fig. 51: First Aid
Mirror, wood, wax, bandages, 18"x70"x2", 1997
© Sharon Siskin
Statement · Biography
Sharon Siskin's work is an art of truly compelling elegy . . . Considering the transformative and restorative aspects of Siskin's work, it is appropriate that her found materials have been redeemed for another existence. This existence is morally commanding in a culture considering possibilities of oblivion at each moment.
Signe Mayfield, Curator
Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA
I have been working with several different ideas since the early 1990s. These distinct series, or installation components, have all been deeply influenced by an artist residency which has occupied much of my time since 1989. My residency is located at several San Francisco Bay Area AIDS/HIV support service organizations, and is entitled Positive Art. Issues that arise as a result of the time I spend weekly with people living with AIDS/HIV become content for examination in much of my work. I am concerned with memory and making memorial, ephemeral notions such as stories people tell about feeling the presence of the dead, the ways in which we care for each other as a community, and creating public places for people to grieve through the addition of interactive components in my installations.
fig. 52: First Aid, Alleviate
Mirror, wood, wax, bandages, 20"x58"x2", 1996
© Sharon Siskin
The notion of tearing shirts to reveal the heart in mourning and the use of mirrors in Siskin's own Jewish heritage inform [her] work. In the Jewish tradition, mirrors are covered, enabling mourners to forget the material world and fully internalize their loss . . . The beautiful, lustrous surface of the mirror is a fine material, acting as a metaphor for the fragility of human life and luminous transcendence. (Mayfield)
First Aid is a series of eighteen pieces that make up one large installation; it is about the ways in which we take care of each other, even when the chances of survival are grim. It is about feeling as if our own part in the task of healing is sometimes only putting on a small bandage and also our feelings of impotence in making real change. First Aid addresses how we view hope.
Another series of small installations, using photographic x-rays and scientific instruments, examines our belief systems and our notions of fact and reality. I have incorporated my own stories and stories told to me about feeling the presence of loved ones who have died. These stories can only be read in the reflections of mirrors. The mirrors also provide shadow images on walls and floors as a result of light reflected from their etched surfaces. All components of these small installations are meant to provide the "evidence" that something unusual has occurred.
fig. 53: Bone Boat for Barry
Wood, bone, ash, 15"x216"x24", 1992
© Sharon Siskin
Bone Boat for Barry, 1992, is an elegant piece . . . Suspended from the bleached, alkali-white frame are bones and bone fragments. A circle of ash circumscribes its severed frame. Text is inscribed with visible force into the skeletal structure . . . Here the power of meaning is inherently curative, as meaning exists as a shared act of faith. (Mayfield)
Bone Boat for Barry and Final Attire are sculptural installations that are part of an ongoing series of memorials to people I have known who have died as a result of AIDS, while No Room for Poetry is a lament for the huge numbers of people affected by this pandemic. This piece was inspired by a notice in the obituary pages of The Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco gay community newspaper, that stated in 1991 that they were beginning to edit all obituaries and that there would no longer be any room for poetry.
I also work collaboratively with two visual artists, Claudia Bernardi and Robilee Frederick, and one poet, Marjorie Agosin, to create interdisciplinary mixed-media installations that address issues of memory, loss, hope and "the anatomy of flight." Other works deal with growing up with a split cultural identity in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These humorous works, under the title of Comfort and Wandering, use food as metaphor to tell stories about the collision of the world of ethnicity and white bread Americana.
Currently I am working on a mixed media sculptural installation entitled Sweat. This piece includes a huge garment made of thousands of labels identifying clothing made in third world countries under American name brand labels. The process has begun with a letter to friends and relatives, asking them to look at where their clothing was made and then to cut out the label and add it to my project.
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All text (except quotations) © Sharon Siskin.