A lot of people out there probably only really know me from the Internet. They may have seen pictures of me at parties/attended art happenings I’ve organized, follow my tweets, or somehow share connections with me on social media that neither one of us remember forming. Some may even call me “Sef" in person without realizing that the online nickname started as an inside joke. They’ve assembled an understanding of me based on the pieces of me I’ve chosen to reveal — sometimes in total self-aware mockery of the construct that is my public identity (i.e. how "Sef" came about).
We all do it. We all carry with us these fragments of who we are, the experiences that have shaped us, and the idealized person(s) we want to become. Our identities remain fluid throughout various public and private exchanges, changing depending on who’s around or what’s expected of us in a particular setting. But who are we, really? It’s a question I’ve specifically come to ask for nearly three years now about a former roommate of mine named Amber which, surprisingly, forced me to think long and hard about answering that question as it relates to myself.
In the summer of 2010, Amber abandoned our apartment without warning, leaving all of her belongings behind. Her abrupt departure threw me into a tailspin. She walked out on over $1400 in back rent, forcing me to find extra work really quickly to pay her bills. And then, months later as I was still sorting through her shit, I discovered her diaries — along with so much more about Amber than I’d previously realized.
I came to know Amber when she was 28, but her diaries were written between the ages 20 to 24. The pages themselves are visual artifacts sculptural in their assembly: Many of the entries are typed, printed, and pasted into a spiral-bound notebook. They also contain the classic dramatic elements of tragedy and comedy as she represents hubris through a strong face for her imagined audience – and at other times private shame, divulging violent recollections of encounters with partners and relatives both male and female. In her writing, she even assumes several distinct voices to retell her lived experiences, to the point of seemingly alternating genders as she challenges their respective norms thrust upon her.
I basically had to make sense of this person (and why she did what she did to me) through the things she left behind. I put together the pieces of Amber, and now, in exactly one month from today, I’m inviting audiences to do the same with the opening of my show Pieces of Amber at doris-mae from November 8 through 17.
I’ve created an immersive art experience intended to enable an audience to uncover, identify, and question the many complex identities of Amber through artistic multidisciplinary presentation of the fugue in her diaries as a means to construct their own unique vision of who she is — while asking themselves the same questions they ask of her, and undergoing the same process of voyeurism and discovery I did when I originally uncovered the diaries. The audience will move through a space once alive and inhabited by Amber, chock full of the discarded scraps and relics of her daily life, providing them with the experience of her person via the traces and objects she has left behind (much as we do when sifting through our own memorabilia and, in a more formal, ritualized sense, when summoning the life of a person in absentia, either due to their death or their departure).
I’ve assembled a guiding chronology of her diaries, but my artistic intent is to empower the audience to form their own subjective, individual understanding of Amber – and to decide what judgments they, in turn, want to make of her (and, ultimately, her decision to abandon her life and possessions) through her various diary entries ranging from the comedic absurd to the hidden, cursive-filled pages in the back that document her childhood traumas affecting who she is today. Above all else, her anonymity will always be assured since I plan to never reveal her true identity in public. My goal is not to shame Amber for her trespasses against me; quite the contrary, this entire creative process has proven that the work is actually more autobiographical to me. It has forced me to confront my own issues of abandonment, my multicultural identity (Amber is half-black, like my mother), and my will to survive by any means necessary as Amber has continued to do.
I want people to know me as so much more than an Internet avatar who trolls gallery openings and parties across DC. I can act. I produce short films and I direct live performances, like the one I’ll be premiering next month. I am an experimental theatermaker. I am an emerging artist.
… And I guess I’m also “Sef” at this point, too.