Managing Time

For 16 years, how I’ve been managing time as an artist, has been structured. My solo-biennial exhibits in Maine’s mills take place during even-numbered years, each requiring 22 months of work, each 22-month cycle divided into by-year, -season, -month, -week, -day, -hour tasks.

to-do list
“Conceptualize installations,” and “Choose final concepts” crossed off MEMORY’s to-do list

I work as efficiently as I can, whether: conceiving/doing pre-production toward my installations, drawing, budgeting, researching, applying for grants, fundraising, proposing/communicating with curators, administrating/mounting other exhibits, writing and giving talks, writing my books, answering e-mails, recruiting/managing/instructing assistants and interns, trying to get materials donated, finding/acquiring/cleaning mills, determining biennial layouts, transporting/moving in/out materials, installing/de-installing, instructing audience, writing grant reports, doing taxes, making room for next materials, organizing my documentation, updating my website, uploading videos

Meanwhile, I do housework, grocery shop, exercise, visit, teach, walk my dogs, hangout with my husband, and rest. 

chart showing how Curtis perceived biennials getting more challenging over time

As I determined my 9 biennials’ themes, I placed them in a chronological order of difficulty. At the start of my long-term project, the themes would be easier for me to explore and resolve. Those at the end would be most cerebral and challenging. In a way, this has been an overall management of my time. Progressing through the themes as I matured (experience through memory), I would be more and more able, more and more practiced in dealing with the extreme labor and administration of each exhibit.  

The timing of my biennial drawing exhibits, each supporting its respective installation exhibit, has also been management of my time. Each drawing exhibit (at June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Portland, Maine) occurs ~1 year before my biennial so I can put profit toward materials, pre-production, and pre-carpentry needed for the upcoming installations. Any additional drawings to support my biennial’s theme must be complete before I start installing, so I can focus during the most rigorous months of my 22-month process (installation/exhibit/de-installation). I also complete the drawings before install to have a 2-month, catch-up-with-people-I-like-stay-in-bed-to-watch-as-many-movies-as-i-want rest after this 3-to-5-month rigor.

drawing in progress
First drawing from 99 Memories in progress.

Some other ways I manage time: 

All 9 installations at each biennial have a pre-production plan in the studio, then an install plan in the mill. When necessary, I draw a quota chart per installation to keep track of how much to get done each day or week, and complete its pre-production before move-in-to-the-mill day. Some installations require a few months of studio work, while some require all 13-months of pre-production time. There are sometimes 1-2 installations, for which I do no pre-production, because I can’t do anything for them (other than determine/order materials) until I move into the mill.

For the typically 9 weeks I am installing, I work every day including Sundays for at least 10 hours. Each of the 9 installations has a pre-planned choreography, my attempt to do this work using the fewest steps and smallest range of motion. This minimizes time and hopefully keeps my body healthy. As I sweep, scrub, measure, mark, build, paint, place, I find ways to minimize even more.

quota chart
detail of quota chart for modulation I at LIGHT (2008)

Art assistance is crucial, as far as keeping each biennial within a 22-month time frame. For each of my first 3 biennials I had ~30 assistants. From the 4th on, I have had 60-100 volunteers (students, artists, patrons, friends, family, and strangers). Even if someone can only help for 1 hour, it is huge, like having 2 of me at any one time. It is simply, physically impossible to do all within the time I have given myself

Each odd-year February 1, is a no-matter-what start date for my 22-month biennial cycle, each opening date for its exhibit a deadline. I gave myself this structure to keep myself on schedule per exhibit, to finish this 9-exhibit project in 18 years. Otherwise, who knows how long this would take?

art assistant
Duncan Slade Sr. art assisting toward my first solo biennial EXPERIENCE in Lewiston (2000).

Little things that have BIG time-saving and balance-making effects:

  1. I have learned 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. As much as I can, I rest my body on Sundays.
  5. I take breaks, exercise, eat, stretch.
  6. I don’t do unnecessary things: I don’t fold underwear or iron clothes.
  7. I leave my studio once a week to visit, do errands, and get away from my work.
  8. I only spend time with people I like. 
  9. Whatever I am doing I try to focus only on that thing.

I know I am doing everything I can, to have the time needed to make the work I want to make. What is meant to be done in the time I have, will be. 

When my biennials are complete, this particular structure will no longer be necessary. While I will use a lot of the same techniques (to write grants, communicate ideas for museum exhibits, work toward new installations–all as efficiently as possible), I am looking forward to working without a plan, to experiment, to see where things lead. I wonder if after 18 years, I can even work in this way. And, I wonder if my studio will get messy.  

What do you do to manage time as an artist? Or, do you prefer to not manage time? Additionally, is each of your projects pre-determined or planned? Or do you experiment? See where things take you? Play?