Among Friends: A Conversation

Lynn Susholtz & Bhavna Mehta | November 21, 2020 | Leave a Comment

Among Friends: A Conversation Photo by Helen Redman

 Bhavna Mehta and Lynn Susholtz by Helen Redman. Photo courtesy Helen Redman © 2020

Lynn Susholtz and Bhavna Mehta are visual artists in San Diego who occasionally collaborate to find new ways of telling stories via a range of media. Lynn is a sculptor who works in public art as Stone Paper Scissors and is the founder of Art Produce, Bhavna is a paper and embroidery artist who used to be a software engineer. Both find engaging in conversation that encompasses a wide variety of topics related and unrelated to art-making is a way to forge and deepen connection and community. 

Lynn: Time feels so strange right now. It feels flat.

Bhavna: At times it feels compressed and at times it stretches out of itself.

L: Time is lost. Is time falling instead of passing?

B: Are we wasting time? This time won’t come back. I don’t feel prepared for it. In the beginning of March when the lockdown began, it felt we were all in this together and we would all get through it. But almost 9 months later, I no longer feel that way. Now it feels that we are on our own.

L: How do we mark this time? How does art help us make sense of it?

B: Can we talk about Art Produce for a bit? You founded this beautiful community space + art gallery + non-profit in North Park 20 years ago and I wonder what your ideas were when you began.

L: Our thinking was to create a vital, socially engaging, active, interesting, neighborhood where art could connect, educate, and thrive. Many of the businesses were boarded up and we wanted to take down the boards. We felt that if people wanted to be there, it would become safer. We wanted to create a multi-generational space with arts and cultural activities and also co-exist with the commercial spaces. We believed that art should be free, it should be accessible. It should be available to anybody and everybody who shows up.

B: A very different model from museums and galleries. 

Photos courtesy Bhavna Mehta © 2020

L: It is always about who has access. But how do we sustain such places? 

B: This is a big anniversary year for Art Produce. What are your thoughts at this moment? 

L: Our first exhibit was after 9/11. We had acquired the building in the previous year and started renovating it. We invited the public to come in for 2 weeks. We provided materials, tools, frames. People needed a space to be together and collectively grieve. 

So that is still my question. What is going to be the artist’s role in the community? There is so much repair, so much healing, so much to unpack from this year. And it is not over. Politically there is so much work to do. Can we think about the artist’s role as helping to create a container to enable people to be together? 

B: What does that container look like? 

L: We have many questions while considering this container. What are the supplies and materials? What resources can we provide? How do we reach and repair our communities? What do we do as a nation? How do we talk to our neighbors again? It’s big stuff. We need new models for a public square. It is not on zoom. 

B: Yet, it is precisely in extreme times that artists can pivot their practice and take the opportunity to begin again. If you have the basic necessities, this time gives us a unique space to find openings. You and I are in a much better position than many folks struggling right now. And although projects and shows have been canceled or postponed, we still have a job. We have our health. If we imagine that personal art-making can eventually give us a way to springboard some of those lessons into community engagement, does that give us encouragement? 

Photos courtesy Lynn Susholtz © 2020

What does personal art time look like for you these days?

L: I am carving a pattern into a flat piece of stone. There is a comfort in working stone into a soft smooth shape. It brings back skills I have developed over many decades, the tools comfortable in my hands and the memories of carving rock alone on a hillside when I was much younger still very much with me. 

B: There is definitely something comforting about repetitive action while letting your mind wander. Embroidery gives me that. Of course there is the thinking about the composition but then I can settle into a rhythm. Before the lockdown I was embroidering on my old x-rays. 

L: It is the process, the repetitive action, the accretion of small marks or stitches or chips that connect me to self and to the essential nature of being human. You gave me some materials to start a small embroidery, persuading me to be seduced by the process of making small marks that record your hand. 

B: Yes! The process is deceptively simple. But consider the advantages. Embroidery can be quite portable. When we first start out, we are working small and there is minimal cleanup. The tools are simple, they are cheap. It is drawing with thread, the quality of the line lending itself to mark-making using color and texture.

Photos courtesy Lynn Susholtz © 2020

L: Why is it these 2 vastly different materials and processes are the most compelling activities for us right now? 

B: Maybe they are complementary in ways your brain finds interesting and similar in ways that the hand develops its own memory. 

L: I’m thinking a lot about self-care and the care of the Planet right now.  What has always brought me joy, healing and relief is being in the ocean. It is November now and still warm enough to swim without a wetsuit.  As much enjoyment and peace as it brings me, it also reminds me that the Planet is warming at an alarming rate. 

With this pandemic we’ve had the chance to slow down. The world has seen how quickly the air and waterways clear up when we abandon our cars, when we slow our industry, when we conserve our resources. 

B: I live very close to a small airport and during the first few months of the pandemic we saw a decrease in noise pollution because people were hunkered down. I have read that scientists are taking this unique opportunity to study how air pollution decreased over the COVID months. 

L: We have witnessed what happens if we continue to ignore reality and allow greed and selfishness and ignorance take us into environmental destruction. And we have witnessed what can happen when we collectively do something for the greater good- even for just a few weeks. The urgency of this moment has forced us into a corner, to face ourselves and who we are as a nation, as a Planet. 

B: And this destruction does not understand national boundaries. My father told me over the phone that the monsoon rains in our hometown in India haven’t stopped since they began in June. Monsoon in the middle of October is unheard of and dangerous to all kinds of winter crops. He said that the government has declared a “wet drought”. 

L: While we have no rain in Southern California. The Planet is screaming at us with fires and hurricanes and floods. It feels like we are on a precipice and choosing to continue walking along blindfolded.

B: There’s always been an urgency, and now there is an emergency. There is a clarification of how everything overlaps with everything else. 

L: This moment has given us a chance to reconsider and repair, a reboot, an opportunity to start over. We know what to do and we know how to do it. We know where we are. We are fortunate, we still have the choice.

Bhavna and Lynn
Art Produce
Bhavna Mehta

This article is part of the MAHB Arts Community‘s “Covid19 Diaries”. If you are an artist interested in sharing your thoughts and artwork, as it relates to the disrupted but defining period of time we live in, please contact Michele Guieu, Eco-Artist, MAHB Member, and MAHB Arts Community coordinator: Thank you. ~

The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.