists make questionable art. It happens. They seek feedback from critics, art experts, and the public.

Name your top 3 influences, famous or not. 

My top three are Magdalena Abakanowicz, Louise Bourgeois, and Ledelle Moe.

I identify with female artists that work in sculpture with figural subjects. I also respect women who “make it” in the art world because there are so few in comparison to male artists.

Abakanowicz is known for hand-stitched, burlap figures with the H/holocaust as a main theme. Louise Bourgeois is a giant figure in the feminist art scene of the last century. A main theme in her oeuvre is family matters, like me. Moe is a former professor and works in monumental, concrete sculpture. She is a mentor and supports me in so many ways. She offers direct, honest feedback.

Tell me a favorite art memory.

I lent a hand to a peer and friend, May Wilson, to help cast dead animals. The report of a fresh road kill animal off the Jersey Turnpike was the first experience.

The animal needed to be as fresh as possible, so we drove in the middle of the night, picked up the stinking animal after spraying it with a poly spray, and spent the rest of the night problem solving how to cast it before it decomposed.

It was nasty in the moment, but such a memorable experience.

What else should people know about you and your art?

I am not the stereotypical artist, living a bohemian lifestyle. I am living in a suburban area, working diligently, and raising a family with my husband. I believe in myself and in making art. If I can do this, so can others. I hope people understand that belief in themselves and their capabilities will lead the way to achieving their goals too.

In terms of art, my art is part of a timeline that is evolving. I explore the limits of human strength always. So far, in the timeline I have explored family matters: birthing children, breastfeeding, maintaining relationships, overcoming dysfunction, and breaking the cycle of abuse.

To some, my art’s meaning is mysterious and I have received feedback that it is too mysterious. However, my work is actually hyper-personal and I don’t mind if it comes off as mysterious. Art making is therapeutic for me. Art is empowering. I will consider myself a successful artist if I consistently produce art for the rest of my life, regardless of how popular or visible my art is to the world.

Rachel C. Wright is an artist. She continues to make art after college and plans to do so for life. She is a parent of two children, married, and makes time in the studio to steadily evolve her art. She is determined to keep up her art practice.

Check out Rachel C. Wright online to follow her artistic evolution. See updates, new art, and learn of upcoming shows.

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Wellness Monday: Tend and Befriend

Bee and thistle.

A post shared by Elya Simukka (@elya365) on

This past weekend I vacationed with an all female group to celebrate a dear friend for her bachelorette weekend before her wedding. The retreat lasted a few days, yet I returned home feeling incredibly refreshed and happy. I don’t think I was alone. After the adventures, laughter, and special memories we enjoyed together I was emotionally elated and knew I had been engaging in something the field of Psychology has termed tend and befriend.

It is with this experience fresh in mind, the ladies’ time spent withdrawn from our normal environment, that I plan to introduce the phenomenon referred to as “tend and befriend”. While there is much more to explain beyond this post, this is supposedly a behavior that is more common in women when they reach out and use social connections with other women as a way to manage life’s stressors. It is a form of coping, and I argue a form of thriving as well.

This past weekend is a perfect example of tend and befriend, as an all women getaway was meant to celebrate a bride-to-be while also encouraging a sense of calm in everyone involved in this dramatic and positive life change. So, tend and befriend is a sort of coping that provides a calming effect as women engage fully in social connections with other women. Some studies have recognized the habit of sticking with female groups during duress to be true of human females and female rodents, while male rodents and male humans often prefer to be alone. Why is this so?

The answer to the sex differences is not be entirely certain, but there are a number of suggestions offered by researchers. As this behavior is noticed in both humans and other animals, it is likely to be related to an evolutionary need. One story, found here, suggests that mothers throughout time have needed to care for their young in order for the offspring to survive. In other words, staying put was a choice most likely to promote the survival of the young, while fleeing or fighting were less likely selections because of the low survival rate of the kids after abandonment or physical conflict.

Related to this question of sex difference, some research found here points to the chemical reaction that occurs in women physically as women tend and befriend. There is an additional release of the hormone oxytocin, that has an overall relaxing and stress reducing effect in individual women. It is possible that the same hormone may release in males, although the higher levels of androgens in the male body would counteract the hormone and thus have little to no effect. Men, also, may be socially conditioned (or trained by society’s norms) to choose solitude during times of stress.

All in all, tend and befriend is a behavior that is noticed most often in women as they gather in groups. Doing so has a calming effect related to chemical releases in the body. Read more about tend and befriend in the Wikipedia post on the subject by clicking here, but read with healthy skepticism as not all of it is cited properly.

Have you noticed the benefits of tend and befriend behavior? Do you notice others engaging in this way?

Wellness Monday: Resilience Stories (2 of 3)

Welcome back to week two of the very first mini series covering resilience! Last week covered the definition and background of resilience. Happily, we all possess some form of resilience. Read on for practical ways to enhance your own resilience, true stories of resilience, and a video that promises to extend your life.

True Story, #1. The project in the following video outlines the story of a lady, her son, and their collective resilience. The family demonstrates all the practical resilience building choices mentioned in, “Resilience Defined (1 of 3)” last week. Their behavior from the interviews include maintaining connections, taking decisive action, and maintaining a positive outlook as evidence of resiliency. Fair warning, this video may be inspiring to the point of tears. Resilience in action is beautiful.

True Story, #2. A close family member recently overcame a number of incredible physical challenges. They survived a serious car accident, experienced a traumatic brain injury, and exhibited an incredible resilience and determination in order to recover. For the past two years since the accident, this family member diligently learned to walk, speak, and think as effectively as possible again. Sure, they are still experiencing some cognitive deficits. However, they are more positive and hopeful than ever, strengthening their resilience each day, and inspiring many people with their story of resilience.

True Story, #3. Think through the story line of your own life. A hard time, a tragic loss, or very adverse experience. Are you alive and functioning beyond that experience today? As difficult as it may have been, your ability to move beyond that circumstance was likely a time when you drew upon your own resilience as a strategy to overcome. I invite you to take a moment to express self gratitude for your choice.

True Story #4, plus earn more life! TED speaker and game designer Jane McGonigal has created a game that helped her manage a difficult time in her life when she felt very down and suicidal. Despite feelings of helplessness and other challenges, Jane used Super Better, the game of her own creation, to recover and lead a more fulfilled life. She promises to extend your life by 7.682534 minutes after reading the video too. See for yourself, and learn how to lengthen your life!

Here is a synopsis of  Jane McGonigal’s 4 practical, research proven tips that boost your resilience.

  • For physical resilience, don’t sit still. Movement improves your heart, brain, and lung health.
  • For mental resilience, exercise discipline and willpower by tackling a tiny challenge of the mind.
  • For emotional resilience, you have the ability to provoke positive emotions (curiosity or love) by working on finding 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative. Keeping this ratio, will improve your ability to tackle any problem you face.
  • For social resilience, you draw more strength from friends, family, and community. something as simple as shaking hands for 6 seconds raises oxytocin levels in your body and will foster a sense of trust and like-ability with others.

Boosting all four consistently should help you live up to ten years longer, according to McGonigal’s research sources.

Stay tuned next week when I discuss resilience beyond the micro level of the individual, and share ways that communities and other people groups are resilient.

Wellness Monday: Resilience Defined (1 of 3)

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As promised last week, this is the first week in a mini series on psychological resilience. In this post I’ll address: what it is, who has it, and why it matters. Let’s get going!

What is resilience? In the past I introduced resiliency as the coping strategy and management of adversity. Let’s define it further.

Resilience has to do with all human’s capacity to essentially “bounce back” and deal well with stress in the face of tough times, tragedy, and traumatic events. You have it. I have it. We all do. Isn’t that nice?

Who is resilient? Luckily it is not a personality trait, something that you either have or don’t. Rather, it is an ability that people possess on a ranging scale. You may imagine your own place on a continuum of resilience, from very little to very much. Wherever you envision yourself, be gracious about your placement because it is not permanent. You are able to encourage more resilience.

A little history. Resilience was first noticed and discussed in psychological research beginning in the 1970s. Garmezy mentioned it initially as he was researching the reasons why some people fall ill while others do not (epidemiology). Soon after, Werner used resiliency at greater length when a portion of at risk children in Kauai flourished despite poor conditions.

I often think of resilience as the more positive outcome of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Both resilience and PTSD are defined essentially by the statement that, “trauma is not defined by what occurs as much as how we experience what has occurred”(Moving Beyond Trauma, Hering, 10). Different experiences of traumatic experiences are largely hinged upon the individual’s interpretation of that experience.

For example, highly resilient people demonstrate (Wikipedia):

  1. Good outcomes despite high-risk status
  2. Constant competence under stress
  3. Recovery from trauma
  4. Use of challenges for growth that makes future hardships more tolerable

Why does it matter? Well, resiliency and fostering more resilience is a way to fortify against the inevitable ups and downs of life.

According to the APA (American Psychological Association), there are ways to strengthen your innate resilience. They are as follows: make connections, avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems, accept the things you cannot change, move toward your goals, take decisive actions, find positive ways to reduce stress and negative feelings, look for opportunities for self-discovery, nurture a positive self-view, maintain a hopeful outlook, and other helpful tools you find in your personal journey to recovery. Read more here.

Stay tuned for week 2 when I share amazing stories of resilience next week and an entertaining video that will give you practical and interactive ways to grow your resilience!