PRESSING MFA Thesis
PRESSING Exhibition Statement
Pressing focuses on the voices of survivors of rape and abuse. This body of work includes large-scale portraits of survivors and allies painted on used billboard vinyl, stenciled images of sexual predators, poetry reflecting the emotional trauma of assault, and 3D printed wall sculptures that are passages written by survivors. The survivors were empowered to select the photos that I used as source material. These portraits often depict a moment in which the person was feeling hopeful about the future. This work presents poetic narratives from survivors contrasted with muted images of abusers.
In the spring of 2017, I began reaching out online and in person to find survivors who would be open to talking to me. Some people agreed to send me handwritten text about their experiences. These included thoughts, poems, and descriptions of the assault that they had never shared previously. These people are strangers, acquaintances, close friends, and family.
The portraits are comprised of survivors and people who wish to stand up as allies for those who did not want their likeness depicted. Many people do not feel safe identifying as a survivor in public. These group portraits do not distinguish between who is and is not a survivor in order to offer privacy to those who have been victimized. Furthermore, it stresses that while RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) states that one in six women have been harmed by sexual assault, all people are affected.
Within the middle structure, the survivors and their allies stand in opposition to the images of sexual predators. The majority of the sexual predators presented were exposed as being perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment within the last year. The images of predators have been created with much less care and intricacy than the portraits of survivors. This hierarchy of value aims to diminish the power of perpetrators and enhance the power of survivors.
The text in this body of work is from the thoughts and experiences of survivors. Their words manifest as wall sculptures and painted poetry running along the floor on the outside of the enclosed space. Using the processes of 3D printing and laser cutting retains the fidelity of each person's handwriting. The handwriting becomes another portrait expressed through mathematical points, codes, and layers of PLA (polylactic acid filament). Each sculpture is hung at the approximate writing height of its corresponding survivor. These text portraits retain the humanity and physical presence of the individual. The subtlety of the forms gives the words a ghostly appearance, while still having a tangible, real presence.
The integration of billboard vinyl has several reasons behind it. The discarded billboard material is a stand-in for the human body. The annotations, dirt, folds, and tears become residue of their experience. Survivors carry their trauma with them the rest of their lives, even after healing. In the media and in marketing campaigns, sexual aggression is reinforced through debasement of the female form. The billboards have now been reclaimed by survivors. Together these works aim to empower survivors through their participation in its production. Collectively, it confronts abusers and lifts the veil of invisibility from the experiences of survivors.