TimeExperience (work in progress) is the title of a chronological serie of miniature sewn photos and photo-montages. In this actualized multiplated cycles I`m “sewing” my own biography through different phases of my work: self 1975-76, pregnant 1977-80, mother`s luck – with daughter and son 1977-1986, Grima – with child and animal 1986-89, double head – with daughter and son 1991-92, generativ – self with daughter, mother and grandmother 1994-99, KALI-daughter 2000-04, N.Y.FACES-surgical operations 2001-02, personal identity since 2003, transgenerativ-MotherFatherDaughterSon 2005-2008, verified self 2009-10, Orifices since 2011.
Rhyming The Lines: I Wrote a Short Story (out of a projected 16)
acrylic paint, collage and stitching on paper, 2003-2010.
In March 2002, I completed a sixteen-page short story, titled, Rhyming the Lines. I had used this title before, to name a piece of visual art, and I found myself attracted to it again. The phrase summarizes the way in which we try to link events together in an attempt to find unifying and meaningful patterns in our lives. We try to find the rhymes, the iterations and reiterations that form the poetry of our days.
The story, Rhyming the Lines, fascinated me, because it was farther from autobiographical truth, than anything I had written previously. Or was it? I knew that I had been fascinated and horrified by the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. His abduction had taken place in January 2002. In late February, confirmation of his death was reported. His murder had been videotaped, and the tape had been grisly, and specific. As I painted in my studio, I kept being drawn, magnetically, to the Internet, to search for information about his murder. Like me, he had been Jewish. He was thirty-eight and I was thirty-six. He looked nice, and was attractive to me. I began to consider writing a story in which a woman becomes obsessed with a murdered man. But a completely different story resulted.
Thus, I became interested in the unconscious influences underlying choices made when writing a short story and in all the disparate and remembered fragments that somehow came together in the genesis of the writing. For instance, in April 1993, Amy Biehl, a recent graduate of Stanford University, was murdered while on a Fulbright Fellowship to South Africa. The two men, who were convicted of murdering her by stoning and stabbing, stated that Amy’s blond hair had enraged them. The hair reminded them of racial injustice in their country. As I had with Daniel Pearl, I felt kinship with Amy Biehl. I too am white, and I also had a Fulbright Fellowship and went to a “good” school. Could my fascination with Amy’s murder in Africa have influenced my decision to have the fictional character of “Nora Allyson” murdered in Congo? Only now, as I write this explanation, do I realize that “Nora’s” degree comes from Stanford, just like Amy Biehl’s degree did.
And why the Congo? Reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible, was my initial contact with Congolese history. That novel so galvanized me, that I have been reading histories of that region for the better part of a year. Books like King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, helped me to imagine the kind of wild violence that my short story begins by describing.
Finally, the incestuous video that informs the plot of Rhyming the Lines would be linked to another short story that has an incestuous theme. Lawns, by Mona Simpson, describes the life of a college student who has experienced molestation from her father. She cannot resist stealing mail from other students in an attempt to steal the normalcy of the lives that their letters from home describe. This story is a heartbreaking depiction of how sweet and redemptive ordinary life can be for anyone who has experienced trauma. Coming from a family of Jewish refugees who made Mexico their home to escape from Hitler, the equation of normalcy with safety, moved me deeply. There is one particularly harrowing description of the narrator in Lawns, experiencing her first orgasm at the age of nine (from her father). I think Mona Simpson was brave to be so graphic in her story. I link her scene of sexual “murder” to a similar scene in my own work.
Usually, I invent specific visual structures into which I embed autobiographical and fictional narratives. This project, titled, I Wrote a Short Story, ventures into new territory, because the text embedded in the piece is fictional rather than autobiographical. The attached “addenda” are in a sense autobiographical, in that they describe works of fiction that became a part of my unconscious life, seeping out into the writing of the story. Ultimately, I Wrote a Short Story, will present the sixteen pages of the short story, Rhyming the Lines, and the sixteen “addendum” in one unbroken frame of individual diptychs. Embroidered to evoke a child’s writing tablet, these dual “pages” of stitching and collaged text, are of a standard 8.5-inch by 11-inch size. Blue horizontal lines, sewn into the paper at half-inch intervals, and intersected by one stitched, red, vertical line, representing a margin, will, I hope, create an archetypal field, evocative of homework and school. This evocation of childhood is one way that I can express to the viewer that my work is preoccupied with the factual and fictional forms in which memories appear.
The joining of people to devices has been rapid and unalterable. The application of the personal device in daily life has made tasks take less time. Far away places and people feel closer than ever before. Despite the obvious benefits that these advances in technology have contributed to society, the social and physical implications are slowly revealing themselves. In similar ways that photography transformed the lived experience into the photographable, performable, and reproducible experience, personal devices are shifting behaviors while simultaneously blending into the landscape by taking form as being one with the body. This phantom limb is used as a way of signaling busyness and unapproachability to strangers while existing as an addictive force that promotes the splitting of attention between those who are physically with you and those who are not.
The work began as I sat in a café’ one morning. This is what I wrote about my observation:
Family sitting next to me at Illium café in Troy, NY is so disconnected from one another. Not much talking. Father and two daughters have their own phones out. Mom doesn’t have one or chooses to leave it put away. She stares out the window, sad and alone in the company of her closest family. Dad looks up every so often to announce some obscure piece of info he found online. Twice he goes on about a large fish that was caught. No one replies. I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience. Mom has her phone out now.
The image of that family, the mother’s face, the teenage girls’ and their father’s posture and focus on the palm of their own hands has been burned in my mind. It was one of those moments where you see something so amazingly common that it startles you into consciousness of what’s actually happening and it is impossible to forget. I see this family at the grocery store, in classrooms, on the side of the highway and in my own bed as I fall asleep next to my wife. We rest back to back on our sides coddling our small, cold, illuminated devices every night.
The large format portraits are of individuals who appear to be holding personal devices although the devices have been physically removed from the sitter’s hand. They are asked to hold their stare and posture as I remove their device and then I make the exposure. The photographs represent reenactments of scenes that I experience daily. We have learned to read the expression of the body while someone is consuming a device and when those signifiers are activated it is as if the device can be seen taking physical form without the object being present.
Elements is an experimental art film by Maxim Zhestkov about nature, physics, art and love. More than 2 billion elements / particles governed by tensions and forces of nature were used to tell stories and show emotions through the motion of collective behavior. The film is a trial to explore the idea that everything around us and inside us is made from simple elements / blocks which can be arranged in complex relationships and become compound structures. We could project this idea into emotions, behaviours, thought processes, relationships, life, planets and the universe.
Lethe is the river that cleanses Dante in Purgatory, the one that wipes memories of the dead as they drink from it or bathe in it. The poet Sylvia Plath steps up from ‘the black car of Lethe, Pure as a baby’. It is an escape, a relief from our own physical limitations. ‘The soul that has been rash enough to drink from the fount of Lethe… is reincarnated and again cast into the cycle of becoming’, according to Mircea Eliade.
As important recollections slip from our memory, this loss brings its own kind of grief. The past becomes a vast, blank territory where even the most important memories from childhood are erased – if we do not remember them, perhaps these might as well not have happened in the first place.
‘Lethe’ wins in PDN Photo Annual 2016 ‘Personal’ category and is now shortlisted for The Renaissance Photography Prize with the accompanying exhibition at Getty Images Gallery, just off Oxford Street in Central London from 7th September 2016.
‘Beautiful Boy’ is an ongoing series of photographs of my lover. It began as a confession between friends. On the subway one evening, my friend shared that he had worn women’s clothing almost exclusively in college, but after graduation struggled to navigate a world that seemed both newly accepting and yet inherently reviling of male displays of femininity. I thought that photography could provide a space to experiment outside of isolation. Taking the first pictures was an emotional experience, and I connected to his vulnerability. Over time he became my muse and eventually my romantic partner. Soon we began taking photos like addicts, setting up several shoots every weekend.
When taking the photos, I feel the same as when viewing a film where a director and actress share a deep connection to the fantasy captured. It is thrilling to see my partner transform into countless goddess-like forms. The project is a canvas to project our desires. At times the images even become self-portraits. The camera transposes our private experiences into public expression.
Often, I construct sets in my studio. Other times, I seek out locations that feel as if they are sets. I spend a lot of time conceptualizing the costumes, which I piece together from thrift shops, Ebay, and discount fabric outlets. I think it is important that the images not be seamless, but more like an assemblage where you can see the glue, revealing contemporary identity as a collage of the visual language of the past. Although I art-direct the images and come to each shoot with a strong aesthetic intention, my partner inhabits each costume and set in a thoughtful way, embodying the scenario with a sense of openness.
It is important to show his femininity as strength. I want to feel empowered as well, and to have an intimate muse. Together we investigate feminine fantasies presented throughout the history of photography and cinema. The project is a way to ‘step-inside’ images that we have found alluring and examine what it is like to live each scenario out. We explore both our captivation and our ambivalence towards these depictions of femininity. By presenting my partner within the lineage of great beauties and populating the media with our images, we are reclaiming our voice in what is attractive and beautiful.