THE MORE THAT IS TAKEN AWAY
Mass graves indicate a society in crisis. Modern history has many examples and new instances can be found in several parts of the world today. Although killers sometimes hide evidence of their crimes, mass graves as a spectacle are also common. From photographs of Wounded Knee to Islamic State videos, perpetrator visuals advertise and reinforce narratives of relentless purpose and control. Some sites become memorials, presenting commemoration, carefully edited histories, and warnings. Even unmarked sites in a nominally post-conflict state can signify the continuing power of perpetrator factions.
The More That Is Taken Away takes the mass grave as its central image in a multiple-year meditation on the intractable collective histories that shape our contemporary world. By protracted manual labor, in a constantly crumbling excavation in my own back yard, together with performance and obsessive documentation, I hope to avoid moral certitudes, attempting an open and personal engagement.
The work is loosely divided into three Acts. In the first I dig the earthwork with hand tools. The dimensions of the site are approximately sixty feet by ten feet for the excavation (18m x 3m), plus the pile of excavated dirt, and portions of the surrounding land. Complex geometric shapes develop but devolve into a simple pit. Weathering deforms the site; I make repeated repairs and modifications. I lose weight and my clothes become ragged. I build a crude watchtower with reclaimed lumber. In Act 2, I record myself as multiple victims, on video and with photographs, using the full length of the site. Life-size cotton-fabric prints of the resulting photographs were exhibited in an installation and then placed in the pit and buried for Act 3; the site is currently being filled and will be landscaped with grass and flowers.
The project may be presented in a number of ways. Photographs can be exhibited with or without limited video. One or several videos can be shown without the printed photographs. The entire project can be presented as an immersive installation. For this, the complete video documentation shows on a large number of screens: sequences of full-length takes from all the stages of the work looping simultaneously on the different monitors, while the audio tracks blend into a background of weather and rural sounds mixed with the texture of rhythmic work. The installation also includes the photographs and shorter videos. It may also include interactive elements and hand-made artist books.
Survivors of violent historical events, their families and descendants, and other members of persecuted groups continue to be challenged by the past even as the events recede, while people with no direct connection nevertheless live in a world that has been fundamentally shaped by these episodes. I intend my work to speak to both groups: to share some of the burden while also bringing the weight of the past to our contemporary situation. The perpetrators of these histories attempted to diminish our humanity; to confront that loss through art-making is a way to push back against it.
Situating the project at my home is integral to these ideas and to my examination of memorialization. I find it generative to bring intractable questions to where I live and to make myself vulnerable to them both physically and emotionally. Engaging with such issues also interrogates my own privilege. Viewers access this work only through traces - of sculptures that no longer exist and of a series of private performances. These tensions seem appropriate: traces are how we know these desperate histories.
The More That Is Taken Away is a fiscally sponsored project of NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts. The project is also made possible in part with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts' Electronic Media and Film Finishing Funds grant program, administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (www.NYSCSA.org, www.eARTS.org).