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Book of the Week: A Pick by Christopher J. Johnson

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Christopher J. Johnson Christopher J. Johnson selects Crackle & Drag by TR Ericsson as Book of the Week.
Crackle & Drag. By TR Ericsson.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2015.
This week's Book of the Week pick comes from Christopher J. Johnson who has selected Crackle & Drag by TR Ericsson from The Cleveland Museum of Art. This title was selected for the Shortlist for the 2015 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.

“Speaking from a personal history I have not often meshed with those who own well-thumbed volumes of Sylvia Plath. Knowing that the title of Ericsson's book was from a line of her work I was put-off, distracted — not interested, but I'm glad I forced myself to investigate the book nonetheless. The title, in this case, came to Ericsson obliquely, which is to say that he first heard Paul Westerberg's song Crackle and Drag, Googled the lyrics and discovered Plath's poem containing the lines, 'The moon has nothing to be sad about,/ Staring from her hood of bone.// She is used to this sort of thing./ Her blacks crackle and drag.' These lines are not particularly accessible so far as poetry goes, but their sadness is apparent, and the poem itself is now read as a precursor to Plath's suicide.

It was the title Ericsson needed, as his work, thus far, has explored his family's identity by spanning back three generations (the record begins in 1918 and moves forward to our current time). His focus has been to illuminate the life of his mother, whose suicide at the age of 60 in 2002 is something that deeply affected Ericsson, and his art is wholly dependent on.

Crackle & Drag is a family album; it contains ephemera (family letters, photographs, newspaper clippings and personal possessions) all repackaged as original works of art. One series is photographic, but made by pushing graphite and his mother's funerary ashes through a silkscreen onto resin to create the images; another is nicotine on paper, but also involving photographic silkscreens. Every detail of his work is personal and, often, relies upon many generations of family artifacts. The use of his mother’s ashes is fairly straightforward, while the work utilizing nicotine addresses his mother's habit of smoking. So he tells us, when preparing his mother's home to be sold he could not remove the years of nicotine stains that accumulated on the ceiling and walls of her home, this gave him the idea to use the noxious material in his art — a remnant of her character, her daily life and vices.

The book is powerful as a testament, not just of Midwestern family life — as the book tells us over and over again — but of the family unit in general. We live in an era where we often let notions of family take a back seat to the notion of the individual. TR Ericsson's book, to me, looks to reverse that habit. It acknowledges how deeply family roots can burrow within the artist or, better, any person. This type of examination is fundamental and reminds us that the family we come from is who we are, how we begin, how we encounter the world and understand others regardless of the occupations, friends, and family we choose as adults.

Every artist begins within their family, not as an island or towering solitary monolith (as we so often would like to believe), but as a member of a tribe, a system, a society of blood; Ericsson's work makes this clear. Crackle & Drag is a volume of amazing relevance, not just as a monograph, but as a sociological examination of the contemporary family and, more particularity, of the effect of mothering on the developing mind.” —Christopher J Johnson

Purchase Book

Crackle & Drag. By TR Ericsson. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2015.
Crackle & Drag. By TR Ericsson. The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2015.

Christopher J. Johnson lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a writer for the Meow Wolf art collective and book reviewer for CFile. His first book of poetry, &luckier, will be released by the University of Colorado in 2016. He has worked at photo-eye since 2014.

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