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Journal of Visual Culture

Undergraduate Projects:

Laura Adams
Chloe Barnett
Bridget Costello
Elizabeth Damore
Hannah Flack
Molly Finnegan

Mariana Martin
Daria Ovide
Abigail Perkiss
Lauren Rosenblum
Debbie Wang
Maxim Weintraub
Petra Williams-Lescht

Graduate Projects:

Maya Balakirsky
Deborah Barkun
Andrea DeGiorgi
Zlatan Gruborovic
Elizabeth Martin
Michael J. McClure
Sara Morasch
Jeanne-Marie Musto
Kim Peters

Molly Finnegan

What is now the town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England was settled more than two thousand years ago and, in the first century C.E., it became the capital of the Roman province that covered eastern England.   Flourishing during the medieval period as an inland port and a center of wool production, the town was visited by pilgrims and became home to several communities of friars.   They were drawn to the region by its cathedral, the third largest in England, consecrated in 1092 and reconstructed one hundred years later in the Gothic style.   Today, its looming towers still command the view above a medieval town center making Lincoln a valuable destination for an aspiring art historian particularly interested in the later Middle Ages.   During the summer of 2005, I spent eight weeks working in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which gave me the rare opportunity to live in this region of extraordinary history while assisting with a project that would itself expand my knowledge of medieval culture and art.     

The libraries of the Lincoln Cathedral contain manuscripts that date as far back as one thousand years.   The Medieval Library was built in the 1420's and is now used for regular exhibitions of books and manuscripts.   The Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1675, houses an important collection of early printed books.   My project was to create a computer database classifying the woodcuts from the library's holdings of incunabula and early printed books .   It is estimated that around five hundred of the books printed before 1535 contain woodcuts.   I compared these images with those catalogued in Edward Hodnett's English Woodcuts, 1480 to 1535 .   This involved digital photography of the woodcuts and the creation of subject fields to enable cross-referencing.

The librarians arranged a visit to the Cathedral Works Department where we were shown around the stonemason's workshop and were allowed to see pieces of the Dean's Eye rose window on the light box.   I attended cathedral concerts, Shakespeare plays, and a study day in the Wren Library.   On the weekends, I traveled to London, York, Nottingham, and Haworth (the home of the lovely Brontë sisters).   I took a trip to Cambridge with the library staff and visited King's College Chapel and the Wren Library at Trinity College.

My summer work inspired my choice of thesis topic - I am now writing on a subject involving fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut images.   But, what I learned from my internship that was most lasting came from my experience of the cathedral itself.   I remember seeing Lincoln's towering West Front for the first time, not over the rooftops of the town but as a image projected in a darkened Bryn Mawr classroom. Until I spent a summer in Lincoln, I had not truly realized that its Gothic monument was in fact still the center of so many lives.   In the morning, choir men walked their dogs around the circling drive and stonemasons walked the roof.   Organ music often drifted into the cloister where students from the Minster School took their lunches. Many of my co-workers, as children, had played rowdy games dangerously close to the chapter house windows. In the short time I'd spent working in the cathedral library, I grew to love this town in eastern England and was fortunate to be among those people whose faith and care had sustained this place for more than a thousand years.  

My working title for the series is Photos My Boyfriend Takes. I felt I could not address my self, my own sense of self, without confronting various outside versions of me. I wanted to examine myself by examining the ways I relate to others and the ways others relate to me. Worried that I would be performing for myself some cliche of femininity or a masculinized authorial artistic identity, I wanted to have other people engage themselves actively in the production of this project. I had started my first painting by just sitting down in front of a mirror and painting, which made me very anxious. This first painting was Lessons from Gradisca, which is the only self-portrait I did from observation. Again, interested in including other "people" in my work, I knew that I wanted to include Gradisca, a character in Fellini's autobiographical film Amarcord. Since I needed a different source of multiple images of myself to have material to paint, I decided to ask my boyfriend to take a series of photos of me.

By painting his photos of me I become my own boyfriend, my own surrogate lover, my own beloved. I address this kind of transformation most directly in my painting, The Origin of Painting, in which I remake the classical image of the Maid of Corinth tracing the shadow of her lover to remember him while he is away. In one way we preserve (but reverse) the original roles: my boyfriend takes an image of me, his lover.  

But from that photo, I make my own image of myself recording my own image. In my painting I trace my own shadow, I become my own lover who wants to preserve her own image against loss and change. Interestingly, the artistic gesture itself is weak; my hands in the moment of making me aren't fully elaborated. The shadow (my absence) is clear, but I am still struggling to represent my own possible absence. I can't even see my whole shadow, comprehending fullness of my absence.

For Kissyface I used a photo where the flash is so severe that it makes my face appear white. The flash on my face seems to act as a kind of make-up. I am painting my face (literally), painting this white, delicate, classical feminine complexion (I even made my cheek bones more obvious, made myself look older). But it is not my painting, but his flash that makes my face white. Thus it is his presence that applies this cosmetic, which helps to assert and remind us of our gender roles.

At some level I also intended my painting style to resemble that of Mark Rothko's - with the large red and orange brushstrokes, and rectangular shapes that appear as walls in the background.

I wanted to do a self-portrait inspired by Botticelli's Birth of Venus. It is an image that I have always found especially beautiful, one which I often imagine myself inhabiting. For my Halloween costume last fall I took an old white t-shirt, traced the image of his Venus and underneath it wrote, ME, Venus, Goddess of Love. I am wearing that T-shirt in the painting/photograph (and I usually do my painting in a similar T-shirt). I chose a candid shot, where I've turned to hold back my hair from blowing into my face. My image is so utterly unlike Botticelli's version. I am turned in profile so you can see (what I think is) my big, certainly un-divine nose. My eyes are closed, do not invite the viewer to love me, see into me. My expression is not one of ecstasy, but of expectation and controlled anxiety. 

I think I exaggerated this awkwardness in the painting, made myself much more of an ambivalent Venus than the photo reflected. But while so many of my features seem wrong for the goddess of love (like my large hands, not small or delicate, working to pin back free strands of hair, instead of modestly and expertly covering myself), my long golden hair seemed right, seemed feminine.

In both my Venus painting and in The Photos My Boyfriend Takes (which shares the name of the project) the hair is a really important feature. I am reminded of Michael Fried's article where he writes of Courbet's Woman with a Parrot, "...the wavy spreading tresses in the later work [serves] as one more hyperbolic image both of the painter-beholder's primary implement (that is, of its hairy working tip) and of the activity of that implement at its most inspired." The dark brown-red of my splayed hair turns into the dark comer outlining the edge of the pillow, which reaches down to meet an area of intense, fluttery brushwork. Thu,s as the quiet and deliberate, rather than passive subject, I, or rather my feminine features, become the active artist; the painting turns into a complex mirror, reflects my genuine efforts, my genuine desire to be a working female artist-to be object and subject of desire.

I want to thank you for this opportunity. I have enjoyed my work this summer very much.