On Francesca Woodman

Sometimes I wonder if coincidence is even really a thing.  Sometimes it’s just too much to be by chance.  For instance—this thing my life has with Francesca Woodman.  She’s everywhere.

Francesca Woodman is a visual artist (mostly photography, but a couple short films, as well).  She was originally from Colorado, but also lived in Rhode Island, Italy, and New York City.  She comes from a family of artists—her parents are George Woodman and Betty Woodman.  Her photographs are mainly black and white, almost always featuring herself or another young woman.  Wikipedia says:  “Many of her photographs show young women who are nude, who are blurred (due to movement and long exposure times), who are merging with their surroundings, or whose faces are obscured” (I was trying to think of a way to re-word that so I didn’t have to use Wikipedia, but once I read something one way, it’s hard for me to re-word it.  Plus, we all use Wikipedia, get over it J ).  Francesca Woodman committed suicide on January 19th, 1981, at the age of 22.  She had become depressed due to a failed relationship, and, her father suggests, an unsuccessful application for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

So, let’s count the ways Francesca has shown up in my life.  When I was in New York City, we had to attend these (in some ways hideous) seminars on a weekly basis, so they could pretend we were actually in school (ha).  They pissed me off, because they were 100% visual art and almost 0% writing.  Don’t get me wrong, visual art is invaluable to writers (obviously, considering this post), but it irked me that it didn’t seem to go the other way, as well.  But I digress.  An art critic named Frances Richard talked to our group about her job and her journey through the art world.  One of her first jobs out of college was to catalogue and compile the work of none other than Francesca Woodman—the work was too emotionally taxing for Woodman’s parents as a result of the suicide.  Richards showed us a few of Woodman’s photographs.  I was intrigued, to say the least, but still kind of clueless as to my poetic obsessions.

A few weeks later, some friends and I went to a poetry reading via BOMB magazine, where the other writer in the program had her internship.  We were sitting at a table with an artsy-looking guy.  He made small talk with us.  When he found out we were artists, he excitedly asked us if we’d seen The Woodmans, which was showing at a theater in New York that currently slips my mind.  I hadn’t seen it, but I felt deliciously in-the-loop for knowing about Francesca Woodman at all.  The film is a documentary, released in 2010, on the Woodmans’ lives (okay, so mostly Francesca’s life), and it won “Best New York Documentary” at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Again, wtf-am-I-doing-with-my-life-I-think-maybe-I’m-an-artist-Kim was kinda dumb and didn’t go see it.  I plan on ordering it on DVD soon.

So, the count is up to two times that Francesca Woodman walked into my life.  She stayed in the back of my mind after New York City.  Meanwhile, I took Postmodern Critical Theory, a philosophy class that introduced me to Jacques Lacan and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, theorists who deal in the body and desire formation, and discovered where my artistic mind truly lived.  My SIP (and most poems I’ve written since) is positively obsessed with embodiment, namely the female body and femininity as a concept.

Recently, I was hanging out with my mentor, Diane Seuss, when she looked up from her computer and said “Have you ever heard of Francesca Woodman?”  She’d been looking back at her old issues of The New Yorker and discovered an article on Woodman, her work, and (I’m assuming) the documentary.  By strike three, I know it’s not a coincidence.  “That’s so bizarre,” I said, “She keeps coming up for me again and again.”  Di replied with “That must mean you need to write about her.”

I’ve become completely obsessed with the idea.  When I look at Woodman’s photos, I feel, in a bizarre way, like they are the visual translation of my poems.  There’s obviously something connecting us that’s caused her to repeatedly make her way into my life.  I’m embarking on a poetry project inspired by her.  Some ideas: writing after her photos, writing to her, and writing as her.

I also think it’s an odd coincidence that my twenty-second birthday is around the corner.  Francesca—I’m picking up where you left off.


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