BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


begging, one more time
March 31, 2010, 10:23 pm
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As I am now hearing back from MFA programs it’s once again time to deal with finances, and the humiliation of asking for money or resources all the time. My room mate suggested I should keep all the letters and documents I have written to ask for some sort of assistance so I can survive.

All the food stamps paperwork, grants, scholarships, utility assistance letters. The essay to try to get money for florence’s braces, the financial aid pleas to various schools, the letters to my landlord asking to lower rent. It can keep on going, I think.

The second step would be to interview the people around me and ask them how it is that they do what they do, especially the people I have around at school. Last night this eminent intellectual guy came to speak to my class, and he went off about class, communism, corporations, and the economy of generosity. Someone in the class asked him how he makes ends meet, and he answered that he writes, gets some commissions, and than his mother died leaving him enough money to buy a house in Paris, and save up enough to never worry about whether what he is doing makes any money.

I appreciate his candor, but it made me feel like shit, hopeless about my own predicament. After class I was talking to a classmate I really like and he frankly told me that his parents help him out with rent while he is in school, and he is 28, not 18. Again, I appreciate his willingness to share this truth, but it doesn’t give me many tools to imagine how I can live the life I want.

On one side I feel like it’s incredibly selfish and entitled to even feel like I can desire a certain life, but on the other side I am sick of seeing people with privilege being the only ones able to live fulfilling lives that are not bogged down by a constant preoccupation with survival.

SAIC offered me not even enough to cover half of their tuition for the next two years, and I had to appeal to the Financial Aid department. I am in between humiliated and defiant right now, and hopeful that they don’t totally shut me down, while being frustrated with the fact that I am still dependent on an elite, wealthy institution.

Here is the letter I wrote, because I am sick of these things being secret, and I am sick of feeling that everyone is very good at talking about art and ideals and blah blah, but talking  about what makes it financially viable or possible is super taboo.

I am an incoming MFA in painting, and a current post bac in the same department.  I am committed to the school because of its focus on helping us become the best artists we can be, without forcing us into one mold or narrow discipline.

I am a single parent to 10-year-old twins, and the first person in my family to graduate from college. I left Italy partly to leave the abuse and dysfunction of my family, and came to the US with my then 2-year-old daughters in 2002.

I worked relentlessly, and in five years had a triple degree in art history, international studies and painting from Indiana University with a GPA of 3.9. I was working, taking care of my daughters, and volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, because I wanted to try to break the cycle that affected me so deeply. During that time I accrued significant debt in order to go to school, as I had no financial help from my family, or anyone else.

I came to SAIC after laboring to make sense of my place within the art world, which, coming from poverty, seemed impossible to penetrate financially and intellectually. However I realized that such a sense of self-exclusion only keeps the pool of people that are successfully making art restricted to the ones that have had the social capital, means and time to dedicate themselves to art making.

I was able to come to SAIC thanks to a scholarship that covered the cost of tuition. To cover living expenses, I took student loans, and now have a total debt of $35,000. In this year as a post bac I have learned an incredible amount about myself as an artist and I can’t wait to continue this process during graduate school.

As I read over the financial aid packet I realized that my biggest fear of having worked so hard, and then having to give it all up because of money, was materializing before my eyes. Tuition alone at the school is $37,000, and I was only awarded $13,400 in grant funds.  In addition $6,000 of the award is work study, which I have not had much luck with this year. I am taking 15 credits, which only leaves me a day to work if I want to have any time in the studio at all.  The pay for work study is anywhere between $9 and $11.50 an hour, which left me making only about $900 dollars per semester working 7 hours a week.

The loans offer of $20,500 in Stafford loans still barely covers tuition, and will lead me to accrue $40,000 of debt in the course of two years.

Still, I would not be able to survive, even if I accepted the Stafford loans, since they would only cover tuition.

The additional $15,000 of the award is private loans. I am not in the position to take those loans.  As I mentioned, I have $35,000 of debt between this year and undergrad because I was shouldering the cost of school completely, without any outside support, and working.

SAIC prides itself on making students the best artist they can be, but that is a paradox, if my chief preoccupation coming out of school will be “where in the world can I find the $600 a month to pay back my student loans?”, not to mention just dealing with the cost of living for me and my daughters.

SAIC also prides itself on valuing diversity, but how diverse can a school be when the only people that can attend come from a highly privileged background?

I have many documents that show my situation and financial need. I have my IL food stamps award, or my checking account statement, or my tax return, and a plethora of other documents that can support this letter. Please let me know what you need and I will be happy to provide it.

thank you
chiara



today, on the morning train, dude feeling entrepreneurial
March 22, 2010, 9:03 pm
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does anyone want to but a one double A battery pack, two dollars?

what about two condoms, 50 cents?

three zines, one dollar?

free advice, don’t eat yellow snow,



public spaces and collective propriety

i am doing a little guerrilla public space art project, as i am so sick of being holed up in the studio, shut out form the world. it seems really absurd, actually. 

without foreseeing it, interacting with the outside world in the attempt of add my own editing hand made apparent a number of things:

– public spaces are incredibly rare and mediated. the outside world is very controlled and constructed in a way that stops people from having any interaction with it.  every piece of land belongs to someone, it be a residence, or a store or “public” property, like the buses, trains, etc. 

-there is no way to edit/modify/change the space around us, and by being prevented from having agency in our surroundings we lose accountability for it

-the other side of it is that the outside world is strictly regulated by capital. as i move around the city i find that the only spaces anyone can occupy are coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, etc etc. and even then, there is the understanding that you are allowed to occupy that space only as long as you consume.

not that any of these thoughts are new, but it’s easy to go about your business forgetting how artificial the environment we live in is, and how restrictive.

i really want to think about how to open up the city, and make people feel like it’s truly theirs, that they can add their own voices to their surrounding landscape.



frogs and selfishness at the Holocaust Museum
February 8, 2010, 12:21 am
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i have finished reading the diary of Anne Frank with the girls last night, and there was so much to it that i could not really tackle all on my own. it so happens that there is an exhibit about Anne Frank at the Illinois Holocaust Museum so we went today. i have been to various Holocaust museums in Germany and Italy, and i was very impressed by today’s experience. the museum has a section for kids, and it’s not pedantic or condescending, but it tries to create a bridge between contemporary youth experiences and discrimination or injustice during WWII. 

it was very surprising to find a video game in the exhibit also. it is for 5 players. each person stands in a dark room, and a sensor tracks the motions of each player. it is set in a lily pond where a group of frogs is going about their business, eating flies and swimming around. at the beginning of the game each player chooses a frog, and starts eating or swimming. there is very little direction given by the game to the players. gradually other  bigger green frogs enter the pond and bump you off your pad, or the smaller red frogs that are also hanging out. you can also bump frogs off their pads. 

the first time we played we all tried to get as many flies as possible, bumping each other and the other frogs off the pads. the green frogs that enter later are bigger, and harder to bump off. the red smaller frogs disappear as they are bumped off their pad.

it seems like such a simplistic model to get you to think about selfishness, or solidarity, or human tendencies, but it was very effective. i felt like such an ass for giving in to my first instinct to accumulate at the expense of others. we played again and again, finally coordinating our forces to get the big green frogs from taking everyone else’s resources.

i have not seen in any other settings a model in which you are forced to question your own behavior, and human tendencies in general. the Holocaust is such a giant, huge mass to even begin to comprehend, it left me with a sense of urgency that i am not sure how to employ.



jane addams
February 7, 2010, 1:38 am
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i am taking a class that is based upon an historical chicago site, this semester the jane addams house. i have learned about her in bits and pieces in the past few years, but never did i understand her incredible badassness. i am sure she was not perfect, but there is still  something really compelling and striking about her story. her essay about her reasoning behind opening Hull House blew my mind. it was written over one hundred years ago, and it is so contemporary. i felt myself reflected in her thoughts, and in her understanding of society.  it is depressing in a way that in a century the conditions of people are uncannily similar, and that the solution not more evolved. it also makes me feel strange that my understanding of the world is not new, nor original or revolutionary. i still have to come to grips with the fact that to everything there is a history. ideas are not new but come from a progression of theory from the past recent, and not so recent.

i am hopeful also, because it’s undeniable that there is something essentially altruistic about people and good, even amidst all the pain and selfishness.

it made me fantasize about what is possible to do with one’s life, and the impact it can have. 

i am including the speech i read that i found so compelling:  Addams,”Subjective Necessity”



twenty and ten
February 2, 2010, 3:41 pm
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long time without a post, maybe the flood of things to say was too dense to sort through and edit. i always have the illusion that i want this blog to be about an organized set of ideas, or topics, but i am continually faced with the impossibility of that.
my life is not neat and the boundaries between all the different parts unclear. so i slowly came to the decision that it can all exist in one place, though disjointed and messy.
in these past few months i have been throwing around the big questions about life and what exactly it is that i am doing. no answers yet, i am figuring it’s easier to approach those questions by a process of elimination. after 3 months spent in the studio with the pressure of making stuff for a portfolio review, for example, i am coming to think that making things should be something that can exist collaboratively, away from the romantic loneliness myth of the Artist. i also want the stuff i make to exist outside of the studio, or the gallery, and inhabit the world at large.
two good friends are pregnant and it is very shocking to be faced with adulthood, with the prospect that i am at a time in my life when people actually start having children, and i am not the only one with that experience (not in the world of course, but in my circle of friends).
i am still biting my nails and coping with life’s harshness by eating sugar. that did not change.
being bombarded by the coverage of haiti i have come to realize that there is no or little background information about the history of the country that has caused the present conditions to be possible in the first place ( earthquake aside). i will be looking up info and posting a very brief history of haiti ASAP.

well, the wiki page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiti), is pretty decent even though there are lots of qualitative language to sort through that is not necessarily objective or even trying to be. but it’s a starter

ok



the leap
June 13, 2009, 12:11 am
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it has been a pause of silence on my part because i have been stuck on moving, stuck by really trying to grasp that i am deciding to uproot myself yet again, and this time not for an emergency, or immediate survival like the first time. i am happy in Bloomington, the happiest i have ever been probably, but i am still leaving. i know i would stop being happy pretty soon if i did not leave because i am restless and my head wonders. 

today my friends threw a going away party, and i am presently paralyzed by their presence in my life. i feel like a kid, still trying to figure out how people relate to each other and how to make it all work. i was watching my nine year old daughters playing with people and routinely making the rounds, sitting on different people’s laps, or hanging on their necks, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. i could have never giving them that sense of trust, safety and dignity by myself. i could have never opened their world to so many different ideas, beliefs and ways of interacting. Oona and Florence are comfortable around adults and trusting, but without being naive or lacking assertiveness. i am full of gratitude for all the people that have been in their life for a long long time and made them into who they are now.

it’s a strange time of heightened intensity. this year more people have died that i know than ever, people from my past, my childhood and teenage years. at the same time more people than ever seem to be pregnant, not close to me necessarily, but acquaintances and folks around town. i don’t understand it. it makes my head hurt.

we make up easy explanations like citing some higher power or the circle of life, but it makes no sense to me still.

a person really close to a dear friend just died, and how he died seems like the most improbable way to go. i keep playing the story over and over in my head, and it just seems impossible. if i wholly believe death is real i can give myself a panic attack in less than 5 seconds, and i cannot seem to accept it, or to know what to do with that knowledge.

it scares me to give up the close relationships i feel with my amazing friends, and for what? a chance at making more art? living the cosmopolitan life? i hope this move isn’t another burned bridge, the last sentence of a chapter, but that i can find some continuation between all the pieces of my life that at times feel so scattered.