Have you ever enumerated all the beds you’ve ever slept in? Photographer Charlie Grosso has. Since 2009, she’s been taking photos of all the beds she’s spent a night in, and there have been many. Some of those beds are currently on display at BRIC Arts in Brooklyn Heights, as part of a group show of New Work/Crossing Boundaries in collaboration with En Foco. The series is aptly called “Fetal Position and Drool.”
Charlie Grosso estimates that she has slept in approximately 160 beds, in 50 different countries, everywhere from California to Mongolia. The project “though suggestive” wasn’t something she set out to do to be provocative. Rather, she began on a lark, or perhaps out of some latent necessity. In her artist statement, Charlie Grosso writes, “In 2009, I walked away from the life I was building with another, put everything in storage and no longer had a home of my own. As I couch-surfed from one friend’s house to another, as my work and my wanderings took me from one hostel to another in foreign lands, I thought more and more about the concept of HOME.”
I had a chance to catch up with Charlie at the opening, and she told me about the challenges of this project, in particular, finding fresh and original ways to photograph the same object over and over again. Most of the photos include little context beyond the color of the walls and maybe a window or a picture, but a few suggest a more exotic location. A photograph of a hammock on the beach, for instance, and one of a wooden bed that looks like the kind photographed in travel magazines. In some of the photos, the pattern on the fabric gives some clue as to where in the world Charlie Grosso might be. But this is certainly not a conventional travelogue. Rather, the beds seem to symbolize an internal journey.
I asked Charlie whether the beds are always empty. She told me that they are, and in that respect the photos are meant to be suggestive. Presented with a photograph of an empty bed, the viewer will always wonder who slept there and whether they slept alone or with a lover. Charlie told me that sometimes she shared a bed with a friend or a boyfriend, but the only companion you’ll ever see is a stuffed animal. This is one of the rules that she has imposed on the project. The other rule is that the photograph must be taken the morning she’s leaving. I imagine that this rule would force her to slow down and reflect on the place where she finds herself””literally where she is in the world, and also where she is on her internal journey. She told me that sometimes, however, she wakes up and in her rush to catch a train or a plane, she misses a shot. She describes the project as “fast and loose” rather than strictly rigorous. Sometimes the photos are taken on a Blackberry, sometimes on an iPhone, and sometimes on a digital SLR.
The idea behind “Fetal Position and Drool” is reminiscent of Charlie Grosso’s earlier series “Wok the Dog,” in which she photographed the gory, bloody butcheries in markets around the world as a sort of exorcism of a childhood fear. Growing up in Taipei, Charlie’s mother used to take her to the market, which was a scary place for a small child who heard the cries of caged and dying animals, looked up and saw carcasses, butchers’ knives, and blood dripping onto the floor. As a little girl, she was afraid that the butcher would grab her and chop her up. At the age of 18, she returned to the markets of Taiwan, in an attempt to understand what had made her so afraid. Ever since then, she has continued to photograph the markets of all the cities that she visits.
Both projects allow Charlie to explore the way common objects and places take on a personal significance. The repetitive nature of the projects allow for rumination and perhaps obsession. Charlie Grosso turns a private fear or desire into a work of art to be shared and discussed. After several years and thousands of miles traveled, Charlie says “I used to feel that I was always in search of HOME, trying to find my way back to that mythical place once again. Gradually, each image, each bed became the whisper of an incantation, and home stopped being a specific, physical place but became rather a state of mind, a broadening of the consciousness. Home is where I am.”