Heather Gordon

Durham, NC

I map the poetry of life using numbers and geometry. Focusing on the design of origami folding patterns using small data sets, I coax narrative from information including geographic locations, dates, time durations, and physical properties. Through my collaborative projects I have extended my work to include site-specific installations and the interpretation of my narrative maps into movement.

Born in 1967, Heather Gordon is the daughter of an accountant and engineer. She received her B.F.A. from the University of Florida in 1990 and her M.F.A from New Mexico State University in 1995. She lives and works in Durham, NC. Her recent installations were in the exhibition You Are Here: Light, Color and Sound Experiences at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Other exhibitions includeAnd Then the Sun Swallowed Me at CAM Raleigh, Echo at 21C, and SHOWat The Durham Fruit. In 2014, Gordon received a North Carolina Artist Fellowship.


HG: So that piece in particular (Chrysalis) was focused around what I perceived to be a tragedy in my love life: that I had found what I thought was a true love connection and something of great value to me, and it was taken away. In my mind, it was taken away. Really I would say it never really existed. But at the time, I was feeling loss around it—I still feel loss around it, who am I kidding? But I know that that’s just a function of my own thinking; that’s not because it’s true.

So I started thinking about this idea of a chrysalis because we don’t know what that is. It’s one of nature’s black boxes. There’s only like ten of them in the world of things we truly just have no idea what’s going on, and that’s one of them. And I’m fascinated by that! It’s one of those unattainables, one of those unknowables. We’re just never gonna know how that caterpillar just turns into goo, into nothing, into just protein soup—nothing! And yet when it comes out as a moth or butterfly, there’s memory. Well, where was that? There’s memory? Where? There’s no structure in there. That idea that the “me” persists through all of that; it’s still not the end—that is one of the most miraculous, unexplainable, comforting things ever to someone who’s going through what they feelis tragic. And it’s not tragic. It’s just painful. Just like a plant, when it wants to bloom, it puts all of its resource into doing that and when it does finally burst open, you know that shit hurts. To form a bud and put all your self into it—that hurts. Then it opens up—that hurts. Then it has to let go of its seeds and die—that hurts. All of it hurts. There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it tragic.

So, I did this origami mapping. I wanted to see the shape of my pain; I wanted to see the shape of my change…to see the shape of my goo, my protein-rich soup that’s carrying forward the “me-ness” that’s going to come later. I wanted to celebrate instead of cry.

LCM: Or do both.

HG: Yeah, it’s okay. So I looked at all these voice recordings that I had made over a year’s period of time. I was thinking about how they’ve experimented on chrysalises to try to understand them. What they do is they let them develop, and then they slice them open and take a look inside at various stages to see what’s going on. So I was thinking about these intervals, not so much the cutting open and looking in, but how much time elapses in between those and between the intervals where I peer in to see if I can understand it.

So I was mapping the number of days in between voice recordings I was making, where I was describing this emotional trauma I was experiencing and psychological combativeness to my own self, just vigorously not wanting to let this go and using it as a weapon to hurt myself and keep myself emotionally in absolute utter turmoil. Through this whole process, instead of letting it happen, I kept slicing myself open to try to understand it. I wanted to document my emotional shift in a beautiful way and make these shapes, so I could see it and experience it in some sort of a totemic way. I wanted that end product to be something I could look at and feel with great joy… That this process had started and ended and that I didn’t need to know everything. Chrysalis is made up of all the intervals, it’s made up of all that yearning of wanting to know what’s going on so I didn’t feel so lost in the uncertainty of all of it, but it all ends up in the same place: you bloom. Heartache and disillusionment change you in some way, and you persist through the whole process. It’s all okay.

As to the Periodic Table works: With these works, I'm thinking about how the complexity of the world breaks down to ever smaller units. I've done some work that reflects on the principles of alchemy, and these works followed. I have a curiosity about what each element would look like as an origami folding pattern, and further, how these patterns will evolve as I work my way through the elements in the periodic table. The pattern for each element is designed using its unique atomic weight and ionization energies. As a drawing, these folded shapes maintain a crispy accuracy and immediacy that makes it feel more like a working document to me, a kind of map.

©SECCA Foundation 2020. All rights reserved.
Website built with Cargo.