On the Land of the Free and the Home of the Slaves

A number of weeks ago I published a conversation I had with visual artist, filmmaker, and photographer Timothy Dyk, a friend of mine who is currently up to his elbows in paint, creating a series of art pieces he will exhibit in June 2010. The project ties into another one his life has been consumed by for the last few years: the published book Sex + Money: A Global Search for Human Worth and a Nationally-focused film of the same name that explores the reality of the sex trade in the United States.

Tim is based in Ellensburg, Washington, where he’s currently balancing his commitments to the film and the art project. He’s also working to nail down a place to exhibit his work. He has his eye on a warehouse space that was once a milk factory.

I caught up with Tim via email to see how the project has taken shape. He generously provided some video (see below) to give a sense of his creative space, the colour scheme, and some of the paint-soaking work the project entails, before he heads off for a few more months of filming.

AK: I was wondering if you could describe your technique. The video you’ve graciously offered reveals some of the process and shows that you’re working with more than paint, but fabric as well. What other materials can we expect on the canvas, and why are you using them?

TD: It sounds funny to imagine it as ‘technique’ as it seems a very sloppy and unruly thing to do, but I really wanted to capture the idea of the patchwork of a flag. I felt like using different layers of fabric was a good way I could try to do that, to try and accentuate the different colors that comprise a flag, specifically that of the United States. It makes me feel like a Betsy Ross of sorts…

AK: Some artists compare the creative process to a jet taking flight. The runway is the starting point, but what matters is getting the plane off the ground. What has been your runway?

TD: I think it would be accurate to say the runway has been the experience of traveling around the United States, hearing and sometimes seeing what human trafficking looks like in the country.

Hearing different individuals’ stories of being trafficked has had a big influence. Looking back, a lot of the stories I hear can blend together, but I really believe the art that I am currently working to produce is a way I can process the harshness of all that I’ve heard. In the moment, hearing someone’s story of being exploited, it was usually hard for me to make any sort of sense of such brutal experiences. In this case, I think my art is a way I can question the ideas and values that led to such unimaginable brutalities.

AK:
. Within the metaphor of take-off, something that is discussed (often passionately) among creatives is what to do with the runway: is it forgotten, is it for the artist only, does the audience need it? Is there anything (ideas, technical elements) that you thought you might use that you’ve left behind now that that the project is up and running? If so, what have they been and why?

TD: More and more I’m thinking the runway will be a very important one for the audience being able to make sense of what I am trying to say (or ask) with the art. If the viewer doesn’t understand the stories and interpretations of human trafficking that have influenced the pieces, the messages of certain pieces might seem a bit foggy. On a broad scale, I think the final product of the film (set to release in the fall) will eventually provide that context; but for the actual art show I think I will need to do some creative explaining in order for the paintings to have sufficient context.

As far as ideas I’ve left behind…mainly they’ve just had to do with ways I thought I might do the paintings. I threw around the ideas of making linocuts for certain parts, but I figured out that might not be the most efficient technique. For certain parts I considered using screen printing, but that would have been a bit more expensive – so I figured out ways to get similar looks with resources that were more available to me. These sorts of ideas I think were OK to drop, as they just didn’t suit the project. I’ll certainly keep them filed in my brain though…

AK:
To expand the metaphor (trust me – this is the last flying-related question), as you continue to develop the project, what does it mean for you to see the project take flight?

TD: I think taking flight is getting to the place where the art is being made, and completed. Some people might say that flying is getting it to a place where it is being seen by other people, and that makes sense – but for this project, just seeing the pieces come to completion is a big step for me individually, because for so long they have only been nothing but concepts and ideas.

AK:
What have the challenges of the project been so far?

TD: The painted fabric is taking a lot longer to dry than I would have planned. Learning to multitask is a big challenge for me, because I would much prefer to simply finish a painting and move onto the next, but having to allow time for paint to dry on different layers of different pieces has forced me to have a lot of pans on the grill, so to say.

AK:
What have the surprises been?

TD:
The materials haven’t always responded quite the way I had imagined. I didn’t realize fabric would absorb so much paint, so things have taken a long time to dry.

AK: How involved are the people around you – family and friends – in this or your other creative projects?

TD:
I would say they are very involved – not so much necessarily in the making of the art, but family and friends are most always supportive in that they allow me to do what I do without calling me crazy or thinking I’m wasting my time, or my parents allowing me to use space in their garage. Sometimes they’ll ask questions about what I’m trying to make or communicate, and answering those questions helps me to clarify my vision, and understand more how other people might interpret my work. It’s almost like a continual test-flight so to speak (I know you like those flying metaphors…)

AK:
As a non-US American I want to ask you about the politics of your colour scheme. Perhaps it’s ridiculous of me to do so. It seems politics in your country are especially polarized right now. How do you think the patriotic palette you’ve chosen will inform how your work is received?

TD: Not ridiculous at all, my friend. I think growing up as an American, the red, white, and blue color scheme has a kind of sentimental/iconic feel to it. To me those colors have stood for all the good and honest values that I was taught our country is supposed to stand for. Putting these colors in the context of all that is happening with human trafficking is a big contrast, at least in my mind, and hopefully it will be for the others who see it. Contrasting the crimes of abuse and exploitation to the values of truth and justice should be a big contrast.

AK: How do you, personally, envision the red, white, and blue, and how does it weave into your project’s theme?

Red, White, Blue - A snapshot of the upcoming exhibition

TD: I think the red, white, and blue is something that reminds me of the respectable values that our country was intended to stand for. Since our country was founded, a lot of people have sacrificed a lot to preserve those values – and I want to respect that sacrifice – but I also want people to realize that the values which we tried so hard to preserve are once again under “attack”, this time in the context of human trafficking.

AK: Something that stood out to me from our last email conversation was that through your artistic exploration of human trafficking with this project you hope others will be motivated to consider to embark on similar journeys engaging the issue, and not only through art. What things have been revealed to you about engaging the issues as you’ve set your hands to work on this project?

TD: I’ve realized a lot, that even though I don’t know the entirety of everything that is going on, I have seen and heard enough to say something, and that is what I need to do, even if I haven’t fully arrived at solutions myself. I want to say something that will encourage others to join in the process of ending these crimes within our borders and around the world. The more minds that are in on this, the better.

AK: Why do you think the physical, hand-dirtying (see the video!) work of shaping something creatively matters? What does the realm of creative expression do that a purely intellectual approach cannot?

TD: The act of putting the art together is time consuming, and it’s hard not to think thoroughly about the message you’re saying, because you’re taking so much time to actually produce it (at least in my case – I take forever to actually get something done…) Thinking might not always cause you to take as much ownership of an issue, because when you tire of thinking of one thing, you can just start thinking about something else. With creating something artistically, if you are to complete your work, you’re almost required to come to a place of understanding, on a deeper level, what you’re actually trying to say.

AK: I’ve been tuning into the weekly webisodes for your upcoming film Sex+Money: A National Search for Human Worth. How does the edited footage of your experience inform your view of yourself and your project?

TD: It’s a new experience to see myself in video footage. I often forget the experiences that have brought me to the place of working on an exhibit about human trafficking in America. The footage brings me back to a place of remembering why I am doing what I am doing.

AK:
How does the footage inform your view of the over-arching issues of trafficking?

TD: When we were filming, all the stories we heard seemed so scattered – from truck stops to legislation to former victims to sexuality in the mainstream media. Having the webisodes put together helps me have a more organized understanding of the different ways trafficking is happening in America.

AK:
What’s the scoop on the film project: where does it go from here and what’s in the line-up?

TD: Pretty soon actually I will be leaving Ellensburg, flying out to Virginia to meet up with the rest of the crew to begin our final months of filming. Throughout May and June we’ll be capturing our final footage before post-production begins in the summer months. We’ll be capturing some interviews that weren’t able to fit into the schedule last fall. Also we’re trying to find more footage of the other side of the story – people who are proponents of the sex-industry and all that it entails – to help give viewers an understanding of both sides of the argument. And also, we’ll be in Ellensburg in early June to film the first public showing of my art – so it will be interesting for us as a group, and also something new for myself.

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Read my first Interview with Tim here: Towards a Creative Vision