August 13, 2007

Portrait Exchange

A couple of months ago I agreed to participate in a portrait exchange for a friend's collective art project. We were to halfway complete a self-portrait, then switch with someone and project another self-portrait onto theirs. I was designated to swap with Sommer Xavier Foster, whom I had never met. The collection of portraits will be presented in a gallery on August 23rd, I'll be sure to post when/where.

I received Sommer's drawing in the mail, her likeness portrayed in her signature bird/humanoid style. In fact, I've since seen some of her other handiwork, in which birds feature prominently. With so much empty space to fill, I was baffled as to how I might proceed-- I couldn't do justice to her work with my own half-assed drawing abilities, but the strangeness of her bird-face made me want to respond with something outside my range of ability. So I took stock of what was in my apartment, found myself staring at my long-reach stapler, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It seemed like such a fun idea to staple a portrait of myself. I hadn't reckoned with the actual physical labor involved in KERCHUNK-ing literally thousands of staples into a sheet of posterboard, on some of the hottest nights of the summer. I stapled until I got blisters, until I was sure the downstairs neighbors would complain, until I had to towel my face from the exertion. And as a puncture is a lot harder to erase than, say, a pencil line, I was critically self-conscious of the fact that each KERCHUNK was permanent, I could only work forwards, never backwards. After the first few hours I began to feel as if I had unnecessarily ruined someone else's interesting self-portrait because of my hare-brained impulse. There was nothing I could do but keep trying.

KERCHUNK KERCHUNK KERCHUNK. After a while it became mechanical, I stopped thinking of it as a likeness of myself and started seeing it as just a job that needed done. Which was interesting, because I gave up my stake in whether the portrayal was flattering or accurate. The lines just needed to be traced and retraced, the edges reinforced, the stapler reloaded, until it felt done. Which is exactly what happened yesterday afternoon after an hour of stapling while listening to a documentary about Prussian Blue, the white-supremacist tween twin pop sensation. Suddenly I was done, and whether because of the actual result or just the work that went into it, for the first time since I started, I saw myself in it.

Portrait Exchange


Detail view here. I hope that you'll come check out the rest of the exchanges at the end of the month, and see whatever became of the other half of my contribution. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll have been turned into some sort of terrifying half-bird.

1 comment:

megan said...

Omigod, I can't believe this is the first I'm hearing of this and that you used staples!! You are one crazy m-f'er. I love you dearly.