Jumping Out a Window Is a Way of Going Home: Incomplete Sketch of an Essay for Elisabeth Subrin
(1) At night, the girls throw themselves out bedroom windows. In Elisabeth Subrin’s trilogy of works – Swallow, Shulie, and The Fancy – girls are always disappearing, making themselves invisible, hiding behind things, slipping away, self-obliterating, losing themselves in work. They are all girls from times past, girls now lost to us. In Swallow, they hide in their rooms studying, try to make their bodies waste away or keep themselves hidden inside sweaty summertime sweaters and corduroys. IShulie, the subject says she tries to shut herself up around others, so as not to seem ‘verbal,’ becoming, she thinks, completely inarticulate. In The Fancy, a girl’s father threatens to sew up her lips with a dragonfly. In her photographs, the girl hides herself in faceless self-portraits, and finally she too finds her way out a window. Yet each act of self- destruction becomes an assertion of existence. Jump out the window, and you won’t go unnoticed. Hide yourself behind yourself, crawl up inside your art, and maybe they’ll see who you are. (2) A long quote from Shulie: I tell myself, that, um, you know, as long as I'm working - I don't care about happiness as long as I'm working. But, you know, of course, as long as I'm working, I don't, I don't really have to worry about it, you know, when I'm producing. I'm, I'm afraid - I guess I'm afraid of getting trapped in a kind of day-to-day living. Uh - I want to somehow catch time short and not, not just go, go along, or drift along in it. The essential reason for, for anyone to make an artistic creation is to surmount the fact that they're constantly, um, an animal organism that's just sort of going along in time and growing older, with a past and a future and so on, and to somehow transcend that. In an art world, you can do anything. You can make the world exactly as you want it. End quote. (3) Unfinished idea: death and deadlines. Procrastination as a way to master time. Going off on a tangent as a way to run away. (4) Something about the opening 70s footage in Swallow hits me hard. One early morning, hearing Carol King made me cry suddenly as I watched the tape. Sometimes, I cry at old songs that I can just barely remember, things my mother may have held me and swayed to as they played on the transistor radio in our basement apartment. Well, I hate it when essays use dictionary definitions, so I hate myself for doing this, but here goes nothing anyway…NOSTALGIA [NL., fr. Gr. ? a return home + ? pain.] Longing for something past. (Med.) Homesickness; esp., a severe and sometimes fatal form of melancholia, due to homesickness. (5) Elisabeth Subrin grew up in Newton, MA and later attended Mass Art. I grew up in Weymouth, on the other side of Boston. We did not know each other as children. When I was in elementary school, my class took paper and crayons to the local 300-year-old cemeteries one day, to rub images off the oldest gravestones. I was taught that these ornate engravings, with their vaguely medieval, cartoonish angels and meaty curlicues rubbed smooth by centuries of rain, were unique expressions of the melancholic New England character. Very Old Worldish, perhaps reminding them of home. But now I can't remember if this was part of art class or history.
Ed Halter is a critic and curator living in New York City.