I Was Mistaken for a Noun 2009

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I Was Mistaken for a Noun considers the differences between the internal experience of the self and its external representation through family snapshots and verbal recollections. Photographs capture our likeness, an image of ourselves that would seem to be the “I” that we are. Words and sentences also act to signify us, with nouns and adjectives and verbs offering possibilities to name and describe who we are and what we do. Yet these representations make an inevitable alteration: the ongoing and dynamic experience of one's self as continually happening becomes stopped, static, summarized. Through the use of paper, hardware and select grammatical structures, this installation reinstates both the dynamic nature of the self and the immobilizing tendency of language.

When any of us see photographs of ourselves, our response is frequently “yuck!” Presented with an external representation of our image, we compare it with our internal self and find them in disagreement. It is easy to see and name what we dislike on the level of our appearance (bad haircut, big nose, dumb smile, gray hair), but it is harder to pin down the more subtle disparities between representation and self. The fixed image of a photograph appears to be our self, as it represents the appearance with which our self is known in the world. Yet to ourselves, without photographs and mirrors, we are an experience: a continuous flow of thought, perception and emotion that we experience as our self. In the structure of language, this internal experience of “I” might be best expressed as a verb, as it is always happening. A photograph, on the other hand, is an object: a noun. When we are the subject of a photograph, our “self ” becomes an object - and a noun - as well.

In my family, as in many families, the taking of snapshots was a never-ending process. People lined up for photographs so that moments of significance (whether great or small) could be recorded, dated and archived with accompanying commentary. However, lack of skill or awareness on the part of my family's photographer often meant people in my family were captured in mid-motion: mouth open while talking or chewing, rear end to the camera while bending down, face in the process of turning away. Actions were freeze-framed, often with embarrassing results. As individuals were being photographed, their self had ceased to be a verb - a doing - and had become a noun - an object.

To be in motion is to be a verb: to be doing, to be seeing, to be living. In English grammar, verbs also have the job of establishing a relationship to time; they accomplish through verb tenses, such as past, future, present, future perfect. The verb “sing,” for example, can become sang, sung, or singing; one can be singing, will have sung, has yet to sing. Time can be manipulated through verbs; time can stand still in photographs. As the selfs being acted upon by both, we can lose our experience of ourselves. In I was Mistaken for a Noun, I seek to restore the present progressive tense to frozen states - verbs that are happening, now - while recognizing structures which simultaneously reify and re-solidify them. 

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