Sunday, January 22, 2017

Martha's tears, on view in Arizona

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 932. 2016

Martha Casanave has been a friend and colleague for many years and today occupies a distinguished place in the community of the cameraless.  What we didn't know about her was that some while ago she had conceived a most peculiar and private project: she'd been collecting her own tears in little vials, day in and day out, and storing them on microscope slides.  No one knew!  Nor can we even begin to guess at the cause of these tears, whether grief, sorrow, loneliness, disappointment, the lightness of being, existential joy - or all of that and possibly more, thrown in together.  According to those who know her best, never over this period did she make any outward display of heightened agitation or exaltation, bereavement or crush: nothing worthy of a tear.  If we'd known of her true state, we might have considered intervening.  In public she has always seemed fairly normal and unruffled - outspoken, yes, but that's no reason for choking up.  Yet here we are.  Her private life was deeper that we thought.

the artist collects a tear

Happily for us, she recently chose to shed the veil of secrecy and offer her tears to the world.  She has printed a selection of them, using a special microscope devised by her friend Chris, an equipment guru, and are on display at Art Intersection outside Phoenix until February 25, within a larger show called Independent Presence that features current work by a band of woman photographers from Monterey, California.  With a nod to the pioneers of microphotography of the Victorian Age - several of them it turns out were women - Martha's contribution is entitled Explorations through a Fabricated Microscope: A Compendium of Tears.

In looking at these beautiful images, we tread carefully: we feel we are somehow going where we are not allowed, but we can't help ourselves, we are powerless, we are drawn in.  It feels a bit obscene.  And yet there is a curious properness to everything too, a modesty, a primness, even though she is baring intimate recesses of her soul.  Very nineteenth century you could say.  She'll reply by telling you that's her favorite place in time because that's when photography was invented - it's her crowd.

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 1012, 2016
  
A whiff of victoriana in fact is everywhere in the presentation: in the vignetting of the images, in the cursive script of the identifications, adding further to the charm.  Has she decorated her work in this way to distance herself from the intensity of the emotions behind the tears, enabling her at last to go public with them?  We cannot say, but it's plausible.  The separation in time to now from the underlying events can be seen as an additional buffer.  Despite this, she reports that in printing them finally, last year, after so long a wait, the emotions often came flooding back and the experience of doing it was stressful and upsetting in the extreme.

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 908, 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 1005. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 980. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 957. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 942. 2016


For the poets, the tear has long held a special position as poetic object, helped by its pearl shape and its unexpected appearance in the eye of the beloved.  John Donne, writing in 1601 in A Valediction: Of Weeping to the lady he would marry, gets right into it: 'Let me pour forth my tears before thy face.'  Tears are as metaphors for the round globe of the earth, everything is reflected in their concave surface - you, your face, your world, and my tears are a part of you because they come from you, as yours do from me; and when they join, 'heaven is dissolved'.  Tears lead to a rapturous dissolution, all tears do.  You stagger, you have grown suddenly weak, you fall down, but in bliss.

When Martha was asked which tears she found the most beautiful she said the saddest ones.  She didn't hesitate.

Of her books, Explorations along an Imaginary Coastline (2006) is the one closest in feeling to this new work, and should be added to your collection.