IN or OUT:  Location As A State of Mind

A Series of Encaustic Paintings

From the Greek word "Enkaustikos" which means "to burn in", the ancient art of encaustic painting is one in which the artist combines beeswax, damar resin, and pigment and then applies this molten mixture in a series of layers onto a prepared surface.  Each additional layer is "fused" to the previous layer with a torch or heat gun.  This creates a luminous appearance as a result of the wax capturing and reflecting light in much the same way that traditional glazing techniques do for oil painting.    

IN OR OUT: Location As a State of Mind

“In or out, make up your mind!”  How many of us as children heard that frustrated demand from our parents as we tramped between the indoors and outdoors, slamming doors as we entered or exited, or better yet leaving the door wide open as if there were no barrier between in and out.  How often we wandered across neighborhood lawns, taking shortcuts to wherever we were going, oblivious to social and even physical boundaries such as fences and gates.  We knew where we wanted to be and it was only a matter of identifying the easiest route.  There were no barriers between here and there, no notions of containment, no feelings of being an insider or an outsider.  Only later did those psychic feelings surface, either as we were taught or as we experienced our place in the world.  Only later did the idea of a threshold cause us to question our right to cross it.

 Humans have a need to order their world, to create groups and hierarchies, to define and divide space with boundaries.  It helps us make sense of an otherwise disordered and chaotic existence.  However, “knowing our place” has a downside.  Relocating a sense of ourselves, crossing barriers (real or imagined), moving between and among social, physical and psychic divisions can become so daunting as to paralyze us into remaining rooted to the space in which we are most comfortable, perhaps the space we were born into, and to which we remain unchallenged and perhaps unfulfilled.  To go “outside” of our space (our comfort zone) invites risk, rejection, failure, shame.  Conversely, one may remain a mere spectator to a life “inside”, one in which they feel is off-limits to them as an outsider.  In both cases, the mind is made up without our realizing it, and is only too eager to keep us in our comfort zone by constructing psychic barriers between “in” and “out” that inhibit us from taking risks.It’s been said that “everything we want is on the other side of fear.”  And fear is just one of the many invisible barriers that cause us to feel locked in or locked out, that prohibit us from trying to get from one space to another, from challenging ourselves to learn and grow, to change, to accomplish, to experience and gain access to the world by moving freely among the many divisions. 

Psychic states of mind such as safety, acceptance, well-being, comfort, relief, inclusion, freedom, as well as rejection, fear, anxiety, exclusion, shame, separation, loneliness and otherness are represented in both positive and negative phrases containing the words “in” or “out”.  Descriptive phrases such as trapped in/locked out, invited in/left out, in trouble/out of danger, in charge/out of control, in step/out of line, to name a few, all help us define our psychological location.  But our choice of these descriptive phrases is more often based upon our mind’s perception of our current location (that is to say, in or out) than on reality itself.  So in that sense, our subconscious mind is already made up without much conscious thought on our part.  To free ourselves from our mind’s perception of where we are, where we belong and to free ourselves to move beyond our self-imposed borders is to truly and consciously “make up our mind”.

 Some of the images in this series suggest a physical location and some are more abstract in nature.  But they are all designed to suggest that a choice can be made as to whether one is “in” or “out”, whether barriers (real or imagined) can be traversed, and whether that is a positive or negative aspect of psychic freedom of movement.  Undoubtedly, you will find that your interpretation will be influenced by your own history and current state of mind.  Psychic boundaries can be stronger, more powerful and more hindering than any physical borders.  But the choice is yours.  In or out…make up your mind.

 Shelley N. Stevens