Who are the victims in this work? The voice? The cars? The emaciated one? How do you conceive of their victimhood?
I like to think of them as three different characters telling a story about the difficulty of witnessing someone else’s trauma and the solitary experience of suffering. At times the characters overlap with one another, although they are ultimately on different orbits.
I think of the voice as the central figure – she articulates her specific, first-hand experience of being damaged by various external conditions in her life; the ‘witness’ is the second character who draws blind contours in the junkyard; and the nude woman is a symbol for all that we project on victims through the act of empathy. She’s calm and detached, reflecting an uncrossable bridge between two people. Her emaciated figure mirrors the hard edges of the abandoned vehicles around her, and somehow I think of her as embodying the definition of victim, in that she is an object of neglect and deprivation. She is unclothed, having lost any identifying particulars and context.
The character who you might describe as the real victim – the voice – is surprisingly unsentimental about her repeated damage. She doesn’t seem to identify with the label of victim for herself, which further asserts this label as a projection and objectification.
You pair shots of your own drawing over the model's body with the woman describing injury to her own body. Can you speak to this juxtaposition? I wonder if you are mirroring the voice’s description of violence with your own body's motions to record an event.
Being present for someone else’s suffering – really acknowledging them without turning away – makes their pain more visible in a way. I’m interested how empathy causes the body to mirror another person’s experience. I’m also interested in how empathy can actually amplify suffering. Why do some creatures need to be alone while they suffer? Pain is untranslatable.
You could think of the tracing as highlighting scars underneath seemingly flawless skin, making visible the hidden topography of violence in this person’s history.
In drawing classes, they teach you to use blind contour drawing to really see the object in front of you. Instead of an abstract universal symbol, you start to see every curve, lump, and shadow of an uneven topography. You see the form beyond language and labels. I think this is how care functions as well. Care is very different from empathy. Empathy projects the viewer’s expectations and imagination while care is a gesture aimed at the concrete particulars of a banal reality.
I am struck by both the choice of model and the kinds of violence the voice describes suffering. There is something abstract about violence in these representations that feels ahistorical, alienated from race or class although not from gender. Can you reflect on this?
I think part of that is because the speaker’s race and economic status is anonymous but her voice identifies her as female.
The viewer in the junkyard is white, and it’s as if she is projecting her own racial identity onto the nude body. Violence becomes a blank slate that is projected upon by the witnesses of violence. This is the dark side of empathy – that we always carry our own lenses and subjectivities with us when approaching someone else’s pain. It makes me think of media thresholds for violence and the way that white pain is given more airtime.
The perspective of the narrator (the voice) is that her own vulnerability and optimism has somehow led to her being damaged. In a way, her innocence led her on a track toward violence and the key to avoiding pain is to rid herself of innocence. She speaks of the pitfalls of neediness, concluding that her natural desire to seek help is only an invitation, and if people feel burdened by that, it is up to them to protect themselves.
Some of the themes running through the work speak to the same story we’ve been led to internalize as women – that female innocence and openness are valuable natural resources to be exploited.
Jody Wood with NM Llorens
Jody Wood is a New York–based artist utilizing video, installation, performance, and community organization to engage with socially informed content. Her work has received grant support from the Brooklyn Arts Council, New York Council for the Humanities, Rema Hort Mann Foundation and residencies with Yaddo, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. In 2014, Wood was a Socially Engaged Art Fellow with A Blade of Grass and she is currently an artist in residence at University Settlement in NYC.