The lightness of translucency

Chapter Two

I have a visceral fascination with translucency. It allows some light through but its semi-transparent nature conveys a feeling of mystery, of something partially revealed or lost. It also has a unique ethereal quality. It can add a sense of oddity or lightness to a piece. Like in a dream, we guess what it relates to but we know we don’t see the full picture. 

When the time came to start working on my book The Last Breath, I felt it needed to be made with a translucent material to represent the air and the mist of one’s breath. It was also important to allude to both the spiritual presence and the separation from life.

The material had to be malleable and strong. The objects also had to be made in my home studio because of the shelter-in-place order. That’s when I decided to explore the property of Polymer Clay, and more specifically a clay made with beeswax called Pardo.

I have the same feeling of awe for fine Japanese papers as I do for the Pardo clay. It has this creamy white color that varies with the thickness of the object. The particles of wax need to be warmed up before being transformed, and little bubbles of air or wax remain trapped during the conditioning of the clay. How appropriate for the concept of my book!

I decided to start my first prototype by imprinting the gaze I used in my step-mother’s Coma pictures (see chap 1). The first poem is still a work in progress. I cover parts of words with the clay so it looks like some letters are on top of the surface and others are inside the clay, floating. I added stylistic bubbles for reference and to help attach the pieces to the support. Some metal sheets embedded in the soft clay give a dynamic path to the “exhale”. The next step is to attach the nine pieces to a wire structure. 

While I was working on my first prototype, the Derek Chauvin’s trial for the killing of George Floyd was on the radio. The year 2020 will be remembered as the year when breathing (or the lack of) referred to both the Covid-19 pandemic as well as renewed activism for civil rights. I hope my book will be a repository for all of those who were swept away during this challenging time, while we keep pushing forward for a better and more just society. That as we move toward a more transparent world, my book may become an artifact of light in this uncertain interim.

For more information about polymer clay check The Blue Bottle Tree