Surviving the Bell Cave With Sean Francis Conway

Space 4 Art is an artist-built, if not owned nor managed, creative center in East Village. It’s a live-work studio space that also hosts events and community events for youth and adults alike. I think the tech world might call this an incubator, offering affordable space to working artists and a community to grow the all-important network of an artists life.

I recently visited the space for an open house, getting tagged for subsequent marketing at the door and futzing around with Eventbrite for a free ticket isn’t too bad a trade for free entry. I was shortly therafter entreated with spoken word by a man I was able to google by “San Diego Poet Laureate”, which is a pretty cool on it’s own.

Most folks make things for sale.

Sculpture, as by Brennan Hubbell. Fantastic mish mashes of cement, glass and found objects often embedded seamlessly into their place such as his work with mosaics. Or Mei-Ling Martinez’s imposing nonsense-objects carefully constructed of thrift store finds complementing the studious engineer’s eye of her graphical work. Or the colorful explorations between the human and machine in fiber arts of Nicole Gonzalez.

Another patron asks Linda Litterel the price of one of her original oil paintings, groans at the price, yet relays how she wouldn’t value a reproduction in the same way. The conversation lingers on the time and effort embedded into the perfect detail of such a piece; and her growing cataracts that have her use very bright light, allowing her to work for only a few hours in a day on a piece that might take dozens. I spoke of my own love of skating and hiking and the timeline given by the arthritis in my knees. Apparently she had similar loves before an ankle fusion. My relative youth and empty wallet ooze out the door without a purchase.

Personally, my favorite artistic experiences tend to be things that would be difficult to charge for outside donation or admission like Wonderspaces that has mutated into a wave of such high production spaces like Otherworld and Meow Wolf.

Which, you know, go get real high and dazzle in the spectacle. Those experiences are a mood that I don’t want to disparage, they have their place.

Sean Francis Conway encouraged me to crawl into a cardboard box tunnel to see what I might find.

A cobweb of circuits connect arcade buttons to electromechanical hammers that strike fire alarm bells and light brightly colored lightbulbs before you in a garishly humble presentation of pleasant dissonance and a saturation of plain color.

Sean also crawled in after my initial flurry of button mashing, somehow he found music to play in the atonal silliness.

Sean Francis told me that this was a repurposed installation from The New Children’s Museum that has apparently been serving as his desk. That mention sparked one of those vividly untouched memories from my own childhood when I was able to visit the (now old?) Children’s Museum. In particular, I had interacted with this huge web of hoses and tubes that would let you communicate with others throughout the museum. I carried that fascination with quirky telecommunications long into my career.

There’s been long gaps between Sean and I, knowing each other since High School, but leading very different lives. Our conversation drifts through the usual old friend topics: relationships, big life goals and the safety of the near future.

Sean’s asserted in the past that I might have better luck at art than he because I had some wealth to stand on. Which, pragmatically is maybe true, but I struggle to find myself in existance at all, while Sean less produces art than lives -as- Art. For much of the last 10 years or so I’ve had that comfort of wealth, but maybe not the remaining emotional bandwidth to succeed meaningfully in anything creative.

I tell him with a little pride that I finally found some work dispatching for a tow truck company. While I’m not thrilled with it, given the few hundred applications for programming work I’ve submitted over the last few years and the hundreds of thousands of developers from big name companies over the same time, I’m looking forward to being able to pay rent without begging from friends. This company let me go shortly therafter without any reason.

I did the whole ‘right thing’ and got a Computer Science degree and in the process of my career have estranged myself from my friends, the things I like doing and a fair bit of my sanity to show up to meetings on time and build things for rich people so they could make more money. My employers have promised part of the future we were building and instead created new companies out of ‘failed projects’ that I built, refused profit sharing, let me go before stocks would vest, refused bonuses, refused raises, refused promised (unlimited?) vacation time, and generally left me alone and unsupported while demanding more and more. I didn’t study business, I don’t have lawyers and I remain fairly afraid as to how to market myself. It’s unclear as to what I’m allowed to talk about without getting sued.

I’m just tired of the hours and hours of interviews where they pass me around to different departments asking specific architectural questions about projects they have going on then the company just ghosting, big and little companies alike. Unemployment is now just working for free?

I thought that if I prove useful enough I wouldn’t ‘belong’ to any specific company, but would be able to ideally work part-time and still live a comfortable life. I just want to live my life without an alarm clock wrenching me into the will of someone I don’t respect.

We’re at a weird time in history. I think a lot of folks are waking up to how they want to live their lives, and selling 60 hours of it a week, answering emails from home and not getting health insurance, housing, let alone some sort of retirement is just not it.

Something will work out?

Eh, let’s button mash and let the pretty lights dazzle.