Flat Granny and Me: A Procession in My Mind
2015-17, mixed media installation/performance, 12'x25'x45' (dimensions vary)
originally commissioned in 2014 by The Sculpture Center, Cleveland, Ohio
"In 1968, my grandmother was named Enterprise, Alabama’s “Woman of the Year.” Along with all the beauty queens and decorated city official in the parade that year, she, too, rode down Main Street; her float clumsily swerving around the Boll Weevil Monument while she waved to the crowd below."
Flat Granny and Me: A Procession in My Mind is a traveling installation and performance in the form of an unfolding room-sized diorama. Intertwining the historic narrative surrounding the plight of my South Alabama farming community at the hands of the Mexican Boll Weevil with the memory-scape of my grandmother riding in the annual Boll Weevil Parade as 1968 Woman of the Year; past meets present, reality and memory collide placing the viewer in a dream-like setting and state. Part cyclorama/part moving image, A Procession... was created in an attempt to "reverse the camera's crop" - returning space and time to the still image; and doing so, attempts to redefine the form and function of the photograph in our contemporary, image-saturated world.
A 10'x90' handmade backdrop, picturing the landscape of my father’s farm with his first ever cotton crop that grew to eight feet tall. Hung in the round, the backdrop delineates the photographic stage collaging the two dimensional with the three dimensional, the past juxtaposing the present, the still against the moving, the dead among the living. In a merry-go-round of sorts, spectators enter the photographic curtain and encounter an array of 2D and 3D characters, they, too, becoming part of the "image" as they circumambulate the float. Fog, animated lighting, and panning sound recordings of my singing voice, my father’s piano playing, and my grandmother talking in her sleep fill the space.
Flat Granny - a life-size photographic cutout of my grandmother turned costume - was the impetus for the creation of this four-dimensional environment. Flat Granny becomes a stand-in for my grandmother, as we stand, back-to-back, inside this image torn from the colliding pages of family photo albums and my mind's eye. Delving into the realm of fantasy, storytelling becomes image and the imagined becomes a multimedia, staged scene in which the viewer is invited to step right into the story, into the photograph, not knowing fully what has come before or what might happen next.
Video of Performance No. 1, 2014
The Sculpture Center, Cleveland, OH
video by Jeff Mancinetti
A 10'x90' hand-colored photograph on tissue paper, backed with cheesecloth, and hung in the round - pictures the landscape of my father’s farm with its 2014 cotton crop that grew to 8 feet tall. The black and white 120 negatives that I shot of the farm in cotton were scanned, combined in Photoshop, then printed at 12"x108". I hand-colored this black and white photograph with watercolor and acrylic. Scanning in this newly colored image, I enlarged the photograph and printed 30 - 36"x120" panels of the landscape on tissue paper. I, then, backed each panel with cheesecloth.
The photographic panels were then sewn together and the 10'x90' photograph was hemmed. The use of cheesecloth and tissue paper allowed for the performers' animated lighting to shine through the backdrop and, at times, catch our waving and dancing shadows.
Four costumed performers illuminated the interior of the cyclorama with lighting attached to 8'-10' wooden poles. These performers painted the interior of the photographic cyclorama with light controlled by dimmer switches attached at the performers' belts. The illumination inside the cyclorama directed viewers through the space, while the contrasting darkness on the exterior of the backdrop allowed for the glowing landscape to catch shadows cast by the waving and dancing performers inside the curtain. When exploring the interior and exterior of the installation, viewers were offered unique, ever-changing audio experiences and views of the photographic image.
Over the life of this project, venues varied greatly. Casting for the performances was dependent solely upon volunteers from the hosting communities. Therefore, performers also greatly varied, not only in costume size, but in the level of the performers' experience. To that end, costumes, props, and choreography continually evolved. Throughout the duration of the live events, performers remained in character, existing within the photographic dimension, save my father who repeatedly broke the fourth wall, mounting and dismounting the float to speak to (and sometimes dance with) spectators, all the while, telling impromptu stories and pointing out details of the farm.
Working on a shoestring budget, I relied on my family's strong Southern sensibility of "making do" by enlisted trash and detritus harvested from our farm as material for this project. Performers' wigs were created from weathered hay string - exhumed from the farm's former cow pasture. Costumes were embellished with raw cotton, salvaged cotton seed, and stained with red clay harvested from the farm.
As another form of moving image, I turned Flat Granny and Me: A Procession in My Mind into a parade float and retraced the route my grandmother took as 1968 Woman of the Year. Letters were hand-cut from found styrofoam. The clay mounds were created from discarded mattresses and vinyl wallpaper. The float's understructure was made from rusty hay feeders found on the farm. As the float proceeded down the parade route, Flat Granny and Me, standing back-to-back, spin, revealing to the crowd on the street below...Flat Granny, then Me, then Flat Granny again...reminiscent of time and its passing.
As a final form for this project, I created an edition of 30 souvenir fans. These bi-fold fans transform the still photographic documentation of A Procession in My Mind's performance/installation into moving image. Each souvenir fan is signed, numbered, and uniquely hand-embellished with watercolor and gold leaf.
Performance documentation by Doug Clark, Kate Farmer, Jenny Fine, and Rob Mueller
Special thanks to The Sculpture Center, Wiregrass Museum of Art, The Walnut Gallery, and Stephen Smith Fine Arts