(When confronted with a mirror) “You’re either looking for yourself or you’re trying to avoid your reflection in a mirror. Never about “me” but always disembodied from me, or a generalization of me” – b*
My conversations with b and their work have been about vulnerability and the construction of self. For us research is an essential reference point. We pulled books from the shelf in my living room, flipping through marginalia and reference points, discussing the different stacks, their lead topics, the process of organization, and the conversations between them. Both b and I seek intentional action in the performance of organizing objects, as we often organize and reorient ourselves.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson via Melt’s curator Camile Messerley were recommended to us. I read Bluets the week before we met. I had been in the Quay cafe at the northernmost tip of the Bloch Building inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The space casts a diffused, foggy-blue light. There I finished a particularly sentimental passage:
199. For to wish to forget how much you loved someone — and then, to actually forget — can feel, at times, like the slaughter of the beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart. I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. I often feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).
I closed the book and sat with that line The last time I experienced sitting at this table was before a lecture with a beloved someone. The sip of foam off of a chai latte, I recalled, was sure to keep my hands from shaking. Now, I thought of this quote and its tinge of uneasiness walking the familiar path on the ramp toward the Bloch Lobby. I had last walked this path with them. Their ghost felt present here.
b spoke of this path in the museum as a place to constantly revisit and film. The Bloch Lobby and its long winding ramp, for b, conjures a particular exploration of empathy with others in the way it creates an elongation of time. This pace, combined with diffused light and mystically high ceilings, manifests a new relationship between camera and subject. Not as a space of declaring the other, but to reflect the sometimes haunting experience of empathy.
Maggie Nelson’s quote was a mirror that I took in while in this space of importance for b. I chose to fully acknowledge that reflection, rather than avoid it.
As our conversation continued, I felt formal boundaries dissolve, I felt exposed but held. So often the lens of the camera is placed outside of us, looking in, observing us as an object. We change our body position, form different postures, speak in a different tone. b works to distort this through practices with their subjects such as grounding meditations or prompts that engage with our desire to empathically connect. b’s practice has been working toward building these bridges between bodies.
b was working through the idea of being haunted by visions in their work on the color Blue; they were being sought out by the ghost of blue. What is the spectre in our subjectivities? Influenced by a hybrid of detailed research in notebooks, and in photographed or filmed phenomena, their interest is in the relationship between knowing. Blue, along with yellow, happen to be colors that correspond with our chakras. Blue, of the throat chakra, deals with communication and knowledge. Whereas yellow corresponds to the solar plexus, our sense of self. What does it mean to share your experience with others? Blue was about a specific point in time, radical transparency in learning, a process of understanding. What could blue teach others about b’s subjectivity? How could blue be a universal object of empathy for others to connect to this desire to learn and know? Yellow is a way of looking within. b’s new work is fully embracing yellow, dancing through the prompts once given to others as the source for their own self-exploration.
b spoke of a past workshop they led in which they documented the technique of holding a camera. How to ground their body through the physical act of holding this device for documentation, a device that makes permanent a subjective vision. The camera, for b, is an opportunity to connect space and its function, understanding how people move through it. In this, there is a space for empathy in the places where the holder of the camera becomes intuitive, responding to the energy and frequencies of the subject. This exchange is where b explained there is a collaboration, a movement through an empathic gaze, a gaze that questions the traditional roles our society has for that word and notion.
“What does it mean to experience looking? How do we look?”
This line of questioning was the summation, b explained, of their work on the color blue. However, this was a ghost effect, considering the projections of others onto the ideas of how we interpret these experiences. Does there always need to be an other?
The other has shifted in color. The other is now Yellow. The color of the solar plexus, the color of the self, the sun, our inner fire, our will. In this dramatic shift in chromatic, b is exploring themselves as the other, as the occupant of the world of yellow in self-portraiture. They are exploring the vulnerability of looking within and studying the variation on our experiences of selfhood.
When considering the work in Melt,
b’s work in
b discussed this new work with me in relation to the desire to return to the spaces of research but instead being guided by a distinct intuition to explore the self. The conversation returned to the architecture of the Bloch gallery entrance. b discussed their desire to connect through grounding in that space, it led to their discovery of the need to film intuitively.
“I can just let that space come through. I am very empathic, and I work off of the frequency and energy of others. The work is a study of intuitive interaction within me and another human, trying to move with them. Getting to the point where we can connect in a way that the movement and documentation
The work in the yellow series is now all self-portraiture according to b, looking, and the color, and texture of yellow, experiencing it through felt and paint samples taped into a vibrant cadmium yellow sketchbook. This book is filled with drawings as opposed to their other sketchbooks, which are filled with writing and references out to research. The yellow project feels like being given access to a visual equivalent to b’s marginalia. These are the addendums to the final work, only viewable in the footnotes. b’s films will function as a self-portrait, exploring b’s relationship to this notion of becoming through color. Identity and the self as a process of revision and inquiry. A process of learning, knowing, and loving through our own emotional experiences.
Feelings are facts. Bluets ends with two passages that make sense of this shift from blue to yellow, from the other back to the self.
239. But now you are talking as if love were a consolation. Simone Weil warned otherwise “Love is not a consolation.” She wrote. “It is light”
240. All right then, let me try to rephrase. When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing but of light.
Yellow is light.
Melt, curated by Camile Messerley, opens on May 31st at Charlotte Street’s La Esquina Gallery. This will be the last exhibition to open at the La Esquina space before its closure in June. b’s program AN EFFIGY TO MYSELF will occur on opening night in the parking lot of the exhibition. This essay is the first in a series commissioned by Messerley for Melt.
* It is important to note that the artist b