Memento Mori

Dead Like You
memento mori (Latin 'remember that you will die') is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.

Tragedy befalls us all at one time or another. In early 2004 a man I was seeing came off some medication too quickly and subsequently took his life. He was another causality of Prozac where a doctor failed to carefully monitor the shift in personality that happens all too often when someone quits taking this type of drug rapidly. Regardless of the reason, I lost a lover and friend and fell into a state of darkness in an otherwise happy time in my life. I was in grad school working on research and preparations for my thesis exhibition, (and paper) that would take place the following year, and was in a band that was enjoying some moderate success locally. I should have been sailing through life, but this tragic event made everything come to a screeching halt.


The 17-year cicada were back and making their mating calls throughout the day and night, only to die en masse at the end of the whole cycle. I would go and cry in the pool where I swam laps, and sleep on friends sofas, because I couldn't stand the constant reminder of death and being alone with my thoughts. There was more darkness to come.

Bound
For whatever reason there would be more suicides that year. People I knew were experiencing loss at an alarming rate. It was as if somewhere in our group of friends a time bomb of instability went off. People fell like dominoes.The fallout rained down on the dumbstruck living for weeks. I think there were at least five suicides total when all was said and done. 

During that time of mourning I developed a very serious case of some kind of gut sickness - I'm sure partially from stress. The illness made it so I could barely hold down anything other than the tiniest amount of bland food and small amounts water. I would have spasms and lay in the bathtub watching my lower abdomen literally pulsate in pain. This went on for a few weeks. It was unbearable. I knew I couldn't handle much more physical and mental anguish, so on some rickety precarious thread I started pulling myself back to the world of the living. Art was a big part of that.

Its weird when you start coming out of something that intense, sort of like waking from a strange and all-encompassing dream. The world seemed way too vibrant and somehow unreal.  I walked thorough days of exhaustingly bright colors and watched clouds shift from billowy ether to starlit dream skies, all the while pinching myself back into reality. I drank a lot and listened to music punctuated with minor chords, which was comforting in an odd way. In this I was able to channel my sadness into something tangible, something less abstract as mind-numbing sorrow.
Devil in Me

My work has always had an element of darkness, but here I wanted to express more vividly the chaos and turmoil I felt. I turned to my inks and started painting over some of my photographic images that resonated with me at that time. I had a feeling of having thousands of bees buzzing just under my skin and in my skull. The loose brushwork and invigorating movement helped to make my body and mind less jumbled. I made a lot of pictures like this. Some were terrible, some ok, but I slowly began to enjoy the process of creation again. This practice, which was so very different from my usual style and process, helped me to exercise the demons that were haunting me and come back to center.

At some point we resign ourselves to loss, and are able to return to some sense of normality. I eventually started seeing friends again. Our conversations were no longer on the dead, but rather what we were planning for our futures. I was able to move past my grief, and once again focus on my thesis research and playing music.

I was never a good musician, but the act of connecting with a group of people to make something expressive and energetic was a very good mental exercise. It further helped me to move past the tragedies that punctuated the early part of that year. I went to parties and had fun again. I healed from my sickness, and was back at the gym for regular workouts that didn't involve crying jags. I experienced the kind of release that happens when you have processed something big and all-consuming. I was able to see the world as real again.
Dreadful Resignation

It's hard to believe its been 10 years, but through these experiences I have become a stronger person. I miss my friend sometimes, and am still so terribly sad that he went to such a dark place that he wasn't able to get out of. I keep a copy he gave me of his favorite book, Dante's Inferno. I still haven't been able to read it, but I keep it and his final note to me as a remembrance of this time. A memento mori of sorts.  Sometimes when I feel low I take it out and remind myself just how bad it can get, and remember that things can easily transform to a brighter space if you can learn to transmute the poison. I also remember that we are all so very fragile, and that life can turn on a dime, so embrace the ups and downs as part of the human experience. That is richer and far more precious.




So that was a downer...
Here's some happy little painted butterflies from that time to bring the mood back up. Cycle of life, man. 



Making Cyanotype Solution - Prep for the LVAA Photogram and UV Printing Workshop

In preparation for the photogram workshop I'm teaching at the Louisville Visual Art Association on Sunday I had a little fun with chemistry. This process is from Photographer's Formulary and is the new improved Cyanotype chemical prep. You can do this in your house, just be sure to use safe handling procedures for the chemicals.


This is not listed first on the instructions as the first step, but I do it first because it takes awhile to do completely. Finely grind 10g of potassium ferricyanide to a powder. *Wear protective gear! Gloves and a face mask!
The crystals will start out red but turn light orange as in the photo above. If you think you are done grinding, go ahead and grid it some more! You need a very fine powder for it to dissolve quickly.


 Heat 30 ml of distilled water to 120 degrees and add 30g of ferric ammonium oxalate, that will result in a green liquid when completely dissolved.


Under safe-light or a very low watt (25) incandescent light, pour in a 10ml solution of ammonium dicromate. (Not pictured)

While the solution is still warm (I keep my beaker in a pan of 120 degree water) pour in the fine ground potassium ferricyanide and stir until no red or orange crystals remain and green crystals begin to appear. Allow this solution to cool for 1 hour until just about room temperature.

When the solution has cooled strain the liquid through a filter (a standard coffee filter will do). A green sludge will remain on the filter which can be discarded. To the filtered liquid add 100ml of distilled water and put in a brown or dark colored bottle with a tight fitting lid. The solution can be painted on paper with a brush or use a glass coating rod. This chemical will last about 1 year in a tightly sealed and dark bottle.



Louis XVI

I forgot to post these King Louis XVI pictures. They are from an issue of the LEO on photography. Several local photographers were asked to see the city from their perspective. Lot's of cool stuff. This is my interpretation of what I would show King Louis XVI if he came to Louisville today. Mostly cool things like the bathroom at 21C, art, Chuck Rubin's and the Mag Bar.

The Work is Transforming

Someone has been playing with the Bio Lab Installation. That makes me absolutely ecstatic! It's pretty exciting to think about how these images will change as the installation continues on. I feel like the 3 bears in a good "someones been sleeping in my bed" kind of way. I hope to catch several different stages of this work as it transitions. So go to the gallery and play! I love surprises.

More Wrapping - Center for Women and Families - National Crime Victims' Rights Week

In continuance of my Commodification project, I am working with the Center for Women and Families on awareness raising for National Crime Victims' Awareness Week. This was a performance and photo shoot on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, KY. Ron Jasin is my second shooter for the images that I am in. Check out more information on the Center for Women and Families project, visit www.whyisthiswrapped.com




Another Image from the Saturday Shoot

Another image from the shoot the other night. A friend whose work I admire suggested I play a little with colors, so I left a hint of the feather and eye color on this image and also used the ochre of the feathers to dirty the image up. Thanks for the suggestion and I'm curious what you all think. I believe the other image has a more sinister quality where this is more tranquil, but still out of the ordinary. More to come!

Recent Studio Work

I had some friends over last Saturday night for drinks and some casual head shot portraits evolved into some more complex play in the studio. I'm so happy with the new pieces and have started processing them in this dirty, antique-looking style. There is something in the aesthetic of old photographs that really appeals to me and I try to bring that into my work. Since I can't be in the darkroom printing tintypes right now, I like working with this digital conversion that is reminiscent of cracked old photos found in the corner of an attic. I like the creepy quality the mask gives to the woman and the stoic look of the man.

I understand that there is a certain morbidity to my work and have struggled with the appeal of main-stream single image photographs. As much fun as it is to make a beautiful image and to have people respond to the "pretty", I think that embracing my shadow self is truly where my most creative and exciting possibilities reside.

A few samples of this work will be forthcoming, as well as a couple of images that are from my commodified humans project.

New Microscope Camera

So I just got a cheepo microscopic camera. It's pretty cool and I'm looking forward to really doing something fun with bugs and plant specimens. So far I've had fairly good results with the images I captured of myself but it is difficult to keep focused and must be very close to whatever you are shooting. It also does video capture - I haven't even begin to wrap my mind around how I might use that. Still the obsessive geek in me spent about 40 minutes looking at my pores in the preview mode. I can't do anything large print wise with it because of the 1.3mp limitation, but still really good and might be truly fun for working in small things like tintypes or in grid installations. Nifty new toy!

Here's the long-awaited art sale info:

Last Minute Holiday Art Sale
Sunday, December 21st
11am - 3pm
881 Clarks Lane

Artists Participating Include:
Ron Jasin
Suzane Edds
Gary Bell
Scott Scarboro
Terry Wunderlich
Michelle Amos
Mary Yates
and more!

Join us for some holiday cheer and a lot of cool, affordable art!

Don't forget, we are giving away gifts from the artists! Come get some art!

KFW / LMDC Project Gets Some Press

About a year ago I was selected to be a partner artist with sculptor Joyce Ogden for a special project with the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections to create a community art work for the exit lobby of the jail. We recently got some nice press about the project and some of the other components that have evolved in the process of working in the jail in the Courier Journal. Check the article by Dianne Heilenman

New Chemistry Experiements

I've been in the darkroom. So much fun!!! I've been playing with gum printing and emulsion coating on a nice, sturdy watercolor paper. I think the best part is that even though I have used these processes before, I have to rediscover them each time. That's the one thing that I truly love about the darkroom, the sense of magic and wonder I feel when something actually works.

Ron built a UV exposure unit for his screen printing and I'm finding it very useful for my alternative processes. It's so much handier to have a powerful source of UV light than the sun, particularly since it's very overcast in Kentucky right now. Gear is such a geeky thing to love, but I like chemistry experiments and playing with dangerous light. It makes me feel a little more alive.

My friend Ethel was my gracious model for these images that I'm doing the gum and emulsion prints with. She was a total trooper hiking through the woods with me and getting in awkward positions for my human connection to nature photography. I truly love the interaction with the model, it's a true collaboration. The shot above wouldn't have happened if she hadn't suggested putting the sticky thistle pod into the shot. I'd been carrying that thing for about an hour, dropping it multiple times, and starting to resent picking it up. It was a perfect contrast to the lush ferns and the beautiful tones and soft texture of her hand.

Cat and I

This is a picture of me with a photo of my cat Gabriel. I love this cat in a crazy cat lady way. I don't kiss his little gray lips or anything, but some of the finest moments in my life revolve around making Gabe purr. Once while I was doing work for my Tattoo/Fetish series my mother, who is normally adores contemporary art, asked me why this series (www.vividblack.net/tattoo) was so disturbing and why couldn't I just take pictures of kittens on glass tables. I struggle with the kitten-art thing because truly I would love to be taking adorable pictures of cats all day long, but that doesn't seem like a good path for a contemporary artist. Maybe I'll get a chance with some commercial art someday, but it seems like mostly dog fashion (Collars and Couture) is what I get the opportunity to do. I'm not knocking the pups at all, I love doing that stuff, but it seems there should be fashion industry ops for cats too, ya know?