2009-2010 - Burnt Series
Some Ideas about ‘Burnt ‘– Series of 15 Photographs with collage and oil paint.
I decided to get rid of documents and records that referred to my past life. I wanted to make room for new things. In my small house this was a practical decision, but on another level this was an important emotional decision I had arrived at. I took all my filed documents – tax returns; banking statements; legal contracts; love letters; deeds of assignment; grocery lists; water and lights bills; address lists and business cards... and made a fire in my yard. I stood and watched it and photographed the fire.
The photographs salvaged something from a process that was cleansing, but very final and hard for me. I was interested in the way bits and pieces of the lives defined on those papers were exposed in the photos. I was fascinated by the exquisite way the fire ignited them and glowed and then dulled and left a grey powdery ash. It reminded me of memory and of the way remembering can bring back bits and pieces of experiences although the fullness of the experiences is gone.
I thought the photos of the burnt things were important for the work I am busy making. They are about destruction – but they are beautiful. They are about loss – but they refer back like memories that sooth the loss. The photos of the burnt documents contain words that tell about our past life, and the hints and sometimes amazingly poignant references the words make, fascinated me when I discovered them.
I found the photos of the burnt documents so fine that I knew right away that they would become part of a series of works. But I felt that I needed to make some intervention into them. I felt, after weeks of staring at the photos, that I must mess with them a little. I didn’t want to dominate the photos, but I wanted some more cross references and to make associations from them. I was worried that the power of the photos would be compromised and that they might become just background, wall paper, for a drawing or painted image.
I wanted to use the bowl form. It is my form for saying everything – like short hand for ‘life’. To a large extent it has replaced my use of the human form. I love its simplicity and beauty. Bowls are about humans making culture out of nature. Its function is vessel, harbourer, and holder of life. The bowl I think, serves to put my work into a context. It is like saying – ok, this canvas will be the edges of the space I will work in to talk about life. I use the bowl to refer in an abbreviated kind of way, to the limits and edges of the aspects of life that interest me. The bowls ellipse is the passage into the experience and also out of it. In the bowls 2D representation (the way I use it most) the ellipse also refers to a pit – and a grave. The ellipse also refers to the human eye – reason, art, culture, greed, desire. The ellipse also references a pill – the bitter pill of life itself, but also the sweetening tricks that make life seem meaningful, or important – the little self induced states that make one feel better - painkillers. Then the ellipse also becomes an arena or stage for the display or performance of some life affirming or life defying act. Finally, as regards the bowl: the contents. In other recent work I have explored the essential material elements that define some aspects of the human condition. So I worked with seeds, blood, tears, milk...as contents of my bowls. In these ‘Burnt’ works the bowls are all empty (or filled with the ash of the fire image behind).
I used collage to put down the bowl diagrams. The books I tore up are some old books I had been using for chine-colle’ for a while. The text of the specific pages I chose all refer to the human body and mostly address illness and healing. This underscores the references I want to make to the fragility and ultimate transient nature of human bodies. The deep irony that engages me so completely: everything is matter and nothing matters. I am completely caught up in the physicality of stuff and of life but it only makes sense in relation to things that are intangible and abstract – like love and longing and memory and hope. In my art making I obsessively indulge in the materiality of our existence. I make things and that in itself is such an affirmation of the physical - yet I want to consider this: we bear the weight of knowing about our death.
The collaged fragments of book pages correspond with the bits and pieces of burning paper in the photographs. I decided to ‘fill in’ the ellipse as a kind of sulky refusal of entry/exit from these containers of life. The spaces the oval forms create become arenas in which bits and pieces of my past life are displayed. In the end I think the series can be read a little like an old fashioned museum display where each fragment is presented solemnly. They will be hung in a straight line along a wall, at eye level, with small gaps between each work. The specificity of the painted objects – like personal memories – are clear, distinct and particular. I have selected images of objects that are weighty with vested meaning for me. But they are at the same time, random and haphazard because they have been sifted out from a store of experiences so that they can only ever refer in the most fleeting way to the wealth of experiences accumulated over years.