I make things; the labels we wear, the ways we define who we are and what we do.
When we are born, we get our first label. On a form generated at the birthing center, hospital, or other, we are designated as Boy or Girl, Male or Female….Baby Girl So-and-So. Generally, at the hospital, our last names are first our mother’s, before the birth certificate and naming conventions begin.
But at that moment, we are labeled, even before our parents label us. With this little tag, much of our cultural norms follow: the pink or the blue. No matter how hard one may try as a parent to skirt these norms and create something un-stereotypical, it is ever present. Then, we get the next label that our parents choose for us, our name. I’m a Jame—not a Jamie, or Jaime, or Jayme. My Dad is James, thus Jame.
I have discovered that I carry a lot of those little titles on my Self.
But starting at the beginning, I have always made things. From little ghost scribbles on the white walls of my parents’ home, to sculptures of the slate roofs of caving in barns out in our fields, I have always made things. When I was in high school I made things and was labeled “artistic”. Then I went to college and made more things, and considered myself and gave myself the label of “Artist”.
These labels begin to become part of our identity and in a country preoccupied with what everyone does for a living, this is especially true. When I left the sanctuary which is the college art studio, and struck out in the world on my own, I continued to make things…but they were for other people, things in museums. Not the artifacts, the stuff around the artifacts. Then I went back to school again. I chose an art school with an architecture program. On entering, I never considered I’d ever be an “Architect” with that capital A. I’m not really sure what I thought I was going to do; make really big sculptures perhaps? But the little girl that used to dress up as Thomas Jefferson in rural Virginia was a grown up girl at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in the process of realizing that making buildings would be the next thing to do. So I strove to define myself with another label.
I recall that in 1998, when I completed my Masters, the statistics held that 12% of licensed architects were women. I was amazed. Amazed. It was 1998 after all. What happened to the burning of bras and to Virginia Wolf, Germaine Greer, Camille Paglia, Naomi Wolf and Gloria Steinem? It was as if I was reading Linda Nochlin again while sitting around a triangular dinner table eating from really strange plates. With this knowledge I pushed forward and took exams and got my next label, AIA...Architect. Boy, I showed them!
Somewhere after that I got another set of letters, this time at the front of my name. MRS. (Although my last name stayed the same.) I was legally partnered with my soulmate, declared my love in front of 92 people and ate some cake. I was a fish with a bicycle and enjoying it.
But I was still “making things” (in quotations). At this point, I drew things, designed things, coordinated things that other people “made”. Hardhat and boots on, I stood on construction sites, argued with contractors and did everything an Architect should. And I was part of a really big team that made really permanent things. But I was definitely in the minority on site, and that first label was omnipresent.
The label of artist was becoming more and more a distant thing, switching perhaps to lower case and the upper case Architect took over. I then switched artistic capacities, moving in house to an incredible museum. There, I designed things-that-other-people-made-that-made-things-that-other-people-made look good (if you can follow). I was marrying art and architecture, or trying to. I got to hold Picassos and install Rothkos and talk art, and design space. One day somebody called me an exhibit designer and I wondered, is that what I am? What is the set of dress up clothes for that profession?
Then, I made my masterpiece, and got my next label, and honestly the one that has changed the most aspects of my life: the label of “Mom”, “Mommy”, Mother. This new label: did it obscure all of the other ones? I make things for her too – things I never could have imagined making. A non-cook who would prefer to use a drill or a welding torch to a sewing needle, my daughter’s requests have pushed my making into even newer territory. I was taught never to learn to sew, cook or type because then someone would expect you to do so, but now I find that these new things are making challenges of their own.
So, I took a trip. Back to France and to stand in front of my two BFFs: Nike and Venus.
My soul mate/best friend/spouse was with me and we had a talk. I was questioning who I was and it had dawned on me that it wasn’t having a child, that it wasn’t any career strife, it was that I had become distant from the direct making. I was 40. (Maybe it was the zero.)
So I renovated an attic and got to work.
I don’t make “art” for others. Those objects are mine: uncompromised, unshared, things that exist in my own mind. I use what I find in my studio and my home – readily available materials that are sometimes the cheapest and most immediate sort. They, often, mark the passage of time in the least graceful manner.
I am still very interested in what is termed by many as “women’s issues” although I no longer see them as just affecting women – they are shared by us all. I am interested in our labels and lines and intersections: boy/girl, pink/blue, black/white, either/or, virgin/whore, in/out, dead/alive, good/bad and either that line that separates them, or the space between them and the symmetry that is formed by them.
I am wondering about the term “artist” and all my other labels. Which one is accurate? Which one should I choose?
Art is not my profession, does that make the label untrue? I am a “person engaged in one or more of the broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts or demonstrating an art”. So why have I not called myself an artist lately? When did I no longer exist as one in my mind?
Am I an Architect with a capital A? I am not in private practice, I have not built a building in several years and I do not have my own firm bearing my own name as the ‘big boys’ do, although I still have a piece of paper from the state of Virginia and a membership in the AIA.
What does that make me?
I’m a wearer of all of these labels—Architect, Designer, Mom, Wife, Woman, and countless other things too. I am not Pablo Picasso, Frank Gehry, or Coco Channel and I don’t need to be. In fact, I don’t want to be. And by defining myself, these labels are only adjectives, personifiers of me that speak to my experience, which I have learned helps me to make me, Me.
So, what do I do? What am I?
I make things.
Written by Jame L. Anderson, AIA