The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Scattering my Grandfather’s cremated ashes onto photographic paper as large- scale photograms, a vision of the universe appears in which one can see almost as far back in time as the Big Bang, reconnecting the remains of the dead with the origin of all life. In my intent to communicate the scientific belief of man’s holistic unity with the cosmos as the point of primordial origin, the indexical trace left by the exposure of my Grandfather’s remains positions the photogram as an index of man’s metaphysical origins in the cooled stardust of the Big Bang to which in death one is returned.
For centuries space has been viewed as a final resting place: for Plato, the universe was constructed of concentric spheres to which one became reunited in death; for the French author Flammarion, distant worlds were viewed as a place of reincarnation for the departed soul. Inspired by the early photographic experiments of the 19th century Swedish photographer August Strindberg, my practice employs photography to contextualize the rich historical tradition of viewing in the sublime cosmic landscape a burial ground for the dead.
In Michael Newman’s critique of Jacques Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, he writes that one may mourn the subject of whom nothing remains but ash through the trace whose nature is always defined by it’s propensity to complete erasure, interpreting Derrida as perceiving in such a trace the revelation of life’s metaphysical origin. Through the trace left by the ash, a black hole emerges in which the void of loss is made evident, questioning the photograph as a sublime object where the limits of our imagination are revealed. In my photographic study of the sublime, I seek to pose the photograph as the Lacanian object raised to the sublime status of the Thing, filling the void wrought by one’s entry into the symbolic order.
For French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, the subject’s lifelong quest to reconcile a fragmentary experience of the body with the illusion of wholeness promised by the mirror’s reflection signalled the hopelessness of the imaginary stage. In my camera-less practice, the photogram becomes the illusory holistic mirror in which I attempt to re-assemble a sublime singularity from a body which now lies in pieces and can never be put back together. Instead, I discover that in the indexical, analogue trace, the remains of the deceased merely fragment further by having transferred to the photographic substrate, fulfilling Barthes prophecy of the subject made object. As such, my practice questions the photograph as complicating as opposed to offering a definite conclusion to the process of mourning.