“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.” – Audre Lorde
Excerpt from “Seventh Heaven” by Patti Smith
Oh Raphael. Guardian angel. In love and crime
all things move in sevens. seven compartments
in the heart. the seven elaborate temptations.
seven devils cast from Mary Magdalene whore
of Christ. the seven marvelous voyages of Sinbad.
sin/bad. And the number seven branded forever
on the forehead of Cain. The first inspired man.
The father of desire and murder. But his was not
the first ecstasy. Consider his mother.
The recurring appearances of the number seven in the natural and the spiritual world are intriguing. There are seven notes on the musical scale, seven days of the week, seven colors in a rainbow. In many holy writings and frequently in the faith I was raised in, the number seven is used to signify divine completion and perfection. It’s been said that in seven years time, every cell in our body has been replaced at least once and we are physically transformed into a new person.
This idea of transformation of self had been in the back of my mind for some time but began to surface while making these photographs. The catalyst being an “involuntary reorganization of my entire life” as Audre Lorde put it, brought on by a growing realization that everything I ever thought I knew to be true about the world, God, immortality, right and wrong, had in fact been skewed by forces beyond my conscious control – the religious authority in my life since birth.
After doing unbiased research of the practices and beliefs I had previously held without question and had already passed onto my children, I decided I could no longer participate in the religion of my birth. In the minds of the only friends and family I’d ever had though, this equated to a desertion of God himself and resulted in an almost total loss of community. In searching for some company for my misery, I found an online forum filled with people who had been going through many of the same things I had and worse. Through photography, I started looking for a way to address some of these issues and give voice to the inner turmoil and loss of identity and community.
The pieces are layered in media and meaning. The images were made with a 4×5 large format film camera and developed at my kitchen sink. The origami incorporated in each contains hand-written versions of writing excerpts by individuals from the online forum. Some also contain poetry, scripture, and news articles. Book pages and other items such as feathers or string have been painted over to compose the base canvases.
I hoped that by embarking on this project, my despair and that of others could be transformed into something more meaningful. By the end of this process of art-making, I fully intended to have worked through my issues and finally become free of my fears, confident in my ability to embark on a new life for myself and hopefully eventually for my family. In the “seventh day,” I’d be able to rest from my insecurities about rejection, worthlessness, and loneliness. Sounds great in theory. In reality, though, things are not that simple. It’s now being said that the rainbow may really have six colors instead of seven and that becoming a physically new person every seven years is really a myth. And it would seem that a perfect transformation into a self-assured individual doesn’t come about through one year of art-making. (As is evidenced by the fact that I cannot, as of yet, bring myself to finish or show the seventh piece.) I’m learning to be satisfied with more of a gradual, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process though. Whether or not this work transforms me or anyone else in the way I had planned is probably irrelevant.
The intention for the work, in the narrowest sense, is to raise questions about the methods used by high control groups and the validity of predetermining children’s beliefs, making their acceptance and approval as a person conditional on their adherence to a belief system. In the broadest sense, I suppose it would be to offer questions about self-compassion and community. Can we recover after total loss of identity, world view, and community? Is there a way to transform a deeply embedded identity without losing the substance of who we are?