In the spirit of being open to new experiences (and for the sake of this dear blog), I volunteered to participate in Rivane Neuenschwander’s First Love here at the New Museum.

For the piece, visitors schedule an appointment in which they describe the face of their first love to a forensic artist.

It was intimidating, mostly because no one has asked me much about that relationship in years, and certainly never in such detail.

Bijou, the sketch artist, encouraged me to describe my first love from the most general to the most specific. We started with gender, his name (Eddie), the shape of his face, and then a description of each of his features. She took notes and based on what I said started to draw a preliminary impression. While she was working, she asked about him, how we met, how long ago it was, whether we were still together and why we broke up.

I told her about being 16, meeting Eddie at summer camp, how we stayed together for a year and a half–through our first semester of college–until the pressure of separate lives ended up being (or feeling) irreconcilable.

When first love is the subject, part of the territory might include distance and perspective (as well as some hard feelings on occasion). When I was very young, emotions ran high and there wasn’t a lot of life experience from which to draw. All of the formats for figuring out the puzzle of romance that are available to me today–for example, drinks with friends and the pooling of our years of experience–weren’t around back then. It was a bit like loving blindfolded, without any preconceived notions about the dynamic we were a part of.

Only in this moment, amidst the exhibition, the blindfold was removed and I spent nearly two hours describing the intricacies of Eddie’s face, from the shape of his eyelids, to the angle of his chin.

When I found myself at a loss for words, I looked through packets and books of facial features, to see if anything popped out as recognizable. Bijou was patient and sympathetic. Like a great visit to the dentist, it was painless: if anything, just a little uncomfortable trying to draw up memories my mind had stowed away. Visitors stopped and watched, rarely asking questions but often listening in on our conversation.

Towards the end, a camera crew for NBC took some footage and asked both Bijou and me about the process. The segment will run sometime next week.

Here is the final result, which is now hanging on the 3rd floor of the Museum. And if you want to see a photo of Eddie for comparison, you can click here.

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Always Open :: NewMuseum.org
Jarrett Gregory

// From our friends at the New Museum

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