Archive of ‘ars moriendi’ category

Mother issues, volume 1: The smelly edition

Sometimes, when my sisters and I get together and have had a few glasses of wine, one of us will say something like “Hey, do you remember Furry Lewis? And the weird black spots on his nose? We sure had a lot of cats when we were growing up, didn’t we?  Let’s see if we can remember all of their names!” At this point we are not counting or keeping track very well, and it usually goes nowhere and we have forgotten about it five minutes later.

If pressed to do that right now, I could name: Fritz, Leonard, Tibbytabby, Rosemary Kelly Denise, Bub, Chico, Chloe, Larry, Gypsy, Leroy Parnell, Simon Bisely, Dr. Bob, Furry Lewis, Tia Marie, Desdemona, Freddy Mercury, Clyde, Random, Mandy, Omar, Annie, Paddy, Georgie, Oliver, Bill, Ebby, feral garage kitty who later became Jenny Calendar, Ginger, Carrotcake, Abby who later became Hermione (actually I lied, I had to call my sister and ask who she could recall as well)

From the time I was 8 until right up until my mother passed away, she had no less than 5 or 6 cats in her house and for a good many years it was upwards on 20+. As a matter of fact, I believe the cat population was at it’s largest during my high school years.  If I had any friends to speak of, I probably would have been embarrassed and ashamed to bring them into our smoky, cat infested, litter-box odor infused home, but as it stood, my humiliation stemmed more from the fact that when I left the house, I brought all of these horrid smells with me.

I was picked on mercilessly on the school bus for my cat-hair covered clothes and my own hair, which seemed to smell like cigarette smoke and the faint fragrance of feline no matter how often I washed it.  Actually, the entire school bus experience was wretched for me anyhow, but that is a story for a different time, and not even really one I am comfortable telling because, well, racial stuff (I was the only white girl on a non-white bus). Most of these stories make my sister cry, so we’ll just forget about that.

As I grew older, I realized two things: I was never, ever going to start smoking – obviously because it’s bad for you, but mostly because I did not want a closet of clothes or an entire house or even/especially my person to smell like smoke.  And two: AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, I WAS NEVER GOING TO SMELL BAD AGAIN.

You may have noticed by now that I seem to have a fascination bordering on obsession with perfumes and fragrances.  You would not be wrong.  Now you know why. True, I may have inherited a bit of a hoarding gene from my mother – though I prefer to think of myself as a collector – but mostly I cannot stand the thought that there are anything other than pleasant smells coming from my corner.

My mother also loved perfumes. When I was much younger, my mother’s mirrored vanity tray held a great deal of fascination for me, with its jumble of shimmering glass bottles filled with fragrant fluids. It was a constant and forbidden temptation -as I had been told, more than once, to leave it be. And more than once, caught in a paroxysm of longing and naughtiness from which there was no return, I would spray one scent, then the next, and then perhaps high from the vaporous cloud of aromatics floating round my head, would proceed to spritz myself with the remainder of those illicit essences. When later interrogated, I would have the audacity to assert that I had been playing quietly in some other part of the house the entire time.

And yet, when I survey my  tiny scented kingdom I cannot locate one perfume that I think she would have loved (which were mostly funereal roses and heavy-handed chypres).  It somewhat saddens me to say it, but those she wore the most have always been the scents I like the least.

There you have it.  800+ words on why I blame my problems on my mother*, but it’s al really just a thinly veiled excuse to share and show off photos of my current perfume collection.
Don’t thank me.  Thank my mother.

And getting back to the names of all of those cats…well, I probably wouldn’t be able to name all of my perfumes if you ask me about them, either.

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*When I think about it, the entire reason I created this little spot here at Unquiet Things is because of my mother.  I originally meant for this to be an offshoot of Death Cafe Orlando, wherein I could post topical tidbits, updates on future events, write-ups of past events, etc. Unfortunately, I came to learn that the folks over at Death Cafe aren’t thrilled with people blogging using their name (which I really do understand, it just honestly hadn’t entered into my perhaps overenthusiastic thought processes at the time.) So, I turned it into a personal blog. I’ve been journaling online in some form or another for the past 15 years, ever since the days of Livejournal, so why not? But the overwhelming reason I think I decided to start hosting Death Cafe in the first place is because of my mother’s death back in 2013.  So I suppose it just makes sense to air all of my grievances here, along with all of my other nonsense and ramblings.

this, that and the other thing (x)

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Stunning Transylvanian landscapes by photographer Alex Robciuk (h/t Yvan)

 

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A gorgeous SXSW poster for Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, designed by Erik Buckham and Jesse Vital.  Take a peek at the teaser trailer over at Broke Horror Fan.

 

From Morbid Anatomy Presents: The Phantasmagoria shows of the early 1800s were our ancestor’s equivalent of the modern horror film or spook show. Magic Lantern historian Mervyn Heard takes us through brief history of the Phantasmagories and our cultural need to be terrified through ghosts, demons, skeletons and more… (h/t Ben)

 

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Paintings of Witches Sabbats That Resemble Parties I Have Attended (h/t Carisa)

 

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Frizzled hair, tiny ruffles, drooping roses, yes! Alexander McQueen Fall 2015 Runway is an all around win for me.

 

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Seven Stories with Nona Limmen over at CVLT Nation; a really lovely peek into the head of one of my favorite photographers

 

Spooky new sounds from Mater Suspiria Vision

For people “who think entirely too deeply about the absurd things they watch”:Splatstick and the Specters of the Past – insight from the inimitable Tenebrous Kate on Tommy Wirkola’s Nazi Zombies and Killer Witches.

The Last Supper: Artist Paints The Final Meals Of Death Row Inmates Onto Porcelain Plates

Can the world’s weirdest library survive? (h/t Dustin)

Werner Twertzog on twitter

Edison’s ‘Lost’ Idea: A Device to Hear to the Dead (h/t Drax)

The 20 Greatest Original Horror Scores (h/t Drax)

Death Cafe Orlando made it into the news!

Death Cafe Orlando, take two

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On a grey, rainy afternoon in late February, eleven strangers sought each other out to discuss the topic of death and all things related at Orlando’s second Death Cafe. Despite the weather, our participant’s spirits were not dampened over the course of our two hour event – if anything, a merrier group was never seen in the face of what can often be a difficult, challenging conversation.

Gathered in a loose circle — on sofas, in chairs, on the floor, attendees took part in a group discussion on matters of life and death that ranged from one’s first awareness of death, to last wishes and everything in between: the wishes for our remains, the legacies that we leave behind and our digital footprint that remains long after our physical presence has passed. And of course, delectable cakes and cookies and treats  -brought in and shared by one and all – were offered to nourish and fortify the body beforehand (and, of course, lots of positive energy in the room to nourish the spirit!) A reporter and photographer from the Orlando Sentinel held a quiet, unobtrusive presence, as well, and conducted several brief interviews after the event wrapped up.

Attendees described the afternoon as “enlightening”, and “validating” and remarked on the warm, pleasant atmosphere. Suggestions and friendly, thoughtful critiques were offered as well, and will certainly be taken into account for our next event!

Thank you so much for attending Orlando’s second Death Cafe – it was an honor to have spent the afternoon with all of you who attended and I look forward to doing it again, and perhaps seeing some of you there the next time!

For those of you wondering about my shirt, you can purchase it through the Death Salon site.  Additionally, here are the recipes for the Irish Wake Cake and the Funeral Biscuits.

 

 

Death Has A Voice

‘Death has a voice’….a haunting soundtrack for your weekend, curated by yours truly for Death and the Maiden.

Death has a voice.

From end of life celebrations, to fatalistic revelations, to mournful lamentations, there are myriad ways in which music gives death, and the dead, a voice.  Songs of the sighs of a sorrowful widow, the heartfelt  promises to a friend on their deathbed, the haunting whispers of a ghost to it’s murderer  – music is one of the most profound ways we can express or respond to the end of life experience.

The following playlist is comprised of women who have constructed and composed aural memento mori in this regard. As humans, we occupy a unique place in the saga of mortality, and these women in particular offer illuminating perspectives on the subject as it relates to the afterlife, funerals & wakes, ancestral memories, etc.

There are, of course, songs not included here which you might have on your own personal “Death and the Maiden” playlist – there is so much fantastically beautiful, heartbreaking, music to choose from that taps into our experiences with death and dying, and so your results may vary! Music is intensely personal and so, this list reflects the author’s own experiences.  Be sure to comment on the Death and the Maiden blog with your own suggestions or post a link to your personal playlist as well!

(…and don’t forget about their launch giveaway for a copy of The Undertaker’s Daughter, by Kate Upton!)

 

Track List:
O Death Jen Titus // Waiting Around to Die The Be Good Tanyas // Born To Die Lana Del Rey // Harmonica Anna von Hausswolff // Cross Bones Style Cat Power // Wakes Nina Nastasia // Sleeping Dead Emily Jane White // Caleb Meyer Gillian Welch // Fancy Funeral Lucinda Williams // Long Ride Home Patty Griffin //Family Dar Williams // Buried in Teeth Mariee Sioux // The Dirt Mirel Wagner // Into Dust Mazzy Star // Herb Girls Of Birkenau Rasputina // Eulogy La Vampires & Zola Jesus // Gallows Cocorosie // A Lily For The Spectre Stephanie Dosen // White Fire Angel Olsen // Graveyard Feist // Suzanne & I Anna Calvi // Many Funerals Eisley // Happy Phantom Tori Amos

Tea & Cake & Death

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Irish Wake Cake & Funeral Biscuits at Death Cafe Orlando. Photo: S.E. Walter

Three months ago I made the decision to host Orlando’s first Death Cafe.  This was a sudden decision, though it felt to me as if things had been leading up to it for a while.  A West Coast friend had recently blogged about her experiences attending her first Death Cafe, and I thought “huh!  I would like to do that as well”. I realized that over the past year or so I’d accumulated more than just a few friends who worked within or were involved in studies or researches surrounding some aspect of the Death industry.  And, well, my mother had just passed away two months prior, so I was still (and still am) processing that.

A search for a local Death Cafe proved fruitless; the closest being in Ocala, which I believe is an hour and a half drive from where I live. Why not just host my own, I thought.  According to the Death Cafe website, Death Cafes are considered a social franchise and anyone can do it. Why not me, indeed!

With some much needed encouragement from friends who pointed me in the direction of some Death Cafe veterans for advice and mentoring, I made my decision.  Me, someone who can barely open her mouth to speak to a stranger.  I was going to gather unfamiliar humans together and facilitate an afternoon’s discussion on Death.*

I was equally parts excited beyond belief and sick to death with dread.

I registered with the Death Cafe site and made an event page.  I created a facebook page for related content and updates.  I created a twitter account and to be thorough, I enlisted the help of a dear friend to create a separate blog for it (which, Death Cafe novices – if you are reading this, do not do those last two things.  I was contacted by Death Cafe and asked to take down the blog and twitter account.  Apparently this is a no-no that is somewhere listed in their rules, using the words ‘deathcafe’ in your twitter handle and/or blog.  I had overlooked that and rectified it as soon as possible). I posted about it on my own twitter account, my tumblr account, and my instagram.  And before you dismiss these as frivolous venues, you should know that one attendee did find it through tumblr, and another found it through my instagram account!

The months flew by, and Orlando Florida’s first Death Cafe was held on Saturday May 17th. On a rare, beautiful spring-like day, eleven people sought each other out to explore various thoughts surrounding their own mortality and discuss that aeons old Lurker, Death. For some Death was a familiar notion, and were well acquainted with it. They shared their stories, their wisdom, their insights. For others, Death was a stranger, a more abstract idea, and around this they expressed their expectations and their fears. Conversation was lively, punctuated by bursts of laughter and quieter chuckles of mirth – as well as, small silences and pauses for reflection. Topics ran the gamut, ranging from one’s first awareness of one’s own mortality, to the wish to be present (or not) when loved one has passed, from writing one’s own eulogy, to the decline of obituaries, and what to do with a parent’s remains when they have made no last wishes? In addition to the pieces of themselves that everyone shared, most all attendees brought delicious treats to the events, which were well received. As expected, cosying up so closely with Death for an afternoon leaves the soul a mite peckish.

*Many, MANY thanks to my generous sister and brother in law for opening their home up for this event. I really could not have done this without you guys, and I appreciate it more than you know. Also: sorry for leaving all that flour on the floor.

The Trouble With My Mother

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My mother, who passed last December, is – technically speaking – very much with us.  In fact, she resides at the top of the closet of the guest room closet, at my sister’s house.

The sad truth of it is that my sisters and I have not come to a decision on what to do with her ashes, and as she left no will or final wishes, we are at a loss.

I loved my mother.  But she was a difficult woman.  A difficult human, rather – I am not sure it actually had anything to do with her being a woman. She was a recovering alcoholic and though being manipulative and selfish are part of an addict’s personality, I think she might have been that way even without the chemical addiction.  She was irresponsible, careless with her money, thoughtless.  She didn’t drive.  She was an animal hoarder.

And yet.

I loved her, I truly did.  I loved to talk about books and perfume and music with her.  I loved to listen to her curse and laugh, I loved to watch her eat a fish sandwich (she always wanted to eat the same thing, no matter which restaurant we dined in). I could be so incredibly angry with her but then we would just fall into our easy pattern of chatter and it would be forgotten.
My breath catches in my throat now, even as I am writing this, to think that I will never do any of these things with her again.  At least, not in this life.  Not as who we are to each other now.

However, in death she was nearly just as difficult as when she was living.  None of her affairs were in order. She had appointed none of us power of attorney or executor – something we should have pushed for, I realize – and she made no will and expressed no final wishes, except for one.  Being that we take in her two Himalayan cats (again, without regard to whether our living situations were amenable to an extra two animals).

Between the three of us, my sisters and I paid for her crematory costs (around $1700), we contacted the proper channels who might need to know of her passing, we cleaned up her rental home, and we divided amongst us some items that we wanted to keep to remember her.  She did not have much of value, but she certainly had a lot of stuff.

Now we are left with a cardboard box three quarters full of her earthly remains.  Human ashes are much heavier than you would expect them to be.  I remember my sister cradling the box as we walked somberly from the funeral home to our car in the parking lot.

“These are the arms that held me”, she wept softly, looking down at the box.

And so the box of our mother still sits, heavy with ashes and memories, at the top shelf of a guest room closet. Maybe five months is not long enough to sort out all of our feelings about her.  I suppose we have all the time we need, though.  She’s not going anywhere.

Divining with shadows and dreams, tears and blood: Revelations from otherworldly conjurer JL Schnabel of bloodmilk

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JL Schnabel. Photo credit: Christina Brown

Divining with shadows and dreams, tears and blood:
Revelations from otherworldly conjurer JL Schnabel of bloodmilk

In dreams we travel instinctively to places we’ve never seen but already know: still landscapes of dim corners,  hushed collections of shadows, overwhelming and powerful darkness.  Mysteries are slowly revealed and forgotten, and surface later as foggy instances of déjà vu. We awaken with tears drying on our cheeks and a feeling of loss for worlds the doors of which are open only for fleeting instants. Beyond these doors, filaments of memories and past lives spin idly in un-accessed portions of our brains like mechanical toys in dusty attics.  And one night when these obscure recollections and neglected reincarnations are finally unlocked and spill about us in pools of nonsense and surreal stories, we attribute them to overactive imaginations and snippets from tales told when we were young.

Thoughtful and enigmatic, and perhaps part mystic or seer, JL Schnabel travels with ease between these impossible dream worlds of shadows and half-light. From these etherous realms she conjures into existence and immortalizes dark memories and strange sorrows, the results of which are items delicate and powerful, graceful and grotesque, and exquisitely, painfully personal. These singular adornments which she refers to as “psychic armor” are the foundation of her line of hand-crafted jewelry, bloodmilk: “supernatural jewels for surrealist darlings”.

Not only a time traveler, world straddler, and collector of tears, of bone, of teeth, and words – JL Schnabel, in addition to continuously creating new baubles for bloodmilk, is also a staff writer for Hi-Fructose Magazine.  And if her creative energies were not already stretched vaporously thin, she has also just this  evening – 11.11.11 – released an immense and immensely stunning lookbook for her current collection, which can be seen in spellbinding detail here.   Despite all of this on her very full plate, she granted the following interview which parted the veil and revealed a glimpse  into the process of her conjurings and consequential creations, and guided me through the strange splendor of her own alternate worlds.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

S. Elizabeth: In the past you’ve spoken about the surrealist spirit of “objective chance”  – the ‘curious joining of objects/images that are seemingly unrelated but are in truth secretly connected’ and further note that is how the name “Blood Milk” came about “…taking two potent potions and conjoining them forever beneath the same banner.”  I find this notion of objective chance intensely fascinating.  Are there any other instances where you can cite the presence of this spirit in your life?  Is this sort of an everyday thing that you have always been aware of, or is it more prevalent now because of your work as bloodmilk?

JL Schnabel: For the surrealists, ‘objective chance’ was applied to an interest in the “marvelous encounter”. Beauty was convulsive. To react to art / writings / dreams / love & desire/ life with both repulsion and attraction, especially when experienced simultaneously, was a goal of the surrealists, the ultimate state of being.  These reactions mirrored the anxiety of the everyday, the ordinary. To see beyond what is objective by joining a word that’s quite its opposite is already an illustration of what it means.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

I think everyone’s life is freckled with these instances. It’s as abundant as synchronicity. Sometimes hard to recognize, but always there if you have the eye or spirit to really look. For me though, objective chance lives in my world of “making” while synchronicity has lately been occurring so often in my waking life that it doesn’t startle me as much anymore. These are strange times we live in.

The themes of light/darkness, horror/beauty, sacred/profane are pervasive throughout your body of work   I’d love to get a peek into your cerebral machinations– to see how you take a grotesque notion and forge it into a wondrous thing of eternal beauty.  Talk to me about your process – how a small, gnarled crow’s claw, for example, comes to be clutching a quartz crystal, and is reincarnated into“the messenger”?  Or how a boa constrictor snake rib bone is transformed into “forget me not”

I had a tarot reading recently and was told, with the forewarning of “I’m someone who would understand,” that I “have an intimate relationship with death”. When I was a kid, I had a potent brush with my mortality and since then, steadily, my feelings / visions / & reactions to death have transformed. I think this kind of spectral intimacy lends itself to seeing both the beauty and horror in life, in art, in those around me, maybe most importantly, within myself. I’m connected to my jewels, they reveal my secrets, my darkness, my lightness. I think the only way to describe how these physical objects materialize is that they represent my turbulent emotions and ideas on mourning and spirituality. They are immensely personal.

As for my process, I always carry around a palm sized hardbound sketchbook that I flood with notes and scratchy drawings. I work in a stream of consciousness style, without limiting myself with seasonal deadlines. I’m always filled with ideas for new pieces. I wish there was two of me !

I like to think that I’ve created a language with some of the objects I’ve molded and work with within this language to create new narratives. Sometimes I’ll already have an object that I’ll use as the starting point, such as bit of bone, and other times, I’ll find things at antique sales or on the street or in the woods that I think would be good to add into the collection. There is a lot of mining involved. Friends gift me bits that they think I could use. Somehow I’ve become the girl people give dead things to. It’s terrible, and really great.

Nearly everything I make incorporates an object that has already existed, whether it’s a natural one such as a pair of rattlesnake fangs or something with a history, like a skeleton key or a shard of phantom quartz. In this way, I consider most of my work to be in the spirit of surrealist assemblage. Max Ernst is one of my muses, I love his collage work and in a way, I try to emulate his seamless technique and bizarre narratives with my jewels.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

 

“Consider
 a girl who keeps slipping off, 
arms limp as old carrots, 
into the hypnotist’s trance, 
into a spirit world
speaking with the gift of tongues.”
-Anne Sexton

You have this quote currently both on your blog profile and in the “about section” of your etsy store –can you explain for us what it is about those words that speak to you, and why you would use it to describe yourself?

Anne Sexton has been an inspiration of mine since I was in high school. The way she conjures a stunningly searing image kills me. She can knock the wind out of you with one line! I even have her initials tattooed on my right wrist for good luck when writing.

This quote is extracted from ‘Briar Rose’ and is part of a longer series named ‘Transformations.’ They are her re-imagined fairy tales. I like how Anne imagines Briar Rose, not as a ‘sleeping beauty’ waiting for her prince, but as a woman who exists between worlds, with a gift of speaking the languages of both of these worlds. I like to think this quote sums up how I feel that I’m straddling different worlds in life with my work and how I feel connected to the ‘spirit world.’ I think it also speaks to how I probably live too much of my life in my inner world. I’m a hopeless dreamer, walking into traffic.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

 

The descriptions accompanying the items in your shop are always so fantastically detailed, so rife with symbolism; one almost feels as if you could be creating your own personal mythology.

Thank you for the compliments about my writing!

In theory, I’m imbuing objects that already exist / tales that have already been written, with my own emotional / spiritual history. Sometimes this is a slight inclusion and other times it takes over the narrative of the piece, as in ‘the crystal tomb’ series.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

 

Speaking of writing…I know that you also write for Hi-Fructose, covering contemporary art.  I am struck by how, between the jewels you create for bloodmilk with their emphasis on the ancient, the esoteric and arcane, and articles you write/ interviews that you conduct regarding on the latest offerings from emerging artists …you have to strike a balance between excavating the bones and relics of the past and being “on trend” and future seeking.  Either way, you are a bit of a time traveling nomad aren’t you?  Thoughts?

I suppose there is a bit of time traveling involved in what I do, but I don’t notice it. Though, a lot of the art I’m connected to deals with these same esoteric and antiquated bits, whether in imagery, medium or style.

I don’t think of being ‘on trend’ with my written reviews. I like to have intuitive reactions to art and am blessed with the opportunity to write about what I’m attracted to 98% of the time.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

Back to your writing, which, apparently through a thesis you were working on, turned to painting as a sort of research, and then to jewelry design? Among which of these mediums can we find the authentic you?  Which of these artistic avenues feels most natural to you as a means of creative expression?  Which is your dream job, and how does that translate in the work that you do with any of them?

I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid. I can not not write. Despite all my schooling, I find it’s the hardest thing for me to share. I fill journals and scraps of paper with snips of conversations, fleeting thoughts, wishes, my manic unrest etc. (though I would love to learn how to be a great recorder of my dreams as you are.)

Jewelry feels like fate to me. I didn’t feel exactly like I was making this conscious choice, it just happened. I can’t quite pin point the locus of its origin. In that same tarot reading I mentioned earlier, The Hermit card was pulled, suggesting I’m headed the right way with designing jewels and writing reviews. I like this idea, but I’m also a believer in the winds of change. I’m a bit restless.

I believe I put myself in everything I do. Sometimes I think this is my great fault because I leave very little left to protect.

A dream job would be to never have to worry about the real life and to live near the sea but still close to the city, making things that people love and feel connected to. This is really close to what I have now, I’m insanely lucky.

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Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

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“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

 

Your jewelry often references divinatory and alchemical motifs, as well as dreams and saints, etc – you are obviously well read on these subjects and are able to translate and transmute their tenets and philosophies into your work.  I would love to take a peek at your bookcase, or at least some of your favourite texts in this vein!

I went to a Christian boarding high school. We were required to be well versed in the Bible, but were never taught about the particulars of the weird and scary bits, the prophets rising bones, beastly angels, demons, the Rapture. I think, despite the vast differences between the two faiths, that this study renewed my early exposure to Catholicism. My father’s mother was intensely Catholic and would take me to church with her when I visited. I remember laying in the pews and staring at the ceiling, wishing I had wings to be able to fly to the top and touch all the angels pictured there. I remember being awed at her fevered faith. I was convinced that when she passed away, she’d become a Saint. She took me on trips to visit places that were blessed with supernatural occurrences, a church that had a crying statue, a field where the Holy Mother had materialized in a cloud. She had a pin that had a saint relic inside of it. Looking back now, it was really strange, but it marked me for life. I miss her.

 

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

With regard to all manner of esoteric knowledge and symbolism, to what do you attribute its (relatively)recent resurgence in fashion, almost to a point in which it seems “mainstream”?  I know it is not exactly a new thing to see, for example, a pentagram on a t-shirt ( I had one on a Motley crew t-shirt when I was 15! And that was…a long time ago) but in this case we are talking heavy weight designers of considerable prestige…which of course trickles down.  What is it about this sort of symbolism that lends to sartorial influence, and how does your work fit into this?

People have always been drawn to powerful symbols, even if they don’t fully understand them or why they are attracted to them. Right now occult and esoteric symbols are “popular”, and I feel part of this has to do with a sense of national, perhaps even worldwide, unrest. Our generation, the one just before us and the one coming up now, hasn’t put much faith into the government and subsequently its religion as much as past generations have. This has caused a ‘seeking’ for an otherness to fill this void. It seems natural to me to find comfort or expression in these symbols considering we have a generalized sense of fear and instability these days. The unknown is powerful in its mystery. Artists will always be the mouthpieces for such large, fantastic theories.

As for me, I’m just happy I can wear some of these symbols without people trying to burn me at the stake. In high school, we were taught, in intense detail, the horrors of Hell and how very real it could be for those of us who did not convert. This early brush with supernatural terror and people with cult like yet deep- rooted faith both repelled and fascinated me. To them, limbo, which was notion that had comforted me as a child, does not exist. You either are or aren’t going to Heaven.

 

Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

Photo credit: JL Schnabel.

And since we are on the subject of fashion, a subject on which from glancing through your tumblr I am sure you have at least some modicum of interest -who are some of your favourite designers, and what is it about their aesthetic that appeals to you?  What could we find in your own wardrobe?  What would a daily bloodmilk ensemble look like?

Like most other things, I’m attracted to fashion in an intuitive sense.  Aside from a couple of big name designers like the late Alexander McQueen, I really don’t know who is doing what. I don’t follow it, I just collect it from the vast, flawed, yet wonderful abyss that is Tumblr. I do love fashion though. How it requires a certain braveness.

As for independent designers, I love Audrey Cantwell’s work. Her most recent incarnation, Ovate, plays a large role in my lookbook. I also really admire Zana Bayne. She’s created this subversive collection of harnesses that people are going wild for. I own a few and wear them obsessively.

I like the idea of creating a personal aesthetic. My own fashion reference point is Beetlejuice. I wear a lot of witchy blacks and a lot of bold black and white striped pieces. I’m attracted to the idea of clothing and jewelry serving as psychic armor. I think I wind up looking a bit Goth as I have long dark hair but I don’t really see myself this way. To avoid this label, I often wear electric coral lipstick. I don’t think this tactic works as well as I hope it does though……

 

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

Last year you had a show, “Darker, My Love”,  resulting in a series of vignettes which questioned “if it were possible to commune between this world and the next”, and which was partially inspired by your pilgrimage to lilydale, an intensely personal experience for you, one which you are still trying to understand.  And yet, you continue to be inspired by and create from it,  as evidenced by your “seance” pieces.  I realize you are still trying to work through and process the visit, but is there anything you can tell us at all about your trip to that victorian spiritualist community?

The pilgrimage to Lily Dale was immensely inspiring. My father had been accidentally killed the early autumn of 2008 & I was left in an emotional and psychic fissure. It was the first time I encountered deep- rooted grief. It was destructive and terrifying. I wanted answers .I started to question everything I knew about the afterlife and mourning. Things I had learned in boarding school, things different members of my family thought or didn’t think about what happened after one died. I ask nearly everyone I encounter what their thoughts are of how the afterlife looks, what or who they believe is there waiting for them. I still never seem to feel comforted.

Lily Dale offers an interesting promise of proof. It’s a strange and beautiful town, filled with ghosts and hopeful people, most of them far more “normal” than I had imagined them to be. All the mediums live in these olde houses within the small town that resides near Cassadaga lake and a true haunted forest, the Leoyln woods, which has spirits and elementals beneath its stunning canopy. It also marks the only other time and place I have seen a hummingbird after my very first encounter the previous autumn in SF.

It is a gated community, fiercely protective. Sometimes there are picketers at the edges of this gate., but I don’t remember if we encountered any. You have to pay to get in and pay each day just to be there, though you can stay on the grounds. We stayed in the Maplewood hotel where a visiting medium from Erie was staying. The sound of her voice in the halls was an odd sensation, but in truth I was slight afraid of her.

During the day, if you don’t have an appointment with a medium there a various things to do, visit the healing temple, visit the small museum, walk through the woods. This is punctuated by 2 groups sessions held in the Leoyln woods. People gather near the ‘inspiration stump’ to hear various mediums give public readings to select people in the crowd. Some people break down during this, and others are clearly skeptical, giving the mediums short responses. I found this part to be the most interesting, this communal gathering of those looking to connect with the dead, and therefore, in a way, death itself. There is a braveness to this, but it is also rooted in sadness.

Though I didn’t get any messages from the other side as I had wanted, it cemented my interest in investigating how I felt about the afterlife. It’s an ongoing quest and I hope to find real peace in the future. How I deal with all this information and conflicting feelings is by making jewelry. In a sense bloodmilk was born out of this untimely tragedy, out of my grief.

Insofar as your paintings, what can we expect on that front?  Is that something you are constantly working on, that we may not be aware of…or are the paintings the sort of project that occurs when the moods strikes or an opportunity arises?

I may or may not be making secret plans with amazing artist Sienna Freeman based around our mutual love of doubles / shadow selves … 😉

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What direction do you foresee for bloodmilk?  Spending so much time ruminating upon oracles and prophecies, surely you must have become somewhat of a seer yourself…of what does that foggy crystal ball upon that gloomy grey oxidised metal speak to us?  What jeweled dreams are being currently cast / being forged in the future for all of your surrealist, supernatural darlings?

Those are bold adjectives! I wish I could see the future more clearly!

I think for now, that bloodmilk will remain as self -contained as I can keep it. In terms of exciting projects, I have a bunch of collaborations in the works with other artists and talented photographers. I also have a lookbook, ‘The Conjurer’ debuting today in honor of 11/ 11 / 11….

In December, there will be an exhibition at 309 Gallery here in Philly centered on ‘The Conjurer’. I’ll be showing my personal collection of my jewelry alongside Christina Brown’s photographs and Paul Romano’s design. I might never sleep again.

 

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

Your lookbook, ’The Conjurer’, looks to be a fantastical coming together of like-minded people with a shared vision, and is clearly a labor of love, from start to finish.  How, and why was it conceived?  How did it grow?  Tell me about the experience as a whole.

‘The Conjurer’ was born from my need to have the work photographed on a model. So many times I’ll meet someone in person and they marvel at how much bigger or smaller a piece of bloodmilk seems when they see it in real life. To remedy this, I wanted to build a sort of bridge between how these objects/ jewels appear on the internet and how they appear in real life. The resulting lookbook has far exceeded my expectations and might not truly help people realize the size and scale of the pieces, but I absolutely love it. Everyone involved in this project has helped me to conjure this sorrowful yet beautiful world for the jewels.

The images were all shot in mid August in my great friend Paul Romano’s home. He is an exceptional artist and maker of incredible paintings and objects. His massive home is a reflection of the otherworldly beauty he captures in his work, filled with curiosities and strange splendors in every nook. Also living with him is another talented artist, Jeremy Hush, who also has a sizeable collection of strange things he’s acquired from traveling the world.

Jacci, the model I choose to represent the conjurer, is stunning. Her eyes have such an intense, potent power. She has also has this quiet grace I found inspiring.

In addition, another great and talented friend, Amber Lynn, composed a series of incredible still vignettes of the work coupled with some of the objects we found in their home and others I had brought with me, such as an old stone mortar that was my father’s.

Christina Brown, another great friend whom I met when she worked for me at my now defunct gallery, started shooting the lookbook in the fourth floor attic where Jeremy lives, in the room he uses for a studio. The light had a strange quality that high up, in the eye of summer, kind of like being caught in a bell jar half shrouded in shadow. The narrative is built up around the conjurer’s slow descent into the foyer of the house, with images having been shot in the hallways and in the living room. The transitional feel of it represents a kind of psychological turbulence. At the end of the shoot there was this absence of atmosphere and objects, it’s just Jacci and the jewels and a vivid, summer light. Though you can’t tell, it’s the closet she is to the doorway than at any other time in the series. Looking on it now, I think this is symbolic of my own need / desire to be able to open the door of my grief and to be able to step outside of it. To find peace.

The resulting experience was a wonderful merging of people, ideas and objects that I believe really illuminated not only the jewelry, but my ideas and beliefs behind them.

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“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

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“The Conjurer” Photo credit: Christina Brown

 

 

A year’s mourning

I can’t believe that it has been over a year since I lost my poor little Inkers.  At that time I started knitting a shawl to help me through my grief; I thought a memento, something beautiful and tangible to remind me of her would be a nice thing to have, and the end result can be seen below.  Afterward, I sent it to a lady friend on the other side of the country. It was the soothing, intimate process that I needed, that helped me focus on a task instead of dwelling on a loss.  Once finished, though it was an item I was quite proud of,  I found I didn’t need it at all.

Pattern is “Bitterroot” by Rosemary Hill from Knittyspin Winter 2009. Started May 28th. In loving memory of Inkers. 1999-May 28th, 2010.

 

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