Breathing, Dying, Swimming, Flying
An immersive, photo-based,mixed-media installation about loss, liberation, and water
Displayed the month of August, 2018, at Nine Gallery in Portland, Oregon.
This is a story about loss and it’s lifelong ripples. It’s also about release and liberation.
There are two chambers in this installation, one is the Pond, the other is the Pool.
When I was four, my eight-year-old brother drowned in a nearby pond a week after we had moved from the city to the country. I have very strong and good memories of him. The tragedy had a devastating effect on my family and our future. Out of my parents’ concern and fear, swimming pools and any bodies of water were off limits for me. I grew up not knowing how to swim. But as a child, I would fantasize about life as a mermaid.
The vellum pages in the Pond Room are taken from the newspaper article reporting the incident as well as a faded unsent letter found in a box after my mother passed. It was wrenching to read her thirteen grief-filled pages accounting the details of the tragic day, and the numerous things that went awry to set the stage for my brother’s death: the local ambulance out for repair, the workmen on site next to the pond off that day because of rain the night before, the woman that at first didn’t believe the playmates when they told her what happened, and when she did see my brother’s feet in the water, instead of pulling him out, called her husband a town away. When my mother finally arrived at the scene, the he trooper would not let her see my brother’s body.
Fast-forwarding to four years ago, I discovered adult swim classes at a pool where I had started taking aqua aerobics. I had subconsciously assumed every adult but me knew how to swim, but there I saw many taking a beginning class. I signed up, and practiced regularly to get better. I now swim more than 40 laps each session and it gives me life. Water brings me joy, not fear. I belong there.
Swimming is very meditative. It’s quiet, rhythmic, and a perfect atmosphere for the mind to muse. It makes sense that I often think of my brother. What was his experience of drowning that day? What would it have been like to grow up together? What would he be like as an adult?
Both of my parents passed away in 2014, the same year that I learned to swim, which somehow seems significant.