Carmen Oldham

the body formed within

Class of: 2023

Major: Product Design BFA

Medium: Text, photography, sculpture

Faculty: Gyun Hur

Prompt: Your final project should consider broader cultural, social, economic, and other contexts derived from your research and synthesize your research in visuals, materials, content, and context in relationship to particularities of objecthood and personhood. You should demonstrate attention to detail and deep research skills, as well as the ability to contextualize your practice as an artist/designer/maker within theoretical discussion. You should be able to generate self-driven studio sessions that are inspired by your own interest of subject matters. This is intended for you to develop ways of researching and articulating your voice as an artist/designer/maker.

I began this semester by examining a pearl. Diving into the cultural and historical context of the pearl, I found that across culture and time, pearls and their symbolism/mythology have to do with femininity, purity, and divinity. Essentially, through thinking about pearls, I became interested in how goddesshood is achieved, particularly as a combination of purity, guilt, and suffering.

While thinking about these ideas, I also became interested in looking at how we ascribe meaning to objects, for example, the pearl. This sort of led me to think about objecthood and the loss of physicality. How do we represent a thing in the absence of its physical self? What is the original meaning of a thing versus the meaning that we (individually, culturally, etc.) ascribe to it? When do objects become beings and when do beings become bodies? How does one capture the fullness of meaning and the absence of it too?

I’ve been exploring the same themes in my work in Studio all semester so this has been an ongoing exploration. This project in its physical form, however, began first with writing-and then writer’s block. I have a daily practice of writing, but since quarantine, I haven’t been able to get many words out. I felt suffocated by my thoughts but unable to free myself as I usually do through writing.

Eventually, the words came, in a flood and I tried to capture them, capture the moment I’m feeling in my body and in my mind. The contents of the poem are both personal and explorative of the pearl, as a symbol and an object, and of absence, loss, and renewal.

My final piece takes the form of a poem, which I hand-stamped onto plastic and shown light through, which projected the poem onto my body, which I photographed.