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Podcast interview with Omni Open Studios

Posted on   ·   Categories Exhibits, Sculpture

In conversation with Omni Open Studios podcast host Gwyneth Manley, we discuss our experiences of grief and loss in the context of my current projects, 1000 Moons and Ghost Net Landscape.

1000 Moons installation, February 2022
Ghost Net Landscape exhibition, 2019

Full text transcript below.

Gwyneth Manley (host):
The Omni Open Studios podcast supports artists by giving them a platform to share their voice. Today on the show, I talk with friend and fellow artist Emily Miller. Emily’s work is comprised of a wide range of mediums including watercolor and encaustic painting, mixed media sculpture, ceramics, and interactive installation art. During our conversation, we talk about her latest project ‘1000 Moons,’ grief, and how it relates to personal relationships and the climate crisis.

Emily:
Yeah, so 1000 Moons is an art installation and grief process, an ongoing series actually, of art installations and ongoing grief process, that I started after both my grandparents died of COVID in early 2021. And the project is centered around following my process of making a representation of every full moon cycle witnessed in my grandmother’s 94 years of life. So I’m making handmade paper with materials from their lives, sort of integrated into the paper, and then I’m cutting circles out. Each circle represents one full moon. And it’s an ongoing process. I haven’t finished cutting out all the circles yet. But each event that I share with the public is sort of a marker in time of how many I’ve gotten done and just where I’m at in my grief process, and sharing that with the community.

Gwyn:
Right. And speaking on grief, it’s one of those things, it’s totally not linear and can be kind of messy and turbulent. And it’s more of a journey than a destination. And I think something that’s really symbolic about this project is the amount of time that it takes to do this. And I’m not sure if people who don’t make things understand exactly how much time it takes to even do a simple task over and over and over again, to the point where you’re doing, you know, 1000 pieces of it. Yeah, and so the fact that this has developed so gradually over time, and every time you do an installation, there’s more moons, and it’s a bigger presence in the physical space that it’s occupying, feels very symbolic to me about the way that we think about and you know, even after someone dies, you still learn things about them, too. And it’s strange, because they’re not living in the space that you’re in anymore. But they do kind of live inside of your brain and inside of the brain of other people that you love, that love them as well.

Emily:
Yeah, yeah. Something that somebody shared, whose mother had passed years ago, has really stuck with me. They said, death ends a life, not a relationship. I keep thinking about that. That that relationship has continued and evolved. It’s not the same, you know, it’s still a living relationship between me and my grandparents and everybody else who knew them. That’s been really interesting. It’s also interesting you said that every time I do an installation, the presence grows, there’s more moons. Because when you think about grief from the outside, I think it’s easier to think about it in a linear way like, it’s really hard at first, and then it gets easier. And eventually it’s not, you know, you can sort of go back to the way you were before. Which, I don’t think that exactly happens. I will say this was harder for me right after they died, for sure.

Gwyn:
Oh, absolutely. So that is, it does get better. It doesn’t go away. Two distinct thoughts.

Emily:
But I think it’s interesting and I hadn’t thought about the project in that way of like, I am moving forward in time and farther away from the time when they were present in the form that they were in, in their living bodies, with me. And the project keeps getting bigger as I am moving farther away from them in time. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that.

Gwyn:
It literally just occurred to me.

Emily:
Thank you for that. Doing this sort of conversation is always so helpful for me because it’s not something that we talk about in life. I mean, it’s sort of a taboo topic. And a lot of the time people are like, oh, man, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. Relationships are complicated, but it’s just been really helpful for me to be able to talk about it.

Gwyn:
I agree. We’re coming up on my mom’s ten-year death-aversary, death day, I guess. That’s gonna be August. Her birthday was two days ago. And of course, it was Mother’s Day. That one week in May is always real rough for me because it’s like, yeah, Mother’s Day. I was with my family for Mother’s Day this year, because I went down to go see them in Monterey, but then I did her birthday by myself the other day. And, you know, it’s strange, because I was walking out the door, and I was thinking about how it was her birthday today. And the thing that bothered me the most about it was such a silly, but very visceral thought, is that she’s still dead. Like it’s a surprise, like I thought she wouldn’t be any more, or something. But yeah, I think that’s probably one of the parts that just doesn’t go away, is that you just keep being surprised that they’re still missing so many things.

Emily:
Somebody else I know who lost their mother too actually, recently, had said that it’s been a sort of ‘reorienting,’ it’s been interesting trying to reorient themselves since their mother passed.

Gwyn:
The new normal.

Emily:
Yeah, and I really resonated with that, because it is sort of like, the space is different now. And the way that you think about things and the options that you have are different. And they stay different.

Gwyn:
They do, it doesn’t change. It’s just how it is now. Especially because this happened within the last two years, when all this other crazy changes, and the new normal was constantly a new version of itself, during the pandemic. And as we continue through it.

Emily:
Right, it continues to shift.

Gwyn:
Because we’re still in it. Yeah, we’re still in it. But it’s really evolved. So now we are going out, we’ve got our masks, most of us are vaccinated, hopefully. And people are starting to get back to it, but it’s never gonna be the way it was. And things have shifted so much politically, and everything in the world feels so much different than it was, three years ago. And to have a huge loss during that as well. I think what they tell people when you lose someone, or you have something devastating happen in your life, is to not make decisions, not to make any big decisions. But all we’ve had is big decisions.

Emily:
And turmoil. Everybody has their lives thrown in the air, and had to make big decisions at the same time. Somebody did tell me that if you have a major loss, whatever that is, to not make major decisions for a year. And then I told my friend that and she said, You just had two major losses. So maybe give yourself more than a year. But you know, decisions come up in life.

Gwyn:
They do. I feel like this is a good transition into what we were saying about how much you talk about, when you’re talking about these difficult subjects. You were saying there’s a line where what you share with the community and what you keep to yourself.

Emily:
Yeah, and that’s shifted over time for me. And it is partly, how much of this is just personal, and I just want to keep it for myself, and how much of this is like, I’m really sharing information that’s about other people who are still present in my family. And I don’t know if I feel comfortable making that part of my process. And also how much of it is just, I’m not ready to share that, but I might be in the future. So there’s all these different overlapping. And then on top of that, it’s just awkward to talk about because I know that in our culture, we’re just not supposed to. We’re just supposed to do this on the side and keep it to ourselves. People know it exists but they don’t want to, I don’t know, it’s just not part of our day to day. And I think the reason I started 1000 Moons is because it was my day to day. There was nothing else, I couldn’t think about anything else, that was it, that was my life. And if I was gonna share anything, that was going to be it.

Gwyn:
Right. And as artists, we are reflections, we reflect back what is happening in the world, to ourselves, the things that are going on around us. That’s what we connect with and what we produce from. So it makes sense that you know, if you are and this is true for musicians, too, I was talking with my dad about, my dad gets mentioned every podcast.

Emily:
Right on.

Gwyn:
Shout out to you, Dad. Anyway, we were talking about how musicians have something, when something turbulent happens in their life, something distressing. They have this outlet, that is music, and that we don’t necessarily have that. But we do have the projects that we put ourselves into, like my chainmaille for my mom and your 1000 Moons project for your grandparents. And the thing is, that it would be so ingenuine, to not have those things tied into what we’re doing, what we’re making. And it’s not that we’re consciously deciding to be genuine. But I just think it would be unrealistic to not be.

Emily:
Yeah. Especially when it’s something that’s so central to, I mean, creativity comes from your heart, right? And when it’s something that’s so central to your heart, it’s gonna come out one way or another. And I think it doesn’t always happen in the same sort of timeframe for everyone. So my grandparents died in January and February, and I didn’t talk about this until October. So there was a long time when I was just like, it just needs to be, you know, me. And honestly, I hardly talked to anybody for those six months or so. But yeah, there was a time when it was like, I’m not ready to share this. But then when I was ready to start sharing again, this was what I had to share.

Gwyn:
Yeah, absolutely. I remember that, when you started talking about it.

Emily:
I will say also about, let’s shout out to dads, my dad is a musician. And it was his parents, it was on my dad’s side, that passed. And he actually learned a couple of songs as part of his healing process. And that was a really cool thing for me to see, because I am not musical. And both of his parents, my grandparents, were. So that was something that they shared with each other. And that he was able to continue working on. It was actually, the piece that he learned, was from the end credits of a Miyazaki movie. Which I love.

Gwyn:
Oh, that’s so sweet. Yeah, I love those movies. Do you know what the song was?

Emily:
It’s called Always With Me. And it’s in the end credits of Spirited Away. And I did not know this song, because I don’t watch those movies with the subtitles on. And they’re singing in Japanese. But he had the subtitles on. So he was seeing it translated. And it’s a really beautiful, powerful and relevant song about loss and what you keep with you, and how you keep going.

Gwyn:
I think I can hear it in my brain. I can remember what the song is, obviously I don’t know in Japanese, right? I can hear the melody and it’s a really pretty song. That’s so neat, though, and I think people have to have those outlets for connecting with the people that they’ve lost. Because otherwise you just kind of go insane. You know, if you don’t have something? It doesn’t necessarily have to be artistic though, I don’t think.

Emily:
Yeah, I mean, this is sort of a human, we all experience this, whether or not we’re artists, but I think we all have that sort of creative response, in a way, whether or not we’re artists. Different people, you know, they’ll cook memory meals. I’ve done that, too.

Gwyn:
Those are good.

Emily:
Yeah, the food connection is good. Yeah, all kinds of different things. Some people put up pictures, have albums. For me, when people suggested that to me at first, I was like, I don’t want to look at pictures of them. But a year plus later, I could do that now. But at the time, I was like, no. So it’s been interesting. These are the first people this close to me that I’ve lost. And so it’s all sort of, I mean, I’m sure it’s always going to be different, no matter what, but I really had no frame of reference for how I was going to feel or what was happening, and especially without any of that sort of cultural support. We’re just supposed to figure it out on your own.

Gwyn:
Carry on. Yeah.

Emily:
Right. We don’t have Day of the Dead like in Latin American cultures. We don’t have Tomb Sweeping day like in Chinese culture.

Gwyn:
That’s a beautiful tradition.

Emily:
Yeah, yeah. So just having those recurring things in the cycle of the year, at least gives you some sort of context for, this is part of life.

Gwyn:
It is, yeah. And being able to acknowledge that, and then having the tradition gives you permission to have those feelings, because, as you said, our culture doesn’t really make room for that. And it’s almost like you’re just not supposed to do it. But having those little things that you do, like if you celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which is one of the things I do. Though I do it by myself. So it’s a little bit, I don’t know, it’s not effective in the same way that I think it would be, if I was doing it with my whole family. But yeah, we don’t even have a tomb for my mom, we took her ashes and took them out to the redwoods to a national park. Which I probably shouldn’t name because I don’t think it was legal.

Emily:
I know, that’s such a weird thing.

Gwyn:
Yeah. But we don’t have like, that’s not convenient for me to go. I can’t go visit that, and even if I did, it would just be dirt and trees.

Emily:
A marker.

Gwyn:
Exactly. There’s no marker. We did put up a lantern in my dad’s yard, but we don’t treat it like her tombstone or anything. And I was thinking about that and how we didn’t put together a lot of traditions for celebrating our dead in my family. And I kind of wish we had more of that, because it’s a very lonely feeling not being able to have those things.

Emily:
Yeah. I think when people didn’t move around so much, it was a lot easier. You have the place where everybody was, for generations back. But now that people scatter more often, I think it’s more, even if there is a marker somewhere, it’s not somewhere that you are, it’s not somewhere that the rest of the family is, maybe. So yeah, and I haven’t been to visit my grandparents’ graves.

Gwyn:
They’re in Maine?

Emily:
Yeah. They’re in Maine. I’m in Oregon. We’re still in COVID. And I’m actually, I have an artist residency coming up three miles from their former home in Maine. So I will have the opportunity to go and visit their graves, but you know, it’s been a year and a half. And I don’t know what that would have been like, if I had done it right away. Is that something that would have been really helpful for me? I have no idea. But I do want to do it now. Especially I think it’s not just that this is the marker, but I went and I stayed with my grandparents every summer, growing up. And for years, they had bought the plots. And when we drove past the little cemetery, my grandma would always point over there and say, That’s where we’ll be one day. They were super open about death. And it was such a gift. I mean, she was 94. And she kept saying, you know, I never expected to live this long. So she knew. I mean, their grandparents probably died in their 60s. So their memory of how old you get to be as a grandparent was very different.

Gwyn:
Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought about that. Because all of my grandparents lived, I mean, I’ve got two that are still alive. They’re in their 80s. And my other two lived to be into their 90s and so it just kind of seems, which is weird coming from me who lost my mother at 56. Which is obviously not in your 90s. But it did feel like that was kind of an exception. But yeah, that’s true. People did not live as long back then.

Emily:
Yeah. So they had some time to, I guess, come to terms with it, in whatever way that you do. And I didn’t really think about it as a morbid thing. But it’s like, they’ve taken care of this.

Gwyn:
Yeah, I was listening to a book and they were talking about, I think it was Jane Fonda’s autobiography, and she’s talking about death and the relationship that living people have to death. And this idea of accepting your own mortality and how that gives vitality to your life, you know? And I thought that was such an interesting, and Jane Fonda is a lot older than I am. So she has been through a lot of things. And is still going hard, pretty hardcore. So that’s great. But I mean, to think about mortality. It’s definitely something that I struggle with personally. But one of the things that I think makes me feel more comfortable with it, is the fact that my mom did it before me. Just like all the other things that my mom’s done before me.

Emily:
Oh, wow.

Gwyn:
It’s gonna be okay, I think, because, you know, mom went to school. I went to school. She had her period, I had my period. She died, you know, eventually I will die. I don’t know why, but it feels like parents set an example for you. And there’s many ways to set that example.

Emily:
That is really interesting. I think that I’ve really been feeling strongly that growing old, and dying too, although I hadn’t gone as far as dying with it, but is really a gift for younger people to be able to witness. Because yeah, that’s gonna be us one day.

Gwyn:
Right? Well, and watching someone’s body slowly deteriorate, and watching them lose function reminds you that you get to use your hands to do things, and you get to remember things without too much confusion. And that’s not permanent, and there’s appreciation that goes into that, I think.

Emily:
Yeah. The exhibit that I just closed of Ghost Net Landscape, a different installation project that I do, had a lot of community storytelling elements to it.

Gwyn:
Yeah, I loved seeing the notes that people were putting up.

Emily:
I loved all the little notes.

Gwyn:
They were so beautiful.

Emily:
In part of my artist statement, I did include that I was grieving the recent loss of my grandparents from a coastal community, because Ghost Net Landscape is about coastal relationships and fisheries. And I didn’t really do a crossover with 1000 Moons, but I just put that in there as like, this is sort of what this project is about. And I got a lot of people who also included grief in their messages, in their stories. And that was really powerful. So I thought it was interesting how the prompt for the people’s stories, it was, What’s your connection to the ocean? What’s your family’s history, your story. And a lot of it was related, not a lot of it, but a decent amount of people did relate it to people who had passed, to grief, to people that they were missing. You know, some because of COVID, they’re across the ocean, they can’t, they’re separated.

Gwyn:
They can’t go see them. Oh my gosh.

Emily:
So it was interesting how the place became a connection to the person who was gone, for whatever reason they were gone. It’s sort of the temporary-ness that you were talking about. We are where we are right now. And we’re not always going to be like that. Things are going to change. I think the relationship between that and the place that you go to, that’s like it’s the same but you’re changing, the person is changing, the person is gone, but that connection point is still there. I kept seeing that in the stories.

Gwyn:
Well, and ‘gone’ is such a interesting term too. It’s definitely used a lot in the case of death. But it’s funny because they do, people do come back a bit and ‘visit’ you, I guess like in quotes. But I definitely have moments where I feel my mom around me more strongly than other moments, and I think of those times as a little reconnection point. And in some ways, since she’s passed, and we have these little moments that are happening inside of my head, or however they end up being expressed. It almost feels like in a way, because I was a young adult when she passed and we hadn’t gotten exactly to that point in our relationship where we were solid adult daughter and adult child with mother. And we had gone through a really turbulent time in my teens where we were difficult for each other. And I feel like I kind of miss out on that part of the relationship where she and I are cool with each other and have done the work. But I do feel more connected to her now because there’s a level of understanding for the way she made decisions when I was a young person, before my brain was fully developed. So I can kind of connect with her almost more now that she’s passed. I mean, I’m not saying this is the best way to, I don’t recommend this to other people with living mothers, but what you said about relationships continuing is exactly right, I guess is what I’m saying here.

Emily:
Yeah, I think for a lot of complicated relationships especially, after somebody has passed, sometimes there’s an opportunity for it to be more simple. And the things that really matter, are what stay present. But, I mean, everybody’s different. Everybody’s relationship with the people who passed is different. And yeah, keeps changing. I feel really fortunate that I always had a super simple loving relationship with my grandparents, both of them. And I know how unusual that is and how lucky I am. And really everybody in my family had a different relationship with them.

Gwyn:
Right. Yeah. And also, and I don’t know if this is something that’s cool to talk about, but you had done these, I think you posted about it, letters to your grandparents.

Emily:
Oh, yes. Yeah, that’s totally fine to talk about.

Gwyn:
Okay, cool. Yeah, we can always cut things out and stuff. But yeah. That was such a beautiful concept, I thought, the idea of continuing to write to them, continuing the relationship.

Emily:
Yeah, yeah. And I started that just a couple months after they died. I think the first letter was in March or April, so like two months after, and I thought, I can keep writing them letters. I can’t mail them. Both my grandparents, my grandma in particular, were really involved with natural cycles. My grandma loved to garden, they lived in a four season climate. But my granddad too, I mean, was always really involved. He was a sailor. So you know, the weather was very important. And it’s only so many days in a year you can go sailing. But I think, for me, watching the seasons change, it was winter. And watching spring happen, it was like, I want to tell them, our first flowers came up. And I never got to ask them, what do I do? My roses have this problem.

Gwyn:
Oh, I know. Yeah, I have questions like that too, where I’m like, I’m never gonna get that answer.

Emily:
Yeah, right. Why didn’t I ask all these things?

Gwyn:
Sometimes, though, I don’t know. Sometimes they come in dreams in a weird way, though. I don’t know if you’ve talked to your grandparents in a dream. But that’s happened to me a few times with a few of the people I’ve lost. It’s so nice to have those little visits. But yeah, the idea of writing to them is so beautiful. And of course, the seasons thing. This is what I was gonna say, the seasons thing ties in so well to the moon project. All the cycles of nature. And then like you were saying, your grandpa did sailing, that ties back to your Ghost Net Landscape project as well.

Emily:
It does, yeah. And I actually, the more I think about it, the more connected my work is actually to them. They were a really big part of my lives. But I started doing Ghost Net Landscape, well, I started making baskets with ghost net, when I was staying at their house in Maine. So that’s where the project started. I was using my grandmother’s sewing machine. Which I now have. So that was where that project really all began. So yeah, every time I do it now, it is a connection to them still.

Gwyn:
Right. And then the moon and the tides and I mean, it all goes together so beautifully. And then you’d mentioned also that, on top of the grief of losing a loved one, there’s also an environmental grief that people are feeling. I think I remember reading one of the tags that someone had put up at your most recent Ghost Net project that had said something about how we were losing this certain type of crab that they really liked to eat, and what if their children never got to taste that? How will we explain what it tasted like?

Emily:
Yeah, yeah, Dungeness crab. That was a really cool note. They said that’s how they identify home. And it’s gonna be gone in their lifetimes. And how will we describe that when it’s gone? Because nobody will ever be able to taste it again. And there’s that ‘gone’ again. Right, like, gone? So yeah, I think there’s been a lot of talk in the last, I don’t know, five or 10 years, probably five years, about climate grief. And the magnitude of loss that the world is experiencing due to the climate crisis, and how much more aware we are of it now. Because we have data and worldwide sharing of the data. So we know a lot more than we ever did before. And it’s hard to, like what do you do with that grief? So there have been a lot of talks about what do you do with that, and I never really addressed it directly in Ghost Net Landscape, until this show. Really was my first invitation to say, it’s okay to just come into the space and cry, and just grieve. And the installation is more about, how would I say, not exactly solutions focused, but future focused, and more of a playful, joyful experience of problem solving, and what can you do with this material, besides think of it as a problem. But I think, just giving space for that grief to exist, alongside the joy and the creativity is something that I didn’t really do until after I lost my grandparents. And that just became my experience of life. I mean, I’ve had some great things happen since they’ve died, but it’s at the same time as I’m still like, not okay. But I’m also experiencing good things. It’s interesting to have that sort of happening simultaneously. And I don’t think, there’s no way to simplify it.

Gwyn:
Yeah, no, it’s not. It’s very complicated. And it’s hard to describe to people who haven’t felt it. And in some ways, it’s even hard to talk to with people who have. Yeah, you were saying earlier about how difficult it is to have these conversations. Because there’s a lot of insistence on not having them in our culture. It makes it hard to talk about. It can make you feel inappropriate to express these things. Which is a bummer, because we really do need that space. Something that occurred to me while you were talking about Ghost Net Landscape and the environment, tying into the grief, is that one of the common feelings that comes with grief, other than sadness and longing and love, is a sense of powerlessness. Because you can’t save someone from dying when they die. You can’t undo it. There’s a certain amount of powerlessness, especially for the individual, involving the environment and where we’re at with the environment right now.

Emily
That’s a great connection. And I had not thought about that, but that is part of grief in general.

Gwyn
It is. Yeah, it’s this kind of hopeless powerless feeling. Where there’s nothing you can do.

Emily:
I can’t fix this.

Gwyn:
Yeah, you got to just watch your relative fall apart. Or you just watch the big men in the big buildings make bad decisions. And you’re like, Okay, I can recycle. It feels so small in comparison. I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t make an impact, because being there with a relative who is going through a horrible illness and is slowly dying is a great comfort to them. But it doesn’t mean that you have the power to change the situation by yourself.

Emily
Yeah. Right. Or that anybody could, necessarily.

Gwyn:
And that’s a scary thing.

Emily:
Yeah, that is scary. But yeah, I think that is a really great and really direct connection, that sense of powerlessness, that I hadn’t fully worked out. So thank you for that.

Gwyn
You’re welcome. It just occurred to me while we were talking. I was like, man, we don’t have any power over any of that.

Emily
Yeah, I think with both of the projects, where I got to with what I want to do, by sharing both of the projects, Ghost Net Landscape and 1000 Moons, is probably in response to that sense of powerlessness. Particularly with 1000 Moons, a lot of the way that we mourn large losses, where we lost a lot of people, such as with COVID.

Gwyn
Like the shooting we just had. Or the fact that we just keep having them.

Emily
Yeah. 9-11, the Japanese Memorial downtown at the waterfront.

Gwyn:
Ukraine.

Emily:
All those sort of major loss events, is very focused on the death that has occurred. And you how can you not feel powerless about that? Right? Like you can’t, people are going to die. And maybe we could have prevented them all from dying in this way. But the fact is that people are going to die.

Gwyn:
Oh, yeah, it’s imminent.

Emily:
Yeah. And I think that, how can you not feel powerless about that? And my response to that, by creating 1000 Moons, this is a project about a life and not so much about the death, although talking about the death has been a big part of it for me, because I feel like we need space for that to be okay to talk about.

Gwyn
And those two things mesh together. If there wasn’t death, there would be no life. Can’t have one without the other.

Emily
I wouldn’t be doing this project. But the finished project is going to be the space of a life, of 94 years of life. And the idea was for people to be able to stand within this environment that represents 94 years of time, and think about their own lifetime. How far down the path would you start? How many of these moons would your children have seen? It becomes personal and universal, I guess. Thinking about what I am willing to share and what I’ve chosen not to share, I didn’t want it to be about my grandmother and my grandfather, in particular. I haven’t shared their names. And that’s been really interesting for me to realize that I don’t want to share their names as part of this, because I want this project to be a space for people to experience their own lives and the lifetimes of their own loved ones within. And again, when you think about those monuments to the thousands of people who have died of COVID and many other things, it’s the list of names. This is their name, and they died.

Gwyn
Right. And that doesn’t really encapsulate what a person is. And your relationship with your grandparents that you’ve talked about so openly, actually does, in a way that a name wouldn’t, necessarily. And it also allows that to be something that another person can pick up and apply to their own life. Going back to the music thing earlier I was talking about, when there’s a song that is about an experience, and you can apply that experience to your own life. And maybe it’s not quite a perfect fit, but it’s close enough. I went to a concert last week. And they played a song that I hadn’t heard before, because they just do it at shows. And it talked about flying in to Santa Barbara, which is the airport that I flew into when I came home, when my mom was dying, months before she actually died. But when I got that call, and I think that a lot of people who have lost someone know what call I’m talking about, the one where a relative tells you it’s now hopeless, and you have to come home. And they talked about the experience of flying into Santa Barbara for that same reason.

Emily
Oh my gosh, the same airport.

Gwyn
Same airport. Yeah, familiar street names that I know, just a lot of very similar things. And the whole time they’re referring to the person, the cancer victim, as just ‘you’. And you were this and you were that and this was happening.

Emily:
They were talking to the person.

Gwyn:
Right. Exactly. Telling them about it from the experience of flying in. And I was just bawling in public. Which will happen sometimes with art and music. But something about not having the name, made it able for me to just drop that right on top of my own experience and be like, this is what what I did 10 years ago. And the weirdest thing is, it would have been basically next month in June would be the anniversary of 10 years since I made that flight home. And it was also the day before her birthday.

Emily
Wow. I’m getting chills.

Gwyn
I know, it’s a lot. It’s a lot. Yeah, that was the Mountain Goats. Thanks, guys.

Emily
Yeah, really. That is definitely a lot. But I feel like that is, I think a gift to be able to, you know, we can’t not talk about it, ever.

Gwyn
Yeah, well, and that’s why people like bands like the Mountain Goats who have this sort of dreary, dark sense of humor, a reflection of what’s happening, or why people embrace projects like your project 1000 Moons and why it’s so awesome to walk down a hallway full of moons and go okay, so here’s my life span right here, and this is how many moons I’ve seen. To be able to see the physical, that’s why people are able to connect with those things, you know?

Emily
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this show coming up this summer. It’s going to be the first time I’ve really exhibited it in, it’s not going to be finished, so it’s not the whole thing, but a lot of moons in an environment where I will be able to be there interacting with people at the same time. So I’ve been sort of doing what I can during COVID and virtual, and just early on the exhibitions were much smaller. So yeah, it’ll be interesting to have that conversation with people actually in the space.

Gwyn
Well, and like we said earlier, it keeps growing. How many do you expect to have at this point?

Emily
So I actually had to figure it out in advance, how many can I fit in this space? So I diagrammed out the space and everything.

Gwyn:
I love a good diagram.

Emily:
Yes. A diagram is very helpful. It’s going to be 60 years, 750 moons.

Gwyn:
Damn, that’s a lot. I’m really looking forward, I’m gonna have to come see that. I’m really looking forward to seeing when, especially when you have the full 1000. And being able to walk through that. I’m really interested to see how that’s gonna fill up a space. And I hope you get, we’ve talked about this before in the past, and I’m still rooting for the long hallway or corridor kind of experience, where someone can walk along through it. I mean, we do what we can as artists with the resources we have, so you know, whatever space you put it in, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

Emily
I think because it’s a process based project, I would like to keep showing it in different spaces.

Gwyn
Yeah. Oh, yeah, that’s true. And you already have been doing that.

Emily
Yeah, it’s just here and there, and just a few, because I didn’t have that many done. But yeah, I think even after I have all 1000 done, every space is going to be so different, because of how the installation is going to work, that it would be worth doing it more than once.

Gwyn:
Yeah, that’s really cool.

Emily:
And every time I talk about it, I have different things to say. Because I’m at a different place with it.

Gwyn
It’s growing.

Emily
Also because I’ve had multiple people tell me COVID grief, if you lose somebody during COVID, it’s not the same as losing somebody during quote unquote ‘normal’ times. So these are people who I guess have had both experiences and are like, No, this is different. So my family couldn’t gather, we haven’t been able to do any sort of service, so everything is slowly progressing in a very asynchronous strange way. I was able to have a memorial with my dad and my stepmom from Kauai who came here to Oregon and just the three of us did something for us.

Gwyn
It’s not the same though as being able to, because you hear memories about those family members from their friends that you’re never going to hear from your relatives, because people are different around different people in their lives.

Emily
Yeah. My one of my aunts actually put together a Google Doc, with people who had emailed in that my grandparents had known, friends, so that we could see that. But again, during COVID, we got a Google doc instead of being able to be in the space with those people.

Gwyn
Receive a hug and light a candle.

Emily
Yeah. So then what do I do on my own? What did each of us choose to do on their own? That was something that we had to think of for ourselves, I guess. And I guess 1000 Moons is one of the things that I decided to do.

Gwyn
Well, I think it’s an amazing project.

Emily
Thank you.

Gwyn
I’m so stoked about it. And I love the crossover stuff that’s happening. The bowl you showed us the other day was really cool. And I think that they go, I think we’ve had this conversation, maybe publicly, about two different mediums and how your mediums still tie together, even when they’re very different mediums, because you’re the common thing that brings them together. And I think this is true for this too, even though we’re talking about the projects, not necessarily the mediums, but the reason that ceramics and chainmaille are my brand is because I make them both. And the reason that 1000 Moons and Ghost Net Landscape come together is because they both come from Emily.

Emily
I think there are a lot of crossover themes in the two, and I guess that may be because I chose to do those two things. But I have a deeper understanding of Ghost Net Landscape, which I started in 2019, because I’ve been doing the 1000 Moons project. Ghost Net Landscape has evolved because of the other work that I’m doing. And that’s been interesting, I didn’t realize this was going to spill out into everything else that I did. I mean, I can’t not think about it. I can’t just stop thinking about my grandparents and start making art about something else. But at the same time, I didn’t really expect it to inform other projects so much.

Gwyn
Yeah, that makes sense. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about being an artist, is seeing where the projects take us, and how much they can grow. And I’ve had that experience myself with Omni and how much that’s grown since what were we doing a million years ago, just doing the online events and stuff. They kind of take on a life of their own, in a way.

Emily:
Those are the best projects.

Gwyn:
They really are. That’s how you know that they’re solid projects.

Emily:
When they’ve got their own life.

Gwyn:
They’ve got their own life. Both of the projects, both the project that I’m doing and the project you’re doing, are very community based. So there’s a lot of outside influence that happens and allows them to grow. And I think that that is also really beautiful. With my ceramic works, I don’t invite people into my studio to let me know how they think I should make my ceramics. But I take on feedback from artists about how I can improve what I’m doing with Omni Open Studios. And you’re receiving these, well people physically come in and create things in the Ghost Net Landscape space. And contribute ideas to that. And you’ve also been doing these talkbacks with all of your 1000 Moons presentations that you’re doing, where people can talk about grief. And I think I remember you saying that you’d become kind of this weird grief representative, like an authority for grief.

Emily
Yeah. And I was like, I don’t have any authority in this. I don’t know the right answer to these questions.

Gwyn:
I don’t want that at all.

Emily:
I have no training in this. But I mean, I think we do need that sort of community. And I think that is where the response to hopelessness comes in. It is, you know, community. And it’s not going to fix it. But I think it allows us to keep going, knowing that we can have conversations about it. There are other people who are also just even having the same questions, or are just questioning about the same things that we are. Just knowing that there can be community around this, helps with that sense of hopelessness in grief, and that’s been really helpful for me. Just being able to share it. And nobody else is feeling what I am and vice versa, right. We’re all in our own place with our own grief, but just to know that other people are also doing it, whatever that is for them, I think has made a lot of difference for me.

Gwyn
Yeah. And I think maybe we don’t all as individuals know how significant it is, when we’re the person putting out the story or putting out the project. But when you receive something like that, like the song that I was talking about, or we were talking about experiencing your project, that’s such an impactful feeling of not being alone. I think one of the worst things about grief and in a way about life, is that sense of being isolated from other people, especially during the pandemic. Feeling alone in something, like it’s only happening to you. And that’s a really horrible feeling. But we can kind of treat that sense of loneliness with projects like these.

Emily
Yeah. And it requires vulnerability.

Gwyn:
And vulnerability is hard.

Emily:
It’s hard. And it’s scary. And, you know, there are things that are hard and scary and worth doing.

Gwyn
I would argue that possibly the only things worth doing are hard.

Emily
Gonna be hard and scary. Yes, growth is not comfortable.

Gwyn
No, it’s not comfortable. Yeah, that’s true. And maybe it shouldn’t be.

Emily
Yeah, I mean, there’s something to be said for your comfort zone. But I think also definitely for growing outside of it, too. And I think just knowing that it’s gonna be hard, and, I don’t know if I want to say that that’s okay. Because ‘okay’ is another sort of, you know, it’s not really, what happened was not okay.

Gwyn:
No.

Emily:
But that, this is how it’s going to be. And I’m not going to try and make it more okay than it is. I am where I am. And, you know, some days it really sucks. And that’s how it is.

Gwyn
Yep, I completely agree. ‘Okay’ is such a relative term. What does it mean someone tells you it’s gonna be okay?

Emily:
Can you explain how that’s gonna happen?

Gwyn:
Yeah, it’s not. First off, it’s not, okay. That is one of those common phrases, though, that we are given to say to people when something is making us uncomfortable.

Emily
Yeah, to just excuse that and move on.

Gwyn
Listen, it’s never going to be okay. And even when you get to the end, I don’t know, there’s a John Lennon quote, I’m paraphrasing, but in the end, it’s gonna be okay. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. But I’m also like, Yeah, but the end is dying, John. So I think it’s a perspective thing, you know?

Emily
Yeah. One of my aunts, different aunt, totally different part of my family, who’s been following the 1000 Moons project online, just commented after I posted about the Chinese Tomb Sweeping Day tradition. That in, I don’t know if this is current times or past history, but in the Celtic tradition, they believed that death was the midpoint of your life, and that there was as much life on the other side, as there was on this side. And I thought that was really interesting.

Gwyn
That’s really interesting. I mean, I think that kind of makes sense, because we don’t remember what it was like before we were born. I don’t know. Maybe John Lennon has a point.

Emily:
I don’t know.

Gwyn:
I don’t know. I think ‘okay’ is such a funky term. Anyway, now I’m going off on an ‘okay’ tangent, and this isn’t what this is supposed to be about.

Emily
I don’t know, I’m feeling you on that. Because I have, for the past year, I have really struggled with answering, ‘How are you doing?’ You know, the correct answer to that is, ‘I’m okay. How are you?’ I have just choked on that over and over again. I’m like, I can’t lie. I cannot. I am so not okay that I can’t lie about it.

Gwyn
Well, I don’t know if this helps, but when I ask you how you’re doing, I actually want to know. So it’s totally fine to be like, Not great honestly, it’s been really hard. Yeah.

Emily
And I think that’s becoming more normalized. And I really do appreciate that.

Gwyn
I do appreciate that growth, that our culture is doing. Yeah, maybe our generation is starting to be like, hey, maybe,

Emily
Yeah, maybe it’s okay to not be okay. There’s space for that. And I think the way that you’re supposed to respond, ‘I’m okay,’ and move on. There’s no space for anything else. There’s no space to be like, Okay, we need to take a pause here. This person just said that they need something else, something additional, rather than just moving on with whatever it was.

Gwyn
We need to acknowledge that feelings are real, and that everyone’s going through something.

Emily
Yeah. And I think just the past few years, there’s just been so much more awareness, generally, that everybody’s going through it. And I’m hoping we keep some of that.

Gwyn
Oh, absolutely. And the goals that we want to accomplish don’t get accomplished well, when people’s experiences aren’t being acknowledged. It’s not better for anyone, to just brush it off.

Emily
It can be harder though.

Gwyn
Yeah, but I mean, we talked about this. How the good things that are hard, are worth doing. I think this is a really good podcast we just did.

Emily
Awesome. Thank you. I always love having these discussions with you, it’s super fun.

Gwyn
Thank you. I think we did a really good job talking about grief. And of course we’re friends in real life so we always have a good conversation.

Gwyn:
1000 Moons will be on display at the Reser Center for the Arts. The exhibition will run from June 22 through August 13. The opening reception will be on June 24. And Emily will be doing an artist talk on July 20. All these dates and more can be found on Emily’s website, www.EJMillerfineart.com. If you would like to support the 1000 Moons project, you can contribute to the GoFundMe campaign. A link to that can also be found on Emily’s website.

Gwyn:
I’d also like to update everyone on our Omni Open Studios project, Coyote Fest. We have a fantastic lineup of musical and visual artists, and we will be announcing those names on Instagram this week. Coyote Fest is an in-person art and music collaboration event funded through the community in support of our local creatives. This is a 21-plus event happening at the Vitalidad Movement Arts Center on August 20 at 4pm. For details and to support Coyote Fest go to our event page, www.Gwynethmanley.com/coyote-fest.

Gwyn:
The Omni Open Studios podcast is created by me, Gwyneth Manley, as is the artwork for the show. The theme music is Hidden Track by Stefan Carlin. The Omni Open Studios podcast is funded through the Studio Gwyneth Patreon. And you can find images related to this episode on the Omni Open Studios Instagram page, or get the episode and images together by joining the Studio Gwyneth Patreon for $1 per month. Remember to check out our previous podcast episodes and find even more Omni Open Studios content by visiting our YouTube channel. If you enjoyed this episode, please like, subscribe, and review on Apple podcast or Spotify.

Gwyn:
Thank you so much for listening and remember, together we can build our own opportunities.

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