by the (ennea)numbers: an interview with rebekah mei
In coordination with Level Ground, we’re profiling the artists who are presenting groundbreaking art at the Level Ground Festival in October.
Below, Rachel Virginia Hester interviews Rebekah Mei about her exhibit, nothing exists separate, which explores Rebekah’s interest in the personality growth tool, The Enneagram. The show features nine art and performance pieces across various mediums. At the live show, Rebekah plans to publish a catalog with finished images of each piece along with essays written about her experience embodying each archetype.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Hester: Could you talk about how you would describe yourself as an artist?
Rebekah Mei: Good question. As an artist, I have a difficult time when people ask me: What's your medium?” or, “What's your style?” because there’s so many things that I love to do. Since I’m an art teacher, I love learning new processes or new materials. In terms of painting or photography or sculpture... I like to do a lot of things, but I think when I want to make something it's really an idea or an event or experience that I want to create a work of art around. Then I will choose whatever medium makes the most sense for that idea. I think that is definitely coming through in the show because I’m using nine different mediums. But this show aside, I think that’s just generally how I make art work anyways: what’s the idea and what’s the best way to communicate that? I wouldn’t call myself a painter or a photographer or a sculptor, but I would call myself an artist because I love to do all of those things to create.
And I’ll go through different stages, too. If something is interesting to me, I’ll get into a lot of sewing or work with fabric or I’ll come back to photography and take a lot of pictures or I’ll go back to collage, so I will have a series of time where I focus on one medium and then I will move on to something else.
But having experience working with lots of different mediums is really helpful when you have an idea that you want to communicate something [specific], then coming up with whatever process that will best communicate that. It is very helpful to have a lot of different processes at your fingertips.
I’ve struggled as an artist feeling like I have to restrict myself to one medium, but you don’t do that. For instance, you made wood carvings for your Enneagram 8 piece. Did you choose each piece’s medium specifically for the Enneatype you were trying to depict?
Yeah exactly. I’m so glad you picked up on that [laughs]. I definitely tried to be very intentional about choosing a medium or a process that I felt fit the archetype. So your example for the 8: I needed the piece to be something that was more physically demanding for me.
Wood is a naturally occuring substance, and something to know about The Challenger, the 8 archetype, is that they are drawn to going against things around them.Those things could be a part of nature, those things could be relationships, but this act of pushing against things that are trying to control them was something that I wanted to reflect in the choice of medium that I choose for that piece.
You are an Enneagram 9. But as I read your essay on the Enneagram 4–which is my type–it felt like you could have truly been a 4. Were you an Enneagram 4 at one point, or were you just writing these essays from different points of view?
At the same time that I was making each piece, I decided to write, to try to live into and embody the archetype that I was creating the piece for. It was kind of like a performance piece in the sense that I was performing a different person for however long it took me to make that piece.
During that whole time, I was choosing everyday when I woke up, saying, “Okay, you’re a 4 today. What are the coping strategies of a 4? How would a four approach their day-to-day life?” and trying to make choices and interact with people as that archetype to the best that I could.
I did a lot of research in terms of reading books and talking to a lot of different people about what their experience was.... Through the essays, that was my practice of documenting any sort of things that I noticed during those times that I maybe would not have noticed just going about my day-to-day life, without thinking about what archetype I was or observing the patterns that take place. It was interesting to see, as a 4, I got a little more melodramatic when I allowed myself to spend more time alone thinking about painful things that have happened to me. I did a lot of journaling and I talked to my husband a lot.
That’s amazing. I get the sense that this project was very transformative because of how much you immersed yourself in it.
Yeah, it was very immersive [laughs]. But it was really good. Each of the different experiences I had were really, really, really wonderful experiences. I think because I have done a lot of reading on this I was really prepared for what the different experiences would be but actually making the choices each day definitely felt different from reading about them.
What was the toughest type for you to visualize?
I decided that I wanted to end with my own type with 9, and that was just the hardest for me and I’m still kind of in that space because it's the last piece. I just finished it a week ago and so I’m still... I wanted to be really intentional about doing the nine archetype the way I did all the other archetypes.
It was really hard for me because that's the one that I most connect to, so reading about all of these flaw patterns or ways of coping that the 9 has for being in the world felt so stressful for me because I was like, “Oh no, this is way harder than the other ones!”
What would you hope for someone who might not really know anything about the Enneagram, or someone who may have been exposed to it and wasn’t a fan?
My hope for what the average person walking into the show or picking up the catalog would get is the idea that we have various different archetypes of personality found throughout humanity. [I hope they will] be able to find the piece that they can connect to but also see in other pieces little parts of themselves. The whole thesis of this project is that I began by being all these different people, but as I progressed throughout the year, I realized more and more that all of the similarities–rather than all of the differences each of them have–there’s this idea that things are not separate; we’re one big whole.