“Many of our memories are the same since we were together all the time growing up. I often use ‘we’ instead of ‘me.’ We even share the same dreams. We live apart now but we are still very connected,” Justine told me. She is currently earning her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, and her sister is a visual artist who runs Fowler arts collective in Brooklyn. According to Cecelia, “Justine’s poems articulate my visual work, and we understand our work better through each other.”
“I think poetry and the visual arts are well-fitted,” Justine said. “I always loved Cecelia’s video, ‘You Made Me (Sewing).’ I pushed my sister to finish it. The poem and the video tell different stories, but they enrich each other.” In the video, a young woman (played by Cecelia) sews herself into a nylon, flesh-colored bodysuit while the narrator (Justine) reads Justine’s poem “Self-Portrait as Beast:”
Cecelia made the body suit in the video from the same nylon material as women’s stockings, stretched over a cotton base. The effect is oddly flesh-like. The suit, which she calls “The Lady,” is five inches thick and hand-sewn. “It took a couple of weeks to make, but longer to decide how to make it,” she said. The video is shot using stop-motion animation, a film technique where photographs are stitched together to create the illusion of moving images. “I shot three frames per second,” which gives the video a slightly artificial appearance. “It’s like memory – you never remember everything exactly; there are pauses, like in speaking.”
About her book, Justine said, “The theme came from the loss of a relationship, but it ended up being mostly about the self. There are thirteen self-portraits in the book. The book follows the five stages of grief, and ends up with reinvention. The first poem was ‘Self-Portrait as Beast.’ It was a good theme and held up well to many poems and possibilities.” (The five stages of grief, according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.)
The theme of reinvention connected with Cecelia’s video, made some time before her sister’s book. “I’d been skirting around myself and my relationship with my body – that’s me in the video. I wanted to make a statement about sexuality, vulnerability and violence, and that the body is like a suit of armor. What are you covering up? The body is both strong and weak,” she said. “It’s about what it’s like to be a woman on the inside – being a woman is a human experience.” By sewing herself into a suit that looks like a naked body, the woman in the video infers that her body is hiding something: her true essence, her core being.
The fact that Justine and Cecelia are twins informs the work in unexpected ways. The woman in the video is Cecelia, but we could be looking at Justine; the narrator is Justine, but we could be listening to Cecelia. They grew up being mistaken for each other (which each says doesn’t bother her – “we know who we are”). “I can ask my sister to try on an outfit and know exactly how it will look on me,” Justine said with a chuckle.
As sisters who pursue creative fields, they both feel that being a twin is an asset. “Working together was good for us,” Cecelia told me. “I don’t think I’d be where I am without my sister.”
For more of Justine’s work, visit here. .
For more of Cecelia’s work, visit here.