"Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard."
— Anne Sexton
Los Angeles County
by: Melissa Herrington
I came to see how an identity also exists in a trace that has been left behind: a photographic referent provided by each missing persons’ family is supplied to the LAPD, then is passed through the channels of the investigation to be located in a database of the Department of Justice. Missing individuals drift on and off this list, some are found, some are recovered, some are considered deceased after a seven-year expiration date has been fulfilled and others are left in the darkness of our ambiguity.
There is such an enormous array of representation of murdered and missing women to respond to that for me, two thoughts arise at once. The first is that the social problem of violence against women is ongoing, perhaps even deepening (and this despite a good 40 years of feminist activism in protest). The second is that representations of this violence are starting to multiply like never before. We would be hard-pressed not to draw connections here, even though we avoid any simple equation of representational violence with actual, material violence. Yet, the relationship between representations of murdered and missing women and the ongoing murders and disappearances of women is urgently in need of our attention.
I ask the question about the possible effects of such representations in relation to the notable increase in violence against women in our community and around the world over the last decade.Thus, the complexity involved in creating this work and responding to these representations invites sustained questioning: How is public memory related to a work of art? What tensions exist between humanization and aestheticization, representation and exploitation? What other issues arise when that which is private is made public? What ethical questions arise around representations and critiques that take place in the aftermath of such a significant loss? What tactics are taken in response to images and identities that are ‘fixed’ by the mainstream media? What potential readings or misreading exist for a photo and or the revisioning of such photos in these circumstances.
Here, another also shadows the re-represented within a fundamental question: how has race, gender, and status influence the perceived value of each.
This series of black charcoal, implied drawings suggests hesitancy, time, and a moment of pause. The charcoal is non-permanent and will eventually fade. The installation of these pictures is to be installed as a Hermann optical grid formation. This grid acts as an organization of space that is dominant in visual representations of missing women and is suggestive of criminalization such as mug shots and is reductive, as in the repetitive placement of headshots which amount to little more than a visual statistic; these women are not seen as individuals, but visually, as a group, or as a human archive.
This project cannot be described accurately; it must be seen. The monochromatic black paper, at first glance is to mislead the viewer in assuming it is only blank. The portraits push through the surface, not so much by their depiction in color but as the light is caught from a distorted vantage point. In order to view these drawings significant adjustments in perceptions must be made. The viewer is drawn into the optical awareness of the grid and then is asked to make out the subtle contours of the darkness of each drawing.
I hope this project allows us to keep talking, but also to keep counting.