I use the means by which I earn my living as research to inform my artwork. First I take a job in a particular area of interest and then through performances and interventions I construct pieces that expose the imbedded metaphors inherent to their structure. Through this work I engage the public in a dialogue centered on the themes of service, liberation, perceptions, and the derivations of power. Having completed bodies of work dealing with cabinet making and the service industry, I took a job as a locksmith in 2003. The art project that came out of this research took the form of a school called The Locksmithing Institute. From 2005-2008 The Locksmithing Institute traveled to different public places all over the United States (and once to Uruguay) teaching anyone interested something specifically or very loosely related to locksmithing such as,“How to Pick a Lock,” “How to Find Your Lost Keys,” or “How to Lose Your Keys.” Each of the classes was accompanied by a lesson plan that explicated the physical action as well as the conceptual intention of each class. In 2008 the series culminated at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco with a “final exam” and “graduation.” Each class began with a lecture outlining the previous lessons of The Institute. This lecture introduced new students to the vocabulary and definitions utilized by The Institute and brought them up to speed with the lessons that have already been taught. Following the lecture, students were escorted by the instructor through a series of public situations, mechanical manipulations, and physical movements that allowed the students to experience very private moments in very public ways. During the classes the power dynamics between students, peers, and teachers was usually placed into a state of flux, allowing the flow of power to be exchanged in fluid fashion between all participates; i.e. sometimes the teacher was “in-charge” and at other times the students was “in-charge”. All classes were free and open to the public. Students of all capabilities were encouraged to participate regardless of prior experience or physical limitations. The video above outlines lessons #1-11. Below outlines some of the main ideas presented in the lessons:
In 2002, when I began working as a locksmith I began also to practice yoga. I did this to compare the similarities between how culturally we guard and lock our spaces against how we physically lock and guard our bodies. What follows is the culmination of the first 9 lessons. I freely admit that although I took on the guise of a teacher for these performance pieces, I was in fact the student. This lesson plan has been inspired by the interactions that I have had with hundreds of people on a day-to-day basis as a locksmith and from my basic understanding of yogic thought.
This is what I have come to understand:
Often a lock is viewed as a device that deflects energy. It is presumed that a lock pushes away the attempt of a person who is trying to break or pick it. However a lock does not in fact inhibit the path of a forced entry. In actuality it takes that energy, absorbs it, spreads it out, and thusly, renders it impotent. Indeed locks are passive vessels for the absorption of energy. Locks are a creation of people. People are of course clever but hardly original. We have survived by observing that which surrounds us and adapting those disparate materials and ideas together to serve a new purpose. The question then becomes: What was it that people observed when they were first inspired to create a lock? I submit that it was themselves. This observation implies that a people are bound entities and that their relationship to that which surrounds them is locked as well. This implies the universe is in a bound or locked state. This is not the case. The universe is one open, fluid, mechanical, natural, and spiritual entity and as a part of this universe the same must be said of humans. Viewing ourselves and all that surrounds us as locked, bound, or hidden is quite possibly the root of all suffering.
To understand this point better consider for a moment the opposite of what being in a bound or locked state implies by considering what it means to be free. If I ask myself, “What does it mean to be free?” the implication is that I am confused about freedom. I then attempt to use language to discuss this notion as a polarity. I am free. I am not free. I can ask myself what sensations arise in considering both. Further, by using language I can dissect my relationship to the idea of being free, however, this is not a productive way to understand this idea as it will inevitably lead to greater and more profound confusion and or suffering.
Image that we find a remote island in the Pacific Ocean that has been isolated from the world. We attempt to communicate with the inhabitants of the island and as time goes on we notice that there are some major differences between our two languages, most notably that they have no word for freedom. If one lives in a society where there is an open and fluid sense of movement between all things a notion of “being free” would make no sense. It would be just something that “is”. It could be said that the notion of being free is something that has been created to exert control over people. It is the manipulated quantification of an unalienable right. As a king I say to a peasant, “You better be good or I will put you and jail and then you won’t be free.” We associate being free with the ability to move about our world and experience it with our senses. In my opinion this is not freedom. In fact this is the jail.
What I have found in the four years that I have been locksmithing is that locks do not confine us to certain sections of space and deny our access to others. It would seem that only our perception is capable of achieving this incredible feat of shackling. I suppose the point is (and I am certainly not the first to discover this) that we are only captive if we choose to perceive ourselves as captive. Considering these things, one might ask how it is possible to navigate the world in a different way. To answer this question let us take a moment to examine keys.
It is first necessary to broaden the definition of keys. All of the people, places, and things in our life are keys. Each allows us to enter or exit certain physical and cognitive spaces. When viewed this way, the universe becomes one immense haunted space and all things within it act as triggers to alter our consciousness. This haunted condition allows us to bounce between many different times, places, and emotions without even realizing it.
The word haunted itself doesn’t mean anything. It is instead a sensation that arises due to the perpetual state of occupation that exists everywhere. Our physical keys mirror this paradigm. As they rattle in our pocket our state of occupation becomes amplified. They are not all they seem to be. Keys are supposed to unlock our feelings of safety and security, but on the contrary, they are our shackle to certain things, ideas, or people. We are supposed to be free people, but we are not. Our keys maintain our detention by making us feel that we are safe and that we can move about our world with freedom. We leave our home and lock the door only to unlock the door to our car and then lock ourselves in. We travel to our job, unlock the door and place ourselves in another cell. We feel safe in these prisons. When we misbehave most will find some overt or covert way to punish themselves. In our present haunted and occupied condition we are our own jailor and we have been fooled into thinking that our keys (be they physical or mental) are the proof of our supposed freedom. There is no need for a prison for the majority of the people as our pockets insure that we will remain passive. We simply need to be periodically reminded that we are in danger so that we keep our cells locked tight.
Due to this situation, when a person loses their keys they often work themselves into a panicked state. This sense of crisis amplifies when the particular lost key happens to unlock someplace that is associated with the person’s sense of security such as their home or car. This panicked state implies that one’s sense of safety and security exists outside of themselves. It would seem that when the keys are lost it forces people to face themselves as they are. Our perception of the world is very delicate. The keys maintain the balance for us. The irony is when the keys are safely on their ring they make it possible for us to be lost to ourselves. When they are lost (in spite of the panic that one may feel) we are forced to provide our own feelings of safety and security. Because of this our keys have been metaphorically transformed into the sensations that we associate with all of the forced connections we have with people, places, and ideas that we externally associate with our notions of ourselves. Meaning simply that on a moment-to-moment basis I am my sensations as I have no clear conception of myself separate from my desires, regrets, or fantasies.
A clear way to understand this point is through yogic philosophy. The universe is like a mirror. As our senses interact with it the universe reflects back to us a glimpse of our “self.” The problem is, as we gather information our desires, feelings, attachments, or keys refract those sensations because we have transformed the universe into this haunted state. Like a funhouse mirror the reflection is tainted and therefore does not accurately show us what we are. At its core, life is simply the opportunity to have sensations. These sensations, though a product of life (and an incredible gift) do not represent the totality of what we are. The inability to separate our sensations (keys) from the way in which we interpret the information that we receive through our senses has been merciless to countless beings since the dawn of consciousness.
In light of all these things, it seems possible that our keys, be they mental or physical, do not exist at all. And this lack of existence is what enables them to embody such an incredible, otherworldly power. Our keys have taken on a paranormal identity just as our world has been transformed into a haunted state. Simply, if the world is the haunted house then our keys are the ghosts. We each live with this constant paranormal presence. A ghost is not something that leaves one space and pops into view in another. Nor is it something that exists in between two realms. Ghosts are not sheets, nor ideas, nor traces, nor any manner of philosophical quandary or folk tale. Further, the misconception that a ghost is something we notice when it appears before us not accurate. In actuality their presence is only noticed when they disappear. And only upon their vanishing do we appreciate that they were there. Only when they are gone do we panic. And, only when they are gone does one truly fear that which they have created for themselves and the ghost they permit to reside in their pocket.
For some time I thought that a great locksmith would be able to find the place that keys go when they are missing. I have realized this is impossible because, as discussed, they do not exist. I then thought that in order to gain freedom we must lose our keys of our own free will. However, forcing this liberation to occur is not necessary either. Despite the fact that we are desperately connected to our keys, we loose them anyway. It would seem that there exists somewhere in each person the knowledge of how to set ourselves free. When we accidentally lose our keys we move towards this liberated state without any effort at all. This natural, uninhibited movement towards freedom is the final proof that our natural state is not confined, suffering, nor bound. The only work that must be done is to extinguish fear so when the day comes that the keys disappear there is no panic. From there, we need only experience existence without them acting as our filter. And this ghostless, filterless, keyless state is freedom. Unfortunately, when this freedom is found there is no revel or bliss that will occur. This state is the baseline; it is our natural, balanced condition. There are no words that I can use from this point forward to describe what this existence might be like. In my opinion, this is where language ends.