When I moved to my family’s hereditary Italian home, I hoped to learn something about myself from my ancestral past. Kinship is an important tenet of traditional Italian culture. But the stones and earth have told me little more than what is already known to me. Through the landscape, I can feel out the shape and rhythms of my grandparent’s youth, but little else besides.
The idea of family holds a strange pressure for me—the assumption that you share interests, beliefs, and ambitions, simply because you share genetic code or, in timeworn parlance, “blood.” As the black sheep, the thing unlike the others, I have looked all my life to other families, as though searching for the essence or enchantment that mine lacks. As Leo Tolstoy writes truly and troublingly in the opening line of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
A Likeness is both a physical art piece and a research project. For it, I spend a concentrated amount of time with a participating family, sketching its members, conversing with them. They set the amount of time—some have given me two hours, others offered more. The completed work is a collection of sketches of each family member—collectively, a body of work and a family unit.
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