A Weirdly Floating “We” Snaps Into a Blurry Focus Brittany Shepherd
He knew that he was in presence, but knew not of what, and knew still less that I also was and that I did know.
Her older brother wrote about a woman over whom everyone argued; whether she was crazy or whether the things she saw, the things that motivated her actions, were really there. It should be noted that the woman her brother authored never questioned herself in this way. And her brother never spoke on the fictional woman’s behalf. He didn’t respond to any expository impetus except to declare that he would never explain anything—nothing was to be clarified. Outraged, horrified, people said he made them think perverse thoughts. Her other brother (the older, older one) said:
We have not now the refuge of distinguishing between the ‘reality’ and its appearances. Facts of thought being the only facts, differences of thought become the only differences, and identities of thought the only identities there are. Two thoughts that seem different are different to all eternity.
Many of his other ideas are our ideas now. Our feelings are science that he informed. In addition to being the eldest brother, and having had a special relationship with his little sister (he sketched dirty-ish portraits of her, encouraged her to do opium), he was the godson of the man who said:
Illusion, Temperament, Succession, Surface, Surprise, Reality, Subjectiveness, — these are threads on the loom of time, these are the lords of life. I dare not assume to give their order, but I name them as I find them in my way. I know better than to claim any completeness for my picture. I am a fragment, and this is a fragment of me.
The sister died from breast cancer. Before that she lived with her parents until they died. Then her younger, older brother made sure she was taken care of. She had hysteria. One time they sent her all the way from New England to New York to receive a “massage” for this. The story of her mental health “reads like a primer on Victorian psychiatric treatment.”
No one knew/cared what she was thinking until she was already dead and they read her diary.
[my brother]…says in his paper that the nervous victim “abandons” certain portions of his consciousness….altho’ I have never unfortunately been able to abandon my consciousness and get five minutes’ rest. I have passed thro’ an infinite succession of conscious abandonments….As I lay prostrate after the storm with my mind luminous and active and susceptible of the clearest, strongest impressions, I saw so distinctly that it was a fight simply between my body and my will, a battle in which the former was to be triumphant….it used to seem to me that the only difference between me and the insane was that I had not only all the horrors and suffering of insanity but the duties of doctor, nurse, and strait-jacket imposed upon me, too.
Many eventually realized what her brothers had all along suspected—she was a brilliant intellectual, fully cognizant of what had been happening to her and inside her all the while. Her diary contains fantasies of patricide, suicide, immeasurable levels of frustration with the oppression she unenthusiastically tolerated. Somewhere in her diary she proposed an idea that some illnesses or symptoms manifest as a way to justify avoiding society. Her emotional idiolect works the same way ours does, maybe because her brother’s ideas are our ideas?
About the Artist
Brittany Shepherd is a Toronto based artist whose practice explores perception and the dissemination of images, media and information. A recent graduate of the Integrated Media program at OCAD University, Brittany has exhibited in Toronto, New York and Montreal and has published with JMS Press and Perish Publishing. A weirdly floating “we” snaps into a blurry focus is a single channel video installation that maps out the presence of glass in everyday life, revealing its role as a mediator and the network of associations and affects it produces. Accompanied by a site-specific photographic window installation, glass is explored poetically as a metaphor for the invisible forces that contribute to experiences of reality.
A weirdly floating "we" snaps into a blurry focus (4 min excerpt)
Documentation by Yuula Benivolski