foxinsnow's Diaryland Diary

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artist's statement

My interest in the down-and-out, the lonely, the dejected, the insane and alien, comes from a place deep within, but of course throughout my life i found reinforcements in art, literature, and music. Could the pathos in illustrations of Christ's passion lining my Catholic church have affected me on a subconscious level to look for my conception of God in the afflicted? Certainly Jessica ann Porter, whom I lovingly refer to as my first Dark heroine, with her possessed cat (is it possessed or do its voices really come from her head?) and old witch neighbor, in The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which I devoured at the age of ten, reinforced the hazy notion I already had that, as the Buddhists say, to live is to suffer.

By the age of fifteen, I had honed in on craziness. I felt my childhood fears that I would turn out like my schizophrenic uncle coming true, and… I embraced it. I read The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, the Bell Jar and Ariel by Sylvia Plath, as well as her journals, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman, Big Blonde by Dorothy Parker, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, and Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. I watched “Taxi Driver.” I fell in love with the work of Diane Arbus, for reasons I couldn’t articulate at the time… I remember thinking, “I don’t see what the big deal is, but I can’t stop looking.” The big deal was that her mythic beings of the everyday walking wounded wouldn’t stop looking back at me, either. And then that question that has plagued art since her death; did she photograph them because she thought she was one of them? I try to address the question of Arbus’ deification as a result of her suicide in my accompanying paper, which I hope to expand into my written thesis.

I was attracted to the surreal use of color in Nan Goldin’s work of the lonely and the hidden. Like Goldin, I listened to the Velvet Underground, and also Leonard Cohen. I had never heard such naked, resigned sadness expressed in music. Lou Reed said he started writing songs because he felt someone else out there must be feeling the same kind of loneliness he was. The connection to Reed is paramount: in his song “Perfect Day,” he describes a sad, perhaps ill man spending a day with someone who “makes him feel like someone else, someone good.” My brother and I both came independently to the conclusion that this song was about someone like Uncle Buddy. Buddy is gentle, so gentle, yet he pushes away those who love him with statements that come out of the blue like, “You know, your grandma and grandpa weren’t good parents to me.” If his locker won’t shut, he yells racial epithets at it. Some of this is funny, some tragic. I started smoking cigarettes again immediately after my first visit with him alone. It is not pleasant, not at all. But, he is family—we have a bond that goes beyond manners or pleasantries. But more than that, it’s like those Diane Arbus pictures… inexplicably, I just can’t look away. Looking at him is like looking into a mirror of my mind, of how I desire my dreams, even my worst nightmares. It is a mirror that I am aware I share with him, our reflections as hazy and distorted as those in the image of the elevator wall. I always thought going nuts would be an escape. Well, it is. But you always want to find your way back. My uncle Buddy never got to make that choice.

When I visit Uncle Bud, there are certain things I can and cannot talk about. I can talk about my boyfriend, school, and our family. I cannot talk about: my meds, why I moved back home a few years ago, or what happened to buddy in the army, which is at the crux of all this. My conversations with him are stilted, and so are the photographs. There are so many pictures here that show just a typical family relationship carried out against the backdrop of his hospital, but then showing through that peeling wallpaper are images like one breakthrough photograph in which we are depicted as I always see us: him jutting his face towards me intently, while I look nervously at the floor. I am convinced he sees the truth about me. I want to photograph how much that scares me.

12:31 a.m. - 2003-10-31

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