The Phantom Economy   /   Summer 2010   /    Interview

A Conversation with Artist Karen Parker Lears on “Swansquarter: The Wound-Dresser’s Dreaming”

Jennifer L. Geddes

THR:  Could  you tell us a little about  your series  of works entitled “Swansquarter: The wound-dresser’s dreaming”?

KPL: For years I had been working on canvases as memory palaces, memory theater, which were in the tradition of ancient techniques for enhancing memory and imagination. My memory palaces and theaters were made using very particular imagery, often tied to lost or distant family members I desired to hold onto. I have always felt that the particular and the abstract were not opposites but complementary to one another. Eventually I found myself artistically moving away from those remembered particulars toward a more abstract representation of interior states of loss. I had witnessed great suffering in my immediate family. The Swansquarter project grew out of an insistent question: what do we do in the presence of wounds, of all kinds? It picked up urgency in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, and my personal need to address the costs that were not being talked about: the wounds to soldiers and civilians, the cost to the flesh, to the mind and spirit, to families, and to the larger community and culture. These seemed like issues not only for the wounded but also for the person who was standing by. And all of us were, in a sense, standing by.

I wanted to address wounds from the perspective of the wound tender. The works in “Swansquarter: The Wound-Dresser’s Dreaming” are material meditations on refuge and loss, being lost, being at a loss; on tending and tenderness as a way through loss; on dreaming, and the possibilities that dreaming provides for finding a way through; on wounds as portals and as maps; and on the possibilities of soldering, suturing, bandaging, as they relate metaphorically to the relationship between the wound tender and the wounded. Ultimately that feels like a relationship that we’re all involved in, with one another, with ourselves, and with the wounded world.

I keep falling back on certain materials that I feel are resonant to that meditation: barbed wire, smashed automobile safety glass, and confetti. These materials don’t recur in any methodical way, but they do keep turning up for whatever reason.

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