Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Commode

 (Above:  The Commode, shut, 17" x 20 1/2" x 19 1/2".  Antique commode with custom upholstery featuring family photos and filled with torn family photos ... my family photos.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

There are a few lines in my TEDx talk (Precious: Making a Plan for Your Precious Possessions) that are bittersweet.  They come right after saying, "Make a plan!  Make a plan for the future of your precious possessions!"  I continue with, "Who gets them?  Do they want them? Will they want them if you share their stories!"

I don't voice the last line as if a real question.  There's a knowing assumption that sharing these precious things will automatically result in a family's desire to want the items, treasure the objects, keep the memory alive.  When I've delivered this talk, I have my audience carefully in my hands.  They hear the positive energy in my voice, see the twinkle in my eye, and smile with me. They go with the flow; they believe this to be a truth.  We all want it to be the truth ... but ...

(Above:  The Commode, open.)

... but ... what if it isn't true?  What if nothing said or done will result in the next generation's adoration of these precious things?  What if ones children don't want them?  What becomes of these things?  What becomes of the family photos?
(Above:  The Commode, detail inside the lid.)

I've been thinking about this for a long, long time.  How could I not think about this when spending months and months altering old, anonymous family photographs for my solo show, Anonymous Ancestors.  Every picture was "someone", someone's relative ... a mother, a brother, a niece, a grandparent, a beloved child ... someone special but someone forgotten.  These were all neglected photos.  No one wanted them.  They ended up at yard sales, in antique shops, or looking up from a table lot at my local auction house until I rescued them for art.

(Above:  The Commode, detail of the label inside the lid.  Letters clipped from vintage ephemera collaged onto printmaking paper and applied to an antiquarian chromolithograph.)

While transforming antique photos, it became impossible NOT to think about the boxes of photos from my own family.  Why?  Well, my children don't want them.  Sure ... I sent a stack to England (twice) but I never heard back ... not a word.  I had to ask myself, "Susan, do you really want to die one day and allow these images to go on the auction block?  Become some future artist's fodder for art?  Allow others to wonder who these people were and why no one wanted them?"

(Above:  Detail of the torn photos in The Commode.)

My answer was visceral, immediate, and absolutely sure.


I'd rather be the one to dispose of these images ... or better yet, turn them into art!  Ripped and placed in an antique commode, they seem a most appropriate answer to the questions I posed in my TEDx talk.  Who gets them?  Will they want them? Will they want them if you share their stories?  When the answer is "NO", the plan is different.  This is my plan carried out.

(Above:  The commode seat raised ... to reveal just how many family photos are now ART!)

PS  I am still figuring out what to do, conceptually speaking, with all the slides!
I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.


Cathy Park said...

The question of who will want them has been in the front of my mind a lot recently. You see, my husband has an incurable cancer so we have been concentrating on making memories (holidays, special days out, etc) and recording them. I want to be able to use the photos we've been taking when he's too ill to be active any more, to give us something to share and talk about. But then what will happen to all of these memories when we are both gone? Maybe I should put in my will that there should be a kind of "Bonfire of the Vanities".........?
Thanks for bringing this question up.I'll be interested to see what other readers think.

Susan Lenz said...

Cathy, every Halloween Steve and I do have a bonfire ... and burn all sorts of personal things that we don't want going to a landfill. It is often bittersweet but also very liberating to take these things out of the world through our own actions. I regret nothing I've ever burned. We started doing this years ago because I have an early work called "The Pardoning Altar". It is all about one line in St. Francis of Assisi's prayer: "It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned". On the altar is an artist book. It is written as a litany ... sort of like the rosary but not ten of everything. I did five of everything instead. There are five pages of images ... the most horrible things man has ever done to one another ... from WWII atrocities to Jonestown to race riots to world famine and hate crimes, etc. These pages include the words: Jesus loves me this I know and He also loves my foe. These five pages are followed by Hail Mary, full of Grace, etc. There's more to the altar, but the important thing is a clear plastic box with a bunch of index cards and a couple of pencils or pens. The box is the sort that non-profit organizations put out to collect dollar bills. The sign reads: Please use the index cards to write your petitions for forgiveness. They will be burned (unread) on the All Saints' Day Eve ... which happens to be Halloween. When not on exhibition, the Pardoning Altar is here in my house/business, Mouse House. Each year, there are index cards to burn. This year the altar was at Benedict College in an invitational show on spirituality. The box is already filled with petitions ... so you know where I'll be on Halloween! Finally, my prayers are with your family, your husband, and you. So sorry to hear how cancer is changing your lives. Prayers. Susan

Cathy Park said...

Thanks for your final comments Susan.
The annual bonfire sounds like a great idea. I might suggest that to John. We have SO much to dispose of that no-one else would want, but I'd hate to send to landfill. Burning stuff isn't very "Green", but sometimes it's the only option.
I think also the concept of putting something together specially with the idea that the final act will be to "sacrifice" it appeals to me.
I'm so glad I visited your blog from the "Off the Wall Friday" post.