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Volume 6: On Process

by Lauren O'Neill-Butler

A large part of November’s focus has been on process, with an emphasis placed on each given subject’s idiosyncratic journey as opposed to isolated moments in their life. We are believers in practice and are drawn to people we’ve found to be similarly invested in working out their thoughts—ideas, problems, questions—durationally, whether through writing, paintings or sculptures, or films. The artist Senga Nengudi perhaps sums this up best in her interview here: “I realized that it’s all an exploration and if you don’t like it, hey, that’s your problem. I have to explore everything, and it might be something you like, or you might not, but I have to go through this process to get to the next point.”

That provisional spirit carries forward into the other interviews in this volume. Hélène Cixous shares that her process is “passionate” and “physical:” “I’ve seen my friends, some excellent artists, at work. We do the same thing,” she says, adding:

For instance, my friend Pierre Alechinsky—who is ten years older than I am—he’s extraordinary. He has a large table in his atelier and about seventy or more different pencils, and he knows all of them. And when he paints, he receives a message or a sign from this or that pencil. I feel the same when I write. I also have so many different pens, pencils, and papers, of all sizes. And then the work chooses, it dictates.

Sylvia Plimack Mangold speaks at length about her decision to paint specific trees, such as the pin oak, for many decades: “The sense of growth and the sense of expansion . . . that’s what excites me if I can get that in the painting.” Julia Bryan-Wilson talks about how she tries to think with and alongside images, which means that her process can be “very stuttering.”

Process sometimes resembles an art of memory. Lisa Yuskavage recalls a harrowing experience she had as a child, which informed much of her art: “People always presume that whatever I was depicting, especially in some of the earlier work, was frivolous,” she says. “I think what I was trying to say is, this actually comes from real life. That violence is real. It is not coming from a desire to be sensational. It is a desire to express a real-life experience.” Relatedly, Savanah Leaf tells us that she wants to “show the internal experiences that link us to previous generations and the intergenerational traumas we aren’t always aware of—but that do affect us.”

Finally, Sigrid Nunez reminds us that we don’t always need to know where we’re going. She discusses her desire to write step-by-step, inch-by-inch, noting, “I don’t need some big idea before I begin. I put something down and I ask myself, okay, now, what next?” It remains an open question.

Volume 6

On Process

Next from this Volume

Sigrid Nunez

in conversation with Johanna Zwirner in conversation with Johanna Zwirner

“There are a lot of places a writer desperately wants to go but is afraid to. You have to learn not to worry about what people are going to think of you personally.”