Tuesday, December 20, 2016


“Obviously, the problem of the shadow plays a great role in all political conflicts. If the man who had this dream had not been sensible about his shadow problem, he could easily have identified the desperate Frenchman with the 'dangerous Communists' of outer life, or the official plus the prosperous man with the  'grasping capitalists.' In this way he would have avoided seeing that he had within him such warring elements. If people observe their own unconscious tendencies in other people, this is called a 'projection.' Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals. Projections of all kinds obscure our view of our fellow men, spoiling its objectivity, and thus spoiling all possibility of genuine human relationships.” 
― C.G. JungMan and His Symbols


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Brooklyn Rail print essay: Embracing the Unseen (commission from David Levi Strauss, who asked 15 alumni from his MFA program to write on criticism)

Embracing the Unseen

I came to the art world because many people here are invested, as I am, in innovative political discourse. As I ventured further in, I found artists, writers, and thinkers who cared deeply about issues of social justice, and who were able to broaden and reframe the ideologies affiliated with these subjects by passing them through the lenses of art and aesthetics. The art world is, equally, a realm where believing goes beyond seeing: pure, untamed thought is rendered on blank pages and empty gallery walls. That is what makes it brave and exciting. Unfortunately, I have also found that the most potentially world-changing ideas born here tend to grow up and die here, without ever venturing outside the art world’s provincial little thought bubble.

I am someone who used her education to transcend the world she was born into. My parents were working class, and before and after I left my town as a teenager, I experienced many of the attendant difficulties of that life. Possessing this identity, I often feel like I inhabit two disparate worlds at one time. I am seen, predominantly, as the well-educated woman I have constructed myself to be, who has been afforded many opportunities to write, teach, and travel. And I am unseen, as a Massachusetts mill town girl who feels like her core identity is overlooked in favor of a more straightforward visual representation.

Our recent U.S. election describes a country unknown even to itself, blindly searching for a way out of a system that has infected its members with an unnamed suffering. I know exactly what this suffering tastes like. While I condemn their hatred-embracing choice, I can feel in my blood and bones why so many people voted as they did. They feel invisible, and are filled with a poisonous, misdirected rage. I also know, firsthand, that the more politically-oriented side of the art world has not, as of late, deigned to fully adjust its own clannish tendencies and obscurant homily in favor of constructing a broader public discourse. This dooms the conceptual thinking that transpires within it to be useless, if not altogether hostile, to a wider public.

This needs to change—before our new leadership threatens to change us—and will not do so if the art world continues to value thinking purely for the thought of it. Art writers need to move away from producing “insider baseball” prose, and begin to formulate and distill the political ideas brewed in our galleries, museums, classrooms, and art spaces to service a politicized readership beyond the (by now notional) creative class. And more artists, in a model brought forth by Theaster Gates, Suzanne Lacy, and others, need to use their political acumen to create an actionable community realpolitik (and perhaps—now that the floodgates are opened—even real politicians). If we want this world to mirror our most thoughtful, meaningful, and humanistic social objectives, it is time for us to stop looking only to, and at, ourselves.

AIMEE WALLESTON is a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including W, Interview, Jane and The Last Magazine. She has contributed essays and reviews to Art in America, T Magazine, Flash Art and The Brooklyn Rail, among many other publications. She currently writes cultural criticism for CR Fashion Book and teaches at the International Center of Photography. She received her MFA in Art Criticism and Writing from SVA in 2009.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


by Aimee Walleston 

I am usually not driven to write things on my own. I like commissions, and I like being paid for my writing. But I have thought about how much the internet as a global consciousness has changed the face of social interaction (not to mention political interaction), and I feel like it’s time to start a new conversation.

I used to take a lot of pictures of myself when I was young, a few beats before the epoch of the selfie. I was possessed of extremely low self-esteem, and I thought, by constantly monitoring my appearance, I would somehow keep myself one step ahead of hating myself. It didn’t work, but I gave it my all.

Eventually, I began to care about what was going on beneath the surface, and I spent a lot of time reaching into myself through gestalt therapy and spirituality. My personality refined itself, and I stopped looking for outward approval—from myself and from others. I let myself be how I was, and I began to see myself as an internal process rather than an external performance. That made me very happy. I was no longer just another image to endlessly critique. I was a human. And I didn’t even have to be an “identity”—I could just be myself. An evolution.

Now, however, I have another identity to worry about, if I so choose. Not one I have selected or even encountered—nothing “real”—but one that has been projected upon me by “the internet.” In this identity, I am, among many other things, a writer, a loser, a teacher, an orphan, and a bridesmaid—one trumping the other, depending on the day.

I have had no choice ad no agency in this identity. Being a writer, in 2009 I decided to archive my work digitally on this blogspot account. That was and continues to be my foray into “social media.” If it could even be called that. After creating this archive, technologies changed—and changed and changed and changed. I soon saw people professionalizing their smallest accomplishments online. But I never felt like I wanted to promote or express myself in this manner. I’m a deep person. I take my intellect—and my personal and professional relationships—seriously. So I stuck with this arcane blog modality, because I thought if I just chose not to participate, I would be promoting what I choose to value: genuine human connection. But I am an outlier, more so by the day.

What we have constructed with our little baby internet is a place darker and more psychologically complex than the Jungian shadow or the Freudian id. It is a place driven and riven by black hearted impulses umbrella’d under the safety of inhuman connection. As a consciousness, the internet reads the energetic temperature of our world—which in this moment is frightening—and responds accordingly, with endless crusades against whomever one is hating on that particular day. It has no ethics, no morals, and no accountability. No reflection, no remorse, and no capacity for emotional evolution. And it is controlled and deftly wielded by people who mirror this spiritual stagnancy. They are criminals, yet they don’t have the guts to commit actual in-the-flesh crime. Instead, they empty their bullets onto their screens.

This is not the consciousness I choose to live in, and these are not the voices I choose to listen to. I don’t believe in hating someone I don’t know. I don’t believe in hating someone I do know. I don’t believe I know best how someone should live or behave. I don’t believe that “everyone should have a voice” if that voice spews derision, venom and hate. I don’t believe in online revenge. I don’t believe in unhealed souls unloading their unconscious projections onto others online, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to deal with them “IRL”—cowardice by any other name. I don’t believe in remunerating or in any way rewarding those who promote hate.

I don’t believe that the world is unequivocally better with the internet. I don’t believe that this statement will ever be true until the world understands how to make the internet better. And then acts on this understanding.

I have one solution, and I would beg for others to follow suit. Stop engaging in hate dialogues, in all forms. Even if it’s hate against someone who outwardly appears to deserve it. Even if it’s low-key hate, wrapped in “criticism.” Stop reading hate, stop responding to hate, stop endlessly discussing hate. When hate starts talking to you in real life, walk away from it. Look inward and find your own truths—don’t respond to hate out of envy or fear or weakness or the need to belong. There are better, smarter and more productive ways to ignite change. One big one would be to consume and produce intelligent, thoughtful and factually accurate content that leans toward a humanistic agenda, rather than away from it.

And, FYI, any cursory reading of almost all Buddhist and most psychoanalytic texts will tell you exactly where the hate you’re rolling around in is really stemming from. (Hint: it’s self-hatred.)

I will continue to post my writing work on my little blogspot account, and I will continue to avoid almost all other aspects of the social internet (which now, unfortunately, means many news outlets) until they become a safe space for all. This is not wimp or wallflower mentality. This is a fight to uphold the civic ideals of truth, compassion and justice—the things that make a real life worth living.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Favorite little story about my mother, written long ago by my cousin

I'd like to start by telling you how much I admired your mother and how sad I am about her death. I was a really awkward teenager and she was always willing to listen to what I had to say and was very encouraging and inclusive. When I was in junior high school, my family was pretty poor and did not buy clothes for me or my sibs. I was painfully shy and dressed in an odd assortment of old clothes, so during one visit Susan went through her closet and gave me several pairs of her pants which I wore until they fell apart. Those pants gave me tremendous self esteem. It was such a kind act and I am so, so sorry that she died so young.

Very old poem I wrote for Frank Brunner (published in Abaton)



To understand a painter is to feel, at times, that they are more paint than person. The redolence clings, as does the slipperiness, and everything touched is left with painted fingertips—evidence of an indivisible character. The smell, sight and feel of paint commingle to become the one thought of oil and pigment. Honey, that sacred humectant form, exists always, even entombed, as its sugary self. Never drying completely, only crystallizing into more of what is. Though these substances address different senses, their ineffability results in synesthesia—honey is flowing everywhere, over eyelids, the scent of flowers and metamorphoses. Let them eat paint, the only cheap thing rich enough to mutate dumb surfaces into areas of pure thought. Alone it is just stuff, forever waiting to be given life.

Drenched in paint, dripping in honey—these are the messes we make, the substances of sensuous lives that, in the theatre of reality, can only play themselves.