What I like about reading is that it doesn't hand you images. Reading is complete immersion because I have to stay inside my head and make the images myself. I can get lost in a book world so much more completely than I can in a film or still image. That’s the pleasure for me. It's so restful!
I also hate seeing a film adaptation before I read the book because I don’t want the film images cluttering up my head while I’m reading. I want to make pictures of the characters out of the words myself. I guess reading requires more engagement which is why you feel more suspended in it.
I’m sharing these photos with you anyway because they aren’t pictures of what the characters in Little Wrecks look like; they are pictures of me and my friends who lived in the same time and place as Magda, Ruth and Isabel. And I want to show you what the world looks like. I want to show you all of the little incidental objects that are hanging around in these images. The kinds of things kids were doing in their rooms or at school. I’m showing you pictures of the world and hoping you can feel a little what it felt like to be in it.
This is my friend Mary in her room. See the pictures of David Bowie? If you were a gender dissident teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, David Bowie, Joan Jett and Prince pretty much saved your life, just by being visible.
We had an amazing art teacher, who used to get us involved in her performance pieces. This is us the time we spent a whole day at school wrapped in white veils. We were supposed to get them dirty. At the end of the day we took them off and Mrs. Rowe burned them with a blowtorch.
One thing that really strikes me when I look at these pictures is that art education was so much more valued and better funded then. From here it might even look strange. Your art teacher got paid to use her students in weird performance pieces where she got you to go around school wrapped in white veils all day and then burned the veils after school?!
YES, she did! In doing that she made us think about what it meant to be girls, what the culture was telling us about gender and how it worked as cultural meaning. But she also made us feel like we could do something with that, get inside it and show people, make them think about it. That made us less powerless. Doing that with an art work means you’re not presenting one right answer. You’re making images and inviting an array of responses, getting people to think.
We had the darkrooms where we developed film and printed these photographs, and we had silk screen set-ups, which I used to make this Christmas card one year. I think I'm fifteen here. I grew up in a Catholic family, which for me meant a weird and gruesome myth structure, a lot of guilt, but also a lot of drama and poetry that still comes out in all my creative work. (It also meant that, unlike a lot of my other friends, I had a clear and present image of a female god. When I was seven, the Virgin Mary spoke to me in my dreams.)
When I was in high school it was without question that I had the right to make this image. That people would respect that right no matter how they felt about the image itself. That giving me room to make this image was a valid use of school. What would I be without that?
We were encouraged to think about things, to be creative makers, that was considered a viable use for education. It also gave us a way to deal with whatever happened to us, a way to work through grief or trauma or difficulty by feeling we could get control of it, make it into something strange and beautiful and thoughtful.
Now I work in education and people talk about ‘real’ research and ‘real’ life. They mean vocational classes that can be applied to business and industry. They mean that art and creativity aren’t ‘real’ in their own right. That everything has to have a material use. There is a new phrase which I hate, 'creative industries'. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t value creativity for its own sake. That doesn’t recognise that creative play can save lives and sanity, all by itself.