This series is loosely based on the early photographic attempts of Thomas Wedgwood of the Wedgwood ceramic family.
In the 1790s, nearly thirty years before the creation of the first permanent photograph, Thomas Wedgwood experimented with “obtain[ing] and fix[ing] the shadows of objects” 1 on surfaces prepared with a silver nitrate solution. Even though his attempts were successful and images were recorded, he was unable to make them permanent. None of Wedgwood’s photographic attempts survive to this day. 2 As Geoffrey Batchen states, his photographs were “truly palimpsests, an absent inscription that is also present (at least in memory), a presence (a blackened surface) inhabited by absence.” 3
Although Wedgwood takes this fleeting success in early photography as a starting point, the series contains no photographs. Instead, by referencing the family’s ceramic materials of bone china and their signature blue and white color scheme, I’ve created ghostlike presences and objects that incorporate bodily traces and remains. Throughout the individual works, I play with the ideas of absence, presence, and metonymy – what parts endure, whether physically or in memory, when the whole disappears.
It has often been stated that as an indexical image, photographs of objects or persons have “a ghostly, uncanny presence….likened to the return of the dead.” 4 In White Dress and Blue Dress, the ghostly dresses serve as “second graves” 5 where only the bones remain. White Dress features a dress rising out of a box of rib bones. Blue Dress consists of a wire dressmaker’s form and stand supporting a dress with a hanging column of vertebrae. The missing figures and their possible narratives are evoked through clothing and the skeletal remains left behind. Both pieces further reiterate the ideas of presence and absence through the crochet patterns covering the ribs and the wiring of the dressmaker’s form - as both are created through networks of positive and negative spaces.
In Rib Box and Teeth Boxes, natural and artificial remains are collected into wooden boxes. Rib Box comprises six ribs which are delicately separated, tied together in pairs, and are carefully laid on a bed of blue stitched fabric – evoking a special connection with the objects. The Teeth Boxes contain porcelain clay teeth, obsessively made, accumulated and clustered together, which far exceeds the possibility of coming from any single referent. Taken together, these two pieces call into question the quantity and quality of collecting memories.
In Handkerchief, traces of blood are preserved by embroidering over them, creating a palimpsest of natural and artificial materials. The handkerchief, an inherently personal item, is made even more intimate by the presence of the past owner’s blood. Through embroidery, these stains have been articulated and are now only visible through the overlaid representation.
1 Geoffrey Batchen. Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. The MIT Press, 1999. p.30.
2 However, see Randy Kennedy’s article, “An Image is Mystery for Photo Detectives.” New York Times, April 17, 2008.
3 Geoffrey Batchen. Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. The MIT Press, 1999. p.120.
4 Margaret Iverson. “What is a Photograph?” from Photography: Degree Zero: Reflections of Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. MIT Press, 2011. p. 58.
5 Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Hill and Wang, 2010. p. 64.