The Most Important Part of Your Equipment is Yourself

By Jax Deluca

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Portrait of woman

Photo by Kevin Kline

In honor of Women’s History Month, this post is dedicated to Pamela Hawkins and Maya Deren (1917-1961), two women who inspired me to follow a life in the arts.

In my early teenage years, my favorite moments took place when I had the entire house to myself. Not for the sake of doing anything mischievous, but for the opportunity to drag my Tascam 4-track recorder, karaoke machine, microphone, and keyboard into the bathroom, a spot with decidedly superior acoustics in comparison to other spaces in my house. I loved experimenting with sounds and spent a lot of time in solitude discovering new ways to capture and process these sounds using my rudimentary collection of electronics.

It wasn’t until my second year of college that I learned there was a name for my favorite activity: Sonic Arts. After sharing a recording (featuring voice manipulations using cafeteria cups) with an art school friend, I was introduced to Pam Hawkins, a visiting professor at the School of Art & Design at Alfred University. I remember her graciously allowing me to sit in on her class, even though I wasn’t an art student at the time. My first experience with the class was outlandish and liberating; class began by lying flat on our backs, eyes closed, on a darkened auditorium stage. Our instructions were to “howl” at an imaginary moon and imagine the sound traveling back into our mouths. This was a sounding and listening exercise that lasted for a good portion of the class. It was cathartic and incredibly validating to practice sound with like-minded individuals, which was harder to do in the “olden days” before the advent of online communities like Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud.

Her teaching style was unorthodox and unusual, much like the artists and ideas she presented in class. I was hooked. The following year, I enrolled into her introductory video class, which granted access to a wide array of video production tools, some complex and intimidating (video synthesizers that resembled a giant spaceship console) and some quite basic (dual VHS deck and mixing console). Pam challenged us to explore these finicky machines and understand them as an extension of ourselves. Her teaching philosophy was to experiment freely and learn by doing, reminding us that our approach to using these tools was the most important part. Patience was key, the rest would always unfold naturally. This approach to discovery was a message she would continually reinforce throughout the year.

Each summer, Pam facilitated a two-week student residency at the Experimental Television Center (ETC) for emerging media artists, a place that many famous video artists (such as Nam June Paik and Gary Hill) would spend time, living and breathing next to racks of video synthesizers and other processing tools. I had the pleasure of participating in one of these residencies and vividly remember Pam repeatedly stating her love for the ETC, because it was a place where she could “re-remember” the things she used to know.

Later in life, I have come to understand what she meant more deeply. Too often, as we move through our busy days, we forget to contemplate our approach. I think the ETC conjured a sense of freedom while fully embodying an approach of novel innovation and curiosity, something that can be easily incorporated into our everyday ways of being. With this as a foundation, the possibilities are limitless. In essence, Pam’s “way of being” harmonizes with a quote from my favorite female avant-garde filmmaker, Maya Deren:

“The most important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind, and your freedom to use both. Make sure you do use them.” (read the full article here)

Thank you, Pam, for sharing your wisdom, teaching us about the art of life, and encouraging us how to “howl to the moon.” You have been a fearless mentor to many and without you, I probably wouldn’t have switched over into art school.