Plagues of Egypt

(2020)

Created during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Plagues of Egypt reinterprets the biblical plagues through a series of still life tableaux photographed in my apartment during lockdown. In addition to drawing upon art history and visual symbolism, this work was informed by my own experience growing up in, and later rejecting, born-again Christianity, as well as religion’s impact on America’s response to the current pandemic.

We now find ourselves in conversations on both the personal and national levels interrogating the existential meaning of disease and death, plagues and pandemics. Our desire for certainty is seen in seeking divine explanations, often to the exclusion of scientific ones. But the philosophical problem of evil asserts itself: our collective cultural heritage is shaped by stories of disease as divine punishment, and prayer as salvation from that punishment. We feel a sense of helplessness in the face of a power that at once proclaims “Let my people go” while also hardening Pharaoh's heart, that unleashes pestilence, darkness, and death of the firstborn as easily as one might arrange objects in a still life.


In Absentia 

(2020)

In Absentia is a photographic series about trauma and survival. In 1998, at age 14, I was raped by a 21 year old who groomed me and my friends in early internet chat rooms. Building props and constructing meticulous still life, I use objects as surrogates to form a narrative of my rape which is both personal and political. In this work, surreal images evoke the cognitive sensations of traumatic memory, and the lawless nowhere-ness of the early internet. In Absentia operates within a sort of dream logic: nothing is as it should be, and I cannot seem to awake. 

In this post- #metoo moment, we are still reckoning with rape culture. Victims are disbelieved, denigrated, subjected to erasure: famous rapists are household names, but can we name any of their accusers? Trial in absentia is considered a violation of defendants’ rights, yet victims’ stories and collective histories remain absent from our cultural narratives. Indeed, archival documents from my own legal case defend the character of my rapist, even as my personhood remains conspicuously absent from the files. In Absentia’s compartmentalized box-like images unpack my individual experience while raising the larger question: how many unseen others carry similar boxes of trauma, shame, and invisibility?


Copyright Adrienne Catanese.
All rights reserved.
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