Barbara Ess | I Am Not This Body, excerpts, 2001
The world appears behind a sheet of glass. I try to get through. You are talking. I can see your lips moving. I can't hear what you are saying. I keep moving to know I'm alive. The air, soft on my skin, reminds me of old longings. I cook. I eat. I try to make sense of things, move stuff around, put clouds, flowers, trees, birds, people, houses in rows, in categories, Patterns make the world tolerable. Systems sharpen my senses, organize the unfamiliar.
I dress carefully for the party, hoping for wild unknown things. And I try to get near nature. Nature, no longer wilderness, sad and past its prime, but still so seductive, coquettishly offers up an escape route.
I am not this body. But I am. Aching and full of longing. Take a picture of this meat, this husk. You don't have me. I am something that cannot be photographed, cannot be named, defined, translated. There's experience and that's all there is.
But there's also all this stuff. It gets in the way. You have to move it around. I've always had trouble with stuff. I've fought my whole life to have control over stuff, over the appearance of stuff: my chaotic hair, learning to play the accordion, getting dressed, being on time, electric bills, the five ballet positions, getting money, spending money, even just putting one foot in front of the other. Clear the table. A place for everything and everything in its place. A battle for order, a battle for space.
I am not this body, but this is where I live. I'm trapped in here. I eat talk take pleasure feel pain from here. If you remove me from this body I am no more.
I'm certainly not this photograph. Am I? These traces of a moment when wisps of light pass over the physical world. Is not me. Like a shadow on a cloudy day, a poor reflection in a dirty mirror, a representation that can't contain the juice. Where am I in that tiny flat substitution, that 2-D knockoff of my flesh, my self's facade? Don't be fooled. I can't keep up with my thoughts; I barely sense myself. Maybe you see something you recognize of yourself, an imprint of something familiar.
The poignancy of the mute surface of the physical world. The physical world itself so promising and comforting even in its damaged, crumbling, flooded, shining, decaying, pathetic state. We embrace its sweet dumbness in our craving to get at something real. Photography depends on light falling on or off this stuff and then pretends it's the story.
But I am not this body. But I am. This is not my story. But it is.