Monday, August 21, 2023

Smoke, Fire, Ashes, and covering everything with white.

I sometimes wonder why everything I paint recently, and somehow even the installations I do, gets a clouded overlay. It's oil paint, white fabric, soft white light; whatever. I keep washing everything away into a purposeful obscurity. (Except my portrait of my Ukrainian Grandma releasing her war trauma. For that I made the obscurity first, and she came out of it. That's a strange happening!) Recently I also found out I have cataracts, apparently caused by the various courses of prednisone I've been subjected to over these last 3.5 years of struggling with long COVID. Blah. Great. Not the news you want, as an artist! But even more recently I realized I might be replicating my own clouded cateract vision in my work. Huh.

Grandma Frees the Ptarmigan, 2023

I mean, part of me wants to embrace that (since the inflammatory effects of my long COVID also mean cataract surgery is not recommended), but part of me is still looking for a deeper meaning. And the white thing has been going on in my work for longer than I've had cataracts. I think I found my deeper meaning, during this current fire-season. It's self-silencing. 

We live in a world full of fear, watching homes and towns and futures burn and flood and life just get harder and harder. And the best comfort we can give ourselves is to wrap up in the status quo. Get a latte from a huge corporate entity and watch some non-reality on Netflix. We Canadians aren't even allowed to share the news anymore (Meta: Working to silence the world!) 

I've been passionately determined to change the status quo since I was a kid, but people get defensive if I talk about change. People write off my personal status-quo-breaking experiments (unschooling, regenerative farming, rejecting many popular conveniences in an effort to live sustainably) as impossible for most, or, even worse, "crazy". I feel so frustrated; so unheard, and so afraid of losing community support (and friends!) because my voice has been too loud; too radical. So I'm trying to shout my meaning while simultaneously silencing myself (!) Yeah. That's weird.

(I open my mouth and) Nothing Comes Out, 2016

Is it necessary? Do I risk being written off like Sinéad O'Connor and everybody else who just couldn't keep silent? Who tried to change us? Or am I getting desperate enough not to care?

Drink Before the War, 2019

I was so saddened by Sinéad's death that I got even quieter. Now I'm so infuriated with watching my province burn (the homes of family friends gone, family evacuated and praying they don't lose everything, and my own veggies wilting and dropping in the smoke) while so many continue their world travels, unnecessary purchases, and general adherence to the status quo. I feel like I've been shouting for change my whole life, and my voice is hoarse but still somehow no sound comes out. So today I'm going back to the studio and just see what comes out of my brushes, because I just can't not scream about it all right now.

I don't think I'll stop using white. It's also evocative for me these days of the smoke and ash that's now a part of our every summer. And the blindness with which we're going into the future. My blindness. But I'm going to try to stop silencing myself.

1 comment:

  1. I care Emily, I have many of the same concerns, but am not as brave at protesting, more concerned with just keeping my family and our place going on. I had to take low doses of Prednisone for 4 years, for my polymialgia rheumatica, I had it, then it flared again. I've been free of it since Jan. will have an eye exam next month. No cataracts yet. But I think Prednisone is a factor in my voice problems, I get hoarse easily, can only sing shapenot for a little over an hour, then must skip a song or more for the next hour to recover. One of my observations is that before the Cedar fire in San Diego in 2003, the dust around the house was paler, now it's quite black.


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