A couple of weeks later I was at a friends ‘favorite fictional character’ themed house party, camera in hand while I went to the bathroom and decided to take this picture:
(I was dressed as the Queen of Hearts, naturally.)
Taking these pictures unknowingly started and inspired my “Panties Project.”
I was initially struck by how much I liked their imagery and connection to the “What I wore today” internet phenomenon. Then the more I thought about them, the more they made sense for me to do as a series, encompassing some very poignant aspects of my life and strange lifelong “quirks”.
As a child, I became easily obsessive and frightened, particularly about forgetting my past thoughts, feelings and experiences. So as what I thought would be a grounding factor, I made it a habit of thinking to myself, “I will remember this moment, I will remember this moment.” whenever I used the public washrooms at school. Starting probably around age 5-6 until I was at least 10, but maybe longer.
Ironically, instead of a collection of memories, this resulted in more of a general memory that spans years and blurs what other thoughts or feelings I had at any specific time. The memory is just of myself evolving in this fairly unchanged physical setting, as well as the fear and anxiety I felt originally about the inevitable inability to remember everything that you live.
Which, is a fear that has unsurprisingly lasted well into the rest of my life. So much so that it’s probably at the root of my interest in photography and self portraiture overall, and that from the time I was 15 to 19 I wrote down everything I did every day. (On top of that I have boxes filled with journals of additional experiences, accompanied by drawing and diagrams.) Eventually I found this exhausting and too time consuming so I have since lightened up quite a bit on the everyday aspect. Although my writing, drawings, photographs and self portraits obviously still continue.
Separately, (or so I thought before starting this project) around the same age (5-6) is the first time I remember having what have become chronic nightmares, about toilets, public washrooms and having to use them in unusual situations.
The first one I remember took place in my childhood home, we were having a house party and some “evil people” were shoving all of my friends down the toilet. Since then they’ve included everything from two toilets side by side with no wall in between (or walls that are too short), two toilets in a corner that touch just a little bit, public washrooms unmarked according to sex, toilets in the line up at sarcan, mirrored or brightly colored bathroom walls, over-flowing or clogged toilets, forgetting my belongings in the bathroom, toilets that are strangely shaped (like tall aqua squishy cylinders or red boards that sort of look like a picnic table) and most recently porta-potties at a music festival that are actually a series of dark blue lockers with miniature toilets on chains locked up inside.
There are I’m sure many interpretations of these dreams, (a friend of mine thinks I was traumatized by having to sit on a bidet when I didn’t want to) but I’m not actually afraid of toilets “in real life”, except when they look like the ones in my dreams:
I took this at a pick stop in Chamberlain Sk,
and this in Regina Beach Sk this summer at an arts festival.
The connection that my nightmares surround the place where my fear of forgetting was so focused, is incredibly interesting to me. This connection didn’t even occur to me until recently, but I feel like these photos are the advanced version of me sitting on the toilet trying to freeze myself in time.
The reason I think this is the scenario when I’m most struck by this fear is because I’m forced to constantly encounter it. Going to the bathroom is a daily necessity, sure, but it’s also often the only time we have to ourselves in between the rest of our lives.
It’s where you are when you have the crushing realization of last nights drunk sex. It’s where you breakdown, when you have a moment to think, time to process, to calm down, to cry, to talk yourself into putting on a brave face. It’s where you go to send sneaky texts, to bide time, to journal, to tell secrets, to skip class and draw instead.
This christmas I ran into a friend and fellow artist, Tanya, at a house party on my way home by way of the back yard and the fire. She said something really interesting, well a lot of interesting things about this project, particularly that we as women spend a lot of time looking at ourselves this way, that we spend a lot of time there.
She said that she identified with the photos immensely and immediately. Saying that she used to live in a house with the same tiles (as my “Lady Hearts” photo) in Ottawa, that when she saw it, she was instantly herself, in Ottawa.
We talked about self portraits, and about how that term isn’t very accurate. She said that she sees these photos as an expression of myself, they’re me, but also as the viewer, they’re her in ottowa and they’re women. (I‘m tempted to say that it’s entirely a ‘womens project’ except that a male friend took a picture like this to show me, a girlfriend of mine took one too, each made me so happy!)
Interestingly though, this project has often been perceived as erotic even though I never intended it to be and our converstation got me thinking that that’s kind of how all of female sexuality is precieved. Just the thought and the suggestion, the fact that the photographs are so close to something scandalous, makes the picture itself also so. Just the suggestion that women could be sexualy empowered, that our sexualities are not what we’ve been told they are for thousands of years, that is scandalous in itself.
She was incredibly encouraging and inspiring, saying that she thinks I should travel with this project, which I intend to do. I’m amazed by how much has come from something that started out, and could initially be perceived as, so frivolous but has led to so many interesting personal and creative discoveries, on my own and in conversation.
So I’m celebrating it’s one year anniversary with this very long post, whew.
Here are the latest:
To see the entire project, click here.