Of Genetics and Story
Claremont United Church of Christ
Fire-Seed Quarterly, Spring 2014
On a Tuesday evening at the end of March I hopped onto my bicycle and pedaled from CUCC to the Claremont Graduate University art building to visit the memorial art installation that Alice Marie Perreault, one of our own, had composed for her program of study at CGU.
Stepping into the studio space my eyes scanned three whitewashed walls with tiny objects affixed randomly at different intervals. To me they looked like music notes or balloons at a distance. Other visitors to the installation made a range of associations – candles, seed-bombs, flags, sperms, little heads with faces. It was a contemplative space. The other visitors and I were quiet, as our attention gravitated toward the tall banner hanging lengthwise from the ceiling, like a scroll descending with sacred writ, covered with graphite portraiture, lettering and sprigs of watercolor.
Ali wrote of her installation: “The large drawing (graphite and watercolor on paper) is from the obituary I wrote for my sister [Renee]. It is layered with the chromosomal design for Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down syndrome. Renee was proud of her Down syndrome. Although she was more than it, she owned it and was always very excited when we would cross paths with someone of her genetic culture.”
The crowd of emotions present in the process of grieving death and celebrating life in our beloved community mirror the multiplicity of materials and the layers of insight that Ali’s artistic memorial conveyed. At the intersection of art and memorial, Ali’s installation seemed the perfect place for the red altar flowers, donated the last Sunday in March by Kaila Brown in memory of her wife Jacki Hampton. Ali and her son Julius received the flowers after the service.
The insight of the artist herself touched me with a peace that transcends unanswered questions. Ali shared this reflection on her process:
“Through no intention, what-so-ever, Renee, has been one of my greatest teachers. So merged were our lives and hearts. The ache I felt (and continue to feel) over losing her remains multifaceted. Aside from losing a huge part of my family, I lost my confidant, my life-long companion. I lost a great teacher – a teacher connected through our genetics and our combined half-century-long story. How in the world could I ever do as well having been cut-off from the person for whom, more than any other and without waiver, embraced and loved me from my infancy?
“Whether we have absolute belief in an after-life, or not, whether those we have loved continue to watch over us when they pass, or not, are details that don’t matter to me now. I learned in doing this installation that whatever may or may not happen, my sister and I remain connected. For now, death has only separated us physically. One can choose to believe our connection is of spirit – as that of an angel that stays close and interjects when necessary. Or, one can believe that the library of lessons from those we have loved and that we hold in our memories are the pages on which we continue learning as our story goes on. Either way, spirit or memory, my sister remains present and her teaching continues in my life. This was validated for me when I created and shared this artwork.”