I was young and stood in front of my mother's dressing table. Barely able to see with the folded and stacked clothes. I do not know what I was doing. This does not matter. I will never remember. Mother turned. Looked, and poked. Poked this little lump of flesh forming on my chest. ‘you are changing’ she said - well meaning, nurturing, probably not even these words. This is what I hear. An echo that never stops defining.
It was a moment. Pained, feared, confused and ripped with an anger I could never contain.
Sarah. Me. Myselfs, all the me I could be.
I was not a concept anymore. Child. Kid. Youth. Me, mine - my lumps of flesh. I was not a concept anymore. I was a person, my heart growing with fleshy mounds I did not ask for. Growth. A growth that was going to navigate my story without my consent. It was going to define who I could be, how I could be. Even worse it was going to give people tools to define me, how they can navigate my story on my behalf.
I was a person. I was not father, I was mother. I was defined.
My hopes, and dreams. My voice, my tone, and my words. Who and how I could be. It would define what is safe, and what is not. Of place, of pleasure, of denial.
This echo. No. No. No. Earthquake was going to spread, destroy, and alter the me.
My first experience of discomfort.
I was mother.
I keep and collect broken, discharged wood and items. Things that how they looked defined their purpose. I rebuild them - through
and loving and nurturing with care into their own rearticulation of all these moments that define. This fear and confusion forms so neatly by others I could not speak, or understand. I encased these lumps in resin safe, touchable and solid. Hours. Days. Years. Trying to redefine the me I see, to find the words, the safety to explain to everyone who I am. So I could poke to those little protruding lumps and say ‘your changing’ and with each piece, and retelling I can build an army to take back what defines me, and own it into the next phase of my changing. With an audience. With an understanding. Found, retaken. Cutting. Hitting. Stamping. Loving.
I was young and stood in front of my mother's dressing table.
Barely able to see with the folded and stacked clothes.
I do not know what I was doing.
This does not matter.
A little girl looking in a mirror.
Searching to explain to herself. Only herself. Who she can still be.
Resent Bodies part of Dreaming of Home at Leslie Lohman Museum of Art
Sarah Francis is an artist working across sculpture, paint, installation and digital photography. Her practice explores her own story, of ‘how I made me’, and the work she creates attempts to both write this story and share it, drawing on her neurodiverse and queer identity and the experiences that inform and shape her art.
Francis’s recent series Bodies aptly reflects this synthesis of sculpture, paint and the ontological process of reveal that defines her practice. A sense of play and scale run through her work; one moment she invites us to focus on body parts, the next we see this body framed within epic industrial settings, rural landscapes and abandoned offices.
The two works she exhibits within ‘Dreaming of Home’, Resent Bodies Red and Resent Bodies Yellow sit within Bodies and highlight Francis’s preoccupation with the multiple versions of self she identifies a person might carry. When asking ‘how I made me’, Francis also posits ‘where’ ‘when’ and ‘with what body’ – the two works in this exhibition offering different iterations of her own form, attempting to capture the layered self.
If to offer a self-portrait is to request a gaze, Francis articulates the boundaries of this gaze by sculpturally redefining her own body and the space that body occupies and takes up. Through the layering of wooden shapes, laid as if a landscape – human, elemental, shorn and disjointed – both Resent Bodies Red and Resent Bodies Yellow show the wooden pieces positioned at angles to depict a dislocated, perhaps awkward form – one unequivocally exposed, yet still fitting neatly within a repeating squared shape.
The work prompts us to ask, is this haphazard version of self, chosen (self-fashioned) or, externally defined, the result of societally imposed notions of ‘norm’, and the feminine? A resin coating shrouds and contains the pieces, fixing them to each other, making the body immovable, uncompromising and stark – it acts as if a skin, bloomed and tactile. For Francis, this process of applying resin also gives the work stability. She invites us to touch the work, both including and supporting us as viewers, while provoking questions around how art might be made more tangible, assertively touchable and accessible, rather than off limits and exclusionary.
Both Resent Bodies Red and Resent Bodies Yellow offer a body re-purposed, self-actualised by the artist. They exemplify Francis’s central drive, to come to understand the acts of masking and framing that have shaped their queer neurodiverse identity – and all the questions of consent and access that impact upon it and drive the impulse to self-determine. For Francis, the self-authorship in Resin Bodies Red and Resin Bodies Yellow denotes a route to authenticity and acceptance, where the depicted body, confrontational and bold, might offer a sense of home – without conditions.