AnnaLee Burnstein
My work deals with conflicts between the body as a physical object and internal emotional forces and how they influence the aesthetic shells that contain them. Societal pressures are often at odds with biological norms. I use my personal biography as a vehicle to explore these themes. I was adopted as an infant and have never met my birth parents; one of the relationships I am focused on is the influence of my adoptive parents’ nurture to my biological nature. My adoptive father is a doctor so I grew up exposed to lots of medical and biological imagery. As a child, I saw photos of colonoscopies lying around the house and was often given stuffed stomachs as toys. I remember being repulsed but simultaneously fascinated with the photos, and thought every kid had toy stomachs. I use the memories of these childhood encounters with medical biology to create a narrative that explores the relationship between internal influences and external mores.
I use internal organs as a metaphor for what we want to hide and protect from the outside world. I try to expose these emotional cores by transposing and remixing memories. For example, in my installation Lurid Ambrosia, I created a narrative based on one of my main memories as a child: sitting down to eat dinner as a family. However, during these nightly dinners, my father was completely disconnected and focused solely on the TV in the background. I respond to that disconnect by creating a luxurious feast with organs on the plates as a tangible representation of our dysfunctional family situation and my emotional turmoil. The organs are disconnected from the body and represent both my father’s emotional distance from our family, and my biological disconnect from my birth parents. The organs on plates are also significant because they are in a position to be consumed. This situation creates a meta-narrative where I am confronting my identity crisis by consuming my own emotional turmoil. However, consuming my own organs doesn’t resolve those tensions because it maintains a closed-loop cycle. Moving forward, I intend to further investigate these conceptual tensions through performance.
My adoptive mother had what I considered to be an antiquated 1950s housewife mentality as I was growing up that allowed her to switch her emotions on and off as the social situation dictated. My mother would be hysterical one moment, but when the phone rang she answered as if nothing was wrong. This tension between our desire to create outward perceptions of perfection and the reality of what goes on behind closed doors motivates me to question these social constructs. The main question being: when those doors start to break open, how do we try to hide or cover up those exposures? I’m interested in how individuals relate and adapt to those situations within accepted or deviant social constructs.