H.O.W. Magazine wanted to know the reasons WHY I started the Life Once Removed Project, and I gave it to them, plus dug a little deeper into the bigger WHYS we all are in this together. See for yourself.
1. How did your project “Life Once Removed” come about?
The pressure to conform sent me over the edge. I had just about enough of virtually everyone I spoke to, asking me why “such a nice girl“ wasn’t married already, implying that there must be some awful secret that I was hiding that might scare the marriageable men away. They seemed to think I was a curious freak, that wasn’t living up to expectations. Even in the 21st century, the stigma of the Spinster label seemed to me to still be alive and kicking.
Yet what really triggered all this was a conversation I had with my Mother, in which she said, “Suzy, Nobody’s perfect. You’re just going to have to PICK SOMEBODY if you want to settle down!” I snapped back at her and said, “Mom, it’s not like I can go out and BUY an family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!”
Ultimately, I that’s exactly what I did. I purchased some second hand mannequins and began a whole photo series documenting my life with a manufactured Family, as if to say, “if the image of a family life is so important to uphold, then here, here is the image.” If they were real, would it be any less about the Image?
And to this day, my Mother still can’t recall ever having had that conversation.
2. Why do you think people are so concerned with women conforming to the pressures of marriage and family? Why isn’t a successful career enough?
I think the world is going through some uncomfortable growing pains as we transition into this information age. It’s all new ground, and we’re feeling a little lost in our new roles. For most of human history we’ve patterned our lives after the generation that came before, and not much changed as far as personal liberties and life choices for women. With the advent of Birth Control, and the acceptance of Divorce, as an means of control over one’s own destiny, the landscape of choice changed for women. We could now be self-determined. We’ve also watched the heyday of Feministic Politics come and go, and we seem to have come to a place where we just don’t focus on that anymore. We just said, thank you very much Gloria Steinem, and got on with our education and our careers, and made our way. Yet all along, our Grandmothers and Mothers still have instilled in us what they were taught, that Women are the care givers, the vessels through which life continues. So we ended up with a mixed bag of old world expectations combined with the new world phenomenon of the ability to “do it for yourself” like never before. Then add in a pinch of globalization and highly systematized marketing, and you’ve got one very angst ridden generation of young women, trying very hard to do it all, and do it well, while looking fabulous on Facebook.
Overall, marriage is a structure, a template, that gives form to people’s lives that makes uncertain futures feel more certain, that make the chaos of a changing social landscape more orderly, and manageable. Not to mention the obvious reason that people prefer to have partners. So there is clearly a desire for the institution because it fills a human need, yet what I am driving at with my work is that there needs to be an open embrace of one’s life in all its states of being, whether pair-bonded or not, and that forcing things for the sake of following suit, is no way to live either. All the days of our lives count, not just the ones when there is a ring on your finger. Whether a woman does or doesn’t take a husband or have children should not be the determining factor deciding whether or not her life is successful. If we truly want to empower young women, then let’s stop telling them they need a ring and a baby carriage to do it.
3. Do you feel that this is a complicated time for women transitioning from an antiquated way of thinking to a more evolved one?
Absolutely! Now that women can have it all, why is it that we are never satisfied with what we have? Why aren’t we ever enough? We have more choices and opportunities than any generation of Women before, but our roles have never been more complicated by deeply ingrained mixed messages, from both previous and present generations. The term “perfect” is no longer used to describe what we’re all striving to be. Now it is called, “fulfilled.” But for Women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things; Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are. Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.
I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about Women in regards to Marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was.
This project isn’t only for women in terms of marriage, it applies to anybody who’s life doesn’t fit expectations, whether that comes from their parents, their culture, or themselves. No one’s life turns out the way they or their Parents imagined it would. So many of us spend the second half of our lives trying to reconcile the choices we made in the first half. Just like any artist, I’m out to change perception. I want people, particularly women, to let go of the judgment, be at peace, and bless your life as it comes to you.
4. What’s next for you? Any new projects in the making?
Presently, I have my hands full with LIFE ONCE REMOVED. The photo series has evolved into a 3 part documentary film called, PLAYING HOUSE. I’ve completed “Chapter 1: Postcards From Paris,” and am now in production on “Chapter 2: The Vows,” where I stage a Renewal of the Vows with my mannequin “Husband.” It’s a photo shoot, a film shoot, and also a ceremony, of sorts. It’s really meant to be an examination of the Process of Matrimony as the confluence of commerce, fantasy, commitment and life meaning. I’m also looking at its new function as the height in image crafting, and presenting a curated self for others to admire. I’ve put myself through the same process as every bride, in order to use myself as sort of a Guinea Pig, a controlled test, so that I can speak from experience with empathy. And every bit of it is on film, and not all of it is pretty! I’m exposing it all to the light of day on my Blog to boot.
The 3rd Chapter focuses on the next generation. It will feature “Mary Margaret,” the Mannequin Child among her living peers in a school environment. Beginning with a photo shoot, it will be followed by an interview with her “Classmates” to get their take on how they see their own life path going. I want to see how our expectations, with its mixed messages, are influencing children from a very young age. I’ll be trying to find out how image crafting through social media is shaping their self-image and the expectations they have for their own lives.
This project is incredibly flexible and pregnant with possibility, which allows me to explore many different subjects under one umbrella. One subject I hope to explore is aging and self-image. I’m not sure if I will employ the Mannequins to do this or not. Regardless, all of my subject matter deals with human struggle with self and related illusions, Image vs Reality. I can’t imagine working on anything that doesn’t focus on that sort of content.