By Kevin Dunn
I recently watched a movie that was produced by Ben Stiller called “The Ruins”. The movie was a horror/psychological thriller in genre. The premise for the movie was four college age adult’s trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. They visit a pyramid in which a plant that consumes human flesh resides. Two weeks later I stumbled upon “The Murder of Me” by Jan Parker and felt a strange amount of DéjÃ vu.
Jan Parker is a graduate student at Western Carolina University. She specializes in sculptures that employ natural materials. “The Murder of Me” appropriately uses natural materials to hint at something that is heavy indeed. This conceptual installation, a two foot wide, one hundred foot long swath of dense all-consuming kudzu, originates from a corroded, chromed, brown vinyl-backed and vinyl-seated child’s chair. The way the kudzu interacts with the child’s high chair is somehow violent. The tendrils are in no way caressing the structure of the chair, instead they seem to be strangling and overwhelming it. After flowing an entire one hundred feet in length the kudzu slipped under the door in the hall way. The door to this room has a window but the window appears to be purposefully blacked out, hinting at something hidden or unseen.
On first thought, I was under the impression that this was simply just one more personal trauma narrative, but what more specifically could it refer too? I was unsure of this. Jan’s use of natural material reminds me of artist David Nash. When I think about the length and the even path-like distribution I feel Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”. Jan Parker’s visual semantics’ are without any doubt her own. Although the kudzu appeared slightly dead or wilted, the way that it wrapped around the high chair hints at a moment of childhood. After speaking with Jan this feeling was confirmed, “The Murder of Me” is intended to describe a universal childhood moment, one that has robbed us of our Rousseau style innocence. She stated that this could be a “divorce” or other childhood trauma, anything that could cause a disruption and rob a child of their essential nature. The fact that this is a universal sentiment is somehow not surprising. Our world is one of tragedy. Our current state of humanity does have an adverse effect on children the most innocent members of society. Consequently, Jan has created an article of psychological character that embodies a truth that is similar to Goya’s “Saturn” because like Saturn, society must eventually eat his children. Kudzu is all-consuming.
Overall, Jan completed her stated task of addressing her own experience while still maintaining the universal appeal of the art piece. Life is hard on everyone and hardest of all on children. She used her natural materials wisely and the overall essence of the piece is easy to read. In this way it is both complex and bold without attacking the subject broadside, a balance that is not easily achieved.