I am a patchwork. I am a collage. I am a mess.
Written by Jori Sackin
A collage is an artwork made from an assemblage of disparate parts to form a whole. A patchwork is a form of needlework that involves sewing carefully measured geometric shapes into a larger design. (Wiki) I'm going to examine the piece "Triage" by Josh Faught in the show, Loving After Lifetimes of All This (Nov 7 - Jan 3) using the metaphors identity is a patchwork and identity is a collage. The piece "Triage" is obviously more of a collage than a patchwork, but I do think it's worth noting what separates the two and how they relate to identity.
Often we think of ourselves as a patchwork, that we are carefully constructed out of smaller pieces, that when viewed from afar can be seen as an intricate larger pattern. It is much more satisfying to think of ourselves this way because it implies that we are complex, put together, detailed individuals, that over many years have meticulously worked to construct ourselves into a meaningful whole. Much less satisfying is to think that we are thrown together collages made out of the materials that just happened to be in close proximity, that the materials we construct ourselves out of are not entirely ours, nor do they sometimes get adequately integrated into the cohesive whole. Sometimes, because of the forcefulness of circumstance, we tack things on without much thought or sensitivity.
The materials used in this piece are as numerous as they are disparate; hemp, nail polish, spray paint, indigo, logwood, toilet paper, pins, plaster, etc. The composition has a pride in its own meticulous sloppiness. There is a desperate frenzy implied in the way the objects are bound together which gives the impression the artist feels the weight of time heavily pushing down, pushing him to carve out a small section of space he can finally be intimate with. There is an urgency to not only construct the self, but to heal the self, and there is an awareness that both of those projects are impossible.
Given the metaphor our identity is a collage, we are also presented with the question of whether we are our own construction. More likely, the surface of the piece, the initial fabric, was given to us at birth. We didn't get to choose what we started with or how some of the initial pieces were put together, but given our situation, we start gathering and trying to make sense of it. Objects are added that we find valuable, a pair of long black gloves, books we think are important, small things that stick with us for no reason at all. We raise them up, ask for their help, hope that the meaning we give them, will reciprocally help us find meaning in ourselves.
We want these symbols to add up to something. We want to be a patchwork, and yet, the more stuff we add, the more we become the collage. We are attracted to things we can't explain, and the more we examine them, the smaller and more inconsequential they seem. Our sexuality, something which at times seems like the most important thing in our lives, gets reduced down to three small shiny buttons. We want these things to define us, but in our grasping for definition, in our tacking on more and more stuff, we experience the futility of the tools we are given.
It is in these moments that we start to embrace the irony of adding things to ourselves we don't even like that much, things that annoy us, or seem trivial. Why not? The collage get's bigger. We stop taking it seriously. The rips and tears that eventually develop are at first treated with the knowledge of the day, with self help books, words that seem to make sense when reading them, but fail us the moment they enter the reality of our lives. At some times, we seem helpless to redefine ourselves, while at others, we are so different we don't recognize the person we've become.
As people, we hope that the small moments in our lives add up to something larger, something meaningful and worthwhile. As artists we hope the pieces we make, the time we put into them, the meaning that's invested, will add up to something as well. We call them "pieces" for a reason. We hope that the sometimes wandering, sometimes driving path we take will produce a cohesive whole that when viewed from afar will form a complex pattern, and in that moment of seeing it come together, in that moment of remembering what we've invested throughout the years, our labored yearning will pay off, and the pieces, through the critical interpretation of our peers, will finally find meaning for us.
What this story leaves out, is the everyday sloppiness of our day to day lives. What this story glosses over, is the way which we actually piece things together, the sometimes random, sometimes sensitive choices we make in constructing ourselves. Our "pieces" do not end up forming a patchwork, rather they are stitched together in the best way we know how. The humanness of our construction ends up being the one identifying characteristic in the whole creation.
We are ourselves when we stop trying to construct ourselves. We are ourselves when we stop trying to be complex. We are ourselves when we no longer feel constrained by the materials we have gathered together.