Sometimes, I’m simply in the mood to remember. And remember I shall today, in response to a friend sharing a link she unearthed (cue to 1:40) that included a snapshot of my Identity Project from 2007. It’s funny to think the massive undertaking of creating Identity happened two years ago already; it still feels so fresh to me.

The below passages were originally composed in the Spring of 2007. Revised Spring 2009.


The Identity Project (Art in Public Places)
check out more photos of the Identity Project on Flickr!


History

For six years, I allowed emotional demons to drive my life and ultimately break down my relationships with others, specifically those with my family. Proudly, I announce that this marks my first full year of stability. It has been a year spent salvaging friendships and, most importantly, reconnecting with my mother, father and brother. This has been my year of healing. This has been my year of hope.

Art has always served as a means of therapy for me. Because my pieces always tend to center around one intensely personal subject matter, it has been a treat enjoyed only privately. Coming into this course (Art 305: Art in Public Places), I knew that I would struggle with sharing my work. I don’t feel comfortable opening myself up to just anybody; if anyone at all! I knew that the piece I would create would tie into my recurring theme of disordered living. Would I be up for such an emotional challenge? So public a display of my innermost struggles?

Construction

Construction of Identity was nothing short of a family affair. It served as a means to reunite with my mother and father; beginning conversation about my past struggles and challenges—a new phenomenon. In this sense, the process was nothing short of priceless.

Physically, the process was both long and challenging. There were times when I could not sleep because I wanted to be working on the piece or was worried about how we would possibly pull it off. Other times were spent hating the piece and picking apart its flaws.

The build was nothing short of a love-hate relationship. It was thrilling to witness the fruition of a concept — frightening seeing a painful past take 3-dimensional form. We encountered several challenges throughout the construction process, but ultimately, Identity was beautiful despite its many defects.

The Poem

Begun in 2001, I wrote the first half of this poem while experiencing the most emotionally and physically challenging months of my life. It put voice to my self-hatred; and was an explanation of how my choices, sorrow and depression affected those I most loved. The response, written with the original intention of standing alone several months later, I wrote while still in deep pain. It was my way of acknowledging the help I required to regain a stronger foothold in life. After completing the response, I realized how perfectly the two poems fit together and thus combined them under one name: Inner (later renamed Identity).

As I continued to struggle internally, I often used these poems in various art pieces I worked on through high school. Two inspirational teachers of mine, Sarah Cardiff and Susan Gleason, encouraged me to continue my works. It was their recognition to my sensitive situation and knowledge of art’s healing power that convinced me to continue the Identity series.

The tradition continues, nearly six years later, with an addition to the Identity collection—a memorial to time spent in pain and struggle and time that I wished I would have instead shared with others … time otherwise spent focusing on my selfish disorder.

You can’t stop, yet haven’t begun
You can’t stay, but neither come
You hate it all, yet it’s still all fun
You’re finished but you’re never done.

Your trying harder makes you lose
Bad choices lost your chance to choose
The smile on your face is just a ruse
I’d never walk a mile in your shoes.

Dumb of all the prices you’ve paid
Blind of all mistakes you’ve made
Unaware of all the lives you’ve frayed
Unknowing your spirit has flown away.

You cry when the world can’t see
Hide emotions there inside you deep
You’d never show your inner grief
Locked away love, threw away the key.

I’d tell you it’s okay to cry
To get back up, always try
I’d tell you again why people lie
And not to let your spirit die.

I’d show you there’s another way
I wouldn’t let you throw life away
I’d convince you it would be okay
That it’s worth seeing another day.

I’d hold you and let you weep
Build you up, piece by piece
I’d help you accept your living grief
Help you turn over a new leaf.

I’d love you like there were no tomorrow
Hold you through your pain and sorrow
Lend my life for you to borrow
As I fill in your heart so hollow

RFros 2001


Through My Father’s Eyes

I love to recharge my batteries running through Meadowbrook Park, along the adjoining fields and through the forest nearby. There are several sculptures along my route, and I can envision my daughter’s Identity tucked into a corner of the park; perhaps in the Timpone Tree grove.

Identity conveys a message of struggle and triumph for a daughter and her parents! Hidden within its curves is the story of a young woman’s struggle with an eating disorder and its effect on her family. I find that Identity speaks to my personal struggle with fear. Having experienced the impact of a religion-based non-relationship with my mother and sisters, I was determined not to let anything come between me and my dear daughter. The making of Identity marks a daughter’s and father’s discovery of each other as adults. It is a tribute to a daughter’s unending love for her parents. It testifies to the power of unconditional parental support. For this reason it is fitting that construction and display of the sculpture became a family affair.

On a late winter morning Renata approached Janet and I with her idea. She showed us a laptop computer sketch of her proposed sculpture. Her enthusiasm was infectious. We did a trial run that same day, laboriously marking 12” x 12” squares on scrap styrofoam. With spare cardboard and masking tape we pieced together a rudimentary section of wall. On that Sunday we got a first taste of the enormity of her project! Through it all, I experienced a stone-by-stone strengthening of relational bonds.

I am a designer and builder. Even though I have years and years of residential construction experience to draw upon, Renata’s project proved to be challenging. The sculpture had to be somewhat water resistant. It had to be transportable and easily assembled on site. It had to stand on its own; even withstanding the strong winds of an early Midwest Spring. This last condition proved to be the most challenging. Though supported internally with foam ribs and externally, with metal rods, the gusty winds on display day threatened to wreck the project! Thankfully a friend helped us prop up the structure with heavy metal supports.

As darkness blanketed the University of Illinois campus, Renata, Mark, Janet, Daniel and I stacked those many sections of the sculpture onto my trailer. Next day, relieved but a bit sad to be trashing a work of art, I drove through town on my way to the local disposal site. A rough looking man stepped from his giant garbage-scooping machine and asked me,

“What is that?”
“A work of art,” I replied.
He walked over and took a closer look. “Hmmm … strange poem … these university people!”, he muttered.

He climbed into the cab, scooped up and hauled off a priceless treasure.

We have photos to commemorate the project. Yet I have something greater than photos can convey: I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for what my daughter went through. Though we both struggled with different fears, she and I have discovered each other in new ways. May this sculpture serve as encouragement to other parents. May it bring peace to the wounded heart. May it strengthen relational bonds and serve as a beacon of hope.

Melchior Fros, Spring 2007

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