Laurie A Pearsall
The Esoteric: How art is born
This entry marks the birth of a new artwork, a new wig in a delicate set of sculptures I first exhibited a year ago. It came to me almost instantaneously after we hugged goodbye and I closed the door. I hadn't been able to stem the tears that arrived simultaneously with a stinging tenderness in my breasts. I felt wholly shamed by a few comments made by a friend in a swift attempt to stop my tears. I recognize at this point that when strangers or people we care for kindly attempt to quiet us down, the effort can actually be designed to quell their own discomfort with open displays of grief.
She is a friend. I spotted her immediately years ago when I first moved to the village. It was recycling that brought us together. A new café / reading zone / sculpture studio / meeting space had just opened. As I headed to work I saw stools made from lemon-leaf green astroturf affixed to tree trunks from the car window. I have taught both of her children. We have fallen in and out of contact several times in the many years I've lived in this particular town. At first I was intimidated by her, the clarity in her eyes, her natural beauty, and her resistance of hair dye or cosmetics. These qualities, albeit superficial, caused me in the early days to question my vanity. Now I understand it's merely a matter of taste.
These days we see each other more often. We found each other again and meet often in a clan of furiously happy females. Our children have left home so it's just easier. In the last calendar year alone I have skinny-dipped on a Saturday morning in her idyllic backyard pool, I have listened to stories and read my own tales in a tight blazing circle of women impossibly nestled around her open fireplace, and just yesterday we drank home-brewed kombucha and talked about our expat transience and how each of us ended up on this island. I learned how since she became old enough to leave her parents behind, she has always lived on islands.
The small gathering had ended. It was my first time hosting. I counteract the vulnerability I feel with having guests by over-preparing the home, ridding it of dust or other evidence of carelessness. I over-dote and seduce them with flavors, scents, and stories. This spoiling is for me as well. After all, I had promised myself I wouldn't talk about the rape during this encounter. We were standing at the door and she asked if I knew yet when the trial would be. I began to answer with a synopsis of the most recent news - the delays, the re-appearance of the rapist next to my house - the fact that just last week was the third anniversary. It tumbles out, I want to be cool and brief and detached, but how can I when I haven't seen my daughter in six months - and while both breasts are pulsating painfully with the throb of eight angry nodes? These breasts have now been biopsied and given the 'all-clear' along with my own clear warning that I had better stop mothering everyone if the growths are to shrink before the next scan.
She grabs my right shoulder and cuts me off, "I just wanted to know when the trial is so we can be there to support you - don't worry, ya está echo - everything is done now, you don't need to worry about her - or him - it is all out of your hands ...relax." With a summative lift of the chin and the wafting of her free hand, she implies that I could - rather should - just 'let it go'. I step back and the tears emerge, I instinctively cover each breast with my hands. Our other friend looks on and there it is, mirrored back in their eyes instantly, what they likely wanted to avoid: my pain. Now she takes both my shoulders and says hurriedly, "It's ok, don't worry, the solution that is meant to be will come and your daughter will be wonderful and you will feel better and your art will change - you don't need to do anything else!"
A moment later in the threshold we three give six kisses and wave goodbye in the cool evening air. I shut the door and the real tears come. I hold my throbbing breasts again, as though my child is crying from across the sea and my milk is coming in.
The symbiosis I was feeling was not that tender maternal omniscience, but rather the omnipresent feeling of disenfranchised grief. "Your artwork will change" was the one statement I clipped out of the prognostic. My defenses flared freely while hot tears rolled and my throat ondulated - What?! - I thought - What is WRONG with my artwork that it needs to change? My artwork will change of course, it always does because it is an extension of my life experience. But, why should it not deal with this very present danger: the reanimated spector of sexual violence that has accompanied me in much of my life and has seeped in through the floorboards of every tidy home I have made?
Then it arrived, both the title and the visualization of a sixth wig at once - another judge. In 2022 I exhibited a series of judges wigs made of personal ephemeral materials like journal pages, lace underwear, bandages, hair. They have names like the stages of grief. The divorcée bride, the wounded mother with her injured daughter, the widow, and the irksome victim trying the system. They are all female.
The wigs are replicas of the style worn by judges since the 16th century, said to enhance the anonymous behavior of judges with clients and to protect the judge from the interference of their personal lives. To help my audience, I wrote on the placard:
What device does a victim of sexual violence have as protection from the interference of the legal proceedings in her personal life? Anonymity for the victims can mean refraining from making others uncomfortable with our anger and pain. Powerlessness before the social or the judicial system makes a victim inversely prone to self-judgment and self-punishment.
Sobbing on the couch I see a new judge, The Esoteric, and I begin spontaneously to sing:
Hush now baby don't say a word, mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing, mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring don't shine ....
I don't know the next lyric but 'a canary in a coal mine' springs to mind. I was shut down, pushed back into the dark - and on top of it, told my key to freedom was soon to be obsolete. Even if, and I know it is very likely, my friend's comments were simply a bit careless and served more to protect herself than me, my heart was punched. But Maya Angelou said I know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I think I do too, again, as I imagine the new sculpture. Seeing it complete in my mind palace and knowing just what materials I need to concoct it provides me instant relief.
Materials and Design:
The song lyrics, this journal entry printed out on translucent vellum and sliced into strips.
Inside will dangle a chandelier crystal I acquired recently.
It will occasionally sparkle flashes of holographic color, if the light hits it just so.
the two pig-tails at the back of the head piece will be braided and the tufts at the ends will be of sheepskin scraps from old yoga mats.
The fringe at the forehead too will be of curly sheepskin.
The paper coils of rolled hair at the crown will be unfurled and reaching upward as though to escape the situation - either through transcendental meditation - or fear.
It will not be displayed on a perch like the others, but will hang from monofilament.
Viewers will say, muy curioso ... because it's unclear if it is ascending or descending.
This new wig, The Esoteric, will get made when the parts are in place. First comes the gathering of the physical parts, the words, some glue, and then pockets of time woven around my other obligations. Ultimately I will share it. I will continue to share my artwork, even if it makes you uncomfortable and even if it changes completely.
Tomorrow I am to deliver the original five Judges' Wigs installation to a gallery for a collective exhibition in a different village, the one where I first made a home on the island. It's the place of the bathtub scene I have replayed in my mind so often lately as my breasts have been pining. A mother and baby girl naked and held by warm fragrant water, locking eyes as she suckles.