COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #4: A Good Artist Is a Prepared Artist

Amy Stacey Curtis installation - Pyragraph
This art assistant station was prepared to attach small key rings and clips to 99 cube pouches for MEMORY. The pouches were made by another art assistant who also donated the materials and bag. The pouches will be used repeatedly at MEMORY to carry 900 white wood cubes–in a hands-free way–from the start of my 9th solo biennial, to the end, after memorizing a number. My #1 art assistant helped cut down the cubes, and others helped paint them.

T-Minus 4! 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 count down to MEMORY. Read the series here.

When it comes to my 18-year project in Maine’s mills, a good artist is a prepared artist. I try to prepare my space. I try to prepare my time. I try to prepare my body. I try to prepare my audience. And, I try to prepare for my art assistants.

Art assistants are everyone from family and friends, to other artists and art students, to strangers—people I will have just met while walking from the mill to the closest deli.

All I have to do is explain the how-to, then each can get busy.


When art assistants come to my studio, then to my install at the mill, I have whatever they’ll be doing “ready-to-start.” Folks from far away want to go to the bathroom, then get busy. They don’t want to stand around watching me organize my stuff before they can begin.

Some art assistants help for an hour, others help for days. However long I have them, however many show up (the most I think was 28 volunteers), I’ll have set up for each a task, a kind of station. All I have to do is explain the how-to, then each can get busy. This preparation is also about maximizing the time assistants can assists, because I need all the help I can get.

When someone walks through my door (home or mill): I say “hello”; thank this person for helping no matter how much they’re about to complete; offer a free drawing or two (every hour worked/driven is $20 off the drawings done to support my exhibits); explain where to find water and toilet; then after settling in, I give a version or part of the same speech:

I explain each task as if you’re a 2-year-old, all steps, even things that are common sense. I have to know you know what to do. And, at first, I’ll check your work to make sure you understand. Please just “go with it.”

I’m essentially making another me, someone who’s doing what I need done, as closely as possible to the way I would do it. Work at a pace that’s comfortable for you. I’d rather you work slow and get it right (also not inadvertently break something I can’t replace), than work fast. So please don’t rush.

And please don’t be overwhelmed, it’s about making dents, getting a bit done each round until it’s finished. You won’t get through the tens or hundreds or thousands of things you’re about to see.

If it’s a more complicated task, like the one set up in the photo above, I practice the task before my assistant arrives. I determine the quickest way—I think—to get the task done. If it’s multiple art assistants, I set up multiple tasks. Some tasks are set up for 1, some for large groups.

Obviously, if someone returns (as many do) I don’t give my speech again. And, he or she already knows where to find a drink and the bathroom.

I’m also preparing for the end of my 18-year project, as much as I want to concentrate on preparing for what I need to do now. I’m preparing for how I’ll feel after something which has been the largest part of my existence for so long. But the truth is, there’s no way to get ready. I won’t really know how I’ll feel until this is done. I’ll have to just “go with it.”

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