/Rebekah Miller — Building My House
The oneiric house is built of archetypal symbols acquired throughout our lifetimes, taking its foundations from real places which have since become fantasy notions of "home." Memory of home acts as a point of departure from which the dreamer continues to build the "dream house."
/REBEKAH MILLER is an emerging print- and multi-media artist residing in San Francisco, California. She received her BFA with distinction from the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), where she majored in Print Media. Miller recently received a fellowship from the San Francisco Art Institute, where she is currently pursuing her MFA.
/THE BUSH OF GHOSTS
Something occurred to me while looking at a house-shaped veil recently.
It occurred to me that the appeal of the ghost story is related not to a dream of immortality—that we could carry on as individuals upon our release from a substantive body—but that we might, while living, be able to recall what was, in an experientially present way. The ghost story is an appeal to temporal inconsequence; it is a recollection made metaphysical rather than merely mental. Through ghost stories, we beg for the past to revisit us, we beg the ability to re-member and re-call. It therefore follows that the horror associated with the ghost story is so not because it reminds us of our own corporeal mortality but rather because, having brought the past into the present, we cannot help but find it a gross distortion, a flickering half-image of what we had optimistically once thought of as a real, factual history.
Rebekah Miller’s work to date is a reminder—if such a thing can be said—of the danger of relying on memory.
What I mean by this I shall illustrate anecdotally. I have a memory of being a small child, older than two years but younger than three. In the memory I am at my grandmother’s house while my parents are fixing her garage roof. Somehow, I escape her watchful gaze and awkwardly climb the ladder propped up against the garage. I step out onto a cloud of pink insulative fiberglass, assuming it to be solid; it isn’t, and I fall through, fracturing my skull and falling into unconsciousness.
I have very distinct and precise memories of this and yet, when I return to the garage, its once-repaired roof now falling again into decay, I see that the insulation is and always was yellow and covered in black tarpaper. There isn’t a trace of anything pink. Stranger still is that I continue to be able to picture the event only with pink insulation.
Memory—with the built-in benefits of endless repeatability and narrative recollection—overwhelms the fact.
Miller’s work is honest about its nature as a fetish. It is a medium in the somewhat antiquated sense of the term, séancing memory from us by visual means, in tones either nostalgic or traumatic.* In her photographic series Come Through My Doorway, she documents her placement of relief prints of doors in landscapes. The doors appear distressed, weathered; their textures are inconsistent both with contemporary materials and with solid matter, suggestive of both a past life (as physical/functional door) and some transmigratory, paranormal function. They show up mischievously here and there, a taunting suggestion that the material environment is full of recollective portals into the past, even if such portals are fragile and tenuous, easily distorted by the wind or kicked away by ignorant and all too present feet.
Miller’s installation Building My House links these fraught associations of memory and built environment into a site—one that is new and that we, as viewers, have not experienced before. And yet we may be struck with a problematic and presumptuous awareness that something happened here, a thing to which we have no access and few clues. I suspect it is similar to walking into a famous or infamous location—like the fields at Batoche, or the site of an Ansel Adams photograph, or 10050 Cielo Drive—without being intellectually aware of its history while still feeling the significance of a place.
Textiles suggest, or perhaps invite, tactile interaction, and that is a sense intimately bound up with our infancies, when we explored not through discourse or even through looking, but with our hands and mouths. Visually, the gauzy material forms the structure of the image but also that of domestic walls, barring access to other parts of that same structure, or to other people. I think, here, of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 “The Conversation,” in which plastics and textiles are used—in nearly every shot—to suggest a veiling of truth. Textiles operate also as the papery films that hide just enough information to leave us drifting, as if in a dream.
It is an elegant paradox that in her relief printing of these built forms—door, window, entire house—Miller is simultaneously exposing and obfuscating the original object. The more layers of printing she does of a given object, the more realistic the print becomes. But with each layer of printing, the original becomes increasingly caked over and hidden by ink. In building her house, Miller has rejected the material reality in favour of an imagistic representation, only to return that representation into a fragile shade. This is a literal version of what every medium does; it obscures, conceals or even diminishes the original in favour of the ideal recollection or representation, and yet ultimately falls into that trap of the only time we can experience anything at all: the present.
Or at least, I think that’s what I thought of. Sometimes I forget.
Patrick Lee Henderson, 2009
* For me to specify whether the work is a touchstone for nostalgia or a traumatic past would require information about the viewer that I cannot presuppose, but I can offer that the work’s subterranean location carries its own psychoanalytic baggage. For more on this, I recommend Slavoj Zizek’s take on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema,” in which he compares the storeys of a house to Freudian concepts. He suggests that the basement, that dark and hidden place, is the Id.
Since completing his MFA in Intermedia, Patrick Lee Henderson pursues a time- and lens-based artistic practice while teaching Visual Art and Computer Science at the postsecondary level. His installations, videos and performances revolve around the persistence of collective histories and the brevity of individual lives. He currently lives and works in Toronto.