I used the residency to develop new work exploring death in the digital age.
The root for this work lies in a simple act: I Googled my first lover, and he wasn’t there. John died of AIDS in 1995, part of a generation of lost gay men. Fast forward twenty+ years and it often seems that the entirety of the world can be found on-line. The internet is where see our lives reflected back at us. It shapes how we view our reality. But this man, who was so central to my life, has never existed on-line. This simple realisation re-opened a wound, and created a new void. I wanted to create work that explored this void.
Memento mori imagery in the West has an established set of symbols and motifs. I wanted to explore devising symbols that would be only be possible in a digital age. I began using the text of the Google search “Your search – John Miles & Jeff Zimmer – did not return any documents.” I thought that a digitally-generated response needed to involve digital processes in its rendering. I found a digital makerspace, Steamworks in a nearby town, so began a regular journey hauling sheets of glass (and, later, other materials) on a 40 minute journey on Southern New Jersey’s rural buses. Fortunately (for me) this was a criminally-underused facility, so I had ample opportunity to explore.
I researched the colours used over the years for the infamous Windows ‘Blue Screen of Death (BSoD)’ and found glass enamels from Keracolor in Germany that closely matched them. I began painting sheets of glass BSod blue and using the laser to etch the text, creating a void where the colour had once been. I asked friends for the names of their friends and loved ones who had also died of AIDS before the advent of the internet, and etched their names o
nto the enameled sheets of glass, thus creating a layered work with dozens of names.
In addition to the blue enamel, I painted panes of glass with the most expensive enamel – gold ruby – befitting of a memorial to a precious person. Instead of painting an intense layer of enamel onto one layer of glass, I decided to paint a thin layer onto many layers of glass. The depth of layers of glass suited the depth of my emotional experience of loss, and the repetition of the text suggested the continual experience of loss. The accumulation of the multiple layers began to resemble the saturation of colour found in Andreas Serrano’s Immersion (Piss Christ), a work whose iconoclasm suited John’s spirit.
These many layers of glass provided many options for creating and assembling works. As it was I only had the time to resolve one finished work, in which layers of gold ruby etched text were layered over two overlapping red ‘+’ symbols (created using a dense application of the same precious enamel) in front of a large enameled painting of a skull.
This piece was included in Transparency: An LGBTQ+ Glass Art Exhibition at the Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and may feature in a tour of this same exhibition. After which, it will become part of the Permanent Collection of the Museum of American Glass.