Friday, October 23, 2015

Becoming Greater than the Sum of my Parts

Me by Me

Let me acknowledge first that this final installment in my self-portrait project is over a month late in happening and explain why, because the reasons turned out to be a huge part of the process that finally brought these images into being.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

For a long time I have been struggling with attrition. The older I get, the more losses I collect. It’s a constant challenge to eye happiness with anything but suspicion when the preponderance of evidence persists that any sought, believed or embraced source of happiness will swiftly become a source of betrayal of trust, followed by acceptance of loss. Being an optimist, I keep falling for it, and keep getting slammed. This may be why I can count so many losses. Maybe I’d have had fewer losses if I had done less seeking, believing and embracing. And certainly, there have been those gained shining moments of joy I did indeed experience which are not to be entirely erased by the shadow that overtook and eclipsed them.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

Still, my life has become increasingly reduced it seems. I am a poet who doesn’t publish, an athlete who doesn’t train or compete, an artist whose work isn’t displayed, a businesswoman whose business sees no profit, a citizen without a job, assets or quantifiable contribution to society, a woman without child, mother or mate. It would be easy for me to retreat deeply into myself and become a figment of my own imagination. My daily existence is so isolated and independent of outside confirmation, definition, recognition and measure, there are times I doubt my own corporeality. 

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

And yet, there are times I am nothing but my body, the way the very fit and the very ill, during their long hours of solitary interiority, become acutely aware of and attuned to the immediacy and vagaries of their own systems and symptoms in their evolving strengths and frailties. How else to know I am alive and real some days than the advancing and retreating aches of my joints, the alternating eagerness and lassitude of my muscles, the inflation of my lungs making my chest rise and fall?

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

My routines and pursuits, and the places and social structures surrounding them, have been dismantled and reassembled so many times, I am not even sure what wholeness means anymore. The internal pieces have been there always, abilities, values, aversions, attractions, to be combined anew like the fragile shards of glass in a kaleidoscope. There is always consistency and order, and always impermanence to anything I become with a twist of the self-contained cylinder.  It can only be the sum of its parts, just as I am, parts that have been shaken too often, and now are far from whole themselves, but, in the end, all I’ve got to work with, all I ever will, so best keep trying to make something beautiful while there’s still time, until there is nothing left to shake but a tube full of dust.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

I went into this shoot psychologically cornered by the accumulated losses, absences, fears, doubts and sorrows of my life to date, and a not entirely hopeful vision of the next shake of this old kaleidoscope of an identity and its place in the outside world in which I do, after all, have to live. But I came out swinging. I accepted that I am the sum of my parts and that it doesn’t matter whether this sum amounts to more than those parts, or anything at all. It’s something. It’s a start. It is not, as I feared in my hesitation to complete this project, an end. Silly girl, this project was never about 12 themes to be explored and filed away as a finished work, any more than I am. The process continues whether or not it is demonstrated by a monthly set of images, or validated by any worldly definition of worthiness through accomplishment. The project is me.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon, the first World Women's Bodybuilding Champion, in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, “Lady, Lisa Lyon.”  Throughout the 80s, Mapplethorpe produced many images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres. In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989.

This shoot is dedicated to Robert Mapplethorpe, an inspiration for all artists, then, now and forever, to keep fighting the good fight.