Rise, Sally, Rise (2001)
Solo exhibition at the Meridian Gallery, installation and detail views. 2001
Years ago I started collecting samples of what I call Girl Culture: clapping chants, jump rope rhymes, fortune-telling games. When I asked people what they remembered, they could always dredge up a phrase or a motion, some fragment that was persistently recognizable and would lead to others. My focus settled on that most unsettled period of childhood: puberty. The memory of my pre-pubescent desire to know what my future would look like, what I would become, who I would love has become as palpable as the paper Cootie Catchers my hands still know how to fold.
The second strand of this work began in an old Puritan graveyard in southern New Hampshire where I wandered frequently during an artist residency. Graveyards provide the usual space of contemplation, but even more they arouse my intense curiosity. The scant information offered on each stone sends me into a speculative mode in which I start to sketch out a person’s life. This is particularly true for the gravestones with which I identify most – those of unmarried women. I start to imagine that Miss Olive Hills, for example, buried quite alone in the north end of the Hancock cemetery, should have been interred right next to Miss Miriam Woods at the south end. Two terribly upright slate tablets, jutting at slightly different angles, but in an unmistakable intimacy at right angles to their unmistakably adjacent and invisible bodily remains.
My proclivity for fictionalizing past lives expanded to other graveyards, both in the U.S. and Europe. I became a kind of traveling missionary to the dead, wandering about with camera and crayons, attempting to rescue unknowable memories. Over time, the cryptic epitaphs I found have mingled with the clapping chants I was also resurrecting. Now, from the secure posture of middle age, I can play fast and loose with the truth of both these languages, one speculative about the future, the other looking back. They weave a complicated and seductive tangle of memories.