Grim Sleeper - Ongoing - Manipulated inkjet prints - Variable sizes 42” x 42”- 75” x 40”
In 2010 the Los Angeles Police Department found hundreds of photographs of young women in the possession of a man they believed to be the serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper. They requested that the LA Times newspaper post the photographs on their website and asked for help in identifying them. I downloaded all of the images shortly after their posting. Although edited for public release, it is clear from looking at the photographs that many of these women are in the back of a white cargo van, exposing their breasts to the lens, smiling at the camera. It is from this set of images that the works in Grim Sleeper are made.
Downloaded from the web, cropped to just the woman’s face and enlarged, each pixel becomes approximately 1/4 inch across. This pixel grid is used to create a layered series of marks, rendered in metallic gold oil pastel, Scotch Tape, graphite, colored Labels… The effect in each image is an ever-increasing density of veils that screens the face.
The pieces of Grim Sleeper derive their inspiration from the conceptual works of artists like Sol Lewit and John Cage, the large scale works using the photographs of the Grim Sleeper investigate the notion of the veil and the sanctification that labor creates, all the while erasing the identity of those who have already been erased. What is at play in the work is my perplexity at a tangle of issues surrounding the photographs of “others”; the desires that are woven into them and the power they exert. It is a knot consisting of the serial killer’s power (as the photographer and occasionally murderer) over these women (and a few men). There is the willingness (if you can call it that when most of them are living in poverty and part of a culture that is systematically oppressed) of these people to go into the back of a cargo van and create amateur pornography even though it exposes them to extraordinary risks. There is the police requesting the newspaper publish the images in an attempt to identify the women, not because they have any value in and of themselves (they were not sought after until the images were found in the possession of a man who killed women (and at least one man)), but to satisfy a desire to tally a correct count to the killer. And then there is me, staring compulsively at the faces of these women, a voyeur on the internet.
Grim Sleeper as a body of work attempts to illuminate this nexus of threads, not to resolve or answer, but to point out the complexity and dimensions of the problem and my own imbrication in it. The photographs/drawings disrupt the reading of these images, hopefully not just the ones I am changing, but all that were released. The act of marking them, creating dense, laborious, surfaces. is an avatar of my act of staring, of hours and hours of looking. The works in Grim Sleeper are often made of 20,000+ individual marks, each mark taking a second or a few to make. The marks are made using relatively mundane materials applied in a way that requires no particular skill. These veils are built in such a way that they are neither materially nor artisinally exceptional. These veils become a beautiful surface built of nothing but time and labor. The surface becomes a stand-in for my act of looking, of staring at the anonymous visages of women photographed by a serial killer. The veil I am building over each woman’s face is a record of time itself. Through this surface, the act of looking becomes one of erasure, a palimpsest that veils the women's faces, though never enough to totally obscure that they were at least once there. This veil is both protective (it shields them from my (and the viewers’s) inquisitive gaze, and violent, it marks that removal and notes that these women are invisible to us as a society, which is why they are selected as victims in the first place. Because they are never quite removed from view (and perhaps even if they were completely obscured by my marks), I am still left standing (and so is the viewer) in the position of the man who took the picture, placed uncomprehendingly at the location of his desire.