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Monica Duncan

Palimpsest Portraits

Monica Duncan and Neil Fried with others
Performance with custom Software,  B. 2007

Residency Arts Workshop (RAW) at Railroad Earth of Atlanta is creating a performance ensemble grounded in both the shared identities of its members and in a sense of place. It includes trained and untrained performers. In this nascent stage, the Palimpsest Portraits are ‘mini-births’ of character, individual offerings that form the group. They are ‘performed portraiture’ whereby we create and name a part of ourselves we wish to explore, expose, kill, or make love to. Inhabitants of an invisible city, they are virtual traces of light which transcribe trajectories of identity not fully seen in everyday life. They form a family of characters among friends, ancestors waiting to be born again in the stories we must tell.

The Fayum portraits of ancient Egypt are encaustic funerary paintings completed while the subject was alive and incorporated with its burial. They sought to capture a likeness or identity of the living that could be transported into the afterlife. Encaustic painting (Kaiein, Greek—to burn) is the addition of pigment to hot beeswax that burns or fixes onto wood.

Video is traditionally a linear format in the forward direction. ‘Encaustic Video’ is RAW’s term for real-time image processing that siphons off portions of the video stream into a reservoir of computer memory that either fades or fixes according to degrees of luminosity in the scene. In this ‘hot wax’ the color tones of skin, clothing and objects interact in linear ‘real time’ but leave transfigured deposits according to their reflective values. Like the palimpsest, some areas must be rubbed out to admit the new, but are never totally lost. Together, the performer and encaustic artist paint and rub until the palimpsest portrait is deemed complete.