Duplex: Tell us a little about your installation.
Kathryn Cellerini Moore: This particular piece that I’ve been working on for Duplex brings together my recent experience of losing my mom (she passed away on Christmas) with a theme I’ve been working on for over three years now. Between ages four to six years old, I was obsessed with the movie The Wizard of Oz. I wasn’t reminded of that until a few years ago when I inherited some things from my mom that she’d held on to for me. It included an Oz coloring book I had completed with images from the movie with a dedication the inside cover to my mom, also some Polaroid images of my first pair of ruby slippers, handmade by my mom and I, and images of me dressed as Dorothy. The fact that she hung on to these items is significant to me because she lost or gave up a lot of her possessions later in her life. This included the property she called home for nearly 20 years. Those Polaroids and coloring book are relics of my childhood and I know she was proud to give them to me. Since then, I have been thinking about my relationship to Dorothy, asking “What if I had a pair of ruby slippers now? What would that mean and how would they function?” and “What is the yellow brick road?” In the movie, it’s the route that takes Dorothy home. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it made sense to me that the yellow brick road was a bigger metaphor for life. The yellow brick road consists of many bricks that we each lay for ourselves and each brick represents a memory.
Some of the bricks, like memories, feel perfect; in brick form, very rectangular. Some of them are charred; some of them are fragmented or just little tiny glimpses or pieces. When I imagine an entire yellow brick road from beginning to end, I see a lifespan. So I’m approaching this installation as the end of my mom’s yellow brick road. My intent is to harness grief with a childlike playfulness while addressing familial relationships. For me, right now, this is both a dark and necessary topic but it is important to achieve balance with beauty and light. Grief is beautiful and ugly and everything in between. It’s uneven and so the bricks will be that way in the installation. There will be weeds and grass growing in between the bricks as though the yellow brick road hasn’t been tended recently. The wheelbarrows are vessels that contain the materials necessary to build the yellow brick road. They are called Mobile Dorothy I and Mobile Dorothy II. They are painted in a pattern mirroring the dress Dorothy wears. Mobile Dorothy I contains the bricks, or memories ready to pave the road. Mobile Dorothy II holds all the grass and dirt. Wheelbarrows are very functional items and for me they are symbolic of the maker of the road. Additionally, my grandfather was a mason so there is a family connection with these materials.
D: There is a short film included in the installation as well, can you tell us about it?
KCM: Mobile Yellow Brick Road is a wagon I have used in the past to haul yellow bricks while dressed as Dorothy. In the short film that accompanies the installation, I use the wagon in a healing ritual. I went to the property where we grew up out in Colton Oregon, a rural logging town. I wanted to go there because for me that’s where my ‘yellow brick road’ started. It’s a site that represents my foundation. There was really no other place to film; to me site sensitivity is very important because of the connection between place and identity. To prepare, I used the last pair of shoes my mom wore before she passed away and I turned them into ruby slippers. Those shoes are the magical shoes that delivered my mom to her last resting place, or her ultimate home. In the installation, the shoes are on the wagon. In the film, they are on the wagon alongside yellow bricks and fabric petals that I hand-cut from the last outfit she wore.
So I dressed as Dorothy – as a 32 year old pragmatic Dorothy adorned with blue and white gingham collars, sleeves and shirt. Then I pulled her ruby slippers around on a wagon on the property where we lived. Once I found what felt like a place of refuge next to a large tree on the property, I sat down and started assembling the fabric petals into poppy flowers. In the Oz movie and books, Dorothy and her friends were in peril because they found themselves immersed in this huge field of poppy flowers that put them to sleep. I liked the connection between the outfit my mom wore before passing away, or falling asleep for the last time, and poppy flowers. When talking with my grandma about this connection she reminded me that poppies were also my mom’s favorite flower. I made these poppy flowers and placed them around me in the grass and laid down in them. This moment was especially emotional and a long time coming. For me, I was laying beside Mom. The film is in remembrance of my mom and it also marks a very formative experience of my own that will continue to impact how I do life.
D: When talking to you about your show at Duplex in 2013, the influence for it was really about you dealing and struggling to deal with your mom’s health from long distance. When you were creating the film, and you put your mom’s shoes in the wagon to pull her around, were you carrying and pulling her in a different way now?
KCM: I noticed that connection too. This time I’m carrying her memory and trying to say thank you by creating something beautiful in her memory. I did dedicate that show to my mom for her efforts to be well and happy and healthy. Mom was an open book in many ways. She was so excited about art and toward the end of her life, that’s something we really connected with each other about. She and I shared a love for Louise Bourgeois, whose life and work were not separate. The fact that I’m able to carefully take these materials that I’ve inherited from my mom and incorporate them into the artwork right now is a blessing, and has been for years. She would love this new work.
D: You’ve shown this thesis in a few iterations, and having said that this is your mom’s final yellow brick road, do you see the theme continuing beyond May or is this its final chapter?
KCM: My work seems to build off of itself. I have been making these various Oz related objects for years and they still work together. By bringing together these objects in new combinations and in different scenarios you can share new stories. My gut tells me that this is far from finished. I have more work to do with these Oz-based visual metaphors. Also consider that before 2012, I wasn’t using very identifiable objects. I had worked with abstract imagery for so long. I feel like I am just now finding a visual balance by bringing together representational and abstract. The drawings are abstract and spontaneous but I’m still having a hard time finding spontaneity in objects that already have a richly steeped history. Another thing that’s shifted in the last few years is that I will add actual objects from my childhood to the work. I have miniature animals from a train set my dad and I worked on and somehow they work when I glue them on an abstract drawing. It’s playful and painful, that’s something I’ve been dealing with in my work for a very long time.
D: Do you find that pain is essential to your creative process?
KCM: I hope not. Though it has often been a catalyst. I find that art making has been cathartic for me over the years but those moments are jumping points to the next thought. When I first started exploring the ruby shoe themes, I took the ruby shoes to Berlin and asked people to talk about home and what it means. That was very fun, bringing that fairy tale to folks and asking the question.
D: That Berlin trip was part of a performance festival, right?
KCM: It was the Month of Performance Art. I took 23 pairs of repurposed shoes that were given to me by friends and family and I turned them into ruby shoes while leaving the worn foot beds untouched. I think shoes are very intimate and personal because they carry an embedded imprint of our journeys. I turned them into ruby slippers in the same fashion my mom and I made my first pair: glitter, spray paint and glue. I wheeled them in a blue suitcase while dressed as Dorothy into a major transit plaza called Alexanderplatz. I got down on my knees and started unwrapping the shoes from the suitcase. When I was finished, a crowd had gathered. I took the first pair I saw and walked towards the first people I laid my eyes on just to start the conversation. I went up to folks, introduced myself and told them that I came from Oregon. I said “I came to talk to you about what home means to you.” Then I invited them to wear the shoes with me. The first couple didn’t wear the shoes but next thing I knew, other people around me started trying them on. The Smithsonian Institute says that The Wizard of Oz is the most watched movie of all time, across cultures. When I submitted my proposal to be a part of the Month of Performance Art, I wanted to test that idea and find out if the shoes – despite language barriers, would be a conduit for that conversation. There ended up being more people who had never watched the movie than I expected. I thought that was neat. That experience abroad helped me develop another idea about ruby shoes. I think everyone has a pair of ruby slippers, even if they aren’t shiny and red. I feel like the slippers are a metaphor for something you hold dear that gives you courage to take a step forward in life.
D: Did you have to do any further research or is it from your personal memory of the movie that you make work?
KCM: What’s funny is that in retrospect it seems like I was doing research even as a kid, dressing and acting like Dorothy. I went to the Smithsonian when I was in 7th grade and I bee-lined to the famous Ruby Slippers. It seems I have revisited this topic over the years without seeing the connection until a few years ago. And I did do additional research, having a background in science, I like to learn facts and read from multiple perspectives while developing my own ideas. It seems silly but I didn’t know until a few years ago that there are fourteen books of Dorothy’s adventures. While reading them I realized the stories are more violent than the movie will lead you to believe. What I connected with reading all the books is that no matter where Dorothy went, every time she would meet strangers from new countries in Oz she would say, “I’m just a little girl from Kansas.” She goes on a journey but still takes that connection to home and place with her. There’s a connection between identity and place, and it took me leaving Oregon for me to realize how much of an Oregonian I am. That realization is probably true for many people. So even while I was moving from place to place, I was making work about being from here. And then there is Dorothy Gale going away on adventures and she eventually moves to Oz, yet she still talks about Kansas. That was a formative thing for her, to grow up in Kansas. I feel a kinship with Dorothy: going out on all these adventures, building her yellow brick road as she goes but also realizing the authenticity and lingering effects of her roots.