Saturday, March 10, 2012

Holding it Together

I am working on my thesis, some of this process is new for me. For one, I am using video and sound equipment. I had briefly used them both before, last year, and in undergrad, but was not at all comfortable with either of the medias. And here we are again. The reason why I chose this particular challenge was to tell a story.

I tell my story a lot through my art, it's used mainly for my own sanity, it's used by me for healing. I have had a lot of really bizarre things happen to me, namely my mother's murder by my brother and many of the events that surrounded it. There is a part of me that strongly knows that I would not be the person I am today, that I would not be who I am without these events. I also know, and knew at the time even, that they were far outside the realm of normal human experience.

One of the strange things, in a long litany, beyond just that solitary event, was that my maternal grandmother put our story on the "news" program, "A Current Affair" when I was 16. She did this to help pay for my brother's defense trial. It backfired in many ways. It was not sympathetic towards him, that's for sure...there was actually one quote by the very sensational reporter "...where did God or Nature blunder?" in reference to him. Where indeed.

I think in my head, that Nature blundered starting with the birth of my grandmother. She was a walking violation of anything right and good in the world. She was actually born on April Fool's day, so I always thought of her as one of Life's big jokes. Having been dead a good 20 years by now, I still can't stand the sight of her. My reaction is so visceral towards her in watching that video - and it's never quite reached that zenith with my brother. I really, still, hate her with a passion. I hate looking at her, I hate hearing her speak, I still hate the very idea of all of the things she did to us, even before my mom died. My impression of her, even when I was little, was always that there was something horribly wrong with her. Insane? Yes. Lacking in any compassion towards me or my mother or my father? Yes. Selfish? Yes. One of the nicknames I have for her is "The Devil's Handmaid". So you see, I still have issues with what she did.

And what she really did, the worst of it, was exploit our story, our lives to her own sick, delusional end. She betrayed my mother, her very own daughter. And my mother was always someone who needed some measure of protection, in my opinion. Sad, that a teenager was actively having to do this after her death...I was defending and protecting the memory of the person who meant the most to me. She was, and in many ways still is, my whole world.

So imagine my shock and anger, my hurt when I heard "A Current Affair" being broadcast on our T.V. with my photos, my voice, my 911 call being played for the whole world to hear...and my mother, I can't even start with that imagery. But I remember it vividly, I was getting something from the fridge, when I heard it. It was so bizarre, like an out of body experience, only dealing more with my brain, an "out of brain experience".

And it got re-broadcast, several times that year. One of those times I was ready with a video tape. I don't know what possessed me, at the time, but it was probably the same thing that made me save all of the newspaper articles, save/leave a small drop of my mother's spattered blood on the wood molding of our living room (having been missed by the cleaning crew), and save the "body bag bag" that was mistakenly left under our living room couch - not the body bag, but the plastic wrap that holds the actual bags. I remember that it had printed on it, "Human Body Bag - Large - White".

Some people may think I'm gross for this, hell, a part of me knows that I am at least operating outside  of the norm. But, in fact, I will defend my conscious choice forever, literally no one can diminish those decisions made by me. I'd like to see them try. But I think it's just one appropriate response to all of the unbelievable things that were happening, almost on a daily basis for me, all throughout high school. When I reflect on it, I do think that it was all I could do to hold it together, to face the really hard reality of things I did not/should not need to see or hear or read at such an impressionable and tender age. So I collected these things. Because it was my story, it was her story, and I needed to remember, I needed proof. The PTSD makes some things slip out of my memory - some are gone forever - but I have these things, these documents of one life.

I am working on a piece now that includes this old, saved VHS video. When I was in undergrad I took a service learning class, and one of the final projects was to create a "Witness Story". This was a hugely important step for me at the time, to talk openly and honestly about my own story. I was the witness in this assignment, rather than anyone else. This was HUGE. I had so much fear, I would not speak openly or freely about my mother before this point. When I played it for the small class I was a wreck, shaking, sweating, crying. And I sat in the back of the classroom, as far away from everyone and it as I could possibly manage without actually crawling out the window. I couldn't watch, and I think the viewers had a tough time of it too. I was sort of used to stunned silence by this time in art school, but this was a silence that was akin to me personally punching them all in the gut.

At that point however, the relief for me, was palpable. I was free, and I had attained some small glimmer/measure of control. It was such an extreme weight that had been lifted off of my mind and my soul. And then I could begin to see what I was doing in art school, why I was attempting the subject matter I was, what this all meant for me. That day, I gained the ability to have my own voice, and that was sososo important for my development as an artist and as a reasonably whole human being.

I had been building up to this point of course, the collecting I had been doing, the imagery I had been trying, but not successfully creating in my art. What this event was really about for me, was taking back control. For years I had had all of these images and sound bites and stories written about me and my family, my mother. And I was going to take them back. I stole them back from the media, I stole them back from my grandmother, I stole them back from the newspapers, I now take them back from the internet (because you can, indeed find some on here, if you know where to look).

So, in a strong sense, this is about my own self-autonomy, and the fight to have me and my mom on my own terms. Which is why I make art about her, it's always a tribute of sorts. And it's about all I can physically do to rectify and understand all of these things, for her and my sake. It's to cast her in a light that is more that just that of a victim. She was loved by many, but most importantly, she is loved by me. I am stealing her back, so that only I own the right to her memory and her image and her story from now on.

And that's what I've been doing. Stealing back and then subverting these things, in order to take back the control over my own life.


Momo Luna said...

I have no words Shana, but know i am here, listening, looking at your art, understanding.....


shana goetsch said...

thanks Monica. I know. I appreciate the active reading, understanding and commenting.