Colleen Marie Foley



Colleen Marie is an interdisciplinary artist and video editor. She received her BFA in painting from BU and her MFA in Electronic Integrated Arts from Alfred University. Her work has been exhibited and performed in Boston, Buffalo, New York, Miami, Chicago, and internationally in Italy, Iceland, and France. She is also a member of Thorn Collaborative, an ongoing creative partnership with artist Erin Ethridge. 



Notes on The Shape of Water

I choose not to call myself a particular kind of artist. My title is not Video Artist, Performance Artist, Musician, or Writer. I have tried to characterize myself in that way before (as a painter) and it was a mistake. Moment to moment, project to project, I am some combination of names or none of them at all. I am a collection of fragments which are constantly rearranged and altered. I welcome this change, striving to embody the kind of fluidity I contemplate within my work.

If I look at a fluid—for example a body of water, I cannot say what shape the water itself is because it is constantly in flux. I have to zoom out and examine the bigger picture—the vessel the water is in, the temperature of the room, the observer disturbing the surface with her breath. At this point the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the water has no shape or that it takes on the shape of its environment, which itself is changing. So how can I talk about the shape of water? With analogies, poetry, metaphors, intuition, and in relation to other liquids or its container.

There is a problem that arises from this inability to name myself— a trouble in the nature of fluidity. Inherent in this state is the risk of instability, of never developing a fixed routine which I can examine closely and refine with precision. There is no “shape” to my practice. We name things for a reason. We categorize, attempt to freeze or harden, so that we can point to them, study them deeply, and try to understand, describe and communicate about them. Often the result of this process is quite the opposite of our aim.

If I freeze the water, or take a photograph of it, then I can measure and specifically determine its angles and vertices. I can give this collection of measurements a name “FQZQ” and happily declare, “the water is FQZQ shaped!” But in the morning, after a contented, dreamless sleep, perhaps I awake to find that there has been a power outage. The freezer is warm and the water is no longer FQZQ shaped. The likelihood of ever seeing it in the shape of FQZQ again is slim to none.

This is a concern that I struggle with often. If I refuse to name myself or declare who I am to the world, how will I speak of myself and my ideas with conviction and honesty? How can I avoid lying, or at the very least speaking about something from the past as if it were in the present? Perhaps the key is to allow this freezing and hardening occur, and then to deliquesce. To examine, name, and identify, and then watch these shapes and meanings degrade, morph, and disappear in a constant cycle. To lie, and then to come clean. To find myself in order to lose my self again.

What I gain from the process of hardening is an archive of how water can be shaped. Its potential forms, although unfixed and largely unrepeatable, speak about the nature of water and its environment at the time of its hardening. The archive tells me a story of the water, its histories and its relationship to its context and observers. The archive presents me with possibilities.

I am learning to maintain a purposeful oscillation between the poles of naming, justifying, and analyzing, and intuitive maneuvering without rigidity or strict control. In order to live I have to change, rot, fade, and fail. My self is a fluid and shifting constellation of fragments. The work on this site is an archive of potential arrangements of my self in its coagulated state. This archive is important, as is the named and hardened self. But perhaps more interesting is the mystery and mutability of what lies between— the fluid that cannot be measured or grasped.