Cal State Long Beach graduate student examines the art of procrastination

One of Cal State Long Beach graduate art student Jennie Cotterill's pieces in her MFA exhibit,
One of Cal State Long Beach graduate art student Jennie Cotterill's pieces in her MFA exhibit, "On Work Avoidance, A Comprehensive Exploration of First World Time Mismanagement."
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Call it, "procrastivity," or engaging in activities that amount to procrastination. After it gripped one Southland graduate student so tight that she ignored a looming deadline, she decided to turn that procrastination into art.

At a Cal State Long Beach art gallery, Jennie Cotterill has mounted her Master of Fine Art exhibit: On Work Avoidance, A Comprehensive Exploration of First World Time Mismanagement. The viewer puts on headphones connected to an iPod and walks through two black curtains. Chamber music and a narrator faking a British accent walk the viewer through the exhibit.

"It’s kind of like a fake roadside museum, on just work-avoidant behavior and all the hard work that we do to get around what we’re supposed to be doing," says Cotterill.

The exhibit has a carnival feel, but it’s firmly based on 28 year-old Cotterill’s real-life procrastination, such as the countless hours she puts into personal grooming. That inspired the first part of the exhibit: a magnifying mirror attached to the wall, framed grooming tools, and six acrylic paintings.

"This is sort of a collection of close-ups of disgusting parts of my own face because I know for me, the way that I like to waste time is over-grooming and finding a million stray eyebrow hairs, and like blackheads and things like that. Because the closer you look the more blemishes are there for you to find and it can suck up an entire day if you let it," she says.

Next to the mirror is a bookshelf full of titles she’d drop anything to pick up and read: Jane Eyre, a Georgia O’Keefe biography and books by rebel author Charles Bukowski.

"I think him writing about being an alcoholic and sort of a delinquent and a deadbeat is a lot like me making art about not making art," she says.

In the center of the bookshelf she’s placed a large pencil drawing that shows off her skill: it’s her curled up in bed, art apron on, reading a book with a beer beside her.

She came up with the idea for the exhibit long after she began her master's at Cal State Long Beach and soon after she hit bottom with what she calls her procrastivity.

"I started a band; I was putting artwork in small shows that were not related to this; I was volunteering for different on campus organizations; I was helping people move," she says.

Her faculty advisor took her out to the woodshed, figuratively of course, and told her to get to work.

Besides the paintings and installation, Cotterill’s created several very detailed and humorous framed dioramas that illustrate the stages of procrastination. Exhibit D is one of them, a three-dimensional warning against falling in love.

"It’s me kind of floating away in kind of an ecstasy of St. Teresa kind of pose, holding a Valentine and dropping my sketchbook, and these little birds are lifting me into the heavens, leaving the earthly realm of my studio, below," Cotterill says.

Replacement is another stage of procrastination. Cotterill’s created a 2-foot tall diorama showing her own clones, doing work in her art studio, creating mediocre art, while underground, down a rabbit hole, she’s relaxing on a couch drinking wine and listening to records.

For the evasion section she describes pseudocide, or faking your own death and relocating to avoid work. The diorama she’s created shows her as a mountain man with a beard, barefoot, sitting on a rocking chair on the porch of a backwoods cabin, holding a jug of moonshine. Her blue art apron is hanging on a clothesline out back.

The exhibit was therapeutic.

"I worked so hard on this that it’s all so ironic, the first thing I did was that drawing and then the second thing was the cloning and it was so fun to just kind of fantasize about not having to do work. Obviously I love making things otherwise I wouldn’t have done any of this," she says.

Examining her own procrastination has allowed Cotterill to focus. She still has one more thing to do before she earns her MFA ... and she laughs nervously when she mentions it.

She has to write a paper.