June 2020 was all about creating space. Physical space, mental space, emotional space, and future space.
( Image description: My mommas sit cuddled together on my bed.On the wall behind them is a quilt of love letters and art pieces from my chosen family. They are surrounded by lush tropical plants that peek from the shelves where they sit nestled between books. There are a lot of books and a lot of plants and a lot of love notes. There is no space that is not filled with love. The mommas are looking at a rose scented candle that I have just gifted them. )
I had moved and was figuring out how to make the new space into home. The result was that my room became the site of a shifting installation. As is true with my art practice I was less interested in how I wanted the room to look. Aesthetics are important to me, but they are also always in service of functionality. One of the primary functions of everything that I make is to elicit a particular kind of emotional response. In the case of my room I was consumed by the desire for my space to feel safe, supportive, expansive, light, and life giving. When I looked at it and lived in it these are the things that I wanted to feel.
There were a lot of considerations that shaped the project. The space itself was quite small, there were two windows, but they were oddly placed. I had to work around a single electrical outlet and a large heating grate. There was one small closet the was half filled by the house heating infrastructure. I needed the space to serve as a bedroom, office, and studio space for large scale fabrication. I also needed places for my plants to sit that would allow them to enough light. I needed storage for my clothes, every expanding book collection, my art works and studio supplies. I needed all of these things to be easily accessible and well organized
I made simple modular furniture pieces from plywood. These were made so that they could serve as book shelves, standing desks, floor sitting desks and/or plant stands as needed. I got a piece plywood that I could lay across two of the pillars to increase my workspace as needed.
I propagated all my plants, bought new plants and got some from the underground plant trade ( check them out!) I arranged them together to make a nest around my bed. By the time I had settled my bed area felt like a cabana in a tropical oasis.
I created curtains from studio scraps of tobacco cloth and jute rope. The curtains gave the room a feeling of more height and depth. They added softness and movement to the space. The curtains along with my plants served as a divider between my reseting space and my work space. This is important because my bedroom space tends to be very neat and organized, where my studio space is chaos embodied. I arranged things so that when I was sitting or lying in bed I had clear sight lines to the windows, my books and my plants. I could not see the whatever mess or madness I have made in the other part of the room. This allowed me to sleep soundly and wake anxiety free.
When winter came I had to rearrange things again to account for the heating vent. The vent needed to be uncovered and the plants needed to be far enough away from the vents to avoid the dry heat blast and far enough from the windows to avoid the cold. I got a grow light and put it on a timer so make sure that the plants got ample sun.
The impact of our physical spaces on our well being is immense. We all want to live in beautiful supportive spaces. Our access to that is limited by predatory housing and rental markets; exploitative economic systems that are built on the exploitation of workers, of poor folks and Black folks, and anyone who isn’t a cis white man really; the myth of scarcity; and sometimes even our own internalized beliefs of our own unworthiness.
At the same time, within these systems there is wiggle room. We can always find a way, make a way. I transformed my space with borrowed power tools, $100 of wood from the hardware store, time invested in propagating plants, $20 worth of tobacco cloth and jute rope, and a borrowed staple gun. I did shell out for a couple of larger plants that I’d wanted but could not find on the plant reparations. That cost about $200. I’ve since propagated those plants and given pieces of them away. Most of my space making was made possible through shared resources and that unrelenting pursuit of a feeling, a desire that I had for myself.
I understand that it is a privilege for me to have had this “room of my own with lock and key ” ( here I am referencing Alice Walker who was revising Virginia Woolf through a womanist lens). I understand that everyone does not access to a room of their own, or even a corner. I have been homeless. I have been and am still housing insecure. One of the things that I have learned is that regardless of what you have or don’t have it is important to find a way to carve out a space—really or imagined—for yourself. That space can be a pouch of small items that trigger memories of joy and love. That space can be a landscape that you have created in your head, maybe you even wrote out a detailed description to help you find your way back to it when it feels far away. That space can be a small altar that lives in a cigar box or on a sm
all shelf, a window sill. That space can be a piece of wall where you keep images of loved ones. It can be something that you hang from the ceiling above the place that you sleep whether that space is the same every night or not. There are so many ways to make physical space for ourselves, to remind ourselves that we are worthy of it, that we deserve to take up space. To re
mind ourselves that we have the capacity to create home, to carry it with us and plant it in whatever soil our bodies find their way to.
For me creating this physical space frees up mental space. It gives me a safe haven to literally and figuratively sit with my emotions. It creates a portal to a possible future where this is how all the spaces in my life feel: Free.
Photos: room in different states of being