Copyright Liz Lohr 2018
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.
This is a space between faith and fact. The lines at the top come from Vladimir Nabokov's fictional poet, John Shade, in his final work, Pale Fire. They describe the violent death of a bird, who couldn't tell the difference between the sky and its reflection in a window, whose shadow miraculously enters into the world beyond the mirrored surface where it continues living.
A number of influences position birds as a symbol of faith to me. Being raised Catholic, I am reminded of the ubiquitous renderings of the Holy Spirit as a bird afire.
Maybe more importantly, I am an individual who is obsessed with tactility. As a ceramicist who closely identifies with their material, physical engagement defines much of my formed knowledge. Birds represent this elusive manifestation of life to me. They are something I can see or hear, but I never touch. All tactile connection is eliminated. How do I experience their presence so strongly? And what does that mean? How else can I comprehend them but abstractly and emotionally.
Birds are poetry because what we cannot comprehend, we project meaning onto. The caged bird, the raven who said "Nevermore". I try to let go of my faith, because I don't want to believe in a God that rejects people from his mercy for arbitrary reasons, let alone one who orchestrates and plans the calamities that befall innocent people.
But there is a part of me that cannot stop believing in God, and hoping that I am worthy of mercy. Emily Dickinson's "Hope" is the thing with feathers will blaze through my mind whenever I don't want it to. I find it hard to let this hope go.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
Many cultures regard mirrors as doorways, as portals, to another world, or another plane of existence. But mirrors are objects full of illusions. Their reflections are shallow, hallow. They cannot contain the objects they seem inhabited by. Yet they offer an ability that no human has, which is to see yourself. Once I have seen myself, once I am aware of that knowledge, I become culpable, accountable, for what I am showing.
The breaking mirror behaves as a "proving ground" against the promises that faith offers me. It is also a space where I rebell against the part of myself compelled toward holding onto this faith. The viewer can choose to focus on the projection on top of the mirror or as intersecting their own body, with themselves framed as the central image in the work. This references a longing I feel for some tactile proof.
In February, I exhibited Pale Fire in my BFA group show at ASU. The object at the center of the space was a 30" x 30" x 3" mirror with a carved ceramic frame. I made a video piece of myself throwing stylized ceramic birds to break a constructed mirrored window, that was then projected onto this mirror, and reflected onto the viewer who stood before it, and on the floor when unoccupied. I presented 11 ceramic bird constructions around the walls of the space that cast illusive shadows on the walls behind them.
For a more detailed view of the construction process and installation, you can view the slideshow below.