Artist Lab Report:
The Monday Project

by Sharon Stewart

Chapter 1?

Here I sit with a plan to write and maybe make space for my brain to work the way I hope it can.

It’s been a year since I was at Lakeside Lab Artist Residency. It was a life changing experience. Simply getting invited to call myself an artist was humbling. I took a project-in-process with me without knowing how I would display or present the work. For a year prior to arriving at the residence, I had been working on what I call The Monday Project. While I hope to delve into a fuller explanation of the project, I am going to start with were I sit at this moment.

The experience of the Monday Project and the pivot brought on by the artist residency has left me, a year later, with a desire to sit and write. To let thoughts go from my inner whirlwind, filtered through my fingers, sent through the wires of technology and, perhaps, exist outside of me. However the space to write didn’t exist this time last year. And if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure it could exist, in me or for me. I decided to begin by letting my voice be my text. I knew I was ready to begin talking, to let out some of the inner dialog. I took a tape cassette recorder and player with me to the artist residence, not sure where it would go, but ready to explore. The first week of the residency I transformed an artist studio space into my home. The second week, I moved in. At the end of the residency, I invited an audience to listen to my recordings. To be in the space I had created, with the thoughts that inspired it.

Two weeks ended one chapter, and opened a blank page and a new chapter. Since the residency, I have continued the Monday Project. Going back through room by room examining each space with a finer comb than before; watching plants stay alive, and thresholds for clutter and chaos redefined.

I could go back a year and try to tell that story, or I could sit here and write the story as it is now. I can show a product of the residency and proof of the Monday Project in action.

Chapter 2?

The ADHD brain sent me on a mission today. I had to buy a computer. A desktop. A computer that doesn’t require a cord and can’t be left in the wrong car. Laptops are not my friend. They taunt me, a reminder of what I’ve called my failures. For the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating this new computer as if it were a new roommate. Will this be a healthy addition, or one more terrorizing Lego set? I’ve been watching how our children consume media and technology; it scares me. Their bodies curl around a screen, face lit, and fingers ready to swipe. They hide in corners and are constantly trying to sneak it like the drug it is. The part that scares me, is what happens when they are pulled from it. Like a toddler throwing a fit, or a lawyer arguing their case, technology has become the golden calf. The scariest of it all is that if I look closely at their behavior, it becomes apparent that our children are the mirror that is hard to look in. A reflection of our own behavior.

Today I will consider the computer desk as a room of its own and make it a space where we can hold each other accountable for healthy decisions in relationship to technology…..

I walked away from writing to actually do the work of homemaking, a term I now hold dear to my heart. And when I return to a little desk that looks out into the unkept back yard, perfectly placed between the kitchen and living room, I hope I will be able to write. To begin to tell my story of the Monday Project. It traveled with me to Lakeside and consumed me for two weeks. Like the grand finale at the end of the fireworks. For an entire year leading up I had gone room through room in my home, considering the space, what it held and the movement within it. Each Monday I tossed and toiled within my walls: physical, mental, and spiritual. A ritual of pealing onions, each room it’s own onion, with its own layers to be pulled back one by one. *so many tears*

In every iteration of a room meant to function as a space of peace, gathering and connection; I’ve tried to add a little spot to write. Round one, I put my typewriter on a desk in the sunroom that stared into the wild yard. I pictured myself a writer, indulging in the sound and work of every letter. Connecting the worlds in my head and letting the rhythm and sound fill the space. It was romantic and it collected dust. My failure would stare me down and force me to reconsider. Later I would replace the typewriter with surfaces meant for my laptop. At one point I took on the guest room and even added an office. I thought that perhaps if I had only a wall to stare at, I might find focus. The desk was a metal framed, formica topped, midcentury, beauty. I filled the space with softness and art from people I cherish. Not as romantic, but hopefully functional. The desk quickly filled with unopened mail and intentions of finding my inner secretary, accountant, and all around excel expert. One more failure for the books. I should interject that a failure, doesn’t mean I see myself as a failure. With each reiteration of a room, I’ve come accept there will always be failures. But as my successes increase, so does my understanding of myself and those around me. A failure became simply spotting an attempt that didn’t work, a chance to be better; not a reflection of my soul or worth.

As I look around our home it is a new place than this time last year. More functional than it’s ever been, a higher consistency of cleanliness, rooms filled with movement, and fewer unused corners filled with abandoned intentions. Today it is an absolutely shit show. Dirty dishes, legos fucking everywhere, things so far from their home they seem lost. But in a day, that can all change. Because the dishes are half what they used to be, the clothes have closet space held for them, and the legos have bins they can overflow. But as soon as comfort sinks in the family grows and change hits.

In the past I’ve taken control, it’s one of my closet monsters. Poking its head out and usually bringing pride with it. A reminder that learning to loving myself has forced resilience of the failures and forgiveness of the monsters. We all have them. *takes a deep breath*

Our oldest child, age ten, is ready for his own room. The furthest his room has been from ours since his birth is ten feet. For the past six years he’s shared a room with his brother. He was the kind of baby that couldn’t be held enough. And now falling from the nest to the basement bedroom; I want his descent to be gentle. I want his landing to be a place of rest, reset, contemplation, and rejuvenation. But more than anything, I wanted him to learn the joy of creating and caring for a space focused on health and with room for healing.

We’ve been talking about this room transition for the last two months. He’s requested a room that is video game themed, specifically Fortnite. He wants a reading chair, a desk and to have his art supplies in his room – a negotiation and compromise made after his request for a computer was firmly denied. He wants the neon green wall color to stay the same. A color that exists out of desperation and limited resources. A color that is the combination of the many green paint samples given to us by our real estate agent weeks after we purchased the home. He is especially excited to move from his twin bed to a full bed. For his birthday he got new video game bedding and vinyl art for his walls. The bed is a part of a bedroom set my mother-in-law’s mom demanded when she moved across the country for her husband and if memory serves me correct with resentment. I love to imagine this strong Austrian woman, who like me battled a control closet monster, demanding this beautiful matching bed set. An elegant set, made of the kind of walnut that begs for a fireplace and an oil lamp to share the space, tall pillars on all four corners, two matching nightstands kept pristine with glass tops. When my mother offered to pass this down to our family, her son, her grandsons; I felt a sense of family and stability coexisting through the years.

*laughing at myself* I moved to a new house nearly every year, so heirlooms were sparse. It probably didn’t help that my mom grew up as a missionary in western Africa and my dad a mennonite, farming in western Kansas. I’ve held this furniture as part of a sacred story that should be cared for and passed down to the next generation and an invitation to join the story.

(The other daughter-in-law – my husband’s brother’s, wife – calls my mother “mom.” It’s funny how we define family by relationship through title or connection to a role. When she first told me, I was thrilled not only for their relationship but also to see the joy she wore when she told me that was her spoken title in their family and at their home. I tried to call her “mom,” but it never took. In person I call her by her first name. That’s how I was introduced to her, that’s how I’ve always known her. But like other powerhouse badass females whose years have brought wisdom, she has become a mother to me.)

Our son knows the story of the bed set, but only wants the bed in his room, not the matching nightstands. I felt an urge to keep the set together and gaslight him into changing his mind. Instead I stared my control closet monster in the eyes and found the nightstands a new home in our bedroom, where they will be loved and used.

While we’ve all decided to wait until the school year is over to make this move, giving this transition the attention and care it deserves has brought about an entire home reconfiguration. The room he is moving into was one of the least cared for spaces in our house. It still holds hard decisions, like a box with the fabric of a failed art project that I’ve moved and carried with me for twelve years, hardly able to open it because of the shame I still feel. It’s the dumping spot for books I hoped and maybe still hope to read. In the past I would have simply boxed the things that don’t belong and let them fill a new corner, or perhaps an added shelf in the storage parts of the home. But instead, I am finally ready to take this room on, as is. If I can’t find a good home for my belongings, I don’t need them.

As this new transition of home began, I suddenly felt a need to be honest about my basic needs within my home, to be my best self. I accepted that I need a desktop computer – because fuck charging cords – in a space that felt safe. Because I was finally ready to use that space. *why did it take me so long*

I sit at a desk, another piece of furniture passed down from family, in a space that is meant to be a connection to technology, but within the center of the home hosting our newest guest, a desktop computer. This is not an escape; rather a shared space where I hope we will use technology as a tool of creation. A place where thoughts become words, and questions become exploration. A place that exist because an onion layer finally gave way.

Chapter 3?

Like a pulled tread the entire house has begun to unravel, in the best way possible. I feel like I am embarking on a new journey to rethread our space, but this time I am not alone. I need help, and I am learning how to ask for it. I have invited my family into the creation process with hopes that together we will discover new ways of existing with each other, within ourselves and the places we call home.

“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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