COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #15: Managing My Time

Time Management - Pyragraph

T-Minus 15! This post is part of an 18-post countdown to Amy Stacey Curtis’ next and final solo biennial in Maine mill space. After MEMORY, her upcoming biennial, she will have completed nine solo biennials over 18 years, with 81 massive interactive works, all told. She’s been unloading her process on Pyragraph as we countdown to MEMORY. Read the series here.


Sometimes I feel more like a clock than an installation artist, my arms pointing at minutes around the hour, ticking around my body, one of my legs a weird second hand slowly spinning around and past my arms.

I set out to do nine major “solo-biennial” exhibits in abandoned Maine mill spaces. These solo biennials would take place in 2000, 2002, 2004,… through 2016, each mounted about the same time every other year, each requiring 22 months of work, each 22-month cycle divided by year, season, month, week, day, hour tasks.

So, when I finish this biennial project this fall, what I consider to be my opus, I look forward to a much less time-centered kind of studio work and lifestyle, also for my arms and leg to stop spinning weirdly around my torso. Because, ow.

I don’t do anything unnecessary: I don’t fold underwear or iron clothes.

Why the uber discipline and structure around managing my time? Because it was the only way to be sure all would be done when I said it’d be done. I declared I’d do it, so I’d better.

It wasn’t just doing what I said publicly I would do (through my website, through grant narratives, through artist talks). I wasn’t worried the art police would take me away from my studio if things didn’t get finished on time.

It was more a matter of finishing this project (begun in 1998) in 18 years instead of 50 (this 18 years somewhat arbitrary, what you happen to get when you want each of nine exhibits to take two years to do).

Each odd-number-year February 1, has been my no-matter-what start date for each 22-month biennial cycle, each even-number-year Fall opening reception date—my deadline—the “by when” I have to have everything installed.

The 22 months includes the exhibit itself, take down, and a month of aftermath—figuring out where everything goes afterward at my studio, getting rid of materials that no longer fit, writing grant reports, organizing my documentation, updating my website, uploading videos….

If I didn’t give myself this timeframe, this 22 months every other year, who knows how long it would take to see these nine exhibits through? Maybe I’d be 99 instead of the 46 years old I’ll be when this project is done. Way more arm and leg spinnage than one artist can take.

Anyway, I thought I’d share 18 things I’ve done these past 18 years to manage my time. I’m not suggesting you spin your arms and leg too. I just thought there could be something among these 18 things you might find useful.

  1. 1. I know when to say “no.”
  2. I focus only on work tasks and opportunities that further my goals.
  3. I try to be flexible, to go with the flow.
  4. I try to rest on Sundays.
  5. I take breaks, exercise, eat, stretch, walk my dogs.
  6. I don’t do anything unnecessary: I don’t fold underwear or iron clothes.
  7. As far as what’s necessary, like doing dishes or laundry, I let things pile up then do all at once.
  8. Whatever I’m doing I try to focus only on that thing.
  9. I try to figure out the briefest possible way to do or say anything.
  10. I try to figure out how to do anything with the smallest range of motion.
  11. I ask for help; recruit art assistants.
  12. I work on big things a little bit each day until they’re done.
  13. I work on many different things each day unless I can’t.
  14. I work on each thing only for as long as I have the fullest energy toward it.
  15. I know when it’s time to move on to the next thing.
  16. I work on harder things first to get them out of the way.
  17. I leave my studio once a week to visit, do errands, and get away from my work.
  18. I only spend time with people I like.

When my 18-year opus is complete, I’m sure I’ll use a lot of the same techniques (to write grants, communicate ideas for museum exhibits, work toward new installations—all as efficiently as possible), but this will be more about having as much time as possible to enjoy other aspects of my life, walking my dogs, traveling, spending time with friends, holding my husband’s hand, planting a garden, painting a wall in my house I’ve meant to paint the past nine years….

About Amy Stacey Curtis

In 1998, artist and writer Amy Stacey Curtis began an 18-year commitment to interactive installation art, nine solo-biennial exhibits from 2000 to 2016. In the end, Amy will have installed 81 large-in-scope, participatory works in the vast mills of eight or nine Maine towns. Each solo-biennial exhibit is a 22-month process, each exhibit exploring a different theme while requiring her audience to perpetuate its nine unique installations. As part of each biennial process, Amy scrubs by hand its respective mill; the spaces averaging 25,000 square feet.

The Maine Arts Commission’s 2005 Individual Artist Fellow for Visual Art, and recipient of numerous grants including those from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Amy committed to this ambitious and ephemeral project to convey that everyone and everything affects everyone and everything, no matter how small or fleeting the impact. MEMORY, Amy’s last solo biennial, will be open for participation September 17-October 28, 2016 in a Maine mill to be announced. MEMORY will be worth the trip from wherever you are.

Amy (and the thousands of objects she stores to mount her massive exhibits) lives with her husband Bill in Lyman, Maine.

1 Comment

  1. […] toward my interactive solo biennials—with each month, week, day and hour of a 22-month process pre-scheduled and -structured—the unforeseen and unplanned inevitably happens. Unexpected things take place behind the scenes, […]

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