Disappearing Project 1-40 is a body of artwork and a written thesis undertaken as part of a Ph.D. in Fine Art at Monash University, (Victoria, Australia). The project was initially inspired by an experience teaching blind children photography, where I “disappeared” to myself in front of the class of six students as I cognized the way the children “saw” me without eyes. During the episode it felt like my material form disintegrated. Represented only by voice, without body, I floated outward into the air and dissolved. No longer contained within the boundaries of skin, I felt unfettered and free from unconscious thought processes that held me within a concept of self that I now understand to be a fictional limit or mental construct. In this new perceptual mode I felt limitless, invisible yet more visible simultaneously, intangible but more fully present.
This incident led me to question if other people had experienced similar sensations. And I spent the next four years researching the psychological, spiritual, metaphysical, philosophical, existential, ontological and political implications of disappearing. The personal experiences I collected for the project were solicited via a flyer asking people who had disappeared to submit a full length image of themselves with their eyes closed and a written description of what happened when they disappeared and how it felt. The stories and images collected reveal people’s intimate recollections of disappearing. From out of body near death experiences to the mundane act of sleeping, these stories shed light on what people identify as disappearing to themselves and others.
The images, usually of people standing in banal settings photographed in low resolution on mobile phones or digital cameras, were uploaded into the computer where the figure was selected and digitally manipulated into a highly colorful, digital pattern, before being printed onto polyester canvas (685 x 855 mm) by a process of dye sublimation. They were then taken to India to be embroidered by local Indian women from Katna Village, West Bengal through an NGO called Street Survivors India.(www.streetsurvivorsindia.org) I chose this area of India because as a child I lived in Calcutta and my Indian Ayah (Moti) came from that region. I wanted to connect with her vicariously by working with the Katna Village women.
My research focuses on this experience of leaving India as another act of disappearing because Moti and India physically disappeared from my life. The memories from that time are pre-language and therefor
non-visual. I have memories of sensations and feelings of fear and fabric mingled with the smell of spices cooking in a Calcutta kitchen and a strong desire for the comfort of the white muslin saree she wore.
Stuart Koop wrote in his essay for the Disappearing Project 1-40 exhibition catalogue that “of course, Loder has paid these women, a means of recognizing and honoring their work, a means of bringing them into view, at the margins of economy, welfare and community. Indeed, she has taken their portraits and documented them at work, and it’s a startling contrast. Our middle-class stories, anxieties and interests ending up in the careful hands of these women in colorful saris, sitting and working together, our (largely) passing concerns darned into the muslin cloth in their laps, our own saturated photographic hues indistinguishable from the bright chaos of folded cloth and pleated skirts, with their nimble fingers tracing our desires and cares in bright lurid threads.”
In the 1930s my grandmother also struggled out of poverty via economic opportunities provided to her and her mother and sisters from the ability to sew. When my great-grandfather died he left his wife and her two daughters to fend for themselves in Dickensian London. As a means of supporting themselves they took in sewing and eventually my great aunt opened a shop in Knightsbridge where she made clothes for many notable women including the Queens personal lady in waiting. My dolls were dressed in gold threaded off cuts, turned by my grandmother’s hand, into spectacular gowns. The other half of the fabric lived at glamorous parties, with the possibility of being lifted high above the knee or suffering cigarette burns and alcohol stains. They had a real life while my remnant was trapped in the imaginary world of a child. During these days of making dolls dresses my grandmother taught me how to sew, properly. She was a hard taskmistress, slapping my hand if I attempted a short cut, but it is a testament to her persistence that I can sew, properly, today.
This project marks a departure from photography as my primary medium into the realm of the tactile in the form of textile, pattern and embroidery.
For more information, please visit www.nicolaloder.com.au. Nicola Loder’s work will be on exhibit March 14 – April 7 at the Helen Gory Galerie, www.helengory.com.au. The work on display will include Media Series One: Dye sublimation prints on polyester canvas and Media Series Two: Polyester embroidered onto muslin.