I live there now
Written 2015, revised 2017.
To make the trio of works called I live there now, I started with a photo I took in 2004. It shows the corner of a room, part of the house my parents lived in for well over four decades. I spent most of the first seventeen years of my life in that house.
I took the photograph shortly after my father died and I moved my mother into a nursing home. Though I mistrust my memories of those days and weeks, I recall that being the last time I was in their house.
I've told the background story elsewhere, but in case this is the first thing you're reading, here's a synopsis. My parents were booksellers. They were also children of difficult times, including the Great Depression. Perhaps because of that, they seemed to keep everything—usually in stacks and piles, everywhere. They thought that the one thing you did throw out might turn out to be more than just something you wish you'd kept; it might, those worried voices in their heads whispered, be the difference between destruction and salvation.
In the image, you see stacks of books and papers, some pictures hung on the wall, and, well, more stacks of things on the desk. Though they did have some amazing things among their belongings, it would be pretentious to call my parents collectors; they were merchants but also accumulators and keepers. The current term might even be hoarders. They would buy something, often with the idea of selling it later, but even more often it would stay. Forever, it seemed.
Thus did that house grow—from the inside, it felt to me.
Regarding these images, a writer once asked me if I knew the identities of the people in the pictures mounted on the wall. I have no idea who those people are. And that, for me, is part of the story. This house was filled with things, the origins and details of which I had no clue. Of course, an important subtext to that is that I never asked—another part of the story.
So, that house—a forest of detail and clutter, and mysteries too—full of books and pictures (thousands and thousands), pieces of mismatched furniture, seemingly a million odds and ends—was what I’d crudely call a chaos rasa. I wound up, as a kid, spending much of my time alone, filling in the blanks as it were. Maybe that’s a big part of why I wound up making pictures of my own in the first place. When you don’t believe in anything beyond this world and the one you’ve been given is pretty much a shambolic mystery, well, there are lots of blanks to work with, lots of holes to fill.
In this picture, there’s clutter and mess, but there’s also this lamp with a bare light bulb. It's strangely placed. I didn't put it there. My parents likely left it that way. It might have been left that way for years.
When I saw it—the lightbulb in the picture that is—I thought, well that's just a bit more weirdness in a weird place. The light looked incongruous to me, this lucency in the middle of the room, with its own little space cleared around it on a desk that had otherwise become just another storage vessel. There were moments when, because of the light, the picture had something to it that passed for a sense of looking out. A vein of optimism even. It's a bit romantic.
Of course, the light’s not like a sunrise or anything like that. It comes from something people made; it’s naked and solitary, and it leaves a lot of shadow. If it’s a symbol, it has a vernacular quality to it. And it gives off light but doesn't illuminate all that much. You—and I—still don't know what all that stuff really is, though we can make out more of its form.
When you look at the three pictures in order, the light remains more or less constant. But something else happens—the room changes and, by the last image, things seem to be coming apart somehow.
The title comes from Molloy by Samuel Beckett:
I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now....
When I reread those lines, I knew I'd work them into a title for these images. Not in the facile sense that I’ve become like my mother, or my parents, or anything like that. It's about getting to a point in life that has as much to do with experience as age. Endings appear in sharper relief than beginnings. The edges are worn. The shadowy withering of things is something I can feel now, instead of just imagining or appreciating the idea of it.
I can’t know for sure if my mother saw these things too. I was going to say I should have asked but I know I never would have. But before her mind went—and maybe after, who knows—I bet she did.
Like the Revisitations works, which also have an intimate relationship to that house, I installed each of these images in its own wooden case, crafted by superb woodworkers. They’re objects as well as pictures. They have a tidy privacy I like. When they’re closed, the picture dies to the world, waiting for someone to open the lid and bring it back to life.