I have painted you a tomb / Je t'ai peint une tombe
In July of 2020, there was a bedbug problem in our apartment complex. The exterminator strongly suggested that we'd take apart the many 2x4's covering the back wall of my bedroom, in case some of them could be hiding in there. We proceeded to remove the wooden planks that were drilled into the wall, revealing underneath - no bugs - but what was the result of too many coats of paint over too many years, all coming apart in thick lime-green latex strips. I started pulling away at the paint. It was coming off effortlessly and it felt cathartic. After I was done, I stared at the bare wall, back to its primary essence, and it felt like I had stripped back layers and layers of paint off myself, too. At a point in my life where I was questioning more than ever how I was moving through the world and who I was as an artist, a thought crossed my mind - before I fix that wall, I'm going to leave something behind.
2020 is my Death Year (13). It kicked off with coming out as transgender and then, a global pandemic. As within, so without, everything I once knew about myself and the world I lived in had fallen away. In order to better navigate the liminal space that precedes transformation, I've worked a lot with the energies of Death and Rebirth and chose to dedicate this whole year to mourning. My grief is my love is my grief. I'm both getting in touch with who I truly am, while letting go of the person that I thought I was. When I came out, my first instinct was to reject the "girl" I had lived as for a lifetime. She would invalidate my identity as a man, I thought, I didn't want to hear her name again, because when I did, it cut at my stomach and made me feel smaller than ever before. In the light of that newly found self-awareness, I could also see how the expression of my femininity had been mainly a performance pieced out of ruthless gender constructs and autism-masking. My whole ego and sense of self was built out of trauma responses, stifling heteronormativity, identity diffusion and internalized phobias. When I looked at pictures of her, all I could see was fear. I was angry. I wanted to erase all of that. I called myself an empty shell, I felt resentful for sleepwalking through life, missing out on my boyhood, because I was ashamed of who I was.
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression.
When in reality, it really is simple. I am who I am. She is me and I am her. I love me and I love her. I've experienced life as a woman for 28 years and I owe it to her to be standing here today as the man that I am. I'm no less of who I am because of that.
Now I am ready to let her go. So I wanted to say thank you. And goodbye.
I have painted you a tomb / Je t'ai peint une tombe
Mixed-media / video performance
I wanted to make something that wouldn't stay, I wanted to create something for the sake of creating it. I wanted to return to why I started making art in the first place. So whatever I was doing, the end point was that I was going to paint over it. That made me think of a burial, then a funeral, and I sketched a couple of things. I stuck with the first idea that crossed my mind - a portrait of her, surrounded by flowers. I also wanted to write her a eulogy and decided to integrate it to the design. I drew everything in Photoshop, using a Huion tablet. I projected the design onto the wall and sketched everything out in pencil. I had collaborated artistically with my dear friend Lindsey Massar on her musical project, winterbird, over the summer, and her whole album explores the very same themes of Death and Rebirth, and so I asked her if she would sing at my funeral - if I could use her song ''Requiem'' to make a timelapse video of the whole process. I painted everything with Liquitex Acrylic paint and acrylic markers in Prussian Blue. When I was done, I painted over the whole thing with white paint.
This project became a whole ceremony of itself. Not only was it a strong symbolic release for me, the process also allowed me to remember and touch the most authentic parts of myself as an artist again. This piece became so important for me and is a very personal testament to what has passed and what remains.
Rest in peace you have wrapped me in gold just as the muck was settling
You put me to sleep so that we could both be safe
You’ve hidden the pictures the words the wishes for boy
You were dreaming of fireflies in the pit of darkness
Rest in peace your body was a battlefield and still you grew flowers
Your mouth was filled with blood and still you spoke in poems
You knew you were dying and still you moved through the pain
Rest in peace I am burying you in love and you will live on in my name
I promise to become a monument to the sacredness of our being
Because I live in trauma, I will choose radical love
I will not kneel
I will keep my head high
I will light fires where the shame has collected in my body
I will make art that makes captious men scream
I will give you every color, every dance, every song, every swim, every belly breath and every kiss that you have ever hoped for
I will live fully the life that you have given me back and I will be grateful
I will stay angry
I will be indigo blue ink and spit and honey
Tongue red, knees bruised, a disposition for feeling too much and colorful sweaters
Rest in peace you knew a secret language you never got to speak, but I remember all the words
I promise I’ll tell every story that wants to come forth
I promise to show others the compassion you have shown me
I promise to stand up for everything you hold dear
I promise to introduce you to every soul that recognizes me
It will make you smile in morning sunlight and August showers
It will feel like love overwhelming me
A half-eaten sandwich and the same eyes
A soul communing with oneself
Because of you I was a boy who could finally become a man
Thank you for taking me in that day
Rest in peace