EXPUNGE is motivated by my ongoing confrontation with the Armenian Genocide survived by my grandparents 100 years ago this April. Personal reminiscences, medieval Armenian manuscripts and architecture, and photographic documentation of the atrocities inform this exhibit. EXPUNGE addresses memory; permanence and impermanence; natural and forced extinction; loss and longing for family, land and possessions; growth, persistence, and decay; abundance and scarcity; life and death; and survival.
I overlap large sheets of compressed cellulose sponge comprised of biodegradable plant fiber, which I have pigmented with onionskin dye, a traditional technique used by Armenians to stain Easter eggs. Eggs themselves and the various red shades attained by boiling onionskins are impermanent and are signs of death and resurrection. I also color areas of the sponge with red wine, a stand in for the blood of the Saviour in the Eucharist in Christian culture. By combining natural pigments with uncertain and variable shelf life, archival quality acrylic, and other traditional media with variable survivability including ink, charcoal, and gold paint, I emphasize various stages and conditions of life. I used varying amounts of water, a scarcity on the Genocidal death marches, to activate and shape the sponge which I then left outdoors to dry, weathered by sun, wind, rain and snow.
These modified rectangular shape sponges are arranged in layers, like archaeological strata. The interstices recall caves, which are places of mystery, but also sites of targeted suffocation. The shadows cast by the overlapping sponges also recall the dark shadows that the light of memory casts.
In the one hundred years since the Armenian genocide, despite the shock of onlookers, atrocities continue and euphemisms such as ethnic cleansing confirm the tendency of the perpetrators to simply try to “wipe the slate clean”. For survivors, though, the “slate” is a sponge, absorbing and being shaped by what has passed and can never be completely expunged.