In class we discussed the concept of the Cornell Box: Joseph Cornell was known as a creator of very personal array of objects that he displayed in shadow boxes. After class we were asked to read the play Aunt Dan and Lemon, written by Wallace Shawn, and create a Joseph Cornell box in response to the play. The task was left open ended, so the box could be as personal or abstract as we might want.
First off, here are images of my Cornell Box:
The box is an old CAO Gold cigar box that was given to me by a family member. When you first open the box, in the lid you will see a print of three girls in matching outfits: this is a photo of me with my two older sisters standing out front of our family home. The chosen decorations inside the box were designed to look identical to the mud room that was at the back of our family home, overlooking our backyard: The mud room had light-colored wood paneling with a multi-colored rubber floor. You will notice that there is also a mirror on the fourth wall of the box to make the "room" appear bigger than it seems.
The contents in the room are the following:
- a test tube with flies, and fly parts
- a dead frog pinned to a board, which appears to be ready to be dissected
- an alive frog perched on a rock, mouth wide open, feeding on flies within a bowl-like home/container
- a magnifying plastic screen that looks down into the frog's home that has attached flies hanging from strings (when you moved the magnifying plastic screen, you can see the flies moving around in the container)
Story behind Box
When I was a kid, my father he used to show me how to set live traps in the large, forested ravine behind our house to catch small fish and frogs. He was an environmental scientist so he had all the equipment and resources to capture these types of species. I remember at one point I had one tank filled with creek water and stones collected from the ravine that I housed 6 creek chubs (a small fish that overpopulated the ravine) and another tank holding a handful of frogs that we had caught in the traps. Both of these tanks were housed in the mud room behind a sliding glass door that you would pass through from the house. Father would also bring home samples of the bottom of the lakes that he was testing at work. He would task me and my two sisters to sift through the leaves and black muck looking for the bright colored bugs, that weren't alive because of the alcoholic dye that was poured into the sample making them lifeless and easy to find. When we would locate a bug, we would use long metal tweezers to remove it from the sample and into a test tube filled with formaldehyde for future research. I idolized my father and the work that he did. It always seemed so interesting to me.
When I was told that the frogs might be hungry, my father would take me to the tall field next door with a butterfly net to capture their meal. We would sweep the butterfly net back and forth in the grass to collect the insects. Once we got the insects into the tank with the frogs, I would enjoy observing the quickness of the frogs tongues and how they could swallow a dragonfly double their size. I watched this with amazement but without a second thought of how caging these wild creature would affect them. If father said it was okay, then I would continue on.
At one point a creek chub jumped out of the tank and was found wedged against the tank and the wall, flapping and trying to breath. I quickly picked it up and put it back in the tank-- I remember finding this amusing. Another day, a frog got loose and I found it in between the glass and the screen of the mud room side door; obviously trying to get free. Again, I pulled it out and placed it back in the tank where I thought were it should be.
These wild creatures were not intended to be locked up in tanks in an environment that I created. Many of them ultimately died and this made me incredibly sad. But I didn't understand why they died at that time, I was still very young.
After reading Aunt Dan and Lemon, I was brought back to this moment in my life. This was at a point where I was maybe too young to ask questions to really understand. I took the stories that my father told me for face value because I, too, was an empty vessel at 11- years-old. I picked away at the specimens in the samples, happily fed collected insects to the frogs, and caged species that should have been in the wild.
Morality wasn't discussed. The idea that maybe keeping these creature locked up should not have be done for long periods of time. Science first, morality second?
I am not necessarily comparing my described experience to that of Lemon's thoughts however, her monologues did make me re-evaluate this aspect of my life. I do remember these memories fondly, but it is interesting to approach memories from a different point of view or as if from a third party's perspective.
Closing Thoughts on the above Thought Experiment:
In this class we are encouraged to critically analyze aspects of our lives to make our art fuller and more personal. The story of Aunt Dan and Lemon is about influence and how we can be shaped by the people in our lives. This concept brought me to this described moment in my life where my father had a huge impact on me --- shaping me for the future. I attempted to approach my original memories with a critical mind on how I felt about this time in my life. Even though I took the concepts from face-value at the age of 11, I feel like the lessons intended were genuine and came from a good place. I look back and appreciate the lessons I learned from these experiences, but will continue to critically evaluate all my experiences as to bring as much truth into my work as I grow as an artist.