Thursday, March 14, 2013

certifying identity

i've not done a whole lot more on my torso since the weekend of the project. something holds me back, tho' i think about it all the time. i think i fear a little bit that i'll not be able to tap into that energy that arose when the group was together, working on the same thing when i'm at home all alone. but i also have been busy with other things and i do have faith that it will come in good time.

the only "requirement" of the project was that we all place a copy of our birth certificate on the back of the torso, so they would have that one element of commonality when we exhibit them. all along, i've been quite uncomfortable with that notion on some intuitive level that i can't really articulate. i have a feeling of it as some kind of official stamp (of approval? existence?) that i find doesn't really have a place in how i envision myself at this moment in time - the torso is, after all, a self-portrait.

then, i came across a passage in harold rosenberg's book about saul steinberg. he says, "official documents are among the most stylized elements in modern society. passports, drivers' licenses, bonding stamps, ID cards change very little." and it hit me that this has something to do with my objection to affixing my birth certificate to the torso. you see, i've changed a lot since then. and although it's arguably a formal trace of myself, i object on some gut level to the formality of it - to the official stamp of existence of it, to the unchangeability of it.

perhaps it also has something to do with the issue of displacement, which i have often pondered and which is in my consciousness again as i read salman rushdie's joseph anton biography.  i have chosen to live outside the country of my birth and that causes a rift with my old identity. identity is often grounded in place and time and people and work and when all of those change, you do too. in forging a new one (that is never truly of the new place you've chosen either), you leave behind some of the old, breaking with it. i think that documentation of identity represented by a birth certificate is too strong a reminder of that break. and leaves me acutely conscious that i am cast adrift somewhere in the mid-atlantic - neither fully here nor there.

so my birth certificate is there, on the inside. but in the end, it will probably be mostly covered over - hidden beneath, forming the foundation of the layers, but changed by what comes after. and perhaps that's as powerful a statement as displaying it for all to see.


Michelle said...

your post is worth another reading for me - as I am very interested in identity and living outside my country of birth, and returning, and going, and returning...,.but at first glance, my gut says... a birth certificate has more to do with where your parents happened to be, than defining who you are, or were. It seems very limiting, confining and just feeding directly into stereotype to me. I also have discomfort with this idea to "chicken-box" people with their birth certificates in your art show - not very expansive. It seems so last century, doesn't it??? yikes - maybe it has something to do with the danish xenophobia you have described???? in-group, out-group?

DahnStarr said...

Posting my birth certificate for all to see, that would be hard even more so than having my body form on display. Wouldn't be a comfortable with that at all. "Here take my private information, please" No, not everyone needs to know my parents full names, my place of birth, etc. wow, strange isn't it, a piece of paper is more private to me than my boobs. Hummm, something to think about.

Bill Stankus said...

Then again, making public the privateness of one's birth information seems unnecessary.