"play hard or go home"
interactive self-portrait installation
96" x 168" x 144"
I started this project in September 2014 as a way to talk about my family secrets through an interactive installation. The concept developed over the course of the year by constantly asking myself what my artwork was about and how best to express that. After much soul-searching to find out what drove my artwork, I came to the conclusion that my daunting childhood held unresolved issues for me. For years, I had been trying to express feelings of vulnerability, abandonment, abuse, and manipulation using other mediums, and in other various ways. And doing so unsuccessfully. By creating this installation, it allowed me to use discarded and abandoned materials as the foundation of my work. In the process of finding these materials, I physically searched through every antique store, thrift store, library sale, used book sale, and antique fair from Sacramento to San Jose. Many items were also found in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York City. So every book, photograph, and piece of furniture has been discarded at one time or another. In that way, the very nature of each object alludes to my own historical foundation. Once this was established, it became clear that my family history should be revealed through a means of decoding, since many of the things I reveal are family secrets. The need to stop protecting those around me became the driving force of this project. I had grown weary of keeping these secrets for so long. And the burden of doing so was well past its prime. Since I do not disclose my feelings outright, and since my life has been a series of games, I found it only appropriate that these secrets be revealed through a method of decoding. Through a metaphorical "game" so to speak. This allowed me to reveal my true feelings through text and image, instead of through the spoken word. And only the astute reader will discover the truth when they take the time to figure out the “game.”
The installation itself is very seductive. You are first lured into the room by the sheer volume and chromatic schema of the books. Each book is curated and handpicked for its title. But I have also arranged them into the colors of the rainbow. I like the false sense of beauty they portray, while masking the darker meaning of the titles. So there is a tension between what is seen on the outside and what is fabricated on the inside. That which is hidden and then revealed; which is public and which is private; which is constructed and which is not constructed. In my mind, a rainbow is fleeting. It is an illusion. A myth. An old wives tale. With a rainbow, the beauty eventually disappears and you are left with nothing. A false sense of hope. My installation plays into this notion because you are first seduced by the beauty of it. Once inside the room, however, and once you begin reading the book titles, there is an emotional response to what you are seeing. A darker, mysterious feeling that something has happened here. And if you inquire further by pulling a book off the shelf, you will find a library pocket, a photograph and a page number. The photograph has been cut and is missing pieces. If you examine these carefully, you will notice the cuts have been strategically placed to remove or reject certain bodily elements: the eyes, the ears, the mouth of certain individuals. The missing pieces tell more of the story. If you then figure out that photograph belongs to the page number, and you turn to that page, you will see four clear photo corners. When the photograph is placed into the photo corners, text is revealed through the missing pieces. That is MY voice. Words, feelings, and secrets that have never been spoken. So the book title, the photograph, the specific page and what is being revealed all relate back to my childhood: a memory, an experience, or a family secret that I’ve held onto for years. Even the text above or below the photograph plays into the story of my life. And within each book, there are also dog-eared pages and underlining that tell more of my history.
In a sense, the viewer is asked to play a game. A game that I have set up and constructed. And the more books you look through, the more secrets you will discover. If you choose to look beyond the book cover and read further into the pages of my life, you will uncover many secrets that have only lived within my walls…
This is an on-going project. There are over 1,600 books in this collection thus far. Everything has been done by hand: from the selection of each book, to the finding of each photo, to the pasting of the library pockets, to the stamping of the page numbers, to the hand-cutting of the photographs; each book has been handled and treated individually. Each title is different, each contains a rare photograph, each cut in that photograph is singular, and each secret is distinct and unique. No two books are alike.