Absent as a body of work investigates the emotional complexities of family life deeply influenced by absence, longing, and expectation. Drawing on conversations with people in the Madison, Wisconsin area that have grown up with an absent father, as I too did, I use photographs, projections and installation to create a space in which the viewer can consider how our early parental experiences affect the construction of self and how those conceptions change over time.
A giant void exists where my father might have been; I have never met the man who contributed to my being. What I do have is one picture and the memory of hundreds of crumpled letters that I would write to him as a child that would convey my worth as a daughter. At the age of 19 I was given this mans address through a private detective my mother secretly hired. When I went to that address I was promptly turned away by his new family with what felt like an excuse which had nothing to do with me. This affected me deeply and I tore this man from my life even further, burying my feelings of anger and confusion. Then at 30 years old I looked him up again on, what is now more prevalent, social media sites. There I found a man who had my eyes laughing and raising his family, most of whom knew nothing of my existence, and what struck me most was that to these people in his life, to most people, he was not an absent father.
“We are all born to broken people on their most honest day of living.” (Listener, Wooden Heart, 2010) As of the last census nearly 1 in 3 American children lived in a home that did not include their fathers. Though the reasons vary greatly in scope and intensity of why fathers disproportionately ghost their children, the emotional impacts of drawing this card in life are indisputably long lasting. This work examines the winding road of understanding, vulnerability, and loss in relationship to fatherlessness, but more broadly speaks about the separation of personal identity from those imperfect beings who raised us sometimes as much by absence as by presence.