Nashville-based artist, Laura Whitfield, began an on-going photo performance project in 2012. She talks about conveying a range of human experiences, but the materials she uses to portray such complex content could not be more simple.
Whitfield configures plexi-glass letters to communicate a visual language in mundane landscapes, ranging from abandoned lots and street-side buildings to vast stretches of farmland. Her statements do not speak only through the arrangement of words, but rather a distinct and oddly familiar voice seems to resonate from the composition as a whole.
In Whitfield’s But I Am This Person, the placement of each letter is just as significant as the words they comprise. The beginning of the statement starts off confidently, with the words “But I am” all in a straight line and the letters properly and evenly spaced. The plexi-glass letters in the following words, “this person,” seem to create a much different sensation. The voice speaks less steady and more unsure. With the letters moving up and dropping down, the statement almost ends in a quiver, appearing to drop off into an unprecedented silence at the end.
Although there is a period at the end of the appendage, the viewer is led to endless wonder about the person speaking, who she is and to whom she might be defending herself. The punctuation even feels like somewhat of an afterthought, squeezed in between the word “person” and an old window. Offering neither a reflection of the outside world nor a peek inside the building, the window gives just as little information as the words themselves, acting as a mirror of the statement itself.
The photo performances are captivating because of their personal nature and how the messages embody a paradoxical quality. The declaration “But I am this person” conveys a sense of clarity yet overwhelming uncertainty, a subtlety yet stubbornness. The words simultaneously refer to our attachment to personal identity and a persistence to become the person we wish to be. The words “I AM” in themselves are wildly limiting, yet we all find a sense of comfort in our self-perceived notions of who we are and who we are not.
These highly-nuanced personal feelings through imagery, Whitfield invites viewers into a virtual space of self-reflection. Perhaps personal inquiry is more accessible, and appealing even, when we are presented with someone who is blatantly stripping down their own insecurities and posing the question:
“Who is this person that I think I am?”
by Maria Borghoff