Burnt Hair Spun Gold

 

“What rituals are useful to locating someone who’s gone.

 

Our story has no language. My loss always in communication with your loss.”

—Ella Longpre, How to Keep You Alive

 

 

Who do we choose to remember, and how? These ideas are fraught terrain that cross family relationships, identities, and collective memorialization. For some, living memory supports an elongation of our lives—we only succumb to a blank past when our histories are no longer recalled and held by those that once cared for us. A family photograph is such a vessel of retrieving memory. As time accumulates, however, these emotionally laden images become unknowable, missing their necessary translators. Despite this gradual disintegration of previous selves, our bodies are still affected by the actions of our ancestors. Their lives are encoded into our beings through often-complex interconnections, whether through epigenetics or other practices preserved through time. The inherent loss embedded in these discarded photographs is intertwined with the fragility of the body itself. The depicted bodies can both reveal and conceal embodied language, personality, as well as emotional and physical health. These ties to corporeality and lineages hold us in ways that can manifest as a tender embrace or even a suffocation. 

 

In Forgetting is so long, I collect abandoned family photographs, enlarge them to life-size, and paint over them as a kind of re-enlivening, removing the individuals from their formerly static location and time. Family photographs are revered vestiges to their loved ones, but if they become unmoored, the images and people within become hauntingly absent. Anthropologist Michael Taussig states that defacing sacred objects forces a “shock into being.” Suddenly, we perceive them as present and piercing. By mixing painting with photography, I seek to lengthen Roland Barthes’ “moment of death” (the photograph) into a loving act of remembrance. Bright swathes of color and the use of painted floral patterns underline relationships and connections to the natural world and beyond, adorning and embellishing these relics with devotional marks of care. These nearly forgotten people are transfigured and "reborn" into a fantastical, liminal place that holds both beauty and joy, temporarily suspended from plunging fully into oblivion.

 

"Burnt Hair Spun Gold" is part of a new excerpt from "Forgetting is so long," exploring women and female relationships, which I define broadly and inclusively.  I collect abandoned family photographs, enlarge them to life-size, and paint over them as a kind of re-enlivening, removing the individuals from their formerly static location and time. Bright swathes of color and the use of painted floral patterns underline relationships and connections to the natural world and beyond, adorning and embellishing these relics with devotional marks of care. These nearly forgotten people are transfigured and "reborn" into a fantastical, liminal place that holds both beauty and joy, temporarily suspended from plunging fully into oblivion.

 

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