Lookback: Self-Destructive Book Club #4 – An Art of Failure

Life is an unexpected journey full of highs and lows. Failure is a hard pill to swallow, even though everyone knows it is inevitable. The act of dealing with it, picking yourself up when you fall, and moving forward is truly an art. It requires a clear understanding that the nature of things is temporary. Everything goes through phases, and unpleasant situations are a big part of a human experience.

On the 8th of December 2020, we read out loud, shared our beloved pieces of literature, articles, texts, and blog posts dedicated to “Failure”. It was the fourth edition of the Self-Destructive book, organised by Rae Parnell and Charlien Adriaenssens. The topic is especially relevant in these challenging times. Now it is more important than ever to try to be brave and open up about the way we feel, to talk about the things that bother us and keep us overthinking. We should do it for the sake of our own mental health, if anything. Charlien mentioned that this event is not only an inspiring discussion when you can look at the topic from different angles but also an opportunity to find new ways of implementing this knowledge in both personal and artistic practice.

The online environment can be challenging for events such as a book club, as it requires a connection with the other participants that is normally conducted through face-to-face communication. However, the atmosphere in our virtual ZOOM room provided enough comfort. Conversations were approached in an unbiased manner, which stimulated the openness of the participants, the desire to share, and not to be scared of showing vulnerability. Every text was discussed and felt on a personal level. We talked about everything from accepting failure and discussing coping mechanisms to the problems like unrealistic societal beauty standards, fear of ugliness, and the pressure that social media presence brings. Discussing a blog post of a person struggling with depression, we noted how important it is to express your feelings, even if it is just a post or a letter to yourself in a notebook. The article  “Learning into insecurity and ugliness”  by Da’Shaun Harrisson gave a good insight into insecurity. Self-doubt and ugliness are often perceived as a personal failure that is hard to deal with, even though it is usually a critique of a society that seeks to punish, harm, and abuse people, and make it seem like their differences are flaws. Later on, we noted that we expect too much of ourselves, sometimes as a response to external factors like comparing ourselves to others, comparing our lives to the exaggerated image of lives that people show online on platforms like Instagram. It can turn into a quite toxic cycle of self-sabotage. And the first step towards the change is accepting a failure, which can be achieved in different ways. For some people, it is laughing and using irony, not taking everything too seriously, and finding a funny side to a sad story. For some of those who like to be introspective, it is learning from the mistakes and perceiving failure as a lesson. There is always an opportunity to be creative and turn things around, even in the most unfavorable situations. Failed artworks can be reused, rejected job opportunities can result in finding an even better job. There are as many opportunities in this world as there are failures, but you won’t realize it until you take a risk and maybe get a couple of bruises. Sometimes changing your outlook is already half of the job to make yourself happier

We closed off with a shame round. Everyone involved told about their own failure and embarrassing moments. Small and big lies, failed classes, unacceptance of the body and appearance, child-parent issues. It was a little truthful moment which took weight off shoulders. We let ourselves breathe, to be a human being who has a right to make mistakes.

One of the texts brought by a participant especially emphasises this feeling, the fragment of a zine called “Disappear!” by Himanshu Shady:

“Me has the right to take calculated risks and to experiment with new strategies. Me has the right to change my tune, my strategy, my funny equations, and my own rules, the powerful message from the past that controls what me does today. Me has the right to ‘mess up’; to make mistakes, to ‘blow it’, to disappoint myself, and to fall short of the mark.”

And it pretty much sums everything up. Life is not only beautiful adventures, flawless model looks, success, and recognition. It is also many things we would rather not talk about. But even all of our failures combined should not make us feel less valuable and prevent us from relishing moments of fortune.

There are some future perspectives on the shame project to keep this conversation going:  

The idea for 2021 is to start a Rotterdam-based Shame project in collaboration with the artists who already run it in Zurich, Pakistan, and Russia. The project is an initiative of artists Trixa Arnold and Ilja Komarov, and it offers an opportunity to anonymously share experiences of shame. The result will be a collection of oral and written experiences of shameful memories, by using Shame-O-Mat. Shame-O-Mat is a booth that can be installed in public spaces, equipped with a recording device, writing implements, and a mailbox. There you can record memories of events, people, or things you are ashamed of. Later on, gathered stories will be combined into a theatre text, the large universal narrative about shame.

Agata Albu