Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

Kiss Me–We’re Dying, Suspension II
disposable surgical masks, deciduous leaves, gauze, discarded books, ink, acrylic paint, trace amounts wax paper, oil pastel, chalk, embroidery floss
54 x 10 x 10 in.

Dear Earth,

I am thinking of intimacy, frailty and aversion. Vulnerabilities in the body from which we turn away. I am thinking of breaches. Breaches that harm, breaches that heal…

A whistle- blower breaches trust to stop a greater injustice. A locked door breached may free a person trapped inside. Recently my father underwent emergency bypass surgery. Is a kiss a breach? Failing to, what dis-ease festers?

To employ surgical masks as “pages” came to me while considering these paradoxes. Such masks are donned to protect; yet they also strip the wearer of individuality, obscuring the part of the body by which we recognize one another with an anonymous symbol of power, vulnerability, or danger.

Meanwhile, October. Your trees change color, drop their skirts. Falling leaves are an outward sign of an internal shift; the tree prepares for sleep. For a time when it can no longer prepare food. Where I live, people collect the pretty leaves— press them between those of a book.

Unlike the autumn foliage, we often avoid others when they show signs of frailty. I have been guilty of this. As a forty-something woman at an artist residency this fall, I noticed how often people congregated according to age. Our aversion to vulnerability, aging, dying can lead prematurely to another loss—that of intimacy.

While my masks’ exterior scabbed over with gauze and leaves, I wanted the interiors to hold something intimate. Behold– a stack of discarded books. From those, I tore leaves whose language felt private, seductive, that would reward the viewer who leaned in for a closer read.

I hope the space created by these masks will invite the viewer to consider their own relationship to frailty, aging, mortality, to be gentle with themselves, to foster relationships with others and, my dear Earth, with you.

© Jennifer Sperry Steinorth