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(M)other, The Estate, and Heirless

Thu, November 9, 4:00 to 5:45pm, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Gold Coast, Concourse Level West Tower

Abstract

Photography has long been used as a way to define the American family and to exhibit the structure of a relationship through the combination of genetic likeness and affective posing. Life’s milestones are documented and arranged in albums as evidence of a bond. As an artist, I am interested in questioning that evidence by stressing the difficulty of its replication. In this presentation I will survey three recent bodies, that each look to the intersecting and contingent visual aspects of the clichéd American nuclear family structure, and how photography and video can be used to resist that structure’s legitimacy as opposed to uphold it. Addressing the conceptual and compositional significance of the bodies of work (m)other, The Estate and Heirless, I situate myself among larger contemporary investigations about the facades of stereotypical family relations put forth by scholars such as Tina M. Campt, Margaret Olin, and Catherine Zuromskis.

(m)other exists in two parts: a 03:24 minute video, and a series of five images, both centering around the appropriation of photographs made by family members of my mother and me. In the video, one side of the frame is a scan of the original photograph of my mother and I, and the other side is footage of me in my own home attempting to mimic my mother’s pose and photograph myself. In the series of images, I have used Photoshop to replace my mother’s face in the original photographs with my own. By demonstrating a struggle to honor the expectation of girls and women to present themselves based on their mother’s example, the conflict moves from more personal specifics of my mother and I, to represent a shift in self-representation shared by the Millennial generation.

In The Estate I grapple with my role as sole executor to my transcontinental, home-owning, long-time divorced parents. I construct tender yet removed tableaux of their personal effects I intend to keep when they either downsize or die, and photograph them on large format color film in-situ among the items that will go. In Heirless, an exorcism of childhood keepsakes begins new personal connections, using a transitional object and photography to build secular families in the absence of biological or wedded ones. Although each began as an affective archive, The Estate and Heirless are growing to contain a louder capitalist critique that includes Jane Bennett’s “vital materiality.”

The kind of struggle I have discerning my own identity from those of my parents is subtle and nuanced, and remains in the smallest yet most intimate of circles. For many including myself, ideologies presented by parents are the first, the strongest, and the hardest to see. Another intimate circle in which I participate is of the arts practitioner. In the current American political climate that increasingly produces dangerous divisions of people, it is imperative that artists recognize where our vulnerability and work intersect with larger social and cultural concerns, and make steps toward sharing that knowledge beyond our spaces of the gallery or museum.

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