Norfolk Objects. When I was accepted to the Norfolk summer program, I had been saturated by the prior academic years, wading through a tremendous amount of reading of major texts and primary source material, not to mention the extensive writing of papers required by each course. Fortunately, I was a voracious reader—fast and with a good memory—so I could complete it all. Yet, a part of me rebelled against it, too. Norfolk would be a true break away from required reading, the first time that I could focus exclusively on my art making.
Rather than continue the kinds of easel paintings I had been doing at college, I wanted to strike out to find my own path. I decided for some of my artwork to manipulate old books into artistic pieces. I cut up book pages, wound them with string, rolled them to look like ancient text. I wanted to find a different way to engage in my reading, beyond the words. Could my reading be disassembled and re-stacked? Could it form some kind of visual (and emotional) puzzle, all to show my engagement with the text, to display that my reading was not passive.
In other pieces I made that summer I used the colors of dried beans to form themselves into a textile, something that was more tactile. There was almost an accidental quality about how things came together. Dried weeds became ephemeral weavings and partially spun wool morphed into plant roots. It was an exciting, devoted, and interesting summer and it cemented my decision to be an artist, a decision that did not please my scientifically oriented parents…
Residue. After my near-death experience in November of 2007, I spent a lot of time at home, emotionally crushed that I had become so limited at such a relatively young age. Without getting into the details of my brain injury, it’s fair to say that I could no longer “handle” a job, especially not the complicated management kinds of jobs I had been doing. I also suffered from a severe lack of physical sense of direction. If I tried to go somewhere on my own, I would likely get lost. And then, there were my new physical limitations. Fortunately, I had rehabilitated into someone who could walk, talk, read, and think, even though I had no haptic feedback when my left foot touched the ground and I had a challenging time conceiving of the width of my body as I tried to pass between other shoppers at the supermarket. So, given all this, I was left to spending most days in my home and the studio behind it, reflecting often on what was now changed for me.
Through the years, I had kept boxes of materials, such as fabric scraps and old documents, remnants of my past. While I was re-training myself to draw, I created two groups of photo collages that relied more on the selection and organization of detritus than on manual dexterity skills and representational technique. One group of collages I called Residue, and the other Kria.
Residue is what we retain after a particularly emotional experience or after something has expired. These objects were all traces of life that I had held onto. The clearest example of residue is the small piece of grapevine after we have plucked and eaten all the grapes; the empty branches recalled the consumed fruit. The beribboned corsage left over after a wedding. A doll’s quilt crafted by my grandmother. Also, residue is about the changing of the seasons, as one layer makes way for its successor. The dead bird that I recovered after it crashed into my studio window. The green leaves of leeks that remained after I’ve used the bulbs to make soup. Potatoes left neglected until they sprouted, nestled with the minks from my maternal grandmother’s upscale adornment.
The word residue also implies ruins and ending. What are the leftovers from a completed episode? What do we do with the fragmented remains? How do we construct meaning? What is a reasonable association? And what is simply distorted thinking? What I like in this process is the playful association of diverse materials, so that all together they create a new matrix of meaning. Then, as I examine each iteration of an image, I subtract whatever element is distracting from the central idea until there remains a settled structure that is balanced across the image in terms of complexity and color. Where surprises creep in, I must decide to suppress or feature them in the next iteration, and then I select a single result of the experiments that best represents the collection of elements—and I capture it digitally.
Kria. The traditional Jewish ceremony of tearing one’s clothing as a sign of mourning. The torn cloth proclaims to other people the mourner’s state of bereavement. This group of work started out as a way of remembering and honoring my grandmothers. One of them had a great eye and wonderfully talented hands to combine elements to make a charming outfit or an elegant room. Many of these objects were souvenirs that I had kept since we cleaned out her apartment after her death, decades ago. She loved geraniums, fans, and flirtation. I wanted to invoke her spirit. Perhaps this was in particular because that grandmother had also suffered a relatively early disability as I had from my aneurysm, hers was from breast cancer. Surgeons, in a procedure that is now likely antiquated, had to remove her lymph nodes, so that her right arm became almost useless and moved "lumpenly." She, who had been so graceful and precise, was now impaired on a daily basis. Yet, she retained her intelligence and ambition; and that was me, too. By the luck of where my brain bleed occurred, I still had my intellect and memory, even if in many other ways I was now less than what I had been. And my passion for making art was undiminished.
Circular Thinking. In this series, I wanted to set aside representational imagery of the trees and find a natural container to explore color interaction. The phrase “circular thinking” refers to my ruminating, but also my perpetual curiosity about how one color will influence another. After my training at Yale Art School, it was hard to get the painter and teacher Josef Albers out of my system. So, using an identical scaffolding structure of my own, I lit and filtered it in different ways to see how many variations I could create. These strictly color pieces were my way of preparing to go forward, which meant being ready to return to painting.
Ex Votos. Most of my work, post aneurysm, had been focused on re-training myself to draw, and creating photo collages using the ephemera of my past life. Yet, I felt that I hadn’t quite addressed the brain and life trauma I suffered as directly as I wanted. So, I hit on the idea to develop a series of my own assemblage works in the form of “shadow boxes” after Joseph Cornell. My surgeon father used to summarize his daily tasks as “cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing.” Perhaps in this work, I was emulating him as I repeatedly cut and sewed these objects in order to embody my own individual encounter with surgery.
This series became quite an extensive project, assembling these boxes of stitched together objects, each in its own landscape. As a whole they represented the embodiment of my answered prayers. I called it the Ex Votos Series after the ex voto displays I had seen in churches in Europe and Mexico. Ex votos represent the fulfillment of a vow, an offering left in a church as a way of giving thanks to a saint for an answered prayer. Each of my pieces was placed in a wood box, surrounded by an acrylic cover to entomb it. Probably the most revealing was the largest, Ex Voto Suscepto. It was the one that most directly reflected what had happened to me and in an obvious way that I could never bring myself to execute in a painting. An injured leg, a dissociated hand, and an art easel made small. And it also included a Hebrew prayer, which was my thanks for having been sustained and remained alive, to see each of my sons get married and to witness my grandchildren play. To travel with my husband to interesting places, and to make art again.