And Now It All Comes to a Head

Wow wow wow. Less than two weeks until the end of semester review.

I’ve been spending the last two weeks working my tail off on getting the quilt pieced together, the videos edited, the portraits finalized, and the razor blades printed. And I’m still going, still have a lot to do, and even thought I’m so incredibly tired, I’m excited about my work and to see where it goes from here.

Now I just have to figure out my artist statement. One of the critiques I got from my artist statement last semester was that there was a disconnect. My statement was filled with facts and stats, but my work was deeply personal. So, time for some writing exercises I learned many moons ago.

15 WORDS OR PHRASES THAT DESCRIBE YOUR WORK

  1. childhood sexual abuse
  2. trauma
  3. personal
  4. history
  5. obsession
  6. hoarding
  7. control
  8. multi-faceted
  9. complex
  10. difficult
  11. overwhelming
  12. affect
  13. symbols and clues
  14. self-portrait
  15. detailed

Now that I’m a little warmed up… Let’s try this artist statement thing.

“I was sixteen years old when I told someone. I was lying in bed with someone I loved, curled up in the fetal position, sobbing. I couldn’t breathe, it felt like I had swallowed lead, that my lungs were filled with needles. The thought that I had pushed down for nearly a decade was in my throat, hot and sharp, crushing my vocal cords. I could keep denying the truth, keep that secret locked away in the chest I imagined in my head, but I couldn’t. Not anymore. The words escaped my mouth.

I was molested when I was seven years old.

It has been approximately 5,703 days and counting since the trauma. I know I probably lost some days, like how I lost myself as a result of the PTSD. I am always on guard; after all, there are 1147 registered sex offenders within a five mile radius of where I grew up. I know I’m not the only one to carry such a burden, as 1 in 10 children will be abused before the age of 17. With a statistic like that, it’s understandable that childhood sexual abuse is a topic that is multi-faceted. There are many emotions, reactions, and connections to this topic. It is far from being one-dimensional.

My work attempts to cover the complexities of childhood sexual abuse, with photography as its main vehicle. ”

And I’m stuck. And it’s morning. I need coffee.

 

 

 

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Empowering Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse with Photography

After a few weeks of preparation, I have launched a Hatchfund campaign to secure funding to pursue a project in the Philippines. Hatchfund is like Kickstarter, but for artists. You have to have some sort of accreditation as an artist to use it, and there is a lengthy approval process for a project to even go “live.” My project went live today, so be sure to check it out.

http://www.hatchfund.org/project/empowering_adult_survivors_of_childhood_sexual_abuse_through_photography

(Maybe even donate a couple dollars! Shameless of me, I know!)

By using the power of photography, I hope to empower survivors in the Philippines in the city of Manila, where child sex trafficking is an epidemic. While working with the volunteers at Tahanan Sta Luisa, an organization that rescues and rehabilitates street children, I will be teaching the survivors of child prostitution the therapeutic and empowering nature of photography. I will be teaching them the basics of form and aesthetics, and the mechanical process of using a camera. They will be using standard point-and-shoot film cameras, collected from thrift stores. They would then take photographs of whatever they like, and I would get the film processed and we would put on a little pop-up exhibition, so they can share their photographs.

While I am there teaching, I will also be connecting with now-adult survivors who had graduated from Tahanan Sta Luisa, to collaborate with them and make their portraits. The portraits are conceptual collages, where I will be having an on-going conversation with the survivors to make a portrait that speaks about who they are as a person, not just a survivor of a traumatic past. With these portraits, I will be focusing on each person’s “personhood,” not their “victimhood.”

So, I’m preparing for what I will be up to this summer. Hopefully I can get enough backing for this project, as I feel it will guide my work in a new direction, which I look forward to exploring.

Working Through Some Thoughts

Let’s start with some updates:

  • I have filmed more bear-mutilation videos. This project should be wrapped up in the next two weeks, so I can show it in the last critique of the semester and tweak it for the final review.
  • I have amassed and photographed more sheets.
  • I have three more self portraits I want to make.

So those are just updates on things that won’t be in my critique this week, but are still being worked on (of course, because I never stop working.)

This week I’m focusing on my razor blade project. I am no longer using liquid emulsion to print the images onto the razor blades, but rather an acrylic gel transfer. I found this method to be cheaper, easier, and the resulting image was much clearer than with liquid emulsion. As much fun as it was to work with the emulsion, the finnicky-ness of it was a little too much for wanting to print on over 1000 razor blades. The acrylic gel is a much more feasible process to achieve my goals.

While I was collecting images from google maps of where the sex offenders lived, I was thinking about lot of things in relationship to the information I was looking at. With the sex offender registry, I have access to people’s faces, addresses, age, you name it. And I was thinking some things that were both interesting and probably a little fucked up. Here is just a list of some thoughts I had while gathering these images and viewing offender’s profiles:

  • He looks terrifying.
  • There have only been six women on the registry so far out of 300.
  • This person lives in a dump. Good.
  • Why the fuck is this guy smiling in his mugshot?
  • How can there be multiple offenders in one case?
  • Do neighbors just plot together to sexually hurt someone?
  • Holy shit this address led me to a KFC.
  • How accurate are these addresses?
  • Does the police department keep tabs on these addresses?
  • How safe are we really?
  • I recognize that house.
  • I walked past those houses everyday to and from school.
  • Whoa– pretty sure that is the dad of someone I went to school with.
  • Jesus, he looks so young.
  • That guy looks like a rapist.

These kinds of thoughts were interesting to me, because I was making harsh judgements. I’m not entirely sure what that says about me as a person, other than the fact that this issue does deeply disturb me, and perhaps I’m still a bit unforgiving towards people who commit these kinds of crimes. I was thinking about maybe writing down or recording my thoughts as I work, but I’m not entirely sure how that would function with the work. Though, I am glad I was aware enough to recognize these sometimes uncomfortable thoughts I was having. Awareness of how you’re thinking while you’re making is an important part of artistic practice. At least, I think so.

This week I’m also bringing back the embroidery pieces I brought in earlier this semester, because I think there are some things I need to hash out with them. My current plan is to construct them into a quilt, as I have enough squares, but I’m also wondering what other sort of imagery I can use. I found a book at a used book store last week on photographic quilts, and I find these kinds of quilts to be compelling, as quilts can and almost always are a sort of memory archive.

Descent Into Darkness. The Boys of the Mines by Patty Kennedy-Zafred

Patty Kennedy-Zafred

Deborah Griffin-Sierpinski

I do have a lot of questions about this process though. Why quilt? Why fabric? Why am I interested in conveying my concept in this matter? Does it tie in with my other pieces? With my other works, there is kind of vocabulary I am building up. Each piece can stand on its own, but if you put them all together– the self portraits, the razor blades, the sheets, the bear videos– they all inform one another. They’re kind of like a piece of music that keeps building on certain motifs, coming together to form a great crescendo. My work might not be doing that just yet, but I feel like that is always my goal.

But back to the quilting. I’m interested in the idea of “heritage quilts.” Heritage, by definition, is a property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance, or a special or individual possession; an allotted portion. I find this idea of a quilt being something that is passed down is surprisingly connected to sexual trauma. Scientists are finding that childhood sexual abuse causes genetic damage– which is interesting to think about. When I was abused, was my DNA altered? If I have children one day, will this trauma be passed down to them? It is hereditary? Is what happened to me a part of my “heritage”? These are the kinds of questions I’m currently grappling with, and maybe a quilt can be an answer or a challenge to those ideas.

More on the quilt idea though: I am embroidering thoughts and memories that are associated with each object that was printed on the fabric. I’m wondering what text does to the image and if how I am using it is successful.

Something I kinda worked on during spring break is a new project that I just started. I’m not expecting to show this work for my final review, and I plan on working on it through the summer, but I wanted to share it to get some preliminary feedback and things to think about as I move forward.

So a little bit about the project: I made a call on social media for people who were sexually abused, not necessarily as children, but who have had experienced it in some way, and said that I was interested in photographing them not as victims or survivors, but who they are as a person. I described it as focusing on their “personhood” rather than their “victimhood.” I asked for them to give me a list of 20 words or phrases that they felt described them, and together we went and picked out a fabric backdrop from Joann Fabrics that they felt was “them.” I photographed them while talking to them about their list, about who they were as a person, their identity. This was especially challenging because I didn’t want to take cheesy portraits, and because it is impossible to completely capture who someone is as a person, with all of their complexities, in a photograph.

What I think I want to do next is take that list and make a collage on the portraits to try and hint at who they are, what they like, etc. I plan on communicating with my sitters while I make these collages, so it becomes more of a collaboration than just me as an artist projecting who I think they are. It is important to me to work with each person and have transparency, and I think that makes a huge difference in this project.

My head is always running away with ideas. I sometimes wonder if it’ll ever stop, and what on earth I would do with all of that peace and quiet. I kind of hope I never find out.