Lisa Bulawsky's "Prosthetic Memories" (2011)


“The spirit is a bone,” Hegel’s swift and confounding conflation of the ineffable and the finite, serves as an apt metaphor for Lisa Bulawksy’s exploration of public history and personal narrative in her series Prosthetic Memory. A series of works on paper that culls imagery from extensive interviews conducted with a group of older Americans, Prosthetic Memory -- which borrows its title from Alison Landsberg’s 2004 book -- takes the textures of daily recollections and grafts them upon writ-large moments in American history, assembling dreamlike vignettes in which national-level crises and the most pedestrian errands interweave with equal salience. Chosen for the length and depth of their lived experience, the subjects Bulawsky interviewed were asked to reflect on four specific and culturally defining events spanning the 20th century: World War II, the Kennedy assassination, the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, and September 11. While the main body of work integrates significant details from these recollections, the centerpiece of the series -- a suite of four monoprints -- negotiates Bulawksy’s own relationship to these events. The synthesis of observed and imagined, mediated and direct is the point of focus, challenging the conventional system of value ascribed to momentous shared occurrences, too often portrayed with a glossy, reductive remove. Here, a cross-country car trip taken then interrupted by news of Kennedy’s death takes on fresh, indelible significance; the gas station is envisioned, as are the car’s leather seats and large chrome wheel. While the news was relayed second-hand, that moment produced a lived and intimate effect on a life, just as it would, in this more recent moment, for Bulawsky listening to the story recalled. In moving over and over these events, a re-writing occurs, if even a kind of trench-digging: new imprints (read: prints) are made that associate, say, a duck and a patch of road with the nation’s first terrorist attack; a pile of laced leather shoes with the strife of the Second World War. Finer images, here, collect like reclaimed cast-offs from a refuse pile -- their aggregate yielding a more humanized portrait of a time and culture. Like Hegel’s unlikely equivalency, that diffuse and so often imagined thing, American culture, finds its bone in the immemorial strands of living thrust to the back of the deep storage shelf -- Wonder Bread, a clothing iron, the color yellow, all those most valuable oddities that admit everyone’s stake in the whole, human plot.

This was a commissioned catalogue essay for the published iteration of Bulawsky's project.