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dig a hole in the earth and cry into it ll

Tears, hair, earth, US Army helmet and shirt, Igorot jacket, piña, plate, flashlights, ball chain, wire, pipe, clamp, bamboo, coconut rope, thread, water blessed in ritual. 2018 encounters another piece of piña – a table runner, suspended horizontally and illuminated by a light source on the far side of the cloth. This piña, embroidered with bucolic imagery, functions as a rear-projection screen and landscape onto which is refracted a circle of light resembling the iris of a human eye.

mending nona's piña

mending nona’s piña (2018-2020) Piña table linen, hair, thread, wild rose, light, Filipino milking stool

impression at Stony Run

impression at Stony Run Pigment inkjet print documentation of impressions (2017-2021), an ongoing series of site-based works

bodies of indigenous belief

Irmina Ulysse performs a ritual in my installation, "light gets in," as part of a multidisciplinary collaboration exploring indigenous ritual as a path toward wellness and integration of intergenerational trauma.

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About MJ

Baltimore City - Highlandtown A&E District

  MJ Neuberger’s image-based and sculptural works, site-based and performative installations and public engagement projects draw on her ritual attempts to return to a body abandoned in intergenerational trauma she traces to colonial history in her mother’s native Philippines.   Founder of the Great Wide Open and co-founder of the Meeting Ground series of collaborative projects and interdisciplinary dialogues, Neuberger engages diverse communities in collective sensory and haptic experience... more

mending nona's piña

In mending nona’s piña (2018-2021) I attempt to repair heirloom cloth with a long silver strands of my hair as a gesture of connection to indigenous filipino weavers of the cloth who were portrayed by US colonizers as savages and rejected by my family members.

In a spectacle that had lasting impact on my family's Filipino identity, Bontoc Igorot and other cordilleran tribes (who were among those Spanish failed to colonize in their own, three-hundred-year rule of the islands) were promoted as dog-eating headhunters by organizers of the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where American colonizers exhibited them as justification US colonization of the Philippines.

The name of the heirloom fabric itself is Spanish, Piña, painstakingly hand woven from pineapple leaf fibers,

  • mending nona's piña ll

    mending nona’s piña ll, 2020. Piña table linen, hair, thread, needles, wild rose, light.
  • piña with water buffalo

    piña with water buffalo from the series mending nona’s piña (2020) 23” x 8” x 13” Piña table linen, hair, thread, wild rose, light
  • mending nona's piña

    mending nona’s piña (2018-2020) Piña table linen, hair, thread, wild rose, light, Filipino milking stool
  • untitled

    Untitled (2020) piña cloth, rosebush, wood, hair, thread, wax, light.
  • mending nona's piña (detail) 2018

    hair and piña table linen

dig a hole in the earth and cry into it

I went to my first sweat lodge, led by Eagle Spirit Woman, a Taino waterpourer in Tuxedo, NY, almost two decades ago with three other abuse survivors. Its cleansing power is such that I witnessed a burly, six-foot, ex-soldier and fireman break down after a lodge, disclosing his abuse by his father, who he said had bullied him into five Iraqi tours.

“Native Americans have advice if you need to grieve,” the healer working with the man said, “Dig a hole in the earth and cry into it.”

This series of works takes its name and inspiration from Native American and other indigenous practices that create opportunities to integrate trauma.

In this piece the viewer encounters a piece of piña – a table runner, suspended horizontally and illuminated by a light source on the far side of the cloth. This piña, embroidered with bucolic imagery, functions as a rear-projection screen and landscape onto which is refracted a circle of light resembling the iris of a human eye. This image appears at the center of the cloth/landscape, intermittently becoming distorted, then appearing more clearly, then distorting again over time. The sound of water droplets can be heard.

The sound and the light emanating from behind the translucency of the fabric draw the viewer to the other side of the piña screen, where the simple mechanics creating the sound and animation can be grasped. A U.S. Army camouflage jacket with an indigenous woven Filipino jacket inside it is slung over a piece of bamboo suspended from the ceiling above a plinth. Atop the plinth is a plain white plate. Tucked inside the jackets is an army helmet filled with dirt. In a small depression in the center of the dirt, ice sits melting under a flashlight. A braided lock of hair hangs between the helmet and the plate, which is lit by a larger flashlight. As the ice in the helmet melts, water slowly makes its way down the braid and drips onto the plate, to which a contact microphone is attached to amplify the sound of the droplets.

  • dig a hole in the earth and cry into it ll

    Tears, hair, earth, US Army helmet and shirt, Igorot jacket, piña, plate, flashlights, ball chain, wire, pipe, clamp, bamboo, coconut rope, thread, water blessed in ritual. 2018 encounters another piece of piña – a table runner, suspended horizontally and illuminated by a light source on the far side of the cloth. This piña, embroidered with bucolic imagery, functions as a rear-projection screen and landscape onto which is refracted a circle of light resembling the iris of a human eye.
  • Dig3_3000.jpg

    dig a hole IV, 2020 (detail). Piña cloth, West Point Class ring, ball chain, bamboo, flashlight, plate, water blessed in ritual and tears
  • dig a hole in the earth and cry into it

    Tears, hair, earth, US Army helmet and shirt, Igorot jacket, piña, plate, flashlights, ball chain, wire, pipe, clamp, bamboo, coconut rope, thread, water blessed in ritual, sound. (2017)

light and shadow: piña and performance

In an ongoing series, I project imagery from an heirloom table runner to relate the colonial history of the Philippines and intergenerational trauma in my family. Light and shadow are activated in performance, evoking larger narratives.

where the light gets in

The viewer/participant arrives in presence when they come in contact with broken light walk, first reckoning with the physical engagement of the sprung platform that moves beneath their feet or hands. Viewers encounter a darkened space and shards of pottery on a dark wooden surface that are lit by unseen sources. As the viewer touches, steps upon or rolls onto the wooden platform, she senses it move beneath her and attempts to balance. Balancing themselves and exploring that sensation they can eventually grasp that not only are they creating the kinetic orbs of light that dance on the walls around the platform, but that even the slightest motion triggers an outsized movement of the orbs of light in response. The haptic impact of these works creates presence while the sensitivity and rapid movement of light suggest shared vulnerability.

  • broken light walk

    wood, ceramic, water, light, polyurethane foam
  • BrokenLightWalkWall01 copy.jpg

    broken light walk (detail), 2017-2019. The viewer comes to realize that the slightest movement she makes causes the orbs of light reflected off of small amounts of water in the pottery shards onto the walls of the space to quiver and ripple.
  • fertile/fragile

    The viewer is encouraged to touch and take the objects in fertile/fragile, which fall apart as they are handled, offering a haptic connection to ideas of shared vulnerability. Natural light is projected onto the objects and Filipino voices are heard speaking in Tagalog about the beauty of their homeland and its vulnerability to some of the world's deadliest typhoons.

impressions

“Triggering events” in the present can bring up past shame stemming from experiences of abuse as well as the somatic effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I look to the natural world to help me reconnect with a body abandoned in trauma, lying prostrate or pressing my hand into the earth as a way to take myself out of the spirals of self-recrimination I experience as someone who was taught to take responsibility for the abusive actions of others. The rituals, centered in my body where trauma lingers, mark attempts to return to my indigenous, pre-colonized self, as well as to exchange imprints with a non-human world that is also subjected to colonization.

Impressions has expanded into a series of collaborative prompts that engage a diverse range of artists and the public

  • Stony Run Impressions

    I lay prostrate and pray on the eroding banks of a stream in Baltimore City as a ritual attempt to return to a body I abandon in post-traumatic stress traced to intergenerational abuse and colonialism in my Filipino American family. I rise again with more presence and document my action, returning to repeat the exchange of imprints and witness integration of the evidence of trauma I have left behind by forces of nature and of man.
  • untitled

    pigment inkjet print from the series impressions
  • impression with hand print

    Pigment inkjet print from the series "impressions"
  • Patapsco Impression

    pigment inkjet print from the series impressions (ongoing)

bed

I create the things and engage the rituals I need to heal and explore through my work their potential to engage others in a meaningful way.

Meeting the ground in Impressions has been a way for me to reconnect to a body abandoned in intergenerational trauma I trace to colonialism in the Philippines but I also see colonization of physical presence and ruptured connection in the broader culture as endemic to western obsession with individual over communal interest.

Impressions has expanded into interactive works. With bed I seek a way to offer one of them to others without requiring they prostrate their whole bodies in the earth.

The structure itself suggests the portion of our lives that eludes the constant thought barrage that plagues us in waking hours and physical presence operating on a subconscious level. Working with scientists and environmental activists I offered attendees at the 2019 Soils Symposia opportunities to interact with sandy soils from New York City's Floyd Bennett Field.

As co-founder of Meeting Ground, I engage series of collective actions and collaborative works and dialogues that explore shared space, the commons and interconnection.

marcesence

Like white flags of surrender, leaves of the beech shiver through the winds of winter becoming ever more ghostly as they cling to branches of adolescent trees in the lower story of North American woods. These marcescent leaves finally forced off by new growth in late spring become a metaphor for the way trauma resides in the body while their translucence recalls that of the heirloom piña cloth in other works.

In holding on, I reattach fallen leaves with long strands of my hair suggesting geologic cores of lived experience. Moving with the slightest of air currents and the viewer's movements, they posit shared fragility.

  • holding on

    Pale, translucent beech leaves dangle above a threshold that leads into a darkened space, having been reattached to the branches with long silver strands of what the viewer may recognize as hair. Verging on disintegration, the leaves are passively interactive, moving with currents of air in the space, with the viewer’s own movements and, potentially, with his or her breath.
  • HoldingOn_02_detail.jpg

    Detail of "holding on" (2018)

weaving myself in

I weave my hair into natural settings in ritual attempts to return to a body I abandon in trauma. I see the long strands of hair, so significant to grief in both indigenous and western cultures, as geologic cores of lived experience. Alteration and occupation of the weavings by natural forms and forces suggests integration of trauma over time. Caught at the right moment, the hair weaving has been incorporated into a larger installation of spider webs, which may disappear with the next storm.

meeting ground

Meeting Ground is a collaboration with Susan Main. Together, we expanded upon the Impressions series to create interactive projects and a series of collaborative prompts that engage a diverse range of artists and the public in simultaneous simple, haptic gestures, exploring the possibility of presence with a collective.

We can’t physically connect the way we might like to at the moment but can we take a moment to embrace what we hold in common? Can the ground be a means of reoccupying bodies we leave in trauma? Can it become a site for shared intention and experience?

Connect with MJ

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MJ's Curated Collection

This artist has not yet created a curated collection.