Pickled Past Lives, 2019
The significance of preserving the body has changed from the physical to the immaterial.
“the Egyptian obsession for embalming the body is “replaced” by the western obsession for establishing books in the canon. Immortality continues to be aspired to; however it is no longer won through the conservation of the body, but products of the mind.”
— Aleida and Jan Assmann
Membra Disiecta: Embalmment and Anatomy in Egypt and Europe
We no longer care to preserve our physical bodies after death, but we want to preserve accumulated knowledge as extensions of ourselves. In an act of recognition, acceptance and parting with my past, I pickled personal objects (texts, journal entries, letters, artifacts) within Egyptian canopic jars. Using a traditional preservation practice, I treated these objects as organs. Each will soften in the vinegar; the act of pickling is a practice of recognition and a softening of the objects to ease in their metaphorical digestion to prepare myself for the eventual, necessary reconstitution with these body parts.
I organized my jars according to Egyptian embalmment traditions. Four canopic jars hold four particular human organs: the stomach, the intestines, the lungs, and the liver. Egyptians saw the liver as the crux of all human emotion, protected by the deity Imset. My jar contains love notes, a letter to end a friendship, photographs, and gifts relating to this sentiment. The lungs, protected by the deity Hapi, son of Osiris, are associated with the afterlife. My jar contains religious, spiritual and lack thereof texts. There are pages from a Lenten Book, a Meditation book, the Index to Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” Nietzsche’s aphorisms on Love and Hate, Rumi poems, and pages from a Women’s Health book. The stomach is protected by the deity, Duamutef, who died in war protecting his motherland. My jar contains soil samples from the 8 places I’ve lived. The god of protection, Qebehsenuef, safeguarded the intestines as they were sacrificed to soothsayers to predict the future. My jar contains my future, meaning nothing tangible but everything immaterial. There is only brine.
After pickling my own 4 canopic jars, I held a workshop for others to bring objects relating to a past struggle or relationship as an act of recognition, acceptance, and parting. People brought old diaries, letters, fake I.D.s, cigarettes, receipts, and other items to relinquish a part of their past self, to recognize their journey with gratitude, and to gain forward momentum.