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A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter

Several years ago, I sustained an injury that instigated my interest in depictions of the body. As a result, I began researching images of the human figure in the landscape. After wading through historical and contemporary works depicting passive female figures, exposed to the elements and unnaturally posed against landscape backdrops, I set out to make images that critically engage conventional aesthetic associations between the women and nature. With members of my community, including fellow artists, colleagues, and former roller derby teammates as subjects, I began making photographs of women and gender non-conforming people engaging with the natural world.

In contrast to traditional figure studies or portraits, A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter follows a series of protagonists through natural spaces, such as forests, lakes, prairies, and coastlines. The relationship between these people and their experience of their surroundings is grounded in their individual physicality. The protagonists demonstrate their agency as subjects by actively inhabiting these places; often integrated within the landscape, at times becoming engrossed with, struggling against, or even finding refuge in, their surroundings.

The title for the project is an amalgam of textual fragments extracted from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I read these journal entries throughout my rehabilitation, finding resonance between Plath’s continuous expression of feeling confined and gender confinement through representation. In response to visual tropes traditionally used when depicting women in the landscape, the photographs illustrate a desire to engage with the natural world through intentional, subject-driven participation.

I pair some of the portraits with a tonally inverted photographs of unsettled dust particles. Dust is rich with symbolic meaning; the notion of dust can conjure spaces that range from the more limited domestic sphere to the vastness of the cosmos. Dust is transient matter, but can also collect and remain stagnant, shaped by and reacting to outside forces. The inverted photographs of unsettled dust particles connect Plath’s text with my images of figures in the landscape, suggesting not only a symbolic but metaphysical relationship between shifting manifestations of identity, self-embodiment, while considering how these ideas are transmuted within ourselves and to others.

Published by: Melissa Borman
Designed by: Matthew Rezac
Essay by: Susannah Magers

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