Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness. There is no life in them. As I am forgotten and would be forgotten, so I would forget. Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And god said prophecy to the wind, only the wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping…
End of the endless journey to no end.— T.S. ELIOT — Ash Wednesday —
The World Bone Project
Just show me a sign. Any sign. It was one of those spectacular autumn days when the leaves move, skimming the ground in a circular dance with the wind.
No sign. No mother. Nothing but a squirrel eating. The wind. Beauty. But no sign.
So I continued in this godless world knowing no sign would come to me. I had lost my mother — as people do — to illness at the right age (she died at 86 a few months prior) and I searched for what people say are the signs from the dead— a brush of the wind, a coincidence or uncanny moment signaling that we were still being watched over.
But then came the evening of the pork shoulder. Three days brining. Nurtured along in sugar and salt. It was for a dinner party. The removal from the oven was ceremonial.
It seemed a requirement that I burn myself at least once during every cooking session, which I did regularly. There were small indentations and miniscule scars to prove it. So I was careful and measured with this one’s removal. The meat had separated from the bone (it is best to keep bone — in with your pork shoulder) and as I turned from the oven to place my offering on the table, trying not to fuss with the pan and make a mess, that bone went flying out of the pan across the room.
I was convinced that in that instant the uncanny had occurred in my kitchen, and so a believer was born. It was a sign.
A sign from my mother.
So began the World Bone Project.
The Space Between
THIS BODY OF WORK EMERGES following the death of my mother. Driven to find what is within, as an artist and psychoanalyst, and now as a motherless child, I become aware that the very effort is based on questions without answers. No amount of digging, desire or toil will let me penetrate what is inside (the Unconscious, the Body, Death). I listen as a psychoanalyst, dig and mold and craft as an artist. I am in the presence of what is no longer living, yet that which still seems to be animated, undergoing transformation.
As an artist and as a handler of the bone, I look to the interiority of things.
The bones interrogate the same questions over and over; when does life start, when does it finish? Are we destined to decay and finally, disappear?
When we try to face the body after life has left it, we see that something is lacking. It is beyond our imagination, beyond our grasp. The sense that something is now absent calls for closure but instead we encounter space, perhaps an opening.
The body lays inert after and yet the bones continue to change, as if now another kind of party is getting started. I hold the bones to the light, wondering what else will emerge to make them more beautiful, more white or blackened and rancid, godlike or unholy. I am compelled to examine their stillness and their unstoppable transformations.
What started as a fascination with the body and its detachment from life moved me to use the bones to house, literally, my mother’s jewelry. This receded as the work became both figurative and the embodiment of mood, of conversation — an exchange between the figures that speak to maternity, inescapable connection, solitude and loss.
The work is a suffering, for it engages what I hate. The smell alone is a warning. The cutting and cleansing a grotesque labor. The connecting tissue, resistant. Repulsed by what I see as I encounter the marrow and interior of the bones, I am equally in awe of the whiteness and clarity that can unexpectedly arise. What is surfacing, and is it giving access to life or death? I rummage through the contents of the body — my mother’s body — hoping to gain access to understanding.
My mother lost her hair. My mother lost her body. My mother lost her life. I lose the movement of my hands to arthritis. Our bones break and crack and mend and fail us. We are ugly, and so beautiful.
The bones, so singular and once contributors to a unique life, now join (rejoin) the anonymity of humanness, of the world. Involvement with them is unspeakably intimate yet completely impersonal all at once. The bones are transgressive, for they refuse to yield to the notion of a life finished. But it is also transgressive to search for answers, to question the bridge between life and after(life). I cannot seem to settle the bones down to their final resting state.
The bones mediate between two worlds, between the living and the dead, between the spirit and the material world.
I am caught in between.
Francesca Schwartz likens the developmental process to creativity and the making of art, and has consistently merged her psychoanalytic practice with a background in the performing and fine arts. She studied at the School of American Ballet when it was under the direction of George Balanchine. When she left that world she went on to study literature, psychoanalysis and painting, followed by a PhD in Psychology. Early in her career she has treated dancers and visual artists. She continues to treat emerging artists in her practice.
Francesca also focuses on adolescents, likening this developmental phase to the creating of art. She is especially interested in the creative process in working through mourning and trauma. In her teaching, this joining of development, creativity and the making of art comes together. Her art making now is through sculpture, working with bone, metal and artifacts to address some of the same questions confronted in her practice, of finding meaning through the articulation of the unconscious.
She resides in Manhattan, the home of her practice, teaching and art making.
New York City