Hang your mistakes on the wall

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Pictured above: The Hot Mess Wall at the Ruins Project

Forager mosaicist Rachel Sager has the last word. She invites us to hang our mistakes on the wall … just for a while … to learn from them.


Change is movement. Without movement there is no change. 

The very definition of andamento is the movement created by tesserae. Arguably, the most important word in our medium, andamento is all about moving forward.  With each piece, we make a move. We identify a possibility. We choose or cut a shape. We find it’s perfect resting place.  As we set each piece in stone we set the larger work in motion. Add up all these subtle movements and one mosaic may contain thousands of little changes. The viewer gets to translate these many changes with their eyes, which is why mosaic is such a beloved medium. 

I like to say that mosaic is the most powerful medium.  My reasoning for this bold statement has nothing to do with the ego. It asks you, the artist, to look more closely as you make each choice. 

Observe the power each tiny tessera of change. Feel the singularity of each cube-like shape. Really feel it under your fingers. See the way each piece, each choice, affects all the choices that follow, the way the placement of one tessera can change the direction of a line and hence the entire composition. 

Rachel Sager with William, created by Scottish artist Joy Parker

But the kind of motion I want to talk about here, in these last words, is the motion of mistakes. Enjoy your mistakes. Mistakes will teach you more than successes. Embrace the pain of a bad mosaic. Reject the urge to hide your mistakes in the back of the closet.  

Hang your mistakes on the wall for a while. Share with your friends why you see them as mistakes. The mosaicist has a unique relationship with mistakes. We can’t gloss over them with another layer of paint. Once set in stone, we are forced to mostly accept them. By hanging them for the world to see, you can say, “right there, that is where I changed”. 

With each dot on your mosaic timeline, you add some nuance of change to your understanding of the pieces of things, organized in a particular way.  

With mistakes come repetition. 

With repetition, you will acquire memory.  

And with memory, you will find mastery. 

You won’t make the mistakes by thinking about them. You must physically make the mistakes happen to learn their lessons. You must feel the regret of the misplaced tesserae. 

The key to not being destroyed by the mistakes is making many of them, but keeping them small. Small mistakes don’t hold the power to destroy confidence. And as you practice making many small mistakes, you build the mosaic memory to avoid large ones and resilience to help you weather them when they come.   

The Revelator at the Ruins Project

The Ruins Project has become my own personal exercise in mistake making. For the last seven years, I have made thousands of moves to build something new from the relic of an abandoned coal mine. By spreading out the changes to artists from all over the world, I have diversified the mistakes. By inviting the messiness of other people’s mistakes into this giant cement canvas, I have multiplied the risks but also the successes. The Ruins is not dependent on the success of one artist. It thrives on the small mistakes (and wins) of hundreds.  By having many spaghetti-at-the-wall conversations at once, and by accepting that they won’t all be masterpieces, I multiply the chances of some of them being extraordinary. And with each painful mistake and each thrill of success, I add to my Ruins memory.  

The Ruins of 2022 is not the Ruins of 2015. Change is its one true constant. The masterpieces and mistakes of years past remain on the walls – a concrete record of change and an unfurling map to point the way forward.  

By entering into the mistake-making adventure knowingly, and with intention, we are all hanging our mistakes on the walls of this giant experiment to change.