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.
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.