My grandmother, who is 102 this year, is a toiler. She lives as she labors, tending constantly to her garden. It is physical work to ensure that all of her flowers bloom, and yet she toils still. Perhaps it is because she is the eldest of eight children from rural Alabama, perhaps it is built into her thick worker’s bones, but she has the strength of ten men. For the last 45 years as a widow she has slept alone, but has rejected loneliness. Who needs a lover when you have 1000 irises and so many roses? As a tender of all things, my grandmother found release in the gardens of her labor. Sometimes it is easy to confuse her floral arrangements that are the fruit of that manual effort with the fruit of her loins. Are they all not seeds of her sowing? She wakes each morning with such purpose that despite the clock winding inevitably down, she rises with the promise of physical cultivation.
How long will this last?
Last year we did not have tomatoes and the deer ate most of the okra. The irises have lessened in number in recent seasons and I find that they are less organized. Who will take over her diligence in the soil? Have I learned to toil with materials in the way my grandmother toils in the garden? Do her arrangements equal my sculptures? Who or what are my 1000 irises and so many roses? Perhaps I build because I am an only child and a single mother; perhaps I am rejecting loneliness.
With how many men might I equate my strength?
As an adult reflecting on my grandmother’s relationship with her crop, I realize that we see our bodies mirrored in the homes in which we live, the chairs in which we sit, and the places that we walk. Is the house at the end of the block not a likeness of the gentleman who tends its garden, if only neutered of the sensuous nature of a man? How unnerving to find that we take dwelling in the totem of our personage; we live surrounded by and paralleled in the things that support our understanding of status. The home becomes a definition of who we are; this is not without its comedy and tension.
Can’t I use all of this?
My comprehension of the world is navigated by my body’s relationship to space and the home. In much the same way, I appreciate my work as a maker who is fixated with the physical. Materials, like soil, are sensual and seductive, they tell a story and as artifacts they carry some innate history. Recently, I stumbled across the exact upholstery fabric that clothed my family’s sofa when I was a child. It was not just finding cloth however; it was a like unleashing a flood of memories attached to the space in which this sofa had lived, the space in which I had dwelt. For a period of 10 years and through five relocations, a rusted hunk of steel has travelled along side me. Though its bulk might never be incorporated into a piece, it is nevertheless a talisman of my passage through time. Each treasure I find proposes questions. What was its past life? How can I transform it? I revel in this materialism.
The faux fur I used to awkwardly cloak a bodily paper form fights and fails to either conceal or exalt the portly figure. When splayed and skinned the body is left exposed.
Are you embarrassed for my pathetic paper form?
A fleshy, floral wad placed like a prize at the top of a precariously erect derelict ladder, reminds me of my former lover. This is my chance to emasculate him.
Will you laugh with me at his impotence?
I value the corporeality of any image with which I obsess, be it three dimensional or encased in two. My photographs are sketches, Lacanian misrecognitions asking to be translated in space. To that end, all my work must stand as confrontations or reflections of my body. It is only when a form leaves the confines of the image and extends physically in space that it lives as a figure. This is because a body must be robust, brawny. I need to feel it, smell it and move around it. Often phallic, pregnant, or gendered, the forms then become my iris or my rose, the fruit of my labor.
The pressure of the metal tacks that Tom Burr thrusts into his supple pink blankets affects me, forcing me/it into stagnancy. You can feel this. It is palpable. I admire this experience that he has offered our bodies, and our intellect. What is pressing about my body in relationship to my work?
There is a list of things of which I do, but should not speak because my work does not reside only in these truths. It is too proud to be reduced in such a way. But it is also too humble to not be obtusely apparent.
I am a woman.
I am a single mother.
I am from Texas.
I am extravagant and loud.
I love beautiful objects.
I have failed at many things.
My body is torture.
If I make and castrate phallic forms, I might redirect how much I miss the touch of a man.
I wish almost none of this were true.
All of this is evidence that we toil, that we tend to something and that we can find reflections of ourselves in the things that surround us. I see my works living as proclamations, as corroborations that I am here, he was here and we are here.