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Do you believe in fairy tales? Remember when you did?
In the course of researching the topic, I discovered a pattern in the way that these survivors told their stories. These individuals would begin by describing how happy they once were with their partner and slowly they would then reveal how damaging the relationship in actuality was.
It was this aspect of telling their story that inspired me to model the book after a traditional story book. The decision to create a fairy tale came from the realization that each narrative would began with their version of a "Happily Ever After."
Another pattern that caught my interest was the idea that they were reconstructing their past with a new understanding. They describe these moments that they once perceived of as happy with the new understanding that they were in reality being abused. In this essence, they were telling their stories backwards as they had to redevelop their past.
The text presented throughout the book is taken from survivor narratives. What I have done is take these different voices and weave them into a collective story. This book is about the dialogue that happens after the abuse when the survivor tells their story to others and how the realization that dawns after the abuse forces the re-evaluation of the world around them, including their own history.
The decision to bind the pages with ribbons is based on the desire to draw the viewer into the book and to experience these narratives as if they were eavesdropping on private conversations. Just as "Once Upon a Time" alludes to the start of a fairy tale, so it serves the same purpose in my book. Placed at the end of the journey it describes the start of a new story for each survivor that overcomes their tragedy by the telling and re-telling of their story. I struggled with whether or not to use more descriptive imagery but the more I analyzed it the more I realized that the text could and needed to stand on its own. After all, it is their story that drives the narrative and the conversation.
A View inside the Fish Bowl….
From hearing and reading a survivor's story, I noticed that just telling their story involved true strength. To relive a tragic and horrible event is a battle of courage and strength to overcome being viewed as some sort of attraction. The world is watching and hearing a survivor's every emotion diligently.
Have you taken the time to view a fish in its bowl? So peaceful and yet very confined. One may simply stare at such a marvel of life and even tap the glass to get the fish's attention.
Now place yourself in that bowl, along with those visible bruises on your face. Along with that, the fear from the tragic event in your life is a trapped memory, a memory forever binding you to those dark chapters in your life. Explain your deepest darkest embarrassing moments to the world and see who you truly represent.
So many survivors out there still haven't told their stories. I admire their strength in overcoming their past and in living their lives with those traumatic events behind them. I hope, as an artist, that I told the story well.
"Just when the caterpillar thought its life was over, it became a butterfly."
When I asked a survivor what effect growing up in a household with domestic violence had on her she said, "I still can't bring myself to eat at the table."
The majority of violence would begin at the dinner table: plates thrown, holes in the wall, guns fired…."Anything could set my father off and would so you ate fast, kept your head down."
–Tables are both sacred and mundane.
– They hold this promise of union that was never fulfilled.
And for these reasons, I decided to make my book in the form of a table.
This table is not to scale, symmetrical, or smooth because we can't sit at this table.
This book doesn't open and isn't bound because I wanted to represent the suppression and the distance that occur both during and in the aftermath of domestic abuse.
The book has very little text (a little odd for a poet) because I felt that with domestic abuse—words fail. When I listened to survivor stories, it was the "white space," their body language, their eyes, that told the rest of the story.
I won't pretend to have the words here.
My book is the voice of the survivor. It tells the story of what the effects are like after escaping from the trauma of domestic violence. The words question all the parts of life that have been altered because of the violence.
The text in my book is fractured and obscured from view. This was done because it represents how the answers to the questions being asked aren't always seen. I decided to stick to two main colors: black and white. The black and white help to accentuate the clear section of the pages. The words may be the voice of the survivor, but the clear sections are where the real story lies. Looking through my pages you can see the complexity of the layout of my book, which mirrors the complexity of survivors' lives as they try to live day by day.
The pages aren't intended to be read separately; the book is meant to be seen as a whole. Looking through the clear sections and trying to read the pages is like talking to a survivor and trying to see through their layers of hurt and pain.
When constructing a concept for this glass book, many ideas did not flow as I hoped until I thought of a composition incorporating two books side by side within one cover. At first, I planned that the pages would be done in glass with steel hinges, but then I decided that the pages would be folded pieces of raw canvas within a glass cover. The cover contrasts with the raw and fragile effect of the canvas. The inspiration of using raw pages of canvas came to me because I am a painter.
Both interior books include abstract paintings of geometric shapes with a variety of colors combined with handwritten text. The colors enhance the transparency of the glass covers. I used acrylic paint to create a dominant and confident imagery. I used two pieces of glass drilled with two large holes for the binding, which I intended to be straightforward and simple. Thick black ribbon binds the book together.
The covers are frosted to enhance the words, which remain clear. I chose bold words: VOICE for the title, POWER and CONTROL as side words. These words are significant and show the core idea of the book. The placement of the words on the front cover emphasizes their dominance.
Finally, I chose quotes to engage the reader with the materials and text. The quotes were from a survivor named Barbara who questioned her relationship with God. They show how Barbara initially blamed God for her bad experience and how, through a revelation that occurred, she now finds that her faith in God has deepened.
The concept of my glass-book is based on artists Emily Carlson's and Rachel Melis's flag-binding book called Savanna Roots, 2005. I decided to make my glass book out of circles because I am attracted to that aesthetic. I chose the unusual format of ring-binding because it is not complicated. I wanted most of the focus to be on my text.
Working on the visual portion of my glass book was a joint effort of intuition and the lovely book artist Sarah Stengle, who worked with me to make my visual ideas more concrete. As a fiction writer, I focused mostly on the text for this book.
My text is part autobiography, fictionalized and based on my research on the aftermath of domestic violence. The text deals with the ramifications of domestic violence on three generations of female survivors.
"I would never never never feel 'burdened' if you cried in front of me, Jason. On the contrary, I would feel honored that you were revealing to me a side of the real you that you don't trust others with."
I decided to focus my book on the male survivor perspective. More often the voices of women and children are heard. We know of hardly any male domestic violence survivors. This is mostly because of the perception that, in the event of domestic violence, it is always the male person who acts as the oppressor. Given the circumstance where a man speaks up about an abuse committed against him, society looks down upon him as a weak human being, unable to protect himself or "man up" according to societal standards.
In my book, I quoted a response to a statement from a male domestic violence survivor. The statement attempts to console Jason, who wishes to express himself more clearly to others, but fears he would be a burden to the people around him. This demonstrates the relationship Jason has with himself and others. Although he expresses himself, he feels he's a burden.
I chose to make my project in the form of a book, to invite people to pick it up and become aware of these male survivors. But as you open the book, the pages are nonexistent, they are empty. I wanted to emphasize this emptiness or isolation that male survivors feel as victims of domestic violence. But at the same time, the quote ends inside the book by embracing the hope that people are willing to listen.
My book is a series of seven bottles cut down the middle lengthwise with alternating "facing" pages (backs and fronts). The concept for my "bottle book" derives from the two ideas: that alcohol abuse is often a conduit for domestic abuse, especially in families—hence, the same type or "family" of bottles—and that the impact of this abuse on subsequent relationships often "replicates," setting up a pattern.
I wanted bottles for this project because their shape reminds me of bodies. The idea of splitting bodies opened up layers of meaning, both terrifying and affirming. I first considered using clear, non-colored glass bottles, but after testing my cutting skills on green ones, I was struck by their beauty, even though the sawed edges were uneven—even though my unsteadiness caused many "flaws." This revealed several important ideas to me: bodies when flawed or "damaged" are still beautiful, both inside and out; they are worth the effort of saving; and they have the potential to become a part of something greater.
With these concepts in mind, I decided to use only one clear bottle to represent the breaking of a pattern. Even so, the bottles that are part of the pattern are still important. They are all bound by the same thing, which can be interpreted as either the abuse or the strength to hold together as "survivors."
Survivors negotiate issues of trust in relationships both with the self and with others, through either sharing or "pouring out" their feelings/experiences ("guts") or keeping things "bottled." Obviously, bottles were an apt metaphor for this tension. I chose seven bottles to represent each day of the week, the "everyday" experience of both abuse and survival. This relates directly to the book's text, a poem:
pouring out my guts
pouring out my guts
(every day) I write this book
to slow pain I adjust
but dead is still dead
the body and the blood
until the pattern breaks
bottle it instead.