The intention of this body installation is to use the Kudzu vine as a metaphor for fear. The installation consists of an individual ensnared in a large-scale structure and subsequent body adornments that surround and cover the subject in my version of Kudzu until they are unrecognizable or barely detectible to the viewer. The work is meant to be both about the installation itself as a powerful visual interpretation of fear, but also an emotional experiment to gage the reactions of both the kudzu covered individual and the audience. The construction and vines are made of steel and copper components. The leaves are cast Kudzu paper, imprinted with various definitions of fear gathered from surveys.
When I first began designing for an art jewelry collection I wanted to use psychology as a platform to play on the contrast of inner emotions being worn as outer adornments. Initially, I examined the psychological aspects of self-image. Why people view themselves the way that they do, and how their self-perception affects the way others see them. I wanted to create a collection that would be highly interactive with the audience, I want people to try on the objects and experience something. However the subject matter of “self-image” was too broad and I had a hard time articulating the pieces I intended to make. So I put that idea aside and went back to some of my past concepts involving the word Courage.
Courage is my last name, and a constant source of inspiration. Mark Twain once noted that, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” Without fear we lack the ability to be courageous, like without sadness we can’t truly appreciate what it means to be happy. This idea reminded me of the poetry of William Blake.. In his collection of poetry, Songs of Innocence and Experience, he explores the duality of humanity and how we are both innocent and experienced. His work depicts opposites and displays how something can’t exist without it’s opposite to define it and by combining them you are “Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” It is this paradox between “fear” and “courage” that I mean to question with my work.
Fear is a primal instinct that warns the body to protect us against harm. By nature fear stabilizes us and prepares us for danger, but what happens when that same fear holds us back from living a fulfilling life? Emotional fears and anxieties became the focus for my work because I am experiencing a time in my life where I feel entirely consumed by fear and I am thus unable to live life courageously. Fear that is so overwhelming it makes everyday chores seem impossible to achieve. This study of fear brought me back to psychology. As I researched further I wondered, why am I so afraid at this time in my life? Am I alone? In an attempt to answer these questions I created a survey and asked my peers, college seniors, if they were having the same experience. As it turns out they were, but then the question became: where does this fear come from?
After a subsequent series of surveys, I found out a lot about fear and how it manifests in different individuals. However I still had a hard time defining how fear felt on a personal level. I describe my own fear as suffocating or paralyzing, but how to articulate that visually? Then I came across the book Wicked Plants and the Kudzu vine.
The Kudzu Vine is a plant that is native to China and popular in Japan. The Japanese brought the plant to the United States in 1876 as a solution to soil erosion for farmland in the south. However the vine flourished in the American south growing at an alarming rate. It began to smother and ensnare other foliage, pull down telephone lines, and damage property. Its vines would use trees as support and its leaves would steal the sunlight so the plant beneath would wither and rot.
People in the south joked that if you didn’t close your windows at night the plant would strangle you in your sleep. In the 1970's Kudzu was declared a parasitic weed. However its soil stabilizing roots make it nearly impossible to kill. So the only way to prevent the plant from taking over is to cut away at it as often as possible. Much like fear it can't be eradicated entirely, it is something that can only be controlled.
This idea of a man consuming plant brought me back to my roots. I began Metalsmithing after welding props for a high school production of Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors. Since then a lot of my work has been inspired by taking elements from the natural world and distorting them into something conceptual.
Fear Like Feral Foliage