Through the people and place in our lives, we come to understand who we are and create our personal narratives, our identity and our sense of belonging. As a gay, only child from a small Southern military family, I have led a nomadic and isolated lifestyle. I have called over a dozen locations home. Now, with a 9-month old son, living in a state that does not recognize my marriage, I find myself grappling with issues of family, identity, home, locality, otherness, and the need for community more than ever. How can these ideas be visualized? What form do they take as they shift and evolve over time and space?
My recent work, How To Fold My Heart, attempts to illustrate these ideas as origami folding patterns using personal data tied to geographic location. Each work is the instructions for creating the shape of my life and the lives of family members, resulting in conceptual portraits. To develop the patterns, I use a program called TreeMaker, developed by Robert Lang in cooperation with Professor Erik Demaine and Martin L. Demaine at MIT. I create a “tree” using personal data and allow the program to optimize a crease pattern for the origami shape that becomes the template for my images. This tree can be manipulated to create endless variations for the resulting shape.
Stylistically, my works do not look like folded shapes, but rather have a diagrammatic sensibility. They are comprised of planar geometric shapes with numbers punctuating the space alluding to the data-driven nature of the content. I commonly use discarded latex paint from homes in my community. In this way, my colors are pre-chosen, symbolically determined by those whose lives are pictured. In addition, I employ repetitive lines and stripes to represent behavioral patterns and the need for consistency.
While making these works, I think a great deal about information and identity, shape/place/space, and our fluid sense of identity in digital and analog spaces like family and home, real friends and Facebook friends. Each of the works in this series represents the self in a moment in time and place. As an artist I am reaching for permanence, a taproot, an anchor for my nomadic sense of self.