Wednesday, August 8, 2012

crying portraits

Death Be Kind
Melbourne, Australia
September 4-26, 2010

This installation grew out of investigations into how Victorian women gave presence to absence through domestic handcrafts and the ritual of wearing black.  The fugitive dyes used in mourning dresses ran color and often stained women's bodies, transferring the symbol of the absent loved one from the dress to the body.  I made a Victorian mourning dress out of crepe paper and cried on it to release its ink and explore how the dress marks the body and the body marks the dress. 

Death Be Kind gallery is located in the bedrooms of a Victorian-era house.  It reminded me of homes where Victorian women would have endured years of lonely mourning.  In response to this sense of domestic isolation, I embroidered in white floss on black crepe paper several verses of an American folk song about a woman who, having been abandoned by her lover, vows to "eat nothing but green willow" and "drink nothing but my tears."  I dripped saline solution on the embroideries to mimic my tears, causing the black ink of the paper to "erase" the white floss. 

I recorded my voice humming the embroidered folk song and hid the recording inside an empty wood box which the viewer had to open up to hear.  Placing their hands on the box, they could feel the vibration of my voice resonating in the box, giving presence to absence.

Photos by Matthew Stanton