Using Platonic mimesis (i.e., the representation of nature, and in particular, human nature) as a point of departure to connect people to each other and the planet, Meg Dyer’s invented narrative system reflects John Cage’s idea that chance is the closest thing to nature. Alluding to Cage’s eponymous advice to “get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in,” Dyer argues that since the vast majority (80 percent) of human bodies is made up of water, water is a natural platform for a nuanced discussion about neutrality and commonality.
Replacing traditional categories like gender, nationality, class, religion and race with water-based categories that use archetypes reassigned from the I Ching, like “river” (power, clarity, enlightenment) and “hail” (purity, aggressiveness, magic), Dyer creates a loose, flexible space that offers a reconsideration of the self in relation not only to each other but to our fellow Earthlings with whom we share the planetary ecosystem. Employing her own unique system to describe her subjects—while avoiding any reference to their actual physical appearance (except for their height, which determines the height of the portrait)—Dyer creates “Biographs” that condense her subjects’ personal biographical information into a structure that describes the quality of each year of life, replacing traditional codes in portraiture with a set of attributes formed from a system that combines data and chance.
The horizontal graphite lines of her Biographs imitate tree rings: narrow bands describe difficult years, while wider bands are more expansive and growth-oriented. “These determinations are my attempt to ‘walk in their shoes’ after studying my subject’s life story,” says Dyer. The graphite lines of the biograph continue onto the wall and connect to the lines extending from the adjacent painting, in which color choices are influenced by biographical impressions, often chosen by significant events in the life of the subject. The forms in the paintings are created through what Cage referred to as “Chance Operation.”
“By utilizing nature-based categories,” says Dyer, “in this case ‘water archetypes’—instead of depicting people through the categories with which we are accustomed, we might uncover non-hierarchical insights that reassess and perhaps find union in our commonality and connection to our shared planetary home.”