At the conclusion of the creation of the project, we asked participants to reflect on what the process was like for them. Here are excerpts from their responses.
I guess if I had to say what freedom meant for me right now, it would not being forgotten by those who have come into my life. Freedom would be the fight that is continuously being done on my behalf to reconnect with those who love and care about me and my welfare. The hardest thing for me to do with collaboration with Robin with the project was absolutely nothing! We were like soulmates when it came down to her and I imagining what this project would look like. The most important thing I come away with from this project is a beautiful candid friendship with a young spirit. I thank my GOD in Heaven for all of you!
Describe the collaboration process that you and your partner developed. What was the hardest to convey to your collaborator? What was particularly important to you to make sure was included?
Our collaboration process was rushed so we only communicated by e-mail and once by phone. The most important thing to me was that Mechie feel like she was an equal collaborator as much as possible within the confines of our situation. I’ve seen other “social justice” art projects that claim to collaborative between an impacted person or community and an outside artist but are not true collaborations and ultimately elevate the power of the artist and not the community. It is really important to me that the final products of this collaboration represent Mechie and her ideas and elevates her power, and that I am more of a conduit for that vision to be materialized on paper. There were so many times I wished that I could videochat with her to show her what I was working on, a choice I was making in one of the pieces and wanted her feedback on. Because we didn’t have time for me to send her sketches, I’ve described everything about the pieces to her with words. This is difficult and often feels inadequate, but luckily Mechie is also an artist and can visualize it well. It also helps that we believe we’ve been communicating psychicly, which has been really powerful. Before contacting Mechie, I listened to and read several interviews with her as well as several e-mails she had sent with the previous collaborator. The image she described which resonated with me the most was,
“When you visualize freedom, what does it look like? Imagine the planets. Here’s Earth and here’s Mars. I’m on Mars in my prison garb, waiting to be transferred back to Earth after 44+ years served on Mars. I’m awaiting transportation back to a planet, a life that is so new to me, it’s like I’m a martian from Mars coming to Earth for the first time.”
In my first e-mail to Mechie I asked what she thought about a portrait of her on Mars. She wrote back, “Love your idea!!! I once painted a sphere of Muncy and Earth on the other side and me on Mars praying to the Heavens asking GOD to pleas give me a second chance.” I was really struck that out of all the things I could have suggested, I chose something that she had already made an image of herself. When I started working on the portrait, I didn’t have to work hard, it just sort of came to me. When I wrote Mechie to describe it, she wrote back, “You know how some people can read minds but not on purpose? Well it’s like that’s what you’re doing to me!!! I don’t have to think of anything different than what you’re doing already because you are already doing what I would have thought to do!!!! How do you do that??!?!??? “I told her, “I’m a witch.” Lol. This has continued throughout our process and it’s definitely the most moving aspect part of the project for me.
What did you learn from this process? What were you surprised by?
On a practical level I learned how frustrating it is communicating with someone who’s incarcerated. I’ve sent letters with people before but I’ve never tried to collaborate with someone to create something. And I had never used ConnectNetwork before. Early on in corresponding with Mechie I experienced a glitch with it and ended up not seeing an e-mail she had written me for a week after I’d received it. After that I started being more proactive about checking it and trying to understand its interface better.
In retrospect this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was surprised by how emotionally intense working on these pieces has been. On the day I was painting the planets I got into a flow and was enjoying mixing colors and mediums and feeling really pleased with how they were turning out. I was studying a map of the solar system to place the cut-out planets in the sky correctly and started thinking about how big outer space is and how far the planets are from each other, how different they are and how none of them could support human life right now. And then I burst into tears thinking about how absolutely fucked up it is that the prison system has robbed Mechie of her humanity for so long that she feels like she is living on another planet. When in reality I could get into a car and drive six hours and be at the prison she lives in. I’m not an approved visitor so it’s inaccurate to say I could drive six hours and see her, but hypothetically in the future I could. I found myself asking how our society has devolved to a place where someone who lives six hours from me feels as though she lives on another planet? The prison system is so cruel and while I am really enjoying collaborating with Mechie, the subject matter we are dealing with -the fact that she is sentenced to die in prison- is heavy and I feel that when I’m working on it.
Are there any excerpts from your correspondence together that you found particularly powerful that you’d be willing to share with us?
There is actually so much I could share but I’ll stick with what I already pasted in above. I’ve been moved by how open and vulnerable Mechie is with me. We’ve corresponded about a lot more than the project.