Countless cultures through the history of the world have created emblems of kinship and protection, and often these have featured prominently in rites of passage and rituals of power and fertility. Totems have been used to signal the identity and heritage of a people, clan or group, and when different symbolic personages are stacked one on top of the other, totem poles become vertical narratives of lineage and historic authority.
Such is also the way one may look at one’s own descent, imagining oneself as one tier added to the totem pole of “those that came before”. Often our abilities and life courses are shaped by a combination of genetic, economic, socio-political and educational hierarchies – as Newton said: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Of course, one may choose the giants on whose shoulders we stand…
In Totem, the above principles are present, although with a strong focus on female identity and ancestry. The work invokes the goddess-triad of ancient lore, where the Maiden, Mother and Crone combine to embody the different ages and powers of woman. The figures that make up the fantastical tower of flesh can be seen to hold objects symbolically associated with the three female figures, including a sheaf of corn, a large cup, a sickle, a spindle, and so on.
In a grove of swaying trees, this mutating being at times appears anthropomorphic and at others simply mirrors the shape of the trees – it vacillates between being different and the same. In this way it moves from signifying a human to an object of human superstition to a natural entity. This object/subject is the Totem, a dynamic, shifting persona that inhabits a magical world.
The sound of the work is composed almost exclusively of the sighs of female family and friends of the artist: sighs of pleasure, of torment, of worry or mirth, these sounds combine to create a sensually compelling entity. The sounds may also imply that this confluence between humanity and nature provides a transcendental experience, allowing humankind to imagine an unseen world or order that modulates our experience of reality.
Single-channel video installation
Video and stereo audio 2′ 45″, looped