Artborne Magazine December 2016 - Page 44

Out of TownerConfronting Mortality: Shelby O’Brien’s Abject Memorials by Leah Sandler above: Communion Photograph Series, giclée print below: Paschal Candles, Soy wax, paraffin wax, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil, human blood, and vinyl “Naming suffering, exalting it, dissecting it into its smallest components—that is doubtless a way to curb mourning.” —Julia Kristeva, When faced with the decision to go forward with a hysterectomy during her second year of graduate school, O’Brien began experimenting with canning and preserving in her Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia studio, informed by childhood memories of her family’s tradition of canning garden veg- Shelby O’Brien acknowledges the horrors of the human body in abject memorials, crafted using human blood in traditionally domestic material processes such as candle-, soap-, and candy-making. O’Brien became acquainted with the ephemeral nature of the human body and its physical existence at a young age, witnessing her mother’s struggle with chronic illness, and then while facing her own mortality as she underwent a hysterectomy in December of last year at the age of 25. Profoundly moved by these experiences, O’Brien focused her artistic practice on confronting physical impermanence in a death-denying society while continuing her family’s legacy through heirloom traditions. 43 etables in the summer and her own desire to “hang onto whatever is left for as long as you can.” She filled vintage glass canning jars with clear toy candy (a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipe), ephemera from her previous medical interventions, as well as blood belonging to her mother and herself, collected during routine appointments with a phlebotomist. The resulting works are poignant memento mori, memorializing a traumatizing event particular to the artist’s life while gently teasing our attempts-in-vain to defy death as human beings. While her studio experiments with canning were motivated by a desire to preserve, O’Brien’s chosen materials all contain metaphors for the ephemeral nature of life, as well—consumable candies, melting wax, and disintegrating soaps. For a recent series of sculptures, the artist was influenced by Christian and Catholic rituals relating to life, death, and resurrection and their symbolic, material manifestations. Again,